Performance tips #1: YOUR TONE! (YOUR AUDIENCE!)

I wanted to call this my “pet peeve” list.

This weekend, I watched a great new guitarist. He was a teen, and was excited to play with his church. He had the chops- just needed the experience of playing with other musicians. He could play lead, rhythm, and what ever else. Only one problem— one minor problem. His tone completely messed up everything he had going. Don’t fall into this trap yourself.

There is a particular trend in modern music, particularly those who follow the Brit influence. The overall tone of the music is fairly bright. As we learn to play what we listen to, we copy those bright tones. But remember, what sounds great on a recording does not always pan out to live playing. And thus our problem is realized-

This guitarist had the tone knobs on his pickups at full open-10, all treble. Any note he hit screamed. That’s not a bad thing except EVERY NOTE HE HIT SCREAMED. Even his chords were overly bright. This may be the sound in modern music recordings, but live it becomes a dentist’s drill to the ear. And always remember: Who is my audience? This would have gone over great with the youth, but our 8:00am service would not be so pleased. In church, we strive for an overall sound that blends well, where we can jam yet not give the elders a headache.

This does have an easy fix- turn your tone knobs back! I usually play mine a bit bright as my overall tone with a Les Paul is dark. I tend to be about at a 7 for rhythm. For leads, i keep my bridge pickups a bit bright as I use them for more rhythmic crunch/riff type leads, but for high note leads I either use my neck pickup at 5 or less (toward the bass) to warm up the tone, or the middle pickup setting which has the brighter bridge combined with the warmer neck.  I can play loud without being shrill. I can still screech the high notes some without the same tone as that dentist’s drill.

Here is a great reference:

http://www.lespaulguide.com/the-les-paul-tone.php

My paraphrase:

1) bridge position: gives classic lead-riff crunch

2) middle position: good balance, warm with a hint of crunch

3) neck position: deeper with more sustain. Great for slower, longer leads. Push the tone knob low (towards 0) and you can get the classic “woman tone” as introduced by Clapton.

So basically: save yourself and do not play 100% of the time completely at 10, trebled out. You can use the tone for a defining lead or a particular feel for a song, but do not use it all the time. In fact, the only time I use my tone all the way bright is in slow picking with some chorus for a light sparkly sensation. But that is for 2 songs we have performed about 10 times this year. So use it wisely!

One of these days I need to do a post on the Les Paul in general- as compared to other guitars. That would be fun.

edit: I know there are times/forms that need a trebly chink to them. But my experience is that what I KNOW sounds good from a guitarist’s perspective does not always sound good to the audience. Warming your sound up a bit is nicer on the audience, and if you really want to “stand out” above the mix, play with other frequencies- such as the midrange. There are reasons lead guitarist use the tubescreamer and respective clones; they are warmer than the high frequencies but still stand out in the mix.
Basically- I had a great pedal for lead which I looooved my sound with it. When I changed to exeriment with something different, that day, immediately after the song set, people who never get excited in our church said they loved my sound. Even my wife, who could care less about my obsession in music- she’s never impressed, mentioned that my sound was really different and good. The difference? A shrill Modded DS1 (which I LOVE as a rock guitarist) to a big muff pi (which doesn’t shrill at all). So you be the judge- take this as a lesson in “what my audience wants”.

A guitarist I know (i think in the David Crowder band) (edit: actually its Scott Henderson and he uses a Boss Looper) uses his looper in his DL4 to record his rhythm and a lead part, then walks through the venue to HEAR what the audience hears. From there he decides what reverb, if any, to use and what his tone should be as well as delay settings. Its a good practice!

The number one problem with new guitarists is the volume level (even some old guitarists). By doing this, no one would be blown out of the room. (and here I’m referring to amps, unmiked as many smaller venues/churches use). There is nothing like thinking you did great in your music then hearing the pastor say, “Can you turn it down for next service?”
BE AWARE!

Til next time: keep practicing! And Next is the compressor post- promise~!

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