Soloing Seminar: Hybrid Hijinks: The Astonishing Pick-Pluck Practices of Dave Martone

December 1, 2008

Martone’s sound emanates with unusual grace, aggression, and conviction. It is, for lack of a sufficiently sophisticated term, shred, but while it’s plenty explosive, it doesn’t blow things up in clumsy ways. Martone likes to disintegrate musical frameworks strategically, like a demolitions expert reducing an empty Vegas casino to dust via brilliantly timed sequences of small explosions. Athletic technique, literate compositional chops, white-hot distorted tones (with garnishes of crystalline clean), and wide intervallic leaps are all hallmarks of Martone’s crisp and confident guitar style. Listening to Martone is fun—you sense the danger, but know that somehow, like the hero in an action movie, he’s gonna make it to the end of the song alive.

While it may be too early to say if this makes Martone the next box office sensation of instrumental guitar, one thing is certain: The Canadian guitar virtuoso has the confidences of some other instrumental heroes. Just check out the guest artist list on Clean, his debut release for Magna Carta. It features Greg Howe, Jennifer Batten, Billy Sheehan, and Joe Satriani.

The cornerstone of the Martone sound is a hyper-evolved approach to a timehonored Nashville technique that, Zakk Wylde aside, few guns-a-blazin’ rock guitarists have explored. We’re talking about hybrid picking—the practice of making zippy single-note runs easy to play by sounding them with a pick and one or two plucking fingers. (The fingers come in especially handy during string skips.) The interesting thing about Martone’s incredible pick/pluck style is that he’s able to look back to his youth and pinpoint the very day when, in one fleeting moment, he found the seed from which it would grow. That seed was a simple classical guitar etude.


“When I was learning to play guitar I studied some etudes from Heitor Villa-Lobos,” says Martone. “There was some string jumping in Etude #1 that I thought was interesting, and it sparked the idea behind a lot of the technique I use today.”

To experience moves from this inspiring Villa-Lobos etude, fret a simple open-position Em chord and take a spin through Ex. 1. Now, instead of plucking the notes “classicalstyle,” employ the indicated hybrid pattern that uses the pick and middle (m) and ring (a) fingers. (The ring finger is only used to pluck the first string.) It makes the rippling Eminor texture a breeze to play without saying goodbye to your pick.

The thing to recognize here is that this hybrid picking pattern, like most, can be applied to other harmonies, such the Fdim7/E chord in Ex. 2. Once you’ve got the pattern dialed, Martone suggests looping it while shifting the fretted notes down the neck in half-steps à la Etude #1, leaving the sixth and first strings open. “As you progress with this approach, try using a palm-mute on the strings,” adds Martone. “That’ll be helpful later, because when you start doing this stuff with some gain, things can get a little out of control.”


“So now I’m going to take this technique and put it inside something we all love and hate—the pentatonic scale,” says Martone. Employing Ex. 3’s Em pentatonic fingering (which starts on D, the b7), Martone loops Ex. 4a to show you one of his go-to hybrid patterns. Two notes are picked, another is plucked (usually by the middle finger), and the rest are slurred (hammered or pulled). Moves like this are a key ingredient in the buttery smoothness you hear in Martone’s sextuplet-based runs, such as Ex. 4b, where the same motif is applied to the rest of the E minor pentatonic scale with an accent applied to each plucked note. To get more intervallic—that is, to create larger melodic leaps—Martone shifts the plucked notes up a string [Ex. 4c]. As with many examples in this lesson, this lick gains a more dimensional sound if you accent the plucked notes as indicated in the notation and lay back on the picked and slurred passages.

“The hybrid approach is a great way to breathe new life into scales,” says Martone. It also allows you to play patterns, such as those we’ve just gone over, fast. As Martone tears through these last two examples at NASCAR-approved speeds, you begin to sense the great depth of power hybrid picking has given his lead playing. “I can’t believe that Villa-Lobos idea became such an integral part of my playing. I can’t believe such a small little part of a song made such an impact.”


In Ex. 5 you’ll find a three-note-per-string C# natural minor scale. In Ex. 6, Martone once again zips up the scale using his Villa-Lobosinspired hybrid pattern. With the string skip, the interval spanning the lowest and highest notes in each sextuplet is a major ninth. “I make this contorted face when I play this that makes it look as though it’s painful to play, but it’s not,” confesses Martone. “There is a bit of a stretching involved, but that helps achieve that more intervallic sound I’m going for.” As Martone glides through this hypnotic phrase, he applies a subtle vibrato to each embedded plucked note. It gives the already unique-sounding line an eerie, crying quality.


