Electric Fingerstyle: Part 2

Take a look at the plectrum-less techniques of Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks and Wes Montgomery.
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wes montgomery gp

Last issue, we presented the first part of our lesson in electric fingerstyle technique, featuring examples in the styles of Freddie King, Mark Knopfler and Jeff Beck. This month, we conclude our exploration of this playing approach with a look at the highly evolved guitar work of former Allman Brothers Band guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, with a particular focus on their respective slide playing styles. Haynes, who has led the world-renowned jam band Gov’t Mule since 1994, is especially noteworthy for his bold blues-rock phrasing, including his ability to play slide very cleanly and expressively in standard tuning. Trucks, who together with his wife, guitarist and singer Susan Tedeschi, heads up the Tedeschi Trucks Band, is regarded by many as the world’s foremost living slide player. We’ve also included an example illustrating the fingerstyle technique of legendary jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. When it came to fingerpicking, Wes relied almost exclusively on his thumb, providing him with the smoothest possible attack and a distinctively silky, round tone.

As we saw in Part 1, fingerstyle technique, on both electric and acoustic guitar, affords several advantages, including better chord articulation control, the ability to simultaneously sound the notes of a chord and to govern the attack of the strings individually. Phrasing across strings and complex string-skipping patterns also become more effcient and easier to execute; and sweeping — a quick, one-note-per-string arpeggiation — can be easily performed with the thumb. It also becomes easier to suppress sounds from unused strings. These last benefits are especially helpful when playing slide, as you can easily skip across strings and pick any combination of notes and strings, as well as use more of your picking hand to mute idle strings, separating single-note slide lines and cleaning up chords and double-stops.

As before, we’ll explore various examples of each guitarist’s musical vocabulary using licks and riffs that you can incorporate into your own playing. The music notation uses the traditional classical format of indicating thumb as (p), first finger as (i), second as (m), third as (a) and fourth as (c). While we recommend the fingerings and picking options presented here, experiment to see what works best for you.

Warren Haynes’ fluency with a slide in standard tuning is a hallmark of his technique and style. Ex. 1 shows a classic Haynes-style slide lick in standard tuning. Since we aren’t in an open tuning, preventing unwanted notes from ringing is crucial, and fingerpicking helps tremendously. As a general rule and helpful guideline, try assigning your pick hand’s thumb and first two fingers to the D, G and B strings, respectively. It would also befit the style to involve the thumb in more of the picking action.


Ex. 2 is best performed by fingerpicking with the thumb and first finger throughout, although the bend and subsequent string-skipping lick in the third bar can also be picked with the thumb and second finger. Make sure you practice this example slowly at first, paying close attention to the timing of the string skips, and the varying pitch of the held bend, which goes from a whole step (indicated by a “1” over the bend arrow)— and is the equivalent of an unbent note two frets higher — to a half-step (“1/2”), which matches the pitch of an unbent note only one fret higher.

Ex. 3 is set to a slow blues in the key of G (starting on the IV chord, C7) for which we can successfully use the thumb for all the picked notes in the first bar. After that we can apply the usual thumb and first-finger combination for the rhythmically denser descending run that’s based on the C Mixolydian mode (C D E F G A Bb), or G Dorian (G A Bb C D E F), depending on which root note you’re mentally referencing. You can also try to pick the phrase exclusively with your thumb, allowing it to “fall” onto the next higher string at every opportunity — a fleshy form of economy picking.

Ex. 4 illustrates a few of the hallmarks of Wes Montgomery’s innovative technique and style. Wes had amazing thumb control and made the most of the wide dynamic range available when picking with this digit. His signature strummed-octaves technique requires a good deal of fret-hand muting control, as he would use his thumb to strum across several strings, rather than surgically pick the octave notes simultaneously with two digits. Once you’re comfortable employing this technique, try using your thumb exclusively to play some of your regular licks, for tonal variation.


For our last three examples, all of which are inspired by Derek Trucks’ unique, inventive playing approach and style, we’ll be playing in open E tuning and using a slide. Again, the general picking rule is to use your thumb on the lower strings and your first and second fingers on the higher strings. The octaves in bars 1-3 of Ex. 5 may be picked using your thumb in tandem with either the first, second or third finger. You could, alternatively, use your first and second, or first and third, fingers together, leaving the thumb to pick the occasional open low E notes. In keeping with Trucks’ signature style, the octaves that include an extra note on the string adjacent to the highest one played are the natural result of picking the low octave note with the thumb and then kind of strumming upward with the first finger in a brushing, or flicking, motion.

Ex. 6 is played in the context of a blues in C, starting on the IV chord (F7), but as we’re in open E tuning, which clashes, harmonically, be sure to mute any unused strings with any available fingers of either hand, to prevent any unwanted notes from sounding. For the repeating C major triad in bar 3, you can either rest your thumb on the low E string and strum the strings with your index finger, using the aforementioned downward brushing/flicking motion (as Derek would most often be inclined to do), strum with your thumb, or pick the strings individually with the thumb and first and second fingers.


Ex. 7 combines single-note lines with octaves and some root-fifth-octave power chords, the latter being the result of, as we saw earlier with Ex. 5, brushing/flicking the higher octave note with the index finger, which also grazes the next lower string, bringing the fifth “along for the ride.” Be mindful of your muting with both hands when switching back to single-note lines at end of bar 3. The final E5 power chord may be strummed with the thumb to good effect. Experiment with varying degrees of overdrive for these examples too.

Our final offering, Ex. 8, is in the key of D and begins with another single-note line that requires close attention to muting with both hands, to avoid any unwanted key-of-E notes from inadvertently sounding. For the developing series of two-note triplets that has you continually jumping back and forth between two adjacent strings, toggle back and forth between your thumb and first finger (obviously using the former to pick the lower of the two strings). On the last two beats of the fourth bar, try reversing the fingerpicking assignments, strumming the double-stops with your thumb on the downbeats and picking the single notes on the upbeats with your first finger. Be mindful of your slide positioning and pitch intonation, as well as the rhythmically steady execution of the triplets.


That’s it for our two-part lesson in blues-rock-based electric fingerstyle guitar. We hope you have fun with these techniques and that they inspire you and afford you new ways to add dynamics and articulation to your playing.