Gear Q&a

Guitarist - - Contents -

I’ve been play­ing guitar for my own plea­sure for many years, and have been a reader of your ex­cel­lent mag­a­zine for a while. How­ever, I’ve reached the con­clu­sion that I’m un­usual. I have ac­quired a num­ber of gui­tars over the years and have been lis­ten­ing to mu­sic for decades, but when I read ar­ti­cles and let­ters, I feel mys­ti­fied. I plug my gui­tars in and play them, and I en­joy each one, but can I tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween a sin­gle coil and a hum­bucker? No. Does my Tele have that clas­sic twang? Pass. Am I at­tracted to a guitar be­cause of its looks? Ab­so­lutely. Do I have any idea how the bridge will af­fect the sus­tain? Not a clue.

I have a friend who clearly does un­der­stand all this and will make choices based on that un­der­stand­ing – and his choices are un­doubt­edly the bet­ter for it – but it all goes over my head. Am I missing out or should I just re­joice in my ig­no­rance? Chris Av­ery, via email

This is fas­ci­nat­ing Chris. Surely you can dis­cern a dif­fer­ence in tonal­ity be­tween, say, a hum­bucker-equipped Les Paul and a sin­gle-coil Stra­to­caster? You may not be able to pick them out in a song, but when they’re side-by-side and you play them A/B, you should hear a dif­fer­ence in as­pects of EQ at the very least. Then put some over­drive in the amp and A/B the gui­tars. The for­mer will sound thicker and drive harder etc. That should be im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous.

After that, to what level you can hear and un­der­stand the dif­fer­ences in gui­tars is down to time, ex­pe­ri­ence, trial, er­ror and learn­ing. We’ll use the ex­am­ple of a wine ex­pert. When they first be­come in­ter­ested in wine – as­sum­ing their taste and smell senses are func­tion­ing – they learn to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the var­i­ous as­pects of grape va­ri­ety. Pretty soon you can pick out Pinot Noir from San­giovese from Caber­net Franc, for ex­am­ple. Keep do­ing it for 20 years, drink enough of the stuff, learn to know what to no­tice, and you’ll be talk­ing ter­roir and vin­tage with some de­gree of suc­cess. To the per­son next to you, it may all taste the same.

We think it’s the same with gui­tars and sound. Some of it may be phys­i­o­log­i­cal of course – deaf­ness and its many lev­els proves that not ev­ery­one can phys­i­cally hear the same stuff – but as­sum­ing your hear­ing is at least ‘av­er­age’ (what­ever that is), you can train it to un­der­stand things over time. That might be har­mony and melody (pick­ing out in­ter­vals in a key for ex­am­ple), or it might be the sound of dif­fer­ent gui­tars. Mo­tor­cy­cles, bird­song, etc, etc…

Are you missing out? We’d say yes, but what would you ex­pect from a bunch of guitar freaks?

Can you tell the dif­fer­ence? Not ev­ery­body can…

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.