How to Play Guitar Like Waylon Jennings

By Jackson Michael
Waylon Jennings played a Fender Telecaster.

Country music singer Waylon Jennings achieved what many guitar players dream of: his own signature sound and style. Within the first five seconds of a Waylon song, you instantly know who is playing the guitar. He started playing guitar as a child and was playing professionally at age 12. Much of Jennings’ guitar style is easy to play, although difficult to play well and master. It involves a unique rhythm style, switching between using a pick and fingers, and using effects to color the sound of the instrument.

Highlights of Jennings' style

Strum without a pick, but use one for leads. How Jennings used his right hand is one of the most important facets of his style. When playing rhythm guitar, he did not use a pick, but would softly strum downward on the strings with the fleshy part of his thumb. The impact the thumb had on his tone was a significant part of his sound. Strum upward on the top strings with your index finger. To play leads and single-note rhythms, use a pick, kept tucked between your palm and third and fourth fingers while strumming.

Use the major scale. Much of Waylon’s lead work is based on the major scale. If you are playing in the key of G, the notes for the major scale would be G, A, B, C, D, E and F#. The intervals from the root note are whole step (two frets), whole step, half step (one fret), whole step, whole step, whole step, half step.

Play the melody. Part of the Jennings magic comes from simply playing the melody of the song while playing lead guitar. This made his phrasing memorable, and good examples of this are the lead fills during the verses of the theme song to the television show “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Use effects. A phaser pedal produces the wah-like effect that is recognized with Jennings’ guitar sound. He has been said to use an MXR Phase 90, a Boss PH1, and an Electro-Harmonix Small Stone among others. There is no one magic stomp box that Waylon employed, so any of these will do the job. Use a delay (echo) pedal, set at a very moderate level, which Waylon used to bolster the sound of his lead playing.

Tip

When playing rhythm, pay attention to the drummer. Lock into the snare and high-hat cymbal while strumming.

Warning

Lightly use an overdrive pedal to warm the sound, do not overdo it. Jennings used a fairly clean sound.

About the Author

Jackson Michael has written professionally for a diverse list of publications since 2002. He has covered major league baseball, professional basketball and college basketball. He was also a longtime music reviewer for the "Austin Daze" in Austin, Texas.