classical music

Photo by Katherine Salvador

Guest picker Mei Semones joins reader Jin J X and PGstaff in delving into the backgrounds behind their picking styles.

Question: What picking style have you devoted yourself to the most, and why does it work for you?

Guest Picker - Mei Semones

Mei’s latest album, Kabutomushi.

A: The picking style I’ve practiced the most is alternate picking, but the picking style I usually end up using is economy picking. Alternate feels like a dependable way to achieve evenness when practicing scales and arpeggios, but when really playing, it doesn’t make sense to articulate every note in that way, and obviously it’s not always the fastest.

Obsession: My current music-related obsession is my guitar, my PRS McCarty 594 Hollowbody II. I think it will always be an obsession for me. It’s so comfortable and light, has a lovely, warm, dynamic tone, and helps me play faster and cleaner. This guitar feels like my best friend and soulmate.

Reader of the Month - Jin J X

Photo by Ryan Fannin

A: For decades, the Eric Johnson-style “hybrid picking” with a Jazz III for “pianistic” voicings. Great for electric, though not so much acoustic. I’ve been recently learning to use a flatpick, à la Brian Sutton, by driving the pick “into” the string at an angle—which makes me think of Pat Metheny and George Benson, without irony.

Obsession: I’m still focused on understanding the concepts of jazz, neo-classical, and beyond, though I’m also becoming obsessed with George Van Eps’ 7-string playing, flatpicking, hip-hop beats, the Hybrid Guitars Universal 6 guitar, and the secret life of the banjo.

Editorial Director - Ted Drozdowski

A: Decades ago, under the sway of Mississippi blues artists R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and Jessie Mae Hemphill, I switched from plectrum to fingerstyle, developing my own non-traditional approach. It’s technically wrong, but watching R.L., in particular, freestyle, I learned there is no such thing as wrong if it works.

Obsession: Busting out of my songwriting patterns. With my band Coyote Motel, and earlier groups, I’ve always encouraged my talented bandmates to play what they want in context, but brought in complete, mapped-out songs. Now, I’m bringing in sketches and we’re jamming and hammering out the arrangements and melodies together. It takes more time, but feels rewarding and fun, and is opening new territory for me.

Managing Editor - Kate Koenig

A: I have always been drawn to fingerpicking on acoustic guitar, starting with classical music and prog-rock pieces (“Mood for a Day” by Steve Howe), and moving on to ’70s baroque-folk styles, basic Travis picking, and songs like “Back to the Old House” by the Smiths. I love the intricacy of those styles, and the challenge of learning to play different rhythms across different fingers at the same time. This is definitely influenced by my classical training on piano, which came before guitar.

Obsession: Writing and producing my fifth and sixth albums. My fifth album, Creature Comforts, was recorded over the past couple months, and features a bunch of songs I wrote in 2022 that I had previously sworn to never record or release. Turns out, upon revisiting, they’re not half bad! While that one’s being wrapped, I’m trying to get music written for my sixth, for which I already have four songs done. And yes, this is a flex. 💪😎

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This small hollowbody has certain similarities to a ’60s Gibson ES-140T, including its size, single Florentine cutaway, and P-90-like pickups.

Our columnist shares how this guitar comes alive when played, with its small body belying its impressive voice.

Last month, I was talking about fragile guitars and how I’m always afraid of damaging or marring delicate things. Well, this month, I’ll take another look at a small hollowbody that, when I first got it, scared me in a different sort of way. Gentle reader, this guitar was alive—and I mean that in a sincere way. Good grief; this little guy vibrated and shook like an old-school 1970s stereo at full tilt! Let me introduce you to the St. George EP-85, dating to around 1964.

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Oliver Ackermann of A Place to Bury Strangers joins us in discussing the players we'd pick to portray if we got our chance on the big screen. Plus: musical obsessions!

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