Play Like… Richie Sambora

CLvdZZjdIn this tutorial, Mark Harding shows you the key tricks and techniques required to play like Bon Jovi guitarist and rock guitar legend, Richie Sambora.

Warning: this article will have middle-aged women around the world queuing up to lay their hands on you!

But first, let’s take a step back in time…

Once Upon a Time

When a young Richie Sambora joined up with Jon Bon Jovi to help promote his debut single and album, there were few people who could preempt the success the two would have in the next 35 years.

Initially employed as a session guitarist after being rejected from KISS (“Honestly, I didn’t really want it. I was really only trying for it as a good business measure” he later stated), Sambora soon became an invaluable cog in the hit writing, stadium filling machine that is Bon Jovi.

Prior to auditioning for KISS and joining Bon Jovi, Sambora had been a regular performer in the pubs and clubs of New York and New Jersey, particularly with his band Shark Frenzy featuring Bruce Foster.

Sambora’s contributions to Bon Jovi’s self-titled debut album were very limited.

Although the follow up to Bon Jovi, 7800° Fahrenheit, was largely a commercial flop, this was where the seeds were sewn in the legendary Bon Jovi/Sambora “brotherhood”.

Livin On A Prayer

In 1986 Bon Jovi released “Slippery When Wet”, an album that included the hit singles “Livin’ On A Prayer”, “You Give Love A Bad Name”, “Wanted Dead Or Alive” and “Never Say Goodbye”.

These songs propelled Bon Jovi into the mainstream music scene and a massive headline arena tour followed.

Any mutterings that Slippery was just a fluke were quashed when the band followed it up with “New Jersey”.

Originally planned as a double disc album, Bon Jovi’s fourth offering amazed rock fans further with the singles “Lay Your Hands On Me”, “Bad Medicine”, “Born To Be My Baby” and the ballad “I’ll Be There For You”.

A mammoth 2-year tour followed the album release.

Two years together on the road with very few breaks almost split the band up.

A short break was needed for the band to recuperate and it was during this time that Sambora penned his debut solo album, “Stranger In This Town”.

Stranger allowed Sambora to return to his blues roots and gave him the chance to show off his own songwriting skills and his incredible singing voice.

A short tour followed before Bon Jovi regrouped to record the album “Keep The Faith”, which featured the ultimate Sambora reference, “Dry County”

(Not heard it? Check it out… NOW!).

A greatest hits album (“Cross Road”, featuring the new songs “Always” and “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night”) was followed up with “These Days”.

These Days showed a darker side to Bon Jovi and features some of Sambora’s greatest guitar playing to date, a masterclass in tone and feel.

During another short Bon Jovi break, Sambora entered the studio to record his second solo album, “Undiscovered Soul”.

This album showed a more matured, reflective side to Sambora with tasteful guitar work perfectly matching his well-crafted songs.

Bon Jovi returned with “Crush” in 2000, which featured the anthemic “It’s My Life”.

Live album “One Wild Night: Live 1985-2001” was followed by “Bounce” in 2002.

On 2003’s “This Left Feels Right”, Bon Jovi took some of their greatest hits and put a different spin on them (a swing version of “Bad Medicine” anyone?).

Although this divided fans, it allowed Sambora and the band to show a different side to their playing skills

More albums followed – 2005’s “Have A Nice Day” showcased a more modern approach to the band’s album production and even  a country-inspired approach with the song “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?”.

This song paved the way for the following album “Lost Highway” (2007), which delved even deeper into the country school of songwriting.

The band went on to release “The Circle” in 2009 and “What About Now” in 2013, and a double disc Greatest Hits album (2010) was squeezed in between for good measure.

The aforementioned albums were all followed by record-breaking world tours, although Sambora sensationally quit 2013’s Because We Can Tour in just a few two months in.

Fans and journalists remain divided about the reasoning behind this sudden departure… but maybe this is a topic for another day.

The Aftermath

Sambora’s third album “Aftermath Of The Lowdown” was released in 2012 and features some of Sambora’s heaviest playing to date while still showcasing his unique talent for penning catchy songs with great melodic hooks.

A short solo tour followed and reconvened in 2014 with Orianthi (Michael Jackson, Carlos Santana & Alice Cooper) accompanying Sambora on guitar.

And, if some reports are to be believed, in a more intimate way as well (Sambora and Orianthi are rumoured to be dating).

A new album is expected to be released this year, with Sambora and Orianthi sharing vocal duties.

We can’t wait to hear it!

Today Richie Sambora is well respected in guitar circles, a musician always looking to stretch himself and collaborate with other musicians.

