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Author Topic:  Tone Woes
Jerry Overstreet


From:
Louisville Ky
Post  Posted 2 Feb 2020 7:24 pm    
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I'm at it again. I just watched part of the PBS Country Music series where they talked about the Nashville A team musicians and steel players Pete Drake and LLoyd Green.

During Lloyds interview snippet he played a bit. The tone was so rich, creamy, full of body yet sweet and clear. So delicious it's like an anointing by the angels of heaven. Of course I've witnessed his fabulous playing live and on records too.

What does one have to do to achieve such sound? It's not just Lloyd. Yes, his tone is superb but nearly any professional has that certain je ne sais quoi that just stands out.

I'm 40 years into pedal steel guitar and I'm still not there. Everybody says I play and sound good and I should be happy with what I've accomplished, but I'm not satisfied and I don't see ever getting to that point where I can say I've finally arrived. I've not that many years left.

Yeah, I'm fairly proficient on the D10 and Universal tunings, have proper technique and proper gear, just can't get over that hump.

About 3 years ago, I sold my last pedal steel relenting to the dissatisfaction and choosing to just play a little lap steel, dobro and guitar.

One of my buds decided they needed steel from time to time and acquired a nice Carter they let me keep and play. What a kind gesture, but I just keep frustrating myself with it. I'm never going to get to where I want to be....might as well face it. Adequate is just not good enough.

I wish there was some magic that Lloyd and other great players of his class could relate to players like me to get there. I'd give just about anything to get that kind of sound.

Sob story over. Thanks for reading.
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Kevin Fix

 

From:
Michigan, USA
Post  Posted 2 Feb 2020 7:35 pm    
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You can't beat the tone that Lloyd has!! He is my favorite player to listen to. I have been playing for around 40 years also. One thing I found for myself a couple years ago was to go back to the basics. I am playing a Sho Bud Super Pro D10, 8+6. My amp is a NV112. I use no effects other than my Reverb set about 3. I do use a Steel Guitar Black Box. I know the Shift Knob on my NV 112 gets tweeked a little now and then depending on acoustics and humidity. That shift knob makes the difference of night and day sometimes.
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Jerry Overstreet


From:
Louisville Ky
Post  Posted 2 Feb 2020 7:40 pm    
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It's not a gear deficiency. I have some of the best steel guitar electronics around. I can dress it up or strip it down.

Lately, I'm forcing myself to use more midrange than in the past and that may be helping some.

People like to say it's in the hands. Maybe it's just not in everybody's hands?
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Donny Hinson

 

From:
Glen Burnie, Md. U.S.A.
Post  Posted 2 Feb 2020 8:40 pm    
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Jerry Overstreet wrote:
It's not a gear deficiency. I have some of the best steel guitar electronics around. I can dress it up or strip it down...People like to say it's in the hands. Maybe it's just not in everybody's hands?


You're right...it's not. And you're also right about the equipment. I know thousands of players wanted to sound just like Buddy Emmons. But in my 50+ years of playing, I've only heard five or six who really could do it. That's true in every field of endeavor; some "have it", and some don't. Look at baseballs' Aaron, Ruth, Musial, DiMaggio, Mantle, and a few others. Same bat, same ball - but they had something that thousands of others did not.

I think it was Johnny Cox that said something like this: "We can all be better than we are, but we can't all be great". That's reserved for a few (and that's probably for the best). Oh Well
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 2 Feb 2020 10:35 pm    
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Much wisdom on the elusive topic from the archives:
https://steelguitarforum.com/Forum15/HTML/001492-2.html

The fact that you are still chasing it after 40 years tells me not only how much you care about it, but that you probably nail great tone more often than you think.
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Jacek Jakubek


From:
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 8:44 am    
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Jerry Overstreet wrote:
Everybody says I play and sound good and I should be happy with what I've accomplished, but I'm not satisfied and I don't see ever getting to that point where I can say I've finally arrived.

Not too sound like a smart-ass, but I think you should listen to "Everybody's" advice. Learning to be satisfied with just the way things are is a WAY bigger achievement and much more important than achieving some holy-grail tone. Not being perfectly happy with your tone may be just the perfect opportunity presented to you to learn to accept things as they are and not be bothered by them...Just keep on playing, man! And like the Eagles tell us "Get Over It!" Smile
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Bill C. Buntin

 

Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 11:01 am    
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To me, hearing “tone “ and “feel” are such personal experiences it is hard to articulate.

