A James Burton-Style Country Lick

Here's a great little lick inspired by one of my favourite country guitarists- James Burton. It's based around a string bending motif designed to emulate the sound of a steel guitar. If you've not attempted this kind of thing before it might take a bit of work to build up the strength required to hold the bend in place and to keep everything in tune. Light gauge strings will help: I'm just using my usual set of 10s, but many country guys favour even skinnier strings - 9s or even 8s. Burton himself is known to replace the top four strings on his guitars with super light banjo strings.

You can find the music below. Download a high-quality PDF of the lick here.

  • The lick works over an E or an E7 chord. It could be seen as combining notes from the E major and minor pentatonic scales, but I'm not really thinking in terms of scales here. For me, it's more about chord tones and passing colour notes. 
  • It can be played using a pick alone but, as I say in the video, if you want that authentic country sound you'll want to play some of the notes as indicated, with the middle finger of your picking hand. If you're serious about playing in this style, you might want to experiment using a metal fingerpick on this finger as Burton does, or even try using fake acrylic nails like Brent Mason and others. 
  • The rhythm is simple: steady 8th notes throughout (16th notes if you want to play it double time) apart from the dotted 8th note in the 3rd bar.

Gear notes. 

When playing in this style you'll want a bright, twangy tone. The classic country set up would be a Fender Telecaster through a Fender amp - something like a Deluxe or a Twin. You'll want to run the amp fairly clean; maybe just a hint of overdrive when you dig in hard. You don't really need any effects - perhaps a bit of spring reverb from the amp and a touch of compression. 

For the video I'm using my '52 reissue Telecaster. I'm recording straight in to the computer just for convenience when I'm putting the video together. Inside the computer I'm using a Fender Princeton simulation, found in Amplitube. I've added a bit of compression using an MXR Dynacomp pedal.