4 Things That Separate Amateur Guitar Players From Pro Guitarists

Back when I was an amateur guitar player, I could always tell when someone was a lot better than me that I considered to be professional, but I didn't know how to quantify the chasm that separated us. I remember going to sit in with a professional band at one of their rehearsals when I was a teenager, thanks clearly to a called-in favor from my parents to someone who must have owed them 😉

The guitar player was playing perfectly in time with the band, but it was better than that. It's like he was ONE with the band! There was this intangible element at play that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I remember him kindly showing me a few of his parts so I could jam with them, and I played the parts exactly the same way he did, but somehow he still sounded so much better than me! I asked him in frustration, “How is it that you and I can play the same notes but still sound worlds apart?”
He smiled and responded with, "Time. It takes time. You'll get there."

Since that time, which was more than 15 years ago, I have come to discover some tangible elements that can be directly worked on at any time to help newcomers become pros. Here are four of them:

1. Great Vibrato
2. In-tune bends
3. Groove
4. Tone

Vibrato

Very few guitar players actually know how to execute great vibrato, and this includes professionals! But when one has a strong, powerful vibrato, it instantly communicates a level of mastery that sounds professional.

Solution:
Avoid using your finger tips to pull strings; instead, use your wrist. Also, practice performing a slow wide vibrato instead of a quick shrill vibrato on your guitar.

Bends

One of the dead giveaways that someone has not yet achieved pro status in their guitar playing is when they fail to perform a bend in tune. Frequently, amateur guitarists bend a string not knowing that they are aiming for just hoping that it will work out. It never does...

Solution:
Practice nailing half an whole step bends consistency all over the fretboard.

Groove

Amateur guitar players work on memorizing parts. Pro guitarists work on feeling the music and locking in with the rest of the band.

Solution:
Jam with backing tracks, a looper pedal, or an actual band as frequently as possible. Don't just work on lead guitar - continually practice your rhythm playing as well.

Tone

Visit any guitar store and pay attention to which amps people are trying out. Typically, you will see the teenagers go straight for the solid-state amps with overly compressed distortion, and it sounds awful. Notice that it’s the older guys, who usually have more experience, that are going straight to the tube amps and finding tones that have plenty of mid-range.

Solution:
Pay attention to the tone of guitar players when you do to see a band. Who has the best tone? Is it the person with the most distortion. Is it the guitarist with a solid state amplifier or a tube amp? Is there a guitar player who sounds great by themselves at soundcheck but gets lost in the mix with the band. Why? What are their amp settings like?

Begin paying attention to these elements and constantly ask the question, "what separates this guitar player from that guitar player? What's different? What separates them? Simply asking these questions will put you on the right track. Happy tone chasing! Now go seek out some grooves!

About the Author:
Eric "Crank Those Mids!" Bourassa is the owner of Aledo Guitar Academy offering guitar lessons for kids and adults, beginners and experienced players. He helps players improve their guitar technique, tone, and over all music professionalism.