But, I think striving for the best tone and sound possible comes from listening to players who have what we hear as great sound.

I gave up trying to specifically copy tone, but have never given up listening to great players.

Lloyd green is absolutely one of the finest ever.

Personally I always like jd maness. He has one of the finest live sounds I’ve ever heard.

Dickey overbey also had the most fantastic live sound, to my ears.

Around Texas, my favorites are Ricky Davis, Jim loessberg, herb steiner. They all have tone to die for, in my opinion.

Bill
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 11:18 am    
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To be that good, you have to have an exceptional talent, and start applying it early, long before you know you have it.
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Henry Brooks

 

From:
Los Gatos, California, USA
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 12:51 pm    
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I hear what your saying, I have felt the same way about my playing. I hate to listen to it, especially if it is a recording I'm trying to make perfect. I've learned one thing, You can get to close to your playing and be your own worst critic. It's really hard to be subjective when your down on your performance.
Henry
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Dick Wood


From:
Springtown Texas, USA
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 2:48 pm    
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You can chase it til doomsday because it will change with the size place you play,the weather,amount of people etc. You can set up your guitar and get the best tone in the world and when the band fires up, it will go to hell and you'll swear someone screwed with your settings.Sometimes you'll think you sound horrible but other musicians or people you trust will say it sounds fine 40 feet away.

I try to get a sound that's not too bright or too muddy with just a little reverb and then play the best you can. I quit worrying about it a long time ago.
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Adam Tracksler


From:
Maine, USA
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 3:53 pm    
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Just be yourself, everybody else is already taken.

I'm not sure there is anybody who is 100% on their playing and tone 100% of the time.
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Michael Sawyer


From:
North Carolina, USA
Post  Posted 3 Feb 2020 6:06 pm    
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Dick Wood wrote:
You can chase it til doomsday because it will change with the size place you play,the weather,amount of people etc. You can set up your guitar and get the best tone in the world and when the band fires up, it will go to hell and you'll swear someone screwed with your settings.Sometimes you'll think you sound horrible but other musicians or people you trust will say it sounds fine 40 feet away.

I try to get a sound that's not too bright or too muddy with just a little reverb and then play the best you can. I quit worrying about it a long time ago.


I'm with you.
When I listen back to recordings of my band,as long as I'm in tune,and on time,I've quit worrying about it...
I sound better sometimes than others...
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Jacek Jakubek


From:
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Post  Posted 4 Feb 2020 5:29 am    
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Fred Treece wrote:
Much wisdom on the elusive topic from the archives:
https://steelguitarforum.com/Forum15/HTML/001492-2.html

Thanks for posting that. What an interesting discussion. Bobbe Seymour's comments about the importance of tone make me question the above advice I gave about just playing and not focusing on tone. I will have to start paying attention to my tone more instead of just technique.
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Jerry Overstreet


From:
Louisville Ky
Post  Posted 4 Feb 2020 6:54 am    
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Don't misunderstand. I'm not trying to pattern my playing after any particular player. Not referencing style but tone.

I can think of at least a dozen professional players off the top of my head that have different styles yet all have great tone. Regardless of phrasing and technique, these players exhibit the bell tone, growl and bloom that I write about.

Buddy Emmons, Jimmy Day....both great players but very different styles. Paul and Tommy, Lloyd, Hughey, Stu, Brumley, Jeff Newman etc. Heroes all of mine.

I don't know if they can tell you how they do it. It's just a special touch they have that sets them apart from the average utility player like me.

Don't get me wrong, I've had a pretty good run and I appreciate the support from my peers around the area.

I've accomplished a lot from nothing, but I can count on one hand the performances I consider more than acceptable.

I've had good training, a rigorous practice regimen, good ear and a pretty good understanding of theory application to pedal steel.

I like, practice and play many styles of music.

It's not that I can't get around on the thing, it's just that I'm not happy with the end result. That elusive tone. I'm sure many of you know what I'm referencing.


Last edited by Jerry Overstreet on 5 Feb 2020 1:07 am; edited 1 time in total
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Donny Hinson

 

From:
Glen Burnie, Md. U.S.A.
Post  Posted 4 Feb 2020 8:15 am    
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Bill C. Buntin wrote:


I gave up trying to specifically copy tone, but have never given up listening to great players. Lloyd green is absolutely one of the finest ever. Personally I always like jd maness. He has one of the finest live sounds I’ve ever heard.

