Tone Obsessing

I think I’m just an obsessive person. I thought it was just music, but then I started wondering what I used to do with my time before I just focused constantly on tone, gear, guitars, and music. Like, literally, sometimes I look forward to my half-hour commute to work because I’m just dreaming of all that uninhibited upon time in which I will be able to think solely on new signal paths for my board. And then I remembered that before I was in to music, it was actually the same; walking out of a baseball stadium with my dad at 10 years old, bawling my eyes out because my favorite player had only gotten a double instead of a triple, which would then lower him in the American League leaders for total bases. (I know my dad worried about his male child at times.) Ten years later, I’d pout outside of my truck after a church service for literal hours when my tone or playing wasn’t where I wanted it to be. Until my girlfriend would kindly ask if I wouldn’t mind brooding about my tone while we ate something and didn’t get questioned by parking lot security. Nothing has changed. This is all I think about:

  • Turn up a little louder than you think you’ll need to, and then play with a lighter touch than you want to. It’s almost like creating your own clean headroom, and at least for me, I find my tone seems to be singing more and choking less.
  • I can’t tell you how much I adore having that Boss RV3 on my board. I watch people’s faces as they come up to my board and are about to rail me for the snobbishness that unfortunately blue led’d pedals emit, and then the RV3 renders them speechless. Which is funny, because it cost me almost double what I spent on my Fulltone Fatboost.
  • Step back every once in a while, and let the song talk to you, and tell you what notes it wants where. I know that sounds like something a frat guy with the munchies would say after watching Matrix for the first time, but it really does switch your brain into a different gear that’ll change the way you play. And you’ll start to find more melodies and gripping lines that way, even after you’ve stopped consciously being all zen.
  • This is the second time I’ve bought a Murf, spent an afternoon of loving amazement playing with the different sounds, and then went ‘Huh.’ And put it on Ebay.
  • I am loving my Valvulator more than I thought was possible. If it had a little delay knob, I think the world might literally stop spinning.
  • I was playing with a worship leader friend of mine who was leading with electric, and when the sound guy told him he was too loud, he replied that he would try to back off his vocal mic more. It didn’t work, but it was a valiant effort.
  • Did you know that ZVex power plates are like 30 bucks? And that you can just take off a couple screws from the backplate, and stick a $2 battery clip adapter at the end of a jumper cable and it works just as well? I just discovered that, actually.
  • Ever look down at your pedalboard during a set and go, ‘How long has that been on?’
  • Ever think to yourself after looking down at your pedalboard during a set and going ‘How long has that been on?’ that if you didn’t notice it being on for the whole set, then why do you even have that pedal anyway?
  • I’ll take floor monitors over in-ears any day. (Provided you still have a headphone preamp to run click to at least the drummer’s ear…preferably yours as well. 😉 )
  • Jay-Z and Mr. Hudson singing ‘Forever Young’ on SNL was one of the worst things I have ever heard. And I used to listen to Squad Five-O.


43 thoughts on “Tone Obsessing

  1. My FAVORITE part of this post is at the bottom where it says “Print Article.” Wow. Article….
    Not just a blog, an honest-to-goodness news source for all things gear/tone?

  2. “I was playing with a worship leader friend of mine who was leading with electric, and when the sound guy told him he was too loud, he replied that he would try to back off his vocal mic more. It didn’t work, but it was a valiant effort.”

    I love this one!

  3. Larry–what, you don’t want to print out my stories about my childhood, U2, and delay, and carry them with you everywhere you go? 😉 hehe

    But seriously, if WordPress knew the stuff I wrote here, it would’ve just said ‘Print rubbish’. 😀

    Nate–hehe He’ll be pleased. He looked at me after he said it and goes, ‘You have to put that in the blog.’

  4. hmm all this talk about printing is making me wonder when “Guitar for Worship – The Book” is coming out! 😛

    Seriously though, that is not a totally crazy suggestion… I reckon if you compile a lot of your wisdom here that would be an awesome book to read, tapping into an under-resourced market. Well I’d buy it anyway, and probably Larry, so that’s at least 2 copies sold!

