The left hand thumb:

Discussion of history's greatest guitar player.

The left hand thumb:

Postby Joey Bowie » Tue Apr 09, 2013 9:23 am

I've noticed that most people who play Chet's style really well have large hands with long thumbs. Some of the chords that Merle Travis played using his thumb to cover the 5th and 6th strings are almost downright impossible for me to make and I've been playing guitar all my life. I've noticed that not only Chet and Paul could make these chords with ease, but also Porter Wagner and Bobby Bare. This is because they all had large hands and were able to do it after they watched others do it back when they were first learning. Not many played this style in my area that I knew of who used their left hand thumb except one guy I met years ago who played Travis Style, which leads me to and interesting idea I've been kicking around for a short time.

Years ago some company came out with a special lubricated left hand glove for Chet to try out. As a matter of fact, someone at work gave me one many years ago and I recently put it away in a different place and can't seem to find it right now. I only used it a couple of times and stuck it back in the package and laid it on some books in my book case.

At any rate, why can't someone come up with a left hand thumb extension to enable guitar players to bar the 5th and 6th strings like Chet and Merle did? It could be very similar to the fake thumb that the magicians used to hide thin handkerchiefs for their act.

As a sail boater for many years, I've probably made over thirty modifications to my 1986 O'Day 222, "Trinkka" and this is the first time I've ever come up with an idea of this nature that has to do with playing fingerstyle guitar.

I've watch some of these guys playing Chet's style for years and the ones who can do it well have one thing in common, they have large hands. Frankly, I'm green with envy.
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Re: The left hand thumb:

Postby Roger Pratt » Tue Apr 09, 2013 11:18 am

Joey......I have small hands and can get the 5 & 6 strings when i need to. It takes practice like anything else you do. I've seen pickers use barre chords and still play great Travis and Chet style. Practice Practice Practice!!
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Re: The left hand thumb:

Postby Art Sims » Tue Apr 09, 2013 12:25 pm

I too have limits with my hands, can’t reach nearly as far as other players do, nor do I have the hand strength needed for chord forms others use, or the speed. These issues only get worse with age. But I love trying to play, and long ago, the route I chose was to seek substitute fingerings. I realized, way back, you don’t have to be great among guitar players, don’t have to be fast and do all the tricks, to make good sounding, enjoyable music on the guitar because the guitar itself makes beautiful sounds. Smooth melodies with good sounding chords satisfy my ear pretty well, with maybe just a few tricks here or there so long as they don’t demand much of the hands. I’ve learned that in most songs easier fingerings can indeed be found.

Good luck with your search for a thumb device. I can’t really picture how that could work but I would think anything that provides an advantage to playing efforts is worth considering.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGLs-Kr6Y-U
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Re: The left hand thumb:

Postby stevek » Tue Apr 09, 2013 1:44 pm

Hi Art,

Very well said about fingering substitutions. By the way, what type of thumbpick do you use?

Thanks,

Steve
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Re: The left hand thumb:

Postby John Trahan » Tue Apr 09, 2013 2:11 pm

Art,
That was really nice. Thanks for sharing. Appreciate your talent and song selection.
I too am short of thumb and stretch and my age is not helping any either! ;)
Blessings!

John T.
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Re: The left hand thumb:

Postby Ken Stowell » Tue Apr 09, 2013 9:53 pm

I really enjoyed that tune Art, very nice and smooth.....you are getting excellent sound with what you are using
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Re: The left hand thumb:

Postby Joey Bowie » Tue Apr 09, 2013 10:00 pm

Great playing Art! I really enjoyed that. The words to that song are so true.
I agree with you on substitute fingering. Years ago when I leaned "Heartaches" the way Chet played it on the record. I developed a substitute fingering for Chet's intro and although the fingering looks strange, it has served me well through the years. Of course, I'll never play that song as well as he did.

Roger,
A couple of years ago I tried to finger the chords like Travis and my left hand ached for weeks. Being in my 60s don't help either. I have three guitars. A Harmony H-166, a Gretsch 5120 and an old Gibson LG-0. I have the Harmony and Gibson strong with nylon but the Gibson has a thinner neck than the other two guitars and I can almost make those chords on that guitar.

The only reason I threw that idea out there about the fake thumb is to try and get someone to pick up on it and experiment. You never know. You may see one out on the market some day.
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Re: The left hand thumb:

Postby Art Sims » Wed Apr 10, 2013 10:17 am

Steve,
I sent you a link about my thumbpick. Glad you concur about substitutions. I’ve seen where some teachers, particularly classical guitar teachers, insist upon certain fingerings, which to me has never made sense, except for beginner students. I want to play as well as my hands are capable and it’s evident to me that fingerings, along with guitar set-up, are at the top of the list where playability is concerned. To me, one size fits all just isn’t reasonable in this matter.

John
Thanks for your encouraging remarks both here and at Youtube. Age is indeed against us in our fingerings. Blessings to you too!

Ken,
Thanks for that. Glad you like the sound. I'm playing a Riviera in that clip that I bought new back in 1964.

Joey,
That song is indeed full of meaning.
The reason I gave the link was to display the simple fingerings used. No stretching, nothing more even than three frets, only a small bar with the ring finger just a couple of times, most notes played with the tips of the fingers, lots of open strings. It’s really easy on the hands, which is what I need, and is what I’ve been focused upon for a long time.
Best,
Art Sims
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Re: The left hand thumb:

Postby EddieP » Wed Apr 10, 2013 10:35 am

For guys like me that don't have real long fingers and big hands I first recommend getting a smaller neck guitar. I use a inch and 11/16th wide nut in most of my guitars. Then you must change your approach on the neck. Instead of coming at the neck with a classical approach like you'd use to make bar chords start with your thumb hangind over the topside of the neck. It's sort of like how you would hold a rake handle. Those big chords are called choke chords because you really choking the neck of the guitar. And practice using them and they get easier. But unless your like Chet or Paul Yandell don't expect to be playing a bar chord and use that same position to reach over and get a c hoke chord. Eddie P
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Re: The left hand thumb:

Postby Roger Hardin » Wed Apr 10, 2013 2:34 pm

Roger Pratt wrote:Joey......I have small hands and can get the 5 & 6 strings when i need to. It takes practice like anything else you do. I've seen pickers use barre chords and still play great Travis and Chet style. Practice Practice Practice!!


Roger that Roger. I have small hands and stretching the thumb to choke a few strings is one of the easier moves. I have more trouble stretching the 4th finger of my LH. I also like to stay away from Bars. This prevents my notes from sounding slurred.
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