Wait…Tone is Really in the Hands?
I’ll cut right to the chase here…(I know, this is a rare occasion…I’d encourage you to take this feeling that you have right now of, ‘Wait, I don’t have to sift through random drivel about why Orlando Bloom doesn’t exist without clothing?’, and box it up; because I can pretty much guarantee that this won’t happen often)…and just say it. A couple nights ago, after the set, everyone who plays guitar has to come over and play my new amp…because that’s we do as guitarists. The worship sets, concerts, and shows are just excuses to come over and try out everyone’s new gear. And by ‘try out’, I of course mean in our heads, because we guitarists have so mastered tone, that we can tell what a pedal or amp or guitar sounds like just by looking at it. ‘Blue led? Custom paint job? How much did it cost? $450? Oh ya, that one sounds good.’ I’m the worst at this…I almost bought a Red Llama clone the other day because the custom paint job was this cool sheet music finish. Made me feel like a ‘real’ musician, rather than a ‘Edge plays this; hence, so do I’ musician. And then I realized, ‘Wait, I don’t even want a Red Llama clone.’
Anyway, people are over playing my amp. And I’m instantly struck by the fact that each one sounds different. They’re all using my guitar, my cable, and my amp. (Oh ya! Plugged straight in, baby. Eat your hearts out, rockers!) But not only do they sound different than me, they also sound different from each other. See, just different from me would have been really cool, because I could have convinced myself that ‘different’ meant ‘bad’, in which case the final outcome in my head would have been that my hands are better than everyone else’s. But nobody sounded either better or worse…just different. And these are on chords…not riffs. And all fingers on the strums.
(Okay, how is that not the coolest pedal ever?! Just makes you feel like Bach every time you’d play it. But like Bach, with distortion! Fantastic. And see in the picture? ‘Tone’ is in the ‘hands’. hehe Wow, that was dorky. But that’s a gorgeous pedal. Blast. That’s it, I’m buying it.)
So there ya go. Throw out all your boutique amps, and handmade guitars, and hand-painted on the top of a mountain in Sweden pedals, because tone is in your hands. Ehhh…not quite. I also remember certain specific gear changes that made a huge difference in tone. Changing from my Peavey Classic 100 to an Orange AD30. Huge difference. Maybe not good or bad one way or the other, but very, very different. But yet I still sounded like ‘me.’ Same thing with this Holland/Divided by 13 thing. Very different tones, but I still sound like me. So I think the answer here is yes, to keep searching for good tone in gear. But to remember, getting a Two Rock doesn’t make you sound like John Mayer. Your hands are probably your biggest source of tone. Yet at the same time, what is going to bring out the tone from your hands more? A guitar with well-wound and responsive pickups, with new lifelike strings, and resonant wood? Or are you going to say, ‘My hands are so good, they don’t need any help’, and keep plunking away on your plywood with 2-year-old strings?
I think we’ve got to find the middle ground between, ‘Look how cool I am, I have tons of expensive gear that makes me sound good’ and ‘Look how cool I am, I’m such a good player that this Crate 8 inch can’t even hurt my tone.’ Both gear and hands contribute to good ‘sound.’ Again, ‘sound’ being made up of tone, motor skills (or hands), and musicianship (or mind), all coming together. And then to remember that 95% of our audiences are not musicians. They don’t care whether you’re playing through a Behringer or a Vox, or whether your tone is coming from your hands or the Matchless pedal (hehe, yikes I’m stuck on that pedal right now…it lights up! No, I don’t think you’re understanding me……it lights up!!); they probably don’t even care that it ‘sounds good.’ They just care that they get the feeling they want from the music. And that feeling comes from a good sound, which comes from good hands, which are brought out by good sounding gear.
And then to be humble enough to want to go for a ‘good sound’, even if it means not being able to be ‘the guy with all the gear’, or ‘the guy without all the gear…just the hands, man’. The point is to have both…the gear, and the hands. Then you can really take yourself seriously!