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Lyle Ronglien >> Billy Gibbons style >>

Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) Style

Lesson 1

Subject Profile: Billy F. Gibbons, guitarist for that "Little ol' Band from Texas" - ZZ Top
Nicknames: Rev. Willy, Rev. Willy G, th' Gizmochine, the Boogie Man
Favorite Guitar: 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard (nicknamed "Pearly Gates")
Likes: Fast cars, Mexican food, collecting electric guitars

Lyle: This is one of my favorite guitar styles and players, the ZZ Top style/Billy Gibbons style. Let's start with this jam track:

Lyle: First learn the rhythm riff for the jam track which is based off the C5 or C power chord:

Lyle: Palm mute the single note 6th string only. Watch the video and you'll see my right hand come up on beats 2 and 4, during the power chord.

Lyle: Power chords are made up from 2 different notes, the root and a 5th above it in the scale. Many power chords can be played in just one position like this:

Picky: What's a 5th mean?

Lyle: If you took a C major scale and counted up to the 5th note, G is the 5th note/degree of the C major scale.

Lyle: ZZ Top is just a 3 piece band so the rhythm guitar parts are very important. Look at all the different power chords available to you in just one spot on the neck. Let's learn a few different examples using these power chords in the style of ZZ Top. Here's rhythm riff 1:

Lyle: You'll be learning riffs from the lesson sample and more! Try to palm mute the C5. Let's take the same power chords and use a different rhythm like this:

Lyle: Try playing these along to the looping sound clip. Play rhythm riff 1 and 2 together. Here's a video clip of riffs 1 and 2 together:

Lyle: One more rhythm riff variation for you to learn:

Lyle: Pour hot sauce over those riffs and you'll have a little bit o' that ZZ Top sound! Here's a mp3 of all 3 rhythm riffs in order:

harper: How can two adjacent strings on the same fret be fifths?

Lyle: The 5th is below the root in some of those.

jaxson: Hey Lyle, you make that guitar of yours sound like a ZZ Top Les Paul, what amp, effects and settings are you using?

Lyle: Bridge pickup, and a bunch of overdrive!

jaxson: yea the hot sauce!

Lyle: Playback the tab for roots and 5ths, you'll see the 5th located above and below the C root.

harper: I see now...You are using the octave.

Lyle: Yes.

Lyle: This jam you've been working on is in C. The scale of choice for the ZZ Top sound here would be the C minor pentatonic.

Lyle: Billy Gibbons played this scale mostly, the minor pentatonic. He also used what's called pinched harmonics. Strike the string hard with your pick and get the side of your thumb to bump/pinch against the string at the same time to produce a harmonic. Watch this video of me playing the C minor pentatonic, look at my right hand thumb as it plays each note.

Lyle: Try using a heavy pick or Mexican peso like Rev. Willy does.

Lyle: Next you'll learn a few signature ZZ Top style licks to play with. Here's the first one:

Lyle: All of these licks are right from the C minor pentatonic. In lick 2, use your 3rd finger to slide.

Anthony: So you are choking up on the pick as much as possible to get the pinch harmonic effect?

Lyle: Yes, that helps.

Les: That jam track is just a little too fast for me, I can barely keep up

Support: You can slow down the audio by using the "tempo" button.

Lyle: Next, lick 3:

Lyle: Notice how these licks keep centered around the root note, C. Can't go wrong with that note!

Lyle: Riff 4 has a couple bluesy bends, a full step and a slight 1/4 step bend. Look close at the notation and listen for it.

Lyle: Riff 5 has a nice signature ZZ Top sound to it.

Lyle: Here's a variation of it:

Lyle: Let's use a new jam track for these licks:

Lyle: Instead of staying on the C chord, you'll use F and C. Here's a video clip showing me playing the F5 to C5 jam track:

Lyle: Palm mute everything in the rhythm riff but the beats 2 and 4. Watch my right hand closely.

Lyle: Next lick uses your right hand to "claw" the strings. Look close at the video for help.

Lyle: Here's another 2 string combination lick.

Lyle: Here's a couple 8 bar solos using these licks

Lyle: Plenty of licks for you to work on! Let's stop here so you can practice all these riffs.


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