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So, WTH is "Great Tone?"


charlie brown
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Tone isn't remotely important. Songs are important. Once in a while I hear someone say " I might like that band if the guitar player had a better tone..".

Tone is in your fingers. Which is to say the song is in your fingers.

 

Something in that feels right to me. Maybe the artists ability to interpret the right sound for the particular songs played in the context of the other music being contributed by the band.

For example, one of my favourite 'tones' of all time would be Ron Asheton on the first side of the Fun House album. That hooks me in every time...but...I'm positive that exact same tone would absolutely suck if played on most other music by most other bands. Few would rate Ron as being one of the most gifted guitarists ever in terms of technical skill/dexterity yet many (myself included) would rate him a 'great' guitarist in interpreting exactly what tone/sound was right for those songs and providing immense pleasure to those who liked it.

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Obviously "tone" is a very personal thing. I've read where other people couldn't even play Jimi's rig without it turning into a mess of feedback, but he could control it (usually). Sure tone is in fingers, but it's also gear.

 

I will share one thing I've learned about tone though, for what it's worth. My one "must have" is to be able to strum a big open G chord without it turning to mud. If I can pick lightly and get clean(ish) and then hit it hard to get some dirt without using the volume knob too much, I am good to go. Too much or too little gain are both enemies. That's all I got.

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Kinda funny here....

 

I'm working at home to process a batch of sports shots and listening to Joe Pass...

 

In one interview Pass emphasized playing tunes, and playing notes you hear.

 

Not a comment on "tone."

 

Then again, is that the jazz player coming through or ... the great guitar player repeating to play the music, not the guitar?

 

m

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...you can now argue that some of this stuff is indeed 'the fingers'. After all it's the fingers holding the pick etc. Of course that's right...

It's more accurate to say that player's technique informs his 'sound'...

I agree completely with all of the above.

 

Anecdotal or not; the experience was far from "inscrutable". Quite the reverse.

My mate and I sounded very different from each other yet playing the same guitar through the same amp without altering anything at all - not the amp settings nor the guitar settings (and we both used various p'up permutations) - except the personal playing technique of the individuals concerned.

Fretting technique; picking technique; muting technique; fingering technique. These and these alone were the variables.

 

All is shaped by technique. And all technique is, in effect, shaped by the fingers and everything they do in the chain of events (I'll also add 'Palm' if you wish it).

 

msp_smile.gif

 

Without wishing to go off-topic (and hog the thread), m-e, consider this;

Do you think if you were to pick up my guitar and play through my amp you would sound exactly like me?

Do you think if I were to pick up your guitar and play through your amp I would sound exactly like you?

 

eusa_think.gif

 

Pip.

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Yeah I have to agree that its in the fingers.....

 

In order to learn we all have to practice... And to get good you have to practice more.. To sound amazing you have to practice even more.... (let alone all the experimenting with different pedals, guitars and amps on the way)

 

After all, if you have a player who cant play because they are still learning the basic chords.. Its not going to matter what guitar or amp they use, they are still going to sound crap...

 

Ergo, its in the fingers... Vibrato, bends, trills, hammer ons, that's what makes a player sound good, the detail in their technique and actually in some cases the lack of it (think Jack White).

 

I think its a mixture of technique, experience and then feeling (or maybe mood) which is what makes a player sound good.

 

That's why its called chasing tone.. its ever changing and depends on what your expectations and experience are (which is also ever changing).

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Tone isn't remotely important. Songs are important. Once in a while I hear someone say " I might like that band if the guitar player had a better tone..". What I hear when someone says that is "I might like the Mona Lisa better if da Vinci had used a better shade of black.."

 

 

Tone is in your fingers. Which is to say the song is in your fingers. [thumbup]

 

 

I kinda gotta go with this.

The whole tone thing is crap. I never really bought into it. So I really wouldn't care less if there was a better shade of black. Which obviously there isn't. Which is why this statement is so perfect.

 

"Songs are important". That's pretty much it right there.

 

Tone is subjective. I have 2 channels. Clean and dirty. I play either where I need them. I can either play them

well or play them crappy. Tone has nothing to do with how well I play them. If I play them well, nobody will notice my crappy tone.