Dickey overbey also had the most fantastic live sound, to my ears.



I've always like Dickie's expressive playing and volume pedal work. IMHO, he's second only to Jimmy Day for that. Here's a couple of early Dickie clips. I like the playing, but I don't hear anything special in the "tone department". His playing after about 1990 nails it, though! Cool

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UO02NGwvqPU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8V_orZw_ark

Buddy Charleton was always a personal favorite of mine...but only when he was playing a Sho~Bud.
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Larry Ball

 

From:
Alberta, Canada
Post  Posted 22 Feb 2020 8:52 am    
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Yes I agree with Dick...Tone has a lot to do with the venue you are playing in. One more factor is the “Sound Guy”,, We mike the band all the time and I noticed one time in particular that the Sound Guy was trying to work with the fiddle players tone who’s Di ran from a preamp pedal to the board. During the process of dialling in the EQ etc..he muddy up my sound. My amp was miked and I was happy with my tone until that point. Also if you have good ears you can identify a player by his tone and style. So tone is personal touch, style, phrasing , equipment..etc..etc...
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Wayne Franco

 

From:
silverdale, WA. USA
Post  Posted 22 Feb 2020 1:14 pm     sound level of the steel out front
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The volume the steel is set to out front makes a big difference in the recorded sound. Johnny Cox just made a comment on facebook about a gig he just played on a cruise ship with Bobby Flores. During a set Bobby called the sound man up and told him to turn the steel up as loud as the lead vocals. That makes a lot of sense to me. I think there is a lot to be said about not losing the subtle nuances in a live gig by being turned down to much. Johnny included a youtube recording of it and of course it sounded great. Our turned down tone is just missing too much. Tell the sound man you're closer to voice in the band and tell him to turn it up accordingly. I don't know if anyone listened to Dickey Overby live but he sure wasn't afraid to turn it up either.
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Jerry Overstreet


From:
Louisville Ky
Post  Posted 22 Feb 2020 2:21 pm     Re: sound level of the steel out front
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Wayne Franco wrote:
The volume the steel is set to out front makes a big difference in the recorded sound. Our turned down tone is just missing too much. Tell the sound man you're closer to voice in the band and tell him to turn it up accordingly.


Yeah well that's all well and good except I don't record and I can count the dozen or fewer times I've ever been in the FOH. My issue is simply my amped tone as a result of my execution which is what this topic is about. I'm not blaming any one or any thing else.
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Bruce Bjork


From:
Southern Coast of Maine
Post  Posted 22 Feb 2020 2:54 pm    
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I’m three years in on PSG so my comment is worth about 3 cents, although I’ve been playing banjo, dobro, and guitar for about 50 years. While practicing I tend to forget the position of my right hand, today I discovered the effect my right hand position had on tone, big discovery and something I’ll be spending more time on. The difference in tone by picking over the 21st fret vs., 15th, vs. 13th depending on where my left hand was picking was noticeably.
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Mitch Ellis

 

From:
Collins, Mississippi USA
Post  Posted 22 Feb 2020 7:05 pm    
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I have been playing steel for 21 years. About 2 years after I started, I was convinced that my tone was awful. I was in my practice room one night and I started turning nobs. This setting.....play awhile. That setting.....play awhile. on and on, over and over. No amp setting gave me what I considered to be a great sound. I got frustrated and thought to myself..."Ya' know, during all this time that you've wasted turning nobs, you might could have actually learned how to play something." I gave the nobs a general setting, said to myself "yep. That sounds like a steel guitar", and never worried about it again. I focused on nothing but learning the instrument and how to play it. And over time I noticed something. My tone got better. Now, the only thing I touch on the amp is the on/off switch and the volume nob. I make no amp setting adjustments for room size, crowd size, indoor, outdoor, etc..etc..etc..nothing. Wherever I'm playing, it sounds however it sounds. And I think that this mindset has saved me a lot of wasted money on gear that I didn't need. Smile And still don't.

Mitch
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Georg Sørtun


From:
Mandal, VA, Norway & Weeki Wachee, FL, USA
Post  Posted 22 Feb 2020 10:39 pm    
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After having read the last two posts before mine, I found that there are some (however minor) similarities in how I deal with "tone" and what they describe. Had to think about what I actually do since I haven't bothered analyzing any of it for decades – have messed around with steel since back in the -70s – and most techniques are borrowed from others back in time anyway (and sometimes applied "backwards" by me), so hope it comes out right.
(Lost some control of right hand fingers after a stroke a year ago, so cannot exemplify by releasing soundfiles even if I wanted to. Getting better, so maybe another time.)

