Thursday, February 25, 2010

New CD project underway

Saturday, February 20, 2010 found me in the “Upper Room” recording studio in Santee, CA to add the guitar parts to the new CD by “Rightside,” a local 9-piece gospel group that plays in the country rock style. I returned March 2 to finish the recording. The new CD is scheduled for release in April or May, and at this point, all seems to be on schedule. The CD will be titled "Living on the Rightside," and a special CD release party concert is scheduled for Saturday, May 22, 2010 at Pathways Community Church on Carlton Hills Blvd. in Santee, CA. A guest band (tba) will open the show.

The CD will include ten cover tunes, no originals, and the songs on the CD are:
Give It Away
Eagle Song
Rightside Of The Dirt
How Long
I’m Loving Life
Have You Traveled With The Lord Lately
Wine Into Water
Living For The Moment
Get Up In Jesus Name
Keep Walkin’

I listened to the last CD from Rightside, which was recorded at least two years ago, and this one should be significantly better for several reasons: one extra tenor singer, the last CD had no guitar player, plus the obvious fact that the musicians have gotten better over the last two years and the vocal blend is now much tighter and more rehearsed.

I was able to do two takes of all 10 songs in about two hours. I plan to make a return booking next month to re-do one of my guitar solos and to add acoustic guitar parts on three of the songs using my Martin D42. This first time, I used my Carvin AE-185 to play both the electric and the acoustic guitar parts, and I was impressed how well the Carvin sounded as an acoustic instrument because it has such a small, thin body. I used a BOSS GT-10 guitar processor to enhance the acoustic sound. I also used the GT-10 on the other tracks for amp and cabinet simulation. Rather than renting a selection of choice amps, the amp simulation on the BOSS GT-10 is so good, I just plugged directly into the mixer.

Another thing I did different is to record using the same GT-10 patches that I use for live performance. Usually I will record the guitar track “dry” (without any EQ or effects) and add effects and EQ during the mixing process. I decided to simplify the process this time by leaving the effects (compression, echo, reverb, chorus, EQ, etc.) in the patch because I had spent so much time setting up the patches in the first place. The recorded sound should be ideal, and will require no more of an adjustment other than leveling with the other tracks. The other thing I left off the recording was volume adjustments, which is the way I always record. I played the whole track at the same volume, and will trust the engineer, Jim, to work some parts into the background and to bring out the intros and the solos a little more.

Speaking of Jim Burnett, owner, engineer and producer of the Upper Room recording studio, he did an excellent job getting all the takes recorded. He obviously knew his equipment inside and out, and was very patient, cheerful and confident in doing his job. Beginning artists should trust the engineer and producer to make them sound as good as possible, and talented hands and ears can sometimes make poor musicians sound good. But when you’ve been around the block as many times as I have, you worry about just the opposite happening, you think “I played my butt off, now is this going to come through in the mix or is he going to muck it up somehow?” Well, if Jim does as good a job with the mixing as he did with the tracking, I’m sure I’ll be happy with the results.

The songs on the CD were all good choices and display a nice variety of vocal and instrumental talent. I enjoyed playing all the songs, and I hope this enthusiasm is captured in what you hear when the CD is released in April or May. We’ll be doing the photography on Saturday, March 27. The mixing should be almost finished by then. I can’t wait to hear the finished product, and I hope you all will pick up a copy also! All the profits from the CD will go to missionary work!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Develop a "Signature Sound" - Part 2

As a follow-up from our previous discussion, I would like to discuss how equipment (guitar, amp, effects) could have a strong influence on your “signature sound.” To begin, let’s look at a few well known guitarists and see how their equipment was largely or partly responsible for the sound.

The first that comes to mind is Duane Eddy. If you haven’t heard of Duane Eddy, he had some great instrumental hits in the late fifties and the early sixties such as Rebel Rouser, The Lonely One, Forty Miles of Bad Road, Peter Gunn and Because They’re Young. Many of his album titles contained the word “twang,” a word used to describe the crisp, clear hollow treble sound of his guitar as he picked out the melodies. This “twang” sound was due largely to the Gretsch Chet Atkins 6120 guitar that Duane Eddy used to record these hits. Later, when Eddy became an endorser for Guild guitars, the Guild Duane Eddy models took care to copy the characteristics of the Gretsch that gave the guitar this distinctive “twang” sound. Duane Eddy eventually returned to the Gretsch guitar. That same Gretsch 6120 “twang” would later become a trademark of rockabilly artist Brian Setzer, and George Harrison’s Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman tone could be easily recognized in early recordings by the Beatles.

Speaking of the Gretsch Chet Atkins guitar, Chet Atkins himself had a distinctive signature sound that was a combination of his intricate fingerpicking technique and the tone of the Gretsch guitar which he helped design.

Les Paul worked with Gibson guitar engineers to design the world famous Gibson Les Paul series of guitars, and it was the sound of the massively dense Gibson Les Paul guitar combined with the tape echo effects which Les Paul also pioneered in the recording field that made Les Paul songs instantly recognizable.