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This is more of a question and not a suggestion. Doesn't it matter according to the song your playing what tone you want? I mean when I'm playing say Pipeline, I'm fooling around on the amp and guitar trying to get that vibrato and echo combination that the Ventures had when you go down the 12th fret to the 2nd. But that sounds terrible if you use that on say House of the Rising Sun which needs a cleaner 60's tone. That doesn't work with American Woman and I add some fuzz and vibrato. I don't know, just a question and I'm still learning and experimenting. I have two amps that have all kinds of effects on them and I'm changing stuff around all the time. Some country songs I play sound terrible on a electric and I use a acoustic.

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This is more of a question and not a suggestion. Doesn't it matter according to the song your playing what tone you want?

 

 

I am far far far away,from anything resembling a professional, or gigging musician of any sort,, to make any kind of professional comment etc.

But to my inexperienced melon I have to say a resounding NO, to this question.

No to the tone, yes to the song you're playing. If you play the song properly, the "tone" doesn't matter.

If you have the "perfect" tone and you play it wrong, that to me, is worse than playing it right with the wrong tone.

So to me it don't matter what song yer playin. To me it matters more how well you're playing. Tone be damned!

 

That's just me.

I'm not always correct.

YMMV!

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(Milod) I think worrying about our sound inhibits what we'd like to hear more than any other factor.

 

Just playing our stuff and having fun at our own comfort and skill level, seems to me to be most likely to have a happy audience, even if it's just ourselves recording a practice session.

 

I have to concur Milod. You are right on the money.

 

 

(Pippy) Without wishing to go off-topic (and hog the thread), m-e, consider this;

Do you think if you were to pick up my guitar and play through my amp you would sound exactly like me?

Do you think if I were to pick up your guitar and play through your amp I would sound exactly like you?

 

 

 

Pip.

No, it seems very unlikely, but I would enjoy the challenge just to see what happens. A valid test would have to nail down every variable to be meaningful.

We would have to play the same piece, in the same manner & arrangement (Same exact strings as tab would show). It should be something simple.

If we were to use a pick, it would need to be the same pick. We would have to agree on alternating or economy picking etc.

 

I would suggest two tests. The first where we tried to sound the same as possible, and the second where we tried to sound different but still adhering to the agreed preconditions.

I suspect we would find more nuances in phrasing than in tone. We might even find small differences in pitch if I were to fret more firmly than you did. Upper C might be a tad more than 524Hz for me, but pitch is not tone either. It would be easy to check by looking at the sound waves afterwards.

 

The wave forms would show up any differences in timing and pitch. These would be inadmissible because neither are tone.

I suppose whatever is left over is tone, and that would be volume and timbre. Did I miss anything? [confused]

*

 

It’s easier to think about acoustic guitars for this. Two players I listened to in my youth were Bert Jansch & John Renbourne. Two great fingerstyle artists.

I struggled to learn some of their instrumentals. After learning them, I could never sound like Bert Jansch. It didn’t matter what I did.

 

But Renbourne? Yes, if I could nail of one his (no easy feat), then I could sound like him. Renbourne picked quietly. He sometimes sped up the easier bits, and slowed down for the technical bits.

 

Jansch? He used a thumb pick. He could play very aggressively. He always had a natural flow. Sometimes his fingers would actually hook under the strings, pull them back and let go like an archer. This would result in the strings slapping down on the frets in a distinctive manner. I never heard anyone else do this. His sound was inimitable. It still is.

In that sense part of his ‘tone ’ was in his fingers. It was down to his picking technique. But his picking affected far more than his tone, it formed part of his unique phrasing too. It’s tempting to lump them in together but it would be wrong. Phrasing is not tone.

 

PS

 

Pip. If the differences you described are not inscrutable. Whats going on?

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to know that chasing tone is a trap, i offer you the strongest evidence available. some of you will ignore this and some of you will not.

 

go look at ads for anything that goes with your guitar's sound: amps, pedals, strings, cables, pick ups, etc. ever notice that none of them use any terms that make any sense at all? ever notice that absolutely none of them offer you any science to back up their claims? no one ever says anything that can be defined or proven. everyone trots out the tired old line that tone is subjective. well that's complete bs. tone is not subjective. the real truth is, tone is contextual.

go listen to a bunch of isolated guitar tracks for some of the big hits you all know and love. a few of them sound like a bag of smashed buttholes with all the good ones removed. however, the tone fits in the context of the song, so it works. listen to isolated hendrix tracks, he understood this deeply.

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...I would enjoy the challenge just to see what happens. A valid test would have to nail down every variable to be meaningful. We would have to play the same piece, in the same manner & arrangement (Same exact strings as tab would show)....If we were to use a pick, it would need to be the same pick. We would have to agree on alternating or economy picking etc...

