Ask Riff Ninja Your Guitar Question! - Riff Ninja

Ask Riff Ninja Your Guitar Question!

Question-markAlright guys, we’re getting set to do another round of YouTube videos here at the studio, and we thought why not ask YOU for ideas on what we should cover next?

So here’s the deal – ask us your guitar related questions in the comments below, and we’ll do our best to address them in a short YouTube video. Keeping your question as clear and concise as possible will really help us out.

To clarify, we won’t be answering your questions here, on this page, but rather by YouTube, however as the answers are posted we’ll try to come back and reply with the appropriate link to the question.

Please take a moment to read through the comments and answers below, as there is a decent chance your question has been asked and answered already.

So that’s pretty much it – the doors are wide open! What’s on your mind?

Note – you might want to bookmark this page and check back often in the coming weeks as new answers are being posted nearly every day.

[box type=”info” border=”full”]TIP: Checkout the YouTube playlist here that contains all the answers. You might find it easier finding your answer there than looking through the comments below.[/box]

Leave a Reply 103 comments

Dan Boone Reply

My greatest issue is tone. The sound of the electric guitar right out the box and into the amp basically sounds “tinny”. I am aware of the many effects pedals that are available. I would like to know how a guitar tone can be created with minimal effects pedals. For example, Leslie West’s guitar has a signature sound to it -- how does he get that? Likewise, Joe Satriani, B.B. King, Buddy Guy. etc. Thanks for listening!

    Rob Dotzler Reply

    I don’t know about any other guitar than a Les Paul style guitar, so speaking about those. A simple thing, that isn’t expensive, is to buy a paper in oil capacitor and have a local luthier replace what is more than likely an orange drop cap. There are tons of them out there now, like a Russian pio cap, a bumblebee cap (those are more expensive). eBay has a ton of them. Even if you feel comfortable soldering, you may not get it just right, take my word for it. I was having an issue with what I thought was a perfect connection, $25 dollars at a luthier and I was getting that warm richness I was looking for and yet screaming highs. I got my pio for less than $10US including shipping. My $100 Epiphone Les Paul Jr sounds like a thousand dollar axe. I was going to change the pick up too but haven’t bothered now. I would imagine if you have a 2 pick up guitar you’d need 2 of them. The Jr just has the 1. Good luck!

    Jonathan Reply

    Hi Dan, we actually did this one in three short parts, check it out:
    Part 1 (Fingers) --
    Part 2 (Strings) --
    Part 3 (Amps) --

    This topic is HUGE -- it really could have turned into a multi-hour discussion, but hopefully these short vids get you pointed in the right direction.

    Big Dog Jim Reply

    Dan: Looking at who you named, we probably have a lot in common taste wise. But think about your question! First, if you have a different rig than the teacher, the settings he uses will be useless to the student! You don’t say what kind of guitar, and amp came out of your boxes, it would go a long way in helping you with a real answer. I mean are you talking about a $250 Dean guitar and a $175 Solid State 50W Behringer amp? But even a Les Paul will sound different that a Strat--I know duha, right?-- A rosewood fret board has a different tone than the brighter maple on Strats that are otherwise identical. But Tinny? If you take a Telecaster, there’s a lot of tinny there, but that’s WHY one buys one. What gauge strings are you using? If you’re looking for the tone of the guys you mentioned and using 9s, it ain’t gonna happen! Try some Ernie Ball Power Slinky 11’s, much richer than super Slinky’s, and your pinky will get really strong!. Next what kind of Amp? Even in the same line, say, Fender Deville’s 4-!0s sounds very different from 2-12s Speakers: Tube, Solid State, or Hybrid? There are huge differences in tone! But I’ll tell you this: For my ears, All Tube amps are the only way to go! SS amps sound dry, and have a tinny distortion. And Brand, or wattage, isn’t the end-all-be-all either. My wife gave me a Marshall MG-60 one Christmas. piece of crap-- But the tone and headroom in their 60W Haze is awesome warmth! Big difference between ALL tube and transistors. I once had a Fender Cyber Twin, it sounded like a great Idea, all those modeling possibilities! And I heard that Buddy Guy was touring with one. But like Buddy, I abandoned it pretty quickly. So while that’s long gone, I’ll never give up my old plain Jane Twin Reverb. You are probably getting the idea that I’ve gone through some gear, over the last 37 years, I have!. I now play Blues (Delta style, and Electric) and gray hair Rock, I’m not into a lot of effects either. I gig with 4 guitars tough, each with it’s own special set of tones and uses. Not to mention tunings. for instance, 1/2 step down warms tone.
    By the way, quite a few of the greats used Fender Bassman amps. The new Fender reissue of the 59 Bassman may offer what you’re looking for. Nothing tinny about those bad boys. Nothing cheap about them either if the wallets thin.
    As for Leslie West: few know that he got that signature sound through a Sun Coliseum PA Head! And that sounded different with his LP Jr, than it did with his SG!
    Once anyone starts really getting their chops, the pursuit of tone can seem allusive. But one thing is for sure, If you are playing through crap, your tone can’t be great.
    Bottom line, it starts with your bottom line, then it’s a matter of playing with the knobs for a few months until you can dial in exactly what you want to hear exactly when you want to hear it.
    Have fun!

