Why we continue to search for tone (long…no pics)

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by TheGoodTexan, Sep 2, 2004.

  1. TheGoodTexan

    TheGoodTexan Moderator Staff Member Ad Free Member

    Apr 28, 2003
    Nashville, TN
    I’ve put together a list of things that hinder us from getting good tone....at least I've been side tracked by these along this journey. This is all just light hearted.

    1. Volume/dynamics – You play around by yourself with gear (guitars, pedals, amps) at a different volume than you practice and gig at, especially in a music store. All gear responds differently at different levels of volume and signal, especially tube amps. That’s why something can sound great in a store, or even at rehearsal, but just not cut it at a gig. Even if you do get to crank something up loud at a store, 90% of the time you’re not also playing through the remainder of your gear, with a full band.

    2. Not keeping the same exact set up for very long (aka G.A.S.) – There’s something to be said for settling on a given set of gear and learning how to squeeze every single little nuance out of each piece. When you’re constantly switching out pickups, pedals and amps, and other stuff, it’s like trying to sight in a gun while the target is moving. If you’re changing your pickups out all the time (several times a year) you’re not giving your picking hand a fair chance to learn how those pickups respond to slight variances in pick attack. The same can be said of pedals, especially overdrives and compressors.

    3. Not actually practicing your instrument – I don’t mean learning how to play new songs. I mean learning and practicing scales (with a metronome), learning new picking techniques, studying some music theory and understanding how chords are constructed and the different ways that they fall on the fingerboard. If you desire to improve at guitar, you must spend some regular, quality time practicing. The more you’re able to develop your own personal technique, the more you’re able to control your instrument and what comes out of it. Did your dog learn how to roll over by his self? He had the potential and the ability to roll over, but it took regular sessions of you showing him how to do it before he learned. The difference is that you can teach yourself guitar, dogs can’t teach themselves to roll over on command.

    4. Only listening “guitar music” and chasing others’ tone - From the time I began playing guitar (1984 at age 12) up until the time I moved to Nashville in 1996, I listened to music that was predominantly guitar driven. It finally got so repetitious that my playing was just sounding like a copy cat of all of my influences. I finally got tired of always hearing who I sounded like and decided to cut off the input of guitar music. I began listening to horn players, vocalists and keyboard players, and just great song writers. Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Kirk Whalum, Sade, The Temptations, Alison Krauss to name a few. Now, several years later, I can still pull off all of my former licks, but I’m a more rounded musician, and I finally sound like myself.


    You may not relate to all of these, but the bottom line is to identify the distractions that are keeping you from developing your own tone. A lot of us are distracted by gear.

    You've heard it said of others that they sound like themselves no matter what gear they happen to be using. The same can be true of you.
  2. WallyArms

    WallyArms Tele-Afflicted

    Dec 28, 2003
    Excellent post!

    I can relate to all of those points except #4 - I'm not good enough to sound like anyone else :eek: . I think another aspect of points 1 and 3, at least for me, is that practicing at home by ourselves doesn't always transfer to a group setting. I play with another musician and vocalists on a nearly weekly basis (in church) but I wish we had more time to practice together.
  3. rcrecelius

    rcrecelius Tele-Holic

    Aug 18, 2003
    Rio Vista,Texas
    I'll second that

    A good post indeed!

    I dont know how I fall into the catagories you listed because even though I enjoy having a good sound/tone...when it comes performance time all I really care about is being able to hear it. I have different teles and a strat and I appreciate the tonal differences each guitar has to offer so Im not trying to make every guitar I own sound the same. Good yes, but not the same.

    One time, I had changed from using a Twin to a full blown rackmount setup. After my first soundcheck with the new gear, the soundman comes up to check out the new stuff and says to me "why did you buy all that stuff...it still sounds like a Twin to me". This was our regular soundman who worked with us every week, not just a club soundman. I think a lot of people may fall into that category...they want new stuff but they make it sound just like the old stuff!

    I think one of my biggest problems is that I get tired of the same ole sound and want to change...not that I really NEED to change!

    AS far as practicing...I have always been influenced by the steel guitar so I have always tried to mimic the steel lines. It aint easy, nor is it an exact science but I played for years without a steel and many folks agreed that we didnt need one. I used to play a b-bender too which helped.
  4. frank sumatra

    frank sumatra Tele-Meister

    Jun 10, 2004
    Here's a possible point #5

    An excellent post, yet another reason that this site has become one of my daily "must reads".

