4 Tips to Clean Up Your Distorted Guitar Playing

By Janez Janežič

Do you play an electric guitar, but somehow can't make it sound good with distortion?

Playing the guitar clean and playing it with distortion are two different sports.

On the clean channel or acoustic guitar, you don't have to watch out or the rung-out strings. Most of the time you can't even hear it, and it may even sound better, when the notes bleed together (ring out together).

Adding distortion on your sound, well that's a different story. You can hear every minute mistake you make, and every string that rings open unwanted, makes your playing sound terrible.

And we have to protect ourselves against that.

Having all of these “safety mechanisms” in place will enable you to better express yourself on your instrument, while sounding good, clean and professional.

Here are a few techniques you can use to clean up your playing.

1. Thumb muting

Thumb muting, simply means that you can use the thumb of your picking hand to mute the lower strings (»lower« meaning »lower in pitch«).

To do that you have to hold the pick correctly between your index finger and the thumb, and make sure the tip of the thumb is not bent outwards like a banana, but slightly bent inwards, like it is when you relax the finger.

Also, make sure your hand and the thumb rest on the lowers strings and therefore not touching the higher strings.

2. Fretting hand muting

To mute higher strings (higher in pitch), you can bend the fingers of your fretting hand slightly, so you can touch them.

I mostly use the first finger to mute all of the strings, but other fingers can also help you. The more, the better.

You can also use the tip of the fretting finger to mute the next lower string. This will help out the picking-hand thumb that is already in place.

3. Other picking-hand fingers

For extra safety, you can use the rest of your picking hand fingers (middle, ring and pinky) to mute the higher G, B and E strings, by resting them there. This comes in handy, if you are playing longer notes on lower-in-pitch strings.

4. Resting the pick

You can also use the pick to mute the adjacent strings, when you aggressively bend the strings or vibrate them. You rest the pick on the lower-in-pitch string and use the rest of the picking hand fingers to mute the higher-in-pitch strings.

This will create a trench for that one string you want to play, with all other strings safely muted.

You can now practice these techniques one at a time by playing the same exercises you already know. Just pick one today, and focus on it for the next 5 minutes. Then you can either change the focus, or practice something else and come back another day to work on a different technique.

I wouldn’t recommend spending weeks on perfecting just one of them, but to rotate between focusing on each, and slowly incorporating them into your practicing routine.

About The Author

Janez Janežič owns one of the best guitar schools in Novo mesto, Slovenia. He is committed to helping his students become the best guitar players they can be. If you are interested in learning from him locally, feel free to contact him.