R.E.M. is one of the most influential American rock n’ roll bands. In a period that covered more than two decades, R.E.M. went from being the darlings of underground rock to a mainstream rock band that rivaled U2 in popularity. Michael Stipes’ esoteric lyrics blended well with Peter Buck’s retro-folk guitar styling to produce the unique sound that was at the heart of R.E.M.. Buck uses his guitar to create mood and atmosphere rather than to show off virtuoso guitar chops.
Basic Guitar Chords
Buck prefers to use basic major guitar chords such as C, G, A, D, and E and minor chords like Am and Em. Buck likes to play the chords in the first position on the guitar. These chords are played on first three frets. They combine fretted notes with open strings, allowing the chords to resonate and sound fuller. Buck also uses bar chords, like many rock and punk rock guitarists, when the song requires a heavier and more aggressive sound.
Arpeggios Buck's Way
An arpeggio is simply a chord that is played one note at a time. This produces a different sound than striking all of the notes at the same time. Practice all the basic guitar chords as arpeggios. Hold the chord in place as you play all the individual notes. Allowing all the notes to resonate produces a thicker and richer sound. Go back and listen to some of your favorite R.E.M .songs, and you'll hear how Buck uses arpeggios to create the lush sound behind many of the band's songs, including “This One Goes Out to the One I Love.”
Guitar students often worry too much about their fretting hand. They think the hand that frets the notes on the guitar neck is doing most of the work. The truth is that the hand that is striking and plucking the strings is doing equally important, if not more important work. This is particularly true for Buck. His right hand is doing the majority of the work that creates his sound. He plays arpeggios with a combination of picking techniques that include sweeping patterns and alternating picking patterns. Arpeggios can be played with a guitar pick, with the thumb and fingers and with a combination of guitar pick and fingers.
Anyone interested in emulating Buck’s guitar sounds should consider his tools of the trade. Buck’s approach to guitar gear is pretty simple. In the early days his guitar of choice was a Fender Telecaster. He eventually swapped the Telecaster for a Rickenbacker 360, and the semi-hollow bodied Rickenbacker helped Buck to create his unique guitar sound. Fender amps and the Vox AC30 are the amplifiers that Buck uses most of the time. Another secret behind Buck’s tone is the guitar strings. Many rock guitarists use light gauge strings because they are easier to bend and play fast. Buck, on the other hand, tends to use heavier gauge strings Heavier gauges work well for playing chords and arpeggios.
Robert Russell began writing online professionally in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently working on a book project exploring the relationship between art, entertainment and culture. He is the guitar player for the nationally touring cajun/zydeco band Creole Stomp. Russell travels with his laptop and writes many of his articles on the road between gigs.