Jerry Cantrell: 'It Doesn't Matter What Gear You're Playing On - You're Gonna Sound How You Sound'

"Your tone is in your hands and that's just the way it is," says Alice in Chains guitarist.

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According to Alice in Chains axeman Jerry Cantrell, the trick of finding a unique guitar tone lies in the guitarist's hands and there is only so much the gear can do when it comes to that magical signature sound.

During a recent chat on official Jim Dunlop website, Cantrell was asked by one of the fans to talk about finding such a tone. Although he admitted that clear differences between various guitar models do exist, the guitarist also pointed out that the tone is mostly in your hands.

"I remember reading stories about this in old magazines," Cantrell started, "but I figured out for myself pretty quickly that it doesn't really matter what gear you're playing on - you're gonna sound how you sound. Gear can color it - I mean a Les Paul sounds like a Les Paul and a Strat sounds like a Strat, so there's two different tones there, and you can alter some of your tones by your gear - but mostly your tone is in your hands and that's just the way it is."

The guitarist went on to back up his theory with more specific examples, saying, "I remember hearing stories of Van Halen opening for Ted Nugent, and Nugent going out to watch Eddie, saying, 'What is this guy playing through?!' Then he went and plugged into Eddie's stuff, and he sounded like Ted Nugent.

"I have firsthand knowledge of that; when we toured with Van Halen, sometimes I'd be late getting to sound check and Ed would be on stage playing with my band, plugged into my stuff, and he sounded like Eddie Van Halen. And when I played through his stuff, I sounded like me. So gear can only get you so far with tone and sound adjustment, but basically at some point, you are who you are, and that is literally in your flesh. You know, it's not the car, it's the driver."

Cantrell also stressed that finding a unique recognizable sound is "half of the battle." He also pointed out the importance of sounding natural and unforced.

"You have to trust in the fact that youre going to sound how you sound, and the way you keep fresh and moving forward is sort of forgetting about what you did the in past. But I don't really need to think about that, and I've been really fortunate in that aspect, not only with myself but with my band. I trust that we're going to be okay, and that we're doing something good. In my opinion, we haven't done anything crappy yet, which is cool - it's the best thing I could ask for.

"Keeping fresh just means making another record and writing new songs. Keeping your signature sound? That's just who you are," the guitarist concluded.

The latest Alice in Chains record, "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here," dropped on May 28 via Capitol Records, marking the fifth release in the group's catalogue. Featuring 12 new songs, it became their second album with singer William DuVall handling the vocal duties.

30 comments sorted by best / new / date

    >"Keeping fresh just means making another record and writing new songs. Keeping your signature sound? That's just who you are" totally agree
    It's very true, but it's very easy to say the tone is in the fingers when you're playing through gear worth several thousands. Different story when you're playing through a Harley Benton solid state and your lead is mostly solder wire.
    Joe Satriani using a pig nose 'knockoff' guitar, a Digitech RP 200 and a Peavey Backstage, it still sounds like Joe. Edit: My video link keeps disappearing.
    sad thing is, he was just pissing about and he still blew it out of the water!
    with a bad gear you'll just need to tweak more your equipment. you missed the point when jerry said that you made the sound.
    Tell that to St. Anger's snare drum
    That was a mixing issue, not an equipment issue. Stop showing your ignorance.
    a drummer
    Dude Crazysam23..c'mon..pot calling the kettle black much? A) that was not an ignorant statement, it was ****ing hilarious. B) St Anger's snare sounded bad because of the tone of the snare it's self, and the fact that he played like half the album with the snare turned off. Maybe you're thinking of Death Magnetic?
    Agreed. Personally, I don't care about the difference between valve amps and using plug ins like Amplitube, as long as I can get a sound I like out of it, I'll use it. If I can get an awesome sound out of something practical and cheap all the better!
    This is so true. I was strangely dissapointed when I got my first valve amp and yet I sounded just like me! Sure there was a warmth and depth of sound not there before. But ultimately the core of the tone was me. Same when I play other peoples guitars. Its like a cake we each have our own flavour of sponge, whether it be choclate, vanilla or even fruit cake! You can ice it how you want, decorate it how you want and add jam in the middle. But ultimately the core of your cake is still the same. Weird analogy! I must be hungry....
    Agreed, although I do want to raise a middle finger to all those pricks who constantly say; "A strat is the best guitar to express yourself with." I'm sorry, but no, a strat will sound like a strat, a Les Paul will sound like a Les Paul. It's just what you can do with it's sound that counts! EDIT: Unless your Eddie Van Halen and just want to confuse the living f*ck out of everyone with your strat that sounds like Gibson.
    I'd agree with this. People sometimes ask me if I'm using a wah pedal when I play... I don't know what I'm doing with my fingers, and I don't hear any wah going on, but they do. Doesn't matter what equipment I play with, its always there.
    I wonder what that is, I remember seeing this led zeppelin tribute band and thinking the same thing about the guitarists tone, maybe it's just the piercing slightly fuzzy High end combined with sharp attack on the strings that gives that quality, I'm not quite sure.
    wow, the first thing i thought of when i read the article title was the eddie van halen and ted nugent story. i always use that as an example to anyone who asks for my advice on guitar playing. like eddie says "its all in your fingers"
    Play Back in Black with a Telecaster and a Blues Jr. It doesn't sound the same.
    Of course it doesn't sound the same, all he is saying is that the style is much more dependant on your fingers. Also you can't expect to get massive amounts of bass out of a small amp with is a big part of what makes those stadium rock sounds imposing.
    If this were true then there would only be one guitar and amp manufacturer. Jerry Cantrell is a dipshit. You play with different gear, you're gonna sound different.
    that wasn't what he said, moron. he isn't saying that any guitar would sound the same, but diferente guitars will have YOUR personality in their sound.
    It's true. . The gear won't make or break you as a guitarist. If you gave Van Gogh a box of crayons, the crayon drawing would still look like a Van Gogh. That being said, gear DOES matter when you're trying to sculp YOUR tone.
    yet we have so many guitar snobs which don't have 1/10 of cantrel's public, don't even recorded nothing, didn't travel to make gigs or even don't gig on a place bigger than a cheap ass pub and only jam with their friends on the garage, yet, those guys thinks they really need $ 5000 Worth of stuff to get a god sound because 'this and that sound like shit'. no, my friends, if something is sounding like shit, it's because your playing is shitty.