- David "Skinny Devil" McLean
originally published at Insane Guitar, 2003
To my knowledge, it started way back in the 1920s & 1930s with
acoustic blues players – players who not only sang and strummed, but
also smacked the strings and the guitar body to get percussive effects.
Unfortunately, the recordings of those days are of poor quality, so
hearing more than the vocal and the basic guitar line is difficult.
Flamenco players also occasionally add “guitar body drum” to their
playing, though mostly as sparse effects for a bit of spice. In the
1980s, Michael Hedges began popularizing the use of percussive effects
along with extensive use of hammered ostinato, slides, and
super-articulate finger-picking. Today, great acoustic players like
Peppino D’Agostino and Laurence Juber have taken things to a whole new
height, with Preston Reed being (in my opinion) the undisputed king of
This month, we’re going to look at a few VERY basic percussive concepts
for the acoustic guitar, while in the coming months we’ll explore these
more and also apply them to electric guitar.
Example 1 has you playing a hammered fret-hand pattern of straight 8ths,
with a tapped open-3 pattern on the 5th (A) string. Add to that a
pick-hand tap on the guitar body on the second and fourth beats OR, for
the more adventurous, tap straight 2s with your elbow on the body.
Unfortunately, PowerTab doesn’t allow for body slaps, but I’ve used a
2nd fret tapped harmonic to denote the body slap to help get the timing
Example 2 has a free-er fret-hand pattern while the pick-hand accents
with a body slap and then taps a harmonic at the 12th fret. Be sure to
practice this with a metronome so that your timing is perfect. Again,
we’ll use the 2nd fret tapped harmonic to indicate the body slap.
For example 3, think of a straight rock percussion pattern. Experiment
with this, playing the dark melodic sequence with the 12th & fifth
fret tapped harmonics (as is notated), and then by replacing the
harmonic with a body slap, and finally by tapping out the entire rhythm
on the guitar’s body. Notice the 6th string (low E) is tuned down to
an A for that super-bass effect! Mix up the slaps, taps, melodic
sequences, and maybe even add some hammered chords like in the examples
above. Stay loose and have fun with it!
It’s worth noting that some players use just their hands while others
use fingers or forearms and the like. Peppino, for example, tends to use
rocking palm to finger patterns, while Preston Reed tends to combines
fret board taps (both single note lines and full chords) with arms and
palm shots to the body (watch his alteration of palm and forearm body
shots on his track “Blasting Cap” if you have a chance!), while my
personal style includes a lot of articulated multiple-finger body
accents (finger rolls) coupled with tapped harmonics (especially in the
track “DI” which I originally recorded in 1990 ; a video clip of me
performing this at a recent guitar clinic will be available on my site
soon). But explore these ideas and see what YOU come up with. Also, be
sure to visit the sites of the players mentioned herein (which will
often lead you to the sites of other great players in a never-ending
maze!!!), especially Preston Reed.
You can also check out an interview I did with Preston at TinFoil and listen to his work at his MP3.com site.
Finally, thanx to “EmperorMalignus” of Montreal (and the IG message
boards!) for suggesting this article. Keep that feedback coming, guys!