The Cracking The Code Story

Birthed in the era of bedroom shredding, formalized in a research project at Yale University, and launched into the stratosphere with scientific cameras and smartphones — here’s how Cracking the Code came to be.

Rock To The Future

Our father, who art in Hicksville.

I’m Troy Grady, and I come from the era of 8-bit games, parachute pants, and time-travelling DeLoreans. I was raised on the Island of Billy Joel, where all musically ambitious teenagers must master “Angry Young Man” or face eviction. So my piano skills developed quickly. But like many of my generation, I was also inspired by the striped one to take up the guitar. Those skills also developed quickly… until they didn’t.

I made rapid early progress with Van Halen-style pull-offs and hammer-ons, and of course his famous two-handed tapping technique. But I soon realized that picking technique was different. My picking hand was fast, but it was horrendously sloppy. It also didn’t feel smooth, intermittently becoming stuck in the strings and stopping, as though I was tripping over invisible hurdles.

The Problem With Picking

The hands that inspired a generation

Not only was picking technique problematic, it was also random. I would occasionally surprise myself by playing something fast and startlingly clean, only to have the ability evaporate moments later. Some days, those flashes of smoothness and accuracy never occurred, and everything was sloppy and awkward. It was maddening. Multiple attempts at slow, concerted metronome practice didn’t help. At any speed above laboriously slow, the sloppy and sticky feeling returned.

This same problem appeared to exist at the elite level, too. The ability to “pick every note”, as we kids described it, was rare. Only a small subset of famous players seemed to have it.

Yngwie raised the bar for picking perfection in rock

It wasn’t just metal virtuosos like Yngwie Malmsteen, whose absurdly precise picking had radically raised the bar in rock guitar. Country virtuoso Albert Lee, who — gasp! — never used distortion, shocked us with his crystal clarity when he appeared in an issue of Guitar Player magazine with Eddie Van Halen on the cover. We placed the included floppy “Soundpage” record on our turntables, and were instantly united with country guitar fans in their pursuit of the plectrum.

Albert’s clean-tone mastery transcended genres.

By the end of high school I could play many things my heroes could play. Slippery Satriani-style scales with legato technique were smooth and easy. But when it came to picking, I was still miles behind. It was tempting to believe that natural ability was to blame, but that didn’t make any sense. Were Yngwie and Albert’s picking hands strangely even more genetically gifted than their fretting hands? Or was there something else going on? Was there, for lack of a better word, a trick to it?