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Old 07-08-2009, 06:14 AM
Brent Hutto Brent Hutto is offline
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Default Flatpicking (not Strumming) and Low Action

Eventually I'm going to raise the action on the guitar I recently acquired as my "flatpicking guitar". The previous owner had it set up for fingerstyle, although a bit higher than my own fingerstyle guitar. The unwound strings are set pretty darned low, though, and the B-string in particular buzzes when strummed and sometimes during more melodic-style flatpick. So it has to be raise at some point.

But in the mean while the thought occurred that Tony Rice, for instance, run really low fingerstyle-type action on his guitars and I never hear buzzes or rattles when he flatpicks. Then again, he has a rather idiosyncratic right-hand technique and he has made the comment that his guitars would not work for most people without buzzing. So my idea was that while I'm learning to flatpick maybe leaving the action low would help me develop some touch and control instead of just hitting the strings as hard as I can with my preferred heavy pick.

So how low can you go and still flatpick without constant problems with fret rattles and buzzes? I'm not talking about strumming, as far as I can tell hard strumming is going to require higher action than flatpicking lead and solo lines.

Does anyone around here use action as low as 0.070" on the treble side?

Or even 0.075"?

Tony Rice for instance uses 0.072" on the high-E and 0.091" on the low-E on his famous "Clarence White" D-28.

I've been practicing with my 1st and 2nd strings still well under 0.070" using a 1.4mm pick and most of the time there are no buzzes but I can't play totally clean. And I do have to play at 80% volume, if I really dig in the B-string will buzz almost every time. As expected, the problem is that even a single strummed 5-string or 6-string chord at normal volume will set the B-string to zinging on the frets every time. But for actual flatpicking even super low action seems to work OK.
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Old 07-08-2009, 07:05 AM
imwjl imwjl is offline
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Hi,

FWIW: You may still have a setup issue to fix but..... My HD-28 is set up toward low action. Two things changed the buzzing. Medium strings that also just do the guitar more justice and my playing electric guitar. I never had a electric until Jan 07, and all the fun with it seems to have helped right hand technique.

Full disclosure: I'm still not an impressive guitar player.

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Old 07-08-2009, 08:48 AM
mmmaak mmmaak is offline
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My action is about 0.090" (E) and 0.070" (e) and I can play Bowlin-style picking quite cleanly (actually, there is some *minor* buzz on the 6th string because of minimal neck relief, but it occurs when I play fingerstyle as well so I've learned to live with that compromise). I think it helps to have a responsive guitar so that the strings don't have to be set in very large vibrational arcs in order to produce sufficient volume. Is buzzing still a problem with your Prairie, or is it just the plectrumed tone that you find lacking?
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Old 07-08-2009, 09:08 AM
Brent Hutto Brent Hutto is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mmmaak View Post
I think it helps to have a responsive guitar so that the strings don't have to be set in very large vibrational arcs in order to produce sufficient volume. Is buzzing still a problem with your Prairie, or is it just the plectrumed tone that you find lacking?
The part about the "vibrational arcs" is worth following up on. This morning during my daily dose of Tony Rice (see postscript) I noticed when I watched the right-hand closeups in slow motion that that middle strings G, D, A basically don't seem to move when he plucks them. In fact, at DVD resolution I sometimes can't tell for sure just which string he touches on his upstrokes when crosspicking. Then again if he is driving the string primarily downward instead of transversely that motion only shows up obliquely in a frontal camera angle.

Regarding my other guitar, in fact yes I can get more (apparent) volume out of the Prairie without buzzing than from the Lolo Creek. That's because a very small string excursion on that guitar produces plenty of sound. The problem being, as you allude to, it's not a rich and full flatpicking type tone. More mid-to-high frequency and overtones, less lower frequencies and fundamentals. And the action on the lower strings is so low that I can dig in for more bass or I will get real abrupt fret slap.

