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classical technique on steel string guitar

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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 103
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i am trying to concentrate on improving my tone. i play steel string and have been playing for about 1.5 years now. i know that a book that many people recommend is pumping nylon, and i have that book and the dvd. i've watched some of the dvd and used the book, and have a question regarding how much of it applies for someone playing steel string vs. nylon guitar.

for example
1. i've read that most (not all) steel string guitarists don't use rest strokes (they say that it wrecks the nails).

2. i've seen a number of steel string guitarist who don't have the slight arch in the wrist of their right hand while playing (which makes the classical guitar player's hands further from the guitar), which it seems that most classical guitar teachers that i've seen (books/dvd/youtube) recommend.

3. the one that i've been questioning the most here - scott tennant also teaches in his book about the plant, pressure, release with the right hand fingers. he discusses how you want the right hand finger to be pressing down on the string prior to plucking so that the vibration is up and down. does this apply to steel string as well? it happens so quick that i'm not sure if i'm doing that (pushing the string down) or moving it parallel to the soundboard.

are there other differences between how you would play a classical guitar vs. a steel string?

just some questions i was thinking about tonight that i thought some of the people on this forum might be able to help out on.

any suggestions/comments are appreciated. Thanks!


Joined: 22 years ago
Posts: 5342

ok, you can do some Classical technique on a steel string guitar, and the fingerstyle guys use a lot of it, but you don't get quite the same results. I rarely see a steel string player using the classical sitting position, even though you can play for ages that way.

i-m-i-m scales or any kind of work where the flesh meets the string on steel strings will make your picking fingers as sore as your fretting hand, and you're really going to struggle to get any kind of decent volume. I find that trying to play a classical piece on steel strings just sounds wrong - there's too much nail sound and no warmth to it. It all makes a good case for using fingerpicks.

Rest strokes? Why not? I've used them when I need a sound muted on a steel string guitar.

A :-)

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Didn't Davey Graham favour classical seating for steel playing? And I've def seen pics of John Williams in concert playing classical but using steel string sitting position.

Anyway, I gotta vent here because I'm trying to learn to do rest strokes and mix between rest strikes and ordinary ones, on steel string, but it's not working. I think the biggest problem is that I'm not sure if/when it sounds right. I need to find a slow example of e.g. a scale or pima pattern or something using rest strokes to compare against non-rest strokes (and, more importantly, my own hack attempts at rest strokes). :evil:

Ra Er Ga.

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Joined: 21 years ago
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I tend to avoid rest strokes on steel string guitars. There are lots of little factors involved: slightly closer string spacing, different attack angle, etc. When you add up all those tiny factors, the end result is the nail doesn't strike flat against the strings. Your tone won't be as good. Since the nails sort of slice across the string, they'll be more prone to chipping... but that's true of free strokes too.

The wrist arch is another matter. Compared to steel string guitars, classicals have very little bracing under the top - so they're not as stiff. As a result, you'll dramatically change the tone of the guitar if you're draping your arm across any part of the top. You'll change the tone of a steel string too, but not nearly as much. So classical guitarists try to not touch the top at all - your arm rests on the binding, or the edge if it's not bound. Or you use an arm wrest that attaches to the side.

The plant-pressure-release thing is the whole reason rest strokes were developed. String vibration is complicated... but to make it simple, let's say you can only go in two directions: parallel to the plane of the strings, or perpendicular to it.

If you're perpendicular, the center of the string is moving up and away from the guitar body. That causes the saddle to move in (towards the peghead). Since the bridge is glued to the top, that makes the part of the top right behind the bridge bow out.

Mind you, these motions are small - microscopic, in fact. But the net result is a more efficient transfer of energy from the string to the guitar top, compared to vibration in the string plane. So rest strokes, which cause a more perpendicular vibration, make for a louder tone with less sustain. Free strokes have more sustain, but less volume. Combining the two gives you a bigger tonal range.

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I've not noticed much chipping (yet), thought that seems to be a problem for me when I try fingerstyle electric (in pre-learn-to-be-jeff-beck mode). I do arch my wrist classical-style though; I started doing that because it generally rules out tension in the R.H. for me, especially on faster pieces, but I noticed a difference in tone too. Seems more obvious with my laminate Ibanez acoustic than my Martin D15 though.

Ra Er Ga.

Ninjazz have SuperChops.