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.


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