‘The Player’
is where it all starts. If the tone you’re producing isn’t good, then
nothing else in the chain afterward is going to save it. When you
hear a great guitarist, it doesn’t matter what instrument they’re
playing, it always sounds like them and it always sounds great. So
what makes a player produce good sound? Let’s break it down into the
following:

Pick:

The
material as well as the thickness of a pick makes a difference in
tone. I avoid picks made out of ‘glossy’ materials. Thinner picks
tend to produce more harmonics, and also a brighter attack. Thick
picks are good for a jazzy tone as they produce that marimba-like
tone necessary for a classic jazz sound.

Grip:

How tightly
do you hold the pick?. Gripping tightly tends to create a very
bright, brittle tone (it also makes your strings more likely break).
A loose grip will give you a fatter, rounder tone. Try it yourself
and listen closely to the sound. Sometimes (like if your playing surf
music) an extremely bright tone works well.

Angle of
Attack (vertical):

When you
swing the pick does it travel parallel to your fingerboard, or does
it tend to arc down towards the body of your instrument. Swinging
parallel will increase your sustain and give you a clearer tone. If
you angle your picking action down into the fingerboard, string
‘crash’ will result. This produces a shorter, slightly strangled
tone. Sometimes this is cool, but you should be able to do it on
demand, rather than have it happen randomly.

Angle of
Attack (horizontal):

Try
hitting the string with the face of the pick parallel to the string,
and then try rotating your pick so that the edge strikes the string
first. With the string rotated you should get a fair bit of ‘scrape’.

Placement of
Attack:

Between
where you’re fretting the note and the bridge, there is a lot of
string to play with. Experiment picking at different places within
that length of string. Picking somewhere in the middle of the string
length will produce the most volume, and the sweetest tone. Picking
up against the bridge will give you a bright tone, moving towards the
fretting hand will give you a rounder tone.

Synchronisation:

Having
both hands arrive at the same time, i.e. your fretting hand touches
down on the string at exactly the same time as your picking hand
strikes it. This will increase sustain, give you clearer tone and a
habit of listening closely to what you do.

Experiment
with all of these things, and listen closely to the results. Record
them if you can, and you’ll start to get a feel for ways that you can
improve your tone dramatically.

As always,
if you have any questions. Please drop us an email on
help@independentmusic.com.au or use our contact page to book a free, no obligation introductory lesson.

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