The title track from Dire Strait's 1985 Brothers in Arms album is a virtuosic tour de force of Mark Knopfler's minimalism and feel. I'm not sure of the guitar he used on this tune, but it sounds like a humbucker and sustains like a set neck; which leads me to assume it's either a Les Paul or maybe the Suhr I've seen him pictured with. I am not adding a transcription of the guitar parts because the things I want to point out are beyond sheet music.
Throughout the song Knopfler has a very distorted sound but manipulates the volume control of the guitar to give it the dynamic range of a violin. It sounds like he is setting the volume of the guitar somewhere around the middle or lower which combined with his light fingerstyle touch almost cleans up completely. At 0:50 he does a great volume swell up past the point the guitar was set at, making one of the only phrases he starts on beat one jump right out. It's a great thing, if you are always playing in the middle, you can go up or down. If you are balls out the whole time, you have nowhere to go but down. The melody he plays at the beginning (which doesn't go beyond one octave) sets up the melody for the rest of the solos. I love how the guitar melody isn't really related to the vocal melody at all, it stands on it's own.
During the vocals, there's practically no guitar playing. A great lesson for lead players accompanying lead singers. The times he does play while there is singing is to double the melody of the final line of the chorus, perfectly setting up the solos which never stray far from the melody he laid out at the beginning of the song. This is really important, and really difficult. Try learning the melody Mark plays and improvise within it on your own.
"Music is the space between the notes".
Paul Chapman is another monster picker from the great white north. He is a very well rounded player who uses a hybrid picking technique and his list of recordings is too long for me to get into. Needless to say, he's a first call guy for anyone needing guitar work of any style, and needing it done right.
In his guitar solo on Jason McCoy's "I Feel a sin Comin' on" (from the album Sins, Lies and Angels) he gets plenty of use out of one particular line that he splices into each chord of the I-IV-V based progression.
Right out of the gate he uses plenty of chromaticism to get from his starting point to the target note, in this case from the Root of C to its 5th, G in the pickup bar. Now here is where Chapman shows us how to own a lick by being able to apply it anywhere we want. In bar 1 of the solo he uses 3 descending chromatic notes starting from the 5th of the chord (5, b5, 4-G, Gb, F) then using a technique called enclosure, surrounds the target note major third with chromatic notes (4, b3, 3-F, Eb, E) followed by an arpeggio based on the relative minor which implies a 6th. This lick shows up in four different spots throughout the 16 bar solo, in bar 1 (key of C), bars 5 and 6 (key of G), bars 10 and 11 (Key of D) and bar 15 (key of G). A truncated version of the same lick is also found in bar 5 (key of C).
Learn that lick in the Key of C, then try running through the cycle of fifths with it, going through all twelve keys. Once you can do that comfortably, you'll be ripping through up tempo Country tunes like Canadian superpicker Chappy here.
A big part of your music career will involve substitute gigs in bands you may have never played with, or even heard before, and a big part of subbing is being prepared. It can make the difference between people having the confidence to give you a call because they KNOW you can get the job done, or the phone not ringing at all because you can't cut it. I've thought about this, and how priorities should be arranged in order of importance to prepare for a sub gig with a band.
1. Get the music.
'Nuff said. It's also best to ask more than one person for the tunes as well, in case some people are slow, because some people can be busy with their own things, and can be slow.
2. Know the names of the songs.
This won't be that hard if it's a top 40 or other cover gig since you may have heard these things on the radio or even played them previously. But if it's an original band, it's another story. To know the names of the tunes, you have to listen to them a few times. Know the hooks, know the lyrics and how they cue things, your ear will learn to anticipate these things when you're in the moment. I had a gig subbing for a group years ago where I skipped this step. I knew every little part in every tune, but wasn't entirely sure of the song names. The singer turned and called out a tune and before I could ask "Which one is that?", they went into it. I missed the entire guitar intro that was integral to the song, which really sucked because I knew it. Know the songs like a fan would know them, because it will make every other step a whole lot easier.
