Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The Guitar Gospel of Brilliant Fingerstylist Doyle Dykes

To fingerpickers in the know, it would be a sin to cite superpickers like Tommy Emmanuel, Lenny Breau, Chet Atkins and Merle Travis without including the name Doyle Dykes.

Over the past decades, Dykes has become renowned for his flawless technique, musicality (superior tone, dynamics, feel and taste), heart-wrenching solo guitar compositions (such as the 9/11 tribute “A Call to Freedom”) and creative arrangements (“Wabash Cannonball,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Amazing Grace” and others).

Dykes puts a unique spin on his influences, which include the aforementioned guitarists as well as Jerry Reed, Les Paul, Duane Eddy, the Beatles and more. Armed with a Fred Kelly thumbpick and his Guild signature-model guitar (equipped with an L.R. Baggs LB6 pickup and modified Element preamp), Dykes performs numerous concerts and master classes per year. Check his web site, doyledykes.com, for up-to-date touring info.

Dykes’ fingerpicking fascination surged at age 14, when he witnessed a performer called Barry the Sailor thumb pick a Chet Atkins/Merle Travis–style pattern not unlike that shown in Figure 1 (a passage similar to what Dykes routinely details in his clinics) on an acoustic guitar during a church service. From that day forward, Dykes continuously honed his fingerpicking chops. He eventually developed a pianistic guitar approach, in part, the result of hearing his piano-playing older brother, Aubrey, practice stride and ragtime styles. When playing Figure 1 and the remaining examples in this lesson, apply a light palm mute to the thumb-picked notes while allowing the higher strings to ring freely.

In his early professional years, Dykes was known as a Telecaster player, backing up Hee Haw’s Grandpa Jones, the Stamps Quartet and others. That all changed with the release of his 1996 solo album, Fingerstyle Guitar, a disc oozing with a diversity of acoustic techniques and approaches. FIGURE 2 illustrates a chord-based passage similar to the Hammond B3–style organ riff featured in the tune “Jazz in the Box.” Note the use of thumb-picked downstrokes and upstrokes near the end of bar 1. This longstanding Dykes concert staple also features the guitarist soloing with himself, thumping the open low E string on each beat while plucking out bluesy licks on higher strings, as in Figure 3. This style of playing is often referred to as “dead thumb.”

On Fingerstyle Guitar’s opening cut, Dykes pays homage to another one of his heroes, Duane Eddy, with the barnburner “Twin Six Shooters.” Figure 4 approximates the tune’s low-string melody and chord strums. Use your index and middle fingers to brush the upper strings in a down-up motion between bass melody notes. As “Twin Six Shooters” unfolds, this super-speedy showstopper becomes a virtuoso demonstration of Dykes’ banjo-style picking moves, such as rapid-fire arpeggio rolls, with notes fretted in the middle of the neck while open strings ring in their midst, as in Figure 5. To pick the strings, use either a thumbpick or your bare thumb, in alternation with the index finger, as indicated.

Lastly, you may have noticed that this column’s name has changed from Hole Notes to Acoustic Nation, a switch that reflects Guitar World’s great new web site of the same name. Please be sure to check it out every day at

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A singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/film composer, Musician's Institute instructor, and author of 50+ transcription/instructional books, Dale Turner is also Guitar World's "Hole Notes"/"Acoustic Nation" columnist, and the former West Coast Editor of Guitar One magazine. Some of Dale’s old, weird, rare, and/or exotic instruments are featured in his score for WEEDS, the first animated short completed within the Filmmakers Co-op at Disney Feature Animation. His most recent CD, Mannerisms Magnified, was praised by Guitar Player magazine for its "Smart pop tunes that are crammed with interesting guitar parts and tones ... Like what the Beach Boys might do if they were on an acid trip that was on the verge of getting out of control. Yeah!"