Terry Reply

What are the steps to setting up your guitar to make it easier on your fingers but still sound right?

Rick Demeter Reply

My question is how do you connect the scales for the key you are playing in? Where do you start playing, or do you switch scales according to the chords that are being played?
I just wish someone would make a video of connecting scales from low position to high position. This just is driving me crazy!

    Jonathan Reply

    Hi Rick, here’s a vid answer the question of connecting the scales from low to high…

    For the other part, please see the response to Mike, below.

Mike Reply

I have learned the Minor Pentatonic Scale patterns but I am confused on how to apply them.
As the chords change in a progression should I change the pattern to match the chord?
Can I mix major and minor pentatonic scales in a chord progression?

    frank medeiros Reply

    MIke, the beauty of the pentatonic scale is you do not have to change modes or chords while the rest of the band does. Have some one play something like Summertime or The Thrill is Gone and you play the P-scale in that key and watch how it fits. All the notes in the P-scale will blend with a 1-4-5 or a1-6-4-5. Or get a backing track on line and have some fun. I teach my students this and they are amazed how easy it is. Go for it! Frank

    Jonathan Reply

    Hi Mike -- check this out:

Taylor Reply

I was always wondering what is the most dark sounding scale to use in any key in DCGFAD tuning?

    Jonathan Reply

    The scales are all going to be the same, regardless of the tuning you use, because a scale is a scale, you just have to adjust your fingering depending on the tuning. That said, the scale that is commonly considered the darkest is….

Bob Reply

What is the best thing to look for when looking for a guitar teacher? Im 56 years old and have always wanted to play but dont what to learn -- theory, power chords, rhythm, lead, ??? Help

    cmtpapa Reply

    totally agree, this is my situation too. so I’ve spent 2 yrs. (on my own, off and on) and so far know 1 song by rote. Knowing WHAT to study would be a big help in learning HOW to study.

    Jonathan Reply

    Hi Bob, here are some thoughts on what to look for in a guitar teacher:

    Pat Grabowski Reply

    I had the same problem when I was 23 years old …… I’m 68 now. I had just about given up with the Mel Bay crap, scales and simple songs that I didn’t like. Fortunately, I had a friend that played reasonably well. He said that he could help me learn to make the guitar sound good, which is exactly what I wanted and play songs that I wanted to learn. I’m still playing.
    My advice …… find a teacher/musician that will teach you to make the guitar sound good and cut through the BS. As you get better, you will naturally want to learn more advance techniques. But making your first song sound good is a major milestone. Oh by the way, it is fun and exhilarating.

    Jonathan Reply

    Also, here’s a video on what to learn first:

Ironclaw Reply

What is the best way to use my practice time? I mean, I start with the basic chords and transitioning from one chord to another and then play along with a favorite tune and try to keep up (i’ve been under instruction for a year now). Then I practice the pentatonic scales, blues scale, etc. and then I put on a jam track and improvise a solo riff in “the pocket” to the track. I guess this seems adequate but what would you advise an early student to do??

