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.
LCW on Bandcamp
location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: fetishism, goals, opinion, technique, technology, @musings info

"Tone" is not the goal

As musicians we need to work with the tools at hand to make music. The obsession with "tone" is a consumption-driven concern: you need to have or buy some tangible product to get "better" tone. But "tone" is just another tool. It's not the goal. If you don't have anything to say in a musical sense, it doesn't matter what you think of your "tone".

Sometimes I get the impression that certain guitarists spend the majority of their time playing the same material the same way through an endless succession of gear combinations trying to optimize their "tone". Never mind that a change in picking technique or intensity or damping or voicing or timing could not only create a significant difference in their sound, but also give them a broader range of expressive possibilities at zero cost in equipment. They'd rather be led by the nose by MI industry advertising propaganda and the accompanying "buzz" on internet discussion boards that promise "tonal nirvana" through the acquisition of some particular piece of gear.

What matters to me as a guitarist is having a rig that meets four objectives:

  1. The instrument itself has to be comfortable in my hands.
  2. The sound of the rig has to be not only pleasing to my ears, but also has to sound (again, to me) like it belongs with the material and the other instruments I'm accompanying.
  3. The "amplifier" needs to respond to changes in my playing dynamics in a way that gives me a certain means of expression.
  4. The rig must be easy to transport and set up.

There are many variables that influence the sound and "feel" of a rig (items 2 and 3, above). My experience has been that the presence or absence of tubes has nothing to do with sound or feel. That's right: not "everything"; not "something"; not even "a little bit". Nothing. I've played many rigs of all kinds. Some are suitable for me; some are not. Tubes vs. solid-state vs. digital has nothing to do with the sound and feel of a rig.

If the technology was as important in determining the suitability of a rig as some guitarists seem to believe, then there would be a strict hierarchy in which, for example, all tube amps are better than all digital modeling amps are better than all solid-state amps. I'm not talking about personal preference. I'm talking about being able to listen to a rig and immediately - without the assistance of sight - identifying the technology in use only by listening. It simply can't be done...

October 06 2007 18:20:35 GMT