#1
Hey  all,

I was reading an interesting article on tone being mostly in the hands.  I was honestly always on the fence about this as I have chased this ideal "tone" in my head for 20 years.  After some critical thought though it struck me as most likely being correct, and here is why I came to that conclusion.  First I "always" hear someone in a guitar store, or live (someone that is decent) with a tone that I love and think why can't I achieve that tone too.  Years ago, one day I was playing with a very skilled musician and we "tested" the theory with a series of licks.  First he would play then me.  He thought we sounded similar, I of course did not.  I said I just want to sound like you when I play that. because my ears "heard" a huge difference.  As we were discussing things another guitarist came by and said "hey I couldn't help but overhear your conversation, and man I'm telling you I can't hear a difference..." which floored me.  This got me to thinking, maybe this is in my head more than what I hear. which was hard to accept honestly.  Kind of like how you hate the sound of your own voice but people love when you sing or something?  

Anyway, so my quest went on over the years.  I would try out for bands and get hired, play out, have people say I sounded great and still feel like I didn't (self-defeating again )  As the years went by though, I got more comfortable with "my sound" which brings me to modern day.  I have gone through a lot of different amps lately as I've always been a tube amp snob of sorts.  I didn't care what I ended up with as long as it sounded good BUT it HAD to be a tube amp, that is until today.  I still have a couple of tube amps, but my newest amp I'm in love with is a SS Blues Cube Hot with the Tube Logic.  I only mention this b/c in my quest for tone I've realized that it doesn't matter really what I'm playing through, I sound like me, my tone is me, period.  Exceptions to this are the nuisances of sounding sterile, or boxy, but still like me.  This leads me back to the original statement I started with of reading that tone is 90% in the hands which I now agree with more than ever.  To test my theory even further the other day I dug out an old amp from the 80's I had, a SS Champion 110 that sounds (as I remember it) completely shrill and awful.  I plugged in, took a few minutes to scoop the mids and most of the treble as this amp is like "bright switch full on steroid,  and honestly I dialed in a decent sound.  90% seemed like me again tone wise, with the 10% missing due to either boxy'ness, or eq issues.  Granted it wasn't the warmest tone in the world, but the way I remember it being was definitely not the way it was when I accepted the 90% in the hands principal.  Would I want to play that amp everyday, hell no, b/c the 10% definitely matters...a lot honestly, but my tone was still kind of there just not big and warm which is what I love and look for on the amps I play.  Anywho, thought this would be a fun discussion as I'd love to read what your experiences have been and if you agree with the 90% premise or not and why.
#2
I agree up to a point.  I can get a decent tone I'm happy with a lot of different amps but I had to ditch my old Single Recto because I just couldn't get "my" lead  tone out of that amp no matter what I did, I even bought a MXR 10 band EQ pedal and still wasn't happy with any lead tone I could get out of it.  The saggy overdrive characteristic was negatively effecting my playing too (the FEEL was different).

Some amps have VERY characteristic tones that just can't be dialed out.  Amps like Rectos, AC30, etc.  For the most part though, with most amps that aren't one trick ponies I agree. 
#3
I see this as a conflation of concepts.

There is a certain portiom of the sound coming from your setup that is how the notes are EQd, the attack, the compression, etc. that is handled by gear. Your playing sounds a certain way, and you will pick up on that through any gear. Your "tone" is the way gear responds to your playing. This all comes together to make your sound.

The fact that you highlighted the need to re-EQ sort of illustrates my thinking. You still heard the nuances of your playing come through, but the other part of your sound, the "tone" was busted as hell due to that poop Fender.

Its all kind of pedantic, and I think that its a bite pointless to argue what percent of your sound is caused by what. I mean, its like you said, at the end of the day I still want nice gear to play through. It isn't going to make me sound better if my playing is lousy or lacking in feeling and nuance, but if that portion is taken care of, then I still want to put my playing through a good amp.
I'm just a kickin' and a gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer.
#4
I also see a lot of confounding relationships here.

Everyone has their own intrinsic "tone in the hands", but...

- first issue is to what degree a player likes or dislikes theirs

- second issue is to what degree their gear allows it to get through or suppresses it

Already one can see that if you like your own tone and your gear expresses it then you may be very happy. But one may dislike their tone and still be happy if the gear suppresses it and puts out something one likes.

