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Post new topic Tone Is Not In The Players Hands
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Author Topic:  Tone Is Not In The Players Hands
Brooks Montgomery


From:
Idaho, USA
Post Posted 2 Nov 2017 10:14 am     Reply with quote

Peter Freiberger wrote:
John Coltrane said of the mellifluous Stan Getz, "Let's face it--we'd all sound like that if we could."


I'd bet Stan Getz could clap time on his hands and sound better than most. Just hands. Tone.
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John De Maille


From:
On a Mountain in Upstate Halcottsville, N.Y.
Post Posted 2 Nov 2017 1:36 pm     Reply with quote

First off, I'd say it's in your mind. If you can't think it, you can't play it.
Secondly, it's in your hands and feet and legs. They ALL have to work together flawlessly to get a good sound.
Plus, your equipment has a lot to do with it, also. A good sounding system will enhance your control and touch. A bad sounding system will just sound inadequate and make you sound that way.
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David Zornes


From:
Ohio, USA
Post Posted 2 Nov 2017 2:00 pm     Tone Reply with quote

A good tone requires EVERYTHING. From finger picks to the proper cords. You can have a $8,000 Franklin steel, but if you have a sub standard amp- All elements are required to achieve a good tone.
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Larry Behm


From:
Mt Angel, Or 97362
Post Posted 2 Nov 2017 2:20 pm     Reply with quote

New wrinkle, good tone or bad tone? Finger nails on a chalk board create a "tone" Without hands we just have a chalk board. Oh but a good chalk board is worth it's weight...
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J R Rose


From:
Keota, Oklahoma, USA
Post Posted 2 Nov 2017 5:58 pm     Reply with quote

I have already put my 2 cents in on this but will add some more. David Zornes said it well, All Elements are Required to Achieve a Good Tone. I think I said that in my earlier post, just not those words. Better equipment helps anyone sound better. The playing ease of the guitar is a lot of the over all picture. It has to so to speak fit you. You have to be comfortable with it. But for me it does not matter what I set down at I still sound like me with the same limited amount of licks an so on. But my tone is always there. It is just me. J.R.
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Jim Fogarty


From:
Phila, Pa, USA
Post Posted 2 Nov 2017 7:25 pm     Reply with quote

Oy. This discussion again. Guitarists have been fighting over this since they first plugged in.

The ONLY way to get any clarity on this nonsense is to separate the terms, appropriately......

TONE comes from the player's attack, note choice, hand placement, vibrato, etc, etc. In others, tone IS in the hands.

SOUND, on the other hand, comes from the gear choices, recording/amplification method, listening/playing environment, band context, volume, etc, etc.

If you describe them properly, in that way, it pretty much ends these silly arguments.
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Bob Ricker


From:
Nashville Tn
Post Posted 4 Nov 2017 9:28 am     Reply with quote

I used to go to Buddy Chareltons house to take lessons, Buddy had great touch, so light. He had a Princeton Reverb we played through and his tone was so sweet like. Another Nashville recording great was at our studio and playing my guitar as it was the same brand as his only an inch higher and he wanted to try it. He played it the way it sat and sounded again like the term I used with Buddy, so sweet and melodic, and super in tune. I do believe it's in their hands, their heads, they just have it.

Last edited by Bob Ricker on 6 Nov 2017 5:11 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 6 Nov 2017 8:43 am     Reply with quote

Jim Fogarty wrote:
TONE comes from the player's attack, note choice, hand placement, vibrato, etc, etc. In others, tone IS in the hands.
SOUND, on the other hand, comes from the gear choices, recording/amplification method, listening/playing environment, band context, volume, etc, etc..

And THAT is your hitting the nail on the head moment for the day.
Thank you, Jim.
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Brooks Montgomery


From:
Idaho, USA
Post Posted 6 Nov 2017 10:13 am     Reply with quote

Fred Treece wrote:
Jim Fogarty wrote:
TONE comes from the player's attack, note choice, hand placement, vibrato, etc, etc. In others, tone IS in the hands.
SOUND, on the other hand, comes from the gear choices, recording/amplification method, listening/playing environment, band context, volume, etc, etc..

