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Gear and "tone"

2/5/1999 11:33 AM
Gear and "tone"
Hello everybody. Let me apologize in advance for this long post, but I think addressing this is overdue. We've had a series of posts in the FX-General forum lately that brought this up. There is clearly a serious gear problem with guitarists, and I invite any feedback, please. Nic has brought up a very real issue, I have met people who seem almost paralyzed by the idea that there might be a new replacement strat pickup "better" than theirs or an aftermarket humbucker that would make them the King of Tone if they could only get it, while they're crap now because they don't have it. Please, let's be realistic about our tools as musicians. As an example, I present my 1982-made '62 r.i. strat. I've played reissues that weren't good guitars, I've played them that were good (even great) but NOT like "the original", I bought this one because it could be a clone of a 1964 strat I used to own. Perfect copy, pretty amazing when you think that you can pull ten strats (or Les Pauls or JEMs or anything) in a row off the factory line and you'll discover that NO TWO of them will be alike. That's the way instruments are. What pickups do I use in it? The ones that came in it, they have aged well and do everything you could ask of a strat p.u. as well as you can do it. I hear people say Lace sensors and EMGs are "sterile and lifeless", but I've seen Gilmour for probably 15 years or more use EMGs and he has plenty of dynamics, tone, harmonics, etc. Clapton, Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck get whatever they want out of Lace sensors, usually without effects. The determining factor in "tone" is the individual player, not the tool. Yes, if I play a Les Paul it's a mahogony body and humbuckers, if I use a strat it's different, if I use EMGs or DiMarzio PAF Pros or Duncans or etc. there is some difference, but I will sound like ME on any guitar I play, so will you. So will anybody. We don't need to get hung up about whether or not we have the perfect guitar or the latest noiseless pickup or the latest boutique pedal or whether the tools we use are forward-thinking or retro. We just need to play till we learn how to sound like ourselves! To me, it is sad to hear of someone like nic who has let the quest for "the magic tone" keep him from working his music, but he is far from the only one. I see even seasoned pros go nuts about every new thing until its not the new thing anymore. Let's all get a grip.  
2/5/1999 3:08 PM
Steve M.
Re: Gear and "tone" (too long :)
You make some good points, and since I'm one of the ones that said Lace Sensors and EMGs are "sterile and lifeless" let me take this opportunity to respond.  
I think that the main reason that electric guitarists change out gear so much is that we *can*. There is so much to choose from out there that it is easy to fall into this trap.  
Since there can be many components to the signal chain, i.e. guitar, FX, amps, it increases the complexity of the basic instrument.  
Also the various magazines dealing with electric guitars that push the latest thing, or the coolest new gizmo (which often times in nothing more than an updated old gizmo) that it is hard to ignore new things as they are continually pushed in our faces.  
I admit, I used to be a gear junky, at one time I had 12 tube amps. The clue that I had a problem came when I brought home #13 and my wife looked at me like I was nuts :) That day I decided to sell all of those amps. I also went through the same thing with FX pedals, and consequently I don't own any commercial stompboxes. It got to the point where I was dinking with the settings of each pedal rather than playing music. I went so far as to sever a frienship with a guy who could not stop swapping out gear. I couldn't be around this guy for long before I got the itch to start stocking up on gear again.  
But on the other hand, it is fun to experiment with different sounds and combinations of gear. I've spent (and wasted) a lot of money on buying and trading out gear, but I've also learned a lot about various amps, FX and guitars.  
Re: David Gilmour and EMGs, I have to agree. I saw them twice on the 1988 tour, and he had the best live sound I've ever heard, and he achieved it with EMGs. I, however, am not David Gilmour so EMGs sound "sterile and lifeless" when I play through them. I need all the help I can get :)  
Finally, I got into building my own gear after the realization that I was never going to buy anything I would be happy with. Nothing commercially available (in my price range) was going to do it for me. I realized that I would have to build it myself.  
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2/6/1999 2:14 PM

