Performance Notes: Acoustic Duos, by Brett Ratner

from Guitar Player magazine

Those familiar with the acoustic duo Trout Fishing in America appreciate their uncanny ability to create a full-bodied ensemble sound. It helps that both members sing and that bassist Keith Grimwood is an experienced and adroit player. But it’s the innovative guitar work of Ezra Idlet that really rounds out the pair’s sound.

Idlet’s approach is a variation on the traditional bluegrass flat-picking style-the key difference being that, in Idlet’s case, all six strings are constantly strummed. “By maintaining a steady eighth-note pattern with my right hand,” he explains, “I can selectively mute strings with my left hand or right palm and let specific strings ring.” Using this technique, Idlet can simultaneously produce a chunka-chunka percussive feel and play chords and melody lines. He’s particularly fond of playing a melody line over droning strings. “Letting certain strings ring can imply another rhythm guitar part,” he says.

In addition, Idlet fattens his acoustic/electric sound with chorus and, occasionally, delay. He suggests players set a delay with approximately 320rms with one slapback. If timed correctly-especially on reggae or Bo Diddley-style patterns-the delay creates a faux percussion part. Limiting the delay to one slapback prevents the sound from going sour when you change chords.

On paper, these techniques sound simple. In reality, they require solid timing and a great deal of precision. If mastered, however, they can add a dimension to the acoustic guitar that goes beyond strumming chords. “Anyone can fill out their sound with a little ingenuity and a few simple tools,” promises Idlet.