David Grissom's Awesome Open Strings

September 19, 2011

DAVID GRISSOM HAS BASED A CAREER ON GETTING a great sound, playing perfectly tasty lines that are at home in a variety of styles and never upstage the singer, and being an easy hang. On both his high-profile sideman gigs and his solo albums, a key ingredient to Grissom’s trip is his use of open strings clanging against fretted notes or bends to create big, complex sounds that are simultaneously clean and dirty.

“I’ve always been really interested in and attracted to using open strings,” he says. “It really goes back to blues, especially ‘Blue Jean Blues’ by ZZ Top.” He then quotes the Gibbons line in Ex. 1, a slinky, stanky maneuver in B. Pick the notes on the G, D, and A strings and grab the B string—which rings throughout—with your picking-hand middle or ring finger.

Grissom takes this concept and runs with it in the song “Lucy G” off his Loud Music album. “In ‘Lucy G,’” he says, “the unique thing about it is that the open string is the b7. The song is in C#m and the open string is the B.”

He then launches into Ex. 2, the tune’s intro riff. It’s the same idea but with a surprisingly fresh sound, thanks to the droning b7. Slide into every fretted note that you can and employ hybrid picking—two notes at a time for most of the line and triple-stops on the E and F#add4 chords.

“I’m using the open string as a pedal tone, with other notes going either above or below it,” explains Grissom. That has been true up to this point, but when he plays Ex. 3, he actually has a note above and below it. Grissom makes ordinary sliding sixth shapes extraordinary by keeping the B string going the whole time. “This is like a C# Dorian/B major thing,” he explains, and he’s right, but these slippery slides also rule in any tune that has Lifeson-approved E to F# moves.

Speaking of “Xanadu”-style changes, check out Ex. 4. This is similar to Ex. 3 but now we slide all the way up to the fourteenth position for a delicious F#add4 voicing. These sound huge with a little bit of distortion but are also beautiful with a compressed clean sound or on an acoustic. And remember, if you can create sounds like this with an open B string, what’s stopping you from doing the same thing with a G string? See what I’m sayin’?

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