  5. make it three! I can’t tell you karl, how many times i’ve made a tone or pedal joke and only have a guitar player laugh. i cant tell you how many times ive caught myself making a snobby tone comment either. Love this blog, you are a blessing! I often refer to you as ‘my internet friend karl” and have people give me the same looks as when i start marvelous light with the streets riff. . .unexplainable.

  6. Set things louder and play softer ( well, occasionally). I like that idea because almost invariably I set things at rehearsal before church ( as does the sound guy on his end), then there’s not enough volume during the service. Of course I’d never get that explained to the sound guy so I may just put tape markers on my pedals ( ” practice setting” and “real deal setting”).

    Tell us more about the glories of the RV3. I think going forward if anyone asks why do you do this or that with your guitar, board or song set I’ll just say “Karl said so, end of story.” 🙂

  7. Ever look down at your pedal board during a set and go, ‘How long has that been on?’

    One set up I had years ago had the Wah going to a MXR Phase 90. Them MXR had no indicator to let you know when it was on…. trying to wah with that phase on was… well… never mind….

    The concept of controling your volume thru dynamics….hmmmm

  8. you are a good/funny story-teller and a book (or an e-book for those tech-savvy folks) would be a good venture for you … count me in for the book request! 😉

    good thoughts, btw …

  9. Because of this blog I’ve become the Guru or tone for our band at church 🙂 Most of my material is just regurgitations from the blog I read that morning lol. Thanks a bunch Karl! I know you’ve helped my guitar sound louds better! I actually JUST started turning my amp up and playing softer. I find i get a much more controlled tone instead of getting horrible string sounds when I bang on them to get the volume I want.

  10. yea, i started turning up and playing softer cause i don’t have any money to buy a volume pedal. but yea, i’ve noticed you get a better sound too.

  11. The blog teaches you about a new form of leadership:
    Tone leadership (the name of your first book Karl?)

    Now people can spend a few weeks reading your blog and become a tone leader in their church!

    You’re writing history Karl.

    “Ever think to yourself after looking down at your pedalboard during a set and going ‘How long has that been on?’ that if you didn’t notice it being on for the whole set, then why do you even have that pedal anyway?”

    I have a boss ch-1… ill try it out during the practice before a set to inevitably decide that i still haven’t found a good use for the sterile digital chorus it produces and then leave it on for the rest of the evening without noticing…

  12. Do you ever feel tempted to fill out a comment card at church regarding the guitar tone? 🙂 I saw this guitar player switch from his normal 30-50 watt boutique head to what looked like a AC15 heritage combo. The change in headroom killed his tone. Some things you gotta keep to yourself.

    I agree with you on the floor monitors. It just feels a lot better that IEMs. I have to admit that you hear a little more detail on delays and shimmer through the IEMs but you can’t put your foot up on IEMs when you solo. 😉

  13. Baggas–haha Well, thanks for the encouragement, bro! I need to be able to figure out how to embed youtube videos in that book. hehehe

    Joel–lol Thanks, bro. Really appreciate that. And there’s a way to start Marvelous Light without the Streets riff? 😉 hehe

    Cam–thanks, bro! 🙂

    Randy–that tape idea isn’t bad. I might do the same!

    And the RV3…I actually don’t really like it as a reverb. I think it sounds kind of sterile. But as an ‘after-effect’, that kind of adds weird ambient artifacts to the decay of sounds, I love it. So I use it just as that, in the shimmer loop. It really helps to have those weird artifacts adding color.

    Sal–lol I’ve done the same thing! With a Distortion+ that had no led. Those old blasted MXR boxes! haha

    And yep…do you remember John Vanus at Life Church? Years ago he pointed to my hand and said, ‘That’s your volume pedal.’ I was confused at the time, because I didn’t have to spend any money on my hand. 😉 And Sal, I’ve watched you many a time give beautiful dynamics from just your playing technique, so that’s partly from you as well.

