Playing with a beautiful sound doesn’t just mean playing super tasto (near or over the fingerboard) all of the time. We should always be striving for a beautiful sound regardless of whether playing tasto, ponticello, or somewhere else on the spectrum of tone colours on the guitar.
There will never be an absolute, one-size-fits-all approach to producing a good quality, beautiful sounding tone – we all have different size and shape fingernails, different sized hands, arms and so on (the physical drivers of our sound creation). There are a number of things you can check in with though that will certainly help you in creating that beautiful sounds.
(1) Free stroke – push, don’t pull. Yes, initially this may sound slightly at odds wit the tirando (free stroke) technique, but the key to achieving a rich and full sound (as opposed to thin and twangy sound) when playing free stroke is to ensure your right hand fingers (if you’re right handed) are first pressing down the string slightly, and then moving through or across the string rather than hooking up under it and pulling or plucking. In this way you’re loading up the string, putting a lot more potential energy into it ready to release into sound energy. More energy in = greater energy out. Don’t be a plucker! 😉
(2) Find the right angle of attack. Oftentimes playing the strings with the right hand fingers square on to the strings can produce quite a thin, brittle sound (go and try it now to witness what I’m talking about). Now, that’s not my idea of a particularly beautiful or even nice sound, but if it floats your boat then go right ahead! You may want to try this instead: have the right hand fingers (again, talking from the point of view of a right hander) attack the strings at a 45 degree angle with the contact point between string and finger somewhere around the corner of the white of the fingernail and the flesh of the finger.
You may have to play around with this a little to suit how your own fingernails grow, but playing in this manner with a little bit of flesh initially, then moving through onto and across the nail is a surefire way of improving your sound quality.
(3) Do your nails. It is not enough really to file and shape your nails with just a plain old emery board alone. This is good for taking down length and working in shape, but the playing surface will be pitted and as rough as a badger’s backside! Getting a really smooth, glassy finish to your nails, will undoubtedly help you create a really smooth, rounded and glassy sound.
My favourite bit of kit for this is the 1200 wet and dry sandpaper. It’s really fine and can be used to refine the shape of your nails, buff out remaining nicks and then smooth the underside and playing surface of the nail to a super-smooth finish. I used this material until my nails are literally squeaking on the paper. That’s when you know you’re generating a glassy playing surface on your nail. And then the ultimate test of course is how smoothly the nail passes over the string to help you create that beautifully rounded sound.
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