Five Secret Speed Hacks Every Guitarist Should Know.

Guitar Speed

All guitar players want to play faster. Its easy to feel like we aren’t as fast as the next guy. We constantly critique ourselves; Often times judging ourselves much more harshly than anyone else would.

I believe its a pretty typical characteristic of artists in general. We know what we are capable of achieving, and end up putting undue pressure upon ourselves, thinking it will help us achieve our ultimate potential.

This is NOT a post about guitar exercises!

These days, it takes less than ten seconds to find somebody on YouTube who you think is a faster, better guitarist. The competition is endless, or so it seems. But, the fact that you even are evaluating your playing is a positive thing, and it can be the first step to improving.

There are tons of exercises and tutorials on developing your playing speed, this is not one of them. This post is a collection of “Guitar Hacks” (as I like to call them), that any guitar player can use. It doesn’t matter whether you are a total newb or a seasoned shred veteran.

It’s not about having an expensive guitar!

Implementing these will give you a distinct advantage over the next guy. If you want to shred like a pro, your axe needs to be up to the job. You do not need a $2500 pro model guitar, you just need to set it up like one. No offense to expensive guitars, I love them, but they aren’t the key to achieving your guitar playing goals.

The goal of this post is to eliminate any obstacles to speed on your guitar. The fact is, if you want to get faster quickly, then your guitar needs to be as streamlined and efficient as possible when it comes to its playability. You want it to be YOUR HOT ROD , and its not as difficult as you might think.

So, here are 5 Guitar Speed Hacks Every Guitarist Should Know.

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Guitar Speed Hack #5: A Low-Friction Guitar Neck

One part of playing fast is being able to move up and down the guitar neck as quickly as possible. MANY guitarists don’t pay any attention to this particular detail when buying a guitar. I myself am absolutely guilty of this. Its just an easy detail to overlook when that gem of a guitar catches your eye in Guitar Center. You know exactly what I mean! Some guitars just grab your attention, and you are helpless to put it down. That guitar just has to go home with you, TODAY! (For myself, that guitar was a white Schecter Hellraiser FR w/ EMG’s.) HAD TO HAVE IT!!

You know what? I’m still glad to this day, that I bought that guitar. For years, it has been an absolute motivator to get me playing everyday. For me, it represents everything cool about being a guitar player every time I look at it. That being said, it had a gloss finished neck….which means high friction, especially if your hands tend to sweat when you play. Your hand can’t help but to stick to the back of the neck. I needed a solution.

 

Materials for Guitar Speed Hack #5

-Automotive Paint Scuff Pads and/or 320 Grit Sandpaper

All you need to do is to scuff or lightly sand the back of the guitar neck. Sounds a little barbaric right? You don’t want to do something so rash to your guitar, I get it. But trust me, nobody looks at the back of your guitar neck, not even you.

The clear coat/paint is the real obstacle here. You will absolutely find that the speed benefits of scuffing that gloss finish far outweigh having the perfect cosmetic appearance. Plus, the satin feel of a scuffed/sanded neck make playing even more enjoyable.

You only need to to do a minute’s worth of scuffing or hand sanding to achieve a very efficient satin neck. The difference in feel is night and day! Down the road, if you feel your hand starting to stick again, you just do a handful of strokes with the scuff pad or sandpaper and its back to that smooth satin finish.

 

Things to keep in mind:

-You don’t want a power sander for this, use a soft hand-sanding approach.

– I picked up my scuff pads and sandpaper from the local automotive paint supplier, very cheap.

– Sandpaper grit: the higher the grit number, the smoother the neck will feel. You could use 320, 360, 400, 600, 800, or even 1000. Its up to you.

– This will permanently change a guitar, but if you love your guitar and plan to keep it, thats not a big deal.

– Go slow, scuff a bit, then try out the neck, scuff a bit, try the neck again, etc.

– This can also be done on unpainted/unfinished necks. I sanded the unfinished neck on my G&L Bluesboy.

 

Guitar Speed Hack #4: Experiment with Lighter String Guages

Lets face it, humans are creatures of habit. We like things to be familiar. However, switching to a lighter guitar strings can have a huge payoff off when it comes to speed. I used to play strictly with 11 gauge strings on my Schecter. They were beefy and very well suited to lower tunings. When I started getting into Born of Osiris and The Faceless (really fast metal bands) I decided to drop down a string size.

So I installed 10 gauge guitar strings and saw an immediate boost to my playing speed. Sure I lost a little bit of the low end, but the difference in playability more than made up for it. I’m not alone in this guitar trick either.

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Plenty of professionals like Paul Gilbert and Billy Gibbons are always experimenting with different string gauges. In a GuitarPlayer.com interview Paul Gilbert says: 

“My gauges are changing all the time, because it really depends on the state of my calluses,” Gilbert explains. “If I’m a couple of weeks into a tour and I’ve got some good calluses, if I’ve done a couple sweaty gigs in a row and my calluses have been destroyed, I’ll go as light as .008s, sometimes I’ll got as heavy as .011s. And not only gauge, but for acoustic guitar sometimes i really like to use a plain G.”

When asked about his .008 gauge guitar strings in a GuitarWorld.com  article, Billy Gibbons said this:

I, too, once believed in the heavier gauge string as a superior tone source. However, thanks to the graciousness of B.B. King I learned that a lighter gauge string offers superior playing comfort. Detuning requires some adjustment of attack, approach and feel. Try it. You may like it.”

