We have all heard it said, and in some cases have seen it. Tone is in the hands. I’ll illustrate, a few years ago at the NAMM show, we were fortunate enough to have Will McFarland stop by our booth. Will is an extraordinary session player with Bonnie Raitt and many others. Will grabbed a Telecaster and the original prototype of our Siamese drive, plugged it straight into a Classic Deluxe 112 combo and proceeded to make some of the most beautiful guitar sounds I have ever heard. I remember him saying to me, “I could take this pedal, this amp and play any gig,” high praise from a player of this caliber.
He was playing gorgeous swells, chicken pickin’ and rolling off some of the most soulful sweet blues riffs I have ever heard. Will is truly an amazing player. Fast forward half hour later, along comes this young guy who was a pretty decent player. He picks up the same guitar, pedal and amp Will had and began playing. I did a double take and thought, ” Whoa, don’t let anyone hear that they’re going to think our amps sounds like that.”
Same settings, two players, two very different results. How? Well, for one thing this guy was a pretty good player but he picked like he was in need of an anger management course. He was fretting like he was trying to push the strings through the back of the neck.
So, I casually walked over to him and asked if he would like to try something else. He obliged and I walked him over to the Hot Cat 15, grabbed a Les Paul and plugged him in. Kaboom, instant rockstar! He was wailing and twisting and bringing down the hellfire. He seemed to get about 50% better in an instant.
Why? The Hot Cat 15 with its smooth compression ate up the ham-fisted technique and spit out every exaggerated nuance. Big smile on my new friends face.
Your playing style matters greatly. How often do you hear, ”That amp sucks.” Well, put that amp with a player like Will McFarland or Marc Ford’s hands, different story.
We take calls all day from guys asking me if they should change everything from tubes, caps, speakers and underwear. Okay I made up that last one, but my point is a good portion of what you are hearing is in your hands. What type of pick you are using, whether it is a classic Fender medium or a Dunlop Tortex, can often times make a bigger difference in your tone than a tube swap.
I think the larger point I am trying to make here is, two players can sound very different with the same gear. Be aware of your tendencies and don’t be afraid to adjust your technique. Pick softly or dig in. Try brushing the strings or pull them hard with your fingers. Explore and expand your abilities.
Remember how long and hard you worked to develop your style? Challenge yourself to work harder to expand it.
Now stop reading this and go plug in, to a Bad Cat of course! After all, some of the tone does comes from a great amp.