You’ve spent thousands of hours perfecting your ultimate tone. Now forget about it.
Ever see Billy Wilder’s 1950 film-noir classic, Sunset Boulevard? (Spoilers ahoy!) Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond, a has-been silent film star fixated on a comeback that will never arrive. She’s so obsessed with her own image that she’s blind to the world around her. By film’s end, she’s offed ex-boy toy William Holden, and the cops are leading her away. Lost to reality, she imagines she’s on a film set, and that the news cameras are movie cameras. Her immortal closing line: “Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up!” (That’s a reference to Cecil B. DeMille, the leading Hollywood director of Norma’s 1920s heyday.)
Few of us are quite that far gone, but some of the ways we listen, learn, and practice can nudge us in Norma’s direction. It can be hard not to view the recording process solely through the prism of our own playing. Unfortunately, that can be the worst possible perspective in studio situations, which often demand sudden and extreme changes in approach as you tackle musical challenges from varying angles. That’s equally true whether you’re playing superstar sessions or just nailing a great home recording.
Now, I’m not talking about belligerent, self-centered players who won’t listen to anything, be it tactful suggestions, other players’ parts, or their own musical shortcomings. I don’t believe there are many people like that. Few of us would disagree with the statement, “I play for the song, not my ego.” (Literally hundreds of guitarists I’ve interviewed have uttered words to that effect, including the ones who routinely do the opposite.) Most of us want to be open-minded, but our habits can get so ingrained that it’s hard to see past them. Why is that?
Practice Makes Prejudice?
Unlike players of band and orchestral instruments who came of age playing in ensembles, most guitarists hone their technique in the bedroom. [Insert crude joke here.] Even if we’ve played in bands, we simply haven’t been trained as ensemble players. That’s one reason so many guitarist jokes involve bad rhythm, poor sight-reading, excessive volume, and general self-absorption.
Meanwhile, our musical development often involves a long sequence of personal choices. When a pianist, violinist, or classical harpist outgrows their student instrument, their teacher helps them procure a pro axe, and they’re set. But we guitarists tend to fashion our tools as we go. Single-coil or humbucker? Passive or active? Bolt-on or neck-through? Pick or fingers? Light gauge or heavy? Tube or transistor? Head or combo? Amp or modeler? We read guitar mags. We haunt music forums debating the relative merits of KT66 and EL34 tubes in vintage Marshalls and whether your tone control response improves if you solder the capacitor to the second volume pot lug instead of the third. With luck, we develop a style we love. (If we’re really lucky, it’s a cool and original style.) We take justifiable pride in what we’ve created and are passionate about our choices. But that passion can push us to the point of inflexibility.
Guitar Stars—and the Rest of Us
Now, we all love players whose sound we can identify in a few seconds, but recording can demand a more chameleonic approach. It’s one thing if you’ve been called upon to do your special thing in the studio, like Eddie Van Halen on “Beat It” or Eric Clapton on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” But for us regular schmucks, sessions are about making the production work, and your “special thing” may be totally irrelevant.
Example: Many of us love a fat, harmonically rich tone with virile lows, glistening highs, and mids chiseled to abdominal-six-pack perfection. But commencing a session with that as your ideal can be problematic. Maybe you need a dark, distant sound to co-exist with the vocal. Or a thin, sharp one to carve through a wall of synths. What sounded awesome in the bedroom can sound like ass in the studio.
The Pedalboard Problem
Got a pedalboard? It’s probably a lovingly curated collection of tools you treasure, but it still might not suit the session. (It seldom does, at least in my experience. Several times I’ve tried commencing album projects with a purpose-built pedalboard, making thoughtful, sensitive choices informed by careful listening to the artist’s material and conversations with the artist and producer. Inevitably, by the second take of the first song, the entire thing had been ripped apart, with cables hurled everywhere and goop on my fingers and strings after prying stompboxes from their tidy, Velcro-lined bed.)
Also, I suspect that starting a session with a preconceived setup makes it tougher to devise alternatives if Plan A doesn’t work. You can find yourself thinking, “Yikes! Now what?” when a more productive attitude would be, “Wow, so many possibilities!”
Here’s a little thought exercise—or maybe a real exercise, if you have the opportunity: What if you were to start a session with no particular gear in mind, other than a general awareness of what’s available? Listen to the music in progress with no pedalboard and no preconceptions.
· Consider the overall structure. Which sections sound empty? Which sound crowded?
· Evaluate the frequency spectrum, the full range of sounds from sub-kick to cymbals. Where is it congested? Where is under-populated? Is there a particular frequency range where your guitar would be most complementary?
· Think about tones. Which colors would suit the context, both sonically and emotionally? Warm? Edgy? Present? Distant? Clean? Dirty? A smooth, tight performance, or a rough, ragged one?
· Imagine your part. Hear it. Memorize it.
Only then consider which available gear is likeliest to match to your sonic snapshot. Don’t be shocked if it’s something other than your usual Plan A. It might even violate your standards of good guitar sound. But if you choose wisely, you won’t merely fit into the picture—you’ll improve it. Conversely, if the production sounds good, you will too. (I didn’t mention the part about having good ideas and playing them well, but you knew that already.)So think about it: Wouldn’t you rather be a skilled supporting actor in a great production than a miscast star in a stinker, no matter how awesome you look in your close-up?
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Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
- Upgraded materials, including a water-resistant 1680D Ballistic Nylon outer shell, plush inner lining and new reflective trim for maximum backstage and night visibility
- Enhanced protection with a shockproof shell structure and heavy-duty water-resistant YKK zippers for protection from the elements
- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
- Flexible storage options with added space for touring essentials
The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
For more information, please visit gibson.com.