Here we continue with our blog about what makes a guitarist great.
The electric guitar opened up to musicians an incredibly diverse palate of sounds. Jimi Hendrix playing his Strat through a Marshall sounded a world away from Pete Townsend playing his Les Paul through a HiWatt. Although Steve Vai and Eric Johnson both play Stratocaster style guitars, their approach, sound, articulation, and phrasing are vastly different. Just watch any of the “G3” videos to see this for yourself.
Sound or tone is the medium through which our musical ideas come to life. Some great players are so serious about their tone that they give them names. Clapton called the warm, bassy sound produced by the humbucker neck pickup his “woman tone” (check out Sunshine of Your Love); Eddie Van Halen named the sharp, biting yet thick sound he used on Eruption his “brown sound.”
The player has as much to do with the sound as the equipment. Ted Nugent once asked to play Eddie Van Halen’s rig when the two were touring together. When asked what he sounded like, Eddie Van Halen replied, “Ted Nugent.”
A player’s originality (or style) is really the sum of his technique, taste/feel, and sound/tone. It is how he combines all these to create a fresh, new voice.
We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, meaning that we all are—to one degree or another—the product of our influences. But the best ones took what inspired them and made it their own, even though you can still hear traces of their heroes.
Hubert Sumlin, Wes Montgomery, Curtis Mayfield, and other R-n-B guitarists of the 60’s influenced Jimi Hendrix. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, and Allan Holdsworth influenced Eddie Van Halen. Charlie Parker and John Coltrane influenced Allan Holdsworth.
The great adventure continues. Now it’s up to you to find your own voice.