And THAT is your hitting the nail on the head moment for the day.
Thank you, Jim.


AMEN
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David Mason


From:
Cambridge, MD, USA
Post Posted 7 Nov 2017 7:19 am     Reply with quote

One thing I agree on is that "tone" is a catch-all term meaning many different things to different people. AS IS "timbre", "articulation", "style"... sigh. Another point - once a musician decides on "their signature tone" I think it can become something of a game to them to try and dig that out of as many different combinations as possible. I spent more effort trying to find six-string sounds, and I'm thinking specifically of Billy Gibbons, who very rarely played a 1959 Les Paul Standard after the 70's, and Eric Johnson's live 2006 DVD, where he's almost perversely playing "Cliffs of Dover" on an old Gibson Les Paul/SG - and sounding a whole lot like Eric Johnson. Or Santana, who's played a whole lot of grab-bag Gibson and PRS guitars, and pretty much every 6L6/6V6 amp under the sun at one time or another.

For that matter, If you heard an unknown Buddy Emmons track, if you didn't know the year and context you might know it was him, but could you identify the guitar? He seriously played at least eight different guitars, and mostly all-pull in latter years. How often did you think "too bad he's not playing a good-sounding guitar?" Laughing

Some words even become definitional although we know they're wrong - they just mean what we agree on calling stuff. Like "sloppy" usually means missed notes, muffed tones, bad open strings, NOT quirky note and timing choices. So why is Jimmy Page called sloppy? You could postulate "lazy" or "uncaring" but I think the most accurate word is just "weird." Which is very typical of innovators, but we may go back and redefine them decades after their work - there's little he did between 1969 and 1975 that isn't now standard. Smile

Or, even weirder, as far as I know EVERY band Derek Trucks has played in has had piano and/or B3 players - against which real "microtones" will sound hideous. Even if the keyboard is sparse, he's still often got some 3rd's-inclusive rhythm guitar harmony to work against. A better word for what he's mastered might be "inflections" but we use the code-word "microtones" because nobody should be so good at wringing emotion out of something as insignificant-sounding as mere "inflections." Which to me means "how you get in and out of regular ordinary scale notes", including resolution of BOTH timing, and pitch, issues; but it may well mean something different to you.
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 7 Nov 2017 10:15 am     Reply with quote

David Mason wrote:
Another point - once a musician decides on "their signature tone" I think it can become something of a game to them to try and dig that out of as many different combinations as possible.


I agree with you Dave, for the most part we all try to get "our sound" no matter what junk we're trying to milk it out of. But we all experiment with it, and for the same reasons the innovators who standardized the sounds we now know did it. Because it's fun to try something outside your native style and sometimes that demands something different in your sound.

Santana's wah-wah breakdown on "She's Not There". Mark Knopfler on " Money For Nothing". Steve Morse on just about anything. Rusty Young getting everything from Hammond B3 to sitar and string section sounds out of his steel. Where is the signature sound, even though the tone is perfect for the moment?

The tone is always right in the hands of the masters, because they will match it to the equipment that makes the sound that fits the musical style.
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania
Post Posted 7 Nov 2017 12:22 pm     Reply with quote

The reason this is a silly argument is that it is strictly semantic. In other words, it has everything to do with how someone defines the terms, and different people are going to define them differently. In fact, it can be seen in this discussion (and many others of the same ilk) that people are adamant about the absolute correctness of their particular way of defining things.