1a: I pick for the "tone" that I want anywhere between on top of the PU and the bar, to create exactly the attack-intensity and -sound that I'm after for the particular part I play.
Since I use straight picks with very narrow tips, combined with a sideways (towards the bar) angled hand, all picks are in-line and I can pick next to the bar for that particular attack-sound – sounds right to me for playing "blackbird".

1b: Those narrow pick-tips allow for modifying the attack-sound by swiping the side of the fingertips onto the strings along with the pick itself, when I so want.

1c: The bar has most to do with how it sounds, IMO. I mainly use varying bar-pressure to modify the sound to my taste immediately after picking the note(s), until I have to move the bar to pick notes in another position. In a sense I sometimes feel that I am "wringing" the tone I want out of those strings, with the bar hand.

1d: I hardly ever use bar-vibrato, or slide on the strings, unless those actions produce exactly what I want. I mainly move between positions by lifting the bar a fraction of a hair-width and place it in the new position on exact same time as I pick the strings – no unwanted noise (but plenty of wanted noise when that is what I'm after).

IMO: There is no bad/wrong ways to pick the strings or utilize the bar, as long as it sounds right and in tune for whatever one is playing.


2a: My amp settings are pretty constant regardless of venue, as I bypass input and eq sections and feed the power stage of my older NV112s directly from the VP. Don't have to worry about headroom or tone settings, and experience less of the low-cut those amps are known for.

2b: I have a small adjustment-range for treble on the buffer before the VP. Sometimes I lower treble sligtly when I start playing, and go back to neutral setting when my ears tire a little after a while. I expect eventual listeners' hearing to tire same as mine Smile

IMO: Lots of adjustments available in the sound-chain after the PSG, just limit my ability to produce desired "tones" (and noises) on the PSG itself while playing. As long as I manage to get the volume right for the venue, it sounds right through a more or less neutral amp.

Another thing; one doesn't have to pick hard to pick with authority, and "authority" is often what separate the "tone" from the acceptable to the really good.
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David Nugent

 

From:
Gum Spring, Va.
Post  Posted 23 Feb 2020 6:32 am    
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To my ears, the ultimate steel guitar tone was that of the great John Hughey. Have heard him both live and on recordings over several years (using various guitars and amps) and the tone and technique were always unmistakably John's. After painstakingly learning every back up lick and the complete solo to 'Look at Us', I only needed to review the original to know that my rendition was simply an approximation and that there will always be just one John Hughey.
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richard burton


From:
Britain
Post  Posted 23 Feb 2020 8:53 am    
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I've managed to get an acceptable tone from all my steels, even from my Carter, which fought me every inch of the way, and I've come to the conclusion that my tone is in my hands, specifically how hard I pick, and where I pick.
If I pick hard, my tone suffers.
If I pick at a node point (12 frets up from wherever my bar is) my tone is 'full'.
So I pick softly, at a node point, to get the tone that I want to hear.
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 23 Feb 2020 9:38 am     Re: sound level of the steel out front
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Jerry Overstreet wrote:
My issue is simply my amped tone as a result of my execution which is what this topic is about. I'm not blaming any one or any thing else.

What about comparing your tone 5 minutes into practice or gig time to your tone after an hour or two? Everyone’s touch on the strings and bar changes as both your hands and the metal warm up. The amp and speaker both have their processes, too, and your mind takes a little time connecting to muscle memory. Nobody gets out of bed playing Cherokee at 150bpm, nor should they.

It’s not just ear fatigue that makes that amp with the flat settings eventually sound better and better, though Georg’s point on that is well taken. I know my playing gets more accurate and expressive over the course of an hour. It’s about how (and what) I’m feeling as much as what I’m hearing.
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Jacek Jakubek


From:
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Post  Posted 26 Feb 2020 6:45 am    
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Richard Burton wrote:
If I pick hard, my tone suffers.
If I pick at a node point (12 frets up from wherever my bar is) my tone is 'full'.

I noticed that also today. I was picking much softer than
I normally do and instead turned my amp volume up. Much better tone this way.

I tried the node point you recommend, it does sound good. But, it's a bit tricky because you'd have to keep moving your picking hand along with your bar to keep picking at the node point. I just pick more to the middle of the neck, not always exactly 12 frets up.
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