Today we’re going to look at that super famous and incredibly cool bass line from the song Sabotage by The Beastie Boys played by the late great Adam Yauch. Yes, it’s normally played with a pick but today we’re going to look at playing it a little differently by playing it fingerstyle!

For many of you non pick players it’ll be a lot easier to play this way and it’s a good gateway to the strumming style of players like Les Claypool.

Riff Performance

Sabotage is at about 86bpm and is played using a raking strumming pattern in the picking hand. This technique has been used extensively by players like Les Claypool of Primus, and gives the bass an almost rhythm guitar like feel. For this particular riff however, it’s the tone that’s all important!


I’m using my good old Enfield bass set to a Jazz Bass setting, so that’s two single coil pick up’s. Adam himself actually used a Fender Jazz on the original track and when playing live.

I’m running this through an EBS Billy Sheehan overdrive pedal with the tone pulled back, and I have an Ampeg SVT amp for that grind. Any overdrive pedal would work just as well live, but an overdriven Ampeg SVT is the way to go to really get that grizzly tone.

Strumming Technique

First things first, let’s get the strumming pattern down. Once you have this, then everything else will fall into place. As an exercise, you want to hold the fretting hand lightly across the strings to mute any notes from ringing out.

Then place the thumb of your picking hand on the E string just at the end of the fretboard. From this position, you will be perfectly placed to then rake or strum your fingers across the A, D and G strings using an open and close action as shown in the video.

Learning The Riff

Now we need to add the notes! The bulk of this riff is just played with two notes, Ab on the 11th fret of the A string and Gb at the 11th fret of the G string. This sounds simple, but it’s the notes we’re note playing that are going to cause problems. We don’t want anything ringing out of the E and D strings.

Bring your thumb around the neck of the fretting hand to help mute the E string. Then leave your first finger rested lightly against the D string to mute this too, while using your ring finger to mute the G string when not playing it. Then just strum straight 16th notes back and forth, the only note you want ringing out all the time here is the Ab.


Once you have this pattern down, then you can start adding the accents on the 11th fret of the G string. The rhythmic pattern for this is going to work in groups of three. We have four groups of three and then a four, this means we are going to accent the three of each of these groups. This is better demonstrated in the video lesson above and the notation and TAB here.

Technique Tips

This is a little tricky as we are swapping between upstroke and downstroke on the picking hand, so be sure to take your time when working this out. Be sure to pay attention to the accents played on the downstroke. The fingernails help on the upstroke, but on the downstroke you might not get the same attack. If you get the main riff down and keep the strumming consistent, you’ll be fine.

Pentatonic Run

After playing the strumming riff six times around, we have a pentatonic line on the sixth round. This is a very simple run where you play Ab, Bb, Db, Eb, Gb, high Ab and end of a Cb (B). You play across the frets using hammer ons throughout, from the 4th to 6th frets. You play the accents twice around before tagging on the pentatonic line at the end.

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