Home   Guitar Lesson Reviews   Rock God Reviews   Shred Licks   Sweep Licks   Legato Licks   Contact Dave   $$$Got Licks$$$




There hasn�t been a guitarist in history that has recorded music with as much variety as Carlos Santana. The Mexican-born musical chameleon has performed songs in the genres of jazz-fusion, Latin, rock, and blues just to name a few. He has been producing records since 1966 and remains relevant today due to his 1999 album, Supernatural, that has sold over 14 million copies in the US alone. He is generally considered one of the best ever to snatch up a pick and in 2003 he was ranked 15th on Rolling Stone�s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists Ever.
Santana�s musical journey started in the Mexican city of Autlan de Navarro, where he was born in 1947. His father was a mariachi violinist and taught young Carlos to play the violin starting at the age of five. At nine years old, he became enamored with the guitar when his family moved to Tijuana. Carlos was interested in playing rock and blues music and was soon playing in local club bands. When Carlos was thirteen the Santana family migrated north to San Francisco, which had just started to gain notoriety as the base for the counter-culture movement in 1960. Many influential rock groups like The Grateful Dead were based there. During his teen years Carlos would habitually sneak into Bill Graham�s Fillmore Auditorium to watch acts such as the Dead and Muddy Waters.
In 1966 guitarist Tom Frazier sought to start a band. The men he recruited included Santana (guitar/vocals), Greg Rolie (organ/vocals) and Mike Carabello (on percussion) and together they formed the Santana Blues Band. Despite what the name implies Carlos was not originally considered the leader of the group. It operated as a collective that bore Santana�s name because of a musician union requirement every band must have a leader.
It is unclear what inspired the distinctive Latin flavor of the Santana Blues Band. Neither Carlos nor keyboardist Gregg Rolie, the second biggest influence on the band, had shown any affinity for the style prior to collaborating. Living in San Francisco, Santana was inundated with different varieties of music. For instance, conga players who would gather and jam. populated Aquatic Park, a place Santana was known to frequent. Also, Santana was a fan of jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo who featured Latin rhythm sections in his 1966 release Spellbinder.          
By the time the band landed a record deal the make-up had changed dramatically. Founder Tom Frazier was gone. Carlos and Rolie tried a few combinations of musicians, but finally ended up with Mike Shrieve, Mike Carabello, and his Nicaraguan friend Jose Chepito Areas on percussion. The also recruited bassist David Brown, and this combination recorded the self-titled debut album released in 1969.
Bill Graham, whom Santana had known since his teenage years, worked as the band�s promoter prior to the release of their first album. He managed to convince the organizers of the Woodstock Music and Art Festival to allow Santana�s band to perform. This was a huge gig for any band, let alone one that had yet to release an album. The Blues Band became one of the revelations of the festival. They played a legendary set that was immortalized in the documentary Woodstock.
Buoyed by the Woodstock performance, Santana was a commercial success. The album soared all the way to number four on the Billboard chart. The first single, �Evil Ways,� was also well received and reached as high as number nine. The band�s next album, released the next year, was an even greater success than their first. Abraxas, which featured a legendary cover of the Fleetwood Mac song �Black Magic Woman�, became the number one record in the country. It ended up selling over four million copies, by far the band�s best selling album. �Black Magic Woman� made it all the way to number four on Billboard�s chart while their second single �Oyo Como Va�, a cover of a salsa hit by Tito Puente, rose to thirteenth.
Despite the bands success Santana started to take it in a different direction musically. Always fascinated by the exploits of jazz musicians such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis, Santana started incorporating more jazz elements into the blues-Latin rock sound of his band. This produced some friction within the band, as did Carlos�s decision to perform with a temporary percussionist when Areas was stricken with a nearly fatal brain hemorrhage. Despite the tensions that were building within the band they managed to produce another hit record in 1971, Santana 3. For this record the band brought San Fran teenage guitar prodigy Neal Schon into the fold. The dual lead guitars and an additional horn section gave the album a different sound. Santana 3 was also helped by the return to health of Jose Areas. This album also reached number one on the charts, sold two million copies, and produced two hits in �Everybody�s Everything� and �No One to Depend On�.
Success didn�t placate the resentment building between band-mates. By the time Santana was ready to record its fourth album, Caravanserai, it was already without two of the original members, David Brown and Mike Carabello. As soon as it was completed Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon also left the group. They would later form the band Journey. Caravanserai was a departure from the band�s original sound; it had obviously more jazz influence than Santana�s previous efforts. Record executives warned Carlos that the band�s new sound would eventually alienate their fans and kill their record sales.
The decades of the 70�s and 80�s saw Santana start to drift from stardom into irrelevance. With all of the members of the original Blues Band gone, Santana had a revolving door of band-mates and played in a variety of collaborations, mostly with people connected with either Coltrane or Davis. He managed to achieve critically acclaimed albums yet the general public wasn�t on board with his jazzier tunes. The most commercially successful compilation during this period was the 1977 release Moonflower that sold two million copies and created a hit in �She�s Not There�.
