Posted by: worshipguitarguy | October 10, 2006

Six Annoying Guitar Traits

What follows is a list of six annoying types of guitar players I’ve run across in my playing.  (If one thinks I’m being snobbish, be aware that I qualify under a few of these categories… and perhaps a few more that I don’t want to admit.)   

The Excavator: 
This is the guitarist whose picking technique is like using a backhoe to dig out a flower garden.  When strumming or picking notes they hit hard and dig their pick well into their strings.  Over time, you see the traces of their technique in scratched pickguards, pickup covers and bodies. 

The problems with this technique are numerous.  First hitting your strings that hard causes buzzing and quickly knocks your guitar out of tune.  (And in extreme cases, hitting that hard guarantees your strings will vibrate out of tune, even if your guitar isn’t.)  Second, over time, hitting hard tends to stress strings quicker meaning that you’ll replace them more often.  And third, this technique just develops a broad range of bad habits which will make progress down the road very difficult. 

A way to tell if you struggle with this problem is to observe both your strumming hand and your strings.  If you find alot of resistance on your strumming hand when striking the strings, you may be digging your pick in too much.  Also, look at the strings as they vibrate after a strum.  You should see a minor amount of vibration, but not the strings going all over the place.  (If you have a hard time seeing the individual strings on the fretboard while strumming, you may be hitting a little too hard.)

The Open Strummer: 
Last night I went to an amazing worship service with a very talented band.  I did notice one thing though that was just a small critique, and didn’t take away one bit from the wonderful time we had there.

 And the critique was this, there were two primary vocalists/guitar players… a guy and a girl.  The guy was usually playing acoustic, and the girl a Fender Strat.  (Additionally they had a second electric playing lead.)  The girl appeared to be a fairly talented guitar player but what I noticed was she was mostly playing root position chords, and the same ones the acoustic player was playing at that.  The lead player tended to ride on simple power chords and blues riffs, giving the second guitarist many opportunities to explore other areas of the fretboard.  Instead her sound was easily lost in the mix on most songs masked behind the stuff coming from the acoustic and keys. 

There was so much tonally she could have done to add to the sound had she stepped out of the “strumming open chords” mindset and added higher arpeggios or rhythms to the mix.

The Tentative Player:   
(This is my shortfall, so I can pick on myself here.)
  You’ve seen these guys and girls, they’re the ones who are deathly afraid of making a big mistake in front of everyone.  So the strum ever so gently, and try to just barely fill in the gaps with what they’re doing.  They love simple arpeggios because it gives less room for error.  In some cases, they’ll start a war with the sound guy… every time he boosts them up, they’ll turn themselves back down because they’re uncomfortable “sticking out.”

There’s also another problem with a tentative player.  They can quickly lose the “feel” of a song because they’re thinking too much, trying to avoid mistakes.  They may fall slightly off rhythm, or their notes feel robotic and mechanical.  One thing I’ve done in my playing to help correct this is to back my volume down in practice, pop in a CD of a song I’m learning and practice going all out.  As I get a little more comfortable, I’ll turn my volume up, and usually say “See, now that isn’t so bad after all! 😉  )

The One Tone Wonder:
I was at a coffee house a few years ago, listening to a middle-aged adult contemporary band.  They were very talented as they covered everything from Rod Stewart, to Phil Collins and Bonnie Raitt… but one thing annoyed me to no end.  The lead guitarist spent the entire night playing with the exact same tone, a clean Tele Sound with mild chorus run through a Fender twin.  Now the tone was good, but after hearing the same tone for ten different songs I wanted to scream…

Now I’ll start by saying there’s nothing wrong with a single tone…  blues masters like B.B. King have made a career out of squeezing every drop of goodness from the simplicity of their sounds.  But modern music flows, it varies in feelings and emotions, and it’s hard for an electric guitar player to compliment that when he’s playing the same style with the same tone through every song in a set. 

Jacob Silj Syndrome:
Don’t remember Jacob Silj?  One clue, remember the guy on SNL’s Weekend Update who suffered with Voice Immodulation Syndrome?  Yup, you got it… he was the one who couldn’t change the volume of his voice, he’d always be shouting everything he said.  Ultimately, the skit would end with him sobbing about how the thing was caused by a late birth and exposure to gold dust. 