The problematic B-string on the Lolo Creek is due to a shaping error (IMO) in the stock saddle which does not account for the fretboard radius sufficiently, resulting in the B-string and high-E-string action heights being identical at about 0.063". That's fine for the 1st string but the stiffer 2nd string buzzes with any provocation. In fact, I think the 2nd string height on the Prairie and Lolo Creek are about the same although all the other strings are significantly lower on the Prairie.

Speaking of Robert Bowlin, watching him on YouTube it seems he's of the Norman Blake school that uses a lot of a free-wristed almost strumming motion when flatpicking. That's the opposite of the Clarence White, Tony Rice school which uses a restricted range of wrist movement (almost entirely up-and-down translational with very little outward "flick") and produces power from movement of the thumb/index/pick unit relative to the rest of the hand and wrist. I find that a simple, big-muscle Bowlin/Blake motion produces more buzzing than the complicated way Tony Rice plays. Or at least my attempts at using those two different motions.

PS: The last few days I've taken to watching a random "chapter" of one of my Tony Rice/Homespun Tapes instructional DVD's after my morning walk, while I'm eating some yogurt and cooling off. It's amazing how much smoothness seems to "rub off" from that ten minutes plus I pick up little nuggets like the minimal string movement.
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Old 07-08-2009, 09:29 AM
mmmaak mmmaak is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hutto View Post
Speaking of Robert Bowlin, watching him on YouTube it seems he's of the Norman Blake school that uses a lot of a free-wristed almost strumming motion when flatpicking. That's the opposite of the Clarence White, Tony Rice school which uses a restricted range of wrist movement (almost entirely up-and-down translational with very little outward "flick") and produces power from movement of the thumb/index/pick unit relative to the rest of the hand and wrist. I find that a simple, big-muscle Bowlin/Blake motion produces more buzzing than the complicated way Tony Rice plays. Or at least my attempts at using those two different motions.
Thanks for that interesting bit of information, Brent. Being a fingerpicker, I'd never really noticed it! I'll be sure to observe and compare their techniques if and when I sit down and really start working on mine. Perhaps I could convince you to send me a copy of the DVD one day? (to be fair to Tony, I'll buy my own copy if I find it helpful )

I do love watching the fluidity of Robert's wrist movements!
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Old 07-08-2009, 10:13 AM
Allen Shadd Allen Shadd is offline
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Ok, what I'll say will be considered blasphemy to most, but I wouldn't suggest using Tony Rice as a model for right hand technique. While it works great for Tony, if you will notice he is always playing in a microphone situation. So there really is no 'power' reference to his technique, just work the microphone. For the average joe like us, who happens to play in jam situations or at least without the luxury of high end microphones to project our notes, by relying on just your thumb/hand pick movement to get your playing heard above other instruments is expecting a lot. I've had the occasion to be behind stage a few times with Tony in a jam situation, and while you can hear his rhythm fine (notice he doesn't use that thumb motion for it, but pushed through with more power) when he takes a break it is a strain to hear him.
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Old 07-08-2009, 10:16 AM
mmmaak mmmaak is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pistolero View Post
While it works great for Tony, if you will notice he is always playing in a microphone situation. So there really is no 'power' reference to his technique, just work the microphone.
hmmm....you mean like Tommy Emmanuel, but with a flatpick?

I've heard some people refer to Tommy's unplugged tone as "lacking", to put it nicely. Never heard it myself, though
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Old 07-08-2009, 10:23 AM
Brent Hutto Brent Hutto is offline
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Pistolero,

That's one thing I had wondered about. I've been playing around with not "strumming" my wrist any more than necessary although I can't really do the Tony Rice thing because my hand (thumb) doesn't have that degree of freedom. But anyway, I get the most wonderful pure tone and can control my bright/dark shadings more than with the original pick stroke I was using but there really isn't any volume there to speak of. It's a lot like my fingerstyle or classical technique, lovely sound (by my standards) but no projection at all. So it sounds like maybe that's inherent to working the strings gently rather than driving down and through.

