Name that Guitar Cliché!

Are drummers smarter than guitar players?

I’m not a huge fan of drummer jokes. I know plenty of smart drummers, and it seems to me that we should accord them every bit as much respect as if they played an actual musical instrument.

Still, I bridle at the notion that they are more verbally skilled than we are.

I’m talking about the drumming tradition of referring to stereotypical licks via funny, short phrases. Shouldn’t we guitarists and bassists have a similar shorthand for our clichés? It won’t necessarily make us play any better, but at least we can display a little verbal creativity, especially on those days when musical creativity calls in sick.

For those who have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to link to a few examples. Here’s a nice explanation of the ever-popular “Pat Boone, Debbie Boone” fill:

Need another example? How about the classic known variously as “bucket o’ fish,” “bucket o’ shit,” and “takin’ a dump”:

Get it? So how come we don’t have any of those clever mnemonic nicknames for our most overused parts? Clearly, urgent action is needed!

I’ll start the ball rolling with six licks that seem to warrant disparaging nicknames. Got any ideas? And by all means, bring your “favorite” phrases to the party. I’m expecting great things in the comments below.



26 comments to Name that Guitar Cliché!

  • Pat

    A couple very funny people I used to play with did a little between-songs thing with guitar cliches way back in the ’80s. The bass player would explain how to create a cliche solo and the guitarist would demonstrate the lick. I don’t remember a lot about it, but #2 was called the “riddle-dee” (at the time, making fun of REO Speedwagon’s Gary Richrath and his riddle-dee-riddle-dee-riddle-dee solos) and #4 was “the whuptee.” In the routine, everything always came back to the whuptee (“and…the whuptee.”). I wish I could remember more about the routine, because it was hilarious. I only heard it once, but still remember that much.

  • You had me giggling immediately, as I thought of the old “bucket-o’-poo,bucket-o’-poo” arrangement we used to use in a tune. Then my blood chilled as I realized I used every one of those cliches at my gig last night. 🙁

  • I’m having a hard time being cute; every lick makes me think of it’s progenitor, so it’s Peter Green, Freddie King (Hideaway), Big Bill Broonzy, T-Bone Walker, Pat Hare (Muddy Waters), Otis Rush. Why’re we just picking on blues? Any number of Chic-style funk rhythm rhythms or chicken-pickin’ licks (etc.,etc.,etc.,) would be as ripe for the picking (pardon the pun). Don’t mind me, just a little hung over from last nights, uh, cliche fest…

    • joe

      Excellent question: Why am I picking on the blues? Maybe because I love almost all pre-1970 blues have little time for almost all post-1970 blues?


      Maybe blues clichés merit extra sarcasm, because the people who use them tend to think they’re immune from the need for creativity because they’re “feelin'” it so hard?

      Sure — the true blues giants were steeped in a long, deep, wide tradition — but T-Bone, Muddy, Hubert, B.B., Freddy, Albert, Buddy, and their peers were also avant-garde innovators!

      • You’re right Joe. There’s not a lot of blues guitar post Shuggie Otis, that we haven’t heard before a thousand times. It’s a real challenge to play that music appropriately without delving into some of that “shorthand”, but one I’ve been foolish enough to pursue for years. Still, I get some funny looks when I’m playing lowered seconds on a blues gig! 🙂 These days I’m happier playing outside of that tradition, because it feels so liberating.

        • joe

          I’m reminded of the late Albert Collins’s criterion for blues players: “Does he have an identification?”

          Mmm — Shuggie! 🙂

          • I gigged with Shuggie a couple of times up here in Vancouver. He got identification! He managed to take all the forefathers’ building blocks and turn them into a highly personal vernacular. He can play divine music when the spirit moves him. A major influence.

  • Schrodingersgoldfish

    2: I’m the King, I’m the King, I’m the King, I’m the King.
    3: This song is over, so leave me alone.

  • Digital Larry

    Isn’t #5 the “hummingbird” lick? I hope to be adept at all of these some day. And y’know, the guitar and your hand just go together in such a way, we shouldn’t be ashamed of these things.

  • It’s not in your demo, but my drummer (drummers, again!) always refers to legato triplets as “look-at-me look-at-me look-at-me”, especially if the offender is tapping with the right hand! 😀

  • Oinkus

    always called #3 walking it down

  • Thecoslar

    My buddy used to call number 2 “the bouncy happy lick”. No idea why, but it fits.

  • 50FC

    Cliche 05 should be combined with sticking your tongue out and moving it up and down. (you can use your strumming hand to point out into the audience).

  • mwseniff

    There is also the Stevie Ray Vaughn slow strum of the open guitar strings. It’s like finger nails on glass to me as I had a customer who thought he was SRV’s reincarnation who was a total pain in the A$$. My buddy that teaches guitar had many students ho wanted to learn that chord and wanted it put down in tablature. Talk about making mountains from molehills!

  • AndrewT

    1. The Page ( ‘Since I’ve Been Lovin You’ )
    2. The Kossoff ( ‘All Right Now’ )
    3. Too many!
    4. The ‘Chuck’ ( Berry )
    5. The Trower ( Robin )
    6. The Gilmour ( ‘Another Brick In the Wall’ )

    Please Joe can I have some more?

  • Jim

    1. Do You Think We’ll Get Paid?

  • Jim

    5. I’m just gonna shake it till the last drop…falls.

  • Jim

    3. That’s Why They Don’t Let Me Drink Here For Free

  • Aceman

    You know, while staples, I don’t know that I would call those cliche – at least out of context and in such a small dose.

    I have always thought KISS chords were cliche: Any hammering of a first finger bar by dropping the 2nd/3rd fingers. Say, E to A as in the opening of R&R ALL Night (or Black Diamond, King of the Nighttime World, etc…)

    That said – nearly ANY tapping is an ERUPTION. At the very least fretboard masterbation…

  • lol so many licks I can imagine myself pulling it in some of my solos

  • mnemonic nicknames
    1.You’re making it hard
    3.You’re mother’s ugly but thank god you’re not shit! no shit! no shit! dumb shit
    6.bend it another time

  • Tycho

    I don’t have anything clever for any of these licks, but I did a workshop with Rik Emmett of Triumph once in which he said a friend of his used the term “Tom Vu” for that thing where, in the middle of a solo or a riff, you go up somewhere around the 10th or 12th fret (preferably on the 5 or 6 string) and slide quickly and forcefully back down to the open string to continue your riffing from there. I’m not sure why he called it Tom Vu, except that when you do it with a little muted “thunk” at the beginning, it does sort of sound like the phrase “Tom Vu” (who, for those too young to remember, was a guy who used to do late-night infomercials in the ’80s).

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