Let's take a look at how a few famous pro guitarists execute 3-string sweep arpeggios. We'll compare the techniques of Rusty Cooley, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Andy James. Players tend to stick to one sweep picking style for their entire musical careers without even considering alternatives. It is my hope that this article will open your eyes to the other methods of sweeping. I wish you great success with them!
Method #1: Rusty Cooley
First up is Rusty's technique. He uses the classic/traditional style which is the most true to economy and sweep picking in that he 2-way slants his pick in the direction of travel and executes his direction changes with inside picking. Check out the image below! Slant the pick upwards/towards yourself and pick the 17 on the high e. The pick should immediately come to rest up against the B string. Leave it there while you go on to pull-off with the pinky to fret 13. Now pick through the b string allowing the pick to rest once again on the next string - the G string. Now it's very important that you don't play through the G string and rest on the D string. Instead you play the G string with a curved "Crosspicked" or forearm rotational movement. This will achieve two things: It will lift your pick up into the air, and it will change the slant of your pick so that it is now slanting downward away from you. Without playing the G string a second time, fly back over the top of it and play the b string, making sure to rest the pick up against the high e string. Now do a second forearm rotational "Crosspicked" stroke to play fret 13 on the high e and change the slant. Now with an upward pick slant, upstroke the 17 on the high e to complete the loop. Players who are either unfamiliar with 2-way pickslanting or do not wish to learn may want to stay away from this method of 3-string sweeping. This technique extends perfectly onto 4-string sweeps.
Method #2: Yngwie Malmsteen
This second method seems to be more popular than the traditional. Probably because it is slightly easier. No 2-way pickslanting is required! Maintain a downward pickslant thoughout. Upstroke the 17 on the high e string. Pull-off to the 13. Upstroke the b string fret 15. The pick will hop over to the far side of the G string. Now it's just three downstrokes to the finish. Make sure to rest the pick on the next string while doing those downstrokes. This is a very effective and easy method when it comes to 3-string sweeps. Though it doesn't extend well on to 4-string arpeggios.
Method #3: Andy James
Andy James circumvented the problem that is 3-string sweeps. He did this in a very clever way indeed: by using a hammer-on during the return direction of the sweep. This makes the technique even easier than the Yngwie method. As before, downward pickslant the whole time through this. Upstroke the 17 on the high e string. The pick will slowly make its way over both the b and G string as the next two notes are performed. Pull-off to the 13 high e. Hammer-on to the 15 on the b. Now execute the same three downstrokes as you did with the Yngwie method. It may take a bit of work to get the hammer-on to sound as strong as the picked notes, and this technique doesn't work at all with finger roll shapes where notes are barred on the high e and b strings. But other than that it is an amazingly easy and effective technique.
All three of these techniques are fantastic. Pure and simple. Though I will mention which techniques I use and when. The Rusty/traditional method is the best "all-rounder" and if enough time and effort is invested into developing the technique, it can be used to play literally any sweep picking pattern. It is the hardest of the three techniques. This is the technique I use for top speed sweeps.
The Yngwie method is slightly easier than the traditional method as no 2-way pickslanting is required. The trade-off is that it doesn't extend to 4-string arpeggios and beyond very well. I typically use this for slower sweeps and sweep melodies.
The Andy James approach is the easiest by far. I use this when I'm nervous playing in front of people or if I've had a few drinks and I'm concerned that my accuracy may be impaired. So it's a safer technique for sure. There are many trade-offs though. The first is that some players may consider it as cheating. And I do understand this viewpoint. After all, we are sweeping just one direction of the arpeggio and using legato for the other. Also, as I mentioned, it is impossible to use for finger roll arpeggios as we can't barre and hammer-on at the same time. You'll find that it doesn't really work well when extended to 4-string arpeggios and beyond as those hammer-ons become weaker and more noticeable. I will say that I enjoy briefly switching to this technique at the top of 5/6-string arpeggios as it gives my picking hand a fraction of a second to rest.