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The Incomparable Ted Greene

Here in my home town of Los Angeles, the term “genius” is generally conferred upon anybody who makes $25 million a year.  But there is unwavering consensus among top-level guitarists, including Lee Ritenour, Steve Vai and Larry Carlton, that Ted Greene (1946 – 2005) was a genius of the highest order.

Ted was an unparalleled master of solo guitar, often playing the melody, chordal accompaniment and bass lines simultaneously in a manner that leaves the listener agape with awe.  Notwithstanding that his virtuosity enabled him to effortlessly perform technical feats that other guitar masters find damn near impossible, Ted was particularly adept at homing in on a tune’s essential harmonic underpinnings.  I’m convinced that whatever embellishments Ted added to a tune were so organically derived from the tune’s fundamental harmonic structure that the composer would probably have proclaimed Ted’s interpretation a definitive rendition of his song.

Ted’s use of harmonics (Ted referred to them as “chimes”) is one of the most aurally alluring elements of Ted’s amazing bag of tricks.  Interleaving octave harmonics with the natural string tones, Ted achieves a harp-like effect that captivates even the most musically illiterate listeners.  All guitarists know that when playing a harmonic on the guitar if you’re one sixty-fourth of an inch off all you get is a dull thud, making Ted’s impeccable accuracy and fluidity all the more astonishing.  I’ve been trying for years to imitate Ted’s use of harmonics, eventually resigning myself to a Cliff Notes version.

Ted was shy and reclusive, performing seldom and devoting most of his time to teaching.  After having spent years intermittently studying his book, “Chord Chemistry,” in which Ted spews out hundreds of voicings for virtually every chord known to man, I finally called Ted up in early 2005 and started taking lessons from him.  After having taught for over 35 years, he still charged only $25 an hour, wanting as many students of possible to share his insights.  A few months later I showed up for my lesson, only to find out that Ted had died of a heart attack at the age of 58.

For guitarists who want to explore Ted’s music but lack the ear (and patience) to decipher his recorded music, there’s a website called Lick By Neck ( which has a unique visual tool consisting of a graphic representation of chords and notes being played on a fretboard, accompanied by a tablature notation.  One helpful feature is that you can step forward or backward through a song.  Some of the fingerings are approximations, and some of the chord notations are less than logical, but this is a great way to get a handle on Ted’s work.

Ted made a grand total of one album, “Solo Guitar,” recorded in 1977.  The album was recorded live, with no overdubbing, and even listeners utterly ignorant of the mechanics of the guitar will find it hard to believe that there aren’t two, or even three, guitars playing simultaneously.  A digitally remastered version of “Solo Guitar” is available from Art of Life Records (

There’s a website devoted to Ted’s life and work (,

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