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Guitar: Amusing Inconsistencies and Subtle Nuances

by Hercules Castro

Hola, fellow twangers!

In my last blog entry, I promised that I would offer up an instructional based on the pentatonic scale in my next entry. OK, I lied. Kind of. Turns out, as I began to write the entry, I kept coming up with idea after idea after idea. As it stands, I still plan on writing on this topic, but it’s going to take some time as it’s going to be a big one. In the meantime, I give you Amusing Inconsistencies and Subtle Nuances.

Amusing inconsistency number one: the use of the word tremolo. On a guitar, it’s the thing that changes pitch. On an amplifier, it’s the effect that changes volume. I blame Leo Fender. Mainly because his biographers blame him. Speaking of Leo, amusing inconsistency number two: a radio repairman who didn’t know how to play guitar creates one of the most successful guitar brands in the world. Huh. And to segue into the ‘subtle nuances’ discussion, inconsistency number three: frets.

If I were to say “put your index finger on the 12th fret of you high E string”, chances are you’ll put your index finger between two pieces of wire over a couple of dots (or a block, shark tooth, etc.). But why would you do that? Technically, the fret is the piece of wire itself. Shouldn’t you put your finger on the wire? Well, hopefully we all understand that that’s not what I mean when I say those words. Any noob knows that you don’t press down on the actual fret wire. It sounds bad. But as a player advances, the distinction between subtle nuances like this becomes important.

For example, harmonics get to be pretty tricky if there isn’t this clear distinction. Let’s say I instruct you to put your index finger on the “2nd fret” of the G string, then tap a harmonic 12 frets higher. Common thinking would have you tap at the area between the two pieces of wire on either side of the “14th fret”. But to achieve the cleanest execution of the harmonic, you’ll want to tap directly over the fret wire on the high side of the “14th fret”.

The reason? Although your fret hand finger is pressing between the two fret wires, the string length actually begins (or ends) exactly on the wire at the high side of the fretting finger. This means that the spot on the string exactly 12 frets higher is exactly over the fret wire at the high side of the “14th fret”.

This can all sound a bit OCD, but it’s like the old cliché, “Tone is in the hands” (yeah, tell that to a guitar builder, amp designer, or effects processor engineer).  For me, this means that you can hand the exact same guitar, pick, strings, cable, effects, and amp to two different players, and it will be the subtle nuances in technique that will produce two unique sounds. Subtle changes in the placement of the pick over pickups can have a big impact on timbre, adding the fleshy part of the thumb during specific downstrokes to create partial pinch harmonics can add bite and attitude to notes/chords, facing the amp at different angles to manipulate feedback, etc. It all adds up to create your own unique sound.

In other words, subtlety can be huge. How’s that for an amusing inconsistency?


You can find out more about Hercules and his music at http://www.herculescastro.com

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