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Toothbrush - LISTEN
Probably best to go out and spend the $1 for this one. I don’t think anyone wants toothpaste or drool all over their guitar! The toothbrush can be used just like a pick by holding it by the handle and brushing the strings. It’s kind of like having a hundred really fine picks close together and it creates a wooshing sound that is better heard than described. Using a soft bristle brush will sound different than a harder one, just like a pick. It’s great for uniquely sustaining chords and I’ve found that it is much better for multiple strings due to the size of most bristles. If you do want to play individual strings you might find yourself getting creative with left-hand muting techniques to avoid ringing of unintentional strings.
Great for that woody tone. Thank you, I’ll be here all week. Seriously, though, the pencil is probably one of the simplest tools for creating hammered tones on the guitar. Holding it much like a pick between your thumb and first or second finger let it bounce off the strings. Experiment by hitting it closer to the bridge and move toward the neck. Notice how the tone naturally darkens and gets less springy sounding. You can approximate a dulcimer as your bounce technique gets better. On bass guitar I’ve seen a producer use a drumstick to great effect creating huge piano tones with superb attack and clarity.
Pen - LISTEN
I like a Sharpie because it produces a clean and fat attack. Like the pencil, pens of varying shapes and sizes can create great hammered sounds. Experimenting with different materials (metal, plastic, etc.) you’ll definitely be able to create a wide variety of sound. Acoustic guitars love them too.
Paper - LISTEN
What? Sure, why not? Take a piece of paper and fold it up a few times. The more folds, the thicker your pick will be. It’s surprising how familiar it will feel in your hands if you’re used to playing with a pick. The difference is that even with the hardest attack and most force it “gives” a lot more than a piece of plastic. This particular oddity though natural feeling is anything but natural sounding. With a thuddy attack and lack of a striking sound it’s definitely more of an effect. If you play an acoustic guitar or an electric with heavy strings the paper will fall apart very quickly so make sure you’ve got an extra sheet or two for your debut gig.
I’ve seen Paul Gilbert whip out a cordless drill with three picks attached to it to create the fastest speed-picking machine known to man (besides Paul himself!). I’ve also heard he got the drill caught in his hair…yikes! Hope it had a reverse on it. Anyway, in a similar spirit, the concept of using an airbrush can create really interesting and haunting effects. Clearly this is taking things to the extreme and a pneumatic airbrush may just create more noise than it’s worth. However, in the right circumstance using the brush set to a fine stream can open up a variety of sounds that mimic the use of a broken volume pedal. Great for infinite sustain and more fun than you’ll ever have building that WWII fighter plane model. I know because that’s how I discovered this…outside in my father-in-law’s garage while he was building a WWII fighter plane model.
I know this is all pretty extreme and it may sound rather funny but I take it quite seriously. To sum it up, what would guitar history be without the inventive nature of guys like Page, Hendrix, Van Halen and Tom Morello. Every one of these players and many more has done things that made an impact on tone by using (at the time) unconventional techniques. Who knows, one day you might be remembered for using a #2 pencil on a hit song’s guitar solo….and wouldn’t that be cool.
Steve is best known for his work on Guitar Hero III, the multi-platinum selling video game that is turning gamers into guitarists by the thousands. A guitarist/composer/producer, he holds a B.A. in Music Performance and Composition and spends his days and nights writing music for games, film and television. He’s also a rabid tone fanatic and amp enthusiast always looking for a unique sound. His original music can be found on iTunes and at myspace.com/steveouimette.