And yes, I had noticed on the DVD the transition that Tony undergoes when he switches to rhythm. Still not as free-wristed as somebody like Norman Blake but much more arm and wrist movement than during his solo stuff. On the one hand, I never (so far) play with or for anyone else so volume isn't a problem. But that may change one day. And on the other hand, I don't have the flexibility or physical coordination to really adopt Tony's solo style with that thing he does with the thumb and all. So maybe a hybrid technique like he uses for rhythm is a better model, keep an economical arm motion and control the pick attack but don't try to restrict it unrealistically. Thanks for the feedback.

mmmaak,

Well, you do have a Chinese birthday coming up and all...
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Old 07-08-2009, 12:33 PM
dwalton dwalton is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pistolero View Post
Ok, what I'll say will be considered blasphemy to most, but I wouldn't suggest using Tony Rice as a model for right hand technique. While it works great for Tony, if you will notice he is always playing in a microphone situation. So there really is no 'power' reference to his technique, just work the microphone. For the average joe like us, who happens to play in jam situations or at least without the luxury of high end microphones to project our notes, by relying on just your thumb/hand pick movement to get your playing heard above other instruments is expecting a lot. I've had the occasion to be behind stage a few times with Tony in a jam situation, and while you can hear his rhythm fine (notice he doesn't use that thumb motion for it, but pushed through with more power) when he takes a break it is a strain to hear him.
This is something I've heard before, and coming from someone as accomplished like you, I think it carries a lot of credibility. Thanks for posting this.
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Old 07-08-2009, 03:36 PM
Allen Shadd Allen Shadd is offline
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Just to be clear, I'm not slamming Tony in any way. just pointing out the differences in what how he plays and what most of us try to attain. It obviously works well for Tony.
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Old 07-08-2009, 05:36 PM
Brent Hutto Brent Hutto is offline
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I didn't take your comments as any knock on Tony as a player. It's a matter of knowing what he's trying to accomplish and using the technique(s) that get it done. He obviously has all the rhythm chops anyone could want as well as his patented solo style. I guess he's just developed an optimum way of getting his music across in a studio or well-miked live setting that's separate from the rhythm stuff.

Most people would kill to have either one of those techniques, he's got both and can choose.
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Old 07-08-2009, 05:45 PM
SpruceTop SpruceTop is offline
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Tony also tends to play more toward the bridge than many players and this helps control any string buzz too.

Regards,

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Old 07-08-2009, 08:57 PM
BigRed51 BigRed51 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hutto View Post
Tony Rice for instance uses 0.072" on the high-E and 0.091" on the low-E on his famous "Clarence White" D-28.
Quite some time ago, I found this on Tony Rice's web site, posted by his wife. It is dated 2002, and is a reply to a question about the specific measurements of the action on the D-28.

".........Tony`s answer regarding the specs of his D-28 are as follows: D-28 specifications @ 70 degrees F. elevation 1,382 feet above sea level........*String spacing @ peghead nut 1",.360___*String spacing @ Bridge saddle 2 1/8th. inch.______*Action height @ 12th. fret (from fingerboard}: Low E string .124 High E string .106_____*Acton height @ 1st. fret: low E string .019 (from fret} High E string .009 (from fret)..... *Bridge height .320 *Saddle height .062 *Fret height .034<><><><<<>><><><> Fingerboard has slight exponential curve, spanning usable playing area (15th.fret)............

Most spec sheets measure from the bottom of the string to the top of the fret. Using his numbers which measure from the fingerboard, his Low E action from the top of the fret would be .124 - .034 = .0900. To compare, 3/32" = .09375, so he is just a shade below what is a typical bottom range for action on the Low E string. The high E would be .106 - .034 = .072. The low end of most specs seems to be 1/16", which is .06250 ... overall, his action is indeed considered on the low end for bluegrass action, but would probably not be considered unusual for most finger players.

Another consideration is WHERE he plays ... he stays much closer to the bridge than most. Very seldom does his pick venture beyond the inside edge of the soundhole, even when playing rhythm. This video shows an interesting comparison in position between Tony and Wyatt ... keep in mind, his sound hole is also a little larger.

Home From The Forest

And this one gives a clear and close look at where he plays in relation to the bridge ...

Church Street Blues
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