Tony Reply

I really enjoy fingerpicking styles and haven’t been able to get to grips with finger/thumb picks. Any suggestions how to stop finger nails breaking?


Bob Sauve Reply

Hi Colin,
Here’s my question:
I am just beginning fingerpicking on my acoustic guitar and want to form good habits. Do you recommend bracing your pinky of the fingerpicking hand on the guitar below the high E (1) string or leaving your hand float above the strings without using the pinky as a brace/reference point ? FYI, I use my thumb and ring/middle/index fingers to fingerpick. Also, I want to be able to hybrid pick (pick and fingers). Do you have any recommendations re; hybrid picking?
Thanks. Bob.

Mick Reply

I am near 70 and tried to learn the guitar but got hung up on scales and got totally bored. Lost interest. I look on YouTube and ether did not know what to look for to help;
Maby just getting to old.
Any ideas

    cmtpapa Reply

    Please answer this one. Need help here too.

    frank medeiros Reply

    Mick, I’m 68 and play in a band now and have done so since I was 16! Your never too old. I know a couple of guys in their mid-late 70’s still gigging. Make it fun and you won’t quit!

    Jonathan Reply

    Hi Mick, here’s some advice if you’re getting bored playing scales:

Noise Maker Reply

Just started fingerpicking. Question is picpattern PIMA, but tabs only show P I for that bar. So,do I still keep the PIMA pattern or just pick what the tabs show and try to keep the beat in my head for the missing M & A stings in that bar?

brother Reply

I started playing guitar 4 years ago. I’ve only played sitting down. Do you have any tips on how to stand up and play ?????

Mark Reply

I’d like to see a video explaining turnarounds; ie. their purpose and how they relate to the key you’re in.

Paolo Reply

I am interested in exercises that train fingers independence ( 1,2,3 ) on the right hand for melody lines while alternate bass with the thumb . Maybe with simple fingerpicked songs . Thanks a lot

Bob Reply

How do I find the key a song is in? easy and quick ? Not having perfect pitch for hearing and trying to jam along with favorite songs, I find it hard to pick out the correct Key by ear.

Bill Reply

Hi Colin , I would like to see you do a video on the Bo Didley beat …shouldn’t be rocket science but I just don’t seem to be able to get it right and find it difficult in every way.

Frank Reply

I always wonder how guitarists remember what chords come next in a song. I have a bad memory & need to look at the chord chart! I know you can say, well, it’s a I, IV, V song and know the key, but songs don’t follow the same progression in same order all through the entire song. Is it just by sound that they know what chord to play without memorizing?

pj Reply

Take a song like Gloria.. e-d-a.. when I do a lead what would be my first note..? On other songs also.. How do Iknow what note to play first on a lead..?
Thanks, I enjoy reading your website and I get your emails..

Jim Reply

Can you give illustrations or examples of the most widely used bar chords? I really would appreciate it.

jstin Darosa Reply

Hey Colin, I’ve been watching you for a long time I know some scales my speed isn’t that fast my question is what does it take to be a good lead player. I know you have to play with your soul but some people are born with It others have to work their butt’s off can you answer that for me Colin.

Jaggs Reply

I’m struggling with changing chords including bar chords. Could you help with this topic?

Graeme Reply

Colin ..I’ve had a little experience of playing the banjo in the past but now love learning the guitar (classical and steel string acoustic) …what are the relative merits of using a pick, just your fingers, or thumb/finger picks on guitar?