…back on track now, some guitarists have their own variation of “Playing Immodulation Syndrome.”  Dynamic changes aren’t usually expressed on tab sheets or chord charts, but they’re extremely important to the feel of a song.  Learning to control your dynamic touch is one of the most crucial things you can do as a musician.  Of course, dynamics can be controlled by a volume pedal, but your guitar’s volume knob is also a crucial tool to learn how to use.  That goes without saying that the most important dynamic tools you have are the hands you play with.   

The (Bad) Mad Scientist:
Guitarists throughout history have always pushed the edge on experimenting with new tones.  Stuff like talk boxes, Leslie speaker simulators, Whammy pedals, Envelope filters, Ring Modulators, motion sensitive fuzz boxes.  Some of the most creative and memorable guitar tones came from musicians who experimented with new things.

And that is good.

Yet, experimenting with tones is a very cool but risky behavior.  And frankly some effects don’t work well together, or don’t work well in the specific context of a song.  I’ve heard way too many young guitarists throw in an effect because they thought it was cool, and I didn’t have the heart to tell them otherwise.  (try a leslie speaker simulator and an envelope filter on Here I Am to Worship.)  If you experiment, that’s cool, go for it.  But before you use an experimental tone, ask some other musicians around you for their honest opinion of it.

Also, if you want to hear creative and awesome experimental guitar tones, check out the sounds from U2 on Zooropa and Pop, or the guitar work of Jack Parker (from the David Crowder*Band) on Illuminate and A Collision. 

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Responses

  1. Can I add to the list?

    Em7sus Disease… refers to the practice of strumming all 6 open strings between chord changes. It can be overcome by cleaning up one’s muting between strums, but seems to really be a challenge for some folks.

    It’s especially annoying when the song is in E major… strumming all 6 strings open includes a G natural, which is part of the E minor scale, so it gets really weird to hear that note between chords in an E major tune.

    [leaving soapbox now]

    • That’s me!

  2. this is irrelevant, but i couldn’t find a place to say this, do you have any recordings of your work? like worship sets or what not that you can share?

    thank you!

  3. cool blog.
    Used to play bass for a gospel band.
    Did you forget the attention deficit guy?
    Loudest, boldest, screams at the sound guy if his volume is turned down.
    keep up the good work.
    adding you to my blogroll.
    ciao

    schizo

  4. NO!! My last comment got chewed up by the
    system.
    darn
    Here’s what I said.
    Hi there
    Nice post
    Did you forget the obsessive compulsive
    volume freak? Volume is equal to effect is his mantra.

    keep up the good work
    Adding you to my blogroll. No, you dont have to reciprocate.

    ciao

    Schizo

  5. You forgot the Self Indulgent Git… the guy who learned a new scale or mode and puts it into every song regardless of what the song calls for. Sometimes leads are good, sometimes, not so much.

  6. Self Indulgent Git sounds closely related to Plays Lead All the Time guy. Nothing better than a 32nd note two handed tapping run in the middle of the verse on “As the Deer”.

  7. Good post. One thing that I really admire is a guitarist who has all the tone-toys in the world but knows how to use them tastefully so that there is variety and intrigue present but only barely perceptible most of the time. That’s great use of effects, in my humble opinion.

    I have a rather unconventional guitar technique. I’m a classically trained (and trained and trained) pianist but I picked up guitar a few years ago. It’s been really interesting to see what my aural experience and theoretical knowledge has brought into guitar playing–the process seems so different than when I was learning piano, you know? But one area in which I really suffer is right-hand technique. I mean, I really don’t have any. 🙂 I don’t use a pick at all, so the right-hand technique I’m going for is something like that of Wes Montgomery. But I’ve got a long, long way to go. I agree with you, I can’t stand guitarists who are ultra ultra heavy with the pick. It’s just needless.