    Rhoy–thanks, brother. Hmm…an e-book. Maybe I could embed youtube videos in that? 🙂

    Ben G–right on! Ya, it totally helps huh, to turn up and play with more finesse. I’m still working on it myself. 🙂

    Nater2–sweet. Nice to know I’m not just fooling myself by doing that. haha

    James–haha Not sure about that, but hey…if you say so, I’ll take it! 😉

    And stoked that you’ve done the same thing. haha And ya…it’s usually with like, chorus or reverb or something. hehe

    RyanJ–you too, bro?! Yes! Best 45 second songs ever!

    Dan–absolutely. In fact, I think there should be comment cards dedicated just to guitar tone. 😉 And ya…I’m realizing how important headroom is.

    Good point on the in-ears, too. I will admit, I do like the delay definition in them. But I usually end up hacking because I can’t get any feel out of them. It’d be nice to have a mix of both, like real bands. But…oh well. hehe

    Seth J–nice! I’ve heard that that and some other preamp clones of the SDD are supposed to be great. I think that was like, a happy accident for Edge when he started using those for delay, was the sound the preamp section gave him. Thanks for the link, bro!

  14. Great post Karl!
    I actually just discovered the ZVex power trick as well for my Seek Wah when i finally found my pedal power battery clip adapter 🙂 But at the same time decided to sell it to make room for a Diamond Tremolo…blast! Pedal board space has always been my downfall! haha that and cable length for some reason… (usually cause I want THAT pedal to be in THIS loop but it happens to be clear across my board! 🙂 )

  15. After reading this post I’m starting to appreciate that ‘guitar for worship’ can be taken two ways.

    Also, am I the only one that the homepage is really messed up for? (ie, the gradient background picture actually cuts in over the text)

  16. Everything looks pretty normal to me in Firefox. The link to the Blind Overdrive Shootout article just above the title “Tone Obsessing” is very dim, almost grayed out.

  17. Sal Garcia–haha Same thing happens here! And nice…that Diamond Trem is awesome! Congrats. 🙂

    Liam–lol Ya……guilty as charged.

    And the site looks fine to me, even when I log out. Sorry about that, bro! I’ll do what I can.

    Randy–ya, the links to the previous and next posts are so faint in this theme that it took me a while to realize they were there. haha Maybe I should just do away with them altogether.

  18. So I have a funny story that happened last night. After the youth band finished our set, I was packing up my rig and this kid who just started coming last week comes up to me and says, “killer tone man.” I was so excited you don’t even know. Then he was talking about how his fender amp just blew and he has to use a “standard” line 6 solid state for his performance tomorrow. I then threw up a little in my mouth and told him he could borrow my vox if he wanted. He freaked out and was so excited. I told him I was a “tone advocate” and that anytime I can help people realize what good tone is I’m there and as I’m saying this the other guitar player in the band turns to him and says, “more like a tone freak.” Karl… I owe you a debt of gratitude 🙂

  19. Ben G–sweet! That’s awesome, bro! And even more awesome that you were kind enough to lend someone your amp. Huge props to you, bro!

    Ryan–I just can’t get any type of feel out of in-ears, and I end up hacking to much rather than playing with, well, feel. 🙂 And it doesn’t matter how good the buds are; there’s still a difference between a 5 centimeter speaker and a 12 inch speaker. Now, I do appreciate what most of the pro’s do, with non-sound-canceling in-ears coupled with floor monitors, so then you can get the clarity of the in-ears as well as click and clear loops, on top of the fullness of monitors.

    It’s just that whenever I play with monitors, my playing goes way up. 🙂 Maybe not the same for everybody, though.

  20. “Ever look down at your pedalboard during a set and go, ‘How long has that been on?’”

    So that line made me think of rehearsal last night. So I decided to drop the low E to D to try something on an Israel Houghton song we’re doing on Sunday (seriously, why wouldn’t you want to do that on a Israel Houghton song?).

    Well, we moved onto the next song and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why I kept playing all the wrong chords or sounding out of tune… Yeah. Dumb moment.

