7 Famous Guitarists With Unusual Picking Techniques

Remember when somebody was showing you how to play the guitar (a teacher, family member, friend…) and they would have most probably told you how to place your both arms on the guitar? If you asked why, the reply would go probably something like: “That’s how it’s played.” 

Well, here is a list of 7 famous guitarists who all have completely different picking techniques from each other, and most probably from your teacher’s “proper technique”. 

1. Mark Knopfler

For guitar perfectionists, Mark Knopfler is probably an average bad guitarist, but for those who prefer to listen to music rather than look for technical perfection and enjoy the emotion that music produces, the legendary former frontman of Dire Straits is just the perfect blend of voice and guitar.

And he himself is aware of his imperfections at the expense of which he often jokes. His technique is known as “the claw”. In an interview with CBS, Knopfler, who has had a solo career for a long time, has been there since the mid-1990s, sarcastically commenting on his playing style, saying: “I hold the guitar like a plumber holds a hammer.”

2. Eddie van Halen

Alex and Eddie's father sent him to piano lessons, but Eddie says that he never learned the notes, instead he played by ear and looking at his teacher's fingers. He later acquired drums, while Alex played the electric guitar, but they soon swapped because it turned out that Alex was a far more talented drummer.

Although he didn't like the piano, Eddie used his playing skills to hit the strings on his neck with the fingers of his right hand instead of firing them, as if he were playing the piano, not the guitar. This technique is called "tapping" and flamenco guitarists have always used it. In addition, he held the pick between the thumb and middle finger, while doing alternate picking! Insane!

3. Tosin Abasi

Speaking of tapping, Tosin Abasi shared the same style of playing as Eddie, at least in this context - a lot of tapping. 

The other amazing thing that Tosin does is his thumb position, or should I say – flexibility. If you have seen the way Tosin Abasi plays, you must have been left in awe and wonder. Why? Well, his thumb looks as if dislocated, making a 90-degree angle. The way he holds the pick is simply amazing.

Even though Eddie was known as one of the best shredders of all time, Tosin plays equally fast (if not faster), and the fact that he plays prog-metal on 7-strings and 8-strings makes it astonishing.

4. James Hetfield

Many believe that James Hetfield is one of the best rhythm guitarists, if not the best on the planet. He is a very complete musician since he sings, plays, and composes riffs that are way too good. He has enough technique and security not only to accompany but to riff even when he sings.

Speaking of riffs, his downpicking is right on point, maybe the best downpicker on the planet. While holding his pick with three fingers, Hetfield is able to sing, do rhythms, riffs, solos, and be a fantastic frontmen, all at the same time. Respect.

5. Paul Gilbert

The man who has so many techniques and styles that it is impossible to replicate it all. While his right hand is somewhat usual, what makes him special and worth mentioning here is the left-hand muting! How does he manage to do this? The left hand is off the usual neck hold and is positioned so that four fingers can mute all the strings while the right hand does its thing. 

His reason for doing this is: “You're grabbing the whole thing, and the whole battle is playing one note and controlling the other five because as soon as you get a fire-breathing guitar sound, those other five are going to start taking off and making noise, and you're responsible for that.”

6. Marty Friedman

The man who hates the word “shredder”, even though he has been labeled as one his entire career! A man with impeccable guitar playing and a fantastic ear for melody. His solos and riffs are simply amazing.

What is unique about his picking is that his whole right hand is incredibly active because it’s not fixed on the guitar, and therefore twists more than with anyone else I saw. This way, Marty is able to pick the strings from different angles and this is followed by insanely clean tones, just the way he likes. 

How does he palm mute then? He doesn’t.

7. Michael Angelo Batio

In contrast to Marty Friedman's flexible right-hand picking, Michael Angelo Batio’s right hand seems not to be moving at all! It’s as if his pick is doing all the work while the right hand is simply holding it. 

This has allowed the guitarist to shred insanely fast and even record instructional videos on how to play fast. 

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