In the late sixties, John Mayall and Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green became associated with one particular 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard guitar that had a unique sound because one of the pickups was installed backwards.

Contemporary smooth jazz artist Craig Chaquico gets his signature sound from a thin acoustic electric guitar that he helped design with the Carvin company, and his signature sound created by using this guitar is further personified by using effects such as chorus.

The sound that launched the career of legendary guitarist Carlos Santana came from early Mesa Boogie guitar amps, a company that grew from a Fender Princeton amp that was modified by Mesa Engineering founder Randall Smith.

Blues guitar legend B.B. King relies so much on his Gibson ES-355 guitar for his sound that he has given his guitar a name, Lucille, and treats it as a family member! Other guitarists that were associated with the tone of hollow body Gibson electrics were Chuck Berry (Gibson ES-350 and ES-355) and Elvis Presley’s guitarist Scotty Moore (Gibson L5, Super 400CES and ES 295).

Joe Walsh and Peter Frampton are associated with solos using the “talk box” effect, a rubber hose which is attached to a speaker driver and sends the guitar amp output into your mouth cavity to manipulate. Jimi Hendrix got much of his sound from the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face while the whole “fuzz tone” industry was introduced to guitarists by Keith Richards’ use of the Gibson Maestro Fuzz Tone on the Rolling Stones hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

Once you begin to recognize the importance of equipment on developing and shaping your signature sound, you should realize that jazz great Wes Montgomery would not sound the same if he played a Fender Stratocaster through a Marshall amp stack instead of his Gibson L5 CES, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens would not have achieved their signature sounds with Gibson ES-335 guitars instead of their Fender Telecasters, and smooth jazz guitarist Peter White may not have enjoyed the same huge success playing a steel string acoustic electric instead of his nylon string electric guitar.

Many guitar manufacturers such as Gibson, Epiphone, Gretsch, Fender, Paul Reed Smith and Ibanez have models in their line bearing the name of the artists that made them popular, such as the Ibanez Steve Vai JEM models, Joe Pass JP20 and George Benson GB10, the Fender Eric Clapton and Eric Johnson Stratocasters, the Gretsch Brian Setzer model guitars, the Epiphone Al Caiola, and the Gibson Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel guitars.

Some popular guitar amplifiers that are sought after because of their distinctive sounds that have been recognized by leading guitarists are the Marshall 50 watt and 100 watt stack, the Fender Showman and Dual Showman (Dick Dale and many other `60’s surf groups), Vox AC30 (Beatles), Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus, Fender “Blackface” amps such as the Princeton Reverb, Deluxe Reverb and Twin Reverb, and the older Fender Tweed amps.

If you listen to enough recordings, you will probably find a guitarist that you can associate with each of the popular guitar effects, such as wah pedal, flanger, echo/delay, overdrive/distortion, and others.

In closing out the series on how to develop a signature sound, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that many popular guitarists were associated with techniques or actions that became part of their signature sound, or at least part of the overall package. For example, I am referring to the famous Chuck Berry “duck walk,” the tapping technique of Eddie Van Halen, the touch tapping of Jimmy Webster and Stanley Jordan, the “octave” playing of Wes Montgomery, the “chicken pickin`” technique of many country lead guitarists such as Johnny Hiland, the speed of Jimmy Bryant, billed as the “Fastest Guitar in the Country,” the finger style technique of Merle Travis, the flat picking of Maybelle Carter, the string bending of Gram Parsons and Clarence White, the black clothing of Johnny Cash, the flashy stage wardrobe of Elvis Presley, the “Nudie suits” of many popular country artists in the `60’s, the tall hat of Slash, and many other examples or artists who partially relied on technique, actions and dress to achieve notoriety. Soooo, will you be able to play better if you wear a fancy hat? Of course not. I just wanted to point out that while you are going through all of this effort to establish a "signature sound," you might want to consider wherther a "signature look" is right for you or not!

If you are not familiar with any of the guitarists, guitars, amps or effects mentioned in this article, I urge you to do some online research to become familiar with the examples I referred to. To gain the most understanding of how guitar artists rely on particular guitars, amps, effects and techniques to achieve their signature sound, it is important to be able to recognize the association that was made through these examples.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Develop a "Signature Sound"

I imagine most of you reading this can listen to a guitar player or solo on the radio or from a CD and instantly recognize the player as being Carlos Santana or Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck or B.B King or Duane Eddy or Scotty Moore. These are six great players that are not only well known, but they are well known for their unique “signature sound.” They don’t sound like anyone else and nobody else sounds like them.

How does one begin to develop a signature sound? Well, I have a few ideas to present to get you thinking along these lines. My theory is that there are essentially four ways a player develops a signature sound. Method 1 is without a doubt the best way to go about this. The guitarist is well schooled, well trained and well rehearsed, and has been developing the art of guitar playing for many years in a variety of bands and recording situations. Perhaps they have gone through a period of working as a studio musician and/or have become well known for being an important part of two of more well known bands. These players are so good that they can sound like anybody. The can imitate Santana or Clapton or Beck or King or Eddy or Moore. But they choose not to. Instead, they prefer to interpret the songs they record and perform in their own way, changing whatever is necessary about the arrangement until they arrive at a “feel” that is exactly what they were looking for on that song. This approach produces some great players who play with “feeling” and “personality.” The put a whole lot of themselves into the song, and the result cries “this is what I am trying to say and this is how I want to present this song to you.”

