january 2011

Hybrid picking combines the power and speed of flatpicking with some benefits of a purely fingerstyle approach

Beloved by hot-rod country and rock guitarists alike, hybrid picking combines the power and speed of flatpicking with some benefits of a purely fingerstyle approach, such as being able to weave arpeggios across non-adjacent strings or simultaneously strike chord tones for a piano-like sound. (For details on this versatile technique, see “Hybrid Picking 101” on page 2.) But compared to a four-digit classical or jazz fingerstyle technique, hybrid picking has several limitations. The most obvious is that when playing chords, this pick-plus-two- fingers system lets you attack only three notes at a time.

Most guitarists who use hybrid picking shift between a full-on flatpick and a pick-and-fingers approach on the fly. While this offers a huge timbral palette, it can be tough to balance the big, chimey sound of strummed five- and six-string chords with the thinner tone of plucked three-string chords. One way to beef up the latter is to use special three-note voicings that are spread out across a wider range than the typical triads you might otherwise grab. It’s easy to generate “hybrid-friendly” chords, once you know the process.

We’ll begin by modifying standard root-3rd-5th triads, which always occupy a single octave. To make these triads sound bigger, we simply move the middle note—the 3rd (or in the case of a minor triad, the b3rd)—down or up an octave, while leaving the root and 5th in the same register. In this lesson, we’ll discover what happens when we drop the 3rd an octave lower. Next time around, we’ll focus on raising the 3rd one octave higher. Either way, the resulting open triads span more than an octave.

Download Example Audio 1...

Fig. 1 illustrates the process, beginning with a root-3rd-5th A triad in the 5th position. First, strum A on strings 4, 3, and 2 as written. Next, using hybrid picking, pluck the A/C#—the second chord in our example. Musically, only one thing has changed: We’ve dropped the middle note, our 3 (C#), down an octave. But to fret this new chord, we’ve had to refinger the voicing. In this instance, the root migrates from the 4th to the 3rd string. Though the root has moved, its pitch hasn’t changed.

Incidentally, when a chord’s lowest note is not the root, the harmony is typically written as a slash chord with the chord name on the left and the special bass note on the right. Most slash chords have the 3rd (or b3rd) in the bass, but the 5th and other chord tones can show up here too. (You can even have nonchord tones in the bass, but that’s a topic for another column.)

Now, repeat the process for the second pair of chords in this example, Am and Am/C. Here, we’re pulling the b3rd (C) from inside Am and dropping it down an octave. As you play both chords, listen carefully and compare their relative sonic “weight.” With its expanded range, Am/C sounds bigger than its more compact sibling, although without the root as the lowest note, it can also sound more ambiguous. It’s good to keep these qualities in mind when arranging music with slash chords.

Pushing on, we tackle E and Em, pulling out G# and G (the 3rd and b3rd, respectively) and dropping them an octave to create E/G# and Em/G voicings.

Fig. 2 gives us an alternative visual perspective on the four new voicings we’ve created. We can clearly see that the only difference between A/C# and Am/C, or E/G# and Em/G is the half-step shift that results from moving the 3rd to the b3rd. Perhaps you’ve played these chords before. If not, take a minute to chase them up and down the fretboard, and then hop back and forth between the grips on string sets 5–3–2 and 6–4–3.

Download Example Audio 2...

Now, let’s put our chords to work. Fig. 3 contains strummed four- and five-note chords (A2, D2, and the Aadd2 at the end), as well as plucked three-note voicings. Pay attention to the picking-hand markings for A/C#, D/F#, and G2. In bar 3, we get a piano-like effect by simultaneously plucking the notes in G2 and D/F#. It’s a sound you can’t get using a flatpick alone. As you play through this example, notice the variety of picking-hand textures: full strums, arpeggios, and piano stabs. Also, in bars 1 and 2, notice how the lowest note in each slash chord lies a half-step below the root of the subsequent chord and how strongly one leads to the other.

Download Example Audio 3...

Fig. 4 consists entirely of hybrid-friendly slash chords voiced on strings 6, 4, and 3. To accentuate the root in any of these chords, simply yank the 4th string a little harder—that will do the trick. Try this progression with some slow flanging or modulated delay.

