Blues music is loved by almost every guitarists, especially most of us learn how to play guitar from blues legends like Robert Johnson, Howlin Wolf, BB King, Muddy Waters, up to some of the world's most modern influential blues guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Gary Moore, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Angus Young, Billy Gibbons, Peter Green, Freddie King, Robert Cray, Eric Johnson, Alvin Lee, Rory Gallagher, Robben Ford, and a massive list who inspire every new guitarist in some way.
Blues music is a genre of music that originated in African-American communities in the United States in the late 19th century. It has its roots in African musical traditions, work songs, spirituals, and field hollers. Blues music is characterised by its distinctive chord progressions, which is still used today, along with gritty blues vocal styles.
What is 12 bar blues for guitar?
The blues typically follows a 12-bar musical structure, which consists of three chords played over 12 measures. This structure provides a framework for improvisation and allows us guitarists to express our emotions through a simpler chord structure.
Blues music commonly features the guitar as a central instrument, with players often using techniques like sliding, bending, and vibrato to add expressive elements to their playing. Other instruments such as the harmonica, piano, bass, drums, and saxophone are also commonly used in blues ensembles.
Who are some more modern blues guitar players?
There are several modern blues guitar players who have made significant contributions to the genre. Here are a few notable examples of modern blues guitarists on the music scene:
Joe Bonamassa: Known for his virtuosic playing and soulful style, Bonamassa has gained recognition as one of the premier blues guitarists of his generation. He has released numerous albums and is known for his powerful live performances.
Gary Clark Jr.: Clark Jr. is a versatile guitarist who blends blues, rock, and soul influences. He has garnered critical acclaim for his guitar skills and expressive playing, and his music appeals to a wide range of audiences.
Derek Trucks: Trucks is known for his slide guitar playing and his work with The Derek Trucks Band and the Allman Brothers Band. He incorporates various blues styles, along with elements of jazz and world music, into his playing.
Susan Tedeschi: Although primarily known as a vocalist, Susan Tedeschi is also an accomplished blues guitarist. Her soulful voice and bluesy guitar playing have earned her multiple Grammy nominations and a dedicated fan base.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd: Shepherd is a blues-rock guitarist who gained recognition at a young age for his impressive guitar skills. He has released several successful albums and is known for his high-energy performances.
These are just a few examples, and there are many more talented modern blues guitar players who continue to keep the genre alive and evolving.
One of our favourite slide guitarists, Derek Trucks!
What makes a great blues guitar?
Several factors contribute to what makes a great blues guitar, and most great blues guitars are versatile guitars by nature, often able to cover jazz, pop and rock to heavy metal with some amp and tone changes.
Finding the perfect guitar really comes down to your personal choice, like your preferred body shapes, but from affordable price guitars to boutique hand-made guitars and more expensive models like those with a solid mahogany neck, there are lots of commonalities for both acoustics and electrics no matter what skill level you are at.
Here are some key elements to getting that bluesy tone:
Tone: A great blues guitar should have a tone that is expressive. The guitar's tone should allow for dynamic range, with the ability to deliver both soft, mellow passages and powerful, biting tones when needed. Blues guitarists often seek instruments that can produce a range of tones, from smooth and clean to gritty and distorted, to suit different playing styles and moods across the bridge position and neck position if you are on an electric.
For acoustic blues guitars, getting a middle ground sound is usually preferred, to more brighter parlour guitar styles. Most blues guitarists don't use dreadnoughts as they are too warm - but there are always exceptions!
Playability: The playability of a guitar is crucial for a blues player. A great blues guitar should have a comfortable neck profile and smooth fretwork, allowing for easy bending and vibrato techniques. The action (string height) should be set up to the player's preference, enabling effortless string bending and comfortable fretting.
Sustain: Sustain refers to the length of time a note rings out after it is played. A guitar with good sustain allows blues players to create long, singing notes and sustain their vibrato, adding emotional depth to their playing. Solid construction, quality materials, hardware, and a well-designed bridge system can contribute to enhanced sustain across guitars of any price range.
Versatility: Blues guitarists often explore a range of styles within the genre, from traditional Delta blues to Chicago blues, Texas blues, and more. A great blues guitar should be versatile enough to handle different playing techniques, such as fingerpicking, slide guitar, and rhythm comping. It should respond well to changes in dynamics and be adaptable to various musical situations.
Expression: Blues music is all about emotional expression, and a great blues guitar should allow the player to convey their emotions effectively. The guitar should be responsive to the player's touch, allowing for nuanced phrasing, dynamics, and articulation. This responsiveness allows blues guitarists to infuse their playing with feeling and create a personal connection with their instrument.
Vintage Feel or Authenticity: Many blues players are drawn to guitars that have a vintage feel or capture the essence of classic blues tones, which can be a maple with maple fretboard guitar like a Fender style, or maple with rosewood fretboard for a bit of a darker or warmer tone.
Vintage-style construction, pickups, and materials can contribute to achieving that authentic blues sound. However, it's important to note that there are also modern guitars that offer excellent blues tones and playability.
Ultimately, the choice of a great blues guitar is a personal one, as each player has their own preferences and playing style. What matters most is finding a guitar that inspires and empowers the player to create expressive, soulful blues music.