 

Did I miss anything? [confused]

Hi again, m-e.

If we did as you suggest above then I wouldn't be playing with MY fingers; I'd be playing with YOURS......msp_smile.gif......

 

...It's easier to think about acoustic guitars for this. Two players I listened to in my youth were Bert Jansch & John Renbourne. Two great fingerstyle artists...I could never sound like Bert Jansch. It didn't matter what I did. But Renbourne? Yes, if I could nail of one his (no easy feat), then I could sound like him. Renbourne picked quietly. He sometimes sped up the easier bits, and slowed down for the technical bits.

Jansch? He used a thumb pick. He could play very aggressively. He always had a natural flow. Sometimes his fingers would actually hook under the strings, pull them back and let go like an archer. This would result in the strings slapping down on the frets in a distinctive manner. I never heard anyone else do this. His sound was inimitable. It still is.

In that sense part of his 'tone ' was in his fingers. It was down to his picking technique. But his picking affected far more than his tone, it formed part of his unique phrasing too. It's tempting to lump them in together but it would be wrong. Phrasing is not tone.

Sorry for the overlong quote but I think that what you are describing here is exactly what I mean when I say "Tone is in the Fingers".

Perhaps we are talking at cross purposes?

 

And +1 to Bert and John. I'd also put in Stefan Grossman and Leo Kottke into the mix. I have a whole bunch of all four players' stuff on vinyl.

I was fortunate enough to see Grossman and Renbourn as a duet in concert way back in the mid-'80s. They really are great players. It was a memorable gig.

 

Pip.

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Hi again, m-e.

If we did as you suggest above then I wouldn't be playing with MY fingers; I'd be playing with YOURS......msp_smile.gif......

 

 

Sorry for the overlong quote but I think that what you are describing here is exactly what I mean when I say "Tone is in the Fingers".

Perhaps we are talking at cross purposes?

 

 

Pip.

 

Well, you can call the tune & set the technique Pip. I’m happy to use your fingers :). The whole point is to try to isolate the ‘tone’ that is supposedly coming from our fingers. Its only by keeping things organised can anyone discover anything.

 

Part of the quote you agreed with was the separation of phrasing (time) with timbre (sound quality). Yet ‘tone is in the fingers’ conflates those two things.

 

Here is an example that defies the ‘fingers’ meme:

 

Here is a quote “In general, the harder the pick material the brighter and more biting the tone produced.” That quote is from Gibson; here - http://www.gibson.com/News-Lifestyle/Features/en-us/10-Reasons-to-be-Picky-About-Guitar-Picks.aspx

 

More detail here http://www.gibson.com/News-Lifestyle/Features/en-us/pick-a-winner-0813-2011.aspx

 

So if you use a Gibson Medium pick (between .70 to .88mm) on 10-46 strings, that pick will flex some. It will have a subtle sound with a soft attack. Change that to a V-Pick freakishly Large Pointed (2.75mm thick). It wont flex at all. It will have a faster attack & decay. It will sound harder and brighter.

 

Or am I (and Gibson) talking bollox?

What I am suggesting here can be verified by anybody who can be bothered to change their pick. For those who can’t be bothered... their opinion will remain uninformed. ;)

 

ATB

evans

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...Or am I (and Gibson) talking bollox?...

No, of course not, Evans. Far from it. I, myself, use a variety of picks of varying composition and a few different picking techniques. Choice of phrasing and timing, choice of picking technique and pick material (if utilised), choice of fretting technique......all of these make a difference. All of this, however, I consider (perhaps a trifle inaccurately, I'll concede) to be part of the '...Fingers' thing which is why I believe we are actually in agreement to a large extent with what we think.

 

It would be fun, though, to give it all a go Mano a Mano!!!

 

msp_thumbup.gif

Pip.

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Well, it seems "Great Tone," is what you know it to be, when you hear it! Aside from however

it's attained. [tongue][biggrin]

 

I just think it's "interesting," that there is a multi-million dollar industry, around "Great Tone,"

when no one can really define what "Great Tone" is, with any certainty. Maybe, it's just "Marketing,"

ya think? [biggrin]

 

 

CB

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Well, it seems "Great Tone," is what you know it to be, when you hear it! Aside from however

it's attained. [tongue][biggrin]

 

I just think it's "interesting," that there is a multi-million dollar industry, around "Great Tone,"

when no one can really define what "Great Tone" is, with any certainty. Maybe, it's just "Marketing,"

ya think? [biggrin]

 

 

CB

Yep, a marketing technique. One of many.

