Right-Hand Muting Without a Thumbpick

Posted on Posted in Stories, Tips from Mark

Several people have asked recently how I mute the bass strings without the aid of a thumbpick, as heard in my tune “Easy Virtue,” which we published recently in the 30th Anniversary Edition of Art of Solo Fingerpicking. Video. I learned this approach from the late, great John Renbourn, who picked with skin and nails (glued on ping-pong balls, actually!) – no picks.

Above is a bird’s-eye-view photo of my right hand for the section of the tune that mutes the bass strings. From my normal “classical” picking-hand position (high wrist; palm parallel to the top; nothing resting on the top, bridge or strings) I turn my forearm a bit so that the side of my palm near the base rests on the saddle, touching the three bass strings. I will move my hand/forearm slightly parallel to the strings depending on how much mute I want. 

The main knuckle of my thumb is up in the air so that my thumb has a good attack angle toward the bass strings. My thumb is NOT parallel to the bass strings like most players who wear a thumb pick. I pick the other sections of “EV” with my normal hand position – no picking-hand muting.

With this muting hand position, my little finger rests on the top of the guitar and lightly touches the treble string. This hand position limits the attack angle of my ring finger, which I use liberally, since I like four-note chords. 

In the muting passage of “EV” when I pick the first string with my ring finger my hand lifts slightly so that my little finger comes off the top and the first string, and gives my ring finger a good enough attack angle to produce a rich tone. When the melody returns to the lower strings my hand returns to its muting position, with the little finger touching the first string and resting on the top.

Give this a try to imitate the ‘Chet’ sound without using a thumbpick.

© 2019 Accent On Music LLC & Mark D. Hanson.




One thought on “Right-Hand Muting Without a Thumbpick

  1. Hi Mark, I really enjoy your playing. I do have a question. Are you playing with acrylic nails?
    I use my natural nails with my nylon string guitar. However, I love the tone and sustain from my Collings steel string guitar but find that the steel strings chew up my nails. Acrylic nails seem to be high maintenance and my understanding is they are not good for your natural nails.
    Any suggestions?
    Thank you!
    Steve from Baltimore, MD

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