In this free guitar lesson, I analyze the opening riff heard in Stevie Ray Vaughan’s song, “Cold Shot.” I demonstrate how to play it using the right tone, timing, and technique.
Cold Shot Tuning
The first thing you need to know about “Cold Shot” is, it was recorded with guitars tuned down a half step to E flat. But in order to not irritate the majority of people watching this video who use standard tuning, I’m not tuned down. If after learning the riff you want to practice by playing along with the original recording, tune down at that time.
Cold Shot Guitar Tone
Next, Stevie Ray Vaughan recorded this song using a Stratocaster guitar with the pickup selector in position four which activates the neck and middle pickups.
Next, Stevie Ray Vaughan got his sound by using various Fender and Dumble amplifiers turned all the way up to create natural breakup. I’m playing through a dual profile of similar amps using the Kemper Profiler.
For effects, I add reverb, and finally to get the warbly effect that is a critical part of the “Cold Shot” sound, I add rotary effect.
Cold Shot Timing
Now that we have the right tone, let’s talk about the timing. “Cold Shot” is played using a shuffle feel. This means that instead of playing straight eighth notes, you shuffle them. In a shuffle, the first eighth note is longer than the second. A shuffle is actually based on triplets. You play on the first and third beats of each triplet.
Cold Shot Technique
Next, we need to talk about the technique. The notes you play are very simple. It’s how you play them that matters. You alternate between the notes A and G on the fourth string at frets 7 and 5. But instead of picking only the fourth string, you strum down across all the strings. This means you need to position your fingers so you dampen everything except the fourth string. When I place my ring finger on the A note on the fourth string, I use the tip of the finger to bump into the fifth string above it, and I lean my finger back to lightly touch the strings below. I also extend my middle finger to dampen strings five and six. Finally, my thumb wraps around and bumps into the sixth string to help out with the muting too.
You should practice strumming the strings with your fingers placed on them in this manner. When done correctly, you’ll hear only the A note on string four and only scratching on the other strings. If this is new to you, it will take time to get used to it.
Next, you need to get your fingers in place to play the G note in the same manner. In this case, I fret the G with my index finger, I use the tip of my finger to bump into the fifth string, and I lean the finger back to dampen the other strings. My thumb is still wrapped to take of muting string six. Once you’re in position, practice strumming and producing the correct sound. Then, work on switching between the A and G notes.
The next thing you need to add in order to produce the right sound is open strings on your upstrokes. To play the open strings on your upstrokes, you must lift all your fingers off the strings. Then you need to immediately put your fingers back into proper position to play the fretted notes. It’ll take time to develop the right touch so you can do this correctly and consistently.
Cold Shot Chords
Moving on, there are a few chord shapes needed to complete the riff. You play the top three strings at the 7th fret, and then at the fifth fret. You strum the 7th fret with a downstroke and the 5th fret with an upstroke. Don’t forget to play the open strings on the upstroke before playing the first chord on the downstroke.
On the repeat, you play the A note on the downstroke again immediately after playing the chord at the 5th fret. But you only play the riff like this twice. After playing it twice, you sustain the chord at the 5th fret so that it takes the place of the A note at the beginning of the riff. This means you pick up at the upstroke that follows the A note, then proceed to the G note and then continue from there. When you do this correctly, you’ll have a floating downstroke where you skip over the strings without strumming them because you’re sustaining the chord.
From the top. Twice with the A note at the beginning, then sustain the chord.
In the original recording, Stevie Ray Vaughan plays a few pickup notes. The pickups fall on beats “and 4 and.” you strum it “up down up.” The upstrokes are open strings, and the downstroke is just muted.
Now you know how to properly play the riff in Stevie Ray’s “Cold Shot.” Who would have thought that so much goes into such a simple riff. The techniques I have taught to you here are a big part of how Stevie Ray got his signature sound.