Phil Lynott Thin Lizzy

Thin Lizzy, “The Boys Are Back In Town” Guitar Lesson

The Irish rock band Thin Lizzy has some great songs to study in your guitar lessons. While predominantly known for blues rock, they also mixed a variety of genres into their music. Besides being riff and power chord heavy they used extended jazz chords and even had traditional folk music as inspiration. One of their best song examples to learn how to play guitar with is the popular hit “The Boys Are Back in Town.”

Thin Lizzy uses specific guitar chords and extended notes to get that blues vibe

it’s simply is a perfect song to start learning that era of blues rock

The Chords and Structure of “The Boys Are Back in Town”

The song itself is written in the key of Ab/G#, which is not a very common key, but we will be detuning our guitar by a half step so we will be playing in normal shapes. Grab your guitar tuner! If you tune your guitar down to EbAbDbGbBbEb and play an A chord it is now technically an Ab chord. This change can get confusing for new guitarists so always keep in mind the shapes mentioned below are one step lower. (If you do not want to detune your guitar, you can play the song in A, it will still work and just sound a little different).

Lowered tuning is one way to achieve a hard rock sound, beyond that Thin Lizzy uses specific guitar chords and extended notes to get that blues vibe. Your basic rock song uses a I-IV-V progression but in this case the band adds in iii7, vi7, and suspended chords. Minor 7ths and sus4 extensions are hallmarks of jazz rhythm and blues music. Once you know how to play “The Boys Are Back in Town” you will find other classic hard rock tunes to have the same kind of chords.

In this song we also use a lot of power chords, which are features of heavy metal, punk, hard rock, and power pop. They are often easier for new players as opposed to full barre chords, just be sure to mute the strings you are not playing. And don’t forget that Thin Lizzy had two lead guitarists, so if you are playing this alone it is important to realize you will have to build up to being able to fit some of the licks and riffs between the chords in. First focus on the right chord shapes and then fill the rest in as you get better.

Thin Lizzy's bassist frontman Phil Lynott
Thin Lizzy's bassist/frontman Phil Lynott

How to Play “The Boys Are Back in Town”

Start with an accented downward strum on the A5 power chord X022XXX and then after a short ring play the open A string followed by a triplet on the fourth fret on the D string. This riff then moves back to the 2nd fret of that string before ending on the 4th fret of the A string, and then strum the full B5 power chord of X244XXX. After that strum a D5 or X577XX before repeating the riff. If you cannot get the riff just focus on hitting A5-B5-D5.

This intro riff plays four times before we start the verse with a C#m7 shape of X4645X, then to a D5 like above, and then to an F#5 power chord of 244XXX. We then move back to a C#m7, again to an F#5 and then to a Bm7 (X2423XX) and Bm7/E (024232). That E in the bass makes it an extended 11th chord, a great example of their jazz chord use. 

We hit another A5 before repeating those verse chords again, except around the lyrics “where you could be found” we play an F (X8101010X) before the C#m7 shape. And then the chorus is the exact same chords as the intro, just with a little less emphasis when played. The chorus is subdued a little compared to the rest of the song, which is what makes it unique. The guitar solo that follows is not too hard and played mostly on the A and D strings along the 7th and 9th frets. 

We then move back into the verse chords again and in the same order as before. After this verse the chorus chords start again before we enter another guitar solo, this time it is moved up to the D and G strings and played mostly on the 6,7, and 9 frets. Thin Lizzy moved the key up the second time so it wouldn’t sound too repetitive. The breakdown then occurs and we hit a Dsus4 (XX0233) and a D chord (XX0232) before the bridge.

On the bridge we use C#m7-F#5-C#m7-Bm7-Bm7/E and then strum on an F#m before going back to F#5 and riffing on that. This order repeats again after that triplet strumming before moving back into the familiar verse chords. And finally the chorus chords repeat again, and this time even more subdued with added riffs. We then move to the ending which is a convoluted mess for one guitarist!

If you are playing this song alone you can end it on the normal A5-B5-D chorus or you can attempt some of the ending riffs. They are essentially made up of the same solo elements, like before where we keep moving up the fretboard. In this case each riff moves up and builds until the final ending of the song. If you can figure out this ending solo by ear, and not look up the tabs, it is a great exercise!

Phil Lynott Thin Lizzy Jazz Bass strings advert Rotosound archive copy

How to Get the Right Rhythm and Effects

To get the rhythm you need to throw in triplet note accents in between strums of the power chords. The best way to find the rhythm is to play the song and keep repeating along until you can copy it. There is no quick magic to getting the strum just right, it is a matter of repetition until you can get the alternate picking at the right time. As mentioned, focus on the strumming of the chords first and then move into the triplets between the chords.

When playing the riffs between the notes the most common techniques will be slurs, vibrato, trills, hammer-ons, and letting the strings ring at the right time. But once you have the right rhythm down for the opening riff the rest of the song will be played in a similar style. Like a lot of blues rock you want to keep your wrist and arm very relaxed when playing the song.

Get the Tone

In general Thin Lizzy used the same heavy gain and extra distortion of other early ’60s and late ’70s blues rock bands. They wanted their guitars to have heavy tube overdrive to get that gritty blues sound. With modern pedals you want to dial in just enough distortion and overdrive, but still have a clean enough sound to be able to notice the riffs between the heavy power chords. And since you are playing guitar alone a harmonizer or chorus effect may help emulate a sound closer to two guitars. It is up to you how close to the original you are aiming to play.

If you turn the song “The Boys Are Back in Town” on repeat and pay close attention to chords and guitar tabs you will find it is not that hard of a tune. This hit is great chord and fretboard practice, it’s simply is a perfect song to start learning that era of blues rock. And once you know this Thin Lizzy hit you can now take your minor 7th, suspended chords, blues licks, and apply them to other classic rock hits and riffs!

By Shawn Leonhardt for

Guitar Tricks

By Shawn Leonhardt for Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer

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