Right-Hand Man

Aside from being a fearsome flat-picker, Jake Cinninger is equally schooled in classical fingerstyle, jazz, and hot country hybrid pickin’, so when Brendan Bayliss recruited Cinninger to join the fledgling line-up of Umphrey’s McGee back in 2000, he knew he was getting an ace guitar slinger who could pick, pluck, strum, sweep, and tap his way through just about any musical situation—a true “right-hand man.” (Sorry, lefties—though it would have been more inclusive so say “plucking-hand man,” that just doesn’t have the same ring.)

“I’ve always been influenced by the way progressive rock guitarists borrow liberally from other types of music to evolve their own sound, and that’s what I try to do,” Cinninger explains. “For example, when playing Hanon-like scale patterns in a major key, I start on the leading tone instead of the root, which gives things a Locrian sound and puts a lot of interesting chord tones on the strong beats.”

Cinninger demonstrates this Bach-meets-bebop approach here by using a G# Locrian scale over an A major tonality. (Yup, in case you didn’t know, G# Locrian and A Ionian—better known as plain ol’ A major—are both the same scale.)

“Playing large intervallic jumps and one-note-per-string arpeggios is a challenge for most guitarists, and I’m no exception, so it’s something I’ve been working on more lately,” says Cinninger. Starting out as a picking exercise, this line eventually morphed into a riff from a new Umphrey’s song tentatively titled “Mantis.” (“The arpeggio pattern and Bmaj7#11/Bb chord remind me of something John McLaughlin might play.”)

Though he holds a degree in classical guitar, Cinninger can also throw down some serious Opry-approved hybrid picking with his extra picking-hand digits. This melodic sequence is built around a recurring wide-stretched shape on the top three strings that descends step-wise using a repeated ring-middle-pick-slide pattern. Says Cinninger, “This lick is very influenced by Danny Gatton, and is evidence of the kinds of things I’m trying to incorporate more and more into the Umphrey’s sound.”

Here, Cinninger takes the hybrid picking approach a step further with an alternating pick-middle-pick-ring Merle Travis-style groove applied to a descending cycle-of-fifths chord progression. (Heads up! Notice the Travis-approved alternating bass notes on the second and fourth beats of each measure.)