Needless to say, this method of developing a signature sound comes only with years of experience. Another method is just the opposite. In method 2, the player is very inexperienced and has not yet developed the ability to play as well as the other masters of his genre, but for some reason, his band became famous before they became accomplished musicians. This person’s playing is crude, unrefined and does not show an example of years of training and practicing. Yet, the songs are “catchy” and have become hits regardless of the lack of talent, and the guitarist is now famous for this “untrained” sound. Some of the “punk” bands of the `70’s are good examples of this “signature style.” We recognize the guitarist from the band and the song, the song is appealing, maybe crude and maybe not, but the guitarist’s style is a perfect fit for this band’s songs. Later, the guitarist might work with other bands and continue to use this “signature sound,” since it has been good to his career so far!

The third method I have in mind is rather unique, but you can easily find examples of players that have followed this approach if you do a little research. In this method, a player might be largely self-taught, perhaps getting help and advice from teachers along the way, or perhaps ignoring help and advice from teachers. The player creates original material, perhaps in combination with other players. They might form a band, and then rather than learning “cover songs,” they immediately go to work on original material, with each player contributing to what the end result should sound like. After doing this or a few dozen songs, the band begins to play some shows and perhaps gets a record contract. Now, for what makes this method unique; the members of the band don’t really care to listen to other music, and are not interested to comparing their music to any other artists nor do they wish to become part of a genre. The only music they recognize is that which they create. All other styles and influences remain foreign to them, unheard and unrecognized. They “shut out” other artists and are thoroughly engrossed in their own original, unique style of writing and performing songs. If they by any chance should happen to “cover” a song, it will sound very different from the original. Perhaps only the lyrics remain, or maybe also some of the original chord progression.

The fourth method of developing a signature sound is probably the most common. The multitude of players do not fit any of these first three methods because they (1) are not super talented and have many years of experience like the players described in method one; (2) they are serious students of the guitar and want to learn to play a combination of styles as well as possible, so they have progressed far beyond those described in method two; and (3) they don’t isolate themselves from other music and are open to many styles and seek influence from many great players, unlike those described in method three.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that any guitarist that doesn’t fit in any of the first three methods is automatically included in method four. Most of the remaining guitarists that do not fit any of the first three methods do not actually have a signature sound, so they are excluded from even method four because there is nothing unique to identify them from many other struggling guitarists. They are good players, but they are a dime a dozen. They are good enough that you would want this person in your band, and they would make your band sound better, but they simply don’t have a “signature sound!” Most guitarists go the whole way through their playing career without developing a signature sound. That doesn’t make them any less important, it only makes them less identifiable.

The fourth category of players has developed a signature sound as a “project.” It didn’t evolve naturally as in method one, by luck as in method two, or by design as in method three. The few guitarists that evolve from method four do so because they desire a signature sound, even though they haven’t “earned” one. They are skilled enough that they are aware what they sound like. They might be able to compare their playing to other musicians. The can probably lay down a good Clapton lick on one song and switch to a Santana feel for another song. The players in the fourth category are probably familiar with everything I’ve written about so far, they realize the importance of having an identifiable sound, and they simple set out to create a sound that will become their signature sound. Often, this happens along with the other members of the band changing their sound as well to fit the new signature sound. The new sound might be attached to a different style of playing, it might be taking the music that is currently being played and “bumping it up a notch” on the scale of musical standards, or it might just be a slight alteration of the player’s current style. Sometimes the new “signature sound” might be based on the sound of a favorite player, but with a “twist” that makes it unique. It is difficult to just sit down and “invent” a signature sound, but it can be done, and it has been done by many top guitarists throughout music history.

One last comment before I close; I’m not saying that you need to develop a signature sound in order to become a good accomplished guitarist. If nothing else, there is one concept I would like you to consider for each song you are playing now and also for each new song you learn, and that is this: “How would YOU play this song?” Think for a moment about what I just said. If this is an original song, YOU get to invent the guitar part. How do YOU think the guitar should sound on this song? What do YOU think the guitar should play? If it is a cover song, then the nature of your band will probably dictate whether you should play the guitar part note-for-note from the original recording, or better yet, will the band allow you to do your “interpretation” of the song? What I mean by that is that I already know how Clapton played the song, but I didn’t come to hear Clapton, I came to hear YOU! How will YOU play the song? What can YOU add to the song that Clapton may have overlooked? I have heard many guitarists cover a song from a super-star guitarist, and they have no chance of ever getting their solos and fills to sound as good as the original, but they we still able to make the song likable by being unique and putting a lot of their own feel into the song so that even though it might not have been a technical masterpiece of guitar wizardry like the original, it still sounds likable!

As always, I am interested in hearing any comments you might have about what I write. You may agree or disagree, but let’s have some fun and discuss these topics in the comments section! Thanks for checking in each week!