In this video, at 15 seconds he picks the strings somewhere up on the neck. I don't understand what he's doing. Why not just pick down below?
As others have said, it's to get a different tone. The problem is that there is not much difference to be heard. It depends what you listen on though.– chasly - supports MonicaFeb 14, 2021 at 18:28
One reason I've been able to discern is that due to the higher tension closer to the end point of the string, there is less of a plucking sound (attack) because the string doesn't travel as far when plucked. Helps to make the sustained ambience sound I guess. I don't notice any difference in the brightness of the sound though.– IvanFeb 14, 2021 at 22:18
The closer you pluck to the bridge, the brighter the sound. The further you pluck from the bridge, the more mellow (some say darker) the sound. You can also see Clapton using the fleshy part of the finger, not the tip. This also makes for a more mellow sound. So he is using these two techniques to maximise the mellowness/darkness in this part of the song.
I don't believe this is strictly true. And the question isn't about what he uses to pluck, it's where he plucks. And, is plucking that far from the bridge making any difference? Feb 14, 2021 at 15:30
@Tim It makes a whole lot of a difference whether you pluck a string exactly in the middle, or a distance away from there. Why? Because you cannot excite any vibrations that have a knot where you pluck. Now, every second harmonic has a knot right in the middle of the string, and these harmonics are missing from the sound when you pluck there. As such, it's a common technique for rock guitarists to pluck solo parts exactly at the middle of the vibrating string, often reinforced by using the neck pickup and fingering around the 12th fret, also putting the pickup at the middle position. Feb 14, 2021 at 18:14
@cmaster-reinstatemonica - well aware of that. And they're nodes, rather than knots. A knotted string ain't easy to play! But my point is that Eric is not plucking in that particular spot, at any time the OP is concerned about. And, in any case, if that's what he was doing, there are more nodes round about where he was plucking anyway, without moving towards the head. Feb 14, 2021 at 18:19
@Tim Yes, nodes. Sorry, I was lost in translation... I was responding to the question of "is plucking that far from the bridge making any difference" with the most known picking method that is also far from the bridge, and where exact position is very important. After I wrote that comment, I've now looked at the video closely and determined the exact position and sound, and written my insights into a new answer. I hope you like it. Feb 14, 2021 at 18:53
Clapton is plucking over the 11th fret, playing a note on the 5th fret. This is a position where there are virtually no harmonics that have a node at this point (because he's plucking at the
1/sqrt(2) point of the string, which is an irrational number that's relatively far from fractions of small numbers). As such, the sound that he produces contains the entire available spectrum (very natural sound).
He could have produced a very similar sound by playing at the point that's the same distance from the middle of the string but towards the bridge. However, the closer you pluck towards the bridge, the more pronounced the attack becomes (because the harmonics start in a phase that produces the strongest excitations exactly where you pluck), and I guess that he didn't want a strong attack in the sound of that note. This is reinforced by Clapton plucking with the berry of his thumb, which also reduces attack. Additionally, his flesh serves to reduce the high frequencies in the sound that he creates, adding to the soft, quiet character of the note that he's producing.
Guitarists frequently control the exact sound of their instrument by plucking at a certain position. Most obvious is the habit of lead guitarists to pluck at the middle of the vibrating string, and also put that middle of the vibrating string right over the pickup in use. Without overdrive, this tone sounds very clean, flutelike and soft, but with lots of overdrive it gains a lot of power to carry through the sea of noise that the rest of the band is making, while sounding very emotional at the same time. But other positions have their own uses, and I guess each guitarist has their own favorite positions and pickup combinations to produce their own trademark guitar sounds.
If he really wanted to be as far as possible from harmonic nodes, he'd pluck at the 1/(golden ratio) point of the string. But 1/sqrt(2) is a good second best.– MicahFeb 15, 2021 at 2:49
5@Micah The nice thing about
1/sqrt(2)is, that it's precisely and conveniently marked by the 6th fret. And I doubt that Clapton has done the math, he'll just have decided that he liked the sound at that position best. After all, that's the part that really matters. Feb 15, 2021 at 8:23
1For sure! I guess I'm just curious about whether anyone makes a point of plucking 8 1/3 frets up...– MicahFeb 15, 2021 at 19:19
Nitpick: For any given point on the number line, there are arbitrarily close rational and irrational numbers. You want to say the square root of two is far from rationals with low denominators, or something. Feb 15, 2021 at 23:43
It isn't even - it's quite close to 5/7, by a factor of sqrt(.98), so off by barely more than 1%. Feb 16, 2021 at 3:41
Where the string is plucked will make a difference to the tone of that note. Closer to the bridge makes it sound more nasal, less rich.
However, once one goes past the central position of the fretted string, the tone starts to go nasal again. Imagine plucking over fret 17 while fretting fret 5. That sound will be the 'richest', as it's being plucked at the middle point of the sounding string length.
Now, if you pluck, say, 4 frets towards the head, or 4 frets towards the body, it will sound subtly different from fret 17, but over fret 13 and fret 21, (call it 2 or 3 inches either side of fret 17) it should sound the same. I certainly can't hear a difference.
That said, there is a difference quite close to each node. Plucking close to the fret (an inch or so) on a fretted note gives a different tone from plucking the same distance from the bridge, but that's not really what he's doing.
I thought it may have been a ploy to create a harmonic, but that didn't happen.
1Actually, what you call "rich sound" is the sound that's missing the most harmonics. And, yes, you can hear the difference between plucking in the middle of the vibrating string and plucking four frets away from it. When I want to play that flute like sound, I wouldn't move any further away from plucking the middle than about two frets. Feb 14, 2021 at 18:22
@cmaster-reinstatemonica - so, to my point. Are you stating that 4 frets to either side makes a difference? And it does look like Eric is a lot more than your 2, or even 4 frets away. Feb 14, 2021 at 18:31
Yes, I do. Actually I've just tried it: I can differentiate the sound of plucking at the 5th fret, the 6th fret, and the 7th fret. Clapton is using the 6th fret, which gives the most natural sound. Plucking at the 7th fret suppresses every third harmonic, and plucking at the 5th fret suppresses every fourth harmonic. Plucking at the 6th fret suppresses none. Feb 14, 2021 at 18:58
Just one of many ways to play. We Montgomery often picked like that with his thumb. Generally, as other answers point out, the closer you play to the bridge the brighter the tone. This is because you excite a large number of high frequency harmonics of the string. The closer you pluck to the mid point of the string the warmer the tone. The guitar is an extremely versatile instrument in terms of attack and the variety of tone you can generate.
1But - when you pluck past the mid-point - more towards the fretting finger, what happens? I hear no difference in the video. Do you? Feb 14, 2021 at 13:27
Several other answers explain things very well, but no one so far said the following, which I believe would be very useful to many:
Try it out for yourself!
Try it on electric, acoustic, and classical guitars.
Try picking the strings all the way from the bridge to the fretting finger, and see how the sound changes.
Try with the pick, with the fingertips, with the nails.
Also, do that on different instruments, and discover how each instrument has its own unique sounds -- who knows, perhaps that particular guitar that Clapton was playing at that time had a particularly sweet sound for that particular note, played in that particular way, and he was taking advantage of that.
In short: familiarize with all the possible sounds that you can get out of an instrument.
The more you do that, the more you will get an all-round sense for the full range of possibilities of the instrument, and when you will see other people doing different things, much more often than not you will know why they are doing it. And most importantly, you'll have a much richer palette of techniques at your disposal when you play.
All are possible. I'm listening on quality cans, and can't hear any difference in tone. Feb 16, 2021 at 8:03