March 1, 2004

EZ Street
By Andy Ellis

Most of us start playing guitar the same way: We master a few chords in the first or second position, and then string them together into songs. It’s a wonderful, organic approach to performing music. The momentary pain and frustration of practicing grips yields to the pleasure of strumming progressions, and what’s not to dig about that? There are enough songbooks containing basic chord arrangements to keep us strumming for a lifetime.

However, it’s easy to get stuck at this stage of development, even if you yearn to venture beyond the confines of the lowest frets. Once you’ve plunked a few sour notes or botched some licks “up there”—especially in public—you’re inclined to stay close to the nut and play it safe with familiar chords and runs. Unless you take action...

How Not to Suck
By Jude Gold

Why is it that one person plays the note at the 4th fret of the third string and an anemic, meek sounding B pitch is heard, yet someone else picks up the same guitar and, with a monstrous picking attack and a ton of raw conviction, strikes the same note and suddenly that B becomes a bee sting? Obviously, the second guitarist is playing with a lot more physicality and, hopefully, emotion. But what may be less apparent to some players—even some accomplished jazz and classical guitarists—is that in order to absolutely kill a note with a wide swing of your strumming arm, your fretting hand has to be adept at string muting.

Blues Guru Robben Ford: Five-Note Freedom
As told to Jude Gold

If there’s one genre that extends to all forms of American music, it’s the blues, and quite frankly, I’m astonished at how strong of a blues revival there has been in the last 20 years. My first inspiration on the guitar was a blues scale that’s very basic, yet extremely useful—the open-position E minor pentatonic scale...

How To Play Like. . . Jimi Hendrix
By Jude Gold

Ask the average guitar player to play a C major chord, and, chances are, you’ll hear one of the standard box-position fingerings in Ex. 1. Jimi Hendrix, however, was not your average guitar player, and when it came to chords—as one listen to his timeless intros on “Little Wing,” “Castles Made of Sand,” and “The Wind Cries Mary” instantly proves—he truly knew how to think outside the box. It’s obvious that, like other stellar guitarists, Hendrix saw chords not as static clumps of notes residing at fixed positions on the neck, but as colorful harmonic tapestries that spread across the entire fretboard.

Rock Guru Steve Morse: From Bach to Rock
As told to Jude Gold

No matter what brand of rock and roll you play, the spectacular music of Johann Sebastian Bach is worth checking out. Bach, for his time, was basically a heavy metal keyboard player—at least in the sense that his music featured a lot of insistent, repetitive rhythms. What set him apart, though, was the fact that he was an absolute genius at melody, which is why his insistent rhythms are such a pleasure to listen to. Everybody can play repetitively, but doing so while remaining melodic is much more difficult. Bach did it with just about every piece he composed. He also composed a lot of choral and sacred music as well, which wasn’t necessarily so rhythmic, but his many instrumental pieces for chamber groups and solo instrument are so rhythmically insistent that, to me, they sound like someone playing rock and roll.

Jazz Guru Charlie Hunter: Ferocious Finger Plucking
As told to Jude Gold

Nylon-string acoustics sound great plucked with fingernails, but for a real warm, fat tone on an electric guitar (or a steel-string acoustic), I find that notes sound punchiest when they’re plucked with the pads of the fingers—especially when the notes are played truly evenly. My attitude is that you can never be too even. To be really creative and really able to improvise, it’s good to have as much technique as possible, so you can put the notes exactly where you want them. That is, behind, on, or in front of the beat—no matter how fast or slow the tempo. Here are a few ways to develop this evenness in your playing.

Metal Guru Rusty Cooley: The Pentatonic Workout
As told to Jude Gold

Metal is a lot different today than it was in the ’80s. Back then, things were brutal. If you didn’t know how to solo, you weren’t even looked upon as a guitar player. It was the whole “if you only play rhythm, you’re only half a man” mentality. Metal has become more inclusive, but at a price. Musically speaking, metal guitar has devolved over the years. It has gone backwards from featuring over-the-top, killer playing all the way back to a three-chord format that’s arguably not that different from where rock and roll started. The main difference is that with today’s popular dropped-D tuning, you can play all three chords with just one finger!


Hot Guitarist Alert! Libby Kirkpatrick
By Jude Gold

“I’m lucky,” states Libby Kirkpatrick. “I’ve had a lot of good fortune with audiences.” It’s a modest statement if GP has ever heard one, because, year after year, the singer/guitarist utterly mesmerizes audiences at huge music festivals—a feat that most people would argue takes more than luck to accomplish. In fact, in 1999, she won the prestigious Troubadour contest at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and walked away with a gorgeous Shanti dreadnought acoustic as her prize. In Las Vegas, luck like that would put you up 10,000 bucks or more.

“Actually, I think a lot of it comes from my interaction with people between songs,” insists Kirkpatrick, who plays more than 100 shows each year. “I like to let them see who I am outside of music. Big outdoor stages are the best, because I can really see who I’m singing to.”

The biggest reason for Kirkpatrick’s ability to win over crowds, though, has to be her soothing, melted-chocolate singing voice, her jangly, flowing guitar riffs, and her captivating songs...

Acoustic Guru Kaki King: Transcendent Tunings
As told to Jude Gold

My guitar is occasionally in standard tuning, but more often than not, I play and compose in open tunings that lend themselves to magical new sounds you simply cannot get in standard. Currently, one of my favorite open tunings is C, G, D, G, A, D, low to high. Though this is drastically different from standard tuning, it’s not as far removed as you might think, because the two middle strings—the D and the G—remain unaltered. To get into this tuning from standard, lower the first string a whole-step to D, the second string a whole-step to A, the fifth string a whole-step to G, and the sixth string two whole-steps to C.

The first thing I discovered about this tuning is that there are all these cool little chords you can make on the three lowest strings with minimal effort from your fretting hand.

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