Download Example Audio 4...

In this lesson, we’ve created new voicings by dropping the middle note of a root-3rd-5th triad down an octave. Next month, we’ll see what happens when we push the middle note up an octave. Meanwhile, use these chords to create some progressions of your own.

Hybrid Picking 101
A marriage of fingerpicking and flatpicking, hybrid picking offers elements of both techniques, but replaces neither. Photo 1 shows the basic hybrid picking hand position, which involves attacking the strings using a flatpick plus middle and ring fingers. Here, my pick is hitting the 5th string, and my middle and ring fingers are plucking the 3rd and 2nd strings.

With a classical or jazz fingerstyle technique, your wrist is arched, your hand is open, and your picking fingers are relaxed and extended. With hybrid picking, however, your wrist is flat, your hand rides low, and your middle and ring fingers are tightly curled as they engage the strings. It’s the flatpick that determines this close-in hand position. Curled like this, your picking fingers pull up on the strings, rather than stroking across them (as they would in more traditional fingerpicking). This pulling creates a snappy, popping tone that’s at the heart of country, rockabilly, and other twangy styles.

For a percussive effect, use the back edge of your picking hand to mute the bass strings as you flatpick them (Photo 2). Palm-muting also helps you prevent unwanted open strings from ringing out as you dig into the notes you’re aiming for. When muting, rest your hand lightly on the bridge, so you’ll be able to scoot quickly and easily along the saddles as your lines move from bass to treble strings and back again. Two more benefits: A light touch is better for your tendons and allows your guitar to resonate more freely for maximum sustain.

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The Dumkudo overdrive by Toshihiko Tanabe is one of those seemingly living, breathing pieces of musical gear that will talk back to you, point you down a different path, and holler encouragement.

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Download Example 2
All clips recorded with a Fano JM6 with P-90s (volume at 8) through a silverface Fender Champ; Pedal settings: Gain at noon, Volume at noon, Tone at 2 o'clock, Jali at 2 o'clock
It’s said that any good musical instrument becomes an extension of the player. But sometimes it’s where a guitar, amplifier, or pedal leads a guitarist that makes it great. The Dumkudo overdrive by Toshihiko Tanabe is one of those seemingly living, breathing pieces of musical gear that will talk back to you, point you down a different path, and holler encouragement. It’s a pedal that can stay out of the way too. Or give you just what you need when you want to play it safe and speak up within your comfort zone. And in doing all of these things well, it’s likely to replace a lot of pedals that leave players feeling a little flat.

The multi-voiced Dumkudo overdrive is not Toshihiko Tanabe’s first stab at an overdrive. His Zenkudo impressed a lot of blues-rock players with its sweet, controlled overdrive flavors. The Dumkudo shares the Zenkudo’s cultivated voice in some measure. But it also has a lot more sass and swagger. And it’s bound to appeal to everyone from blues and roots-rock players that like a little more horsepower under the hood to jazzers willing to dabble with more impolite tones.

Dressed up for Saturday Night

The Dumkudo is what a good Anglo rocker might call a “flash geezer.” The polished aluminum case and faux-abalone-and-kanji-festooned faceplate stick out amid a pedal array like a sharp-dressed gangster in the corner booth of a crowded club. And when you kick the pedal on, the LED—which switches between red, blue, and green depending on what voice you select— can seem virtually blinding next to your average dull, red pedal light.

The pedal’s four knobs sometimes seem a little cramped on the MXR-sized, 1590 enclosure. But they are easy and intuitive to use once you’ve tinkered with the pedal for a few minutes. The top two knobs are for Gain and Volume. The two sound-shaping controls—Tone and the curiously name Jali knob—are positioned just below.

On the side, a small, unlabeled slider-switch selects one of the pedal’s three voices: a pretty hot “red” mode, a more mellow and rounded “blue” mode (an approximation of the Zenkudo voice), and another hot “green” circuit that gives the pedal its more Dumble-like characteristics.