3. Know the changes.
Even if you are responsible for lead duties that don't require strumming through the whole tune, sit down with the songs at home and do it anyway. Once the changes are internalized it kind of creates a map in your fingers and ears that will allow you navigate the changes as a lead player and be aware of where you are in the structure of the songs. Some three chords tunes can have a lot of little nuances that are triggered by the rhythm section alone, it's best to be a part of it for a while before getting down to the finer points, because the finer points are just looking at the large parts through a microscope.
4. What's the stage dress code?
Now that you have the minimum requirements to share the stage with a band, you better look like you're part of the band. A Tapout shirt and board shorts with a Country band=stupid. Pretty obvious right? Ask if there is a colour code on stage. All black? Jeans? What kind of top? It doesn't hurt to have black dress pants, a black and a white button up shirt, a blazer and a tie in the closet. They can be useful for corporate events, weddings and job interviews.
5. Learn the ins and outs.
With a paper and pencil, write down what happens at the intro and ending of every single song. Note things like which instrument takes it in, what chord it starts on, vocal cues, which beat it ends on, which chord. Now play along with just the intro and ending of every song until you've got them down. Knowing ins and outs and changes alone will pretty much guarantee you'll get the job done well.
6. Know the little parts.
This requires an intimate knowledge of the songs, but since you know the names of the tunes and the changes you've heard the subtle intricacies underlying the songs. Get out some manuscript, or TAB paper or just focus your attention and write down/memorize the fills, shots, pauses, ritards, dynamics, harmonies etc. These finer points will guarantee you'll get the job done well, and another call to fill in should the need arise some time in the future.
7. Don't be a dick.
Here's some advice from active players on the scene.
Ted Quinlan-Head of the Guitar Department at Humber College
"Playing at the appropriate volume level and bringing the right gear to the gig is crucial, i.e. getting the right sound or sounds. It can be useful to actually check the band out with the regular guitarist if possible. I've thrown little cheat sheets together when I've had to learn a bunch of material on short notice...not actual charts but a tune list with keys and anything else I'm likely to forget. I leave it on a stand, on my amp, on the floor, somewhere not too obvious. They've come in really handy."
Jim John-Bandleader of Swing Shift Big Band
"Show up early to the gig, not at the last second. I won't bring anyone back if they cause me any grief, especially wondering if they will show up on time for the downbeat."
Geoff Torrn-Session musician, Kira Isabella, Amanda Marshall, Tebey and Jarvis church
"The subber should consider who they are subbing for. There are gigs which I have subbed in for people who have really brought an identity to the gig and although the stuff they play live may not be on the record, it's still massively important for others in the band who take cues off those "parts". Ultimately, it's their gig for the reason that the band or artist deems them the best person for the job. I've had situations where an MD has told me "yeah it's not on the record but our regular guy always does this". In that case getting in touch with the person you are subbing for and chatting with them can be really helpful for the subber and put other peoples minds at ease.
There have been situations in the past where folk have subbed for me, not been in contact and ultimately blown the gig that I've worked hard to keep at a high standard. This reflects poorly on everyone.
I think this is something that tends to be overlooked because people get all caught up in "getting the call" and in turn thinking it's all of a sudden their chance to do "them" to the fullest. There are many obvious reasons why that's not the case. Obviously theses differences are more severe in established artist gigs compared to a random pub gig but I believe this stuff should still be acknowledged unless you're Slash and you only get called to be Slash."
Flatt was born in Duncan's Chapel, Overton County, Tennessee, to Nannie Mae Haney and Isaac Columbus Flatt. A singer and guitarist, he first came to prominence as a member of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in 1945. In 1948 he started a band with fellow Monroe alumnus Earl Scruggs, and for the next twenty years Flatt and Scruggs and theFoggy Mountain Boys were one of the most successful bands in bluegrass. When they parted ways in 1969, Flatt formed a new group, the Nashville Grass, hiring most of the Foggy Mountain Boys. His role as lead singer and rhythm guitar player in each of these seminal ensembles helped define the sound of traditional bluegrass music. He created a role in the Bluegrass Boys later filled by the likes of Jimmy Martin, Mac Wiseman, Peter Rowan and Del McCoury. His rich lead voice is unmistakable in hundreds of bluegrass standards.
