Christmas is coming and I'm the rhythm guitarist for our school production of 'The Wiz'. I'm not amazing but I consider myself quite good at guitar but I can't get funk. It just baffles me!

I am a lead guitarist, which is part of the issue. I play high level pieces, all of which chord-less and fast paced. Now that I come to do laid back, funky, chordal guitar, I am falling to pieces. The lead guitarist ironically is far better at the chords. There is something about what he does that makes them sing and song far nicer than mine. This is really hard to explain so you'll have to forgive me but my chords just sound like I've just started learning. I know pretty much all the necessary chord shapes, my strumming and muting is up to standard, I'm using a good guitar but it still sounds bad.

I use strumming patterns like follows:

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I have a stratocaster with a Marshall amp using neck-mid pickup and a slightly distorted tone. Am I doing something wrong. Help would be great. Thanks :)

  • 4
    Are you really supposed to play full 5-6 string "simple" b7 chords? I would have expected more "trebly" 2-4 (top) string chords with 9 and 13 chord extensions/colorings. All in quite simple, but strict and tight rhythm. Nov 15, 2013 at 0:11
  • Why don't you just talk to the other guitarist and ask them what they're doing? Nov 15, 2013 at 7:04
  • I have but what he tells me to do is just what I'm doing. He seems to be holding notes for longer with whole chord vibrato but that sounds horrible when I do it. His chords sound like, well, chords but mine sound quite murky, as if I was playing multiple out of tune strings. Would you advice using a pick or just fingers? He swaps between a pick a bass/chord style bosso nova like playing. Nov 15, 2013 at 7:53
  • As for voicings, that may be it. The chords are mainly dominant 7 chords but I probably should play them on the top strings. Nov 15, 2013 at 7:54
  • @TimH: Even if the chord symbols say dominant 7 you can add extensions at your own discretion (especially in funk or other jazz related genres). Just make sure that the extended notes don't conflict with notes of the melody, i.e. that the extended notes don't end up a semitone from a melody tone of the same scale step (e.g. don't play a natural 9 extension if the melody is on a b9, etc). Selecting extension notes that are diatonic to the key signature will likely work. :-) Nov 15, 2013 at 9:43

5 Answers 5


Perhaps your issue is that you're asking for a"full" sound, when really the choppy guitar lines from James Brown style funk and Nile Rogers style disco are actually quite sparse and weedy in isolation.

The fullness comes from adding bass and drums. Brass and strings fill it out further.

Most of those parts are played with only three or four strings (the top ones). You don't even need to finger the remaining strings.

None of the notes should ring out for long. The act of muting is part of the percussive sound.

You might want to experiment with a delay pedal.


It's hard to know what you're doing wrong without witnessing what you're doing. I will say that, for what you're doing, there is a recognized master, and he plays what you play. Nile Rodgers is a Strat guy, and the style you're after is the style he created. Listen to "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk; he's all over that. Look into Chic. "I'm Coming Out" by Diana Ross. His "Hitmaker" Strat has played on $2 billion worth of music.

Backing back to dead clean might be a good place to start. Listen to the drummer, and when the drummer hits the snare, that's where you strum. Very loose right hand. I'm seeing "neck pickup only" and "compression" listed too.

Let's take that back. Listen to the drummer. It's all hanging off the drummer, and being in the groove is far more important than hitting the right note.

Good luck with that. Sounds like fun.


I think Slim has the right idea with playing the chords on fewer strings. I'd practice this by reducing it still further.

Try playing the rhythm on just the high E-string, with just the root note of the chord. Might want to use a drum machine to reduce the strain on the imagination (might want to grab the drum parts, too, if the rhythmic notation is less confusing than the snippet above).

Then do it with 2-note chords. Root on the high E- , 7 on the B-string. Or ♯9 on the E- , 7 on the B- . When you have a Bass player, you can pretty much drop all the roots and just focus on making the 7s jangle-out nice and clear. Any other chord tones you're fretting can sort of take care of themselves. But (IMO) ringing-out the 7s (and other dominant chord tones) is the funk guitar's function.

You mention that you're using a strat with the mid+neck pickups. Unless you have some kind of crazy high-gain humbucker in the bridge position, I'd try the bridge pickup or bridge+mid. This should give more treble, and more chunk to the sound.


You can try using percussive strumming on the muted strings. That always helps me in attaining fullness of tone. If that is not enough you can consider some sort of harmonizer pedal that adds one or two voices a certain interval above and below the root note.


I see this is an old question but I'd also advise experimenting with the bridge pickup. And pace Nile Rodgers but the other classic guitar for funk rhythms is the Telecaster.

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