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Tone- who cares?

9/14/2000 12:28 AM
Tone- who cares?
Playing most instruments, the concept of "getting a good tone" is covered pretty early on in learning to play. With guitars, most people never really addressed that until recently. BUT- plenty of guitarists had "good tone" looong before guitar magazines got obsessed with the concept. And that's what it really is, an obsession. Yeah, it's important to have a "good tone", but what makes it up? We've had long threads lately about can tone be quantified, can it be unquantifiable, is it both, and of course the usual old "how can I nail the *** tone" threads. Let's get real, folks! This is like the 10,000 aftermarket pickups for strats syndrome; oh my god, which ones do I get? What will give me "better tone"?, What will make me "better", or sound more like Jimi Jeff van Dildo. Turn the amp on, plug the guitar in, use fx if you want, just PLAY THE DAMN THING and you will eventually learn what "good tone" is and how to get it, or you're NOT gonna get it. Look at it this way; in B.B. King's career he has recorded with a Stella, an Esquire, a strat, a Les Paul, three or four other type of Gibsons, finally settling on the 355, 'cause he likes the way it FEELS to him, not the way it sounds. If you listen to his old recordings you'll discover he sounds just like B.B. King all the time! I've seen him play through Gibson amps, Fenders and a Roland ss amp; he sounds the same. I've got recordings of Hendrix on different guitars, one was a big ol' Gretsch; he sounds just like Jimi Hendrix. EVH doesn't quite sound like the old EVH, but that's what happens when you depend on the equipment too much; when you can't get the same stuff (or you forget what you used to do!), you might be in some trouble. Basically what I'm saying is this; good tone is defined by the listener, and tastes change. Yeah, I like Beethoven, but a lot of people would rather hear Limp Bizkit (than whom I'd rather hear a chainsaw). A lot of what we call "classic tones" today were just noise in the '60s; some of it was just noise to our parents, and some of it really was just noise! Yeah, we can attempt to quantify it, but that's just another hoodoo/astrology game like jacque over on the FX forum. Just play, and you'll get good tone, or you need to take up another profession/hobby.  
9/14/2000 6:29 AM
Steve A.

    I don't know if this story is just an urban legend but when Eric Clapton and SRV first played together they decided to swap guitars for the hell of it and guess what? Even when playing the other's guitar they still had their own "trademark" sound...  
    While improving one's rig can be a worthwhile endeavor, it does seem like some people get really hung up in the technical details in their pursuit for a mythical Holy Grail...   :(   Hey, this is all about having an enjoyable experience playing our guitars- right?  
Steve Ahola  
P.S. I was going to mention one of B.B. King's "Guitar Boogie" songs from the early 50's as something that doesn't sound like B.B. King at all, but I think I heard that it was Ike Turner playing on that songó probably just warming up the band for B.B. but it got released anyway by the Bihari Brothers...
9/14/2000 5:05 PM
Glen H.

Q{the concept of "getting a good tone" is  
covered pretty early on in learning to play}  
Sure, the CONCEPT of tone is covered, but not usually observed in the early guitar learning stages. I teach guitar as part of my living, and even some of my more mature students can not tell much difference between a Strat or a Les Paul (and a Marshall and a Fender for that matter). Tone is usually developed gradually over a period of time.  
God knows, I am still developing tone after 20 years of guitar playing. I have established certain benchmarks along the way, and now can dial in virtually same basic tones out of most (especially master volume) setups. I used to try to emulate other guitarists tones, and it amazed me what combinations worked! I even have a Legend amp setup, that with the right processing, sounds damn close to EVH! But my main focus of late is on MY tone. I can plug into one of my Hiwatts, Marshalls, even my Peavey Bravo practice amp - and people do recognize my tone. Now, there are subtle variations in these tones - it does take someone with a better trained ear to pick up on this. Some of my sounds are brighter, have more presence, mids, or bass, but it still sounds like me. Also, I find some tones a little more inspiring, depending on what mood I am in. This is why I collect tube amps in the first place! It is the emotional attachment with particular nuances that keeps me in toneland!:)  
Glen H.
9/14/2000 5:48 PM

