how to play in the style of BB king

How to play in the style of BB King

Hello everyone! Today we talk about one of the most influential guitarists in the history of Blues and we’ll talk about how to play in his style! The undisputed king, recognized by all the Bluesman of the world: Mr. BB KING !!

First of all, why is he considered the King of the Blues?

Well, there could be many reasons, and some will be addressed in this article. But one of them could be his ability to get straight to the heart of the listener, with just a few notes, the right ones and with the right rhythm.

Blues is often said to be an easy genre to play. Just a scale and a few more. Ok, maybe you can play the standard Blues even if you know only one scale, but knowing how to put the right notes at the right time is not a bargain for everyone!

The good news is that there are specific techniques and studies to get an excellent Blues language (by the way, if you haven’t done already, come and have a look at my GUITARlab Modern Blues Guitar Academy where I help my students to find their voice on the Blues ) and I assure you that it is not just a “question of feeling”! 🙂

I selected some key points to get closer to the sound of the mythical BB!

The Sound.

The sound is quite easy to get. BB King played exclusively with his “Lucille” a similar 335 generally without pedals directly into the “clean” amp.

In the video, you will see I used a D’Angelico Deluxe, a similar 335 hollow boy using the bridge pickup on a Fender Deville amp.

If you want you can also use a booster to create a natural crunch that supports the sound a bit during improvisations.

The thing that you will have to remember is to close the bridge tone a bit to darken the sound.

The Vibrato.

BB King’s vibrato is certainly one of the most important elements of his playing! In some ways, it is very similar to that of Eric Clapton (or maybe it is the opposite!) With the movement of the thumb that detaches from the fingerboard to create a rapid but wide movement.

Put a vibrato at the end of each phrase and you will see that everything will be more “musical” and natural!

Scales Used.

Many talks about the so-called “BB Box”, that is the typical lick that BB King did on the first three strings emphasizing the first with bending of at least one or one and half step.

If we actually analyze the original scale we realize that BB King used to play a Pentatonic Add6, basically, a minor Pentatonic Scale where the 7 min is replaced by the 6 major.

Here’s the fingering:

Based on the concept of alternation between major third and third min, BB KING used this scale both in major and minor contexts, emphasizing the modal according to his needs.


You can get some ideas of lick in the style of BB King by watching the Masterclass below. I always advise you to start from these concepts, trying to make them yours and trying to improvise around, “milking” the idea as Scott Henderson says.

Recommended Discs.

There would be plenty of them, but I suggest you listen to “Live at Regal” and “One Kind Favor” two of my favorite BB records.

If you enjoyed this lesson, subscribe to the YouTube channel and leave a comment below!

My Best,

Davide Pannozzo

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