Downward pickslanting, or DWPS, is a picking orientation where the pick slants toward the floor. Its primary use is to ensure smooth pick attack during USX motion.
In a USX picking motion, the pick does not move parallel with the strings, but instead along a diagonal pathway where upstrokes move into the escape zone. To compensate for this angled motion, the pick needs to slant the opposite way — downward — to restore our symmetrical, 90-degree pick attack:
There are lots of ways to do USX motion, using different pick grips, arm positions, and joint motions. While they are all similar in allowing upstrokes to escape, these motions can look pretty different. We’ve already looked at Marty Friedman’s USX form and noted its similarity to the Gypsy picking form of Joscho Stephan:
Both Joscho and Marty’s forms are based on a supinated arm position and flexed wrist. This is a very common USX playing position, and it generates an escape angle of around 35 degrees. As a result, both players also use an easily visible 35-degree downward pickslant to maintain smooth attack:
By comparison, Mike Stern’s USX technique uses a less supinated arm and a wrist-based picking motion. Mike’s escape angle is only about 10 degrees, and his matching 10-degree downward pickslant is visually much closer to perpendicular:
In general, wrist motions like Mike’s tend to move closer to parallel to the strings and produce shallower escape angles than motions like Joscho’s and Marty’s, which incorporate the forearm joint and escape more vertically. This is just the way these joints move, since they operate in different planes.
There is no mechanical cost to pickslanting, and less pickslant is not better than more. In some sense, there really is no such thing as “less” or “more” pickslant anyway, since the end goal is always to end up with a pick attack of exactly 90 degrees relative to the picking motion. Just as we discovered when we looked at Frank Gambale’s technique, when we rotate the camera to straighten out Joscho’s pickslant, we find that his picking motion really does just move perpendicular to it:
So even though these techniques may look superficially different, as far as the motion of the pick is concerned, they are all essentially oriented straight up and down and moving side to side — and it’s the guitar that’s slanted!