I think to most science/engineering type folks like me (I'm a musician too, but I don my engineer hat for discussions like this), the term "tone" refers to things like "tonality", "timbre", or to be more technical, the detailed frequency response (amplitude and phase) of what is coming out of the speaker(s). This depends on a lot of things, including the inherent transient vibratory signature of the instrument being played (with a particular set of strings on it - the strings undoubtedly affect this), how that vibratory system is driven* (with steel there are potentially a lot of variables), and then the frequency-dependent transfer function between the physical sounds created in the instrument and the speaker output - at least pickups, cables, effects, amp, and speaker(s) affect this transfer function.

IMO, this type of system is far too complex for any pat statements such as, "the tone is in the hands", "the tone is not in the hands", or anything in between. In truth, it depends on a helluvalot of things, all of which interact with each other in potentially complex ways.

The only person I've ever seen seriously attempt to model inherent transient response of a pedal steel is Ed Packard. Others have done similarly with guitars or other instruments, some with results posted on the internet. If you're interested in this, you should search for posts and voluminous data using search terms like "inherent tone", frequency response, or similar, where various people have hacked these ideas to death over the last 15 years or so.

But unless people can agree to a consistent nomenclature about ideas along this line, these arguments will continue ad infinitum, ad nauseum with mostly heat and little light generated. And if you look at those old posts, you'll see that it is generally impossible to get agreement on anything.

My attitude is that the main issue in playing tone is the player, but that equipment matters. How much of each depends on the player. A great player, by properly 'driving' the system, can often achieve a remarkable diversity of tonalities out of most any instrument. I think a lesser player is less able to do that, and is thus more dependent of the "inherent" vibratory signature of the instrument and other elements of the signal chain between it and the speakers.

I think it is also fair to say that some instruments may be easier to coax one's "desired" tonality than other instruments. For many players, this is worth the quest to find instrument(s) that allow them to focus more on note/feel choices and subtle tonal variations, and less on overcoming obstacles to the tonality that is in their heads.

* I'm using the term "driving" a system in the technical engineering sense of a "driven" physical system. Such a system is modeled as having a physical "output" response to a "driving" input. In this case, the guitar is "driven" by the way the player excites the strings via picks and bar - or violin bow, e-bow, feet, tongue, or anything deemed appropriate.

And with all that, I think I will again seriously consider following the ubiquitous quote by Zappa on the relationship between the mouth and the guitar.
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John Scanlon


From:
Jackson, Mississippi, USA
Post Posted 7 Nov 2017 1:00 pm     Reply with quote

I agree with Dave, but what also refutes this straw-man argument is to take all of the amps, cables, and electronics away and compare two players. Take two classical guitarists, for example, who each could play the same unamplified classical guitar and have different tone. In fact, one is taught certain technique in classical guitar study for the primary reason of improving tone.
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John Billings


From:
Ohio, USA
Post Posted 7 Nov 2017 2:51 pm     Reply with quote

I had guys sit in on my Kline at gigs. Changing nothing. They didn't sound like me at all! I pick aggressively, most of them very lightly. Big difference!
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 7 Nov 2017 4:30 pm     Reply with quote

John S. and John B. - your comments further advance the "tone is in the hands" theory. I don't know if that was your intention. We may be testing the "intent is in the words" theory.

I don't think this discussion is silly at all. Tone and sound. Like an open road and a good car, they both have potential but one is not as much fun without the other.
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania
Post Posted 7 Nov 2017 5:32 pm     Reply with quote

Fred - unless and until one can precisely and unambiguously define "tone", any discussion about what "controls" tone is pointless and, IMHO, silly. The OP tried to distinguish between what most of us have called "inherent tone", and "musical articulation", but I'm absolutely confident that "musical articulation", which I see as the "driving" thing I was talking about, can definitely affect tonality. Musical instruments are driven systems. Everybody doesn't just pluck the open strings with a uniform impulse the same way. There is a whole envelope of picking approaches, and one secondarily drives the strings with the bar - it doesn't just lay there like a lump.

I've been on this forum and discussed these ideas for a long time now - and I argue strenuously that people here have never been able to come to any type of general agreement about even the basic definitions.

