Saturday, March 1, 2008
How many times have I heard guitar players say they hate another guitar players tone? I actually had a guy tell me that he likes Jeff Beck but hates his tone. So what are these people talking about here? It seems they're talking about the sound of the instrument, right? As in, is it too thin, whiny, screechy, hollow, muddy, trebly, warbly....? Too be quite honest, I think most of the time people are talking about how the signal was processed. While signal processing may be part of the equation, I think the real question about tone is how does the artist's playing style and technique effect the sound. I mean, for how long before there was electronic signal processing, were musicians discussing tone? Surely tone is far more than what the mixing board has to offer. I guess that means forget the sound of the instrument and concentrate on the sound of the player. To my ears, it's not so much how much flange, chorus, delay, nylon string, steel string, coated head, maple shell, humbucker, nylon tip, wooden tip, neck through, noise gate, tube, digital, blah, blah, blah. Actually, I think most of that's crap. To my ears, tone is really about does he play spot on the beat, behind the beat, in the pocket, staccato, legato, ghost stroke, flutter kick, touchstyle, finger style, sweep pick, aggressive, passive, second line, rudimental, flat pick... In other words, I think the electronic processing is ancillary. When I saw Adrian Belw the other night, he had a 180 degree array of pedals -flange, delay, chorus, loop, compression, midi, tube scream, wah-wah, volume, etc, etc.... Is that what really defines his tone, or is it the human Idiosyncrasies, quirks, foibles, and preferences that make up Adrian Belew? Here's an example from drummer land which may be more illustrative. Buddy Rich and Neil Peart have radically different tone. It has nothing to do with signal processing, technical proficiency, or equipment choice. It has everything to do with playing style and personal preference. Neil Peart plays spot on the beat. Buddy Rich had (when he wanted) a more legato, in the pocket style. When Neil plays a ghost stroke, it's very precise and deliberate sounding. When Buddy played a ghost stroke, it sounded very improvised and in the moment. Neil's phrasing has the sound of absolute pre-planned precision executed with flawless spot on timing. Buddy's phrasing had the sound of absolute improvised precision executed with flawless spot on timing. Which is better? None can say definitively. It's a matter of personal preference. I can say I prefer one over the other, but I have to admit that both are superior quality. It's not about your pedal, your pedal won't give you the tone you're after. It's all about you. Figure out who you are and what you like, and be that. Then you'll find you're tone.