The 2018 film, A Star Is Born took the world by surprise, primarily because of Bradley Cooper’s role. It was unexpected to not only see him singing, but playing the guitar as if he’s played his whole life.
This has led many to wonder whether Bradley Cooper is actually playing the instrument. Hollywood certainly has no shortage of optical illusions when it comes to these matters.
In short, no, despite months of practice Bradley Cooper did not play guitar in A Star Is Born.
But Bradley can play guitar. Read on to discover how we know he didn't play it in A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper’s true guitar skills and more.
How Long Did Cooper Practice Guitar For The Film?
It’s not uncommon for audiences to become completely convinced that an actor is actually playing guitar in a film. One of the most deceptive films in this regard likely has to be the 1986 film, Crossroads.
No matter how convincing it might seem, some detective sleuth work is usually necessary to debunk the truth. So, what is the truth about Bradley Cooper’s guitar skills for the film?
Throughout a number of interviews surrounding the film’s release, Cooper has gone on record about the subject. He has mentioned that he took lessons for 6 months, quite often in 5-hour segments.
That amount of work is definitely nothing to sneeze at, as a beginner can make decent progress with that allotment. Is it enough to be able to play what Cooper is shown to be playing in the film?
The answer to that is, probably not. Like anything, the guitar requires years of dedicated hard work to become fluent in your own unique musicality.
For the film, Cooper worked with Lukas Nelson (son of Willie Nelson). It is actually Nelson’s playing (not Cooper’s) that you hear throughout the film.
In fact, Cooper often gave Nelson ideas for how he wanted specific guitar tones and parts to sound. He has gone on the record to say that Neil Young played a huge inspiration for the character’s guitar tone.
What Is Bradley Cooper Playing In A Star Is Born?
For the sake of thorough investigation, we’ll take a look at a few of the scenes in the film. We’ll address his playing, whether the audio syncs with the video, as well as some of the gear he’s using.
“Maybe It’s Time”
The scene featuring the song, Maybe It’s Time, finds Cooper’s character playing in a semi-deserted bar. Only a few happen to be in attendance, which makes Cooper’s performance seem much more intimate.
Maybe It’s Time was actually written by alt-country legend, Jason Isbell, of Drive-By Truckers fame. The song features some tasteful, yet simple fingerpicking based primarily on the chords G, Cadd9, and D.
As the song starts out, you can clearly see Cooper’s picking hand fingers moving. Unfortunately, the amount of time during the scene that is focused on hands is only a few short seconds.
With that being said, there is a slight discrepancy at the beginning where the B string clearly rings out. Cooper appears to play the D string with his thumb at that precise moment.
From behind, it doesn’t appear as if Cooper’s hand moves around much to fret the different chords. However, this is likely due to the fact that the primary chords share much of the hand positioning.
So, in a sense, Cooper does appear to be playing the guitar, but there is clearly something off.
If you’re wondering about that beautiful acoustic guitar, it’s the Gretsch Rancher Falcon. It is easily identifiable by its unique headstock and sound hole designs, as well as its gold aesthetic appointments.
The scene with Shallow is probably one of the most famous from A Star Is Born. It features the moment where Cooper’s character introduces Lady Gaga’s character to his audience.
Musically, the song starts out based around the chords of D and C. The audio provides some clues of fingerpicking, but Cooper is clearly using a guitar pick here.
There is also a slight hammer-on during the D chord, utilizing the open E string for a sus2 resolution. That movement, while small, also appears to be missing from his fretting hand.
Much of the rest of the scene is primarily focused on Lady Gaga’s singing part. However, you can see Cooper in the background strumming some chords during the song’s build.
His strumming appears to be correct, but his fretting hand doesn’t exactly do him justice. You’ll see him lifting up the wrong fingers and even playing the wrong chord shapes.
For instance, there is a definitive moment where it appears that Cooper plays a Bb barre chord. If you were to play that specific sequence, that chord doesn't fit the moment.
During this scene, Cooper is shown playing a Gibson 60’s J-45 in wine red. This specific model has a double-sided pickguard and a pickup attached to the sound hole.
The scene with the song Black Eyes finds Bradley Cooper playing to a massive festival crowd. After popping some pills, he straps up his guitar and immediately busts into a raw performance.
At the beginning of this song, you’ll hear the pitch of E played in unison with a hint of intonation. Usually, this is done by playing a static note and bending an adjacent string’s note to match the pitch.
However, here, you’ll see Bradley Cooper simply playing the B string at the 5th fret. He does this with his ring finger, alluding that he might also be playing the open E string.
In any case, the other guitarist in the scene could easily be adding to the sound of intonation.
So far, it appears that Cooper might be doing all of the right things. You will notice, however, that his pinky sticks out quite far, which is usually a tell-tale sign of a beginner.
Even the song’s main riff (based around the E minor pentatonic) shows him in the correct position. The camera work fully disguises his exact playing.
However, during the solo, you’ll hear that bending unison mentioned earlier. You won’t see Cooper bending the note at the 17th fret, but he does play the correct pitch of E.
His guitar in this scene appears to be a Gibson ES-345, identifiable with its split fretboard inlay design. This specific model has a green finish and is equipped with a Bigsby vibrato.
Does Bradley Cooper Really Play Guitar In A Star Is Born? Final Thoughts
Though he didn’t actually play guitar in the film, Bradley Cooper does a great job of faking it. Much of the time, his hands are in the right places to produce the tones that are being heard.
What wasn’t faked was that Bradley Cooper did actually sing all of his parts for the film. In fact, even Lady Gaga was blown away by his performances, all of which were recorded live.