The "tone is in the hands" people say things like, "Hey, here's my evidence - Player A makes a Carter Starter sound better than Player B on a Franklin, Zum, or Emmons push-pull", or as JB just stated, "8 people played my Kline through the same amp at the same exact settings and they all sounded radically different", or as Reece Anderson used to argue, "If we set up 5 different guitars through the same amp/settings and have the same player perform the same piece, nobody can - at any reasonable statistically significant level - tell the difference in a double-blind test", and therefore, "Tone must be in the hands." The "tone is not in the hands" people say things like, "Hey, here's my evidence - I've tried everything imaginable and I sound best on a Mullen through a Nashville 400", or "I heard Buddy Emmons and a bunch of other players on 5 different guitars and I liked the tone of Brand X the best", and therefore, "Tone is not in the hands".

Even if one accepts these kinds of statements as absolute fact, it doesn't prove anything because they can all be true under either hypothesis. And I far from accept statements like this as absolute fact because they involve so many perceptual and purely taste matters.
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 7 Nov 2017 6:05 pm     Reply with quote

Dave M. - I sympathize with the beating of a long dead horse. I'm just going to tally up a score here....

8 different players + 1 PSG + 1 amp w/same eq = wide variety of tone
1 player + 5 different PSG's + 1 amp w/same eq = same tone.

Conclusion: wtf. This does not help. It is interesting though.

For me, Jim Fogarty's comment is still literally the defining moment in this thread.
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Bryan Staddon


From:
Buffalo,New York,
Post Posted 7 Nov 2017 6:06 pm     Hopeless Discussion Reply with quote

“One mans ceiling is another mans floor “
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania
Post Posted 7 Nov 2017 6:41 pm     Reply with quote

Quote:
For me, Jim Fogarty's comment is still literally the defining moment in this thread.

Sure, if you accept these definitions of tone and sound:
Quote:

TONE comes from the player's attack, note choice, hand placement, vibrato, etc, etc. In others, tone IS in the hands.

SOUND, on the other hand, comes from the gear choices, recording/amplification method, listening/playing environment, band context, volume, etc, etc.

If you review past discussions, I think you will see that a LOT of people define these things very differently. On this thread, read the OP and Jim Sliff's post. And these people aren't just talking out of their asses.

But I really think THE big issue is that, from an engineering/mathematical point of view, these variables are not what is frequently called "separable". Instead, they are inextricably intertwined in a way that, IMO, makes it impossible to separately ascribe one effect to one set of causal variables, and another effect to another distinct set of causal variables. I think these variables interact in complex ways, which defies any simple categorization.

I'll go back to Frank Zappa mode. WTF is right.
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 7 Nov 2017 7:20 pm     Reply with quote

Dave, I respectfully assume none of us are talking out their ( ! ) 's here, myself included.

There have been some very well articulated thoughts presented, some more pertinent than others. You are talking about math and physics, and in fact it all comes down to that doesn't it? It even gets down to the physiology of our ears and the electrical impulses in our brains.

The point is, we don't have to agree on what pieces of gear can be thrown together to produce good sound. And we don't have to agree on what kind of technique produces good tone. We don't even have to agree that those things are separate unto themselves. It's almost as bad as asking someone what the best music is.

We can agree on what seems to be working for us, and what worked for the masters who inspired us to experiment with the various combinations that worked for them. Good tone can be practiced and good equipment can be bought, and if they are combined well you can make a good sound.
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Jim Robbins


From:
Ontario, Canada
Post Posted 7 Nov 2017 8:52 pm     Reply with quote

Dave is right. The definitions proposed here are arbitrary and don't have a lot to do with the way many musicians use the words "sound" and "tone" or their equivalents in other languages. The premise that there is a dichotomy between using hands to make music and using instruments and equipment to make music doesn't make a lot of sense, since for intrumental music you need both. Physically, transients have a lot to do with tone/timbre/sound quality which is why early attempts at synthesizing sounds based on adding partials didn't sound much like the instrument they were trying to copy. Transients have a lot to do with hands e.g. with psg how you pick, and also a lot to do with the responsiveness of the instrument.

