SOLOING STRATEGIES: OPEN STRINGS
Something’s been bugging me. Nobody seems to know how to mute their damn strings anymore. I’m not talking about the good old-fashioned ‘chugga-chugga’ metal mute; I’m talking about stopping unwanted strings from ringing out while you’re playing a note or a chord. And yeah, you can buy all sorts of promotional-logo’d string mutes to stick on your guitar right down by the nut to stop those stray string noises, but for me, that would just be another thing to lose along with half a dozen Jazz IIIs every week. And what happens if you find yourself handed an unfamiliar guitar in a jam situation? You don’t have a fret wrap on you, and you’ve spent your life up until that moment letting those fuzzy little buggers take care of cleaning up your playing so you don’t have to. What happens then, huh!?
Aright, alright, a disclaimer: there are some instances where these do-dads are a good idea – particularly if you’re into a lot of two-handed tapping. But something I heard in a Marty Friedman clinic once really stuck with me: he likes those stray harmonics, semi-random string noises and the weird sympathetic overtones you get from choosing exactly when and when not to mute. He feels that it adds more humanity and vibrance to certain moments. And that’s not coming from an anti-technique player: Friedman is one of the most incredibly talented shredders you’ll ever hear. The dude knows what he’s doing.
I personally feel that a fret wrap is a great tool for the right moment, but I see some players who won’t solo without one, and I feel like they’re really short-changing themselves when it comes to cool open-string licks and the like. Yes, you can adjust a mute so that it’s only minimally affecting open strings, but then they’re not as effective at overall muting.
Anyway, this is all just a long way of saying, “Here are some cool licks you can’t do if a fret wrap is messing up your open strings.”
This is a simple pull-off lick which is slightly inspired by Brett Garsed’s solo in John Farnham’s “Two Strong Hearts”. It has a nice bounce to it, and when performed properly, it gives you some interesting little grace notes. As you go from the fretted note to the open string, pull the string slightly towards the floor. This helps to sound the open string more loudly, and it also adds a very slight micro-bend to the very end of the fretted note. It’s the kind of effect that’s almost too subtle to consciously perceive, but you can feel it.
This one is kind of inspired by the badarse opening unaccompanied solo in Gary Moore’s “End Of The World” – although you really should track down the actual song to hear how great it is, because this isn’t anywhere near the actual lick. Try playing the same pattern on different strings, letting different open strings ring out.
This is one of my favourite licks ever. Mute the strings with your left hand, hit those open strings hard with the pick and then hammer each of the fretted notes really solidly for a very percussive and almost robotic sound. Take this lick further up onto the other strings and see where it takes you – it sounds great and it looks even better. Again, I’m not against string mutes: I think they have a time and a place, and they can be really helpful in the studio. But don’t let them become a crutch that prevents you from fully mastering your instrument, and don’t let yourself miss out on some of the cool things that can happen when you explore open strings.