Tone. That word. It's discussed in hushed tones. It's revered by thousands, if not millions. It's talked about between musicians ... "He has a great tone.", "Her tone is fabulous.", "How do I get that tone?" Well, here we go.

Let's bypass all of the pundits who say that tone comes from the gear that you buy. That's ludicrous ... or is it? How about all the people who say that, "Tone comes from your fingers?" They're right. Or, how about this ... "Tone comes from the signal chain, from wood, strings, pedals, cables, amp and processors, with the ultimate origin in the person?"

Any serious guitarist has heard about how Eddie Van Halen has talked about a "warm, brown sound." And, consequently, any serious guitarist has seen countless products claiming to deliver such. What the hell is a "warm, brown sound" anyway? What does Maestro Segovia mean when he says a "fully formed, round note?" What does Miles mean when he's saying a "full, round sound?" Three different instruments, three different approaches to music, but they all have the same common denominator ... great tone.

You can identify anyone that you listen to that has a great tone. Stevie Ray, Eddie, Ella, Sarah Vaughan, Duke, Miles, Satch, Trane, the list pretty much ends there ... one could say E.C., Albert King, Jeff Beck, Billie Holiday, Bix Beiderbeke, Djano Reinhardt ... the list goes on and on. But really, when we are talking about TONE, then it's a short list of the great ones who've had great tone.

The Kinks? Let's hear it. Kurt Cobain? He was an alchemist of great tone. Allan Holdsworth? Truly a giant. Thurston Moore? Yep. Sun Ra? You bet. John Zorn?
Of course. Enya? Now, we're stretching it ... Yoko Ono? You've gone too far.

What is great tone? Let the games begin ... and thank you.

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Since I'm primarily an electric guitarist, I'll start off with that. Mr. James Marshall Hendrix had the singular greatest tone of any guitarist that I've ever heard. Period. Everyone else has tried to emulate him, from SRV, to Eric Johnson, to Steve Vai, to anyone you can name. His is the penultimate tone. That which every electric guitarist strives for, and spends countless dollars for.

I myself have spent well over $10,000.00 to get that tone. I've bought amps, pedals, cables, widgets, knick-knacks, strings, components in my guitar, videos, and at least a thousand other gadgets to get his tone. And I've always come up short.

I've studied germanium transistors vs. silicon diodes. And tube vs. solid state amps. And hybrid vs. rack processors. I've seen, heard or played every product on the market. I've gone to NAMM shows, worked in countless music stores and tried every amp that came in the door. SRV, Pat Metheny, Kim Thayill, John Scofield, Scott Henderson, and countless others were all under my scrutiny for good tone. And you know what? They were all STELLAR!

Endless days of transcribing Miles Davis and Coltrane solos ... trying to get 'THAT TONE'. Endless hours scouring the internet to find out what this guy or that girl used. I've learned that Wynton Marsalis uses a Monet trumpet exclusively ... only to find out that Monet was a painter years later. Eddie Van Halen is a chameleon, using whatever gear is presently at his endorsement disposal ... bought the gear, and I sound nothing like him ... even when playing his licks.

Then, I discovered Holdsworth ... fluid tone, impeccable tone ... and bought the gear that HE used ... once again ... back to the shed. Wes Montgomery ... sold everything, got a Polytone Mini Brute, and sold that, too. Didn't sound like Wes.

So, I bought one of those new fangled, Swiss Army Knife, do everything model pedal things ... guess what? Nothing.

Then, finally, I got an old tube amp, and plugged my guitar straight in ... no pedals, no reverb, no effects ... nothing ... just naked as the day I was born ... and guess what?

I found my tone!

See, a lot of people ... too many, actually, don't realize that the electric guitar is only half of an instrument. That's right! I said it! Your beautiful, curly maple topped, chambered, immaculately fretted, personalized virgin of an instrument is only half complete! Whatever you've spent on it ... $2,000.00 .... $4,000.00
When I think about great tone, as far as electric guitarists are concerned, the first person that comes to mind is Carlos Santana. With just ONE note, you can instantly tell who it is. THAT, to me, is a great tone. Soulful. Bluesy. Round. Full. Yearning for the next note. Impact. In short, he's speaking from the deepest depths of his soul with every single note, every single expression, every single nuance of what he has to say. That, my friends, is a great tone. Listen to any of his recordings, and you'll see what I mean. My personal favorite is "Blues for Salvador". One sit down with that album, and you will know ... or you won't. That's my personal opinion, but it's just that simple.

What did he do? How did he do it? What did he use? What kind of guitar/amp/speaker combination did he use? Well, for one, it was a PRS guitar ... one of the first that Paul made by hand, that cost about 8 grand in today's dollars. At least, that's how much you would have to pay to get the same guitar that Carlos used back in the 80's. The amp? A Mesa/Boogie Mark I 1x12 combo amp, with another couple of Mesa cabinets. And a rack full of effects: A T.C. Electronic 2290 Digital Delay, a Boss Chorus pedal, an Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer just for good measure, and various other goodies that will cost you way too much. But, can you get that tone? The answer is ... YES, YOU CAN!

