Photo by Jerry L. Neff
What kind of stuff do you
work on now?
Ideas mostly, things that people
have not heard. Like that thing
we did with “Danny Boy.” I
worked on that for a long time
before I got enough nerve to
bring it out. I’ve got a lot of different
formulas, and I use them
whenever they seem to fit. Say, for
instance, my solo on “Tequila.”
I started off playing nothing but
basic triads with an octave on top.
As simple as it sounds, in certain
circumstances it works very well.
Your technique is phenomenal.
In the beginning, what did
you work on to get it to such a
When I got to New York and
found all these guys with all this
fabulous technique—Pat Martino
and Grant Green and a few others—
I said, “Man, I’m not gonna
be able to make it here.” I knew
I couldn’t match those guys. So I
started devising my own method
and reexamined the fingerboard.
If you play a standard guitar,
where you’re playing across the
fingerboard, you’re playing down
the fingerboard instead of going
up. If I move my hands in the
direction, slide them up as I
play the notes, then it’s a logical
progression. That kind of thing.
I had to examine that over and
over again until I got it right. I’m
moving in the direction that the
sound is suggesting. It’s all about
getting from point A to point B.
So I said, “Well, let me try it this
way.” And I said, “Whoa! This
is much simpler—and I can be
much more accurate if I do it
Musicians are also in awe of
your seemingly flawless sense
of time. Did you always have
that, or did you have to work
I listened to Charlie Christian
with the Benny Goodman
band. Benny Goodman rightfully
had the name “King
of Swing.” There were other
cats who could swing, but he
consistently swung and he
had good cats in the band. I
listened to that and realized
that I should loosen up a little
bit, leave myself room where
I could pick up some extra
things. Leave a note out here
and pick it up later over here—
add it to the swing. I began to
do it until it became natural,
and it’s followed me down
through the years.
Photo by John Darwin Kurc
What advice would you give
to players who want to develop
a stronger sense of time?
For example, some people recommend
using a metronome,
and others are completely
No, some people need that.
So it depends on the individual?
Yeah, well Montgomery used
it—I have the one that he used!
When I first saw him with that
metronome years ago, I said,
“Wow, Montgomery uses a
metronome! Is that why he’s so
good? Maybe I better get me a
metronome.” But I never used it.
I have a good sense of rhythm.
Your single-note playing is fairly
staccato, as opposed to, say,
Pat Metheny’s, which is very
legato. Is that something you do
intentionally? And if so, why?
I did it because my favorite
players play like that. Hank
Garland, he had a very staccatoy
sound. It made it sound
more forceful [scats staccato-ish
phrase]. It was like, “Wow, it’s
like the notes are dancing in
front of me!” I don’t have a lot
of pressure in my left hand, I
never did. I think it came from
playing cheap guitars where the
winding would come undone
on the strings and it would cut
my fingers. So I stopped pressing
hard. I play very light in my
left hand. Django, in order to
get the vibrato, had to have a
lot of pressure in his left hand.
Pat Martino has a lot of pressure
in his left hand.
You hold your pick at an
unconventional angle. Is there
an advantage to that?
There are advantages and disadvantages to every technique
I’ve seen. The technique that I
have lends itself toward playing
phrases that are not based in
16th-notes. It’s not based on
that. I’m leaving myself open so
I can change from quarter-notes
or eighth-notes and stick some
fast triplets in there. Instead of
playing four notes, if I play triplets
I get 12 [scats a triplet-infused
phrase]. But if you play with
standard technique—if you get
used to playing quarter-notes,
eighth-notes, 16th-notes, 32ndnotes,
whatever it is—you get
used to this [scats a fast phrase in
steady eighths], and after a while
that bores me. So the technique
I’m using—which isn’t the greatest,
don’t get me wrong—makes
it so I can play those phrases
and still be within the realm
of playing the single lines with
the quarter-notes or the even
Photo by Jerry L. Neff
I imagine this technique is
fairly dependent on specific
picks or gauges, then.
I use medium picks. They’re not
too stiff and they allow me to
have better rhythm. And the two
edges [on mine] come down to a
point that’s straighter than on a
Fender pick. I do that because it
gives me much more snap when
the pick comes off the string.
Do you usually pick every
note, or do you integrate
hammer-ons and pull-offs
or sweep-picking in your
There was a period when I
picked every note, but I find
that it’s not necessary in the
way I’m thinking now—I’m
beginning to let up on that.
As you get older, you don’t get
into the particulars so much
as you do when you’re trying
to speak a language. So I don’t
force that anymore. Kenny
Burrell asked me that once,
“George, are you picking every
note?” I said, “I don’t know—
I guess so, Kenny.” And he
was the master of the guitar.
He and Wes Montgomery
dominated the jazz world at the
time. So for him to ask me any
question about the guitar was