Trey Anastasio talks about the magic and power of open string suspensions
When the headmaster of the Phish School says, “The guitar is both the dumbest and most incredible instrument there is,” he’s referring to the neck arrangement in standard tuning. Instead of sounding harmoniously like an open chord, the standard is essentially “closed” and unharmonious.
At least in the keys of E, A, and D, the root note is on a coiled, open string. Incorporating any open string adds resonance and can create tension and suspension. Trey Anastasio calls it a “friction.” He has released a new solo acoustic album, Mercy, and in last month’s Frets feature, Anastasio revealed the depths of his obsession with friction. We scratched the surface towards the end of the interview and recorded the details for this deeper dive.
Anastasio says, “Doing acoustic solo shows is great for revealing where all the fretting notes are on open strings that you may or may not include for a chord in different positions up and down the fretboard, just by the way which you choose.
“You want as many sounds as possible, so you want to include as many open strings as possible. I’ve gotten into the habit of seeking them out doing solo acoustic shows because you get into a mentality that’s like, How can i get more sound from this thing?
To make easy
“A lot of this rubbing is standard vocabulary. I live by a rule laid down by Joe Pass, who is the greatest chord melodic player who ever lived. He said, “Never play anything hard”, and what he meant was “hard to hit”. Why? His theory was that you’re going to practice this and then want to play it, and now you’re not playing music anymore.
“Watch his hands when he’s playing with Ella Fitzgerald. The way he was scoring is amazing. David Rawlings does the same kind of thing with Gillian Welch, and I love doing it too. ‘Arc’ is a great example of that. of Mercy. This song isn’t tough, but it sounds tough. All the work was in there, how can I do this without it being difficult? »
Put it in play, rub it!
“For example, you can get a full G plus fretting by using just two fingers on the 10th position. Put your ring finger on the G root on the 10th fret and your middle finger on the B on the 9th fret of the fourth string. The open G and B are just above on the next two strings, and the high open E is the 6th There is a fretting that you can choose to use or not, either not strumming completely or using the small finger to cut it.
“By the way, drop the little finger on the 10th fret of the first string and you’ve got a full, open G chord. Move it all up a notch, toward F, to find even more interesting frettings to choose from.
“Another good example is when you take a standard open C and slide it all up a notch. Now you have a D with a semitone rub, the F# of the fourth string rubbing against the open floor of the third.
“It’s one of my favorites, and you can hear it on ‘Billy Breathes’ [from Phish’s 1996 album of the same name]. Now raise that C shape another step and a half, up to F, and listen to that string of G rub in the middle. I like this. Scrub galore, scrub all day. Let it rub, brother, let it rub!