“I can name that guitarist in three notes”. Think of any great guitarist and you immediately think of their tone, their “sound”. The first time I became aware of this was when I was eleven, three years before I even began playing guitar. Van Halen I: the sci-fi synth-drone, a pulsing bass and then, bam! Guitar chords so big I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hallelujah!” From that instant on I knew I had to play the electric guitar.
(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a listen to “Running With The Devil”) Think of Van Halen and you think of his sound. Sure, two-handed tapping will come to mind, but above all you hear his mammoth tone.
This is no accident. From the gauge of his strings to the thickness of his pick, to his pickups, stomp-boxes, amp head, cabinet, speakers, recording mic placement, stereo separation in the mix…
You get the picture: this is a science! Every item in your signal chain effects the way you will sound to your listeners.
Can you imagine Tom Morello without his Whammy pedal? Steve Vai without a whammy bar? Jimi Page without a bow? (well, maybe)
The point is, if you are going to be a successful guitarist you have to have a recognizable sound.
Obviously, much of this will be based on your musicianship but equally important will be your attention to detail: what guitar you choose, your amp, etc.
In this series I will offer up a number of articles concerning your signal chain that will hopefully help guide you in your quest for the ultimate tone. Be warned: this is a life-long journey!
Eddie Van Halen sounds like himself on a Wal-Mart ukulele, too. More than anything, your tone is in your fingers. Practice!