Yep, both of y'all understand what I'm getting at here, obviously. Steve Stills and Clapton did a piece years ago together on two matching guitars, 335 types, and they went on about how they were so "together" on it nobody could tell who played what. To me, and I think most people who listened well, it was easy to tell; their voices don't sound alike, and neither do their "voices" on the guitar. I've seen people just learning to play whose fingers just sound good on the instrument, others who struggle for years to get a good and unique personal sound... I see others who play (sometimes for decades) who just have no clue that they sound uh... pretty "bad" (whatever that actually means, since as we all know one man's good tone is another man's wimpy tone, etc.). And yeah, I have one strat that's hot and bright, no matter what pickups are in it, and one that's dark and sweet, and other guitars that sound different ways for different textures of tone, but I sound like me all the time. Early on in playing a violin, for instance, you have to work on having some tone otherwise you alienate everyone around (bagpipes, too!); with horns, etc., you have to work on tone right off the bat or you can't get anywhere. In the early stages of learning the guitar, people just work on playing the notes right. I've seen guitarists really into classical or jazz sometimes play for decades and never even think of their tone; they just try to play "right" and rely on getting a guitar with a good sound. Others with just good tone dripping from their fingers pick up any raggedy-ass 6-string and sound great. You can do little things with guitars and amp mods and speakers, etc. to get small differences in your tone, and of course different guitars etc. will have their basic sound, but essentially it seems to me (and what the hell do I know?) that people really either develope "good tone" naturally or they just don't, no matter how much they agonize over it (or never think of it at all).  
PS The Bahari brothers would have done *anything*, and as far as I know they did! And yes, its amazing what weird rigs can "nail" certain tones; "EJ" tone with a Les Paul/JCM 900; B.B. with a strat and an old Marshall; EVH with a single-coil bridge pickup and a cranked amp with a phase-shifter; and my personal "champion"- a few months ago I was playing a bright, bright strat through a '69 pedal and a DSL 100/JCM 2000 (the '69 smoothed out the horribly rough gain of the amp), in the amp's highest-gain setting, and it just sounded like a smaller amp driven to the max. Turned the reverb up all the way and everyone in the studio stopped dead and couldn't believe that Dick Dale had apparently just jumped out of the speaker cab! Took me by surprise, I'll tell you that. I just smiled as if I knew what I was doind...
9/14/2000 5:51 PM

doing... all that money wasted on an education and I still can't spill, uh spell, uh spoil, whatever...
9/15/2000 12:57 AM
Steve A.

The Bahari brothers would have done *anything*, and as far as I know they did!  
    One of my favorite Elmore James recordings is "Canton Mississippi Breakdown" and it turns out that it was Ike Turner playing guitar on that song, too. Although Ike later developed the reputation of being a total a**hole, he sure made some great recordings in the 50's...  
    As for his temper and lack of control at home someone did point out that he was part Indian and was descended from the Slapaho tribe...   ;)    
Steve Ahola
9/15/2000 4:42 AM
Underrated/lesser known Killer guitar tones
Maybe we should start a list of some of the best guitar tones recorded, yet that dont get nearly the recognition that the typical SRV/EVH/Carlos Santana.  
My bets would be on (in no particular order)  
1)-the guitar toens in Heart's "Magic Man" (also the killer flanged parts in "Barracuda"  
2) Anything by the Marshall Tucker Band  
3) "Flirtin with Disaster" by Molly Hatchet  
4) Jake E. Lee on the "Badlands" recording  
5) Queensrych off the "Empire" recording  
6) "My old School" by Steely Dan (gotta love the intense lead tone Eliott Randall got from diming an Ampeg SVT!  
7) Anythng Dickey Betts ever did (eveyrone praises Duane Allman's tone, but Betts has such a smooth tone!)  
8) "Jailbreak" by Thin Lizzy  
9) "Working Man" by Rush (hard to believe those kiler plexi tones are actually a Twin!)  
10) any of the EARLY Deep Purple

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