NYC-based guitarist Cameron Mizell has a great blog. His latest post addresses the elusive “tone” — the aural nirvana sought by millions of guitarists, but only rarely achieved. The quixotic obsession with tone props up a massive industry of big-name and boutique builders of guitars, amps, effects, pickups, and other myriad gadgets guaranteed to keep working musicians broke and always on the lookout for the next big thing. This is despite the fact that — as Cameron very eloquently explains by way of scientific and musical evidence — the “tone” is really in your fingers, not the gear. The two most important sentences in Cameron’s post:
“If you’re not satisfied with the tone from your fingers, you’ll never truly be satisfied with the tone from any guitar, amp, and pedal combination. If you know how to manipulate tone with your fingers, however, you’ll be able to make the most out of whatever rig you’re playing.”
Exhibit A: My Ibanez Tubescreamer, modded to vintage TS-808 specs by the Analog Man. This pedal is the last remaining artifact of countless hours and hundreds of dollars spent in college trying to find the perfect overdrive. Notably, the TS9DX was not the last pedal purchased in that quest. It was, however, the pedal to which I kept returning. It’s no accident that the Tubescreamer is a point of departure for literally hundreds of big-name and boutique overdrive pedal designs. Some of the variations and tweaks represent significant tonal departures, while others are probably indistinguishable (especially if you’re on the listening end of the pedal).
That said, I didn’t end up with the Tubescreamer because it’s the perfect pedal. No, I eventually realized that what I really needed was not new gear, but rather a lot more time in the woodshed. The Tubescreamer is reliable, consistent, and the dirtbox of choice for many great guitar players; if I can’t get a satisfying sound, it’s probably a greater reflection of my playing than the vintage authenticity of the components. I can’t necessarily say that I’ve since found “the tone,” but at least I think I have a better (and more cost-effective) idea of what’s needed to get there.
So check out Cameron’s post, stop surfing Musician’s Friend, and pick up your perfectly good guitar for some well-spent practice time.