The pedal’s guts are a fairly cramped affair— no surprise given the four very wide-ranging controls and the switchable voices. I nearly gave myself a headache contemplating Tanabe performing the surgery that must go into constructing the Dumkudo. But for how busy it looks on the inside, it’s clearly built to last. Critical controls like the switchwork and certain connections on the circuit board are sheathed in a rather grotesque looking protective goo that ensures that this pedal remains intact, reliable, and road-ready over the long haul. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Tanabe working on the Dumkudo if a problem were to arise. But you also get the feeling this pedal could outlive your grandchildren.

Personality and Transparency

The buzz about the Dumkudo is the Dumble-like tones that apparently lurk with in the pedal (we’re guessing the first three letters in its name aren’t there by coincidence, though Tanabe claims this pedal is not intended to be a Dumble emulator). But playing through a range of clean Fender amps, the Dumkudo kicked out a lot of tones that were just as reminiscent of a cranked AC30, a JBL-equipped Showman or Twin, or a bucking 50-watt Marshall.

I explored the Dumkudo’s many voices using a Fender Stratocaster with a Seymour Duncan mini-humbucker in the bridge, a ’70s Ibanez-built Les Paul Standard copy, and a Fender Jaguar running through a blackface Fender Tremolux, a ’68 Vibro Champ and an Ampeg Super Jet.

The first thing that became apparent is that the Dumkudo does not discriminate—humbucker or single-coil, hot or low output pickups, you can find a setting just by manipulating the Gain and Volume knobs that will put some dynamite in your signal without robbing the guitar or amp of too much character.

The mini-humbucker on the Strat and Gibson-styled humbuckers on the Les Paul copy both became exceptionally lively with the Gain and Volume set flat—lending a discernable pick sensitivity that really beckons you to toy with the dynamic potential of pick attack and manipulation of a guitar’s volume and tone knob. Diming the Volume and Gain controls in the Red and Green modes made the humbucker-equipped guitars sound positively explosive without making a Devil’s trade for detail. Such settings didn’t leave much room for slop, however. If, like me, you’re a player who uses a lot of slurring bends, pick sweeps, and jabs for your most expressive playing, this pedal can be a little like the horror of gazing at your complexion in a super-magnifying mirror. If, on the other hand, you have the chops to venture where John McLaughlin dared to fly on his Mahavishnu jams, this might be the pedal of your dreams.

The humbuckers also responded well to the Dumkudo’s very versatile tone manipulation circuit. Getting a little aggressive with the Tone control (which seems to roll off bass as much as it boosts treble) and the Jali control (which functions like a presence knob) had the Strat’s mini-humbucker sweetly squealing in a manner that cried out for an open-G slide workout. At the same settings, the Les Paul copy took on a distinctly Beano-era Bluesbreakers identity when running through the Tremolux and Super Jet.

The Jaguar’s basically snarky, mid-scooped voice also meshed beautifully with the Dumkudo’s higher-gain and treblier settings—particularly in the Green and Red modes. The Blue mode worked quite nicely for adding a little grit to basically clean arpeggios and low-key, Gilmour-y lazy blues leads. In the Green and Red modes, however, careful-but-aggressive use of the Gain knob led the way to some very sweet spots where the Jag, Tremolux, and Super Jet sat right at the brink of feedback—a really fun place to be if you’re inclined to tinker with amp proximity, finger vibrato, and assertive tremolo techniques. And at times, I could get the short-scale Fender quaking and cutting like a smoother incarnation of Jorma Kaukonen slicing eardrums at the Fillmore, circa 1968.

The Dumkudo can just as easily coax you down the path to mellower overdrive without leading you into the realm of generic blooze tones. Again, it walks the fine line between keeping your guitar and amp’s personality intact and adding a touch of skunky roadhouse swagger and attitude. And working with this pedal at lower-gain settings can lure you into an attentive space that keeps you focused on melody and nuance. One note can sound just that interesting.

The Verdict

Toshihiko Tanabe has accomplished an admirable feat in the Dumkudo by taking the well-trodden territory of Dumble-styled, cooking blues-rock tone, and building in the capacity for wider expression, character, and responsiveness. There’s just something a little more alive in the Dumkudo than in your average blues-rock overdrive—an organic property that makes it feel a little more like a part of your amp and guitar. At 310 bones direct from the builder, it’s not cheap. But given that the Dumkudo has the range, build, and character to replace 300 bucks worth of less satisfying ODs you may have sitting around the jam space, you can safely consider it money well spent.

