Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Guitar Lesson -- String Muting 101

I just received an email from one of my former guitar students, Guru, who is presently serving as First Engineer on the ship M.T Torm Tevere that is presently somewhere between the North and Baltic Seas!

Dear sir,

Hope this one finds you in good health and spirits. I write to you in total distress I confess. I just can't get a hang of my new guitar. Any string I bend to the full, it gives massive feedback when I let it go.
I hope you can imagine what I'm talking.

Say I bend the B string at the fifteenth fret, the G string gives out a feedback at the slightest of touch and I've found it impossible to mute the adjacent strings. I have this problem even when I strum a single note on any higher string and then move on to some other string for the next note.

In a nutshell.. I get feedback on every string when i release it after strumming a note. I don't really know what's causing this problem. I never seemed to have it on my Les Paul and I can't imagine my technique could be so flawed overnight.

This guitar by the way.. it's a Cort EVL-X5, paid around 800S dollars in India. Has EMG HZs(passive) on bridge and neck and a single coil EMG in the middle. It has coil tap and the works.. but I feel the volume and tone knobs are placed in a hopeless position. It comes right in front of the picking hand.. has taken a while to get over the tendency to roll back the
volume knob as I played along. That problem has been sorted out.. but I'm just too stressed out with this new thing that has crept up into my playing.

I'd be so grateful if you could help me out of this. I understand it's hard over email.. yet I know you can find a way around that. Am willing to call if you have the time.. say around ten days from now.

Rest is all fine. Spending my days in total darkness these days.. as it's
winter here in the North and Baltic Sea. I miss Singapore weather I tell
you. I now know why there are so many songs written over sunshine. Hope to
hear from you soon.
First Engineer
M.T.Torm Tevere.

Without watching him play, I sussed out that Guru was having a problem with string muting -- a problem that has been brought to the fore with the sensitivity and high-output of his new EMG-equipped Cort guitar.

This was my reply to him:

Hi Guru,

Good to hear from you!

First off, if your guitar is feeding back like crazy, your gain is probably too high.

As far as muting -- which is very important in keeping the strings you are not playing quiet, especially for soloing or single-note playing -- using a combination of left hand and right hand muting is an absolute must. At high-gain/high volume levels, muting becomes absolutely critical to ward off extraneous string noise and feedback.

Think of using the left hand index finger as a general mute.

If you're playing any note on the sixth string (low E) your first finger should be resting on and muting strings 1 to 5. When playing string 5, the side of the index finger mutes strings 1 to 4 and the tip of the index finger mutes string 6.

Note that when playing strings 4 to 1, right-hand palm-muting comes into play.

So when playing string 4 for example, the side of the left index mutes strings 1, 2 and 3, the index tip mutes string 5 and the palm of the right hand mutes string 6!

In short when playing string 6 use the side of the left hand index for muting. When playing string 5, use the tip of left hand index for muting string 6 and the side for muting strings 4 to 1. When playing strings 4, 3, 2 and 1, right hand palm muting comes into play to stop the low open strings from ringing and adding noise and generating unwanted feedback.

Apply the same muting procedure for the remaining higher strings.

It's good to practice at feedback inducing levels because this will train your hands to mute strings efficiently. I used to practice in the kitchen of my old house in the early 80s at very high volumes everyday after school, while wrestling with the exact same problem you talk about. Somehow, after a while your hands will just know what to do and you won't even think about it anymore, and string muting will have become second nature.

Hope this helps and take care out there my friend! 
Clinton The complete home study jazz guitar course

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