Lester Flatt memorial in Sparta, Tennessee
He is also remembered for his library of compositions. The Flatt songbook looms titanic for any student of American acoustic music. He continued to record and perform with that group until his death in 1979 of heart failure, after a prolonged period of ill health.  Flatt was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985 with Scruggs. He was posthumously made an inaugural inductee into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor in 1991. His hometown of Sparta, Tennessee, held a bluegrass festival in his honor for a number of years, before being discontinued a few years prior to the death of the traditional host, resident Everette Paul England; Lester Flatt Memorial Bluegrass Day is part of the annual Liberty Square Celebration held in Sparta.
Flatt and Scruggs were ranked No. 24 on CMT's 40 Greatest Men of Country Music in 2003. They performed "The Ballad of Jed Clampett", which was used as the theme for the television show The Beverly Hillbillies
This is the grand daddy of guitar licks right here. The beauty of this one is that it starts right on beat number 1, making it rhythmically easy to splice into your lines.
Example 1. shows the G run in, surprise, the key of G. You can pick every note, or use slurs at higher speeds if you want, just make sure each note is clearly articulated. Examples 2 and 3 are the same lick in the keys of C and D. Put them all together for a I-IV-V progression, showed in the example tune Flatt Running. Play with a metronome and slowly work your way up to a breakneck speed.
I first met Steve Piticco when I was about 19 years old and playing at The Brighton Legion with a folk/rock group. I didn't know who he was at the time, but our singer did, and invited him up to do a couple songs with us. Being the young hotshot in town, I took the first solo and tried to dazzle everyone with my Yngwie and Eric Johnson licks, tastelessly played over some Neil Young song. Then Steve took a solo. It was humiliating. I had never played live with someone of that calibre before and couldn't believe what I was hearing AND seeing. Watching his hands and listening kinda reminded me of those old Kung Fu movies that are overdubbed, you know, when their mouth aren't moving with the voices? His right hand hybrid picking is unique and I've had a hard time copping his licks.
Not only is he the greatest country guitarist Canada ever produced, but he's a really nice guy as well. He dropped his solo CD off at my Mothers house for me with a signed note way back when I was first starting school. He will play anywhere with anyone it seems. One week he's playing in front of thousands at an open air festival in Europe, next week he's playing some dive bar in Tweed. That's a real musician for you folks.
Anyway, here's a transcription of his solo on Rodney Crowell's One Way Rider. It's fast.
Here's the guitar part to Metric's Breathing Under Water. It's a forward roll. P,M,A,P,M,A,P,A.
I'm all about getting a ton of mileage out of one technique, and here's how to use a simple legato pattern and work it into a bunch of different patterns.
It starts out simple, just hammer on the second and pinky fingers, pull off to the first finger and repeat, like Ex. 1. Do it over and over and it sounds fast, but kinda boring. Now we'll move it around a bit.
Examples 2 and 3 play through a three note per string C Major scale using the same finger motion. Example 2 is straight through the whole scale, Example 3 is in groups of 9, or up three strings, down one.
Example 4 is where we start getting into some less conventional left hand stuff.
It's the old 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4 sounding thing with a twist. Hammer the first two notes on the 6th string, pick the fourth note on the 5th string and hammer the middle finger back on to the 6th for the next note. We are crossing strings with the hammer ons now, it takes some getting used to but do it enough and it will be as easy as example 1.
Example 5 elaborates on the crossing strings with hammer ons creating a more angular type of sound, this time hammering with the pinky. We are still using the same finger pattern as Example 1 for all these exercises!
Example 6 is a descending pattern in the style of Shawn Lane. This one is not easy at first. It took me about a year to be able to do it smoothly.
The example is a combination on scale and arpeggios that sounds a lot harder than is actually is.
Try to apply these patterns to other modes, three note per string pentatonics or wherever else you can imagine it happening.