September 5, 2007

Identifying and Choosing

The way that we describe our playing often rests is what our right hand is doing...or left for all the southpaws.

Unless you are a two-hands-on-the fretboard kind of player like Stanley Jordan, Preston Reed, or Billy McLaughlin, regardless of what the left hand is doing (chords / single notes) most people allude to the action of their right hand as an indicator of style.

Picks? No picks? Thumb player a la Wes Montgomery? These folks identify with using the fingers of the right hand to strike and pluck the strings in lieu of a plectrum. Fingerstylists appear in almost every genre that guitar is played in. Often players who perform a classical repertoire, ostensibly the grandfather of fingerstyle traditions, identify as classical guitarists. Similarly, slide or bottleneck players often identify with the slide, though by and large they are fingerstylists as well.


These plectrum based stylists use the plectrum to chord, play single note runs, and play basslines.


Fingers or pick, strumming is often associated with the singer / songwriter tradition where chords are strummed as a form of accompaniment.

In the end, many players engage in all three approaches at any given time, while others tend to specialize.

What is this all about?

Well, people tend to choose guitars based on the style they play. In the flatpicking world, the dreadnought is king. Fingerstyle players tend to choose smaller bodied guitars - 00s, 000s, OMs and the like. Strummers aren't as picky, but dreadnoughts are still pretty popular here too. Slide players often choose ladder braced guitars and resonators. The lines are drawn in the banjo world as well, with clawhammer players choosing open-backed banjos, and bluegrass pickers tending towards resonator backed banjos.

Despite these generalities, there are no hard and fast rules when choosing an instrument.

Sure, physics makes some choices more favorable. There is a reason why some flatpickers are seeking out the perfect dreadnought - the banjo killer. The louder volume of the dread, with an emphasis on deep bass, punchy mids and shimmering trebles makes sense in a bluegrass setting. Similarly, it takes more effort to get the top of a heavier strung dreadnought moving. For a person playing bare-fingered, a smaller bodied guitar with lighter strings might really be a better choice.

In they end, these are choices. For every commonly accepted "best choice", there are many players playing the exception to the rule. John Fahey fingerpicked a Bacon Jumbo and later a Martin Dreadnought. Norman Blake flatpicks various 12-fret Gibson and Martin small bodied guitars. Dock Boggs played an old-timey style on a Gibson Mastertone resonator banjo.

Keep an open mind when choosing an instrument. The guitar, banjo, mandolin, [insert stringed-thing] of your dreams may (or may not) be what you'd expect!

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