In 1985 Santana was facing sagging record sales and an ever-changing line-up of band members. Bill Graham once again stepped in to pull some strings to get Bob Geldof to let them perform at Live Aid. The group�s electric performance showed why they were still a great concert draw the world over despite stagnant record sales. The latter half of the 80�s saw Carlos ditch the formulaic records the record company executives were pushing and take pleasure in jamming and playing back up. He appeared with such notables as Aretha Franklin, blues legend John Lee Hooker, and Mickey Hart of The Grateful Dead among others.
Though many people considered Santa a �has-been� by 1995, Clive Davis, who had worked with Carlos when he was first breaking into the biz, encouraged him to record a star-studded album with mostly younger artists. The result was 1999s Supernatural, an album that featured Rob Thomas, Everlast, Eric Clapton, and Dave Mathews to name a few. The record was an unexpected smash hit. The first single �Smooth�, a number with a distinctive Latin dance feel that featured Thomas� singing and was littered with Santana�s patented runs and fill-ins, spent twelve weeks at number one on the Billboard chart. It finished off the millennia as the number one song in America. The follow-up �Maria, Maria� also reached number one, staying there for ten weeks in the spring of 2000. The album ended up selling over fifteen million copies and netted Santana eight Grammy�s including Best Album and Song of the Year for �Smooth�.
Santana�s next effort was released in 2002 and named Shaman, which was also a success. It rose to fifth on the Billboard chart and produced two radio hits in �The Game of Love� with Michele Branch and �Why Don�t You and I� with Nickelback�s Chad Kroeger. �The Game of Love� went on to win another Grammy. Carlos continues to release albums, generally with celebrity guest singers, and do collaborations with other musicians. In 2003 Rolling Stone magazine named him fifteenth on the list of 100 Greatest Guitar Players Ever and fifteenth on their list of 100 Greatest Artists in Rock and Roll History.
Santana was different than most rock luminaries during the 1960s in that he didn�t use the Fender Stratocaster, favoring the Gibson SG Special instead. At Woodstock he equipped it with P-90 pickups. In the 1970s Santana endorsed a lot of different guitar models, including the Gibson L-65 and Mega Boogie amplifiers. For the album Supernatural he played a custom made PRS guitar.
Carlos currently endorses the PRS brand of guitar. He uses a Santana II model guitar,  PRS Santana III pickups with nickel covers and a tremolo, with .009-.042 gauge D'Addario strings. His Signature Series varies greatly from this in some cases, such as the Santana SE and Santana III guitars (which have ceased production). The Santana III has covered pickups instead, and no abalone stringers between the pickups (a feature unique to his official guitar). The Santana SE guitar has 22 frets, tremolo, a basic sunburst top, and a pick-guard. The necks and fret-boards on Santana�s instruments are crafted out of a single piece of Brazilian Rosewood, instead of the more common mahogany neck/Indian Rosewood combinations that are found in other PRS guitars. The Brazilian Rosewood helps to create Santana�s unique tone.
Santana does not use many effect pedals. He currently connects to a Dunlop 535Q wah pedal and a T-Rex Replica delay pedal then through a customized Jim Dunlop amp switcher, which in turn is connected to a number of different amps or cabinets. Previously he has employed the services of an Ibanez Tube Screamer and a Mu-Tron wah.
Connecting a humbucker-equipped guitar into a small but powerful Mesa Boogie Mark 1 combo amplifier produces Santana�s patented lead guitar sound. In recent years Santana has switched to a custom built Dumble boutique amplifier with Tone Tubby Alnico hemp coned speakers. The sound is noticeably cleaner. When he plays rhythm he uses either a Marshall amp for distorted rhythm or Fender Twins for clean rhythm. 
Carlos Santana is one of the few people on earth who can say they influenced the evolution of four distinct genres of music. His early music helped to revolutionize the genres of blues and Latin rock. During the 70s and 80s he brought a contemporary twist to jazz and then during this past decade he made a significant impact in the world of pop music. All the while, his guitar playing has impressed and fascinated music fans, critics, and fellow guitarists alike. Musicians from Prince to Kirk Hammett, the guitarist for Metallica, credit Santana as a major influence on their careers. Santana will be remembered as one of the few musicians who managed to enchant multiple generations of fans and stay relevant for nearly four decades.


Eddie Van Halen
Joe Satriani
Eric Johnson
Steve Vai
Paul Gilbert
Jimmy Page
Randy Rhoads
Kurt Cobain
Kirk Hammett
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Yngwie Malmsteen
Robert Johnson
Pete Townsend
Jerry Garcia
Bo Diddley
Jeff Beck
Duane Allman
Jimmy Hendrix
BB King
John Frusciante
Joe Perry
George Harrison
Chuck Berry
Eric Clapton
Dimebag Darrell
Home   Guitar Lesson Reviews   Rock God Reviews   Shred Licks   Sweep Licks   Legato Licks   Contact Dave   $$$Got Licks$$$