Are you a born fingerpicker? I think that I was born a fingerpicker. Maybe because I was never very good at hanging onto a guitar pick. Fortunately, a thumbpick is hard to drop.
My name is Jim Pharis. I've been interested in fingerpicking since I was a kid, in the early '60's.
My first guitar was a 3/4 Silvertone made by that famous guitar maker, Sears and Roebuck. I raised the funds for that one as a 12 year old pushing a lawnmower.
After my parents saw how obsessed I was with it, they bought the next one for me as a Christmas present. It was another Silvertone. This one was full sized and a beautiful sunburst. It was the most beautiful thing that I'd ever seen.
I bought a chord book and started trying to copy records. I was working on things by Sonnie and Brownie, John Fahey and Chet Atkins. It didn't go so well. So I tried lessons.
There was a man in our small town in central Louisiana who had been stationed at the nearby Air Force base. He stayed in the area after retirement and ran a small music store. He was also a HUGE Chet Atkins fan. So I started taking lessons from him.
I wasn't the most talented student but he was able to teach me the basics. How to read music and good left and right hand techniques. I had also started fooling around with an electric guitar.
Of course, I was listening to the rock music of the times. Bands like Led Zeppelin, Cream, and The Grateful Dead. From reading interviews with the players in those bands I became aware of the classic electric blues players.
At the age of 19, I left Louisiana and ended up living in several other city's and states. I was still trying to figure out the guitar. I had also started playing electric bass.
The Austin Years
I lived in Austin,TX from the mid '80's to the mid '90's. I was playing bass in a blues band that was a popular bar band in the area. While it wasn't much of a living it was adequate and I was doing what I wanted to do. Then I had a stroke of incrediblly good luck.
I got fired. Like all bands, there were personality conflicts and I got the axe. Back to the 9-5 world, playing one or two nights a week. That's when I decided that maybe I wasn't a band guy. I got rid of my bass equipment and started focusing once again on solo fingerstyle guitar. I would be the band.
In the mid '90's we ended up moving to Madison,WI. Once again I was lucky. Three weeks after we arrived in Madison my long suffering wife convinced me to go to the doctor. I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease ( a form of cancer). Well, that took a while to get straightened out but it did. It's been 13 years and I'm doing fine. (Thanks for asking).
Here's the good luck part. First, I struck up a friendship with the manager of a local music store. Their specialty is acoustic guitars. Everything from $200 imports to $7,000+ high end models.
I started part time and was eventually able to work full time, selling acoustic guitars. In the 7 years that I worked there my awareness of what makes an excellent guitar was greatly expanded. So was my awareness that simply owning a wonderful guitar doesn't take the place of developing your playing abilities.
Secondly, I learned how to practice and how to learn to play the guitar.
When I went to work for the music store, it was located a couple of blocks from the University Of Wisconsin (it has since moved). We sold a lot of sheet music to the students and professors from the university. Conversations with these customers helped me shape an effective practice routine for myself.
I also realized that the core of playing, was learning how to play. By that I mean beginning to understand how music is organized. Then learning where to find these scales, intervals, triads, etc..on the guitar.
In 2002, we moved back to Louisiana. We wanted to live closer to our immediate family.
The first thing that I had to do after we got settled was find a job. I found work with a guitar manufacturer doing final inspections on finished instruments. I did that for a little over a year. Then, problems in the business led to the lay-off of the manufacturing staff.
That was a mixed blessing. I was working for an innovative company and it did involve guitars. But it wasn't exactly my cup of tea.
I'm much more interested in helping a person get the right guitar for themselves. It's a very rewarding feeling to help someone find their "special" guitar.
So, it was back on the hunt for another job. I quickly found work. This time though, the job had nothing to do with guitars and involved a lot of travel.
I was able to take a guitar with me a lot of the time, and would play in the hotel room at night. Even though I was playing some nearly every day, it still wasn't enough. And with the travel, I was spending 60-70 hours a week on a job. So a change was needed.
I made that change and now have more time to do the things that I'm interested in. One of those things was building a website. Here's how I did it.
So now I'm older and grayer. Hopefully I've become a little wiser too. I'm back in Louisiana, which has always been home. And I'm still working at becoming a better player.
I'm not going to kid you and say that I have all of the answers about how to fingerpick. After all, we all know something but no one knows everything. But I do have some of the answers. I hope that this information helps you in your playing.