Fingerstyle electric technique

HolmfirthNJ

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I usually play electric guitar just with thumb and index finger. I can't use a pick or thumb pick, and I don't really want to - my instinct is not to have anything between me and the strings. I'd like to sound just a little like Hubert Sumlin or R.L. Burnside but I don't - it's all rather muffled and so untidy as to be borderline unlistenable.
There are some great clips of old blues guitarists on YouTube playing (mostly acoustic) with fingers but it's very difficult to get anything much on technique - same with instruction books, which tell you where to put your fingers and when, but not how.
I guess it's to do with attack, even approach, only hitting the strings you want, and lots of practice, but any advice or sources would be much appreciated (btw 'tone is in the fingers' is not useful advice)?
To throw something in, here's Matt Sweeney talking about why he plays with fingers
 

VintageSG

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To my ears, Wilko, Lyndsey Buckingham and Mark Knopfler are worth studying. I can barely keep hold of a plectrum. I use one only for tremolo picking these days.

Two minutes in, you get a good view of how Wilko plays the Dr Dupree solo. There's a lot going off. A heck of a lot. Second solo around the three minute fifty is more or less a repeat.
Lyndsey plays in a similar way. Mark is Mark :)

It isn't about just playing the notes you want, but also using the fretting hand to mute those you don't. Also, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.
'Flamenco' strumming, roll strumming, drawing your thumbnail across on an upstroke, clawhammer, single finger, single note, thumbed bass, multi-string plucks are all worth trying. I found trying the 'classical' method worked about as well as a paper submarine for me.

Don't forget, the old blues masters ( and Wilko ) developed their way of playing in order to make music. Leadbelly and Rory Gallagher played differently, but both produced some dazzling music. Make it your own.
Watch Youtube videos until your eyes hurt, then play in that style to suit your hands. Ignore clean. Own 'mistakes' and make them your sound.
 

Boreas

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The reason there is not much info out there is because virtually everyone develops their own patterns and style - which can change from song-to-song depending on what they are trying to do. In my case, if I think about my fingers, I stumble.

In a previous life I played a little 5-string banjo. I developed what are known as "rolls", which allows you to play allotta notes and make allotta noise without thinking about it. It has a similar effect as strumming a guitar - creates a chord background. Many people develop their own rolls, and the finger coordination can translate very loosely to guitar, but much SLOWER. It is more coordination than note-for-note picking in many cases.

EDIT: Once you can do this without thinking, then you start thinking about it. Slow things down, and decide which fingers to pick the notes you want, and which notes you want to mute or simply not play. As long as it sounds good and is fluid, which fingers pick which strings becomes only a matter of personal preference. Attempting to learn someone else's preferences may not work for another individual.
 
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johnnyASAT

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Have you grown your nails any? You don’t need much, just enough to graze the string after the initial attack of your finger tip. Really brightens the tone vs just flesh. Too long and the tone is too bright.
 

HolmfirthNJ

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To my ears, Wilko, Lyndsey Buckingham and Mark Knopfler are worth studying. I can barely keep hold of a plectrum. I use one only for tremolo picking these days.

Two minutes in, you get a good view of how Wilko plays the Dr Dupree solo. There's a lot going off. A heck of a lot. Second solo around the three minute fifty is more or less a repeat.
Lyndsey plays in a similar way. Mark is Mark :)

It isn't about just playing the notes you want, but also using the fretting hand to mute those you don't. Also, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.
'Flamenco' strumming, roll strumming, drawing your thumbnail across on an upstroke, clawhammer, single finger, single note, thumbed bass, multi-string plucks are all worth trying. I found trying the 'classical' method worked about as well as a paper submarine for me.

Don't forget, the old blues masters ( and Wilko ) developed their way of playing in order to make music. Leadbelly and Rory Gallagher played differently, but both produced some dazzling music. Make it your own.
Watch Youtube videos until your eyes hurt, then play in that style to suit your hands. Ignore clean. Own 'mistakes' and make them your sound.