Martone’s hybrid approach not only services scale-based melodic ideas, but it also works with arpeggios. Centered in the key of Amajor, here are Martone’s three main seventh chord qualities—major seventh, minor seventh, and dominant seventh [Examples 7a-7c]. He attacks them with the same hybrid-picked six-note assault we saw in previous examples. Each arpeggio purposely omits the 5. (For example, Bm7, the IIm7 in the key of A, has no F#). Not only does this nicely format the arpeggios into Martone’s hybrid picking modus operandi, it also enables the arpeggios’ fretting-hand fingering shape stay the same when moved down to the next string set (second, third, and fourth strings), and only requires the highest note be lowered a fret when the pattern is shifted down to the remaining two string sets (third, fourth, and fifth strings, etc.). This fingering uniformity allows Martone to easily combine and superimpose the mini-arps into one glorious lick [Ex. 8].

“Setting up my arpeggios like this lets me easily play in a given key using a series of chords I call ‘work zones,’” says Martone. “These days I’m more thinking about the chords inside the scale than thinking of the scale itself. Thinking in terms of chords can really open up the sound of your lines.”


Martone’s hybrid picking mojo goes well beyond a mere lick-making mechanism. It serves him well in what may be his strongest attribute: composition. For starters, check out Ex. 9, the intro to “Nail Grinder” (off Clean). Featuring a clever use of dropped-D tuning, the riff opens with chromatically descending fourths that flow right into minor sevenths, octaves, and finally to fifths—all in one position, thanks to the Villa-Lobos-style string skips. With an emphasis on the piezo signal coming out of Martone’s Parker Fly guitar (for boosted articulation), this cherry riff is not nearly as complex to play as it sounds—even at tempo!—provided the hybrid picking approach is employed smartly. From bar 3 onward, the remainder of the riff is a quirky play on the D blues scale (D, F, G, Ab, A, C).


To close out this lesson with style, we shift gears to explore an innovative way to play harmonics via licks taken from the song “Moron Face” (also off Clean). Instead of lightly placing a fretting-hand finger over a given fret to play the harmonics, Martone takes his picking-hand index finger and places it over the strings (first at the 9th fret, as indicated in Ex. 10) and uses his fretting hand to play ghost-hammered legato lines. Because the finger resting over the fret activating the harmonics remains stationary, the notes being hammered are at varying distances, inciting a mosh pit of disjunct intervals.

When you get these concepts under your belt take a deep breath, eat a hearty breakfast, and then try incorporating Martone-style hybrid hijinks and “scrunched” harmonies within the same riff. “There’s a lot going on in these licks,” reflects Martone, “but it all comes together from my studying of those Villa-Lobos pieces as a kid.”


Log on to to watch video of this lesson interview, and you may notice ared, fluffy hair tie around the neck of Dave Martone’s guitar somewhere near the nut. It’s a soft, elastic “scrunchy” the guitarist uses to keep open strings muted and “more under control.” Sure, employing some sort of mechanism to dampen the strings is nothing new—Michael Angelo Batio, Jennifer Batten, Regi Wooten, and George Van Eps are among several guitarists known for the practice. But it’sthe otherway Martone uses his scrunchy that’s innovative. Placed directly over the 5th, 7th, or 12th frets (or at other harmonic nodes), the scrunchy applies just enough pressure to hold harmonics almost as well as a finger laid across the strings would. This allows Martone to pluck or strum harmonics without using his fretting hand. The ingenious discovery transforms a ten-cent hair tie into a harmonic capo that can be used to engineer sophisticated licks that featuring huge intervallic leaps between sparkly harmonics and fretted notes. Clever. —CB


Though Martone’s main Parker Fly Deluxe is a stock, off-the-rack model, it’s the way Martone utilizes the guitar’s dual pickup systems that is a bit atypical. To give his lead tone an extra snappy attack, Martone employs the “acoustic” properties of the Fly’s piezo pickup while he’s unleashing the fury of his scorching lead tone (courtesy of a Vox Valvetronix VTX amplifier). A custom Y-cable sends both signals into a Radial Big Shot PZ-DI pedal that, by way of a pair of stomp switches, lets Martone blend or switch between the magnetic and piezo systems. From there, Martone’s magnetic signal travels to the Valvetronix, while his piezo signal is compressed (“to add more spank, less spike”) by a Visual Sound Route 66 pedal placed alongside a DigiTech DigiVerb pedal in the Big Shot’s built-in effects loop. The pedal’s balanced output delivers the processed piezo signal to the board and monitor desk. —CB

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