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Thread: Is it really all in the hands?

  1. #1
    Senior Member clcwarlock's Avatar
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    Is it really all in the hands?

    I was watching ACDC, Live at the Circus krone, the other day and I noticed about 3/4 way through the performance that Angus Young broke a string. They brought out his black SG that had different inlays not the usual lightning bolt. As soon as he plugged it in it sounded different, it was still Angus, but the tone was different enough for me to say I wish he had the other guitar back. So what do you think? Is it all in the hands? After seeing this I believe it is a combination of the right guitar and the right player.

  2. #2
    Senior Member gush's Avatar
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    To me there are a combination of things. The hands for sure but a guitar will impose its differences towards tone. Also, I notice my amp sounds different depending on which club Im in. Changing to a different pick willl change tone slightly. It can be frustrating as I have been recording live shows and every venue sounds different. So far, my best recording has been an outdoor show we did last year. Bleeding between tracks was kept to a minimum and I think lack of room influence was a huge factor. So I think I can make any guitar sound like me but any guitar can change how I sound. There, clear as mud!

  3. #3
    Tone = A feedback loop.

    Your hands are producing sounds your brain wants to hear, on your equipment, in an acoustical space. Sound is feeding back to your brain as you play, so your brain tells your hands to make little adjustments to your playing simultaneously, to produce the desired sounds. You adjust your picking, and your vibrato, your finger pressure, your phrasing, your strumming. But the instrument certainly matters, as does the amp, etc., and the rest of the signal chain, including room acoustics.

    The degree to which the instrument affects things is the degree to which you want it to quite often. But to say tone is purely in the hands ignores the fact that you WILL sound different on a PRS than you do on a Rickenbacker; you WILL sound different on a nylon acoustic than you do on a steel string; you WILL sound different through a high gain amp cranked to the max than you do on a Twin. These are gross examples and the differences get smaller as the gear becomes more similar. But it's there. Anyone who flatly denies it is, I think, making a specious argument.

    All of these elements are part of a system, and yet each is a variable.

    It is difficult for the ear to distinguish between sound produced via technique, and the inherent sound of the gear. This is because the hands are capable of being directed by the brain to do certain things that affect the sound being produced, as it is being produced. For example, I can create a different sound for jazzy stuff than I do for country stuff, on the very same guitar. Yet all of my guitars do sound different.

    We can choose to accentuate those differences between instruments, or cause the instruments to produce similar kinds of sounds, depending on what we want to hear.

    So it's a moving target. There is no ratio possible; you can let a Tele twang like a Tele, or play it soft and jazzy. It's still going to sound like a Tele, but you obviously have an influence over it. Where does one draw the line between what your hands cause, and what the instrument causes? Well, that depends on intent, and that changes for every tune for many players.

    Listen to Clapton on his Les Paul, and then on his Strat. His ideas and phrasing are very similar, the sound is different, yet it's still recognizably him. It's the combination.

  4. #4
    Cream Crackered Mikegarveyblues's Avatar
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    Yep. it's everything.

    If you really think about it, what creates the tone is complex and it would be a huge list if you chose to do so. It's not just the player, guitar and amp but it's every part of those things to an extent. Some parts play a major role whilst others play a tiny, tiny part that may well go un-noticed if it was changed - such as a type of cap!

    I do think a lot of people forget the crucial role the player him or herself has on the tone, but what Les says is absolutely right. You can't draw up a ratio because it changes from one person to another, etc...

    I can sound a little different from one day to the next even with the same gear and settings. Whether that's psychological or not I don't know...
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  5. #5
    408 Sig Club President Twinfan's Avatar
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    Great post Les - I agree 100%.

  6. #6
    SuperD Boogie's Avatar
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    Mojo = the right gear + the right talent + the right attitude. If the gear isn't complimenting the equation, it's a detriment and won't bring the most mojo. Now, the right gear doesn't mean the most expensive...
    Last edited by Boogie; 02-11-2013 at 05:50 AM.

  7. #7
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    I think tone is in the ears. I am an at home only player with all my gear in one room all the time. Yesterday, I got in two hours of blissful playing. To the extent of my limited ability, everything sounded just right. When I returned a couple of hours later to reclaim the feeling, everything was just wrong. Same gear, same location, same settings, but a vastly different experience.

    This is a very common experience for me: same gear, same settings, same controlled environment, but different results.

    The only connection I have been able to discern, is that a good night of sleep more often results in better tone. I have also noted that when things are good, they stay good even when switching between guitars and vice a versa.
    Last edited by tiboy; 02-11-2013 at 06:51 AM.
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  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by tiboy View Post
    I think tone is in the ears. I am an at home only player with all my gear in one room all the time. Yesterday, I got in two hours of blissful playing. To the extent of my limited ability, everything sounded just right. When I returned a couple of hours later to reclaim the feeling, everything was just wrong. Same gear, same location, same settings, but a vastly different experience.

    This is a very common experience for me: same gear, same settings, same controlled environment, but different results.
    Well, I think we're saying the same thing, in different ways. The ears are only the brain's transducers, the brain still has to process the sounds the ears hear in order to understand them.

    But the brain, the ears, and the hands are all operated via the body's chemistry, and the chemistry of the body changes from day to day and from hour to hour. It's different after a big meal than it is first thing in the morning, for example. The brain, in particular, depends heavily on glucose for its operation. If you were to take your blood sugar at different times of the day, it'll vary.

    As a diabetic, I have experienced the effect of taking too much insulin and depriving my brain of glucose. The first things that shut down are one's peripheral vision and the sense of hearing changes. Yet the hearing and vision organs are transmitting the same information to the brain as when this hypoglycemic condition isn't happening. What's different is that the brain, short of the chemical glucose it needs to operate, cannot process all of the information. This is an extreme example of what happens, but it's an example of how the brain depends on the chemical processing of food in the body.

    This is one reason why a person's perception of sound, and ability to produce sound, can vary at different times. It's processing information differently as your internal chemistry goes up and down during the day.

    And when you're tired, your body is processing things differently, too.

    The environment can be controlled, the difference is what's going on chemically and the brain's reaction to what it's hearing. The sound might be the same. The brain's perception, however, is the variable.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 02-11-2013 at 08:44 AM.

  9. #9
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    Tone is mostly in your hands, definitely--but if you're playing a guitar that fights you, or an amp that doesn't sound like you want it to, it makes it more difficult to do your job. If I'm on, say, a country gig, and all I've got to play is a Gibson Johnny Smith with one pickup, I'll get through the gig, but it won't sound right...
    Vince Gill tells a story about Chet Atkins--it seems a guy came up to Chet after a show and said, "Chet--man, that guitar sounds great!" Chet set the guitar down and replied, "How does it sound now?"

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