Ted Greene's timeline

Greene then threw himself even deeper into teaching. Simple diagrams he’d previously drawn to demonstrate his concepts grew increasingly more detailed. Barbara Franklin would later recall how he made charts of all closed-voiced triads in all major and minor keys. “On the same page would be a list of the most common chord progressions to be memorized. The page went on to include adding the 6th, 7th, 9th, 11th, and 13th degree to each chord.”

In fact, to say that Greene was systematic in his approach to teaching, playing, and writing music would be an understatement—to some it appeared to border on obsession. Others believe Greene might have suffered from an undiagnosed case of Asperger syndrome—an autism-spectrum disorder that typically affects social interaction and is often accompanied by restrictive or repetitive interests and behaviors. Those who subscribe to this theory believe it explains his later decisions to limit his exposure to the public at large. Franklin notes in her memoir of Greene that, "This thought or that, a moment split by the minds' idle chatter or a tune running through it and a week flies by."

Greene often said, “I’d rather play at a retirement home for blue-haired old ladies than at a club. At least the old ladies would listen to and enjoy the music and not watch my hands the whole time.”

Chord Chemist
Dale Zdenek, owner of the music shop where Greene taught, took note of these minutely detailed diagrams. In 1971, Zdenek, who had no background in publishing, proposed a book based on Greene’s work. Greene was interested, but instead of simply compiling his extant material, he decided to create something completely new.

The resulting book, Chord Chemistry, went on to become essential reading for players seeking a deeper understanding of chords. Its success established Greene’s name in the guitar community, and the desire to study with him and see him perform increased exponentially. In 1976, Greene published a second important chord book, Modern Chord Progressions. (It’s worth noting that while the contents of Greene’s chord books were meant to be absorbed in the order they’re presented, they’re not so much formal methods as encyclopedias of ideas.)

Meanwhile, Greene continued his own studies. He took eight weeks of lessons from the “Father of the 7-String Guitar,” George Van Eps, and worked on expanding his knowledge of single-note playing. In 1979, he published two books on the subject: Jazz Guitar Single Note Soloing Volume 1 and Volume 2.

Greene’s four books offer up a staggering amount of information, including many concepts never before available in print. Even if he’d never done anything else, these volumes would have secured his place in guitar history.

Telecaster Crazy

Greene was best known for playing highly modified Telecasters, but he also loved classic Gibson guitars.
Photo courtesy of Leon White

In April of 1965 Greene acquired his first Fender Telecaster, a 1953 that cost $135. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the Tele. Greene estimated that he owned 200 Telecasters at one point or another. “The versatility of the Telecaster is almost unmatched,” he said in an interview.

When Fender decided to manufacture a reissue model of their famed 1952 Blackface Tele, the company turned to Greene and his vast collection while designing the prototype. Greene regularly offered suggestions about how to improve the reissue. Fender asked him to play the new guitars at their 1982 NAMM show debut, which he happily did.

In later years Greene’s favorite Tele was a hybrid: a ’52 body fitted with a ’51 Esquire neck. He routed the body himself, installing two DiMarzio Dual-Sound humbuckers in the neck and middle positions. He also replaced the stock bridge pickup with one from a 1954 model. Interestingly, Greene removed the pole pieces from a pair of stock Gibson humbuckers and installed them into the DiMarzios, which were then set low into the guitar—beneath the pickguard, even—with the pole pieces set high near the strings. His explanation for the unusual parts swapping and positioning was that he did it to “get rid of the mud.” Another uncommon choice was Greene’s choice of rather heavy strings for his Telecasters, including a .013 or sometimes even a .014 for the high E.

While Telecasters held a special place in Green’s heart, he owned many other guitars, mostly Gibsons. His collection included a goldtop Les Paul, an ES-335, and a number of hollowbody archtops.