STEVE MORSE Explains How Arthritis Diagnosis Made Him Change His Playing Style & Innovate

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For rock and fusion fans, the name Steve Morse evokes awe-inspiring visions of blazing guitar solos, fingers dancing across frets with inhuman speed and precision. But what happens when the hands that wield this musical magic face a formidable opponent – arthritis?

Morse, a legend who’s inspired generations of guitarists like Dream Theater‘s John Petrucci, has grappled with this painful reality for years. His relentless practice, with “10,000 notes a day for decades,” as he recently revealed to Rick Beato, took a toll, leading to the dreaded diagnosis. Yet, this is not a story of defeat, but one of Morse‘s resilience, showcasing his evolution as a guitarist in the face of adversity.

“I practiced about 10,000 notes a day for decades. And my genetic history of arthritis led me to where these bones don’t have the cartilage anymore, and then they get worn away so they’re ‘diseased’ and very painful. But rather than roll over and die, I’m like, ‘No, I still want to play.’ There’s a way to do it. So, what can I do? For the muting, I’m still working on some solutions but up here [headstock]I’ve made a device so that when I’m playing up high… it’s muting it for me.” Morse explained.

Yup, Morse somewhat even became an inventor, crafting such a clever spongy device resembling a fret wrap that sits near the headstock, effortlessly muting unwanted strings: “It’s obviously been done before, but I invented a different way of making the structure and making it more immediate.”

He ditched the wrist-heavy “rocking” motions that exacerbated the pain, opting for a smoother, elbow-driven approach for those electrifying solos. He embraced fingerpicking instead of alternate picking where necessary, showcasing a newfound versatility in his playing.

“I’m very busy switching things around and being mindful of what’s necessary for each tune. I had shooting pains for a long time, but I always thought it was ligaments and tendons that I’d strained earlier. And it had been those injuries, too. I’ve got it all. Whatever you can get from playing for half a century relentlessly. I thought it was soft tissue stuff that would be fixable. A sports doctor looked at it, and he was laughing at me. He said, ‘Why do you have so much arthritis? You’re too young for this.’ He said, ‘Yeah, you got a problem.'”

Morse visited Harvard Medical specialists and they said they could fuse his bones. While he decided not to move forward with such an approach, that conversation gave him an idea: “I thought, ‘I could play that way, I guess,’ and that’s what I chose to do: fuse the bones in my wrist for most of the strenuous stuff.”

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