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.

Red Llama Clone
(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! 😉


20 thoughts on “Wait…Tone is Really in the Hands?

  1. I met an artist once at a place where I used to work. This girl could create amazing things with pencil, pen, charcoal, brushes, whatever. I went with her once to pick up some art supplies. Genius that I am, I figured we were going to stop by Office Max or Walmart to pick up some sketch paper and brushes.

    Instead, we headed downtown and pulled up in front of this little art supply shop. You know, one of those places with the big old timey windows out front and a bell rings when you walk in the door. She spent about an hour walking around looking at stuff and talking to the store owner and eventually walked out with a small bag of several oil brushes and those paper things you use with charcoal for shading (Similar to calling an Ebow that little thingy with the blue light.). Probably cost her around $30 for the lot.

    On the drive back, I asked her what the difference was between those brushes and the ones you could pick up at an office supply or Walmart. They certainly looked the same. She said that she could paint with either but the better brushes allowed her artistic ability to come through easier on the canvas than the cheap Wally World ones.

    So…Is my custom made Strat a better brush than a Squier? It sure feels like it. Do I sound like myself no matter which instrument I play. Yeah, but the custom made one sure brings more of me out. I think I’ll keep buying the more expensive brushes.

  2. Blue LED’s rule! 🙂
    Someone was selling a Matchless pedal for cheap ($100-200) on SF craigslist but sadly it is gone. If I see it again, I’ll let you know.
    I’m a sucker for industrial design and I had an old PRS Harmonic Generator solid state head for a short while. It looked really cool with the panel all lit up but the tone…not so much. It would look awesome if you wanted to stage a music room.

    I agree that tone is in the hands.
    (Painful Two Rock demo video from a beginning guitar player on youtube omitted)
    I like reading gear dissertations on TGP only to listen to the clips and think – maybe learn how to play first before you go on your visionquest all hopped up on TGP peyote 🙂

    • TGP peyote – nice.

      Dan – you’re in the Bay Area? I live in Mountain View, work in Palo Alto. I play at The Highway Community in Palo Alto.

      • Hi Tom – I live in RWC and work in Menlo Park.
        I used to play at Sequoia in RWC and CPC in Foster City and various night services. We started going to Peninsula Covenant in RWC and I’m playing church related things once a month with Jerome Madigan.
        If there’s anyone else in the Bay Area, maybe it’s time for a pedal shootout!

  3. Karl,

    Totally off topic but I went to play guitar this morning before work and my Replica is throwing fits. Won’t tap tempo and doesn’t really want to start up and shut down. This is not good. Those dotted eights are coming in handy. Putting the Memory Lane back on the board is gonna take some reorganization. Arggghhhh!

  4. Mark–great story, bro. I absolutely agree. If tone/artistry is in the hands, we need good gear that allows that artistry to come through. Great stuff! 🙂

    Dan–score! Another vote for blue led’s! haha And if you find that Matchless, let me know! Or keep it…hehe

    And yes…I know I probably fall into the category of buying too much and not practicing enough. I could probably use a little more balance. haha

    Tom–oops, not talking to me. Just wanted to say hi, though! lol 😉

    Mark–seriously? That sucks! Sounds like a dumb question, but are you running it off of its original adapter?

    And the upside, T-Rex will fix any of their pedals for free. Or, at least they did a view years ago. I’ve sent a couple Replicas back, and they’ve fixed them or sent me new ones.

  5. Karl,

    That’s good to know. I had heard that about them. Another one of the reasons I had decided to get one. That customer service is an important thing. How long did it take for them to get fixed and returned? And yes, I was using the adapter that came with it.

    PS – UA is supposed to be in this week. Hopefully that will relieve the gear depression.

