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If anyone had to answer a question about North Carolina's main musical instrument, the answer would be simple: the guitar. The guitar has found a home throughout North Carolina, and the mountains have cradled musicians like Wayne Henderson, Bryan Sutton and Doc Watson. FolkwaysThe Guitar seeks to demonstrate the range of guitar playing styles and sounds by calling on some talented players who have devoted their lives to playing or making guitars.
Host David Holt begins by introducing Dale McCoy, who demonstrates his style of finger picking, a style viewers may recognize from The Potters of Seagrove. Wayne Henderson not only dazzles audiences with the flight of his fingers, but he invites us into his guitar shop, where he explains the precision and care involved in handcrafting a guitar. Paul Graybeal, known well by people who collect guitars, handcrafts miniature and full-sized guitars, but devotes as much time and care to the process as one would do with a guitar that can play. Bryan Sutton demonstrates flat-picking and its variations and explains the demands made of a session player in Nashville. As a final treat, David Holt plays alongside the legendary Doc Watson, one of the great pioneers of Appalachian folk music.
Dale McCoy demonstrates his smooth finger picking style at the beginning of the program. Attentive listeners may have recognized Dale's playing on some of the musical tracks found in The two Potters of Seagrove programs. Dale has the unusual job of being a musical troubadour for Norfolk Southern Railway and records with the group The Lawmen.
Wayne Henderson lives in the tiny Virginia community of Rugby, just over the state line from Ashe County. He's been playing guitars since he was 5 and making them since he was 14. In fact, he's even made a guitar for Eric Clapton.
His inspiration for making guitars came from renowned fiddle maker Albert Hash, who lived just over the ridge and was featured in the original series of Folkways.
While he admired the flat picking style of Doc Watson, who lives on the other side of the state line in North Carolina, Wayne developed his own unique style of finger picking, which he demonstrates in The Guitar.
Wayne's guitars are finely crafted instruments that he makes to order; each one is created with a particular tone and sound according to the new owner's requests.
Paul Graybeal is widely known for his unusual miniature instruments - guitars, banjos, and mandolins. They are accurate down to the smallest detail, a scale model of a particular full size instrument. Paul makes full-sized guitars as well, but not surprisingly it takes him about as long to make a tiny one as a big one. The only difference is that the miniatures are too small to play.
Bryan Sutton is a much-sought after session musician in Nashville, Tennessee. He has played on many recordings, including those of Dolly Parton and Ricky Skaggs. He is a flat-picker who has developed his own style of playing but is quite familiar with the styles of some of the great flat-pickers like Doc Watson and Mae Bell Carter. With his father Jerry, he plays some tunes from his new CD, just recently produced.
Bryan is a native of Asheville and learned from some of Western North Carolina's finest players, including Dale McCoy. He has been playing the guitar since he was 8 and is familiar with a wide range of musical styles, although he prefers bluegrass above the others.
Nearly everyone who has ever heard guitar playing mentioned knows some of the more universal terms like "strumming" and "picking." However, within each of those categories are several styles that can make the same song that is played using two different styles sound quite different. Musicians who play acoustic and folk guitar, therefore, know the difference between "flat-picking" and "finger picking." If these terms are new to you, or you are a guitar player wanting a definition of these styles, read further.
Flat-picking is typically done with a flat, plastic guitar pick that you hold between your thumb and index finger. First, be sure that your wrist is free and off of the guitar.
You can get different sounds depending on the angle you hold the pick against the strings. A flat angle, where the pick is parallel to the strings gives you the cleanest sound and the hardest feel. A backwards angle ( / ) gives a clean sound but a smoother feel. A forwards angle ( \ ) gives a rough sound and a smooth feel and is more typically used for rock music. Since the wrist motion is at an angle, the differences between how it will sound and feel will depend on how much of the pick and what angle it is touching the string.
Acoustical guitar usually requires either a flat or backwards angle. After you get used to holding the pick, you have several style variations you can try:
Basic strum rhythm: Strumming several strings at one time. This requires the player to move the pick over all of the strings relatively quickly.
Mae Bell Carter Style: Playing a lead on one string and continuing a strumming at the same time.
Cross-picking: Breaking a chord into its individual notes and picking the individual strings.
Doc Watson style: Single notes, picking individual strings not dependent on chords.
You can finger pick a guitar either with or without finger picks. Some players just use their fingers and the tip of their fingernail to get a smoother sound. In addition to the medium you use to finger pick, you also have a couple of different techniques:
Finger picking in general requires an up-down movement: down with your thumb and up with your fingers. The thumb leads the bass rhythm, while the other fingers play the melody. Depending on how many fingers you use, you can also play different styles.
The Travis style, which Dale McCoy demonstrates on Folkways and many other players of folk and bluegrass tend to use, requires picking with mainly the thumb and the index finger, while resting the pinky on the pick guard while you are playing. Some players will use a slight variation of this and add the middle finger.
Players of traditional classical guitar typically use four fingers: thumb, index finger, middle finger and ring finger, with no support on the guitar.
Making Guitars: A Little History
The art of making guitars isn't new to the Folkways series.
Viewers who remember the Folkways episode Music from the Hills know the renowned fiddle maker, Albert Hash.
Hash lived just a few miles from Wayne Henderson, and was an inspiration and guide to Wayne when he started making guitars. Albert would even go into the forest and knock on trees with a rock to find one that 'rang' just right; he would mark that tree as one to be later cut for wood to make a fiddle.
Hash taught Henderson the basic principles of how to recognize how different kinds of wood grain would affect the sound of the finished instrument.
Wayne Henderson Festival Home page
Every year during the third Saturday of June, the Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival is held in Wilson, Virginia.
Bryan Sutton's Home page
Has a biography of Bryan Sutton, pictures and the names of the guitars he's used in his career.
Flatpicking Guitar Magazine
A bi-monthly periodical, and companion audio CD, dedicated to presenting all aspects of the art of flatpicking the acoustic guitar.
Discography of Blue Grass Sound Recordings, 1942-
Lists of singles, extended play and long play releases, including speed and date of release, for numerous artists.