Squeak, squeak, squeak. Finger noise, whether you like it or not is part of the guitar sound. How much or how little is present can be controlled by the player but it is pretty darn difficult to get rid of it all together. It seems like in the past couple of decades that in the classical guitar world, string squeaks are something to be avoided. As a contrast I often see and hear steel string players embrace the sound as part of the guitar experience. I think both points of view have good attributes, however, I side more on the squeakless end of things. I think that it can be disturbing to a musical line, and when a player isn’t mindful of how they shift it can sometimes be a very loud noise.
So you if you want to join the squeakless, read on and we will have a look at a couple of techniques to get rid of them.
The first, and most important technique is actually being aware that the finger noise is there. A lot of players have just tuned out to that squeaky sound and think nothing of it. So, as a self-diagnosis, grab a recording device and have a listen to how noisy you are. The squeaks are going to occur on the bass strings because they are wound, and the callus on the tip of your left hand finger grates against the ribbed surface of the string. It is amazing how much of a reduction there is as soon as a student realizes she is making finger noise, so first port of call is to listen actively.
Lift baby, lift.
Perhaps the simplest way to get around these string squeaks is simply to lift and shift. By lifting the left hand finger you are avoiding the drag along the string. HOWEVER, you have to master the movement of lifting straight up before the shift. If you are shifting upwards and you do indeed lift to avoid string sound you have to do it straight up and not on an angle. The angle happens because you are lifting and shifting at the same time, when in fact they need to be two distinct movements. If they are not two separate movements, then there will still be sound.
The best way I can describe it is like a machine making auto parts. The mechanical arm comes down, welds some metal, rises back up and moves to its next task. It doesn’t rise and move at the same time. Try playing a one octave scale, any scale, on a bass string (fourth, fifth, or sixth string) and focus on making zero finger noise on the shifts. Be very clear about the lift THEN shift.
Sweet pad o’ mine
More of a noise reduction than a noise cancellation, you can help string noise by shifting along the string with soft pad of your finger rather than the callused tip. The tip of your finger is hard because you have been doing oh so many hours of practice, and that tough skin makes a loud noise on the string. If you try and slide the pad of your finger along the string you will notice that it is actually less noisy. So, if you can’t avoid the slide along the string (perhaps you are using the finger as a guide finger) then rotate your finger a bit so that you can shift on the pad rather than the tip.
Not a technique, but definitely an option, you can buy polished strings. These strings have been lightly polished so that the ribbed surface of the string is smoother than normal. These are great for recordings, so you don’t have to edit out so many zips and squeaks. The downside is they are not going to get rid of your squeaks completely; they have a short lifespan for string-killers (those of us who manage to make strings sound dead in a couple of days) and also the cost quite a pretty penny.
So, there really is no excuse for excessive string noise these days, unless you’re into that sort of thing…
Got any tips of your own? Write them in the comments below: