How to Solo Like Dave Mustaine

by Matt Gerrard

Megadeth was one of the original Thrash metal acts, and their guitarist and lead songwriter Dave Mustaine is the lynchpin of their sound. Though he's primarily known for his chugging rhythms and monstrous riffs, Mustaine has a unique solo style that focuses on looping atonal patterns, scattered with tapping and unique chord threading. Though many aspects of Megadeth's style and lineup have altered over the years, Mustaine's soloing has remained a fairly constant feature.

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Step 1

Understand that Dave is primarily a rhythm player, and most of his solos need to have a strong rhythmic base in order to prevent a big hole from appearing in the song when he switches to lead. He is, by his own admission, not the most technically gifted player, so most of his style comes from the attitude and aggression with which he plays. So a little sloppiness is OK, and maybe even encouraged!

Step 2

Set up your guitar with an appropriate sound. Humbucker pickups are ideal for the high-output rock tone used by Megadeth, but you can get by with single coils. An outboard distortion pedal is preferable to amplifier overdrive as it produces much higher gain and a sharper, more piercing tone with lots of harmonics. "Scoop" the EQ settings, pile on lots of treble and bass, and remove all of the mid-range frequencies. This gives the fat, chugging low end and screaming highs, without muddying the sound.

Step 3

Familiarize yourself with the chromatic scale, all over the fretboard. Dave frequently uses a technique called chromatic ascension to create an increasingly frantic pattern that fits well over a heavy, frenetic rhythm. Play a basic three- or four-note lick in the first position, then repeat it further and further up the neck within the scale positions. For instance, pull off from the 10th fret to the eighth, to the seventh, to the fifth. Then repeat this pattern starting on the 11th fret. Keep working up the neck until you reach the high G scale at the 15th, Dave's home territory for soloing.

Step 4

Learn about anchor trills. Again these are fairly simple repeating patterns, played with plenty of attitude and ferocity. Place your ring finger on the B string in the high G scale, the 17th fret is ideal. Then, using your index and pinky fingers on the high E string, use pull offs to rapidly alternate between the 14th and 19 frets, using the note on the B string as an anchor. These licks have a "neo-classical" feel that works well over breakdowns and middle eights.

Tips & Warnings

  • Listen for recurring stylistic themes in Dave's solos to pick up other multi-purpose licks.

About the Author

Matt Gerrard began writing in 2002, initially contributing articles about college student culture to "The Gateway" magazine, many of which were republished on the now-defunct Plinth blog. Since then, Gerrard has worked as a technician for musicians, educators, chemists and engineers. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in music technology from DeMontfort University.