David Reply

I would like to see a video of the 5 most used arpeggios and how to use them, for example basic blues and rock licks. I would like to see a very simple video on this subject because I think most players that’s all they need in terms of arpeggios. I have found that just learning arpeggio patterns is not enough you need to learn some cool licks to use them just like with scales, until you learn some cool licks they are just boring. Keeping it to just 5 arpeggio patterns will also be simple enough to get most of us excited about using arpeggios to improvise with.

roger sullivan Reply

I know all the keys scals notes sharps and flats on the guitar.Been playing 15 years. I git so mad when I listen to a song on a cd or radio and cant figure out what they are I tone deff.i have bought all kinds of cources and just cant figure out what notes there runs my blood pressure up.can you help me .roger sullivan

Paul Reply

I’ve been looking for that “blues” sound for a long time, at least 30 years. So in my quest a couple of years ago I found the “Riff Ninja”, joined the academy and worked each lesson several times. I’ve mainly been working on technical skills for the past couple of years as I realized I needed to tear it all down to learn. Then build it back up a better way with a better foundation and understanding. The “Riff Ninja” provided that first structured path for me. Still searching I’ve come across many lessons and continue to develop my skills and I’m just not close to that elusive “Bluesman” and “Rocker” of my quest. Yes, the job gets in the way. With all of my work I notice when I jam or play songs or acoustic, my hard work shows up with a new approach and new skills and those dreary skill development exercises turn into fun! So I need to know how to combine the major and minor scales playing blues. I need the ticket! The trick! The key! Point me in the right direction and I’ll do the rest! Then I’ll come back with another question…..

lon Reply

Timing and Base Runs from one chord to another.

Steve Reply

Couldn’t get through from your standard query form. Here’s my question: I’ve been having problems with palm muting and pinched harmonics. I suspect some misalignment in pick/ hand/ arm/ elbow position. Can I cure a lot of this by adjusting my strap length? What is optimal?

Jeff Reply

My question is related to playing and singing at the same time -- is there a method or a practice regimen that will teach how to play and sing?

dr love Reply

I’ve been playing for almost 2 yrs now and making your own music ie, improv rhythms and solos, leave me as close to nirvana as you can get without subjecting myself to PED testing. But something that still eludes me is how to keep the guitar “quiet” except for the strings being played. too often I can get a ring off another non-played string from the sympathetic vibrations caused by its neighbouring strings. what is the secret to this kind of muting?

KIM Reply

Can you explain modes

Geoff Clegg Reply

I have been fascinated recently by a blues song “Worried Life Blues” performed by numerous bluesmen over the years. I have never been able to obtain a playable Tab/Chords for this. I’m sure it would make a great teaching aid for hammer-ons, bends pull-offs etc

Dave Reply

Many refer to it as noodling, meandering or just jamming. What is the secret to be able to do this? Knowing scales, a bunch of riffs or having an epiphany? I just don’t get it.

Greg Reply

Yo Collin!
I know that staying in a pentatonic scale will work over the I IV V progression and I know it sounds good but I would like to take my soloing to a new level …. say the progression is A D E would you start with the A first position pent pattern and move to the D first position pent pattern and then the E first position pent pattern and repeat as necessary? Any light you could shed on this would take me out of the dark and recharge me batteries! Thanks!

Mikolaj Reply

Your opinion on cheap starting guitars? I want to order the Epiphone Les Paul Junior, but it looks REALLY basic. Is it enough for a newbie or should I get something more expensive?
I’m afraid of getting screwed over by people who might be trying to sell really bad guitars to people who know nothing about them.

    Jonathan Reply

    Hi Mikolaj, this video is over an hour, but it will give you the understanding you need to ensure you don’t get taken advantage of by those tricky sales guys you’re referring to.

John Reply

Just received your “Rhythms & Riffs” package and I am looking forward to working through it.
More to the point, my question deals with strums. When I come across a song I would like to play the tabs/sheet music usually tell me the melody and the chords for the song but not what kind of strum to apply to that particular song. My general question is how do choose a strum pattern for a given song. Specifically, could you suggest some strum patterns for the Leadbelly song “In the Pines/Black Girl”, preferably in an easier for me to play key of E.

I am a largely a visual learner and do not effectively translate what I hear into a written pattern, such as, D UD UD UD, so written out patterns work better for me.
Thanks for any help you can provide.

Byron Alleyne Reply

How do you graduate from just strumming to actually playing leads so as to keep the enthusiasm and keep progressing.

