Standing 6 feet 5 inches tall and having played with some of the biggest names in rock – including Slash, Billy Gibbons, Zakk Wylde and Leslie West – it's fair to say Jared James Nichols is a bona fide giant of the guitar world.
Since he appeared on the scene around a decade ago, Nichols has drawn widespread acclaim while notching up millions of streams.
Now, the Gibson ambassador has announced his new album will be released on January 13 via Black Hill Records (opens in new tab).
The eponymous LP showcases the Nashville-based guitarist’s superlative skills and is, he tells us, his own version of rock and roll.
“It musically rings true to who I am as an artist,” Nichols says. “I’m not trying to be anybody but myself and play the music I love for today. I’m giving you loud-ass guitars and no-fucks-given rock and roll. And I’m loving it.”
Guitar Player caught up with the Les Paul-toting guitar behemoth to bring you his best playing tips…
1. Playing Guitar Is Not a Competition
I feel like guitar has turned into a sporting activity. I think a lot of players feed off that and it can make us grow, right? We'll see someone play something and think, Oh my god, I gotta learn how he or she did that. Okay, cool. But everyone has their own style.
Someone told me a long time ago that we're all on the same road. But we’re all at different points and we don’t all take the same turns. We're all on this road of learning the guitar and learning music. It's just a different journey for each of us. So it's truly not a competition.
2. Play What You Love
My first guitar teacher was a younger dude. When I met him, he had a Van Halen Bumblebee strap, a shirt with a skull on it, and a Neal Schon rack. He goes, “You wanna learn how to play a power chord?” I was instantly hooked because he was showing me how to play Sabbath. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
However, my buddy had a different teacher who was showing him how to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on an acoustic guitar and he got discouraged right away.
Trying to play music and be a guitar player is hard enough. But if you're playing shit you don't like, it can really feel like a chore. It's supposed to be fun!
When you're playing in a band and you're on tour, it’s better to love what you do, because there's a whole lot of other bullshit that goes along with it!
3. Keep It Musical
When we practice technique, we see results. And it's fun because you can see yourself growing in certain ways. That's cool. But I got to a point where I was only fascinated with technique and I started to forget about keeping it musical.
I had this realization a few years ago and started to listen more. Regardless of genre, if you have a musical head, I think that it makes your playing feel better.
Being more musical is about having more of a melodic mindset rather than a fixation just on guitar technique – how your playing fits in with the band and the song. It’s about serving the music.
4. Practice With Intent
Practice with intent, or you might be sitting there five years later hashing out the same old licks going, "Why aren't I getting better?" It's about having a constructive workflow and working on specific things – having actual goals, or mini goals, and crushing them as you go.
When you pick up a guitar, it's easy to just sit and noodle around. Before you know it, an hour goes by. But maybe you haven't really practiced as much as you think you have.
How often do we ask ourselves, "What do I really need to work on?"
5. Bond With Your Instrument
Get to know your guitar. Like, what's your favorite guitar? What's the one that sits in your head?
[Picks up a 1952 Gibson Les Paul Model] When I close my eyes, I can see this guitar...
I know the dimensions of this guitar and I know what every single knob does at every single turn. I'll sit there fantasizing about playing it, like I'm switching to the neck pickup or rolling the volume.
There's a world of tone within your guitar’s electronics – maybe sounds you haven’t yet discovered. Man, when you just know an electric guitar it's a special connection.
No matter the style, players need to bond with their instrument.
6. Play in the Moment
Playing in the moment was a thing that I struggled with for a long time because I would always be dissatisfied with what I was doing. I was like, “Well, I'm not that good yet.”
I had to turn off my practice head and turn off my ego and just play – just be in the moment and serve the music.
I used to think, Once I get this pedal and get this technique down better, I'm gonna be a much better guitarist. But, at the end of the day, that doesn't matter. What matters is having fun playing in the moment – when you’re not thinking about what you did before or what you're going to do next.
7. Slow Down
Everything is moving so fast in this world that it’s easy to lose yourself. You know, you go on your phone, you're scrolling, you see other guitar players. But think about yourself – think about what you're doing.
Think about what you're trying to say, what you're trying to accomplish. Don't have someone else in the back of your head or be thinking about gear all the time.
It’s too easy to go on autopilot. Slow down. Take your time. Focus. Express yourself the way you want to.
8. Adapt and Overcome
It’s important to remember that some things are just out of your control. Things go wrong, despite the best-laid plans, and you have to be ready to adapt and overcome.
I once flew into Spain to do a festival and they lost my guitar. So we got on social media asking if anyone near this small village in the south of Spain had a guitar we could borrow. And sure enough, some guy shows up with an Epiphone Les Paul and I rocked it for two hours.
The point is: if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Sometimes it feels like you can't get a break. But you’ve got to be ready for whatever is gonna happen. If you're mentally prepared it can really help you out in future.
9. Trust Your Gut
I play with my fingers and I'm a lefty, so I play a little different. When I started playing, it just felt good. But so many people tried to tell me, “If you don't play with a guitar pick, you're never going to be a professional guitar player. No one's ever gonna take you seriously.”
Up until I was 21 years old, people were saying that, but the whole time I was thinking, Well, this is the way I like to play guitar.
If you have something that speaks to you, trust your gut and go with it, because life's too short to be constantly pleasing other people.
It's okay to stand out and be a little different.
10. Be Yourself
You are the only version of you. I remember when I was 16 or 17 years old, I just wanted to sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan. I thought if I could have a Strat, Tube Screamer (opens in new tab) and Fender amp (opens in new tab) and sound like him then I’d made it. But then I realized I was just trying to copy someone else – I was trying to be a clone of this other guy that already did it.
We all have influences – and I proudly wear my influences on my sleeve – but there is a point where you have to ask yourself, "How do I find myself in the music?" That's so important.
I think it's a really, really cool and exciting path to try and find yourself within the music you love. You are uniquely you. So embrace it and roll with it.
Jared James Nichols' new self-titled album will be released on January 13 via Black Hill Records (opens in new tab).
For tour info visit www.jaredjamesnichols.com (opens in new tab).
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Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar World (opens in new tab), Guitar Player (opens in new tab) and MusicRadar (opens in new tab) in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.
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