Guitar Selection and Set Up for the Freddie Green Sound
Type of Guitar:
The preferred guitar is a non-cutaway archtop with a thickness of 3 inches
or more. The best are guitars made in the 1930's and 1940's by Stromberg,
Epiphone, Gibson, and D'Angelico. Unfortunately, guitars of this type
are very expensive. Even new archtop guitars are quite expensive.
The second best choice is a non-cutaway flat-top guitar. Though not usually
associated with big band playing, a loud flat-top guitar is preferable
to any amplified thin-line guitar or solid body guitar built for rock
'n' roll. The Freddie Green sound can only be obtained by using a guitar
that is acoustically loud. If more volume is needed, amplify the guitar
by using a high quality condenser microphone, not by using a pickup on
Use heavy gauge phosphor bronze strings. A typical set has a low E string
of .060" diameter and a high E string of .014" diameter. The
D'Addario Company is a good source for this type of string set (http://www.daddario.com).
Action is the distance from the strings to the frets. Set the action as
high as your left hand strength will allow. The higher the action, the
harder you can strike the strings without fret buzz. This will produce
more volume and let the guitar cut through the band. Typical "high"
action will allow three stacked U.S. one cent coins (pennies) to be placed
between the 12th fret and the low E string. This is about 5 millimeters
Note: As the years passed, Freddie Green kept raising the action on his
guitar and eventually it was at least 10 millimeters at the 12th fret!
Can't believe it? Look at some of the photos at www.freddiegreen.org that
show Freddie playing.
Pick or Plectrum:
The type of pick employed can make a noticeable difference in the guitar's
sound. Use a heavy gauge pick. A thick pick will produce a loud, fat sound.
Thinner picks will not be as loud and will produce an unwanted "click".
I use the Ultem pick by Steve Clayton with a thickness of 0.94 millimeter.
It produces a brighter sound than the typical plastic pick. http://www.steveclayton.com/pick.html
This article is based on personal experience and years of experimentation.
My big band guitar is a 1947 Epiphone Emperor. The strings, action, and
picks described above provide a timbre that is very similar to that of
Michael Pettersen September 2001