The really surprising part for me, is that their guitars don’t sound wimpy or thin at all. Would you ever say that Z.Z. Top’s guitar tone comes across as thin or wimpy? HELL NO!

They have some of Rock’s most iconic guitar tones of all time. They still get amazing tone despite using such a light string gauge. There is a lesson to be learned here. So take Billy Gibbons advice, “Try it. You may like it.

 
 

Guitar Speed Hack #3: Try Out Different Types of Guitar Picks

So about a year ago I had to spend alot of time preparing for a solo performance where I would be all alone, improvising a guitar solo in front of a large audience. Have you ever found yourself in that situation?

Anyways, I was trying all sorts of things to really get my playing in shape. One of those things was to experiment with different guitar picks, in terms of rigidity and overall shape.

Break Out of Your Guitar Pick Comfort Zone!

I have for many years used the Jim Dunlop USA NYLON .60mm, and I absolutely still use them for the majority of my playing time. They help me to play with more dynamics and are very forgiving. These .60mm Dunlops are great for heavy metal chugging and speed picking. You can’t go wrong with this classic choice.

However I did find that I could pick more accurately and faster during solos when I switched to a smaller and more rigid pick. The results I got were surprising and taught me the value of getting outside of my comfort zone. I ultimately settled on the Dunlop 423R.60 Tortex Small Tear Drop. It really helped me to play faster and more accurately. They work well.

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Speed Hack #2: Fast Fret / Dunlop Ultraglide

This is probably one of the easier speed hacks in this article and you can implement it right away and see results. When I was playing the guitar for hours at a time during gigs, I found it necessary to conserve energy. A four hour set at 10 o’clock at night is a marathon, not a race. Two products that I absolutely fell in love with were GHS Fast Fret and Dunlop 6582 Ultraglide. They are string lubes/string conditioners. They make sliding up and down the fretboard SOOOOO MUCH EASIER.

I was listening to the “No Guitar Is Safe” podcast recently. I can’t recall the artist right this second, but he mentioned that he is absolutely addicted to guitar string lubes. Just an interesting side note.

Lube Works…Put Some On Your Strings!

Its hard to put into words how much of a difference these make to your neck movement, but I’ll try. Have you ever had to play sliding octave chords quickly, or fast slides up to or down from a note on your guitar?

Of course you have, and a lot of times your fingers are creating too much resistance and you end up missing the note. You know exactly what I mean, its uncomfortable.

So the concept is simple. Add a small amount of string lube/conditioner to the strings, and eliminate the friction. The results are pretty awesome. You can move up and down the fretboard with such ease and speed.

Once you try this stuff you will always want to use it. The other benefit, is that your strings will last alot longer. They prevent rust and corrosion from building up and keep the tone of your strings like new. I can’t say enough about these two string lubes.

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Speed Hack #1: Lower String Action

This may seem a little obvious, but it doesn’t make it any less true. To be efficient in picking, fretting, sweeping, bending, and just general soloing the strings need to be as close to the fretboard as possible without buzzing.

The goal here is to decrease the distance the string must travel before contacting the fret. Think about it. Less travel distance between the string and fret means less time taken to fret a note.

It also means your hand muscles won’t have to work as hard. The higher the string is over the fretboard, the more force it takes to depress the string. The string tension increases the farther it has to travel to contact the fret. You are optimizing two aspects of fretting a note. Travel to fret and force needed to fret a note.

The real trick here is to get the action as low as possible without getting string buzz. A little buzz is acceptable. Especially on electric guitars with relatively straight necks. I have found that the buzz does not get picked up by the amplifier. When this relationship between action and buzz is done correctly, you won’t be able to hear the buzz come through the amplifier.

There are a few parts used to adjust your string action:

1. Truss Rod

2. Bridge

-Height (Saddles or One Piece Bridges)

-Angle (for Floating or Tremolo Bridges)

-Nut (String Height @ 1st fret)

I’ve already published an in depth guide on setting your Guitar String Action. The way you adjust the action differs depending on your style of guitar and bridge. If you have any more questions about it, just shoot me an email at [email protected]

Conclusion:

To conclude, I hope you have found at least a few of these speed hacks to be worthwhile if not interesting. Please give them a try, its always good to get outside your comfort zone and try new things.

My goal here is to use my knowledge and experience to help further you in your guitar playing journey. If you found this helpful or you want more information on setting up your guitar please head over to AxeDr.com and subscribe. Thanks for reading my article.

 

Sincerely,

The Axe Dr.

  • What is a low friction guitar neck?

    A low friction guitar neck has a smooth/satin finish on the back of the guitar neck. It reduces the drag or friction of your skin on the wood of the guitar. This means you can move that much faster up and down the guitar neck.

  • What is String Dope?

    String dope is the slang term used when referring to the lube guitar players use to make their strings slippery. Guitar strings are made of nickel, steel, bronze, etc.

    That means they are prone to corrosion and rust. Those things are the enemy of all guitarists. String lube ensures any existing corrosion or friction is eliminated.

  • Do thinner guitar strings help you play faster?

    They absolutely can help you play faster. Thinner strings means less string tension. That means your fingers don't have to work as hard to depress the strings. Therefore, you spend less time and energy pressing down, and you'll notice the difference right away. Its a common practice in the metal genre to use lighter strings in favor of speed.

  • Does lower string action effect your playing speed?

    Lower action can absolutely make you feel much more comfortable playing fast guitar leads. That alone is a mental edge. When your strings are closer to the frets, your fingers won't need to travel as far to hit the note. Less travel time to fret = faster playing speed.

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