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Top 10 Band Tips
A common theme I sometimes receive in emails is apparent in questions like:
I want to sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan.
I guess this is one of the reasons I continue to maintain my site. To be able to bust these types of myths is a true pleasure! It's a simple enough question, but it raises several important points about making music.
It's in the Fingers
The main point is that most of a player's sound is in their own fingers (I've seen writers estimate this to be 50% to 90% of their sound, although I'm not quite sure what those percentages mean). This means that Stevie Ray Vaughan and Steve Vai could pick up the same bad Les Paul copy guitar, and would still sound respectively like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Steve Vai. If you really listen to Stevie and other "greats", you'll hear that most of them use a wide variety of sounds and effects; they have many signature sounds.
If this is a revelation to you, don't be too disheartened, because it means that you have your own unique touch in your own hands. But if you really must play like one of your idols, getting a similar tone is only a small part of the task. Expect to spend much more time analysing not just what notes they played, but also how they played them. We all have our own subtle approach and techniques, like timing variations, note attack, small bends and so on.
Tone is Variable
Technical questions like "What's the magic number of coil windings?" are not an all-or-nothing proposition. Even if you could duplicate exactly Hendrix's gear and touch, having one more or less coil winding would not sound any different. A few dozen more or less coil windings might be just audibly different, but no better or worse.
A few hundred more or less coil windings would be noticeably a little different, but might actually suit you better. There are no precise tone settings, coil windings or anything else that represents the one and only magical tone - everything is variable! The real art of tuning in good tone is to vary your settings and equipment, and listen carefully to what affects the final sound.
What About You?
Certainly, many of us could do worse than sounding like Hendrix. Whether you like Hendrix' playing or not, he used the guitar in a radically different fashion than those before, and he was one of a handful of pioneers that demonstrated many of the techniques we take for granted today. But unless you're in a Hendrix cover band, why would you want to play like Hendrix?
If you're planning to emulate your guitar hero, I encourage you to instead learn from these great masters, but apply those learnings to your own music. For a start it's easier, but more importantly, its a way of continuing their great work, and a way for you to refine your own style and techniques.
Nostalgia is History
My final thought on emulating past masters are on guitarists' strong feelings of nostalgia. We are a conservative lot, in the main using guitars and equipment designed before the mid-1960's. Hanging on to our nostalgic past is something that has not escaped marketers. Through music shops, magazines and the web, we are all bombarded with vintage reissue equipment, and the strong theme that old is best.
Well I agree - old is good, but old is old, and new can be good and new can even be better. I play in cover bands, and copying others' work is something I do for fun and pocket money. But seriously copying a single artist in fine detail does not ultimately say anything new, and wastes the time you could use to develop your own character.