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Guitar Lesson - Larry Carlton Blues

Updated on June 1, 2013

Blues guitar

I saw Larry Carlton play in the late 1970s with The Crusaders, a great jazz fusion band in a massive venue with virtually no audience, probably 100 people in a 2,000 seat hall. It kind of made a point about the best music being the least appreciated, a general principle that always seems to work!

Larry also played on many of the Steely Dan albums and with Joni Mitchell. The solo on Kid Charlemagne is rated as one of the best guitar solos, and still sounds great today.

Check out this video of Larry, one of the all-time greats, demonstrating the stellar technique and taste that makes him revered amongst the guitar fraternity.

Playing along

This is a standard 12-Bar blues in the key of C. Here are the chords, play each chord for 4 beats.

C9... F9... C9... C9... F9... F9... C9... C9... G7... F7... C9... G7...

You could play 7th, 9th, 13th chords in any order and mix them up. The last chord, G7, is good with a sharp 9 note added, or G7 sharp 9.

Scale choices - you can use the pentatonic minor scale (Cm) or the C blues scale.

Now that we have the chords down, we can apply them to many other songs - Mustang Sally is a great example. Although the number of bars on each chord will be different, the same three chords and the same scale patterns will work.

C blues - scales and chords

Blues chords

You can use 7th or 9th chords for a blues, and mix them up any way you like. You can also use both the scale patterns shown. For a less blues and more country sound, just move the whole pattern down three frets. This is a top tip for improvising!

More Larry stuff

Check out In addition to guitar seminars, there are videos of lessons available.

Here Larry is playing a Gibson 335, his trademark guitar, with light gauge strings. He will often use pre-bends, where you bend the string to the target note and then hit it as you release the bend. A difficult technique that requires a lot of practice, but it's really effective in guitar solos.

Another thing to watch out for - when Larry bends a string, he's using other fingers to support the bend. This is the only way to really control the intonation, an aspect that is really strong in his solo playing. The vibrato is also great, not as extreme as BB King's, but similarly effective. The tone of the 335 is a thing of wonder.

Larry uses hybrid picking, where the pick is used but also the other right hand fingers. Many of the best players use this technique, Danny Gatton, Albert Lee etc. Can't get the hang of it myself, though it's obviously a great approach if you can do it right.

Gibson semis

The Gibson 335 is a classic guitar design, with many slight variations on the theme. I used to have a 345, which I should never have sold! There is also a 355, 356, (both upmarket versions) 333 and 339. The 339 is a smaller, scaled down body which is more comfortable to play. It's a bit heavy though.

Epiphone versions are also available, as a budget option. The main difference is in the pickups, so you could improve one of these guitars with better pickups - although semis are a nightmare to work on as the wiring is so difficult to get at.

More great blues players

BB King - the elder statesman of the blues

Robben Ford - a great jazz influenced blues player


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    • Jon Green profile image

      Jon Green 8 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Thanks RayJack.I don't ever plan it, but always spend a lot of practice time on blues ideas.For me it's the jazz-influenced blues that is the best, back to Louis Jordan in the 1940s.

    • RayJack profile image

      RayJack 8 years ago from UK

      fantastic stuff.i've just bought myself a guitar for christmas after not playing for 20 years,used to play a lot of folk music and write songs,but i need to go back to the begining again,and it's the blues i fancy so i will be back to your page soon.


    • prosmentor profile image

      prosmentor 8 years ago from Lagos, Nigeria

      Great work! Please keep on writing this kind of article.

    • Jon Green profile image

      Jon Green 8 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Hi Russ - I'm a big fan of "Mr.335". Robben Ford is also a great blues player. Cheers, Jon

    • Russ Baleson profile image

      Russ Baleson 8 years ago from Sandhurst, United Kingdom

      Wow! The master at work. He makes it look so easy!!! Amazing feel, texture and balls.