This month’s installment of Tone Tips continues my focus on a phrase I like to use (and which sounds an awful lot like the Boy Scouts of America motto): “Always be prepared.” When it comes to session work, being prepared is tricky because of the fact that no studio is the same—and that you can record anywhere these days. So, your guitar essentials have to cover a wider range of situations. You never truly know what you’re getting yourself into until you show up.
I’m sure all of you have read some session
ace’s article in one of the many guitar
magazines out there (including the best one,
right here). They always talk about some gig
where the guy brings three amp heads, two
combos, a couple of pedalboards, multiple
guitars (acoustic, electric, and other doodads),
etc. If you’re anything like me, you’re
thinking, “How would I ever be able to afford
all that gear, let alone have it wired up perfectly?”
It seems like a daunting task.
If you can afford that much gear, that’s great.
What producer and artist wouldn’t want you to
come in with incredible gear that let’s you get
a variety of sounds instantaneously. But that
luxury isn’t an option for most guitarists trying
to get into session work. I live in New York City
and fly to Los Angeles all the time. I don’t have
anywhere to put that stuff, and to be honest
there really isn’t a crazy session scene in New
York. So today I’m going to talk about how I
overcome these setbacks, as well as some of
the things I like to show up with or do to help
out in this scenario. Let’s talk amps, baby!
Find Your Go-To Amp
Amplifiers are one of the most important parts
of the recording process. Have you ever tried
out a few amps, and no matter which knobs
you turn, you just can’t get them to sound the
way you want? But then there’s that amp that,
no matter what you do to it, it just seems to
be perfect. That’s the one you need to find.
Find that one amp you really love playing and
that gives you your sound. Having one solid,
reliable amp is key. This will be the basis for
everything you record. There are a few variables
involved when picking out this amp. Do
you want it to be versatile, a one-trick pony,
one that might work well with pedals, etc? All
of these scenarios will work. The most important
thing is to evaluate your style and needs.
If you find that you’re suited best to rock sessions
that need amazing distortion tones, find
an amp that satisfies that need.
Due to the nature of sessions I like (ranging
from singer/songwriter to rock and pop), I
have had the best result with amps that live in
Fender or Vox AC30 territory. I prefer a good,
clean sound at the heart of every session I do.
From there, you have a great foundation to
build other tones on using pedals and perhaps
by pushing the amp harder. I have used this
style of amp even in full-on rock sessions. Some
of my best successes have involved 65 Amps’
Monterey and London models, as well as a
Matchless DC30. These are great examples of
amps that handle variety well, sound phenomenal,
and take to guitar pedals incredibly well.
They start off with full, rich clean tones and
break up superbly when pushed. So you really
are getting two amps out of these. They don’t
produce high-gain tones, of course, but if you
need more crunch there are some incredible
pedals you can pair with them to yield amazing
results. If these amps are out of your price
range, take a look at amps like the Fender Hot
Rod Deluxe. I’ve done a ton of recordings with
that, and it takes to pedals really well.
Then Broaden Your Palette
So this is a good base to start. Once you get
your clean and overdrive things going and
feel like investing some more money, then
go for something different. If you already
have a 6L6- or 6V6-powered tube amp (like
most Fenders and the 65 Monterey), look into
something powered by EL34s or EL84s (like
Vox, Marshall, and the 65 London)—and vice
versa. Another option is amps with even more
gain than your standard Vox or Marshall. Just
be sure to thoroughly research them—online
and in person—so you end up with something
that sounds incredible and makes you
feel incredible when you play it. You have to
be inspired by the sounds you bring. And
don’t get trapped into what fancy features
the amp has, what brand it is, or what some
guitar hero is using. I’ve been in this business
professionally for a while now, and I’ve seen
the marketing and money come into play in
pretty serious ways. For instance, some of
your favorite players are using dummy cabs
onstage and plugging into other amps behind
the stage for their sound. Trust me, it happens
all the time. But in the studio, the only
thing people care about is if it sounds good.
Tune in next month and we’ll talk about
which pedals you should arm yourself with.
After all, some people have made their
careers off of them.
Good luck out there!
Jared Scharff has been the house guitarist for the legendary
Saturday Night Live band for the last two years. A Native
New Yorker, Jared is also a recording artist, producer,
songwriter, and highly sought-after session player, and
has shared the stage with Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Kid
Rock, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie,
Roger McGuinn, and Debbie Harry. For more information on
Jared, go to myspace.com/jaredscharffmusic.
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