Because we all have different brains, ears, moods, likes and dislikes, "great tone" HAS to be a subjective thing. So, of course, it can not be defined definitively.

And so we all keep chasing it. And we all keep changing our ideas of what that mystical tone is inside our head.

And THEY just keep trying to sell us more stuff to pursue it.

It's been working on me.....unfortunately.[sad]8-[

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Yep, a marketing technique. One of many.

Because we all have different brains, ears, moods, likes and dislikes, "great tone" HAS to be a subjective thing. So, of course, it can not be defined definitively.

And so we all keep chasing it. And we all keep changing our ideas of what that mystical tone is inside our head.

And THEY just keep trying to sell us more stuff to pursue it.

It's been working on me.....unfortunately.[sad]8-[

 

 

Too True! I have to laugh (at myself), after every "latest" dirt box-"Marshall in a box" pedal I seem to keep getting,

or trying to find. I think, for now, I'm Done! But, AM I, really? LOL Only time, and another demonstration, of some

other "fantastic" pedal, amp, or guitar, will tell. [flapper][crying][scared]](*,)[biggrin]

 

 

CB

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The other thing about "Great Tone," seems to be (quite often) what was done, in the '60's or early '70's,

at least in some folks minds. Those were often made with just a cranked tube amp, and guitar, alone. There

were precious few "pedals," and what there were, were used for "coloring" a specific "effect." Not for

"(basic) tone," per se! So, it's an endless "tail chase!" [tongue]:rolleyes:

 

 

CB

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I know this may not go over well, but it includes some of my own experience in my younger years of playing as well as my retrospective at a rather more advanced age and experience.

 

I am increasingly convinced that much of our "tone" chase, whether electric or acoustic, comes from our opinions colored by that music we "like" and often seek at least subconsciously to emulate.

 

A few examples from my own experience, but believe me, there are more of my own "chases."

 

1. I've long had, until my stroke at least took much of my left hand fine motor control, a "dream" of getting a bass player, drummer and rhythm guitar player to back me up on stage for a final "rock blow-out" with my 120-watt tube amp of Link Wray's "Rumble" with intent to blow out windows. Toss in the reverb, pump up the trebles, and vibrato while wearing jeans, black T shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up into my left sleeve. Even while writing this I know exactly the sound I want, which guitar to play, which amp, which pick, where on the strings...

 

2. When I started playing I went quickly into fingerstyle playing. My right hand somehow could intuit stuff like "Freight Train" and "Railroad Bill" and "Cocaine," some folk blues like Mississippi John Hurt's material, and the PP&M backings to everything from "A-Soalin'" to "Don't think twice." BUT - (underline "but") my choice of guitar was a classical guitar obviously with nylon strings. Every dedicated folkie with Martins and Hummingbirds kept telling me I couldn't play on nylon because it wasn't the right "sound." Hadda be a steel string and hadda be a big body.

 

Yeah, roughly the same sorta response to some of my guitar choices later in rock, later still in country. For flamenco, less but still a "you should have a flamenco guitar to get the tone."

 

Okay, I ain't never going to sound like BB regardless if I use a 335 or BB special, nor like anybody else.

 

It took me decades to figure just to play how I wanted whether it were a "version" of a well-known piece or not. I quit trying to sound like something else, or "just like the record," and frankly, never had sour audience feedback.

 

Also, electric players might wish to look into the acoustic section of our forum and see how the acoustic guys will argue this or that on tone every bit as vehemently as some electric players.

 

Tone varies immensely with the most barebones playing, acoustic or electric, at least as heard by an audience. And IMHO, it's about the last thing considered unless a performer, solo or ensemble, obviously seeks to be as close to "the record" as possible.

 

Ditto on vocals, btw, regardless that various microphone companies will emphasize this or that on their products even at times over and above the qualities of reliability and directionality.

 

I'll never sound like Roy Orbison regardless that 30 years ago I actually had nearly the range. It never sounded right to me so I never tried on stage. Ditto Dylan's rasping or many blues singers' "dirty" vocal quality.

 

But again, when playing for money in a saloon house band, when the band does its own versions and are "swinging" with whatever style, most customers go home happy with their evening and willing to pay money to come back.

 

I remember an equipment disaster where one mike and one amp was working; while the other guy made repairs I did an AE solo version of "Me and Bobby McGee and folks were dancing and giving thumbs up... not even realizing the problem other than the other guys were scuttling around while I did my thing. But I was having fun.

