The­ory God­mother

Guitar Techniques - - Contents - Star LET­TER PRIZE Black­s­tar are giv­ing our star TG let­ter one of their bril­liant ped­als each month. Visit­ and tell us which you’d like, should your let­ter be the lucky one.

David Mead ad­dresses your tech­ni­cal, mu­si­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal is­sues.

Post your play­ing posers and tech­ni­cal teasers to: The­ory God­mother, Gui­tar Tech­niques, 30 Mon­mouth Street, Bath, BA1 2BW; or email me at info@david­ - ev­ery wish is your God­mother’s com­mand!

Out Of Reach? Dear The­ory God­mother

I’m a bit con­cerned about the level of reach I have with my fret­ting hand. I can stretch be­tween the 5th and 9th frets on an elec­tric gui­tar with not much of a prob­lem, but I’ve seen pic­tures of play­ers who seem to be able to span much fur­ther. Is there a rec­om­mended amount of reach - an aver­age among play­ers? Fur­ther­more what are the lim­i­ta­tions for play­ers who can’t span large chunks of the fret­board, and is it some­thing I should be wor­ry­ing about in the first place?


I’d ig­nore many of the pic­tures you see of gui­tarists pos­ing for the cam­era with out­ra­geous fin­ger spans. I think that at some point there must have been some sort of con­test be­tween play­ers to come up with the most ex­treme fret­board stretches in pho­to­graphs and most of them have no prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion what­so­ever!

As far as an aver­age is con­cerned, I would say that be­ing able to reach be­tween the 5th and 9th frets is good enough for most things. I’ve just picked up a gui­tar and can stretch from the 5th to 11th frets at a push - but I don’t think I’d ever need to in the mu­sic that I play. I’ve seen play­ers with all man­ner of hand shapes and sizes learn to play well, so ex­treme stretches don’t seem to fac­tor much with over­all abil­ity.

I’d put more of an em­pha­sis on fret­ting hand flex­i­bil­ity in gen­eral and fin­ger dex­ter­ity in par­tic­u­lar. It’s far more im­por­tant to have com­plete con­trol over any given span than to aim for some kind of gym­nas­tic abil­ity in terms of reach alone. This can be ap­proached with sim­ple scale rou­tines - learn­ing sin­gle, two and three oc­tave scales will get the fin­gers used to find­ing their way across the gui­tar’s play­ing sur­face.

If you want to con­sol­i­date your span, strengthen it and ren­der it more use­able, then the ex­er­cises in Ex 1 will help. Do them over all six strings, move them slowly down the fret­board and you’ll find that you’ll en­hance what you al­ready have, maybe add a lit­tle more stretch at the same time, and make your fret­ting hand fight­ing fit!

Bar Talk Dear The­ory God­mother

I’ve en­closed a bar of mu­sic that has been the source of a lit­tle con­fu­sion. It’s an ex­cerpt from a solo that I found in a book and at first I thought it was a mis­print, but look­ing at a few other tran­scrip­tions re­cently, I see it’s much more com­mon than I thought.

The first 8th note of the bar is rested, but the sec­ond is a quar­ter note. But how can this be right when it seems to be ty­ing the sec­ond half of beat one with the first half of beat two? Shouldn’t they have used a tie?

As I said, I’ve found this in other tran­scrip­tions and won­dered if it’s one of those oc­ca­sions where there are two ways of no­tat­ing the same thing. Could you clear things up, please?


I’ve re­pro­duced the bar you sent me as straight­for­ward rhythm rather than pitches, Sam, as it makes it eas­ier to read (Ex 2). You’re right in think­ing that the quar­ter note sit­ting be­tween beats 1 and 2 might also be shown as a tie (Ex 3) and that this is in­deed an oc­ca­sion where there are two ap­proaches to no­tat­ing the same in­for­ma­tion.

I started see­ing the ‘in be­tween beats’ back in the 1980s, mainly in tran­scrip­tions from the US, and I can only guess that this is the way off­beat no­ta­tion is taught over there. I was taught to make each beat of the bar stand out in­di­vid­u­ally – the ap­proach Gui­tar Tech­niques favours – but I guess it’s a case of horses for cour­ses, so be pre­pared to meet both ap­proaches. There’s no dif­fer­ence in sound be­tween the two but it may catch you out a few times to be­gin with, so be­come used to see­ing it.

No Fret Threat Dear The­ory God­mother

Re­cently, I have be­come in­ter­ested in fret­less gui­tar, in­spired by play­ers like Guthrie Go­van and Bum­ble­foot. How­ever, com­ments from my fel­low play­ers have been fairly neg­a­tive, their main points cir­cu­lat­ing around the fact that fret­less gui­tars are ex­pen­sive and quite rare to find. In view of this it would be dif­fi­cult to sit down and try one be­fore pur­chas­ing, and this would mean or­der­ing one ei­ther from a shop or on­line and hop­ing that I get on with it when it ar­rives on my doorstep. I feel that I need to be aware of the pros and cons be­fore com­mit­ting my­self and any in­put would be very valu­able in­deed.


The main thing to over­come, Tony, is in­to­na­tion. On a fret­ted gui­tar it doesn’t mat­ter over­much where we place our fin­gers when play­ing chords or sin­gle notes, as it’s the fret it­self that tem­pers the pitch and keeps us in tune. With­out frets to per­form this task, how­ever, we’re re­spon­si­ble for ex­act po­si­tion­ing of our fin­gers to pro­duce the cor­rect pitches, as you have to po­si­tion your fin­gers where the frets should be, rather than play­ing be­hind the frets as nor­mal.

Chords can be a chal­lenge, too; even open Em down at the nut can cause upsets as the notes played on the fifth and fourth strings have to be par­al­lel, played as a part barre and not as we’d nor­mally play it us­ing two fin­gers (Ex 4).

I know that fret­less gui­tars are quite a rare find, but I would ad­vise you to seek one out just to see if you think you’ll get on with it be­fore spend­ing money, only to find that it’s not the smooth ride you might have imag­ined.


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