- third issue is if the player is unaware of even knowing if they like their own tone or not because their gear has always either suppressed their bad tone or never expressed their good tone... I'm thinking of a few aircraft carrier sized pedal boards I've seen moored on stage...

Ideally we might like to think our own tone is good and so find and play through gear that expresses that, but if the outcome is all that matters (is it?) then might one "succeed" with poor tone and corrective gear?
Quote by reverb66
I'm pretty sure the Bible requires that you play through a tube amp in Texas.
#5
First, record yourself. Or better, have someone else set up and record you playing. Let them make the decisions about mike placement and settings. Then, in another week, have someone else do the same. 

Then set up some really good speakers and do some playback. And try to do it somewhere fairly neutral where things aren't affected by your  bedspread, lots of hard walls, etc.  It can be sort of a revelation. 
#6
Preaching to the choir here but this is a gear forum so prepare for a mod smackdown.  

I think there is a "tone floor" provided by our gear that we should not fall below.  A Spider or Marshall MG fall below the tone floor to me because I cannot get satisfying tone with them at any setting.  Above the tone floor lies all the gear we can find great guitar tone with if we take the time to find it.  Some will certainly sound a little better than others but as a guitarist it will always sound like me playing.  Learning how to get great tone out of simple amps is indeed part of the "in the hands" question.

I used to think I needed really expensive guitars and amps to get great guitar tone but the longer I play, the easier it is to find very satisfying tone in pretty simple amps.  I still prefer Fender USA guitars for their feel and decent quality hardware but a $200 amp gets it done often these days.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
Last edited by Cajundaddy at May 19, 2017,
#7
Me? I'm in the tone is from the gear camp.

You provide the talent & techniques: phrasing, the pick attack, the musicality of chords & progrssions, etc.,

But tone? That's gear.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

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#9
Quote by dannyalcatraz
Me?  I'm in the tone is from the gear camp.

You provide the talent & techniques: phrasing, the pick attack, the musicality of chords & progrssions, etc.,

But tone?  That's gear.

I see what you are saying, my only deviation from that would be I've seen guys that are playing beautifully and the tone is wonderful on a certain setup, say in a guitar store.  He hands it to someone, let's just say less skilled   Nothing has changed in the pass off except the skill of the individual playing, i.e. "the hands".  When that person starts playing it actually transforms the "tone" to something like nails on a chalkboard to me, seriously one time I had to leave guitar center it was so bad.  I lasted like 12 minutes before I said "F### This!" and left lol.  So while I agree the actual "sound" you hear is produced by the gear, without the hands it is a moot point IMO, regardless if the "tone" is dialed in like in my example.  I guess that is when I apply the equation of "bad hands = bad tone regardless".  On the flip side I've heard some guys that played beautifully but the tone was shrill to my ears, so I don't think there is a right/wrong answer.  If we really wanted to get deeper we could discuss the whole how our ears perceive "tone" which I also think about.  A bit like if you like your amp sitting directly on the floor, it sounds perfect to you shooting passed your ankles say, the problem is the people in front of it will be hearing something entirely different tone wise.  It doesn't mean the tone you hear is not real, it is, and it is wonderful to your ears, but to the other people....

First, record yourself. Or better, have someone else set up and record you playing. Let them make the decisions about mike placement and settings. Then, in another week, have someone else do the same. 

Then set up some really good speakers and do some playback. And try to do it somewhere fairly neutral where things aren't affected by your  bedspread, lots of hard walls, etc.  It can be sort of a revelation. 


Have done this many many times, and you are right it can be
Last edited by cfiiman at May 19, 2017,
#10
Quote by dannyalcatraz
Me?  I'm in the tone is from the gear camp.

