Dispelling Myths about Freddie Green's Playing Technique

The brief article illustrates how Freddie Green myths are perpetuated by well-meaning publications. To correct the errors in the article below:

1) Freddie always used a pick (plectrum).

2) No research exists to prove that Freddie ever had a nickname of "The Claw".

Michael Pettersen
April 2005

Source: Acoustic Guitar Magazine #34
Date: October 1995
Page: 109

Question: What kind of strings did Freddie Green use to get his sound in the golden days of swing bands?

Answer: Freddie Green played archtop rhythm guitar as a sideman in Count Basie's orchestra for 50 years until he died in 1987. His unique sound was characterized by the hard chunking of chords on a huge 19-inch-wide archtop without a plectrum. He picked with his thumb and forefinger pressed together, making partial use of his thumbnail, which perhaps gave rise to one of his nicknames, the Claw.

[Editor's note: This myth of Freddie not using a plectrum may be based on 1950's advertisement photos from Gretsch Guitar that show him posing with the guitar but without a pick.]

This technique, in combination with the way that Green held the guitar (virtually flat on his lap with the neck raised up at a shallow angle) allowed him to voice the chords he played predominantly on the four bass strings, creating a deep, full sound. He also set his guitar up with heavy-gauge strings positioned very high over the fingerboard. His special sound was thus created by the way he strung, held, and played his unusually large guitar.

[Editor's note: The moral of this story: don't believe everything you read, even in a reputable publication like Acoustic Guitar Magazine.]

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