“Rather than roll over and die, I’m like, ‘No, I still want to play’”: Steve Morse says arthritis diagnosis forced him to change his technique

“I practised about 10,000 notes a day for decades.”

Steve Morse performing live

Credit: Johnny Louis/Getty Images

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Virtuoso Steve Morse has opened up about his struggles with arthritis, and how the condition has forced him to change his guitar playing style and technique.

Speaking with Rick Beato, Morse reveals how his years of intense guitar practice combined with a family history of arthritis have taken their toll.

“I practised 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,” says the guitarist.

“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 [at the headstock] I’ve made a device so that when I’m playing up high… it’s muting it for me.”

As Morse demonstrates, the gadget in question is an Ernie Ball-branded, spongy fret wrap-looking device that sits near the guitar’s headstock.

Asked if the gadget was an original invention, the rocker tells Beato: “It’s obviously been done before, but I invented a different way of making the structure and making it more immediate.”

Mods aside, Morse has also introduced some changes to his technique, including using fingerpicking instead of alternative picking at selected parts (“It doesn’t sound the same,” he says), as well as ditching the wrist-heavy “rocking” movements in favour of a more elbow-driven approach when blazing through those solos.

“I’m very busy switching things around and being mindful of what’s necessary for each tune,” he says. “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 continues: “I went up to Harvard medical, and said ‘Could you guys give me some cartilage?’ and they said ‘No, it’ll be like a tumour if we do – but we could fuse your bones.’ So, that’s what I chose to do – fuse the bones in my wrist for most of the strenuous stuff.”

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