Here are some great acoustic guitar options from the mentioned brands that are known for their quality and are suitable for playing blues:
Alvarez Acoustic Guitars: Alvarez are popular guitars in Australia (we love them here at Coleman's Music). Alvarez are known for producing guitars that offer excellent value for the price. Their instruments often have a balanced tone, making them well-suited for blues. The Alvarez Artist Series, particularly models like the Alvarez AD60, AD70, or AJ80, are popular choices for blues players seeking an affordable and reliable instrument.
Epiphone Acoustic Guitars: Epiphone is a subsidiary of Gibson and offers a range of guitars inspired by their renowned counterparts. The Epiphone Master built series is highly regarded, offering vintage-inspired designs with solid wood construction. Models like the Epiphone Master built DR-500MCE or the Epiphone AJ-220SCE are known for their rich tones and good playability, making them suitable for blues players.
Taylor Acoustic Guitars: Taylor guitars are recognised for their craftsmanship, playability, and consistent quality. While they are often associated with contemporary acoustic styles, many Taylor models can also excel in blues playing and the weapon of choice for lots of blues guitarists. The Taylor 314ce or Taylor 814ce, both from their flagship 800 series, are renowned for their versatility and tonal range, making them suitable for blues and other genres. Taylor guitars are some of the most versatile acoustics on our list, and you can find a model for any style of blues!
FENECH Acoustic Guitars: FENECH Guitars is a boutique guitar maker known for its handcrafted instruments. While they may not be as widely recognised as some other brands, FENECH guitars are highly regarded for their exceptional craftsmanship and attention to detail. They offer custom-made acoustic guitars, and their FENECH Model A or Model B series could be excellent options for blues players seeking a high-end, personalised instrument.
SIGMA Acoustic Guitars: Sigma acoustic guitars are a brand of guitars that are often associated with good value and affordability. They are made by Martin Guitar Company, a reputable and well-established guitar manufacturer. While Sigma guitars are generally well-regarded for their quality and sound, whether they are suitable for blues music ultimately depends on the specific model and personal preference.
It's important to note that choosing the right guitar ultimately depends on personal preference and trying out different models to find the one that resonates with your playing style and desired tone. It's always recommended to play and compare various guitars before making a final decision.
What are the best electric guitars for blues?
Here are some great electric guitar options from the mentioned brands that are known for their quality and are suitable for playing blues:
JET Electric Guitars: JET Guitars is a brand that produces high-quality custom electric guitars. Their instruments are known for their craftsmanship and attention to detail. Models like the JET JM6 or JET JTM are popular choices for blues players seeking unique and boutique instruments with either single coil pickups or humbucker pickup options as the bridge pickup and neck pickup.
Squier Electric Guitars Australia: Squier is a subsidiary of Fender and offers more affordable versions of classic Fender designs. They provide great value for the price and are often favoured by beginner and intermediate players. Models like the Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster or Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster can deliver authentic blues tones without breaking the bank.
Epiphone Electric Guitars: Epiphone, as mentioned earlier, is a subsidiary of Gibson and offers a wide range of electric guitars. The Epiphone Casino, with its hollow body construction and P-90 pickups, is favored by many blues players for its warm and versatile tones. The Epiphone Les Paul Standard or Epiphone Sheraton II are also popular choices, providing a range of tones suitable for blues playing.
Duesenberg Electric Guitars: Duesenberg is a German brand known for its high-quality electric guitars with vintage-inspired designs. Their solid body guitars and Semi-hollow body guitars are instruments that are well-regarded for their playability, craftsmanship, and attention to detail. Models like the Duesenberg Starplayer TV or Duesenberg Fullerton are often sought after by blues players looking for a blend of classic and modern tones.
Fender Electric Guitars: Fender is an iconic brand in the world of electric guitars, and their instruments have been widely used in blues music. Models like the Fender Stratocaster or Fender Telecaster are timeless choices for blues players, offering versatile tones and excellent playability. Fender Custom Shop models or the American Professional series are particularly sought after by professional blues guitarists.
Gibson Electric Guitars: Gibson is another legendary brand that has played a significant role in shaping blues music. Their instruments, such as the Gibson Les Paul, Gibson SG, Gibson Les Paul Studio or Gibson ES-335 which is one of the Gibson Hollowbody options, are revered for their rich, warm tones and sustain. Blues players like B.B. King, Albert King, and Eric Clapton have famously used Gibson guitars for their blues performances.
When selecting an electric guitar for blues, it's essential to consider factors such as the guitar's tonal characteristics, playability, and your own personal preferences. Trying out different models and understanding how they feel and sound in your hands will help you find the guitar that suits your playing style and captures the blues tone you desire.
Gary Clark Jr. and one of his many guitars, a Gibson ES335.
So what makes a great blues guitar?
Ultimately, what makes a great blues guitar, is a guitar that inspires you.
No matter the types of guitars you lean towards, and no matter how much the guitar costs, what it looks like, what name is on the headstock, if you want to pickup a guitar, you are more likely to play it. No matter what music you play, this is everything - even the colour can make a huge difference.
At Coleman's Music Stores in Melbourne CBD and online, with fast shipping all over Australia, we can help you find your dream guitar. Just check out our awesome electric guitar range here and our acoustic guitar here, or just give us a call on (03) 9799 5400 if you need a hand - we're here to help!!