Every month, Justin Sandercoe of justinguitar.com lends GT his insight as one of the world’s most successful guitar teachers. This month: My ‘one and only’...
Food For Thought, Session Shenanigans, 60 Seconds, Jam Tracks, Phil’s OML and more.
Before we get started on this thought stream, I must say that I have suffered from severe GAS (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome) for most of my life. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t all have many more guitars than we need, but…
Thoughts of guitar monogamy have been brewing in me since doing an interview with Telecaster genius Jim Campilongo about five years ago. We spent an afternoon talking about his playing, his influences and, of course, his gear. Jim plays a Telecaster, pretty much always the same one (a beautiful ’59 Toploader) through a Fender Princeton (1966) amplifier. No pedals. Jim is one of the finest guitarists around and to witness his superb playing was no surprise, but his manipulation of tone was off the scale – he knew every nook and cranny of his guitar and amp and knew exactly how to draw out an effortless fat jazz tone, a biting Buchanan twang, a thick crunch and everything in between.
For a few months after this I played nothing but my Tele and my Princeton. While I never got to the tonal depths that Jim reached, I found tones I never knew were there and was able to manipulate my tone to match sounds I had in my ‘musical mind’ far faster and more clearly than I ever had before.
That got me thinking about other players I loved and how most of them had an instrument that we associate with them and their sound. And I wonder how much of their sound comes from their guitar and amp choices and how much is down to really getting inside the sounds they find in them. Think of the Strat players with great tone; Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Mark Knopfler, Steve Ray Vaughan, David Gilmour, Buddy Holly, Hank Marvin, Yngwie Malmsteen. These guys all have incredible tone, and sure they have different gear combinations, but I’m sure their ‘tonal personality’ comes from getting to know their instruments inside out.
Take a look at Jeff Beck: he’s always tweaking his volume and tone knobs, and often it’s so subtle I would never have known had I not been watching; but he knows, and he knows his instrument so well that he can manipulate it ‘just so’ and make it sound how he wants to hear it. You see this kind of thing in many of the great players, and it’s worth noticing, thinking about and seeing where it takes you.
I think those minor tone tweaks over a number of years can really help a player define ‘their’ sound, and perhaps hearing the same sound consistently over many years helps define what one hears in one’s ‘musical mind’. I suspect it’s a two-way street and that both parts assist the other’s development.
While it’s true that a lot of tone comes from the fingers, the older I get the more I think that getting to know a few gear combinations really well, is more rewarding than being a total ‘gear slut’.
So this year I have pretty much exclusively played my Suhr Classic (S-style HSS guitar) other than for sessions or lessons where a specific sound was required, and that I couldn’t draw from it. I feel I have learned an incredible amount about my tone, about what sounds I can get from the guitar, and that my fingers are able to make the guitar sound different without touching any settings. I don’t understand how that works, but it does! There’s something in my subconscious that is helping my fingers create the tone I want to hear, regardless of the rest of the chain.
It’s the same with amps. Using Kemper’s Profiler recently I’ve found that getting inside a few profiles is taking me deeper than flicking through lots of different ones for an array of sounds. My ‘real’ amp of choice has been the Lazy J 20, and having just one plugged in at the studio and always going to that, has helped me get more tones out of it than I would have been able to before.
With all that said, when I got my ’70 Les Paul Goldtop out in the studio last week I was in heaven. I’d forgotten how nice it felt under the fingers and also loved how thick and woody it sounded - very different from the Strat style guitar I’d become so used to.
So maybe I’m not ready to become a ‘one-guitar guy’ just yet, but I do think there is a lot to be learned about tone from guitar monogamy, and it’s something I plan to continue exploring in the coming years. Food for thought?
perhaps hearing the same sound over many years helps define what one hears in one’s musical mind
Justin: says he didn’t put his Telecaster down for months