Thursday 21 January 2021
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Surf Guitar Lesson | Wes Theobald

This lesson is about how to play in the surf music instrumental guitar style. Instrumental surf music started in the early 1960s with a very unique guitar sound. The typical surf guitar sound is a clean amp tone drenched in spring reverb playing singable, repetitive melodic lines. Other techniques included the use of tremolo picking, muted notes, and tremolo bar dips. This lesson will take you through a short surf guitar example that will show you how to get a bit of that surf guitar sound in your playing.

The tune begins with a repeating rhythm guitar pattern. This pattern outlines an A minor chord. To get the full sound of this idea play using palm muting throughout. Also work on keeping the volume of each note consistent.

The melody begins with a simple ascending minor scale from the root over the A minor chord. The 4 bar phrase ends with a straight eighth note bass line idea that leads back to A minor. The second half of this part begins the same as the first but continues ascending the scale up another octave. Using repetition with simple melodic scale ideas is an important idea in instrumental surf music.

The third lick begins the B section of the tune. In this section the chords move between F and G and F and E before returning to the minor theme once more. The second bar of this idea uses an open string to add fullness and tension to a simple two note phrase. When using full chord voicings like in the third bar of the lick, it is also common to dip the tremolo bar slightly and give the sound a chorus-y sound.

Again this 4 bar phrase repeats. This section uses tremolo picking. Tremolo picking in surf music was made famous by the “King of Surf Guitar,” Dick Dale. Tremolo picking is repeated picking of the same string in constant rhythm. It can be heard all over the Dick Dale hit, “Miserlou”. In this example the tremolo picking is used to climb up an F6 arpeggio (F-A-C-D) on the D string. The B section ends with another simple diatonic scale pattern that leads back to A minor.

The song ends with a repeat of the original idea up an octave. To add intensity to the ending, there is another guitar in the background that doubles the line in the original octave. This octave doubling can be a really powerful technique in an arrangement when used sparingly.

See the full written lesson and download a PDF file of the notation and TABs on my website:

Check out my website for more lessons and transcriptions as well as information about live performances, music, and more!

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