Working with a new acoustic partner I’ve learned that, despite all my years of playing and, in my view, perfecting my playing, I’ve missed something. Strumming the acoustic guitar is indeed an art much different than strumming an electric.
With an electric you have instant power at the twist of a knob or flip of a switch. With an acoustic you have instant chaos strumming too hard and banging away at chords. The acoustic encompasses a subtle delicate feel, even when played with powerful intentions.
Listen to the late, incomparable Michael Hedges, who mastered the dynamics, harmonics and color of the acoustic steel string guitar. Hedges truly exuded the power of dual humbuckers and a Marshall stack all with his simple solo acoustic guitar.
I only saw Hedges play live once, and was not close enough to see, but I heard the results of his unique wrist action, tasteful string slaps and careful hand mutes that painted his extraordinary aural portraits.
The title of Aerial Boundaries, one of my favorite Hedges recordings, says it all. Hedges used space to create boundaries in his music, giving it strong imagery like an world-class artist would his canvas.
So, all those great acooustic strummers, from the Everly Brothers to the Goo Goo Dolls, deserve credit for their subtle artistry. They may not have the flash of a Hendrix or a Clapton, but the right approach to acoustic strumming adds invaluable depth, body and color to many of the greatest songs.