THE GUITARIST’S GUIDE
TO JAM SESSIONS BY JOE COFFEY
Afriend of mine asked me for advice recently. A guy he
knew had invited him to a jam,
but he was a little worried about
going because, despite having some
decent chops, he had never really
played with other people before.
He was wondering about protocol.
He’s a gear collector and knows
many of the classic songs we all
know, but is mostly a basement
hobbyist kind of guy. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course.
There are a lot of people out there
who love music and have G.A.S.
(Gear Acquisition Syndrome) but
don’t play professionally, don’t
do the weekend-warrior thing, or
perhaps never even did the garage-band thing back in the day. Don’t
forget that if you’re not used to
it, playing with a bunch of other
people can be intimidating.
His situation got me thinking
about how jams go down. I’m
not talking about jams with a
bunch of ringers who nail every
song that’s called as if they’ve
been playing together forever. I’m
talking about situations where a
bunch of people of different skill
levels are in the same room with
a bunch of instruments and no
one really knows what’s about
to go down. Sometimes there
are magical moments that lead
to the creation of new bands or
side projects. Sometimes it’s total
crash and burnage, and everyone
involved can’t wait to get the hell
out of there.
Whatever the case, I’m fascinated with the categories of guitarists
that seem to apply to these kinds
of jams. At the very least, a novice
player should show up to their first
jam knowing what kinds of players they might run into. Here are
some of the more common ones
I’ve run into.
At the very least, a novice player
should show up to their first jam
knowing what kinds of players
they might run into.
Jambuster to suggest unheard-of
indie songs or their own original
stuff with weird changes that, of
course, no one at a jam is interested
in learning on the spot.
hang, even on the simplest of
songs, unless some kind of sheet
music or internet chord chart is in
front of them.
The cat who goes into the jam very
low-key but then unexpectedly taps
into some ridiculously tasty stuff.
The person who covets someone
else’s gear so much that after borrowing it for a few songs to “check
it out,” they won’t let go of it until
the owner asks for it back.
The guitarist who can’t count eight
bars. This is the person who, when a
jam goes to trading eights, goes past
eight bars when it’s their turn to solo
and just keeps right on going while
everyone else in the room gives each
other the “Oh no he di’int” look.
Also known as The Surpriser-Wannabe, the Sandbagger modestly
downplays their skills until that
precise moment when they dial up
a much-rehearsed thing they hope
will melt everyone’s face off.
The Key Changer
The guitarist who suggests playing a familiar song in the least
The guitarist who messes with their
amp settings so much or tries to tap
into some feedback mojo so often
that you end up seeing their backs
most of the night.
The Blues Hater
The guitarist who is bored with,
or is outright against firing up a
12-bar blues, usually due to a lack
of appreciation for the blues.
The Volume Jacker
The player who must have their
amp on 11.
The player who seems to have
everything in their gig bag that
everyone else forgets: extra capos,
picks of every conceivable thickness
known to man, multiple slides,
cables, tuners, etc.
Someone who does the unthinkable and starts messing with your
amp or pedal knobs without permission while you’re playing. This
person means well and probably
wants to show you something they
think is really cool, but mistakenly
thinks your tone isn’t the one you
want to hear.
As far as I know, no proper
field guide exists for guitarists
going to a jam, so consider this
my effort to start one. Feel free
to contribute to this taxonomy in
a wiki-style way—just go to the
online version of this column at
go to the comments section to
make your contribution.
The Intro-Only Guy
The guy who suggests songs he only
knows the intros to. Don’t look
for this guy to mouth any chords
to you once the song gets going,
because he doesn’t know them.
The Unrepentant Knobber
The player who crosses the line
and messes with someone else’s
knobs, usually the volume or treble
controls, in an effort to avoid
tinnitus when a Volume Jacker
is out of control.
The person who can’t grasp the
jam concept and roll with the flow
for the sake of the jam. Expect a
This person has used tab to learn
a few songs of great difficulty.
Unfortunately, this person can’t
The person who loves starting a
12-bar on the five. There’s a Fiver
at every jam, guaranteed.