 

As the old, old song says without regard to style, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing... It makes no diff'rence if it's sweet or it's hot, Just give that rhythm ev'rything you got."

 

I think that's true regardless of Baroque, Classical, Flamenco, bluegrass, blues or whatever... No mention of tone there in the old tune...

 

m

 

m

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Interesting point.

 

OTOH, I'm not sure that the physical being of the pick - or the fingers - is as important as some of the less tangible technique behind using anything to excite strings.

 

Joe Pass is known for using bare fingers in jazz guitar and yet, it's my impression that he always carried a pick - and his earlier material was playing with a pick.

 

And... listening to his earlier material and later material, to me, at least, it all sounds like Joe Pass. That's even with different guitar rigs that might technically be considered to have different "tone."

 

Perhaps that's from his emphasis on playing songs over any other issue when doing solo work.

 

But I can't help wondering how many musicians seldom think of playing songs instead of notes and chords?

 

m

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I am increasingly convinced that much of our "tone" chase, whether electric or acoustic, comes from our opinions colored by that music we "like" and often seek at least subconsciously to emulate.

 

Yes. When I was starting, I knew I wanted a Strat sound. Even though some of my heroes used Gibsons (Mick Abrahams, Peter Green), the sound I wanted, I was hearing from Dave Gilmour, Rory Gallagher. Even Santana was using a Strat back then. They sounded different to each other, but there was a basic unifying tone component common to all of them.

 

 

2. When I started playing I went quickly into fingerstyle playing. My right hand somehow could intuit stuff like "Freight Train" and "Railroad Bill" and "Cocaine," some folk blues like Mississippi John Hurt's material, and the PP&M backings to everything from "A-Soalin'" to "Don't think twice." BUT - (underline "but") my choice of guitar was a classical guitar obviously with nylon strings. Every dedicated folkie with Martins and Hummingbirds kept telling me I couldn't play on nylon because it wasn't the right "sound." Hadda be a steel string and hadda be a big body.

 

Yeah, roughly the same sorta response to some of my guitar choices later in rock, later still in country. For flamenco, less but still a "you should have a flamenco guitar to get the tone."

 

 

m

 

That’s peer pressure! I never encountered peer pressure in regard to tone before. This thing is though, that I’m sure you made it work. What we hear feeds our expectations. Consider Leonard Cohen and his Spanish guitar. That was an unusual choice, but it added a haunting quality to his songs and it’s hard to imagine him with anything but a nylon strung guitar.

Sometimes it’s good to change things. Your audience embraced & validated what you did. It’s the musicians that want conformity. I’ve was sacked from a band because I wouldn’t play the song like Joe Walsh did. I just wanted to improvise, but tone was part of that issue, because I made no effort to emulate his sound either.

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I've run into variations of "peer pressure" rather frequently until gray hair took over my head.

 

Direct and indirect peer pressure is more powerful, I think, in many of our musical choices than sometimes we can admit to ourselves, and I'll point three fingers back at me if I try to point at others.

 

For those of us who do, or who have played "out," I think it tends to "go away" as one's musical comrades age, but I still can see some of it. "Oh, you don't have a Martin?" or "Isn't that a jazz guitar?"

 

Yeah, it's an electric archtop I tend to use fingerstyle for "cowboy" songs 'stedda strumming on a big body Marin or Gibson. So what? It's gonna be run through a PA anyway.

 

<grin>

 

m

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Interesting point.

 

OTOH, I'm not sure that the physical being of the pick - or the fingers - is as important as some of the less tangible technique behind using anything to excite strings.

 

Joe Pass is known for using bare fingers in jazz guitar and yet, it's my impression that he always carried a pick - and his earlier material was playing with a pick.

 

And... listening to his earlier material and later material, to me, at least, it all sounds like Joe Pass. That's even with different guitar rigs that might technically be considered to have different "tone."

 

Perhaps that's from his emphasis on playing songs over any other issue when doing solo work.

 

But I can't help wondering how many musicians seldom think of playing songs instead of notes and chords?

 

m

 

When I saw Joe Pass, he used his fingers, but he was doing a solo concert at that time.

 

The thing about Jazz guitar though, is that its not hard to find a great tone.

You use a neck pickup, and clean signal and a clean amp channel. You are also not playing at high volume, so the amp is unlikely to be driven hard.

 

Archtops are great but of course you can use anything if you’re careful. Such as Tim Lerch & his Tele

 

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