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Guitar Picks

In this new era in which Palm Pilots are replacing wirebound book organizers, the preferred reading of the morning commuter has become PC Magazine and MP3 is making us all either sweat or smile, the guitar world luckily still maintains a core simplicity of wood and wires, plugs and picks.

Not to say that technology hasn't made many things better, but certain rules will always stand, and while silicon chips may make your ideas easier to get on CD, they don't replace good old-fashioned creativity and inspiration.

With all that said and done, welcome back to Guitar Picks. I hope you enjoyed the debut installment, and will continue to enjoy our forthcoming columns.

Before I continue where I left off with Part 2 of Essential Guitar Recordings, I want to address a topic that I feel is essential in expanding your harmonic range and phrasing...

To Pick or Not To Pick ? (and what in heck it means to you)

There are many arguments that address this topic, but none which have proved conclusive. Using a pick or not using a pick is still, to me, an issue of personal preference, and while there are a plethora of guitar heroes across the board who have made history with and without the almighty pick, there is no definitive example proving one method better or worse than the other.

Personally, like many guitarists in jazz, country, rock, blues and beyond, I employ the use of both my fingers and my pick, often simultaneously. The purpose: to get the more precise attack and speed that a pick provides, while gaining the wider harmonic reach and warmer tone associated with finger-style playing. The best of both worlds, more simply put.

The best example of this is if you like to intertwine quick and precise single-note lines within your chord melodies, and the reverse, to drop quick and open chord voicings within your solo runs.

The example below (in Cm/EbMaj) contains 3 sound samples that show the evolution of a basic melody line. The line (audio sample 1) is presented here without accompanying chords/harmony. The chord melody (audio sample 2) is played using both my pick and fingers, with my pick (and the thumb/index finger) acting in place of just the thumb alone (the case if we were playing strictly fingerstyle).

Fingerings: (T = Thumb or Index/Pick/Thumb combo, 2 is middle, 3 is ring, 4 is pinky)

Audio Sample 1 (Melody Line) | Audio Sample 2 (Chord Melody) | Audio Sample 3 (Lines/Chords)

You may say that the chord melody could be played easily as a fingerstyle-only piece, but Audio Sample 3 is a variation of the chord melody, and intertwines runs and chords. Granted, Joe Pass could blow audio sample 3 to bits with his fingers alone, but while many of us have grown dependent on the pick, it makes sense to adapt some new additions to your technique rather than completely reinventing it. Doing so will make examples like Audio Sample 3 more possible for someone who has not spent much time without a pick between his/her fingers. You may also find the ideas flow more easily without the physical restrictions of playing one way or other.

And now, for our monthly gear talk, I've decided to feature a new instrument sure to strike up the interest of guitarists from all reaches of the earth - it struck enough awe in me that I decided to buy it!

More Essential Recordings!

Keep in mind that these recordings are selected based on my personal preference, and by no means do the chronological order or absence of any recordings indicate anything other than forgetfulness or space restriction on my part. By all means, the library of essential guitar recordings is endless, and no single list can be all-inclusive.

Barney Kessel: Barney Kessel

Kessel still stands as one of the finest bop guitarist to emerge post-Charlie Christian, and in addition to stints with the Oscar Peterson Trio, the Artie Shaw and Chico Marx big bands was a featured member of Great Guitars alongside Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd.

Grant Green: The Matador

His solid foundation of R&B and bebop fire made Grant Green one of the shining stars of guitar. Often favoring smaller organ-backed settings, Greens melodic and fiery lines have influenced generations of players.

Kenny Burrell: Verve Jazz Masters 45

I find that this Verve compilation is a good mixture of quality, value and overall representation of the artist's style and work. Burrell's reputation as a tasteful, solid and innovative bop player are well-earned, and one thing I've always admired is Burrell's unrestrained yet controlled command of the guitar and ability to convey beauty in a through a variety of moods.

John Scofield: Hand Jive

Now for a jump decades ahead..Scofield is royalty in the world of groove-jazz, and while just as fiery and dexterous as his colleagues, has often favored more vocal, edgy lines over straight out, over-polished miles of notes and runs. Hand Jive is a modern classic that has set the pace for many of the newer funk-jazz-acid groups on the road today.

Django Reinhardt

One of the most influential guitarists to emerge from Europe (ever), Reinhardt's incredible technique, singing lines propelled the acoustic guitar to the front lines of jazz, while setting the pace for Western Swing as we know it. There are too many Django recordings to list, and while (with the help of a friend who contacted me from overseas) I compile a more definitive list for a future column, I recommend exploring any of EMI's Djangologie recordings, Verve Jazz Masters 38, or Blue Note's Best Of (1996 Release).

Gear Talk : The Godin Glissentar

While adaptations of Eastern traditional instruments in the design and construction of modern instruments is not necessarily new, the methods in which this is done are what can make or break a new "experimental" instrument.

This past October, in a tireless pursuit for a quality fretless acoustic instrument, my friend Mario over at Rudy's Music on 48th street in NYC turned me onto a new model that Canadian guitar maker Godin was releasing at the turn of the year.

Godin, whose shallow-bodied nylon and steel acoustics have never been short of innovative, impressive or sonically amazing, was releasing the Glissentar, an 11-string fretless nylon shallow acoustic. Essentially a 12-string minus the doubled string on the Low E, the Glissentar adopts character from the Oud, also an 11-string fretless instrument primarily used in Armenia and Egypt.

Fully fretless, fully nylon, and 5 strings more powerful than what I was looking for, I didn't hesitate to order one for myself, even pending the January/February delivery date.

Boasting a beautiful semi-gloss natural finish, rosewood fingerboard, the classic Godin shallow body and an LR Baggs Ribbon Transducer, I figured the worst thing about this instrument could only be the fact that it would dwell in its owner's clumsy hands.

If you are looking to try something new, have been dying to wander into the fretless world, and are somewhat comfortable on a 12-string, the Glissentar can only be a sound investment. Although I'm still waiting for mine, I anticipate that it will fill and exceed my expectations, and perhaps the learning curve alone will be worth its weight in gold.

For more information, contact your preferred guitar shop, or visit Godin's site for pictures and more specs on the Glissentar.

Fred Gerantab is a New York-based guitarist and composer whose work has been featured in several New York area groups and recordings, as well as music for film and television. An independent release with his fusion/jazz trio has just been completed and is due out in late January.

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