Buy if...
you crave aggressive, dirty blues-rock tones, but need a little more personality and range.
Skip if...
you get everything you need out of your TS9 or Blues Driver.

Street $310 - Toshihiko Tanabe - www.tanabe.tv/top/kudou/index-e.html

Chuck Berry changed the course of electric guitar and was a major influence on the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix—and he did it without a single pedal.

A Mesa/Boogie Electra Dyne combo and a Mesa/Boogie TransAtlantic head that can quickly be plugged into the combo speakers for tonal options or to function as a spare amp.

Fewer pedals equals purer tone with my Pedaltrain Nano pedalboard, which sports an Electra Dyne footswitch, a Korg Blackout tuner, and a Line 6 G50 wireless receiver.
I’ve always really liked guitarists who can plug straight into the front of an amp and play great music. Chuck Berry changed the course of electric guitar and was a major influence on the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix—and he did it without a single pedal. Brian Setzer can cover swing, rockabilly, and big-band jazz armed with only a guitar, an amp, and a Roland Space Echo. AC/DC’s Back In Black is one of the top-selling records of all time, and Angus Young doesn’t use any effects at all.

There’s nothing wrong with using effects, but there is something wrong if you can’t sound good without them. Effects can create a mirage that leads you to believe you’re playing in a more polished manner than you actually are, so it’s good to be sure you can play well with a basic guitar rig. There are also several logistical advantages to having a downsized guitar rig.

Less gear means you can locate and troubleshoot a problem more quickly, and it also means there are fewer links in the chain that can break. Another added bonus of having fewer pieces of equipment is that your setup and teardown time is greatly reduced.

There are so many stompboxes and effects on the market, and they do everything from making slight changes to your tone to making your guitar sound like a completely different instrument. Like a lot of players, I go through phases of using effects to create ethereal delays, swimming reverbs, lush choruses, funky envelope filters, and pulsing modulations. New sounds can inspire new music, and that’s a good thing. However, nothing is more vital to having good tone than being in tune.

Of all the pedals on a board, the most important pedal to me is the tuner: You can have a high-dollar boutique amplifier, the most expensive guitar in existence, and a mound of all the best effects—but if you’re out of tune, you are not going to sound good. When you shop for a tuner, there are a few things to consider. One of the first things I do when I try a new tuner is listen for how it affects my tone. Even when a tuner is off, it can muffle some of the highs. I need a tuner to be as transparent as possible. I have spent a lot of time finding guitars and amps that sound great to my ear, so the last thing I want is a tuner that alters my tone. I generally look for tuners that have a true bypass switch, which helps make the pedal more transparent. I also make sure the tuner’s needle or strobe does not behave erratically. The Korg Blackout is my favorite tuner because it is tonally transparent, built with rugged metal jacks and switches, and has a large, easy-to-read display. Since the tuner is the only pedal in my signal chain, I can easily switch between using my Line 6 G50 wireless and a cable. The G50 has a great feature that emulates the sound of using a cable, as well. Having a streamlined pedalboard allows the tone of my guitar and amplifier to shine through without encountering any tone-diminishing roadblocks.

Recently, I’ve been using a Mesa/Boogie Electra Dyne combo loaded with two 12" Black Shadow speakers. Most of the time, I leave the Electra Dyne set on the Low channel and use my guitar’s volume knob to blend between rhythm and lead sounds. The great thing about using your volume knob is that you don’t have to run back to your pedalboard to step on a boost pedal for a solo.

Onstage, I keep a Mesa/Boogie TransAtlantic as a spare head on top of the Electra Dyne in case there is a power surge that blows the fuse in my combo. Also, the TransAtlantic is great for getting a wide variety of tonal options that suit the occasional nights when I play for several acts. Besides being a nice backup rig, this two-amp setup also expands my tonal palette. I simply re-patch the instrument, footswitch and speaker cables from the Electra Dyne to the TransAtlantic, and I’m all set to go in a matter of seconds.

I encourage you to take only an amp, a guitar, a couple of cords, and a tuner to your next show or rehearsal. If simple guitar rigs work for Chuck, Brian, and Angus, they can work for you, too.