You provide the talent & techniques: phrasing, the pick attack, the musicality of chords & progrssions, etc.,

But tone?  That's gear.

i lean this way to a point.  your final tone is the interaction between your playing (hands) and what comes out of the amp (gear) .  you sound like you because of your playing, the tone is good because you dialed in the amp and fx to compliment your playing.  this is why i try to buy gear that compliments my sound and playing and why i work on being a better player. 

as for the example of one guy sounding great and another sounding like crap through the same setup that's not really hard to explain. if it's a case of a not so good player then that pretty much tells you what you need to know. amps only reproduce what you put into them so if the playing isn't good then the tone probably will suffer. even if the player isn't bad if he's out of his element he may sound bad as well. hand a strat to a metal guy who is used to muting notes at the bridge on the bridge pickup and you often get a shrill sound out of the strat. a strat player likely knows that you need to pick the strings further from the bridge to cut down on the ice pick sound. little things like that can make all the difference. 
#11
I think that the gear drives the touch, and tone is an interaction between gear and touch. I don't think that my touch would be any good if I didn't much like the sounds I was hearing, and good gear tone makes you try harder. The also-true converse of that would be that if was stuck with a particular sound, then my touch would change to accommodate it, if I just didn't give up altogether. This was very noticeable in Colombia, where acoustic lutherie is pretty ordinary. The local guys seemed to get some terrific sounds out of those clunkers, I couldn't even approach it.
#12
monwobobbo cfiiman

I started out on classical instruments. Give a newbie a Stradivarius and ask him to play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", and it will still squawk like an abused chicken. But ask a person to pluck an open string once, and you may not be able to tell how skilled he is. All you will hear is the instrument.

So I suspect that bad hands will not sound so bad if you remove technique from the equation, regardless of instrument. If you let Eric Johnson set up a rig his way and ask him to pluck the open D string with a single finger, then have a newbie do the same, then a robot do likewise, the "tone" will not change much.

Or, to put it differently, if you put Mark Knopfler on Ihsahn's rig without letting him adjust the settings, the tone will sound like Ihsahn, the technique & feel will be 100% MK.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!

Log off and play yer guitar!

Strap on, tune up, rock out!
#13
Quote by dannyalcatraz
monwobobbo cfiiman

So I suspect that bad hands will not sound so bad if you remove technique from the equation, regardless of instrument.  If you let Eric Johnson set up a rig his way and ask him to pluck the open D string with a single finger, then have a newbie do the same, then a robot do likewise, the "tone" will not change much.

I very much agree with this statement, I would  agree there would be zero difference in the tone in this situation of plucking a single string.  It is a different way at looking at it, b/c in this example the tone would be identical, but the newbie could put nothing musical together which would sound horrible obviously.  So maybe the question isn't fingers vs gear, but rather how much the "tone" is affected by the fingers?
#14
cfiiman

Why I feel I have done I delineate the difference between tone and technique.

To use a cooking analogy: if I gave you and Gordon Ramsey an egg to boil for 6 minutes in a particular pot in a fully equipped kitchen, the results should be damn near identical. That cooktop's temperature & boiling pot's characteristics would be analogous to the tone from the way you dial in your gear.

If, OTOH, I gave you and Gordon Ramsey an egg to cook any way in a fully equipped kitchen, I'd expect the results to differ greatly. The techniques and skills with handling ingredients of a celebrity chef vs yours would cause the dining experience to vary radically.

Edited to correct analogy.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!

Log off and play yer guitar!

Strap on, tune up, rock out!
#15
Quote by Cajundaddy
Preaching to the choir here but this is a gear forum so prepare for a mod smackdown.  

I think there is a "tone floor" provided by our gear that we should not fall below.  A Spider or Marshall MG fall below the tone floor to me because I cannot get satisfying tone with them at any setting.  Above the tone floor lies all the gear we can find great guitar tone with if we take the time to find it.  Some will certainly sound a little better than others but as a guitarist it will always sound like me playing.  Learning how to get great tone out of simple amps is indeed part of the "in the hands" question.

I used to think I needed really expensive guitars and amps to get great guitar tone but the longer I play, the easier it is to find very satisfying tone in pretty simple amps.  I still prefer Fender USA guitars for their feel and decent quality hardware but a $200 amp gets it done often these days.


i agree with you- i always subscribe to the "minimum acceptable quality" thing, too, and under that quality level the thing's not really fit for purpose.

but i also agree with danny and dementiacaptain in that we sort of need to separate the gear tone from the hands tone (and there's a lot of overlap and interaction there)- nomatter how good of a player you are you won't make a blackface fender twin at bedroom volume with no pedals do metal tones, for example. and monwobobbo makes a good point in that someone just might not be used to or like a certain piece of gear and might struggle with it, but it doesn't necessarily mean that that person is a bad player.
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