  6. great post…you are SOOOOOOO right…I’ve had my share of expensive equipment…always looking for that right tone…I’ve come to the ‘humble’ conclusion that I suck because I suck…not because I need a more expensive amp or another pedal to make me sound better…truthfully, just as it says in the word, “we are His workmanship/masterpiece”…our artistic giftedness is what makes its way through the pick, onto the strings, into the pickup and out the jack amplified for all to hear…I met Abe Laboriel a few years back…he said the same thing…even if you can play ONE note, play it as if you were giving God that one notes as a gift of love. When I play, I’ve had to come to that conclusion…the tone I have is for God’s ears alone – straight from my heart to His – if it isn’t about Jesus, then what’s the point!

    As usual, love the blog! Hey, box up that pedal and mail it to me – you know you wanna share!


  7. Mark–I think grand total was two weeks! Which means that most of the time would have been shipping both ways, and their turnaround time must’ve been near zero. I always just sent them a polite e-mail letting them know what was happening with the pedal and if they knew of a quick repair I could do myself or how much it would cost for them to repair it. And they always volunteered that I ship the pedal to them and that they would fix it for free.

    And man, I’m really anticipating how you like the UA. Like I said, I ended up deciding against it…which is another post altogether. But if you dig it, it might be something I go after in the future!

    Chad–thanks for the kind words. I’m stoked you’re getting good info out of it, after sifting through all the randomness. 😉

    Ben–good times, bro! And thanks. Always nice to know there’s people who think the same as I do. (Makes me feel vindicated! haha)

  8. Robin–great comment! (Sorry, you must’ve been commenting just as I was writing the last one. haha) I agree with everything you said. Except for ‘I suck because I suck’; not only do I agree, but that was just classic!

    And great quote from Abe. Well, I say that like I know him, but in actuality, I’ve just seen him play at a couple conferences. But what he said there is so killer.

    And I haven’t heard back from the seller on that pedal, yet…but if it doesn’t work in my rig, I’ll let you know! Maybe we could work out a trade or something. Pretty much that’s my whole goal for this blog…by the end of it, everyone reading should have their rigs completely intertwined with each other. lol

  9. Truthfully, the Divided by 13 would work for me…:0)

    Seriously, just had a chance to play my new Mesa Express…5:25…I’m impressed with this little amps guts and flexibility. But more to come on that…

    Anyway, somebody’s gotta come up with a way to virtually tap into anybody’s rig…wouldn’t that be great!

    Keep at it bro!

  10. i agree that tone is in the hands, but, i also believe on the value of buying better gear. love the story about brushes, btw!

    – would we all sound different on the same cheap gear? definitely.
    – would we all sound different with better gear? 100%.
    – would we all sound different but better with better gear? oh yeah, baby!

  11. Robin–haha Who knows, I may be getting rid of it! I don’t think I will, but hey…I’m a guitarist! hehe 😉 And virtual rig sharing would be awesome!

    Rhoy–great comment!! I agree 100%! Especially the part about buying more gear. hehe 😉

  12. Serious as a blown power tube (That might have been the wrong thing to say considering what I just got delivered.). It was the FedEx guy with my UA. This might help reduce the burn from my toasted Replica.

    First impressions:

    1.) Big and heavy. My Princeton was giving me looks like…Your gonna set that on top of me?

    2.) Had some concerns about setup and startup but it was pretty easy.

    3.) Cranked the Princeton up to 8 and slowly brought up the volume on the UA. To about TV level. Nice! The feel and the tone are there. Missing some of the lower midrange that you get out of the 10″ 8ohm speaker when it’s getting kicked in the face by some volume. But that’s to be expected. Brought up the volume to about noon on the dial. About half the volume you would get without the UA. Basically my current church level. Lower midrange is back. This thing does work! It’s weird getting that pushed tube amp feel at such low volume. I was just about late for work this morning.

    More info when I get a couple hours to swap it around to my other amps.

  13. Jason–lol Only a matter of time before I sell everything? haha I’ll let you know! You can talk me out of it! 🙂

    Mark–no way! That’s seriously rad.

    Hey, glad the UA is working so well! That’s really good to know. Totally looking forward to how it reacts with the other amps. 🙂

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