Sounds

Getting back to a more pedestrian subject, and this is closely related to the style thing I think, is sound; specifically, guitar sounds. That's another area where I'm pretty much all over the map. In keeping with my greed for wanting it all, I've accumulated all kinds of gadgets to help me get any guitar sound I can imagine. My guitar is equipped with a tremolo, humbucking as well as single coil pick-ups, tone controls for the humbuckers (for that Metheny-Hall-Wes warm sound) and thin strings & super low action to facilitate lush piano-like chord voicings.

I have a guitar synth & a bunch of rack & floor effects and an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink pre-amp (Roland GP100). When I play styles like blues, rock and country I usually try to go for an "authentic" tone that's usually derivative of one or several different players known for that particular style. The only real sound I've come up with that's even somewhat unique is my "jazz on the back pickup w/tone control rolled off plus flugelhorn patch on the synth" (Even this sound is a little bit of a rip off of Metheny's chorused back pickup plus sax patch on synth thing).

Most other things are an attempt at emulating someone else's sound, or a combintaion of people's sounds. Plus, just the fact that on any given night of going to see me play, one would hear so many different sounds coming out of the guitar. I've also noticed that many (if not all) guitarists (& other musicians) with their "own unique voice" seem to have a fairly small pallette of sounds.

  • Scofield - one sound (unless you count turning his volume up and down to get more or less distortion)
  • Bill Frisell - two sounds: clean and distorted (unless you count his EH delay stuff as a third sound)
  • Metheny - a few more:
    1. ES-175
    2. GR-300
    3. chorused back pickup w/ or w/out sax patch
    4. acoustic nylon string
    5. acoustic steel string
    6. (more recently) slightly distorted ala Sco

Okay, so Bill Frisell uses acoustic steel string too, and Scofield has recently used both nylon and steel string acoustics. Hey- who knows, maybe the multi-sound thing is the wave of the future. Still, the fact is, Bill Frisell is instantly recognizable by his clean electric guitar sound (or even distorted), Metheny is universally identified with his 175 sound, Sco for his sound, Mike Stern for his SPX90 sound, Mick Goodrick for his bright finger-picked sound, etc.

It just makes me wonder if I need a "main sound" that when people hear it, they say, "Ah, the Tom Lippincott sound," because I kind of feel like I don't have one of those. Actually, fairly recently, something like that DID actually happen. I was sitting in at a jam session, and a drummer friend of mine was also sitting in. I had brought just my guitar and an old amp, which the reverb didn't even work on anymore. I had played several tunes, thinking that I must really sound terrible, when my friend looked back at me and said "did you bring your effects and stuff with you?" I explained about the old amp that didn't even have reverb, and he said he thought I had brought something else with me because it still had that Tom Lippincott sound! That definitely made my night that night.

A Voice / Technique / Feel / Spreading Myself Too Thin
Sounds / Getting Nervous / Guitar / Introduction



As I mentioned in the introduction, the essay was written several years ago (during the summer of 1996). Since that time I feel like a lot of my questions and frustrations have begun to resolve themselves, almost without any conscious effort on my part. I don't know if it was the influence of Mick Goodrick, what he had to say, or simply the fact that I wrote out all these thoughts and was able to discuss them with someone who had been more or less down the same road already, but soon after my lesson with him I felt like I began to see things a lot more clearly, and really DID stop worrying so much about "when will I find my own voice" or "am I talented/good enough to even be trying to do this music/jazz thing?" When I go back and read the things I wrote I find that the answers to most of the questions I was asking fall somewhere in the middle of the possibilities I speculated about, and that again, time and patience seem to have a way of making everything fall imperceptibly into focus.