Zakk Wylde Style

A summary of most aspects of Zakk Wylde's present style during his more metal period with Black Label Society, and how to sound more like him yourself.

Ultimate Guitar
Right we'll cut past the history lesson, as I'm assuming since you've come to this lesson you may know enough about Zakk already.


First off, one of the most noticeable things about Zakks style is of course his HUGE vibrato, and its nowhere near suttle. Usually it sounds pretty fast and wide (around a full tone wide/2 frets). This is achieved by using the wrist more than the fingers for the movement itself. The hand looks like its swinging rapidly towards the direction of the headtsock. I wont patronise you with a tab of one note for this, you just need to practise swinging from the wrist with your thumb grabbing the neck, and coming over the neck slightly.

With practise, it will come, remember to go for a wide vibrato at first, not concentrating too much on the speed for the moment. But if you can do it fast then brilliant, as its a really in your face sound you'll be achieving.

Picking Style!

Zakk has an extremely fast and accurate alternate picking style, and is much trickier than one might expect. For example, he'll often do 2 downstrokes in a row when crossing strings, which he does frequently in some of the 3 note per string licks he does (mostly in Black Label Society records).This is known as economy picking and is very useful for his aggressive picking style, if any of you have seen Zakks picking hand in action you'll know what I mean... It looks like a claw, awesome!

heres an example of how he would do some 'economy picking' mixed in with the 3 note per string major scales. This example is from the song 'All for you' from the Stronger than Death album. I don't know if its exactly right as i tabbed it myself, but it sounds pretty damn close when played fast.


|----------17-15-13-15-17b(18)gradully---------(wide-ass vibrato)-|

This pattern is played in 32nd notes and you should be able to see the patterns of eight in there, and the picking pattern for each group of 8 is, DUDDUDDU (or if you wish to memorise it, DUD,DUD,DU). Remember to pick only from the wrist and make you hand flow easily and make it feel as natural as possible, otherwise its practise time well wasted.

Now I know its weird to start a lesson on Zakks picking on 3 note per string, but its means thats if u can handle that lick then this stuff will be easy. Yep, time for some 2 note per string stuff.

What you have to remember is that when Zakks improvising, hes able to play 2 note per string pentatonic licks all over the neck in any key he pleases. This is because he knows all the 'pentatonic box' shapes all over the neck. So if you really wish to wail like Zakk on command, then learn them scales all over the neck!

To save you get bored of me rambling, here's a pick'n'mix of Zakk's best 2 note per string and pentatonic licks licks. All of these are just patterns that can be repeated for improvisation and are played with straight alternate picking.

All in key of E minor in varios positions.



|-7-5-----7-5-7-5-----7-5-7-5---------7-5-----7-5-----------2-let ring--|



This ones a bit different, Zakk uses it a lot in his improvising and its a 5 note pattern which sounds great fast, and uses an economy picking stroke.

D D U D U etc...

A final note on trying to emulate Zakks picking style, (and this is a good tip for anyone still struggling with speed picking), is that he positions his hand so that the wrist is not resting on the bridge when soloing, however when he needs to palm mute he does so in the usual manner whilst lifting his fingers off of the guitars body. This approach is very relaxed and if executed properly can help in developing good, relaxed, and accurate picking technique. However if you are still struggling with your picking and are sick of the metronome, let me know and I will post another lesson up on picking which may be beneficial to a lot of you.

Well that wraps it up for Zakks picking style


This part of the lesson is dedicated to some random tricks and licks Zakk will throw into his playing quite a lot. Ther're not exactly melodic, but they're great for filling in some gaps between licks, and for general ape-shit shredding. One example Zakk uses a lot live is an old Van Halen trick, where he generates random harmonics by scraping his picking hand (along with his ring) across the string whilst doing some form of open trill.

Heres his most common example of this:
scrape picking hand along length of G string


You'll need plenty of gain for that and I would recomend some extra Treble and Mids in your EQ, to really make that scream. Its a cool lick to throw in before you move onto the next lick if your playing higher up the neck.

Another cool and common trick of Zakks is a cool descending trill and works in the same situations as the previous lick. Basically what you're doing is freting a note (preferably on the G string again) with your picking hand and sliding it down the fretboard whilst performing a fret hand trill with your index finger only, around 4 frets above that note. It should sound as if your performing a divebomb trill, and sounds really cool when used to end a solo. Its pretty much impossible for me to tab properly for it to make sense to you, so I'd suggest you watch some live Zakk vids (Stoned and Drunk live has it all over the place)to see it in action.

Another little idea Zakk will throw into his playing is his use of diminished licks every so often. Theres 2 he uses quite a lot in recordings and live, one is more arpeggio based, and the other is more of a picking pattern. Here's the argeggio one to warm up with first.

This lick involves some string skipping and can be heard on the song 'Hell is High'. This lick is in the key of A this time.


make sure you start this one with a downstroke and employ an 'outside' picking approach to make it easier for yourself, and take it slow, its real easy for your picking hand to get tied in up in knots for this one.

This next diminished lick is a real picking workout due to the wide stretch, warm up before this one and take it slow, you don't wanna get tendonitis before you've had a chance to melt peoples faces with this one. Ive put this one in the Key of D, partly because its a big stretch to get used to, and also because its more similar to the outro solo to 'Suicide Messiah'


Believe it or not this sounds better at a moderately fast tempo, with a 16th note rythmn, around 150-160 bpm. Remember, keep the picking hand relaxed and watch that string skip, which is a little something I added in myself as I think it sounds/fits better with a mix of diminished and pentatonic mayhem.

Well thats a few little tricks that ive seen Zakk throw into his playing every now and again. They're always useful for showing off and making crazy sound effects, and sounds great with chorus and wah-wah effects like Zakk.


Zakks phrasing in his BLS soloing and even his more recent Ozzy solos has still retained some of his classic rock influences. His more melodic phrasing is almost always rooted in pentatonics with the recurring 'add 9th' (or, if you're playing in E minor, its the F# note) which sounds very good and Zakk puts it too great use, due to his immense creativity.

Now, itd be a bit pointless to give you a Zakk Style solo of my own creation, seeing as you wouldnt be able to refer to a recording (although if you would like a video lesson, let me know). So im going to give you a couple of Zakk style licks which should be simple enough to work out. Once again all these examples are in the Key of E minor.


|--------------------14b(16)r(14)-12b(1/4 tone bend)--|


This lick is a country lick inspired by Zakks love of Albert Lee. It involves Hybrid picking, using the pick, ring, and index fingers to play it properly. However use whatever fingers are comfortable for you, and I have tabbed the noted where the pick is used, as the other notes and picked using the fingers.


Well that pretty much wraps it up for this lesson, as I could have included quite a bit more, but I was getting concious of how frickin long this things getting, sorry. That's mostly due to the amount of text I've added but I really wanted to explain how and when these examples could be used effectively and hopefully I've given you a worthy insight into the immense talents of Zakks style. Please give me you're feedback and any comments to which I could improve on and cover in another lesson or a video. Oh, and please bear in mind this is my first ever lesson so hopefully I covered some appropriate points.

14 comments sorted by best / new / date

    K. Hoaglund
    Lets check out your other lesson on picking, in rut here and could use some fresh ideas.
    Hey thx, nd yea ill get a picking lesson up soon just tell me some of the aspects you're struggling with. Cant build speed or cant do the technique comfortably? nd yea i would have done the pinch harmonics but it was getting really long and didnt wanna push it. Plus im sure thers other lessons on this site that explains em....hopefully lol
    Rock In Rio
    There are several lessons just thought you would show people how he uses them. Im havin some trouble with the pick scrape trill thing. Do I use my fingernail or a pick?
    for the pickscrape strip all u have to to is scrape the side of your finger along the length of the string so u can still hear the trill, altho if u just want crazy noise u could use your pick. As for Zakks harmonics its a combination of doing the technique perfectly, wide vibrato, and the use of chorus and double-tracking them on rcordings so they sound huge. Try picking the harmonic 24 'virtual' frets above the fretted note. So basically the lower down the neck the note ur playing is, the closer to the neck your gonna have tp pick to sound a harmonic. Just practise and itll get easier
    If you could do another lesson over his soloing and be a little bit less vague. I'm trying to learn some of his solos and I would like to know a little bit more about what types of scales and modes he likes to use. Thanks brother S.D.M.F. \m/
    Sure man no problem, he pretty much sticks to pentatonics, and dabbles in Dorian and Mixolydian modes for more of his 'thought out' stuff. Hes even used the odd harmonic minor (Yngwie style) note, which he did in the beginning of the 'Farewell Ballad' solo. As for his country and chicken picking licks, just get your major scales down and ull have all you need and more. SDMF! Bleed Black Label !!
    Good lesson and i like the addition text get gives a better teaching feel. You know you can learn for the future if you dont know the past and without knowing the specifics we wont learn damn thing just a bunch of licks nothing more.
    I liked this one. Could have included more about his pinched harmonics but apart from that nice one
    Lick can also be hybrid picked. The are licks that kind of stop the solo like this: e----- 13----- 12-----11----- 17-16-15 B-----14-----13-----12-----15----- 17-16-15 G-----15-----14-----12----- 17-16-15 D:----- ----- ----- 17-16-15 - A:----14-----17-16-15 E: 13----- ----- ----- ----- I it kind of a slow thing but on the chromatic descend(on the G) he would pick up his speed and end the lick with a pinch on the D of the 5 string or continue with his solo