Personal Jesus

by Johnny Cash • Lesson #449 • Aug 13, 2018

Video lesson

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Editor’s notes

In this week’s lesson I’ll teach you how to play Personal Jesus as covered by Johnny Cash. Originally recorded by Depeche Mode in 1989, Cash’s version of this song is an amazing reinterpretation that fits perfectly within his country & blues guitar style. The song is characterized by a bassline riff, played with the thickest 3 strings on the guitar, used throughout. I’ll walk you through the process of learning & mastering this riff, in addition to teaching you the strumming & basslines needed in the verse, chorus, and bridge sections of the song. This one is a blast to play, I hope you enjoy!

  • 0:00 Preview & Lesson Summary
  • 0:44 Riff: Learning the Basics
  • 3:56 Riff: Full Em & Am Tabs
  • 6:24 Riff: Advanced Techniques
  • 13:13 Verse
  • 16:14 Chorus
  • 18:24 Bridge

Lyrics and chords

See my 3-page song sheet! It’s all on page 1, carefully formatted to nicely fit on a single page while still being readable. Pages 2 & 3 include tabs and strumming for the entire song, plus some additional exercises to help you learn the main riff.

Notes on Depeche Mode’s Recording

Depeche Mode originally recorded this song in 1989. The tabs & chords I show in my lesson above will work for their version as well, though there are two things to take note of:

1️⃣ Tune Up One Whole Step (or use capo 2)

Regarding tuning, you’ll need to tune all strings up a whole step to play along with Depeche Mode’s version. Alternatively, you could use a capo on the 2nd fret and stay in standard tuning. Johnny Cash’s version is played in standard tuning, with no capo.

2️⃣ Use Swing Eighth Notes

Regarding rhythm, the eighth notes in Depeche Mode’s recordings are played with swing. This means that the “AND” eighth note count in each measure’s one AND two AND three AND four AND all come a slight bit late.

Here’s audio of the main riff played with swing:

Alternatively, Cash’s version has the eight notes played “straight” —— meaning there is no swing. his means that the “AND” eighth note count in each measure’s one AND two AND three AND four AND are equally spaced between quarter notes.


Here’s audio of the main riff played straight:

Note, both audio samples above are played at the same tempo (i.e. the pace of the quarter notes on the “1 2 3 4” counts). In this case, it’s 120bpm for both audio clips shown above. The presence of eighth note swing has no impact on a song’s tempo.

Studio Recordings of This Song

Depeche Mode (1989)

Capo 2 or tune all strings up one whole-step.

Johnny Cash (2002)

No capo, standard tuning.


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Hey there! My name is David Potsiadlo, and I'm the creator of the 400+ weekly lessons here at Song Notes, going back to 2013. Here’s my guitar story »

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