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Is Pick Depth Slowing You Down? The Floyd Rose Speed Guide Wants To Help

By January 21, 2020 Features

Is it important to use a consistently small amount of pick on the string? Design pioneer Floyd Rose thinks so, and he’s designed a guitar with precisely this challenge in mind.

The amazing Teemu Mäntysaari stopped by the studio to take a look at the new “Speed Guide”-equipped instrument, which Floyd graciously sent over for a test drive. The Speed Guide is a body design that features a carved top that rises up just 15 thousandths of an inch below the height of the frets. This brings the string action much closer to the body of the guitar, and limits pick travel beneath the string.

Playing the new design took a little getting used to, but over the 40-minute hands-on discussion of the guide’s effect on various aspects of picking technique, both Teemu and I found that we made subtle technique adjustments to accommodate the cozier confines below the strings:

Attack Versus Motion

Much of the talk centers on picking motion. As Teemu astutely points out, it may be difficult to disentangle the challenge of achieving smooth pick attack from the challenge of establishing smooth picking motion itself. By attack, I simply mean the type and amount of pick that contacts the string. By motion, we’re usually talking about the path the pick travels, starting some distance before for the string, and finishing some distance past the string after the note has been played.

When it comes to attack, I do appear to use a relatively small amount of pick attack regardless of the type of picking motion I’m using. In fact, as you can see in the slow motion shots in the test drive, my attack is often significantly less than the Speed Guide itself, which is interesting. Because when I play the Speed Guide-equipped guitar, you’ll see that I frequently feel like I’m hitting the body. And it turns out that it’s not because I’m using any more pick on the string than other players do. Again, in the slow motion closeups you can see that the attack itself is often tiny. Instead, the body contact happens because the picking motion continues past the string. And again, that’s a whole different thing.

The Rest Of The Story

The distinction between attack and motion is particularly true for “downward pickslanting” playing styles, which typically employ downstroke rest strokes to stop the pick’s motion again the next higher string. If you check out this awesome Albert Lee clip, you can see just how much meat Albert gets on the rest strokes:

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We'll always be grateful to the amazing Albert Lee ( @official_albert_lee ) for giving us such a great look at one of the all-time classic techniques in picking. This is also a great example of why it's important to go out and gather information with an open mind, because it wasn't until years later that we really understood what it was we were looking at. Specifically, Albert has two mechanical modes for alternate picking. His USX, or "upstroke escape" mode, is what we've come to think of as a "downward pickslanting" approach, using a vertical picking path where upstrokes escape and downstrokes remain trapped and often rest. In this mode, string changes are always arranged so that they occur during upstrokes, as they do in this blazing example from Albert's tune "Country Boy". By contrast, his DBX, or "double escape" mode traces a flatter, curved path in the air above the strings. This is a completely escaped pickstroke which never traps and doesn't use a rest stroke. This lets him execute occasional downstroke string changes inside an otherwise USX line, as we're seeing here. It also lets Albert tackle signature phrases where you move back and forth between two strings with only one note on each of them. Both motions are executed entirely via wrist motion, with no engagement of forearm rotation. #pickslanting #downwardpickslanting #singleescape #usxmotion #doubleescape #dbxmotion #pickingtechnique

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I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess Albert would be hitting the Speed Guide as well. Whether he could adapt, and whether that change would be positive, is the big question. I’m keeping an open mind!

Too Much Pick

What this means from a practical perspective is that for an experienced player, the size of the picking motion and the size of the pick attack are two different things. An experienced player can use a larger motion with a small attack, and get the kind of results that Albert does. For someone who is still learning picking motion itself, it may be harder to separate the two, as Teemu described. If the motion is inconsistent, and the player digs too far into the string on certain pickstrokes, that may create a feeling of stickyness.

And indeed, when we examine footage of players who post to the forum for technique help, “too much pick” is not a diagnosis we typically arrive at often. In Teemu’s personal teaching experience, he also characterized such occurrences as “rare”. Instead, what we’ve both seen a lot of is players struggling to internalize the picking motion they want to perform. This is harder than it sounds. Plenty of experienced players may not even really know what kind of picking motion they’re using, especially if that motion is a complicated blend of different joints. Hell, we don’t even know what motions some players use, and without better measuring equipment, we may never in some cases.

