Monday, May 3, 2010

The Tone Is In Your Hands Part 2

1972 Gibson Es-175D, Acoustic Image Clarus 2R with Raezers-Edge Stealth 12, Acoustic Image Coda Plus, and in the background ZT Lunchbox Amp with extension cab
The previous post [below] which has a virtual MP3 player plays some sound files of my guitar playing. This post is the content since I didn't know how to combine the MP3 player's HTML coding with Blogger's WYSIWYG editing. The accompaniment to my amateurish playing was by Band-In-Box software:a fantastic sotware just listen to the acoustic bass, the drums and that great piano playing. However the files further down the list from song 5 or so downwards were recorded with earlier versions of Band-In-A-Box, and in these the accompaniment is MIDI unlike the real sampled sounds of the later songs.
All guitar players yearn for that awesome tone, which for electric guitars is the result of the combination of guitar, amplifier and the player's touch. And yet, the final tone that comes out of the speaker is the result of a non-linear and very complex process. So far as it is known, there has not been a successful attempt at trying to replicate a particular player's tone using a particular guitar with a particular amplifier. In theory, using sensors, you can capture the digital signals that come from say, Slash playing on his 1959 Les Paul through a Marshall, or George Benson with his Ibanez GB10 playing through a Fender Twin Reverb. But the signals captured have so many overtones that it is not possible to replicate them totally. Modeling a guitar tone or an amp tone is a modeler's nightmare. Amps with software .e.g. Line 6 that try to replicate the classic amps of the past like the Vox AC30, the Roland JC120 or the Fender Twin Reverb fail miserably. Digital guitars like the Gibson Darkfire which claims to be able to give you the sound of classic guitars like the 60's Gibson Les Paul, a '53 Fender Telecaster or a classic Gibson ES-175 jazz archtop also fail to do so. Somehow, that combination of so many variables, if you could list them all, mix together in some magical proprotion to give that particular tone. Just for the guitar alone every part of it from the wood to the bridge, pickups, strings, nut, headstock, neck, fingerboard wood etc all contibute towards the final sound.
But even if you had Slash's or Joe Pass' guitar and amp, you still wouldn't sound like them. A large part of a guitar's tone comes from how you play it: the way you hold your pick, or use your thumb or fingers, how hard you attack the strings, how fast you slide along the fretboard, lift up your fingers or hold the notes for sustain etc.
In the sound files above, I used a wide variety of guitars: And some of the songs have the type of guitar used indicated. From Telecasters to full-bodied archtops like the vintage Gibson ES-175, to semi-solids like the Gibson ES-335, A 1975 Guild, a 2003 Ibanez George Benson 200 and a Singapore-made Maestro acoustic guitar. All through the same amp, the Acoustic Image Clarus through a Raezer's Edge speaker. [except for the cheap Indonesia made G&L ASAT which was put through a ZT Lunchbox amp] Ultimately all the songs still sound like me. [well, perhaps you can hear a bit more of the woodiness in the archtops, and the Maestro acoustic also sounds a bit different]. But the conclusion is irrefutable: The tone is in your hands. And provided the pick-ups and your amp is decent, a $200 cheapo guitar is just as good as a $4000 '72 Gibson ES-175. Well, maybe I need to qualify that last sentence- yes, a good vintage guitar that has aged gracefully, will have a silky, refined tone that cannot be got from a new guitar. My new Korean Peerless archtop testifies to that. It's very well-made with good wood and fantastic electronics and I am sure in years to come it will mellow. But for now, the tone is a bit raw and edgy as compared to my older guitars.

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