Nine Pound Hammer
Nine Pound Hammer is the fifth track on Tony Rice's eponymous album Manzanita. This album comes off the heels of Rice's involvement with the David Grisman quintet and is the first fully credited Tony Rice Unit album. Long considered to be one of the best examples of "New Acoustic Music," this album contains bluegrass standards along with Rice's forays into the jazz influenced compositions of the 1980s. The solo contains many concepts that are beneficial for guitarists to study since many phrases throughout the solo become the standard lexicon for the modern bluegrass guitarist.
Rice begins the solo by hammering onto the 5th, though not the melody note for the vocal. This works because of Rice's unnerving sense of time and phrasing. Shortly thereafter, in measure 2, Rice begins a descent down the A minor pentatonic blues scale (A, C, D, Eb, E, G). Measure 3 contains a device commonly used by Rice, which is the b3 to 3 hammer-on motif. Like many blues/jazz players, Rice moves between the b3 and the 3 by moving between these notes consecutively in his line, using hammer-ons or slides. This effect of this maneuver is that it blurs the line between major and minor, which is a hallmark of blues improvisation.
Also in measure 3, Rice anticipates the upcoming D chord by a beat. The use of anticipation gives a sense of acceleration and excitement as we head into the proper D chord in the next measure. Although Rice no doubt does this on an intuitive level, it is a concept worth practicing, as many jazz and bluegrass greats (i.e. Louis Armstrong, Bill Monroe) use this concept throughout their improvisational careers.
Measure 8 contains another trademark Riceism, which is his patented G-run. This run is unique by its use of displaced 16th at the start of its run, culminating with the open A a measure later. It is worth mentioning that the last note of a G-run should be played as a rest stroke to give it power and definition. This run references Clarence White's influence upon Rice. Clarence White has used this exact lick many times. Also worthy of note, this exact sequence of notes appears in measure 16, as the penultimate phrase in the solo.
Starting in measure 10 is one of my favorite Rice devices- the descending 4 note motif off of the A blues scale (A, C, D, Eb, E, G). The phrase starts with a patented b5 to 4 pull-off, culminating in a descending 4 note phrase. Measure 11 contains the same descending phrase, starting on the b3 then the root. These ideas are good to practice as they contain many position shifts and require good technique insofar as the ability to move quickly along the fretboard.
Measures 13-14 contains what is probably the most complex maneuver of the solo. In these sequences of notes, Rice utilizes a partial hemiola, commonly referred to as a "3 against 4" rhythm. In these series of notes there is a 3 note motif phrased in eighth notes, spanning the 2 measures. The genius of Rice's playing is that he uses pull-offs and open strings to make this phrase series infinitely more playable. Again, this type of phrasing occurs seemingly naturally to Rice as a consequence of decades of experience playing.
Nine Pound Hammer's solo clocks out at 250 bpm (quarter note). At this speed it will be a challenge for any intermediate player. Rice's picking style is a study into itself, as unlike most modern players, he does not use strict alternate picking. Rice does not concern himself with pick strokes, but envisions the phrase as a whole and uses whatever picking method he can to get the sound that he hears in his head. That being said, experiment with different pick strokes on certain lines. I tend to play consecutive downstrokes or upstrokes anytime there are descending or ascending fourth intervals (this is from carefully observing Rice's right hand).
Good luck to you- this is a great solo for your flatpicking repertoire. Email me with questions.
Andy Novara 2015