Do Some Players Think So?
I’ve always used my left-hand pinky while at the same time being acutely aware that many of the great players don’t – or not much. I’m talking riffing and soloing, not chording, obviously.
As a kid coming of age in the start-of-shredding ’80s, I always figured that the relative lack of pinky use by the “older” guys I liked or had seen – Skynyrd, Rickey Medlocke, Ace Frehley, Jimmy Page, etc. – was due to a lack of exposure to what the pinky could do in the hands of a fast, young gun (EVH, Randy Rhoads, George Lynch and everyone who came after them). Or maybe the non-pinky-users were…lazy?
I also figured that I had to use my pinky, aka “fourth finger,” because I had smaller hands than, say, Hendrix and EVH, who despite sometimes using his pinky seemed to avoid using it most of the time.
Yet I’ve always found using my pinky somewhat awkward. It’s never really done what I wanted it to do, and it’s never done the things it can do as well as it should. Seemed like I just wasn’t blessed with the hands of a great player.
BUT then I was watching a video (below, at 1:55) of Joe Bonamassa at Guitar Center, and someone in the audience asked him whether it was okay to switch from using a pinky to not using it. Joe first uses Django Reinhardt as an example, and then says: “I’ve seen guys who use [a pinky] sound very soul-less.
He says, “I bend, and it’s hard to bend with the little finger.”
Then he plays a little, trying to figure out what he uses it for, and says: “I use it for chords a lot, [then he plays a little more] and for my half-assed Eric Johnson impression.”
Then there’s Robben Ford, who uses his pinky “backed up” by his third finger. I’m not a Robben Ford expert, but it seems this unconventional fingering technique has contributed to his unique style and tone.
Even shredder Reb Beach (Winger, Whitesnake) doesn’t use his pinky much. Then again, there are players like George Lynch who do: George has called his pinky his “secret weapon.”
Anyhow, all of this got me thinking: Could big-time players be avoiding the pinky because it doesn’t sound good? And if so, should I be doing the same thing?
So I tried it. It’s tough to change anything after 30 years of playing, but what I’ve found is that using the third instead of the fourth finger can sound better, and can even feel better sometimes. It feels uncomfortable and weird around 5th fret territory, but as you would imagine, when the frets get closer together it’s not as bad.
By “feel better,” I mean it just gives more of the note and more confidence, as we all know, compared to the pinky. Now the trick will be to train the brain to do it more often, and see if the tendons and whatnot between the second and fourth fingers will stretch a bit.
> EVH at first resisted using his pinky, and I believe it was his brother Alex who told him to try it. Ed also said this, though: “I was so used to doing old blues licks with the first three fingers. When I started using my pinky and finding more spread things, that’s when I started getting my own style.” (Source: Guitar Classics XI, Guitar Presents #27, 1995.)
> I’m pretty sure Angus Young doesn’t use his pinky much either. Since he’s supposedly 5′ 2″ tall, I don’t think small hands can be an excuse for anyone.
> Don’t neglect your thumb, a la Hendrix. The older I get, the more I use it.