Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - Guitar Playing in the 21st Century: Precision Ruins Art

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Guitar Playing in the 21st Century: Precision Ruins Art

 Right off the top I'm going to (have to) write "no, I'm not saying it's good to be sloppy" or some other 211st century reflexively simplistic thing to say.  As usual I'm trying to present a new/different perspective, successfully or otherwise.

Part of my rig for years.  I sold the head because I wouldn't buy it at the price I sold it for, and I'm not really sure that the world needs Yet Another Plexi Marshall Guitar player.  I still have an old Marshall chassis that I will turn into a "hybrid something or another" amp one day as per this article....

 I've been pondering the 70's, which I find myself doing often because it seems to be the "anti-21st century" in some respects.  People acknowledge the greatness that happened in music in the late 60's/70's, but without much elaboration.

 The process of making music in all respects was much, much less precise in the 70's.

 The recording process was technologically more primitive.   Every aspect of it was an effort to battle a technology imperfection that was "trying" to wreck the process, either by distortion or frequency response problems. 

 The procedures were primitive - copy and paste did not exist, one had to take a chance using a razor blade to literally cut the tape and move the physical pieces around, then use MORE tape to put them together.

 The mixing process, the balancing of the sound at the end, was not quite automated, and often involved members of the band, sometimes the janitor/intern at the studio to assist with their 2 hands to set levels on the fly as the multitrack recording was played back for the mixdown.

"That's one thing, but this is a "guitar" oriented blog, Chip"

 O.k, I know.....

 Guitar technology was primitive.  I'm going to say something controversial: the bottom end Ibanez today is made better than Fender strats were in the 50's and 60's.  Leo Fender wasn't out to make the best guitar, he wanted to make a PROFITABLE guitar CHEAPLY.  Necks warped, frets weren't perfect, string action was higher, pickups were randomly wound, setups were random.

 Vintage Marshalls are known for having different "personalities".  Because again, they weren't trying to make a perfect amp, but a profitable one.  The SL68 "Marshall plexi" John Suhr makes is miles beyond in quality what the original was.  Amps back then were always blowing up, and unlike today there wasn't an Invisible Onus to divide yourself into one of the "camps" - Marshall, Fender, Vox.  The Beatles used Vox because they couldn't get what they wanted - Fender amps.  B.B. King, whose tone nobody criticizes, used a solid state LAB amp.  Brian May of Queen is known for using Vox amps, but a lot of his parts is a tiny little solid state amp cobbled together by the bass player John Deacon from a discarded car stereo.  On and on.

 Speakers are the same situation.  Quality, outside of EV and JBL, was sketchy.  People were (as they do now to a great extent) using whatever they could find/afford.  A hodge podge of choices.

 If you look through guitar magazines of the day (of which I have read all of them almost, year by year), you see ads for a much more diverse array of gear.  Most interestingly (to me) was that the ads were not overly self-conscious about selling to one single narrow genre.  It was tools.

 The Result:

 Not only did almost every guitar player have a fairly unique sound (whether by plan or by happenstance), sometimes for every song there was a different guitar sound.

 Today we try to approach things clinically, and I'm super guilty of it: refine the sound to it's "best" example in all respects, because after all - in the 21st century we CAN try to do that!

 That is poor 21st century reflexive thinking on my part, and everyone else IMO.   I get aggravated when someone makes a pat retort to a conflict that is superficially "the OBVIOUS correct approach/solution" - and that is what OBVIOUSLY trying to get the BEST guitar sound is as a pursuit. Art is not that simplistic.  One should strive for a unique combination, which is something I've had to backtrack on in the past few years.  On the other hand - I now have the experience to pick and choose properly as opposed to randomly (trying to be positive here...).

 What I like is a hodge-podge of gear, and my quiver has started to reflect that over the past half decade.  My gear has always reflected a push and pull (pun) of amps, guitars, pedals and effects that were meant to go in a direction of a particular player I like - but not a SINGLE particular player.  That leads me to my next blog post topic:


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