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Discovering Tone Inspiration

Trent reminisces on some sonic milestones that influenced his tone

I believe that at one time or another, each and every one of us experiences moments of divine tone intervention— occurrences that inspire us and forever shape our concept of tone. It can be a power chord, a passing riff, or some type of hook that sucks you into the twilight zone, kicks your ass and spits you back out—something you hear on the radio or television, in a club, or at a local music store. Who knows, perhaps even in an elevator somewhere after a visit to the dentist, while you drool helplessly on the person standing next to you. Regardless, you can undoubtedly recall when and where these fortuitous moments happen to you. Such occasions become turning points along the path of your relentless pursuit of tone, as cherished as memories of your first time crawling into the back seat at the drive-in when you were 16. I can certainly recall my own moments, so I thought I would share them with you. Here are my top five pinnacle moments of divine tone discovery:

1. Montgomery Ward Home Stereo, circa 1974. I couldn’t afford an amp, but I had a cool Harmony copy of a Gibson Byrdland Guitar. My first drummer had a Montgomery Ward home stereo in his basement with a 1/4” instrument input on the front, so I thought I’d experiment by plugging my guitar directly into it. Holy horse nipples, Batman! It was one of my earliest experiences of playing through an amp that would actually distort with increasing volume. The tone was so raspy and overdriven; it was an awesome feeling. Eventually, I blew up that stereo, and the drummer’s angry mother threw a shoe at me. (Funny how an amplifier sounds best right before it blows up.) It would not be the last time I blew something up, or had something thrown at me.

2. Kiss Alive, circa 1975. It was the very first album I ever purchased. I paid for it with money I made mowing lawns, and I was addicted from the first play. I loved Ace Frehley’s tone and the energy of that record. It inspired me to buy my first Japanese Les Paul copy. My parents thought I needed therapy when they saw me becoming a Kiss freak—to this day they believe it’s the reason I’m as weird as I am. I joined the Kiss Army, started painting my face and sticking my tongue out all the time. I still have that double EP on original vinyl. I loved it.

3. “More Than a Feeling,” Boston, circa 1976. Riding home from football practice in my sister’s Ford Fairlane, I was in seventh grade and had just formed my first band. I recall that song coming on the radio, and I cranked it up through the Jensen Triaxials (remember those?). I had never heard such a frickin’ huge guitar sound. It literally took my breath away—not only because of the amazing tone, but because of how “up front” the guitar was in the mix. I bet Tom Scholz kept nudging the guitar faders up during mixdown when the engineer went to the bathroom. Scholz’s thick tone and unbelievable sustain led me to the discovery of my first Rockman.

4. “Do You Feel Like We Do,” Peter Frampton, circa 1977. Still celebrated as one of the greatest live albums of all time, Frampton Comes Alive! was my introduction to the Talk Box and a three-pickup Les Paul Custom. I recall the tone on this particular track was very inspiring, and Frampton’s silky smooth style was so incredible, I still get goose bumps when I hear it—Nuff Sed.

5. “Eruption,” Van Halen, circa 1979. Although accolades for this stunning bit of tone history can be somewhat overstated, you cannot deny its impact. I can remember hearing “Eruption” for the first time and thinking, “This changes everything.” While everyone else flipped out about the hammer-ons and dive bombs, I flipped out on the tone. That natural tube compression on this piece of history was undeniably badass. It’s still regarded as one of rock’s greatest tones—and it created an entirely new generation of guitar players. Not since Hendrix had the industry experienced such an influential guitar hero.

Musical styles certainly come and go (I’m still trying to figure out how my twelve-year-old daughter went from Hannah Montana to Slipknot in less than six months). Regardless of changing styles, though, tone is tone. Discovering tone is a continuous journey, and it usually starts with inspiration from an artist. Premier Guitar strives to present you up-close and personal sessions with the artists who have inspired so many moments of divine tone intervention. We aim to truly drill down with gearcentric players who are willing to share their personal tone secrets. This issue is certainly no exception, featuring two of the very best: Alex Lifeson and Adrian Belew, two cats who certainly know tone.

It is inspiring to be inspired, so enjoy PG’s artist coverage, as well as our news, stories, gear reviews, audio and video at Speaking of inspiration, check out the twins in photo below: a matching pair—Ibanez Korina Explorer and Vee—early lawsuit models to die for.

Nuff Sed,

Trent Salter, Publisher