Being A Session Guitarist

Ten important things about being a session Guitar Player.

Ultimate Guitar

So you play guitar, you're real good, but you don't have a band/your band isn't taking off yet and you'd like to make a living playing music, one of the many options available is being a session guitarist; playing guitar on a recording session for someone's demo, album, film score/soundtrack, etc. there's enough money in this for you to make a decent living while you await rock stardom. I've worked on a few sessions for other people and just wanted to share what I thought were ten important things (in no particular order) a session guitarist should know.

Be On Time

Whether it's a free/cheap session for a friend or a major label studio session punctuality is the most important thing. You don't want to be wasting your buddy's time even if it is free because when it comes time for him to pay someone for a session he won't be calling you because you disrespected him by showing up 15 minutes late. In a studio situation time is money, and whoever is putting up the money has to pay for that studio time he was waiting for you to stroll into the session, meaning you'll never work on that level (or any other level for that matter) again.

There are very few second chances so respect everyone's time and view it as valuable and you'll be fine.

Be Prepared

Seventy-Five percent of the time whoever wants you to play on their session will give you something to give you an idea of what the piece is before you go in the studio, be it sheet music, a rough demo, or if you're lucky the fully produced track just missing your guitar part. Whatever it is take it and get a few concrete ideas of what the guitar part should be before you get there. You don't want to show up to the session trying to figure out the guitar part. The time you're spending on that is costing somebody time and/or money. Ideally you want to be able to show up, go here are 5 ideas, lay them down, get paid and go.

Knowing what's goin on in the studio is also a large part of it. Never forget to ask, how are they recording (Analog or Digital) what kind of guitar sound they are looking for (Strat, Tele, Les Paul Hollow body Jazz) and if there's an amp/gear there, if he has an Amp and by some stroke of good fortune a lot of the pedals that you use, then all you may need is to throw a couple of guitars in the back of the car and go to the session. Ask as many questions as you need to so that all your bases are covered.

Try to talk to the producer and the artist on the session (if they aren't the same person) as much as possible to get a concrete idea about what they want from you before you go formulate your ideas.

Your Attitude

Recording session can last anywhere from 3 - 10 hours depending on what kind of project your doing and when people have to spend a whole bunch of time with someone you wanna make sure that their attitudes don't suck. A musician's attitude has a lot to do with how the producer and/or the artist view them. Do you have to be their best friend? Of course not. But if you present yourself as a person someone can bear to be around for a long period of time then you're better off. Nothings worse than getting someone for a recording session and he/she is one cocky premadonna bastard.

Be Versatile

When it comes to being a successful session guitarist versatility is key, every style you don't play and everything you can't do is a job you've lost. Ideally producers want to work with as few people as possible even if they do a rock session on Monday a Hip Hop session on Wednesday and a Country Session on Friday. He'd rather go to guy that could do everything than go to a bunch of guys that do one thing extremely well.

Communication Is Key

Ideally as a session player you would want a producer who speaks the same musical language that you do, everything flows perfectly and it's all peachy keen, unfortunately in the real world that's rarely the case. In a session it can range from someone who knows absolutely nothing about music to someone who knows so much about music it seems as if they're speaking Greek. Your job is to decipher what they are saying as soon as possible in order to communicate with them. For example I know that for a certain guy I work with a more soulful sound simply means he wants more low end.

Keep a log of the certain sounds and tones the producer and the artists like it allows things to progress faster and your not there for hours on a quest for the right sound.

Do Exactly As You're Told

Unless you're Slash or Dave Navarro, people aren't hiring you because you're you. You're being hired to come in and execute so it's important to do whatever the artist and/or the producer wants, if they want your creative input they'll ask, until that happens simply play it the way they want it played, no more no less. If you think the music sucks either don't take the job or grin and bear it. Nobody wants some crybaby guitar player moaning that he's not feeling the music. Nine times out of ten the producers/artists know exactly want they want their song to sound like so just do what they say.

Know What's In Demand

To be a good session player it's always good to be on top of things, part of that is knowing who needs guitarists and for what reason. For Example right now I'm being asked by a lot of would be rappers and hip-hop producers to come in and lay down tracks for their beats. The Majority of the time they simply want either 3 or 4 chords strummed on a steel string acoustic guitar or some fingerpicking stuff on nylon guitar, knowing that I have tried to step up my game in that regard. Next month it might be that there's a demand for heavy metal style or jazz style or country style. I guess it goes back to being versatile, but knowing what people need is important.

Don't Burn Bridges

As corny as it sounds you never know who's going to be in a position to help you be successful in the future. The guy who's recording in his parent's basement may turn out to be the next super producer, the girl with the nice voice you play on a session for may turn out to be the next pop starlet. If they were satisfied with the session that works in your favor, but never do things like talk about the people behind their back, leave a session screaming and hollering at someone, pull out a joint in the middle of a session (unless they're into that) just stupid stuff like that.