Thanks for the confessions, Steve. I too am a rehabilitated gear junkie, as in "I gotta have a fifth Les Paul because I really really can't live without a red one" and "I can play just like Van Halen if I get a Marshall". Life is much simpler and satisfying now that I make music with three guitars (two electrics and an acoustic) and stop worrying about getting the latest toy. I have several tube amps because I like building and playing with them, it is also fun to build and tweak stomp boxes, thus this BBS is my most frequent stop on the net.  
There is no problem with buying stuff if you want to, I just feel there is something amiss if someone spends all their time buying and playing with equipment and not making any music with it. I know lots of guys like this and it is amazing to talk with them now after I have broken the addiction. I ask them why buy another guitar, they just look at me funny. It would be interesting to see the percentage of guitarampeffect sales are due to the "newest toy I got to have" syndrome and how many are actually needed musically. We have a term around here; we call it Equipto-lust.  
There is a fantastic Christian musician named Michael Card that put it best: "It's hard to imagine the freedom you find from the things you leave behind". Please don't flame me guys, all this IMHO. Take it with however many grains of salt you wish.
2/10/1999 12:57 PM
Jon S.

These are great points, but there's another side to the story ... Since you've quoted Michael Card, may I quote Jay Leno: "Some men have 20 women and 1 car. I have 20 cars and 1 woman." Gear aquisition becomes problematic when it replaces (not compliments) playing, takes the food off of a table, or otherwise interferes with family or relationships. If these factors aren't present, then it's simply "collecting," something most of us have done in one fashion or another in our lives with rocks, baseball cards, comic books, etc. Collecting can actually help a relationship by substituting for or sublimating desires that, were we to indulge them, would produce much more unhealthy results. In this sense, your characterizing GAS as "Equipto-lust" is precisely on the mark, I just come from the school of thought that everyone lusts in one way or another and there's alot worse outlets one could find for it than channeling it into collecting musical equipment!
2/10/1999 2:55 PM
Steve M.
Re: Gear and "tone"
I agree with you completely. In fact I used to tell my wife: "I may spend a lot on gear, but at least I'm not spending the money on hookers, gambling or drugs." I don't think she found it *that* funny :)  
2/10/1999 7:00 PM

I said something along those lines to my wife.. I mean, as habits go this one is pretty harmless! I don't expect non-musicians to understand the passions etc of someone who is trying to express themselves in a musical fashion. She may never understand (?) why I need a Marshall AND a Fender.. or why I build so many experimental amps.. why do people paint, go hiking, or read a book? I have the same six guitars I've had for the past 10 years. 6 may seem a lot, but they're all quite different. A strat, 2 teles, a 6-str & 12 str acoustic and an SG. Depending on the song/sound, you go for what works. You don't play horn charts on a cello, and a clean tele through a Dynacomp has nothing in common with an SG into a Marshall.. I use them all. To me, that is simplicity.  
If you're collecting to be a collector, fine. If you're "collecting" bc you're a pro/semipro and you need/want an arsenal of sounds, great.  
If you're just buying shit out of insecurity, get help.
2/16/1999 7:33 AM
Gear and "tone"..the eternal quest
Hey all!!!  
This is a very sensitive issue here so I hope I do not hurt anyone's feelings and I'll try to tread lightly.  
I think "tone" means something different to everyone. Sometimes we all have different words that mean the same thing. We all would love a vintage Strat or Les Paul. We would all love to be able to walk into any guitar store and buy what ever we pleased.  
Then reality sets in (damn that word...ha, ha) let's see..."we aren't rich, we can't afford $5,000.00 for a vintage guitar, and we've only got about a maximum of $20.00 in our wallets when we walk into a music store." Ahhh..bummer.  
So we make the best out of what we have. We try to get the best tones out of the gear we have in front of us.  
When we aren't satisfied, when we're completely broke, when we're frustrate, and when we all we have that's "free" is out own time on the weekend ... Let's see if we can't make this blasted amp sound better.  
So we tinker and toy about until we're happy. Then two months down the road we learn soemthing new, soooo...we break out that very same project and tinker and tweak some more. (sounding familer to anyone?)  
We hear someone else's tone and we read a magazine about what they have in their rig and sometimes we think "..if I only had that I could sound just like he does"  
My point:  
1.) Tone starts in your "hands". Gilmore will sound like Gilmore regardless of what he's playing on or through. Van Halen still sounds like Van Halen even on s cheap $50.00 amp (I've had the privilage to actually hear that). It's all how you "play" (IE: attack the strings, how hard you hammer on or pull off, how much you pinch a string, the angel of the pick as it hits the string)  
2.) "I think that you have to make due with what you have until you can afford something better." You can always learn how to mod things to your taste but DON'T let that hinder you from playing or writing music because you haven't achieved the "God Tone".  
One day it will come but untill then let's make the world a better place and play some music!!!  
Where's that blasted guitar..?  
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