Great advice, thanks 👍
 

HolmfirthNJ

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Have you grown your nails any? You don’t need much, just enough to graze the string after the initial attack of your finger tip. Really brightens the tone vs just flesh. Too long and the tone is too bright.
Interesting, no, when there’s any fingernail, it adds to the general confusion and mess - worth experimenting 🙂
 

oldunc

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Classical method really is much the best, but it requires absolute precision, takes a lot of practice. For any technique, you need your hand to be balanced; the stroke can't displace your hand. Some styles involve bracing your right hand on the guitar; this can make things easier in the beginning, but I really recommend against it as it places a lot of limitation on how you can use your fingers; it also damps the soundboard on acoustics. In classical technique there is a lot of emphasis on independence; you can't let what your thumb is doing affect what your fingers are doing etc., because you are playing separate parts with them. Most rock etc. guitarists who use their fingers develop some sort of a back and forth stroke, usually with a thumb or index finger, for fast passages and tremolos. This allows the stroke to come from the wrist, as it would with a flatpick, and make it much easier to develop speed, but it commits your whole hand to the stroke so can only be used for single lines. It is possible to develop speed using a two finger stroke; classical guitarists generally favor the 1st and 3rd fingers, but I've found using the 1st and 2nd works better with an electric because of spacing relative to the pickups, and it's mostly used by non classical players- at any rate, it takes a ton of work to develop any speed that way. Some people- e.g. Wes Montgomery, Jeff Beck develop pretty amazing speed with a thumb stroke, though it's usually not one that leaves the fingers free.
 

acousticnitemare

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Have you watched any J.J. Cale live shows on Youtube? How close is his picking sound to the sound you want?
I've done this with acoustic/electrics (OK, tried to); it takes quite some time to get callouses on the edge of the thumb and tips of the fingers to keep them from hanging up on the strings and getting some decent bite, and IMO, the guitar needs a little bit brighter tone. My sense is that the callouses also bring the result closer to fingernails or banjo picks.
You could also watch some Leo Kottke; he's always done OK, first with the picks, then the switch to his fingers.
 

HolmfirthNJ

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Classical method really is much the best, but it requires absolute precision, takes a lot of practice. For any technique, you need your hand to be balanced; the stroke can't displace your hand. Some styles involve bracing your right hand on the guitar; this can make things easier in the beginning, but I really recommend against it as it places a lot of limitation on how you can use your fingers; it also damps the soundboard on acoustics. In classical technique there is a lot of emphasis on independence; you can't let what your thumb is doing affect what your fingers are doing etc., because you are playing separate parts with them. Most rock etc. guitarists who use their fingers develop some sort of a back and forth stroke, usually with a thumb or index finger, for fast passages and tremolos. This allows the stroke to come from the wrist, as it would with a flatpick, and make it much easier to develop speed, but it commits your whole hand to the stroke so can only be used for single lines. It is possible to develop speed using a two finger stroke; classical guitarists generally favor the 1st and 3rd fingers, but I've found using the 1st and 2nd works better with an electric because of spacing relative to the pickups, and it's mostly used by non classical players- at any rate, it takes a ton of work to develop any speed that way. Some people- e.g. Wes Montgomery, Jeff Beck develop pretty amazing speed with a thumb stroke, though it's usually not one that leaves the fingers free.

Have you watched any J.J. Cale live shows on Youtube? How close is his picking sound to the sound you want?
I've done this with acoustic/electrics (OK, tried to); it takes quite some time to get callouses on the edge of the thumb and tips of the fingers to keep them from hanging up on the strings and getting some decent bite, and IMO, the guitar needs a little bit brighter tone. My sense is that the callouses also bring the result closer to fingernails or banjo picks.
You could also watch some Leo Kottke; he's always done OK, first with the picks, then the switch to his fingers.

All very interesting, thanks. What I’m really drawn to is the thumb and index finger style - quite a different approach to these, really - it’s how I approach the guitar i.e. very basically, I guess (I’m not saying this is a good or a bad thing, I’m just kind of aware of it).
 

johnnyASAT

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I would definitely recommend some nail for brush ups is that’s how you’re playing. Getting those other fingers going eventually will not hurt though.
 

loopfinding

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it's easier to get a more natural and consistent sound alternating index and middle in classical style. but there are two problems - harder to mute, and harder to pick up real speed with free strokes (and it becomes apparent to you playing like this why flamenco guitarists can usually smoke a classical player in terms of speed and volume on single note lines).

usually i use thumb-middle-index, in a loop. so thumb-middle-index-thumb-middle-index-thumb-middle-index etc. and plant my palm to mute lower strings when using distortion. it's basically like an underhanded lute position more than a classical position. but i find there is a speed limit even with this pseudo lute position, i can't really take it beyond 16th notes at 120-130bpm without lifting my hand, and thus not being able to mute anymore. there is also the problem that the thumb comes from a different angle - so as opposed to just index and middle going one way, the thumb will always choke their notes. it's imperceptible at slow speeds, but there is quite a volume drop/staccato-ness at faster speeds.

