5 ‘80s Rock Guitar Tips and Tricks

Lita Ford performed at The Whisky a Go-Go on May 17, 2019 - Photo by Jack Lue
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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 15 – Spring 2021 – Electrified!

If you have ever wondered how you can take your guitar playing and transport it straight to the hair-metal heyday of the 1980s, look no further.

In this lesson, you’re going to be learning five essential tips and tricks that are guaranteed to give you some major ‘80s vibes in your playing.

Crank up the gain and grab your hairspray. We’re going back in time to a period where the hair was big and the guitar riffs were even bigger.

Two-Hand Tapping

Two-hand tapping is a staple of any ‘80s guitar solo. It might look complex from the outside, but it’s a fairly simple technique to get to grips with.

Think of it as an extended pull-off and hammer-on combination.

With your fretting hand, you’ll be hammering on from the fifth to the eighth frets of the E string. Before this hammer on, you’re taking your fretting hand and tapping the twelfth fret.

This tap sounds the twelfth fret note, which you pull off to sound the fifth. Once you hear that fifth fret note, initiate the hammer-on, then repeat.

Do this in a triplet rhythm, three notes per beat. Try alternating the note that you tap for some interesting sounds.

Tremolo Picking

Tremolo picking is a great way to add some instant speed to your playing. In this ascending run, pick each note for an entire beat. Try to pick each note four times on the beat before doubling up to a super speedy eight per beat.

Whammy Bar Harmonics

It wouldn’t be an ‘80s guitar solo without some whammy bar and harmonics thrown in.

This idea is based around natural harmonics that you sound with your fretting hand by lightly touching above the fret wire on the notated frets.

In the first and third bars, you want to divebomb the second harmonic note roughly two octaves. Don’t worry about it being exact; it’s more of a sound thing.

In the second and fourth bars, you want to rhythmically bounce the bar once per beat on beats two, three, and four, aiming for roughly one octave down, but again, don’t worry too much about accuracy.

Fast Legato Runs

Most ‘80s guitar solos contain some form of speed, usually at the climax or end of the solo. It’s not uncommon for a fairly melodic solo to ramp up the speed in the final few bars.

This fast legato run is based around pairs of ascending triplet hammer-on phrases. The phrases are identical on both the B and E strings, and this phrase comes from the A Dorian Mode and the A Natural Minor. Think of this as the key of A Minor with an F# note alongside your F note.

Riffs with Sus4 Chords

Sus4 chords are a great way to add an instant ‘80s flavor to any rock riff. You’ll notice this riff is straight 8th notes, which makes it very easy to count along.

The sus4 chords take the place as triads on the D, G and B strings. Each bar starts with a major chord triad before adding the sus4 note (which is the highest note of the triad, raised a single fret).

Between each chord, you want to play a droning palm-muted open A string.

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