Lots of guys who play lead guitar learn HOW to play lead guitar by copying other famous lead guitarists' solos, which is perfectly FINE and GOOD. However, there are some methods which you can use to improve your lead guitar solos that you wouldn't quite expect, but are extremely beneficial in helping you come across more seasoned than if you simply stuck to the usual routine, e.g., running through guitar scales and learning famous guitar solos.
Method 1 - Learn by ear
One of the most effective things I have ever done as a guitar player is to transcribe my own TABS by ear. Don't just rely on Ultimate Guitar.com for your TABS! Put some significant time into learning guitar parts by ear. It may take hours of backtracking on your iPod with headphones on, but it will be WORTH it. This skill is especially invaluable to any musician. Don't forget that the inherent nature of music in itself is primarily AURAL. (Yes, you're emotions get involved too, but for the sake of argument...)
Method 2 - Learn solo sections played by OTHER instruments
When you hit a dry spell, (and you will), and get burned out by learning guitar solos, use the opportunity to branch out and transpose other instruments to guitar. For example, I spent some time transcribing Tori Amos on the guitar. The thing about doing this is that your voicing, style, and HOW YOU PLAY IT is up to you. This is very important because it will also help you find a voice as a lead guitarist that is your very own.
ULTIMATE TIP: Try combining methods 1 and 2 for extra tastefulness!
Method 3 - Figure out vocal melodies
The most memorable guitar solos are melodic, catchy, and singable. The best way to learn how to solo this way is to figure out a memorable vocal melody on the guitar. After you get it figured out in a position that is playable, add guitar-specific techniques such as, string bends, hammer ons, pull offs, and slides to make it more original.
Method 4 - Don't play guitar for awhile!
Take a break, go on a hike, go to a concert, just put it down for awhile. When you get back to the guitar after an extended absence, you will approach it with a fresh start and fresh eyes. This method can be very helpful if you find yourself in the common rut of playing the same licks over and over while improvising.
Improvising is a largely subconscious technique. So it makes sense that if you put something fresh into your subconscious, then something fresh will come out. If you are like me and don't have a real sleeping schedule, try staying up abnormally late and losing sleep on purpose. You will play differently depending on how much or how little sleep you have had. I have found that after a weekend of little sleep, I play much more like myself and every note just comes out RIGHT.
Method 5 - Make sure your strength is up
Physical ability, or lack thereof, can hold you back immensely. I strongly suggest buying one of those little hand grips from Target in the workout section to exercise your hands. It's easy. Just keep it in your car and grip it while you drive to work every day. The payoff is GRAND.
Method 6 - Make sure your chops are up
Lacking chops can hold you back from doing what you hear in your head. Practice lead guitar speed drills on a regular basis. Or, create a lead guitar lick that is REALLY HARD for you to play, then loop it until it becomes easy. Chromatic finger exercises and sweep picking are good too.
Method 7 - Know your scales
Guitar makes scales easy because it turns them into a simple pattern you can memorize. Run your guitar scales, especially the ones in guitar keys, such as G/em, C/am, and F/dm. Once you feel good about these scales, modify them by adding notes from the seven modes. Start with Dorian mode as it is common in guitar playing. QUICK! What are the fret numbers in the key of e minor on the third string up to the twelfth fret?
ANSWER: 0, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12
I typed those numbers in under 3 seconds and I want you to be able to recite them just as quick! If not, keep practicing those scales, because THEY will pay off too.
About the Author
Nathan McDonald invites you to visit his instructional lead guitar site for more free lessons, articles, and video at http://www.effective-lead-guitar.com/ or, check out his eBook
His lessons specialize in how to play lead guitar, which includes advice on sweep picking, finger tapping, amp settings, guitar pedals, and free guitar TABS.