Elements of gypsy picking in jazz and rock

DaseinDasein New
edited August 2009 in Gypsy Picking Posts: 2
Let me preface this by saying that I am not a gypsy jazz player. I love listening to it, but I tend to play straight ahead on electrics. That said, I read "Gypsy Picking" when researching different picking techniques. There's a lot of similarities between gypsy picking and certain techniques used by jazz (and the occasional rock) players.

One of the players I've looked at his George Benson. His picking technique is phenomenal.

I'm sure some of you remember Tuck Andress' article:

This his analysis of Benson's picking style:
"For a normal human, the pick is held between the tip of the thumb and the flat, or pad, of the index finger; the middle finger can also rest next to the index finger. The first joint of the thumb must be locked in fully open position, and the first and second joints of the index finger must be arched and locked. (George's thumb bends back so much at his first joint that he can grip between the flat of his thumb and the flat of his index finger, but this is rare. The exact point where the pick makes contact in the range between the tip and the pad of the thumb varies from hand to hand.) This causes the pick to be rotated about 90 degrees counterclockwise from the standard style, viewing the guitar as described above. Depending on the stance (see below), the other fingers can be splayed out over the fingerboard or curled up toward the palm."

This is a little bit different from gypsy picking, but it still has two of its fundamental precepts: holding the pick in a way as to minimize tension, and having the pick at an angle.

I've also talked to Richie Hart, one of Benson's best friends and a great jazz player in his own right.

He agreed with Tuck Andress' assessment, but he added two things:

-when playing a down stroke, the pick always lets the next string down stop it (similar to a rest stroke in classical playing)
-when switching strings, he always uses a downstroke, unless it's an upstroke sweep

Put those together, and you have a set of techniques that are very close to gypsy picking.

I can see the benefits of rest-stroke picking, but I cannot for the life of me see how you can use a downstroke every time when switching strings. The amount of cross-string picking in jazz makes it seem like more trouble than it's worth.

As a side note, I've noticed the "bendy thumb" that Andress described in other players. You can see it here in fusion player Shawn Lane's right hand:

This seems pretty similar to how Shawn Lane picks. You can see his thumb bends pretty far back in this video: ... re=related

And here he is at a clinic where he mentions how much his pick is angled. Sounds like he doesn't use reststrokes, though:

So all this leads to some unanswered questions.

Does George Benson really use strict gypsy picking, or only certain elements of it?
Is gypsy picking really a viable model for bebop or rock?

I know that Bireli Lagrene uses gypsy picking when playing acoustic. What about when he plays electric? His straight-ahead jazz playing is pretty phenomenal, but I wonder what picking model he's using?

Anyone with any insights, please chime in. Thanks for reading all this, and sorry for the novel.


  • babsycobabsyco New
    Posts: 10
    wow-that was great man. I don't have any answers, but that's very interesting about Benson. I'll be watching this thread closely to see if anyone out there knows the answers.
  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,161
    benson uses a different kind of picking technique that is his own... interestingly enough, i've noticed that a lot of black jazz/RnB guitarists use this technique as well.... Does anyone know who started it? did they all copy benson?

    I'm in an airport now with limited internt access, but I would have loved to share videos of at least 5 different players using this technique...
  • BluesBop HarryBluesBop Harry Mexico city, MexicoVirtuoso
    Posts: 1,379
    Hey Denis could you post those videos?
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