    I would offer one more suggestion that has helped me: listening to non-western music. There are some great African guitarists for example that I am sure many readers might know. The wider palette of keys, tones and rhythms that music from other cultures offer will bring a whole new dimension to your playing and tone.

    Back in the day, I used to busk in Paris and I had chances to sit in with musicians from all over the world. It made me a better player, not just technique but in being able to find ways to make my (still developing) tone fit and contribute to different musical situations.
  5. Joel Terry

    Joel Terry Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 3, 2003
    Gladeville, Tennessee, USA
    I hope this doesn't come across as arrogant, but...

    I no longer look for tone; I get the tone(s) I like. The only two electric guitars for me are the Fender Telecaster and the Fender Stratocaster, and I know that I like the ones made/crafted in Japan the best. My amp of choice will pretty much always be a Fender Twin Reverb. I'll always use sundry effects pedals, of course, usually BOSS. Overall, a pretty easy (or simpleminded, some might say) way of looking at that aspect of playing.

    What I search for, and what I'll always search for, is the ability to effortlessly play in any key, in any mode at any point on the neck without thinking too much about it. To have an encyclopedic knowledge of chords, chord inversions, and chord partials. To master rhythms and fingerpicking polyrhythms. To be able to solo soulfully, melodically, masterfully.

    In short, I seek to constantly improve my playing skills. I want to master the mechanics. I want to be able to play guitar as effortlessly as Frédéric Chopin played the piano or as second-naturedly as Charlie Parker played the saxophone. I want to be able to "learn it, and then forget about it and just play," as the greats invariably say. ;)

    I'm in perpetual woodshedding mode. :D

    By the way, Bruce, your post that started this thread is as fine a post as has ever been written here at the TDPRI.

  6. e-merlin

    e-merlin Doctor of Teleocity

    Jan 13, 2004
    Garden City, KS
    Great post, Texan. Lots of thought went into that.

    I'm mostly a home player, occasionally jamming with others and I've pretty much found my tone. Also, I seldom sell a piece of gear unless I bought it to make a buck on. My basic tone is set, but I still buy stuff for subtle variations of tone. A different amp or guitar won't replace my main ones (or make me a better player), but I like the option of being able to pick up a different guitar or plug into a different amp and hear certain variations in my tone. As an extreme for instance, I have three Peavey Bravos (my favorite amp) that are set up with different tubes and speakers for different tones.

    Another thing is that one day, a particular guitar will sound like crap to me, but if I play it another day it sounds fantastic. Just yesterday, I pulled out a Strat I'd put away a couple of months ago because I thought it was very brittle sounding. I pulled it out to show a friend a couple of mods he was considering for his Strat. Well, it sounded great! So, our ears may be deceiving us, too.
  7. PamweChete

    PamweChete TDPRI Member

    Aug 17, 2004
    Nashville TN
    Re: Here's a possible point #5

    I agree. I was born and raised in Africa. I spent my enitre life in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa. Upon moving here (USA) a few years ago,I find that my playing is definitely coloured with some things that are not part of the average musical pallette in the U.S.
    Anyone interested would be advised to check out Manuaka Waku, Diblo Dibala,Sekou Diabate,Johnny Clegg, Alick Macheso, or Jonah Sithole.
  8. Hucklebilly

    Hucklebilly Tele-Holic

    Mar 17, 2003
    post gig tone musings

    Good thread.

    Having gigged today, I think back and my tone is about the last thing on my mind. I played straight into our pedal steel player's 64 Deluxe which he lets me borrow. The tone was fine. When I play through my 78 Twin the tone is fine. I mean how many Fender amps sound like crap? Maybe some are slightly better or worse, but I haven't heard that many point to point Fender tube amps that didn't sound pretty good. If I had it to do over, I wouldn't change the tone. I'd change those two or three songs where I hit a clam or didn't play with authority. Give me adequate tone and superior chops any day. It was a good gig, but the things that bug me are not related to tone, but to the kinds of things TheGoodTexan posted. Especially dynamics and volume. "Bad" tone that sits well in the mix is not so bad. "Good" tone that overpowers the other instruments is pointless. I spent a lot of time fiddling with my volume knob, trying to get it right (partly because I forgot my volume pedal that I usually use) and that distracted me. The best gigs are those in which I feel like I just was able to jump on things with no hesitation. That improves my tone.
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