the fastest, most consistent way would be using flamenco rest strokes (or bass rest strokes, if you prefer). however the problem then becomes the trickiness of going back and forth with your hand between the rest and free positions (the flamenco/bass position is perpendicular to the strings, and free stroke classical style is at an angle). still, with two fingers, it's the fastest/most consistent sounding. with three fingers (ring-middle-index) it's even more efficient.

all of these work best if you have a little nail over the top of the finger. you also have to file it asymmetrically with respect to how your fingertip hits the string, otherwise growing nails does you no favors.

hybrid picking is usually a good compromise, and what i do most of the time, with short nails. thumb and index holding the pick, plus middle and ring for avoiding string changes or sounding all notes of a chord at once. using heavier nylon or celluloid for your pick works best here, because it's closer to the sound of nails on the string. you can still use a pick for faster lines and more consistency, but you lose one finger for chords.

the other option i've tried that i think some folks do around here is to leave the index fingernail longer on the far side. that way, you can play with classical free stroke technique, but just flip your hand and use your index nail as a pick. it can be finnicky or weak sounding if you have curved nails like i do (and have to keep them short).
 
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HolmfirthNJ

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it's easier to get a more natural and consistent sound alternating index and ring in classical style. but there are two problems - harder to mute, and harder to pick up real speed with free strokes (and it becomes apparent to you playing like this why a flamenco guitarist can smoke a classical player in terms of speed and volume).

usually i use thumb-middle-index, in a loop. so thumb-middle-index-thumb-middle-index-thumb-middle-index etc. and plant my palm to mute strings when using distortion. it's basically like an underhanded lute position more than a classical position. but i find there is a speed limit even with this pseudo lute position, i can't really take it beyond 16th notes at 120-130bpm without lifting my hand, and thus not being able to mute anymore. there is also the problem that the thumb comes from a different angle - so as opposed to just index and ring going one way, the thumb will always choke their notes. it's imperceptible at slow speeds, but there is quite a volume drop/staccato-ness at faster speeds.

the fastest, most consistent way would be using flamenco rest strokes (or bass rest strokes, if you prefer). however the problem then becomes the trickiness of going back and forth with your hand between the rest and free positions (the flamenco/bass position is perpendicular to the strings, and free stroke classical style is at an angle). still, with two fingers, it's the fastest/most consistent sounding. with three fingers (ring-index-middle) it's even more efficient.

all of these work best if you have a little nail over the top of the finger. you also have to file it asymmetrically with respect to how your fingertip hits the string, otherwise growing nails does you no favors.

hybrid picking is usually a good compromise, and what i do most of the time, with short nails. thumb and index holding the pick, plus middle and ring for avoiding string changes or sounding all notes of a chord at once. using heavier nylon or celluloid for your pick works best here, because it's closer to the sound of nails on the string. you can still use a pick for faster lines and more consistency.
That’s amazing, my natural approach is to sit my palm on the Tele bridge, with little finger resting lightly on the body (had to get my guitar out to check this) and I also damp with my fretting hand a fair bit. I guess these are basic things I could start by paying more attention to.
 

bottlenecker

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I play with bare thumb and fingers a lot, and Hubert Sumlin is a personal favorite.
I don't know if I can tell you how to get a clean tone. My fingers go to where the sound I want is, unconsciously.
I can tell you roughly what got my fingers working, after being good for nothing but holding a pick for years. I had to lay in a bed for three months with a broken leg, and I got someone to bring me a cheap nylon string guitar. I tried to play it with my fingers and make up fake flamenco moves all day every day for months.
It all ended up in my electric playing.
Best I can offer without hearing and seeing you play is turn up the treble, and make sure your strings aren't too light. I can do my thing with .009s, but it's much harder.
And I highly recommend getting a cheap student classical.
 

HolmfirthNJ

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I play with bare thumb and fingers a lot, and Hubert Sumlin is a personal favorite.
I don't know if I can tell you how to get a clean tone. My fingers go to where the sound I want is, unconsciously.
I can tell you roughly what got my fingers working, after being good for nothing but holding a pick for years. I had to lay in a bed for three months with a broken leg, and I got someone to bring me a cheap nylon string guitar. I tried to play it with my fingers and make up fake flamenco moves all day every day for months.
It all ended up in my electric playing.
Best I can offer without hearing and seeing you play is turn up the treble, and make sure your strings aren't too light. I can do my thing with .009s, but it's much harder.
Thanks, that’s great- it’s a feature of learning by YouTube that you’re looking at and listening to them but they’re not looking at or listening to you - it’s not really a lesson, just a demo. Anyway, 10s on my Tele, they feel right. 12s on the acoustic.
 




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