I once again caught myself thinking (as I do ) about my tone. I realized that I've spent a large part of my professional career focused on achieving great tone. I obsess over it, I lie awake thinking about it, indeed many of the products you'll see in our catalogue have been inspired during periods of insomnia. So is it really that important? I could've just said ' Of course it is, don't be stupid you plonka...get on with it', but It's been ingrained in me that there is no knowledge gained without thorough analysis. So i grabbed all of my favourite CD's and started doing some investigation. I went through all the guys that really push my buttons musically. Jeff Baxter (Steely Dan), Stevie Ray, Dave Gregory(XTC), Andy Summers (Police), Niel Finn (Crowded House), Jeff Beck, Robben Ford, Robert Fripp (King Crimson), Wes Montgomery, BB King and Derek Trucks. (There's loads more but these are the guys from the CD's I had at hand.) I went through each track trying to work out what it was that connected with me. Each of these guys has a unique voice, there's no confusing them, and without fail, every single one of them sound fantastic. So i do an experiment. I set up a rig and on purpose I make it sound ordinary. I hook up a bunch of inline buffers (6 in total) from a bunch of pedals into an amp that's desperate for some new valves. So I know that by the time my signal hits the amp, it's already not all it can be, and the amp's not really singing. So how did it sound? Well, it sounded OK, I set up a rhythm loop, hit play and recorded the session to see what I come up with. Listening back, it was fine, nothing amazing but it was OK.
Next step was to re-valve my old Vox, set-up my pedal board and try again. I now know that my signal is clean and the amp is sounding really great. I hit record again to see what I come up with this time. It did feel different but listening back I was stunned to hear the way I played. I just seemed so much more connected with what I was doing. The richer harmonics in the sound led me to play different things. It was fascinating. The tone that you use is the vehicle through which your voice is heard. Suddenly my tonal obsessive compulsive disorder doesn't seem so crazy. And the thing is, all these guys knew it as well. Think of the lengths that these guys go to to get their gear sounding right. Even guys like Derek Trucks who plug straight in still experiment loads with speakers and components to make sure that they're squeezing every last drop of tone from the amp. Yes, it's in the fingers and the way that you play, of course it is, but we're not talking acoustic guitars here people. If the tone isn't right, your fingers are going to struggle.
My life has been validated. What a relief.