It is the Sound That Matters…

So many guitarists work on technique these days, and I am no exception. I mean, the mechanics of playing- flying up and down the fretboard at faster and faster speeds. It is a young (mostly male) thing, no different than the runner trying to be the fastest or the weightlifter going with a few more pounds.
However, concentrating all of your practice time on just getting faster misses the point. Not every song is fast (that gets boring), and it ignores the tone of the notes created.
The tone is the thing for me. There are some seriously fast players out there, known and unknown. After listening to many of the mp3s and seeing tons of videos, I realized that most of them ignore the obvious: is this a sound that anyone would want to hear?
Believe me, I love making irritating noises as much as any other musician. But a guitarist who just makes irritating noises probably won’t work much, and drawing from such a shallow sonic pool, will repeat him/herself quickly.
Tone is subjective, but identifying when a musician ignores it is not. Everyone has bad days/bad gigs…with unfamiliar gear or some gear that is acting up. But if a musician is consistent in their lack of attention to tone, it shows.
Now, I know not everyone can afford the latest boutique amps and overdrives (either can I: I am a musician after all). But it starts with a guitar and an amp. If you can’t get a clean sound to be fretted cleanly, all the distortion in the world won’t cover it up. The process starts with one single note, and then two.

Gear selection is a big subject: most people buy what their heroes have, in hopes it can help them sound just like their heroes. This works as we are learning, but the failure is to not break off of that course and find our own sounds.

Now is one of the most exciting times to be a guitarist: we have multieffects, programmable amps, and guitars that stay in tune without us doing anything. Problem is that most guitarists buy these and have no idea what they do. The idea of reading a manual is an impossible task, and understanding just one parameter (like setting the ‘sustain’ on a compressor- we want a lot, right?) sends the technophobic guitarist reeling and dismissing the good ol’ amp and cable approach. Nothing wrong with that, since lots of guitarists do fine that way. But arriving there because you can’t or won’t read the manual of the expensive device just bought is sort of..silly.

So the tone search is a lifetime one, for the guitarist. It isn’t like we never get there, but we constantly evolve. And it is fun. The goal is to sing to others in our own voice, because we have something to say. And what our own voice sounds like makes them want to listen. Hopefully.

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