http://lamkins-guitar.com/music/article/voice-not-message
David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
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location: Portland, OR USA

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The voice is not the message

Take a look around on internet guitarist forums and you'll see that there are a lot of players trying to copy someone else's guitar tone.

There are different ways to copy your guitar hero's tone. You can copy the sound of someone else's rig and adapt it to your own playing style, or you can want to play like and sound like someone else. The latter approach is actually useful, I think, for a guitarist who plays sessions or in a cover band or tribute band. Unfortunately I hear a lot of players attempting to copy Jimi or Stevie or Carlos -- those three more than anyone else -- simply because they have no voice of their own.

I think I was lucky, having learned to play during the `60s. There were one or two guitar magazines, no internet, and -- compared to today -- a real dearth of choices when it came to gear. I had to pay for my own gear using money I earned on my paper route (I was in middle school at the time), and I wasn't very good at saving. So I ended up with cheap gear (Silvertone, Univox, Kent, ...) and learned to make the best of it.

DIY recording was simply not an option. Even an inexpensive tape recorder that could do multitrack recording was priced prohibitively for the hobbyist. The best I could manage was to add overdubs by bouncing a mono track between two cassette recorders. I got excited about pedals that were supposed to have replicated some of the cool studio tricks I heard on recordings, and quickly realized that the pedals were a pale approximation.

I couldn't copy the sounds of the records I liked. I couldn't even cop some of the licks I heard. But I could get close to copping the overall feel of a song, so that's what I did. Everything I played was my own interpretation of the original, done in my own style with my own sound. And I was happy to do things that way for quite a while.

By the time I was in college I was more interested in making my own music rather than playing someone else's tunes. I hooked up with other players who were interested in being more experimental.

I then took a two-decade "hiatus" from music (conveniently missing all the `80s music, which turned out to be a serendipitous benefit as far as I'm concerned). In the late `90s my younger son developed an interest in music, which rekindled my own latent interest. I started playing again in `99.

I spent a few years -- and a lot of money -- catching up on the new MI gear that I had never seen before. I worked my way backwards through the musical technology -- modelling amps, guitar synths, channel switchers, rack effects, etc. -- looking for the sound that was already in my head. I figured that gear with more "flexibility" would certainly offer the one sound I was seeking and leave room for growth, so to speak. That turned out to be an expensive exercise in frustration.

I eventually ended up rediscovering my "voice" in low-tech gear that could have been made when I was a kid: a single channel amp with spring reverb and a semi-hollow guitar. This is gear that I understand and love. I know that I can use my own technique to take this gear anywhere I want, musically. So I spend my time working on music and technique, not tweaking the technology.

I'm unabashedly old-school, and have no reason to modernize my musical technology. There are still vast expanses of musical territory left for me to explore that have no need of high-tech gear. I'm comfortable with that. I have no desire to bash the new-school players who embrace the latest technology. Some are doing interesting things, others aren't... in that sense they're no different from the old-school players. The gear is simply a tool; it doesn't make music by itself.

That's the crux of the matter from my perspective. If you have something to say then the tools should support your musical expression. If you want to repeat what someone else has already expressed, then you may as well try to imitate their voice as well as their message.

January 15 2006 19:12:56 GMT