Saturday, January 17, 2015

Finding Tonal Magic in Similarities

Most of us have more than one guitar hero. Focusing on trying to get that one sound is a lot of fun, and helps teach you what works and what doesn't. There is something impressive about nailing a sound and a style of a great artist and every step you take towards achieving those tones is an accomplishment. The question many people have is "why do you want to sound like that guy, don't you want to be yourself?" The answer is "because he's great" and striving towards greatness has never been a bad thing. I've heard a lot of Hendrix clones, a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan clones, a lot of Eddie Van Halen clones, a lot of Zakk Wylde clones, and a lot of David Gilmour clones. But is Eric Johnson a Hendrix clone? Nope Eric sounds like Eric despite having very similar equipment and being very influenced by Hendrix. It's easy to find the differences but I've found that focusing on similarities helps you find tonal magic.
There is a reason this works!

The Strat Masters
Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, David Gilmour, Eric Johnson, Richie Kotzen and Yngwie Malmsteen. They all sound quite different and yet there are similarities in their tones. We'll start with the obvious one the Strat! Ok so Richie plays a tele but he also plays a strat at times. Strats are very versatile and easy to modify to your liking. Amp wise there seems to be two trains of thought here a crunchy, overdriven Marshall type amp or a clean amp with pedals but those pedals often sound like a crunchy old Marshall. David Gilmour and Eric Johnson are both known for using a BK Butler Tube Driver into a clean amp but compare those tones to a JTM45 and you'll start to hear similarities. Eric Johnson's setup is very Hendrix influenced as was Stevie Ray Vaughan's and David Gilmour's in the early days. If your using a lot of clean tones you may want to go with the clean fendery tones and pedals for your crunch and lead tones but if your mainly using crunch tones you can also clean up with your volume knob and then push it for leads. Once again focus on the similarities and you'll start to find magic. I find setting up for a nice crunchy Marshall tone with just a bit of gain a great place to start. Start with your EQ knobs at 12 o'clock and then add or take away depending on what you hear. All of these players will use their volume knob a lot to change the sound so dialing in your sound with the volume around 6 or 7 instead of on 10 will open up a lot of options. Another similarity is pickups, with the exception of Yngwie they all use weaker vintage voiced pickups. Yngwie uses a hotter more modern style pickup but you can also use an overdrive to get that type of sound if you prefer to use more vintage sounds most of the time. All of these guys use modulation to add a swirly effect. David Gilmour started with a Univibe, changed to a Phaser, then Flanger, then Chorus but he uses them all the same way. I was a chorus player for a long time but lately I've really gotten into phasers. These days I use chorus for subtle effects and the phaser for wilder craziness. With each of these players their style of playing is what creates their sound more than gear.

Hard Rock Heroes
My favorite rock guitar players have always been guys like Van Halen, Zakk Wylde, Jerry Cantrell, and Metallica. All hard rock players playing through high gain amps with few simple effects. Most of the time we focus on the differences between the sounds of these players but when I focused on the similarities I found tonal magic. I was able to dial in a JCM800 or a Dual Rectifier to cover all of these guys best sounds. The formula was simple. A slightly hotter bridge humbucker like an EMG81 or a Seymour Duncan JB, a high gain amp with most of the knobs past 12 o'clock, an overdrive pedal to push it for solos, chorus for thickening, delay and wah. If I needed ACDC crunch I could roll back the volume on the guitar. If I needed more cut I would use a TS9 type overdrive to push the amp and give a little more mids. Some people will get hung up on the guitar bridge and while it's an important part of your sound and playing style I've found that in heavier rock sounds it's not as important. I can mimic all of these players sounds with a floating floyd type bridge or fixed bridge as long as I'm using the above formula.

My point here is that it's easy to listen for differences but when you start listening for similarities you can often find something that works great for you. Find the similarities in the setups with your favorite artist and you'll be one step closer to finding your own voice.

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