Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - November 2022

Monday, November 14, 2022


 The problem with this age old argument is that most "guitar players" start forming ideas about what they *think* they like long before they have anywhere near the intellectual acumen to actually comprehend what it is they are hearing.


 The cognitive dissonance of "most guitar players" seeking a Magical Sound they hear on a recording - without being able to subtract out the recording process itself.   How can you have a favorite amp, without a favorite speaker, microphone, ambience preference, recording eq/bandwidth?


 No experience with all of the permutations.  Never played a Tele, lipstick pickups, Jensen alnicos, a bottom cabinet next to a top cabinet, a 57 versus a LD, small diaphragm, etc. - but people try to integrate their *limited* experience with what they again think they're perceiving on a *recording*.


 Insisting on a monolithic superlative.  As in, "THIS" is the BEST amp!   And then arguing about it with zero context.  

 This is the 21st century in a nutshell: not only no concern for context, but complete ignorance of the premise.  Nobody bothers to look into anything anymore, whether it's diving into music/songs, or what has been used to make the sound/recording.  Country guitar players arguing with metal guitar players about "tone"?  Queen fans arguing with Hendrix fans about amps?  


 Random acceptance/application of physics and non-linear complexity.   People will wind their strings backwards over their tailpiece and attribute magic to it, but have no preference for frets.  A preference for a wood, "because", but no preference for weight/density that can vary 20%.  Preference for one piece body, but doesn't care about slab fretboard vs. one piece maple.  

 Want to sound like Stevie Ray Vaughn?  Don't play a Les Paul and a JCM800.   Want to sound like VanHalen?  Don't buy a Deluxe ri and a Tele.  If you *really* want a Famous Guitarist's Sound*, JUST BUY WHAT THEY USED.    You'll be 95% there, and if you can't play like them that's not the gear's fault.   But the bottom line is that the caroming-gear buffet syndrome is from either not knowing what you really like, or understanding it, or *not actually wanting to find out*.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Reverb is the Starfield of Music?

  This blog isn't always about guitar lessons.   Stand by for a very abstract post.....

 "Reverb is the Starfield of Music"

Or so I claim.

In science fiction movies, the starfield sets the tone.  

 In 2001: a Space Odyssey, it's understated.  The stars are not too bright, colorful or lurid.  They don't move.  You don't see them zooming by out if a porthole.  


As the backdrop to the 2nd act of the movie, it defines what the movie sets out to do at that point: pull you in by trying not to defeat the illusion of "real".  In less realistic movies, maybe sci-fi shows from before the 90s, you had bright stars flying past a window on a starship: all the same color, same size.  Not as realistic, BUT - perhaps within the "creative universe" of said show.   Both a budget-restricted pragmatic choice, but maybe also a simple, quick way of communicating "you're in a starship traveling in a direction".

 Likewise, reverb on recordings once was based solely on analog gear, not unlike the analog "practical" effects of science fiction movies of yesteryear.   While the gear was primitive - springs, sheet metal plates, empty rooms with tiled walls - there was no Uncanny Valley to cross.   

 But just like the early days of computer graphics in movies, when digital came into recording it wasn't necessarily convincing.  Like early CG science fiction effects, you knew it kind of represented something but wasn't perfectly realistic.   It was good enough, and again, a pragmatic solution to production.

 Some music in the 80s suffers from this, although some just wallows in Artificial Modulated Reverb.  The early Sting recordings come to mind, Queensryche's _Operation Mind Crime_, some others.   Like the starship Enterprise in _Star Trek: the Next Generation_, something BIG was doing SOMETHING in a BIG SPACE.   You knew it wasn't real, but it was its own art form in a sense.   

  Post 80s bands started wanting real drum sounds in actual rooms, and for awhile Big Room Sounds supplanted the artifice of Lexicon digital reverbs.  Similarly, science fiction movies have started to reject the early efforts of George Lucas to use digital technology to "enhance" (ahem..) classic movies.   For some movies the look and feel *was* "computer graphics" (Tron, Terminator 2, the Abyss, et al) but when it was mixed in after the fact, the contrast wrecked the production.

 Recordings, being cheaper and much more common by orders of magnitude, have gone through this iteration already.  The Bricastic hardware digital reverb, digital convolution reverbs, have started pulling recording out of the Uncanny Valley somewhat, but some recordings are still prone to having peculiar combinations of "spaces" that are incongruent.  

 Just as some sci-fi movies feature a lot of exterior special effects, that "place" you in that world, others are more careful and spartan with the use of depicting space.   On recordings, the same thing occurs: the reverb tone, sound, and amount is the backdrop for a recording.