How To Turn Boring Guitar Licks Into Killer Guitar Licks (Even If Don’t Know Any Scales, Music Theory And Can’t Play Guitar Fast)

By Tom Hess

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Have you ever gone to YouTube and listened to someone play a cover of a guitar solo you like?

I have.

And you know what?

Most of the time I was pretty disappointed.

Not always because the cover of the solo was bad (often the player was very good).

It just didn’t sound like the original.

How can this be? The notes are exactly the same. So, what made the cover sound different?

The answer is one word: Phrasing.

When you have great phrasing, you can make the most boring notes sound like a million bucks.

And what’s more: with awesome phrasing, you can play killer guitar solos without knowing lots of licks.

You simply take one lick and turn it into a fireworks of lead guitar variations – each sounding more amazing than the last.

This is called “lick refinement”. Take a look:

Now that you know the basics of guitar lick refinement, let’s go deeper.

Here are some of my favorite - slightly more advanced (but still easy) ways to do guitar lick refinement:

Guitar Lick Refinement Idea #1: Use Exotic Bends:

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I got this from one of my favorite guitar players: Marty Friedman.

The idea is this:

Connect 2 notes in the lick (that are in the key) with a bend from a note that’s not in the key. It sounds very exotic and emotional.

Check out this video to see an example:

Guitar Lick Refinement Idea #2: Backslides

Backslides sound super aggressive and are a lot of fun to play.

What are backslides?

It’s where you play a note, then slide up (or down) from that note and return back to the starting note.

The explanation sounds way more complicated than the technique itself… so check out this video to see backslides in action:

If you like this video with backslides, check out this video on how to use slides to transform your guitar licks.

Bonus tip: As you get better at using these lick refinement ideas, it becomes easier to create emotional guitar solos.


Because you can use these techniques to give yourself more time to think as you create your next guitar phrase (lick) to play.

How To Create Awesome Lead Guitar Licks

Guitar Lick Refinement Idea #3: Double Stops

Double stops are two notes played at the same time. You usually hear about them from blues & classic rock players.

Most common example of a double stop?

It’s “unison bends” like these:

Double stop bending lick

Hear It

You probably heard these unison bend double stops many times… and they can get a little boring.

So I created my own double stop variations that are really cool and can easily improve any guitar lick.

Check out the video to see how they sound (they sound great in any style, not just blues):

It’s best if you have a floating bridge on your guitar to play these double stop ideas (but finger vibrato can also work well).

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Common questions:

“Tom Hess, what if I can’t get my vibrato to sound like yours does in the videos?”

Answer: focus on balancing the speed of the vibrato and its width.

This means: the faster your vibrato is, the wider it should be to sound good.

The slower the vibrato, the more narrow it can be. Whatever you do, avoid fast & narrow vibrato at all costs.

Watch this video to see the best way to get your vibrato under control:

Another tip: use delayed vibrato. This means: play the note first with no vibrato. Hold it out for a second… and then add vibrato.

This gives you a new way to apply vibrato to your licks (and makes it easy to get “nervous” vibrato under control).

Want to learn even more easy ways to refine any guitar lick into a killer guitar lick? No problem. Download this free lead guitar licks guide and discover new ways to add fire & emotion to any guitar lick.

Tom HessAbout Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.

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