Pete Sears: Far-Out Fingerstyle

PETE SEARS’ 50-YEAR CAREER CONNECTS British folk, blues, and psychedelic rock with sister San Francisco sounds.
By Jimmy Leslie ,


PETE SEARS’ 50-YEAR CAREER CONNECTS British folk, blues, and psychedelic rock with sister San Francisco sounds. Keyboard and bass-session work for Rod Stewart and tours with Long John Baldry prompted Sears to join Jefferson Starship and Hot Tuna, and led to collaborations with John Lee Hooker. Sears is currently a member of psychedelic torchbearers Moonalice and the David Nelson Band, a.k.a. New Riders Of The Purple Sage. Sears’ sound has ranged from bright and aggressive with Jefferson Starship (think of “Stranger”) to the mellower, flatwound sound he favors in Moonalice. Similarly, his technique ranges from extremely simple to rather complex. His far-out fingerstyle becomes a furious blur of motion when he truly takes off .

Do you use all four fingers on your plucking hand, and are you incorporating upstrokes as well as downstrokes?

It may appear otherwise, but I play downstrokes using my first three fingers for the most part. For simple songs, I use only my index finger for more of an upright aesthetic. I incorporate my middle finger when I feel the need for more notes and add my ring finger to the equation to for faster passages. In those circumstances I lead with my ring finger, so it’s 3–2–1 [ring , middle, index]. My pinkie might sneak in occasionally or come along for a ride with the 3rd finger.

Some loser stole Pete Sears’ custom Doug Erwin bass, and his ’63 Fender Jazz, when a riot broke out before a Jefferson Starship gig in Germany in 1978. He’s still trying to locate them. 
What rhythmic influences helped shape your plucking style?

Sometimes I incorporate tabla rhythms that I picked up back in 1967 when I played in a band called Sam Gopal Dream, which featured a brilliant raga guitar player named Mick Hutchinson and an Indian tabla player, Sam Gopal. I’d learn his tabla rhythms and use my three-finger technique to match his playing. For example, I might play the root tone of the raga along with the low-pitched drum [bayan], and then hit the octave above along with the high-pitched drum [dayan].

Plucking over the neck adds an extra percussive element, and you can incorporate slapping & tapping up and down the strings to get various harmonics to ring out over the top. If you bend a fretted note once in a while, you can emulate the sound a tabla player makes when he pushes down on the lowpitched drum’s head.

That’s an intriguing technique, and it’s fun to watch.

Bass is a concept—a way of thinking where you and the drummer become one. In that case, the drummer was a tabla player and it led to all kinds of interesting things. We shared bills with Pink Floyd and Fairport Convention. Jimi Hendrix sat in with us. We got a raga going with him, and he started sliding his guitar back and forth across the mic stand—now that was fun!



Moonalice, Solo The Long Haul [33rd Street, 2001]; Latest gig downloads at


Bass Modulus Genesis VJ
Rig Ampeg SVT head and SVT-810 cabinet
Strings GHS M3050 Stainless Steel Precision Flatwounds (.045–.105) or D’Addario EXL165 Nickel Wounds (.045–105.)