Questions, questions everywhere and only me to answer them. First an easy one, radishes (your welcome, Darby from Hialeah, Florida). What do we have here, a question that is interesting: is it worth it to chase tone?
Chasing tone can be expensive, it can be frustrating, and it can be fruitless. We all have our heroes. We’ve all dreamed of achieving what they have done. Is it really worth copying them? Let’s take a look
My Take on Tone Chasing
I haven’t chased tone by trying to emulate someone else, except once but more on that later. I do appreciate a good tone, but I’m not trying to copy it. My biggest thing is having a rig that works the way I want it to. Having guitars that I have an attachment to.
I put tone chasing in the same category as signature guitars. If it is your bag then good, but it’s not for me. I have only twice been tempted by signature instruments, but once I saw the price tag it brought me back to reality. Plus, I never wanted to be compared to another guitarist in such stark terms. If you walk on stage with a guitar like Eddie Van Halen’s you better be able to pull off a pitch perfect impersonation, or you’ll be laughed off of that stage.
Chasing the Sound of Your Heroes
In 2015 I got the chance to see my favorite band Marillion play three nights in a row at the same venue in Montreal. They played a different set each night. On the third night the roadie came out with Steve Rothery’s guitar and played a couple of chords for a quick sound check. This was the third night they pretty much had the sound dialed in. The sound that came from the speakers sounded nothing like Steve. When Marillion took the stage Steve sounded like himself. At that moment I knew for sure what I had always suspect. Sound is in the hands.
I’m not saying you can’t get close to a sound that you’ve heard another player make, but the equipment is only going to take you so far. By all means buy the gear that your hero uses, and in many cases that’s not a bad plan. But do not believe for a minute that you will magically be able to play just like them. Let’s be real the tone is nice, but what we really want is to play just like our heroes. Study their technique. Learn the nuances of their style. That will get you closer to the tone that you covet.
Buying the same gear as your heroes is not a bad thing. They are professional musicians so I would consider them subject matter experts. If they use a particular amp, guitar, or pedal, there must be a reason, whether it is because it was free or they really liked the piece of gear. Just be aware of any modifications they make. Nothing annoys me more then to find out a guitarist’s signature model guitar that is sold in stores is not the same as the one the guitarist plays. If you are putting your name on something to sell to your fans, then be honest with them.
I never really chased the tone of my heroes. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that either they had so much gear that it was ridiculous to try and buy all the same pieces (Steve Stevens and Alex Lifeson to name a few), or the information just wasn’t out there (Steve Rothery and Julian Swales). The likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Joe Satriani, and others, were constantly in the guitar magazines, and although I liked those guys I wasn’t trying to emulate their sound.
Chasing the Tone in Your Head
If by chance you are looking for something you haven’t heard except for inside your head. That is a different challenge. There is no gear review to look at to know how to get that sound. There is only one way to find it, and that is trial and error. Play anything and everything you can get your hands on. If nothing else you can know what that sound is not made of.
Listening to sound clips or watching videos is not enough to find what you like. Different gear reacts differently to other pieces of gear. It also is a matter of how the guitarist you are listening to plays, after all a lot of the sound is in the hands. The right combination amp, guitar, and pedals, is different for each of us. You need to find what works for you.
Chasing what you hear in your head is great and noble idea. Copying someone else’s tone is a cheat. If you are in a tribute band, then by all means copy as much as you like. If you are trying to forge your own tone, then you might want to try something different.
I will admit that I bought a few pieces of gear trying to get Steve Steven’s ray gun sound, but I should’ve been buying some cheap toy guns. What have you bought to try and get a certain sound? And, did it work? Let me know.