  21. This Marvelous Light song is one I haven’t heard before… but I might have to introduce it just to give me an excuse to do the Streets Riff in church… 😛

    I managed to fit the riffs from ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Still Haven’t Found’ into the one song last Sunday but there’s always potential for more Edge plagiarism – lol

  22. During rehearsals, my sound guy told me to turn my amp down because I was “overpowering”. As a joke I acted like I was turning it down but only to take it down a hair, if any. After the song I ask how it sounded, he told me “it was perfect”.

  23. truthfully Jonathan if I had a dollar for every time I’ve done that “turning down my amp” trick I could probably have bought a new amp by now 😛

  24. haha You guys are right. I’ve done the same thing. And it works both ways, too…I’ve definitely had sound guys (or done it myself) who will do the ‘fake monitor turn up’ thing until the drummer says, ‘Perfect.’ hehehe It’s either the power of suggestion, or that we’re all just too nice and once we’ve said something is too loud or too soft, we don’t want to bring it up again.

  25. I agree about the need for floor monitors. As far as them interferring with the mains, don’t know what to say except turn up the mains. I’ve reverted to bringing my amp to church — ” no good sound on stage, no Randy playing guitar, end of story.”

    Question, what would happen if I unplugged the speaker jack on my Carvin vintage 16 and ran the amp’s output to a decent wedge monitor? ( ok I know that isn’t the greatest tube amp in the world, but it’s what I have now ). Trying to get a little more bottom out of it than the small cabinet and 12 inch vintage 30 Celestion can deliver.

    Would it have to be a special cable, not just an extra guitar cable ( I’m guessing not since the amp only puts out 5 or 15 watts ). We have an extra wedge — I think they are 3 way with probably a 12 inch woofer.

    Marvelous Light: yes I’ve considered that one and like that style in general. Currently considering D.C. Talk’s In the Light — I’d have to simply it a bit and the bridge is odd, might drop that. Anybody using that song?

  26. It depends on the impedance of the floor monitor. If it’s not the same rating as your Carvin, you run the risk of blowing the Carvin’s output tranny. That being said, if the impedances do match, just a speaker cable will be fine. It might not sound the greatest, though. Floor monitor speakers are usually made to have very flat EQ’s.

    And In the Light! I love that song! That’s a staple for me when I want to rock, but don’t have a drummer. 🙂

  27. Thanks Karl. Yes speaker not guitar cable — slight difference in load there 🙂 Guess I’ll watch Craig’s List for a 2×12 cab.

  28. This past weekend I had the “how long has that been on?” moment. Twice actually.

    I used trem for the walk-in and forgot to turn it off for the first worship tune. I knew “something” was wrong, but couldn’t put my finger on it.

    The 2nd time the boost stayed on wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy too long after the
    solo. I could have sworn I turned it off, but I look down for some reason
    and there it was. Doh!

    Stupid pedals …

  29. Randy–ya, definitely. And if you’re looking for something warmer than the V30, I’d suggest Weber’s. 🙂 Been stoked on those lately!

    TimH–lol Exactly! It happens to me when I rearrange pedals, too. And then you miss one, think you’re opening the song with clean tone, and you murder people with your fuzz. lol You’re totally right about trem, too…because with the whole band it can be subtle enough to where you just maddeningly know something is wrong, but not sure what. hehe

  30. Hey Karl!
    I was just reading what you said about non-sound-canceling in-ears coupled with floor monitors and that sounds like a great idea for my situation! I was wondering where you might be able to find such in-ears as my google searching skills are highly unproductive haha

  31. I’m not sure any in-ears will actually describe themselves as that; but most are non-sound-canceling, in my experience. Only the really expensive ones or cans are truly sound-canceling. Usually though, I go with one ear in and one out, and then place the floor monitor on my free ear. 🙂

  32. Hmm nice 🙂 Its just our board only has 4 aux sends for different monitor mixes so we’re always trying to figure that out with a full band haha but do you usually have the in ear and floor monitor with the same mix?

  33. Ya, in that case I’d do them with the same mix. Or, if I wasn’t controlling the in-ears via Aviom or didn’t need click in the in-ears, I might just go with just a floor monitor. 🙂

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