Taylor zylstra Reply

What scale or scales are used to make a evil aerobic sound like the solo in wherever i may roam by metallica?

earl conner Reply

I still have not recieved the answer to buying an acoustic guitar…. Or the type pick to use please helpppp……


Jean Davis Reply

My question is about jazz chords with a sort of comping style. I love the sound of jazz guitar and I’ve been trying for some time to get to grips the many jazz chords and the different fingerings all over the fretboard. I find it so confusing it would be good to have a lesson where you could start by using fairly easy chords, possibly open chords and show how you could gradually incorporate some other voicings and also how and why you could substitute some of the chords for say diminished/ half dim or b9 or #9 etc.

Mark Reply

Hi Colin/Jonathon
Saw your video 3 re amp -- sound of electric guitar. I have, amongst others a Classic 30 Peavey and currently using an Epi LP Elite. Interested in the comment about the amp needing to be adjusted for a particular guitar which makes sense but I had until now attempted to find something that worked and stuck withy it -- and this was often based on the Peavey cheat sheet where the same one is issued with the Classic and their SS amps?? Anyway I have Distortion and TS clone pedals but can’t get sound of the note breaking up .Watching Colin on the videos, ie Strumming/Riffs, you just seem to stretch the string and the note just goes into melt down. Can we have a bit more info re fine tuning your amp -- part of the problem may be with my ear but for example would a single coil generally need more bass etc? Would you run a TSW type pedal through the Drive channel? I suspect this is all a black art in itself and note your comments about a rig suiting one player but unusable for another

    Mark Reply

    Just further on this issue -- in my youth when I started out on my intermittent journey with a nylon string MIJ Yamaha (which was probably a great guitar if you were into something else) I would listen to the likes of EC, JH and others like JJ Cale and Roy Buchanan and I actually thought that they could make those sounds because they were really good guitarists. Then I found out about effects pedals etc. Jury is probably out -- maybe I was half right.

Tj Reply

I personally went through, reading all the great questions and suprizing awnsers. But none the less i have my own personal question, i have asked this question to many of knowledgable guitarists and none have been able to give me a stright awnser. So my question is this: What type of exotic scale is used to make a arobic evil tone/riff/ solo like what is played in Wherever i may roam By Metallica, and how to go about learning all the patterns of the exotic scale?

Tj Reply

Still have not recieved an awnser to my question about the arobic evil sounding scale.

Phil Reply

Hi Colin …good vids, have a question for u. I,m an older player …40 something from the NW and just learning basically and curious on your thoughts about the rocksmith 2014 program vs other teaching programs. I know your in the business of instructing through your web site but thought this would be a good jump start too. Saw your vid today on the Yamaha acoustic from Costco in which i bought in about 06……where were u in 06!! anyway it ended up killing my fingers and became unfun and has been collecting dust since, ready to start this trek again with an Ibenez s570dxqm with an optimistic outlook 🙂

daniel Reply

Would You show me how to play all of SMOKE ON THE WATER /RIFFS AND LEAD?

Dustin Reply

I have recently had the pinky on my left had amputated. I have been playing since 1971 but I can’t switch hit. Now I have to learn a new style or, a new instrument. I play ( or played ) mandolin, guitar, banjo and uke. Would steel guitar be a way to go? I really don’t need lessons except for the steel. Do you have an Idea?

Tim Reply

I’m wondering if you’d suggest the best way to get a lead tone when gigging in a small room or small club with a 50 watt or larger amp? I mean, one can turn it up and hurt everyone’s ears and have to much stage volume, but sound great, or one can use a pedal for distortion overdrive? Which do you use or subscribe to? Should I use a pedal for distortion or my amp at large volumes where the Power amp tubes sound great .. It’s a Peavey.. Tube amp..

Ken H. Reply

I just watched a video of a guitar tech who was given a guitar to repair for a fret buzz problem. The tech looked it over, found the set up to be correct, and spoke of having to tell the guitar player that his instrument is fine, the problem is in how he was playing it. I am just wondering if you could provide a short discussion on some of the bad habits that make a quality instrument sound like it has a problem….