If his recent tour is anything to go by, it seems like Richie is loving creating music and performing more than ever.

We’ll have more of the same please Rich!

Our Transcription

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Play Like Richie Sambora (Backing Track).mp3
Play Like Richie Sambora (Full Track).mp3
Play Like Richie Sambora Tab.pdf
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With this tutorial we have aimed to take some of Richie’s signature licks and tricks and pour them all in to one rollicking musical example.

The track kicks off with a clean intro of descending sixths to a D pedal note a la “Wanted Dead Or Alive”.

After this the band kicks in and the distortion is turned on as we go into a driving riff featuring palm muting and pinched harmonic screams, much like “You Give Love A Bad Name”.

Make sure those harmonics really scream out and be careful with your timing.

Although it looks easy on paper, getting the correct groove is essential for this riff.

Following the riff is a pre-chorus that makes use of natural harmonics, whammy bar abuse and double stops.

Attitude is the key here as opposed to accuracy.

A touch of vibrato on the double stops really helps them sing out, and don’t be afraid to be a little strong-handed with the whammy bar, aggression is good here.

NB: A Floyd Rose trem is ideal in this situation.

The chorus section of this example is undoubtedly inspired by “Livin ‘ On A Prayer” – the power chords almost create a melody of their own.

Make sure you dig in to the strings to give the correct feel and watch your timing here also.

We tried to capture the key techniques Richie has used over the years in this solo example.

The first section of the solo is very similar to “Livin’ On A Prayer”.

We start off low – try and pinch out some harmonics for that Sambora feel, before we move up to a higher melodic line.

Our next phrase may require some practise.

A simple hammer-on between 11th and 13th fret kicks the lick off before we tap at 15th fret with the side of our pick then slide the pick up to 17th fret.

We then create a pull-off with the pick to 13th fret, then another normal pull of to 11th fret before finally hammering on to 13th fret.

This idea is played as semi quavers and repeats itself 8 times.

Although it is tricky at first you will eventually begin to “feel” this lick.

Make sure you practise slowly and accurately before building up the speed – this is crucial!

Bar 38 sees us explore Richie’s more modern playing style with a typical blues lick that can be heard in the “Keep The Faith” and “Have A Nice Day” solos.

Here attitude is more important than accuracy, but do try to maintain the correct rhythm.

We finish things off in bar 42 with some natural harmonics at 5th, 7th and 12th fret on the G-string.

A “scoop” with the whammy bar follows each harmonic.

Really push the bar down and release it to create a sharp drop and return in pitch.

This is similar to a lick Richie plays in the Cher song “We All Sleep Alone” that he co-wrote for the singer.

Our final phrase is a fast flurry of hammer-ons.

This particular phrase is devoid of any real key as a lot of chromatic notes are used.

However, the speed that they are played means that we never really hear any clashes in pitch.

Again, practise slowly before building up speed.

However, the chromatic nature of the lick does allow it to fall under our fingers a little easier.

Finally, the song finishes with a return to the verse riff.

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The Tone

Richie has not been afraid to mix his choice of gear up over the years.

He used Charvel and Kramer guitars in the 80s before releasing a signature Fender Strat in the early 90s.

Les Pauls and Gibsoon 335s have played major roles in Sambora’s career and in 2005 he started using another custom guitar, built with Time Square Guitars’ Chris Hofschneider.

A production model of this guitar was released by ESP.

Amps have also varied – Marshalls, Fender Tonemasters, Soldano, Diezel and Blackstar have all had Richie on their books.

Although it seems that Richie prefers a Marshall JCM2000 DSL for live use now.

Richie also has a large collection of pedals, chorus, wah-wah and overdrive are key boxes on his board, but he is most famous for his use of the talk box.

The talk box is a pedal that runs between the amp head and speaker cabinet.

When activated the sound from the amp is sent into a mini speaker in the pedal, the sound travels from this speaker up a tube into the guitarist’s mouth where vowel movements create a “vocal” sound that is picked up by a microphone and runs into the PA system… tricky!

For our examples you will need a humbucker equipped guitar run through a fairly heavily distorted amp – Marhalls would be ideal.

A clean channel is ideal for the intro of the track, then kick in the dirty channel for the rest of the song.

Use an overdrive pedal to boost for the solo if possible and add a touch of delay and reverb to create that 80s style lead guitar sound.

If you are lucky enough to have a talk box of your own (we do, but left it out of this example), try using that on the main verse riff for some extra fun.

Over to you

Have fun with this tutorial and let us know how you get on or if you have any problems!

If you find it tricky, don’t give up, “You gotta keep the faith…!”

And if there are any other guitarists that you’d like to see us cover in this series, get in touch!