Motor Learning

All of which is not to say that the Speed Guide doesn’t work, but rather, that its effect may have more to do with picking motion than attack. If the guide can help a player learn smooth picking motion, then that’s a useful tool to have.

Pedagogical tools for musical technique have been used effectively on all sorts of instruments, from classical violinists employing fingerboard tape and bow guides, to rock drummers learning single strokes on pillows. The key to making physical assistance work may lie in taking the guide more literally, as a guide to what smoothness and correctness feels like, and trying replicate result without it. Flipping back and forth between the guide and the non-guide instrument might give the player a clearer idea what to shoot for, and that’s when the learning might happen.

We address these and many more issues in picking motion in the talk, with lots of closeup footage of what different motions looks like. Astute listeners may recognize the intro song, “Dragon Army”, from the Cracking the Code series, where it originally appeared as the soundtrack behind the first scene of Season 1, Episode 3, “A Pick And A Hard Place”:

Teemu waved his magic wand and came up with an awesome B section for it in about two seconds flat, and I love the way the extended version turned out.

Top Comments

  1. Avatar for tommo tommo says:

    Unfortunately I think that this is based on the usual myth “small movements (and/or small amount of pick) = good technique/speed”, so I’d advise anyone against it.

    The last few years of CTC investigations showed pretty clearly that it is possible to play very fast and clean with quite a lot of pick on the string.

    Also, being able to vary the pick depth is essential for dynamics/accenting.

  2. Avatar for Reylle Reylle says:

    Have any of you guys tried this? It is called RunBarr!

    If someone in the states can have a go and do a review that would great!!! That’s the website to buy it wtih different sizes!

    The only thing that I would do with this RunnBar I would get it set it in a bit of angle like that: " \ " so when I change strings my picking hand gets angled." on the higher strings my hand goes towards the head-stock and on the lower strings goes more towards the bridge…

  3. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    Ha. When we were editing this, I actually looked up what “can” be said. Turns out there are apparently guidelines for this that aren’t super obvious. No profanity in the first 30 seconds of the video, but certain kinds ok elsewhere. No profanity in titles or poster images. I never knew that.

    Oz Noy said he was “just fucking around” in one of the clips we posted, but it was so good-natured and brief I left it in and I didn’t think anyone would care. I don’t think they did.

  4. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    It sounds like you may be conflating pick attack and pick motion. My apologies if I’m misunderstanding. To me, pick “attack” just refers to how much pick hits the string, not how far the pick moves away from the string either before or after it hits it. That’s the picking motion itself.

    As far as attack, even though this is not something we have really talked about, when you look at footage we’ve filmed, I do appear to use a relatively small amount of it regardless of the type of picking motion I’m using. Big motions or small motions, wrist or forearm, the attack is uniformly pretty small. I do this by feel, probably like everybody does.

    In fact, it’s significantly less than the Speed Guide itself, which is interesting. Because when I play the Speed Guide-equipped guitar, and I feel like I’m hitting the body, it turns out that it’s not because I’m using any more pick on the string than probably other players do. You can see this very clearly in the slow motion shots. The attack is often tiny. Instead, it’s because the motion continues past the string. And again, that’s a whole different thing.

    For dwps economy type playing, like Gypsy lines or EJ lines, and especially with wrist/forearm motions, I really feel like I need more motion “runway” below the string to make them work. I feel like the rest stroke requires this to place more pick on the resting string, in order to truly come to a rest and stop — or at least to slow it down for timing purposes, which is what I think the rest stroke does.

    And it’s not just me. If you check out this awesome Albert Lee clip for example, you can see how much meat he gets on the rest strokes, which is significant:

    I don’t know, but I’d guess he’d be hitting the Speed Guide as well. Whether he could adapt, and whether that change would be positive, I can’t say. Again, I really tried to check myself in the test drive of this guitar because there are unknowns and they should be represented as such, not as one guy’s opinion or impression.

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