I doubt I am wording this well, but as an instructor, I think you have witnessed what I am trying to describe.

dave Reply

my question is regarding vamps.
Watching an Interview with the great Frank Zappa, he said he never liked to play over chord changes, but instead used vamps. Finding it hard to see a decent description of what they are. A video would be awesome.
Dave, UK

Roger Reply

Hi Collin,
1.Have you got e few riff’s/lick’s, putting it together and Play a I/IV/I-Blues in the key of A ?
2.Have you got a song library
I’m a proud lifetime member
Roger from Switzerland

Peter Reply

I’m considering learning the “Guitaron”, but am also somewhat interested in Bass Guitar, Maybe even something else? But my question is, stylistically how different do those two instruments play? What kind of Vybe and mojo does each bring to the table? Seeing as I like the Guitaron is there another instrument I might like aswell, maybe something better for carrying from campfire to campfire? I would love to hear all your thoughts on the beautiful Guitaron. Thanks 🙂

Peter Reply

“Guitarron” * with two R R’s or sometimes Guitarone 🙂

Darren Reply

A music theory question, you have old Johnny Cash songs that have a bass intro riff, like:- Walk the Line; San Quentin; Folsom Prison, and Wanted Man. Simple basic intro bass riffs, but could you tell me what is the key/scale pattern these riffs are played in.

Maria Reply

Hi I’d like to learn how to play my 6 sting Acoustic Guitar. Its gonna be a fist time so a beginner at Guitar learning. Are the lessons free and how does this work is there some kind of charge or something. ??

Mitch Reply

You have some great videos. Do you have any videos that might show several different angles
of playing for us beginner older folks?

Stephane Reply

Hi Colin/Jonathan,

The single most difficult thing for me is to play in time with other instruments / backing tracks. While I’ve made some improvement over time, it’s still what I struggle with most. And yes, counting helps, but if I lose “my place” in the progression or the measure, I find it hard to re-synch and knowing what’s beat 1, 2, 3, 4.

My question would be, are there “ways” or tips/tricks to recognize specific beats (i.e. beat one). I’m always amazed at how musicians can just “join in” mid stream and know precisely where they are. There must be something that serves as an anchor point in a measure (the change of chord is obvious, but that can happen in the middle of a bar too) so there must be something (snare , etc.) that is typically used on a first/third beat, etc.? And there must be something one can practice to “sync” up?


Josh Reply

Hey Colin, when I’ve played other artists solos before I’ve recognised what scale they’re using but they’ve added in sharps and flats into it to get a fast (shredder) sound. But it doesn’t sound good in certain parts of the scale. I was wondering if these were the blues notes and if you’ve got a video showing where they are? Thanks!

Amanda Reply

Hi! Im having trouble getting the hang of the metronome. Its been rough. I know its important for
timing, etc. Could u help me out??

Marc Reply

My biggest struggle is holding onto the pick while strumming on acoustic guitar. Would appreciate any tips to help me improve.

Garrett Reply

I have trouble switching chords, what can I do to fix this

Joe Reply

I would like to see more videos on speed picking. I’m finding that to be one of my greatest frustrations. I’ve been practicing by going up and down the fretboard using all four fingers on my left hand and using alternate picking but I just don’t seem to be improving as fast as I would like to. Thanks for all your help.

Yohane Reply

Hi Colin,

I think you should also include different guitar tunes as part of your lessons. This is because you can only play a guitar with a tune.


Manish Reply

I am left handed and my guitar is of right one. So, i decided to change the string and put opposite cuz i can play by left. This is my first step on guitar.Is this would be ok to play like that with that guitar?

    Jonathan Reply

    Hi Manish, what you described is not recommended. Guitars are setup with more clearance under the larger strings, because they vibrate further than small ones. If you switch them and put small ones there instead, then the small ones will be much higher from the fretboard than they should be, and therefore harder to play. Also, the large strings will be much closer to the fretboard than they should be, and will most likely buzz a lot as they bump into the fretboard when they’re vibrating.

Leave a Reply: