Blog Archives

Fingerpicking Tips To Save Years of Guitar Practice

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the techniques I used to help develop my fingerpicking style over the years.  When I was just starting to learn guitar, and through each stage of development, I would often hit walls and feel like my progress was dragging along too slowly.  Each time I progressed past one of those frustrating plateaus, it was because I learned a new technique that helped guide me in the right direction.  In the following video lesson, I will share some of those plateau-busting techniques that allowed me to develop quicker and more freely.

As you work through the exercises in this video lesson, don’t forget that practice is key.  You will only be able to easily master these techniques through repetition.  Also, make sure you follow the tips on anchoring and hand position, as they will save you hours of frustration once you incorporate them into your playing style.

Keep Pickin’!
Justin Johnson

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Jack Daniel’s Whiskey Barrel Guitar: How It’s Made and What it Sounds Like

Some materials are just dying to be made into musical instruments, and ever since I first saw those whiskey-soaked oak barrels at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, I’ve always wondered what that wood would sound like if it could be plugged in and cranked up!  Luckily, I’m not alone, because master guitar builder and instructor, Derek Lenard (better know as Big D Guitars) did exactly that!  He took that old used barrel top, paired it with some reclaimed Tennessee barn wood, aged hardware, and some killer pickups.. and created a masterpiece!

Check out the videos below, where you see and hear this baby in action, then watch and listen as Big D walks you through every step of the build process.  Don’t forget to subscribe to Big D’s Youtube Channel to check out what he’s building next.

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive!  Click “FOLLOW” on the right-hand side of this page to stay up-to-date with new lessons and articles.

~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.justinjohnsonlive.com/store.html
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JACK DANIEL’S WHISKEY BARREL | SOLO SLIDE GUITAR SOLO

 

LIVE UNBOXING OF THE JACK DANIEL’S BARREL GUITAR

HOW TO BUILD A WHISKEY BARREL GUITAR: PART 1

HOW TO BUILD A WHISKEY BARREL GUITAR: PART 2

HOW TO BUILD A WHISKEY BARREL GUITAR: PART 3

HOW TO BUILD A WHISKEY BARREL GUITAR: PART 4

HOW TO BUILD A WHISKEY BARREL GUITAR: PART 5

 

Go-To Tunings for Blues Slide Guitar

The vocal timbre and mournful wail of the slide guitar has become inseparable from the concept of Blues Guitar.  However, in order to master the classic Blues guitar styles associated with the finger slide, you must first familiarize yourself with the different tunings that are key to those styles.  Below is a list of my favorite, and most used, tunings for Blues Slide Guitar.  With each tuning I’ve included a video, demonstrating how that tuning can be used to create a stylistic mood, which differs with each tuning.  Remember, the more tunings you become familiar with, the more versatile you will be as a musician.

OPEN D & OPEN E TUNING
Open E: (E-B-E-G#-B-E) – tuned to E major chord
Open D: (D-A-D-F#-A-D) – tuned to D major chord
These two tunings are basically the same tuning… the only difference is that Open D is tuned one whole step lower than Open E.  The tighter string tension of Open E makes it easier to play with low action, but the lower pitch of Open D produces more low-end body, and can give you a swampier vibe.  That swampy vibe is all over this following video clip, which is is Open D tuning…

 

OPEN G & OPEN A TUNING
Open G: (D-G-D-G-B-D) – tuned to  G major chord
Open A: (E-A-E-A-C#-E) – tuned to A major chord
These two tunings are also, in essence, the same tuning.  The difference is that Open G is tuned a whole step lower than Open A.  Delta blues guitarists like Robert Johnson made this tuning style famous.  The sound of this tuning is great for solo guitar Blues playing, and allows the player to construct elaborate bass lines, since the root note is on the 5th string, as opposed to the 6th (bass) string, thereby allowing the player two bass strings for the thumb to play bass lines and 4 strings for the fingers to pluck melody notes.
Listen to how the bass lines play an important role in this following video, which is in Open G tuning…

 

STANDARD TUNING
Standard Tuning: (E-A-D-G-B-E) – not tuned to a chord
Standard Tuning is the most widely-used and standardized tuning for conventional 6-string guitar playing.  It’s great for fretted (non-slide) playing because it makes many chord shapes and scale patterns comfortable for the fingers to reach.  While it presents certain challenges for slide guitarists, Standard Tuning is actually a very versatile tuning for slide playing, offering many convenient chord fragments, both major and minor, up and down the fretboard.  The key to understanding how to play slide guitar in Standard Tuning comes with learning how to mute the unnecessary  strings, to prevent them from sounding.  I have created an entire instructional DVD for playing in Standard Tuning, which you can check out.. just CLICK HERE for more info.  The following video is an example of slide guitar in Standard Tuning…

 

OPEN Dm & Em TUNING
Open Dm (D-A-D-F-A-D) – tuned to D minor chord
Open Em (E-B-E-G-B-E) – tuned to E minor chord
While these tunings are not very well-known historically, they are some of my personal favorite, and most-used, slide guitar tunings.  They are particularly great for playing in minor keys, but also work very well for Blues styles, even if the underlying harmonies are major.  Again, these two tunings are essentially the same tuning, but Open Em is tuned one whole step higher than Open Dm.  The following video shows how this tuning can be used in both fretted and slide styles.  The acoustic rhythm guitar is tuned to Open Dm, and the 6-string lap steel is also tuned to Open Dm…


Thanks for keeping the Roots alive!  Click “FOLLOW” on the right-hand side of this page to stay up-to-date with new lessons and articles.

~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

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Over Two Continuous Hours of Cigar Box Guitar and Roots Music!

Of all possible ways to learn a musical instrument, I’ve found that the best method, by far, is to listen to (and watch) as much music as possible.  You can learn so much by watching how a player holds the instrument; the posture, the picking and anchoring techniques, etc…  So much can be gleaned by observing a musician as they are performing.

The best way to do this is in person, where you have a 3-dimensional view of the performance.  But we live in an age where the internet allows you to access a 2-dimensional live concert experience just about anytime and place you choose!  So sit back, relax, and learn from the music as it’s rolling by your screen… or just enjoy the show!

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive!  Click “FOLLOW” on the right-hand side of this page to stay up-to-date with new lessons and articles.
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

Below is a playlist that will continue to play through  over 40 Roots Music perfomances by Justin Johnson.  If you would like to browse through the videos, click on the menu icon in the top left corner of the video screen.  

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The 12-String Guitar ~ The Heavy-Hitter of Acoustic Blues Instruments

Today, the 12-string guitar is often associated more with folk music and simple open-chord strumming than with intricate lead guitar, ragtime, or traditional blues.  But some of the most influential blues musicians of all time forged timeless classics wielding their 12-strings.  In the following video, I’ll demonstrate many of the classic Blues styles and techniques that have proven the 12-string to be the heavy-hitter of acoustic stringed instruments.

LIVE STREAM LESSON: Blues Pickin’ & Sliding on the 12-String Guitar 

Early Blues greats like Leadbelly and Blind Willie McTell played the 12-string guitar almost exclusively.  These artists took advantage of the full-bodied tone and assertive dynamic presence of the 12-String, to accompany their powerful and expressive singing voices.  Back in the early days of audio recording, it was difficult for microphones to pick up the intricate details of a 6-string acoustic, especially when it was competing with a full-volume Blues singer belting out a vocal melody.  The 12-string’s acoustic volume is almost double that of a 6-string, providing a much fatter bed for the vocals to lay over, in the mix. 

Blind Willie McTell “Travelin’ Blues”

 

Even Blues artists that are known for their 6-string electric guitar playing have been know to cut some of their most distinct tracks on solo acoustic 12-string.  Two great examples of this are Jimi Hendrix’s “Hear My Train A Coming” and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Life By The Drop.”  The intricate and sensitive single-note lead lines in these two tracks are fattened up by the doubled strings of the 12-string guitar.

Jimi Hendrix “Hear My Train A Coming”

Stevie Ray Vaughan MTV Unplugged

Stevie Ray Vaughan “Life By The Drop”

 

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive!  Click “FOLLOW” on the right-hand side of this page to stay up-to-date with new lessons and articles.
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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How to Use Your “Open G Tuning” Riffs in Any Key: Tuning Guide for 3- & 4-String Guitar

Transpose Open G tuning

Open G is one of the most versatile and easy-to-learn tunings for the 3-string and 4-string guitar.  An open tuning is when a guitar’s open strings are tuned to a chord, therefore “Open G” tuning refers to tuning the open strings to a G major chord (G-D-G for 3-String) & (G-D-G-B for 4-String).

Open G tuning makes many riffs, scales, chords shapes, and chord progressions very easy to play when you are in the key of G, since your open strings make a G major chord.  I was recently asked this question:  “I am comfortable playing songs in the key of G on my 3- & 4-string, but is there a way I can use the same patterns to play in different keys by re-tuning the guitar?”  The answer is yes!  It’s very easy to change keys (or transpose) by simply changing the notes you are tuning your open strings to.

Below are two guides to transposing Open G tuning to different keys.  The column on the left tells you what key to tune to.  The middle column tells you what notes to tune each string to (bass note on the left, high pitched note on the right).  The column on the right tells you which string gauges work best for each particular tuning.  For example, if you know a song on the 3-string guitar in Open G tuning, but you want to play it lower, in the key of D, then you would tune the guitar to D-A-D and use the bass strings (E-A-D) from a 6-string guitar pack.

NOTE: Be careful not to put too much tension on a string, or it may break.  With certain tunings, the stings may seem too loose or too tight for your specific preferences.  This differs depending on your personal taste, string gauge, and the scale length of your guitar.  The general rule is that if your strings feel too loose once tuned, try heavier gauge strings; if your strings feel too tight, try lighter gauge strings.

To really dig into the chord and scale patterns that will help you master Open G tuning on the 3-String & 4-String, check out my Chords and Scales Book HERE.

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive, and don’t forget to click “FOLLOW” on the right-hand side of this page to stay up-to-date with new lessons and articles!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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TRANSPOSING OPEN G 3STRINGTRANSPOSING OPEN G 4STRING
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Classic Melodies on the Godfather of American Roots Instruments – The One-String Diddley Bow

Diddley Bow SSB and Amazing Grace Blog Banner

The One-String Diddley Bow is an American Roots instrument with only one string, and is usually played with some form of a guitar slide.  It is the simplest form of a guitar, with some examples consisting of little more than a string and a stick.  However, the significance of these instruments on Roots and Rock & Roll music cannot be understated.  Because the diddley bow is so easy to make, it was often the first musical instrument performed on, by the legends of Blues and Rock music such as B.B. King, Lightning Hopkins, Blind Willie Johnson, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, Elmore James, and Bo Diddley (who took his stage name from the diddley bow).  Because the diddley bow is so rudimentary, it is the perfect guitar teacher… forcing you to make a lot of music with one single string.  This eventually teaches you how to make more with less, and create more distinct and captivating music.

I was recently asked if I could create some tablature for the one-string diddley bow for two classic melodies, “Amazing Grace,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  These two melodies are perfect introductions for both learning to play the diddley bow, and learning to read tablature.  The melodies are so recognizable, that most people could easily sing them note-for-note from memory, and the range of each song fits nicely on a diddley bow (which has about a two octave range).  Most importantly, though, is the power that these melodies have to move people, cause them to reflect, and bring them together… and that is the true power of a deeply moving melody!

In case you are not familiar with the concept of tablature (tabs), let me give you a quick explanation…  Tablature is a type of written musical notation that indicates the position of each note on the instrument, rather than giving a specific pitch for each note in the melody.  It is perfect for an instrument like the one-string diddley bow, because it can be hard to tune the open string of a rudimentary diddley bow to a specific, determined pitch, therefore, making it hard to hit a defined set of notes.  Instead, the tablature gives you the number of the fret, or fret marker, to indicate the pitches.  This enables you to learn the melody once, and it will automatically be transposed into whatever key your diddley bow is tuned to.

In the tablature below, the melody is indicated by the chromatic fret position of each.  Above each note are the corresponding lyrics.  These tabs are arranged this way in case you are not familiar with reading rhythmic notation.  The notes correspond to the specific lyrics associated with them, giving the notes a rhythmic context.

Okay, now that the academic stuff is over with, it’s time to learn some music!  Below, I have a simple arrangement of each song, written out in tab form.  Then, I have a video of me performing the song based on that original arrangement.

I would like to thank Peter Murphy of Blind Kiwi Blues (www.BlindKiwiBlues.com) who built the one-string diddley bow that I use in these videos, and Rocky Mountain Slide Company (www.RockyMountainSlides.com) who designed and crafted the ceramic tonebar that I use in the “Amazing Grace” video.

Thanks for reading, and click the “FOLLOW” button on this blog to get the newest articles sent straight to’ya!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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AMAZING GRACE TABS



SSB TABS


If you are interested in diving deeper into the playing techniques, songs, and Roots music techniques that are associated with the one-string diddley bow, check out my Instructional Video Series on the diddley bow, available on DVD or via Digital Download HERE!

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“Dust My Broom” 3-String & 4-String Lesson ~ Slide and Fretted Arrangements

In this lesson, I teach a beginner arrangement of Elmore James’s, “Dust My Broom,” for the 3-string and 4-string guitar.  While this song was originally recorded by Robert Johnson on solo acoustic guitar, it was the Elmore James version on the electric guitar that really emblazoned it onto every Blues band’s set list till the end of time!  The slide guitar riff that opens the song, and is repeated throughout James’ version, has become one of the most significant and influential slide guitar riffs in history, forever assuring his status as a true legend of the Blues.

 

To receive notifications of future Roots Music School articles and lessons,  click “FOLLOW” to keep in touch!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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“Hoochie Coochie Man” 3-String & 4-String Lesson ~ Slide and Fretted Arrangements

The rhythm guitar riffs in “Hoochie Coochie Man” introduce some of the most important and fundamental Blues Guitar techniques, such as call-and-response, muting, rhythmic syncopation, 12-bar-Blues, and more.  Hope you enjoy it!

 

Thanks for your support, and please click “FOLLOW” on this blog,
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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3-String Guitar Lesson – Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”

Pink Floyd’s song “Wish You Were Here” is a true Rock & Roll masterpiece!  It’s one of those songs that has been so firmly planted into the world’s musical consciousness that it’s hard to think of a world before it.  The intro guitar riff is one of the first riffs I ever learned on guitar, and David Gilmore’s acoustic guitar solo at the beginning of this song might as well have written the rule-book for classic rock acoustic guitar solos.

Aside from being an amazing song to listen to, this song is the perfect etude for learning the fundamentals of guitar technique, whether it be on a conventional 6-string or, in this case, the 3-string guitar.  The intro teaches you chord/melody playing, the solo teaches you the fundamental techniques behind string bending, string sliding, hammer-ons, and pull-offs, and the chord changes include some of the most commonly used open chord voicings.

Enjoy the lesson, and click “FOLLOW” to get new articles sent directly to your inbox!
~Justin Johnson

VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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