Just like a cooking show, where all the ingredients are lined up to prepare a tasty dish, gathering
a nice selection of pedals and a fistful of cables offers an opportunity to reorder and
recombine your devices in new and exciting ways.
Tone. Tone. Tone. Is there a more subjective
discussion to enter into? One man’s
sonic heaven is another man’s aural hell.
I was recently asked to present a workshop
on the subject of guitar tone. No
problem, thought I—piece of cake. Once
I sat down to flesh out the material for the
talk, I realized what a slippery slope I’d
ventured onto. The first point to make is
that tone is subjective. For example: Kerry
King’s tone is perfect for what he does in
Slayer, and Chet Atkin’s tone was perfect
for playing his unique brand of country
picking. Both are examples of great tone in
their respective fields.
Cross them over and the dilemma immediately
becomes apparent. I’m not sure how
Slayer fans would respond to “Dead Skin
Mask” being played by Mr. King on a Gretsch
Chet Atkins through a clean amp with just
a smattering of slapback delay. By the same
token, hearing a recording of Mr. Atkins
performing “Flop Eared Mule” on a BC
Rich KKV plugged into a wall of Marshall
JCM800s could cause many an ardent country
picker to raise a proverbial eyebrow.
Both are great tones, yet both are utterly
different. So from this we can state that one
of the factors in defining great tone is context.
And here’s another statement: There is
no bad tone.
A bold claim? Yes. But it’s true enough
when you are in pursuit of your own
sound. But when you’re trying to replicate
someone else’s sound, it’s very easy to
say, “Nope, that’s not good tone.” That’s
because there’s a reference point.
Your humble writer was performing a
version of Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been
Loving You” the other night at a party. My
goal was to get a very Jimmy Page-like sound.
There was a reference point, so I assembled
the appropriate equipment and consequently
got a reasonable facsimile of that sound.
But when you’re playing your own music
and crafting your own sonic stamp, well, this
is where the right and wrong, good and bad,
and nice or nasty definitions of the general
guitar playing population go out the window.
The only rule in this domain comes down to
you and your ears. What makes you happy.
What makes you get that goofy grin when
you wind up your volume control and strike
a chord. The great thing about this pursuit is
that anything is an option. I’ve talked in previous
columns about some super-low-fi ways
that a number of über-classic guitar sounds
have been created. The moral of the story?
Don’t be afraid to try everything.
So what did I share with the folks at this
seminar? In addition to the vapor-speak surrounding
the essence of tone, we got into a
concept that will open a few wonderful doors
using the gear you’ve already got: Pedal order.
A question I’ve been asked again and
again and again: “What order should I put
my pedals in?” There is no correct answer.
Sure, some pedals (certain fuzzes and wahs
in particular) like to see the high-impedance
load of the guitar’s pickups rather than the
low-impedance load of the output of another
pedal. But even that can go out the window.
The thin, nasal, squashed sound of a fuzz
being fed a low-impedance load has been
used by a number of guitar greats to fantastic
effect. It’s not wrong, it’s just different.
The best thing you can do is assemble
your pedals, gather some patch cables and a
power supply, grab your guitar, fire up your
amp, and then spend an afternoon trying
different combinations and effects orders.
The way I’ve always approached this is by
verbally describing the sound of the preceding
and proceeding effects.
For example, the phaser “wooshes” the
sound and the fuzz “fuzzes” the sound. If
I put the fuzz first, I’ll “fuzz” my “woosh”
(this yields a squashed, compressed, fat
woosh—think Smashing Pumpkins), but
if I put the phaser first, I’ll “woosh” my
“fuzz” for a shimmery, swirly, Hendrixthrough-
You can apply this principle to any
effect—delays, chorus, trem, whatever—
and it’s a great way to get a heap more
sound out of your existing gear. You never
know, your dream tone may very well be
already lying in wait on your pedalboard,
ready to be unleashed with just a few judicious
adjustments to their order. So what
are you waiting for? It’s time to get woosh/
designs Red Witch analog pedals, which are heard in arenas, studios, and bedrooms around the world. Andy Summers and Reeves Gabrels are pleased he ended up doing this instead of going to prison. His mum is relieved about this, too.