As usual, we’ll begin with a look at the gear! Emulating Rory’s classic setup is fairly simple, requiring just three pieces of equipment, but each element adds something important and unique to the mix. First, the guitar. While Rory played a number of different guitars throughout his career, the instrument he’s most closely associated with is his ’61 Strat. To that end, you’re going to want to use a strat if you have one - ideally with vintage-spec single coils in the neck and bridge position (where we’re going to be spending most of our time). Leave the tone controls wide open, but ride the volume down for cleaner passages.
Next up, amps and pedals. For the classic Rory Gallagher sound, you’re going to want an AC30 and a Rangemaster Treble Booster. You might be thinking that a Strat bridge pickup and a treble booster into a bright, forward amp like an AC30 will sound like an ice pick to the forehead, and usually you’d be right, but there’s one crucial detail here: Rory plugged into the AC30’s dark-sounding “normal” channel. The bright sound of his Strat, along with the upper midrange push from the treble booster turned the usually mushy and indistinct sound of this channel into an articulate, singing tone with tons of touch sensitivity and sustain.
If you don’t have an AC30 and a Treble Booster, fear not - there are a few ways you can emulate this tone with different setups. Take a dark-sounding, vintage-style amp and crank it until it starts to break up. Hit it with a bright, mid-forward overdrive (a Tubescreamer will do in a pinch, so long as you keep the gain low and the tone and level dimed), and you should get in the ballpark. Myself, I cheated and used a Victory V4 Copper preamp, which has this sort of tone baked right in.
Ok, so now we’ve got our gear in order, let’s get stuck in!
First up, we have an example of the kind of rapid-fire full-band accents that featured heavily in Rory’s work with Taste, and in his early 70s solo albums. You’ll notice that the tab would imply that we’re playing 16th notes over a swung 8th note feel. In fact, it’s not anywhere near as strict as that. Just focus on fitting all the hammer ons and pull offs into the space between the chord stabs and you’re good to go!
Our first solo section, with some of Rory’s trademark flowing legato phrasing. You’ll hear this sort of hammer on and pull off flourish all over Rory’s solos, and his particular sense of timing and use of repetition and variation is instantly recognisable. It’s counterintuitive, but try not to be too “in time” with the 16th/8th triplet phrases, and instead let the notes blur across the beat.
As far as picking goes, you’re looking for downstrokes on every beat with legato notes squeezed in between - something Rory did frequently, and which is quite common for guitarists who usually play as part of a trio as a method of keeping time!
An example of the sort of chord progression Rory might have chosen for a verse. What you’ll notice is that these chords aren’t your typical blues I-IV-V, drawing from the natural minor scale in contrast to the dorian-sounding power chord stabs in bar 17. The feel changes yet again with a bright sounding Asus2 (which is actually an Aadd9 thanks to the A major arpeggio in the bass).
Roll your volume back to clean the sound up for these chords, and arpeggiate them with a slow, controlled strum.
More full-band accents, this time with a 5th position legato pattern. Again, we’re looking for that “downstrokes on the beat” with the right hand, with the left hand filling in the notes in between. Focus on the 5th fret notes on the G and D strings, and let the rest fall where they may!
A repeat of the verse from bars 18-23. Take this time to locate your slide!
Rory was a masterful slide player, making use of dedicated open-tuned guitars for songs like Bullfrog Blues. However, what always tickled me was the way he’d occasionally grab his slide out of his pocket mid-song and throw down some slide licks on his standard tuned guitars too!
While Rory tended to play with a pick for his slide work, there’s nothing wrong with using your fingers if you don’t have the same level of control that Rory did - playing these lines cleanly with a pick takes a lot of practice!
Some of the more “traditional” blues comping that Rory might use to break up his more frenetic playing. It’s also a good opportunity to put the slide away without breaking flow! Again, roll your volume back a little to clean these chords up.
Another accent figure, this time a little more measured. Dynamic control is important to get the feel right here - make sure the grace notes are quiet and the loud notes really pop. Lay in to the trill in bar 57 nice and heavy, too!
These kinds of legato flourishes are one of the defining elements of Rory’s solo playing. We’re going to look at some “licks” here, but I don’t think Rory thought in terms of runs and licks that were set in stone - rather, he had a number of ways of navigating these scale “pathways”. Don’t be afraid to explore different timings and different combinations of the notes in these runs.
The first two runs are largely the same, with a “four notes/three notes” rhythm that doesn’t need to be super strict - better to think of it as “faster/fast/faster/fast”. The third run (starting at bar 62) is a little more structured, with an “overlapping 3s” pattern that Rory frequently made use of.
On to some of Rory’s more straight-ahead blues licks, starting with a quick arpeggio followed by a wailing bending figure. Notice the 16th fret G# note blended in with the minor pentatonic scale that forms the basis of this phrase: one of the best parts of playing in a power trio is that it affords a player the freedom to play with tonalities like this - something Rory took full advantage of!
Another characteristic Rory Gallagher trick is to start and finish phrases in places you might not expect - like this one, which starts on the third bar of the solo. We have another “overlapping 3s” idea, followed by a country-style bend and a rapid-fire Em arpeggio - a little microcosm of Rory’s diverse influences in one lick!
More straightforward again, with some classic blues cliches here - repeated picking on soaring bends, followed by some aggressive trills - imagine Rory using this opportunity to get the attention of his bandmates before giving the nod to go to the five chord in preparation for the next section (in bars 80-81, outlined with some sliding B7 chord tones).
Some thundering power chord playing that exemplifies Rory’s “proto-metal” work like Shadow Play that clearly had a profound impact on bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Keep and eye out for the rapid-fire legato run in bar 97 - a lick that could just as easily have come from his old touring buddy Gary Moore.
After the buildup in bar 88, start chugging the A string with aggressive palm muted 8th notes, but try and let the other strings ring out if you can - it’s a tough trick to carry off, but it’s a fantastic way to manage the intensity of a part like this, and it’s something Rory used to great effect in his live playing.
…So there you have it! A look at the work of one of the most diverse and quietly influential players of his generation. I usually find myself finishing these sessions by saying something like “we’re just scratching the surface”, but in this case it’s truer than ever. Have fun with the ideas we explore here, but be sure to explore the other facets of Rory’s playing too - maybe we’ll cover those in a future session!
The problem with trying to teach the style of a player like Rory Gallagher is that you really need about four Tech Sessions to do his playing justice. You’ll need a session dedicated to his open tuning slide playing; another dedicated to his acoustic playing; yet another to his hard rock playing from the mid 70s onwards… so consider this session where we focus on Rory’s barrelhouse blues playing a mere snapshot of a very deep and diverse guitar player.
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