Recently, my wife and I attended a music showcase. One of the bands featured a very good local guitarist, one that I’ve known of for over 30 years. He’s always played well, and he’s well respected.
During the course of the show, he played several guitar solos, all of them top notch, and kept the rhythm going with style the rest of the time. He was using a Fender® Stratocaster®, which looked to me to be either a 57 re-issue or an Eric Johnson signature model, and a Bugera amplifier, with a well-stocked pedal board in between. This brings me to my first point.
Eric Johnson has a signature tone. If you’ve heard him play, it usually doesn’t take long to discern that, ‘that’s Eric Johnson playing.’ Fender recently introduced a new Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster Thinline model. While talking about this guitar, Mr. Johnson recalled some advice that B.B. King gave him years ago:
“You know, you can do this; you can do that. There’s all these things you can do, but find the one thing you do that’s unique, that nobody else can do, and just go with it!”
B.B. King had an instantly recognizable style. So does Eric Johnson. So do many others, from Carlos Santana to Willie Nelson to Roy Buchanan.
While listening to this great local guitarist play his solos, which were all on point and very good, I couldn’t help but notice his tone. To me, it sounded very, well, generic. It sounded like a Strat played through a pedal board. Nothing distinguishable about it, even though it was musically very good and well placed.
During a break in the show, my wife, who has a very discerning ear for music, had asked me who the guitarist was, and commented that he was really good. She’s very honest about her musical thoughts. If my tone or playing or singing is not very good, she will tell me. She’ll also honestly tell me her thoughts about anyone we listen to. I value her opinion; it’s an opinion forged by years of musical training.
As we were driving home after the show, I asked my wife what she thought about his tone. I asked her cold, so as not to prejudice her response. She replied that his tone, “wasn’t very good. It sounded cheap.” Interesting, especially considering that he was a very good guitarist playing what is considered to be good equipment.
That One Thing
Perhaps the greatest compliment I’ve ever received from anyone came from Mark Daven of the Guitar Radio Show. During an interview with him, after he had played two guitars through two different Texas Tone™ amplifiers, he stated:
“Many times I’ll play amps and you can’t tell one from the other. These are very distinctly different sounding amps. They made me play differently. I started approaching the instrument in a different way as I played each one.”
Mark Daven, Guitar Radio Show
When speaking about my signature amp, the Texas Tone 12, he stated that it has a “a pulsating tremolo. Different than anything I’ve heard before.” He’s heard lots.
Don’t be generic. Don’t settle for a ‘me, too’ sound. Take advice from two masters, B.B. King and Eric Johnson. Find that thing you do that’s unique, that nobody else can do, and just go with it.
For me, it’s hand made tube amps, featuring the unique Hypnotic Slam Effect of the Texas Tone 12 tremolo.