Play like Carlos Santana

A lesson in the unique Latin style of the Mexican legend

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Image 2 of 7 Carlos Santana Full Track
Carlos Santana - Full Track
© Neville Marten
Image 3 of 7 Carlos Santana Just the licks
Carlos Santana - Just the licks
© Neville Marten
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Lick 1: This simple phrase using bends on both the first and second strings needs to be executed smoothly and cleanly. Make it seem like one bend is seamlessly blending into the other. Also, as tension is different from one string to the other, take care with bending accuracy.
Image 5 of 7 Carlos Santana Playalong
Carlos Santana - Playalong
© Neville Marten
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Lick 2: Here’s a real Carlos-ism. You’ll find this tremolo picking in almost everything he does and it is one of the facets of his playing that some find a little irritating. But as with any strong sounding technique, use it sparingly and you won’t go wrong.
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Lick 3: Another Santana trademark, the repetitive slur can also be overdone. This little triplet idea way up at the 20th fret on the first string is simple to execute, providing you pull off the second and third notes of each triplet using a strong ‘snapping’ motion.

Guitarists tend to either love Carlos Santana's playing or loathe it. It's probably because his is such a stylised way of playing that it brims with personal traits that make you grin or have you wincing.

Using anything from a thin, nasal tone to one that's fat and distorted, Carlos' playing uses common positions on the neck, favouring both pentatonics and more scale-based ideas. Long sustained notes have also been typical of Santana's playing over the years.

In this swinging A minor blues, we keep to fairly simple phrases that are typical of Carlos. It's all quite high up on the neck, so your fingering will need to be clean. Also, if you use as much as you should to be authentic, take care with extraneous finger noise.

Santana's gear

In Santana's early recording days he used Gibson Les Paul or SG guitars through 1 x 12-inch Boogie combos with a half-cocked wahwah. This gave a lot of sustain by the standards of the day, but now you'll find him piling on the distortion courtesy PRS guitars and Dumble Super Overdrive amps.

Our audio uses a Les Paul Standard direct into a PC using IK Media's Amplitube software on a highly overdriven sound, with a touch of reverb adding smoothness to the tone.

Click 'see all pictures' in the picture box for full-sized tab.

Audio - Full track

Audio - Just the licks

Audio - Playalong