Fred's point about physiology and electrical impulses in the brain is good (also the acoustical environment of the listener or player) but doesn't go far enough: memory and psychology play a role. Think of the difference between hearing something unfamiliar and hearing the same thing after you've become more familiar with it. So when Lee says perhaps tone is in the ears of the listener, he's on to something. But that lies beyond what a player can control.

I don't really understand why it seems important to people to locate tone in either the hands or the instrument / equipment. But that's one good thing about this forum: you can learn stuff.
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania
Post Posted 7 Nov 2017 10:48 pm     Reply with quote

An important point:
Quote:
Transients have a lot to do with hands e.g. with psg how you pick, and also a lot to do with the responsiveness of the instrument.

Yes - "responsiveness" - the idea that various sonic features of an instrument (outputs) can change their fundamental characteristics such as timbre or frequency response as a result of different driving forces (inputs). This is the very idea of nonlinear response to driving forces. If everything is perfectly linear and time-invariant, the frequency response (timbre) is identical regardless of the shape or amplitude of the driving inputs.

My attitude is that serious players spend a lifetime learning how to navigate these nonlinearities to fully express themselves on an instrument so they can get a wide variety of sonic characteristics out of them. So this goes to "tone is in the hands". But the envelope of possible different sonic characteristics may vary, even widely, among instruments. This is frequently pretty glaring with acoustic instruments. I think it's harder to point to such massive and obvious differences in modern pedal steels - when you think about it, there is a remarkable similarity in the basic overall construction and typical 'sonic signature' of most modern all-pull pedal steels. But I think a serious, experienced player will quickly notice significant differences after they are amplified to normal playing levels. I think most solid-body electric guitarists notice similar variations, but especially when they're loudly amplified. Note that the more the overall amplification, the more the amplification of relatively small differences and also the more likely one is to run into nonlinearities, which tend to increase variations in response to different inputs.

Quote:
Dave, I respectfully assume none of us are talking out their ( ! ) 's here, myself included.

Of course not. I only stated that the people who differ are also not just talking nonsense. But I also think it does us no service for different groups to insist on different and contradictory definitions of even the most basic terms we're talking about. The OP did make a reasonable attempt to define what he meant by the terms "tone" and "musical articulation".
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 7 Nov 2017 11:07 pm     Reply with quote

Jim Robbins wrote:
I don't really understand why it seems important to people to locate tone in either the hands or the instrument / equipment. But that's one good thing about this forum: you can learn stuff.

Because we spend thousands of dollars on equipment and thousands of hours developing skills at our instruments in search of the sound we hear in our heads.

I wish I could finish off with some profound conclusion, because I am promising to post no more on this topic. I think definitions are important. The claim that the ones attempted here are arbitrary is not relevant, since no other definitions seem to apply. We can make our own, and we should, so at least we can understand what we're talking about.

Maybe the question should be, how much tone is in the hands, and how much is in the sound equipment? One obviously affects the other, and the true master can control the final sound product by expertly manipulating it from one side or the other.

Ubbadee ubbadee....
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Charlie McDonald


From:
out of the blue
Post Posted 8 Nov 2017 5:53 am     Reply with quote

Is it time for "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture."?

Dave is right of course. You can dance about architecture--a ballet--in the same way that we're dancing about definitions (an unfortunate property of words), but we know what Cage meant.
Music is ephemeral (compared to the Parthenon), so it lies outside description. A fourth dimensional thing that can't be reduced.
The musician defines it as he plays, as Fred implies. Therefore it's in the brain, which controls the hands. Etc.
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Lee Baucum


From:
McAllen, Texas (Extreme South) The Final Frontier
Post Posted 8 Nov 2017 9:27 am     Reply with quote

Perhaps tone is in the bar that is in the player's hand.
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