First off, start by being born in Mexico. Don't have that? No problem. Then, spend years of oppression and subjugation to the man because of your race and heritage. Coming up short? Wait, there's still more ... Then, come up with a style which no one else has, that infuses Latin, Jazz, Pop, Rock, and Fusion all into one seamless weave of beautiful tapestry, and surround yourself with fantastic musicians, who also happen to share the same vision. Then, get a kick ass percussion section, with drums, timbales, congas, bongos, and anything else that can be beaten with a stick or a hand. What? Can't do that? Then I guess you're screwed ...

"But waitaminnit! You said that I COULD get that tone of Carlos!" The point is, to wrap up all of your life's experiences, and forge it into a voice on your instrument. That's what Carlos did, and that's what YOU have to do. Then, you WILL get the tone of Carlos! He would tell you the same thing, just like he told me. He said, "Just as your human voice is unique, and you speak your mind through your mouth, just the same is music. Just as you make your words as no one else can, so that anyone who hears you knows that it's you, be it through a recording, or speaking face to face, so is music. Seek out and explore everything until you find your voice, and then shape it to make it your own, no matter what you use to do it."

Carlos is one of those people who transcends definition. He can take your guitar, your amp, and your total setup, and still sound like Carlos, no matter what. Now, is that an example of tone coming from the fingers? Or is that an example of tone coming from the soul?

If you're sitting in the back of the class doodling ... here's the long and short of it ...

Get a guitar with a mahogany body, a maple top, and two humbuckers. Switch to the front pickup, and roll the tone pot back. Get a Mesa/Boogie Mark I amp, dial the gain to about 7, and the tone controls to about 7 each, with the bass down to 4. The Master Volume? Turn that shit up. Hit one note, and let it ring till the cops come.

Now, do you sound like Carlos, or did you just get yourself arrested?
Tone is relative to what type of music you are playing and the instrument. On the electric guitar their is an infinite number of tonal structures you can build, using the pickups, the instrumentation pots, how the resistor ohms are placed. Then amplication, SS or Analog, then all the chain of digital or analog efffects. In my studio I use all refurbished Tube amps from the 60' early 70's and as many old analog effects. I use a tube microphone preamp to adjust the feel of the condenser mics. My play back monitors are fairly good each monitor has its own independent amplifier to ensure no added noise or cross over frequency audio abberation. So what you play is what you hear.
I use db meter to look for standing waves and use bass blocks in the corners. of the room. It is modest but you can do a lot. Most of my demo work is just real simple. I also us N TRACK Studio as another means to record. My Korg D12 has a really good sound engine and puts no anamalitic sounds in the tracks. Mix down is simple. I am planning my 2008 budget now. The tone that people talk about is an individual thing. I am only in search of what I want an not what someone else has create. I am a creator of tone and music and sounds. I don' t like performing other peoples music.
I am always looking for my own originality. TONE the indescribable holy grail that does not have to be searched for because is is right under our noses.
Are you saying Silver Shaman, that toning that rids oneself of negative karma is nothing more than listening to a person's favorite song while singing along or playing along? If this be true, hmmm... you are right I've been toning all along. LOL...

Quinton, I've been working on my own song. I do not read music very well, but my husband says I have rhythm & a beautiful voice. My husband figured out by listening to my voice that my song starts in the key of G. He plays guitar to. He likes John Denver type stuff. LOL... He grew up in the hippy era. I love dance until you drop type of music such as electric & bass mixes. Like Technotronic. Remember the music from the movie "Breakin" or "Breakin 2 the Electric Boogaloo". If you are familiar with this music, then you know the kind of music I'm referring to. The kind of music that had no words, just rhythm. Mario Van Peebles was the Director of these movies. I loved those movies by the way. It was awesome that they show a man who has no use of his legs doing the windmill. Now, that takes talent! Those were cool movies. I would love to get my hands on them. My first song I'm composing does not have a rhythm like that. I'll have to think of one later. I've got an electric keyboard. Hmmmm....... LOL...
Catch you all later. Lots of Love, Michelle
Michelle, if you like creating meditative and mechanical motive musical spiritual forces, I suggest you may first purchase good quality Djembe which is a hand drum with a good stand so you can stand or sit to practice. This will help develop deep cognitive sense of rhythm and body mechanical cross overs of what I call rebraining. or training your brain to do things on its on queue of beats while you are able to throw into another set of beats. You then will be you inner expression to flow outward more and more and your state of happiness and well being will excite. Get a 10' to begin. The small drums are nice but in my opinion do not give the deeper overtones and are made for individual drummers in a drum circle. I like to use various instruments in a drum circle Shakres from gourds you can also make. Claves the good ones are from Rose wood not cheap. I use tabourines, wood block drums. Go to world percussion. There is more than your heart can want.
I make crue order xylophonics tie wooden sticks together in the correct pythagorean lenght to get a pentatonic scale it can be hung to play vertically or make a 4 posted bed and tie each corner and mallet it in the horizontal position. I make metal drums by hammering the ends on used food cans with a ball peen hammer to get differen sounds then bolt them in an arc to be played with a ball wooden mallet , I give them to the kids for they can learn to play after I experiment.
I want to make some bigger stuff from teak with the sounding tubes below them for good resonance.
Have a nice day
I love the suggestion. However, if drums were ever to be played...LOL... I would want someone else to play the drums while I belly dance like the Fire Goddess Pele. LOL... But you would be right, the drums would set me off flying--sort of speak. LOL... Lots of Love, Michelle


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