Grateful Dead Music Forum

A place to talk about the music of the Grateful Dead 

 #98044  by JamminJommy
 Wed May 11, 2011 1:34 am
A thought...

So we know that a pick can really change tone just as much as where you pick on the strings and how tight or loose you hold it. I seem to remember reading an interview where Jerry said he used a variation on "scalpel" picking technique, where the picking is generated from moving the thumb and finger instead of the wrist or hand. This means that the player would end up picking at a slight angle with a fairly localized motion.

This is an example from around the time that interview was given: ... re=related

You can seem him even anchoring his hand at points (3:30 and beyond during the solo) with his pinkie and third finger.

This is actually pretty consistent across the board even in 1972. ... re=related

Granted, he wouldn't do this %100 of the time, but it seemed like it was default picking position and status. I dk... I know how I pick really changes things... could be part of tha really open fatness that he has, too.

Just a thought.


 #98052  by helio
 Wed May 11, 2011 6:43 am
From my perspective, getting anywhere close to Jerry's nuances in tempo, pick attack, etc... during solos (not that I get close, but trying...) is next to impossible without the forefinger/thumb "scalpel" method. It's the only way I can approximate the same subtle changes in the course of a lead run.

On anchoring: Two things on this... 1) helps keep things controlled, hand settled where I want it. 2) Helps keep arm relaxed, which is crucial. With a gentle anchor in place, upper and forearm can really relax, letting all motion really come from the fingers.

On the pick choice, and its effect on playing: Inspired by Trey and Jerry's big picks, I recently switched from Fender mediums to nice thick 2.0mm picks. What struck me was that it made me play differently, and arguably better. The thick pick allows for some real whalloping of the strings, to be sure. Great, percussive accents a la Jerry. But then if you want to tone it down and get the really soft notes, you really have to exercise good finger control. You can get everything from very soft to very hard notes, but you really have to choose deliberately to get them. That really has opened my eyes to my picking technique, and has allowed/forced me to really sharpen up my playing. Slop becomes more apparent, but good picking is really, really rewarded. Highly recommend the heavier picks to anyone who hasn't gone there yet (which, admittedly, may be very, very few people in the Rukind crowd :) ).
 #98089  by mijknahs
 Wed May 11, 2011 3:45 pm
One thing that suprised me (from videos) is that when Jerry goes to the really fast picking, he is no longer anchored and moves his whole hand. That suprised me because for me its harder to play fast not anchored.
 #98105  by Chuckles
 Thu May 12, 2011 1:12 am
+1 to hello. I keep the outer part of my palm just above the wrist pretty firmly anchored, and I do love me them fat picks (thanks to intos to it from the folks here after my initial doubts).

But JG, I think, tended to play above the strings a lot more than you might be thinking. Yes, as MJ said, he wasn't anchored during his faster runs - and especially his fanning of course... but the "scalpel grip", much like any of us would hold a pencil tip, kept his hand well off the guitar's surface, I think. At least that's what I remember him saying in a GP article at some point...
 #98108  by FretfulDave
 Thu May 12, 2011 6:41 am
I use a medium pick. Have for many years. Tried heavy picks (Fender style, tortoise shell type) and found them uncomfortable and harsh on the string, at least with acoustic. Never tried heavy picks with the electric. Could never find an inbetween pick, i.e., medium heavy, that I liked. This thread is making me think about checking the differences again.

My question: how much of the pick is exposed from the fingers? For myself, it is not a lot. And depending on the sound I want to get, especially strumming, I sometimes shorten it down to where my fingertips almost touch the strings or sometimes do touch the strings. It would seem to me that if there is not a lot of pick extending from fingers then the flexibility of the pick doesn't come into play all that much. Hence my question. With only a little extending out from the fingers, I find the rest of the medium pick "comfortable" in my fingers.


 #98110  by mijknahs
 Thu May 12, 2011 7:19 am
FretfulDave wrote: My question: how much of the pick is exposed from the fingers?
Very little.
 #98137  by Rusty the Scoob
 Thu May 12, 2011 1:40 pm
Jerry's article got me thinking about the way I pick, too, especially since I'm a relatively new pick player.

What the 2.0mm picks give you IMHO is tone control - you can grip it tight for a hard attack or gently and let it float in your fingers a little for a soft attack. Any flexibility limits the range of expression you can get out of the pick.

IMHO anchoring your picking hand gives you more precise control, not speed. Speed comes from letting your hand float and using your wrist and elbow more.
 #98142  by wolftigerrosebud
 Thu May 12, 2011 4:48 pm
Emulating Jerry's playing is a major part of what I enjoy on the guitar, with my own touches, of course.

To emulate that tone, I obviously need some gear that's close enough to his to at least get some of that sound, but the part that always seems more interesting to me is the stuff I do with my hands. That's why when I read that Jerry uses a thick pick and high action, I started using a thick pick and high action. They both give me greater control over the sound of each note. Of course, I've changed some things to suit my preferences better. I initially had my action set as high as Jerry's -- really, really high. I decided that wasn't my thing, so now I play it medium-high so that I can play some of those speedy jazz runs that I also enjoy playing. As for picks, started with 2mm after I read that interview, my friend, who's primarily a jazz player, turned me on to the 3mm Jazz Stubbys and now I play with those. Same with the picking technique; I play with my pinky and ring finger anchoring my right hand so that I can pick wherever I want, as long as it's over the body, with some deal of proficiency, as opposed to how I used to play, with my hand on the bridge.

