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:
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.
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.