The Buffalo Springfield were as influential as they were short-lived, but created one of the the most iconic songs of the 60s with “For What It’s Worth”. Releasing 3 albums between 1966 and 1968, the band then splintered to launch the careers of the band’s three singer-guitarists: Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and Richie Furay.
The song’s three interlocking guitar parts are a great example of how three guitars can stay completely out of each other’s way by using completely different tones and textures. The opening harmonics form one an instant recognizable hook, which continues though most of the song:
When playing “natural harmonics” like this, touch the string directly above the designated fret without holding it down. Release the contact immediately after you strike the string to allow the note to ring out.
The acoustic guitar alternates between E and A in the verses, changing chords on the anticipated “and of 4”, the very last half beat on the measure, before switching to a busier strum on the vocal entrance. Notice how the quick “down-up-down down” strum matches the same rhythmic figure we hear in the kick drum throughout the verses.
The strum does varies a little, but follows that drum figure all the way through until the chorus, which we’ll return to in a moment.
The third part is a repeating riff played on the bass strings. Notice the timing: (1 rest) – 2 and – (3 rest) – 4 and. This figure fits neatly into the spaces left by the kick drum and strumming acoustic. Notice the grace note hammer-ons between frets 2 and 4: the slur is immediate, with no time value of its own.
In the chorus, the acoustic plays E – D – A – C, “pushing” each chord change to the last eighth note of the previous bar just as it did in the intro. The lead electric guitar plays a new melodic figure, starting with a sliding interval of a sixth before descending the scale in small 3-note phrases.
Check out this video for examples of all three parts. There are slight variations in the strum but it shouldn’t be hard to hear – and make sure to go and listen to the original! Also, I should mention that the harmonics actually continue through the chorus. Have fun!