  8. Good points twitchy, Tony, and schizo, I should have you guys write parts 2 and 3. (I have a feeling all of us have quite a list of guitar pet peeves.) 😉

    Hey Eric, I wish I could say that I’d done any recording… I’ve done a little work here and there on some friends projects, but nothing really of note. (Mostly filling in small riffs here and there, or providing background guitar.) I hope at some point I’ll get the chance to do some recording… after making it through some big transitions coming in the next few months.

    Hey Telli, you pretty much hit the nail on the head with how I approach playing. I try to start with a solid tone and let my effects complement it. I’ve heard so many great guitarists who leave me in awe with how they create diverse sounds by just varying overdrive and simple effects like delay and reverb. There’s almost a whole world to be explored tonally by just using simple gain and time based effects!

  9. Gerry –

    Yeah, you’re right, I might have a fairly well developed list of pet peeves at this point! =)

    Really enjoy your blog – I have kicked around the idea of a blog like this for awhile… would be glad to contribute sometime if you’re ever interested. Email anytime…

    TG

  10. Well, thanks, man. I’m the excavator. Horrible at it. I just love getting into the songs, and I kill my guitar. I’m trying to find a balance between expressing emotion and playing right. It seems I give one up for the other…sigh…

  11. […] A blog about worship music, guitar etc. written without too much jargon. Simple language, variety of posts, good interaction with the blogger. His list of annoying guitar traits and a noobs guide to guitar […]

  12. My biggest pet peeve is the guitar player who really does have the talent, who really does play well, and likes to let everyone know it. Worship music is not about talent, it’s about heart. If your heart isn’t it the right place, it doesn’t matter how good you are.

  13. Well said Braden.

  14. I sing in an original hard rock band (and occasionally play guitar in the band) and also play guitar (sorry, it’s an LP) in a church band. Here’s my addition to the list: Every song needs a 3-minute jam guitar solo guy. Look, I love a great guitar solo and a long one now and then, but unless you’re in a progressive metal band, you need to say what you have to say in under five minutes – preferably 4 1/2. Someday my band’s guitarist will learn that…or I’ll kill him. 😉

  15. I understand and agree with almost all of these complaints. I would like to say there is a place for playing quite hard. There is an agressive tone you cant get without hitting your strings pretty hard. This sound is just a few cents sharp when you first hit it (not so hard as to make it obviously sharp). It’s always in control and never scratching anything, but you do hit the strings pretty hard. I really dig that tone but I don’t use it inappropriately.

  16. If I was singing and playing electric I would try to play mostly open chords if I could…simply because I don’t have to really look at my board when I’m playing open chords which allows me to concentrate on singing…if I was something too complicated I would have to give too much attention to my guitar parts I wouldn’t be able to sing as well.

    I would add a seventh annoying guitar trait “Captain Capo” – basically someone who doesn’t feel comfortable unless always playing open chords and uses a capo 24/7

  17. Another one:…..the guy who obviously is a really FAST player, who obviously practised his scales FOREVER, and when it’s LEAD time…..EVERY SONG becomes about how many notes he can pull out of his hat before his lead time is over………

  18. haha, i was an excavator when i first started, and my acoustic has the scars to prove it.

  19. Haha. I used to be the “Plays Lead All the Time Guy”!

    I learned that subtle chord variations and picking can really add a lot to a song..esp. with delay and some verb.

    Mna this site needs to be updated more!

  20. i don’t read any love at all for music here.
    you’re sure you like what you do?

  21. you forgot the guitarist who brings six guitars to a gig and has to swap guitars numerous times a set because he wants to play a strat on one, les paul on another (like anyone in the audience cares)….

  22. Very good advice… I play a 65’Strat with super light strings and a very soft pick. However, the amount of pick one uses determines the bite and hardness of the sound required. I found that pick, and strum control is perhaps to me – most important. Those two skills alone can open up a variety of sounds, not to mention the effects that I use. As far as chords of a song – I’m always changing variations between chord changes while playing, I don’t follow the basic chords given… so much to be said here, but over all – the most important thing in my playing is – being able to feel the song you are doing in your heart and transposing it to your instrument.

  23. you are a bunch of dicks!!!!!!


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