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Guitar Tips Date
Fingernails, Flesh and other Fodder

The widest range of tone color and dynamics is achieved with a combination of nail and flesh. By varying the angle of the fingers one can use either more or less nail. The optimum length is one that allows you to just see the nail over the tips of the finger when looking at the palm. The nail should follow the contour of the fingertip. It is also important to make sure the sides of the nails don't have any corners that will catch the string or catch other things and crack or break. There is a new product by OPI called Nail Envy. It is a nail strengthener / polish that also comes in a Matte Finish that is not shiny and is nearly undetectable. It will help keep your nails fom breaking. I plan to be offering it on this website very soon. Ping Balls are just plain silly. I have a friend that has a masters degree in guitar performance that uses them.They sound great, but super glue should only be used to repair nails not plaster things to them. Some people have a really bad reaction to it. Really, Now!

It is true that a lot of teachers advise beginners to avoid the hassle of nails. This advice is best for younger students. Older students can often learn to use nails right off the bat.

Fingerpicks and thumbpicks are not for nylon strings or classical players. Many techniques are just plain impossible with them. Speed is hampered, too. Steel string players should also beware. They can lead to serious tendenitus, such as what happened to Leo Kotke. They nearly ruined his career. He was very apologetic to audiences for the two years he spent recovering from their ill affects and making the transition to nail and flesh.


Guitarists owe a great deal of their repertoire to music that was originally written for other instruments. Yet there are many purists that will always tell you that this music will always sound better on the instruments for which it was originally written. This may or may not be true. It is certainly debateable, but what is the point? Whether or not it sounds better should not be the issue, but whether or not it adds significantly to the guitarist's literature. Does it stand on the guitar or not? A lot of transciptions force the guitarist to develop new techniques in order to achieve certain idiomatic effects. This opens doors for fresh new compositions to be conceived on the guitar. Try transcribing and you should find that the
arrangement process will expand your knowledge of music theory also. JF

Classical Tremolo

This is for those of you struggling with Tarrega's "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" - Tremolo is all about balance. Like riding a bike. There are two things happening here, the line (arpeggio) played by the thumb, and the melody played using tremolo. Most people can play the thumb part pretty easily, but stumble with the tremolo. First of all: please practice learning the tremolo technique with a simple piece like Malaguena or while playing chorded arpeggios. You don't want to butcher Tarrega's piece do you? Try playing only one note on top using either the ring or middle finger to start with. When you can play that evenly then try a two note tremolo either leading fom the ring to the middle finger or the middle to the index. If you can accomplish this smoothly then you are ready to try a three note tremolo: ring, then middle, then index. Once you are able to do that you can smooth it out by concentrating on the 1st (Thumb) and 3rd (middle) note of the 4 note pattern. This will help you to achieve the balance you need to stay on the bike. Once you can stay on the bike you are ready for the Tarrega piece. -JF

Dealing with Squeaks

How should guitarists deal with the string noises that are inherent to their instrument? In the past, the pristine quality of recordings were judged by whether the squeaking of the fingers on the strings could be heard. Today, however, most audiences find them annoying, and unless artists make a conscious effort to diminish them, they are likely to rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune moment. The most logical way seems to be simply lifting one`s hand when shifting positions. This is not always a viable option because of tempo, portamento, glissando etc. One can also experiment with the angle of the fingers pressed on the strings. One may slide on the flat part of the pad and so forth. But what if you have rock hard calluses? The First Lady of the Guitar, Sharon Isbin, prescribes soaking the tips of the fingers for about ten minutes and then blow drying them for about thirty seconds just before a performance. Be careful not to weaken the callus, though. Many players have also used talc powder, but this gets in the windings of the strings, deadening them. They must be wiped with a damp cloth after each application. These methods seem to be a bit troublesome, but there is hope. Try changing to polished or semi-polished basses such as those made by LaBella and Savarez. These lack a little projection, but work wonders in the studio. For steel string players D`addario has their own line of half-rounds and flat-tops that apply the same principle. Don`t confuse these bright sounding strings with flat wounds, which use a flat wire winding and are virtually useless for acoustic playing. -JF

String Longevity

nylon strings: Only change the trebles every two or three times. You may not be able to find a set of basses, but you can order individual strings by the dozen, usually at a greatly reduced cost. You can then configure the bass sets yourself. With the time it takes for trebles to settle in, and the savings, it seems silly to throw away perfectly good strings.

Steel Strings: Boil Them! Hey, it works. Eddie Van Halen was not the first person to do this either. I must confess, it was his interview, many years ago, that sent me to the kitchen. How do you know when they`re done? Use a watch. Place them into already boiling water for about a minute. Time may vary according to altitude. Just kidding. One minute brings life back into my strings, it should yours too. -JF

Detune Your Guitar

No, I don`t mean to play your pieces out of tune. that would defeat the purpose of last week`s tip. Use an alternate tuning, a scordatura as it is known amongst the classical realm. This opens doors to many knew chord voicings, things that would not ordinarily be possible. Many of Bach`s works have been transcribed for the guitar using the dropped D tuning. By dropping the low E down to D and transcribing to either D major or minor many works from the Baroque period are made much easier. The Baroque lute was actually tuned to D minor and was known as the D minor Lute. DADGAD, from low to high, is another alternate tuning that has yielded many great works. This Dsus4 tuning is used for a great deal of Celtic guitar music and has recently enjoyed a great deal of interest among fingerstylists. It allows for the use of many open stringed chords and arpeggios. The Orkney tuning is another tuning that is used in Celtic music. It drops the bass clear down to a C. Its tuning is CGDGCD from low to high. There are numerous other tunings that are used, more than we could possibly discuss here. There are many resource on the web that should help you with whichever one you choose. You could even create your own. -JF

Intonation: Tuning to Harmonics

The importance of proper tuning throughout the entire range of the guitar can not be overemphasized. By tuning the guitar to harmonics as well as various octaves across strings up and down the neck one should be able to prevent the embarrassment of being singled out during a master class performance. Imagine pouring your heart into a piece only to have the instructor say: ìFine piece, could I see that guitar for a moment,î then proceed to tune your instrument for you. Check natural harmonics at the twelfth fret to the one at the seventh fret one string up. The G will have to be tuned against the fretted G at the eighth fret of the second string. Also, bear in mind that if your guitar doesnít produce the same pitch when fingered at the twelfth fret as the harmonic at the twelfth you have a serious problem and should probably avoid using the upper register. Always check this condition when making a new purchase. -JF

Artificial Harmonics

Artificial Harmonics sound the same as natural ones, but require extra effort. They can be produced by fingering the guitar anywhere on the fretboard and then touching the same string lightly twelve frets above that point with with the right hand thumb or index finger while plucking with another finger. These bell like tones can liven up arpeggios and create some very interesting effects when mixed with normal tones. I use the index finger to touch the string and the third finger to strike it. See what works for you. -JF

Please visit the Guitar Technique page for more tips.

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