Respect everyone that you work with no matter what they may say, do, or act like. People will remember your skill and professionalism, but they'll also remember you acting like an ass.

Make Sure You Get Paid

Always make negotiations about payment/compensation before you record a single note. If it's a free session make sure that is clear before you go into record. Negotiate when you're going to get paid (generally you want someone to put something in your had before you start whether it be half the payment or the full amount) if it's a major label session they'll be contracts and there you're less likely to be screwed. But never leave a session without your check.


Always try to learn as much as you can about what goes on in the studio, if you know an EQ that worked well in protocols from another session, write it down and memorize it, when a producers lost he'll much appreciate that you know something other than what he hired you for. If you go to a session and they acted unprofessional, don't work with them anymore. Develop a way you like to work where you can go in and knock something out quickly.

I'm sure there are more things I haven't even thought of but I figure this is a good place to start.

53 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Great article, dude. This may not(and probably won't) ever apply to me, but it was still an interesting, well written article. Who knows, I could remember it somewhere along the line and find myself a bass gig. Five stars. I agree
    That's it, I'm gonna be a session guitarist!!! Does it matter though that I'm only gonna play early metallica?
    Nice artical... I have done two sessions after this artical, for two different bands. Both of those bands played hardcore/metal.. So i guess im lucky there since thats what i enjoy playing anyway... Thanks for the advice
    hell, i suck too bad. I aint in a band, and if i was, we would be horrible, because my friends are even worse then me.
    good article - that would really help a lot of talented joes - this article helps the kind of thing where you walk out and say "oh crap that's what i forgot" this article is helpful
    Great article, dude. This may not(and probably won't) ever apply to me, but it was still an interesting, well written article. Who knows, I could remember it somewhere along the line and find myself a bass gig. Five stars.
    [Great article, dude. This may not(and probably won't) ever apply to me, but it was still an interesting, well written article. Who knows, I could remember it somewhere along the line and find myself a bass gig. Five stars.]Sorry about that It was supposed to be like that
    i got interested in That session thing Should I try!?
    I couldn't have said it better man! Here's to you (chugs down a beer)!!!
    Awesom man most of it made much sence and I cant get a band goin but that could work and the little bit bout now burning to bridges made the most sence when u wanna start a really good band it may help to be able to call up that bassist from one band and the drummer from another ect. keep it up
    thanks for this im studying music at college at the moment, and when i leave a session musician is one of my options, so this helped a lot. thanks
    You dont need to be able to read music to be a good session guitarist but it helps. If you have a bit about you and you are reliable, then people will know you are a serious session guitarist.
    I like the Communication bit, iv had singers demand that the guitar should be played more'purple' or 'imagine you are a bird swooping through the air!' You just gotta be professional and keep looking for the right sound and feel till the client is happy. keep up the good work uk session
    I don't know about anyone, but I would so take over the session: Artist:"OK man, I want you to strum clean here with a lil chorus and slight delay.." Me:"No, you listen to me. You can't sing worth shite. You're fired." "What, I'm paying y--" "And where are the booze and hookers?"
    Jimmy Page was a session guitarist for a while... he's right, you can probably make a good amount of connections doing session work. You'll know the bass players you can work with, the singers you like, and so on. A good article imo.
    Good, advice, most is pretty much common sense, but some of the people on this site need good article over all. I were that good though! I'm work'n at my music theory! HAHAa
    Really good article, but I don't think I would be good at being a studio guitarist. I'd like to get the money for it. I'd need someone to tell me exactly what to do and show me, not: tell me some note and let me figure out what they want. I'll try becoming more versitile because it sounds like a good thing to do in your free time.
    nice article helps a lot of people who start thinking aout where they're going.
    I don't think I'll ever be able to be a studio player, but it's good to know these things if it ever comes up. Good article.
    Wow, that was a brilliant idea. I didn't even know what a session guitarist was until now, lol. Nice one, hopefully it'll come in handy in the future!
    Great article, it really helps me as im hoping to be a session bassist and this information would be exactly the same for bass or any instrument for that matter. 5 stars.
    ^ The money isn't bad either if you play your cards right. Magnificent article.
    Good article! Works for me since I'm currently looking for a band but it's kinda hard to find what I need, so perhaps sessionist could work! My dream is to make a living depending on my music.
    I did have a basic mindset about how session guitarists went about doing their job, getting ideas and stuff on what music to lay down for the people who want it. Im glad though that you talked a lot about session guitarists around the studio, and what things to bear in mind. all in all great article, and although it sounds cheesy, its opened my mind up a bit more about how session guitarists work. nice one!
    Sounds like a good (and profitable) way to get some experience. I'll look doing this kind of work.
    Good article, good advice... its relevant to any job really.