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Blog // Thoughts
October 13, 2006

The Guitar Tone Thang

Warning – this is a rant! A few days back I posted a cute little summary of the guitar players (or plank spankers) who have most influenced or entertained me over the years. Rodd, as the astute jazz-man that he is asked where Pat Methany was on my list. The best I could manage was […]

Warning – this is a rant!

A few days back I posted a cute little summary of the guitar players (or plank spankers) who have most influenced or entertained me over the years. Rodd, as the astute jazz-man that he is asked where Pat Methany was on my list. The best I could manage was to iminate the Comic Book guy from the Simpsons and say – Worst. Tone. Ever.

See, if you could imagine my list of favourite guitarists as an inifinite thread of paper extending out into space, Pat Methany’s name would be out somewhere near the Crab Nebula. As much as I admire him as a musician and composer and as much as I adore his One Night Alone solo acoustic album, there is something about the greater body of Methany’s work that upon hearing it just makes me want to scream “STOP IT NOW” as I beat my head against the nearest wall till I fall unconsious.

To me there are a number of jazz guitar players who really should apologise for their crimes against good guitar tone. Methany is one, Al Di Meola is another and Mike Stern is probably the worst. I actually, really, really, really like what Stern plays, and have studied and learnt quite a bit from him, but his tone – ouch.

I recall a number of years back I was in love with my new Super210 amp. A fellow guitarists, who was a deep Methany fan, and whom I admired was trying out my amp and guitar. He rolled down the tone controls on my guitar and tweaked the amp for a few minutes. In the end he commented that he really liked my rig. I was shocked to hear him evoke Methany-esque tones from my gear and had no option but to shriek – I never knew my rig could sound so bad!

Let’s take a magical tour through youtubeland to explore this tone question. Exhibit A is a Methany solo in concert. The sound is not great, but you can hear all sorts of ugliness obscuring what are interesting jazz lines.

Ugly, isn’t it? Now try listening to this.

I find that aweful on so many levels, it is hard to express in words! In case you found yourself wondering – WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!? – Methany is playing a synth and trying to sound like a sax-player. Sadly, many jazz guitarists are aflicted with sax-envy, not just Methany. Jazz schools really should offer a rehabilitation programme for those afflicted with this musically delibitating ailment.

Rodd mentioned, surely in jest that Scofield’s tone is no better. Well, to some extent that is true. Scofield has been prone to Chorus-pedal abuse, like Methany and Stern. However, he has shown in the last few years real signs of rehabilitation (which co-incides with some more serious rehabilitation). Check this out.

OK, not perfect, but at least it sounds like a guitar! Nice effects use at the end too.

Damian mentioned Larry Carlton, who is a master of great guitar tones.

Man – that is what a guitar is meant to sound like. Now, let’s get a little more esoteric.

That’s Marc Ribot. The last two clips are very different. But, can you hear the woodiness of the sound, the resonance, the growl, the slightly metallic edges? That’s what a GUITAR sounds like and apart from a few acoustic recordings, you never get that with Methany.

If someone doesn’t like the guitar, that’s fine. But I just don’t connect with the desire to play a guitar but make it sound like something else.

[tags] Guitar, Guitar Tone [/tags]

Rodd Jefferson 18 years ago


Thanks for the constructive and thoroughly entertaining argument. There’s quite a few sax players that make me feel the same, although who could blame anyone for wanting to be a sax player. It is the definitive instrument of love, expression, and oozes sex appeal.

Just goes to show, though, that tone is a personal thing. I know many vocalists that are clearly doin’ stuff with their voice that many would argue shouldn’t be done, and yet they’re doin’ their thing and being enjoyed.

Thanks for the post, mate, I liked this one very much.

Jesse 18 years ago

Once again, we’re in complete agreement. Metheny is nice if you like the sound of a guitar being played underwater. Having said that, an album worth checking out is “Jaco” by …. yep, you guessed it. Very early on in Metheny’s career, and you wouldn’t know it was him to listen to it. Very free fusion style where Metheny has a much more gritty, angular approach to his playing.

I don’t have so much of a problem with trying to make a guitar sound like something else though. Last time I saw Robert Fripp play, he was heckled by members of the audience (bear in mind that Fripp was supporting Vai and Satriani) complaining that his guitar didn’t sound like a guitar. They didn’t seem to recognise the absolute legend that he is, and that he’s “been there and done that” with the whole widdly widdly thing and he’s still one of the most progressive guitar players around.

Jake Chambers 18 years ago

Good call. Marc Ribot is the undisputed king of tone. Now, let me ask you this, where on your list is the only person I would even attempt to use to challenge Ribot, Bill Frisell?

Fernando Gros 18 years ago

Jake – my bad. Frisell really should be on the list!

Shadab Khan 17 years ago

why is Al Di Meola’s name dragged into this???

His acoustic guitar tone is untouched.
And his electric guitar tone has just the right amount of snarl and overdrive.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Al’s acoustic tone has gotten better over the years, but for me an album like Cielo e Terra is ruined by the guitar sound.

As far as his electric work – in my experience you’ll have to go a long way to find fas of his tone. His playing, mastery and harmonic sense sure, but his tone, no.

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