It seems to me, and I could be wrong about this, that Jerry's choices in technique and gear were dominantly focused on keeping as many options open and controlling each note as much as possible. That's kind of what I shoot for, and while that hasn't made me sound exactly like Garcia (what can, really?), it's helped me develop my own musical voice.
 #98218  by ChiroVette
 Sat May 14, 2011 1:07 pm
I get what I feel is a pretty nice "Jerry sound" with my picking, and to be honest, I am not rigid about it. I tend to mix up. Remember that Jerry plays an awful lot of rhythm for a lead guitarist, particularly in those open and barre chord songs where he is singing a story and Bobby is playing chord leads and grace notes, to the point where it almost feels like they are switching guitarist-roles at times. Notice how often while he is playing chords his wrist is free and not anchored.

That said, since this is obviously a thread about his solos, I would still say that I switch it up very often. I would say for the most part, my picking style is sort of an amalgamation of an anchored and un-anchored right hand. The thing is that very many guitarists will use that finger anchoring to almost freeze their wrists to the point of almost being rigid, and I think that is a mistake. Whether I am playing a run with my right hand anchored or not, I can tell you right now that my wrists are ALWAYS moving laterally (up and down over the strings), and I am never anchoring to the point of rigidity.

The only reason I am anchoring at all (well aside from habit, that is) is for just a tiny bit of stability. Again, though, either way, my wrists are always moving. Remember that Garcia did a lot of string-skipping and long pentatonic runs. He was never a shredder, obviously, because if he was, then anchoring at all would have been counter-productive. But since Garcia was more of a "stylist" than a "technician" he didn't have to worry about optimal hand and finger placement over the strings to optimize insane picking speeds.

Oh and one other thing: I cannot speak for anyone else, but I anchor my right hand ONLY with my pinky, and even that is very very lightly touching the guitar, because all I am using it for is for a little stability. It may or ma not be helping me with my sound, of that I am not convinced either way. Beause, to my way of thinking it is the attack of the pick, the weight of the pick, your equipment, level of skill, and your ability to keep your motion smooth that will give you a great Garcia-esque sound. I really don't believe, for one second that anchoring and not anchoring is going to be anything more than personal preference.

I can get a nice Garcia sound either way. I only anchor because I am not a shredder and because it is how I am used to playing.
 #98222  by SarnoMusicSolutions
 Sat May 14, 2011 6:08 pm
I recall Jerry saying somewhere in an interview that holding the pick real hard gives a darker tone and holding it loosely gives a brighter tone. I find that with these fat Adamas graphite picks. When I try to snap the string hard, it doesn't sparkle much, but when you gently brush over the strings, like when Jerry becomes un-anchored and is ripping fast, that ultra-light touch just brushing the strings gives a ton of sparkle and zing. And I know it's been discussed in other threads, but fat plastic picks simply don't do what these graphite Adamas picks do. Something about the gritty graphite fibers and how they excite the highs in the tone where a smooth plastic pick is relatively dark and dull and "plastic" sounding. And I always did get the impression that Jerry held the pick pretty close to the tip to where his skin could also be in control of what happens at the string, just the nub tip sticking out of his grip.

Regarding thinner picks, while say a Fender medium or similar type pick will definitely impart a bright snap to the sound, that's not something I ever heard from Jerry. He seems to have always been an extra-heavy to extremely-extra-heavy pick kind of player, never that medium pick snap in the tone. If you dial up your gear with that extreme treble like he did, then the Adamas graphite or a Fender Extra-Heavy (which I understand he used before the Adamas came along) picks make a lot of sense. Fat, non-snappy picks with a super bright amp tone. The opposite would be a darker amp tone with bright, snappy picks, which seems to be the most common approach.

 #102926  by lunasparks
 Sat Sep 03, 2011 3:05 pm
I'm posting here because I can't seem to find a good thread about how Jerry gets "that" sound when he plays chords, but I think it has a lot to do with the pick(ing). There are a million examples of what I'm trying to learn. Bird Song clip below has a good example, though. Go to about 2:27-2:29, just a few seconds but the tone he gets on those chords, almost like each note is articulated even though it's a chord. I have (I think) all of the gear needed to achieve this; what I lack (I think) is the right touch. Who knows how Jerry gets this kind of "brushlike" effect out of his chords?

Actually, below from same show is even better example. Listen here at 1:37-1:43. You guys know what I'm talking about, really just the standard way that Jerry seems to get that "light" sound from his chords, esp. late '80s/early '90s. No matter how hard I try, I can't quite seem to get this tone when I play chords. Would love to hear what others think about trying to knock Jerry's style of chords/rhythm. Let's hear 'em....

 #102927  by jeager
 Sat Sep 03, 2011 3:28 pm
I gave up flat picking for almost a decade while performing solo acoustic. Now that I have started to play in bands again I feel like all that work with my fingers has taught me things about how to get different tones by way of picking attack... a nice benefit now that I am back to the flat pick...

Anyway, i have messed around with 2mm picks, heavy tear drop shaped picks and have finally settled on dunlop Ultex 1.0 mm. They don't make them heavier but this one is real stiff and seems to glide over the strings much better than anything I have tried. I recommend giving them a try if you have not. They have a Rhino on them.
 #102928  by JamminJommy
 Sat Sep 03, 2011 5:37 pm
Part of it, to my ears, has to do with the volume knob. That 2mm pick really packs a punch on the strings With the volume down, you can really put some energy through 'em without obliterating the other players. I suppose this is an element of what some one around here once described "calculated sloppiness."

But on the other hand, Jer was fairly precise in what strings were being played and when hid fretting hand moved. Regarding the Birdsong; a combination of the power in that pick and the precision of left hand (in conjunction with Brad's "high volume" theory) makes for some PHAT chord tones when desired. There is also something about the way the graphite hits the strings that gives them a little bit of harmonic articulation, as opposed to the percussive nature of plastic or stiff nylon.

Just my thoughts.