Complementary Guitar Playing

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by gtrfinder, Oct 11, 2006.

  1. gtrfinder

    gtrfinder Supporting Member

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    I have some thoughts on finding the right guitar tone or sound for the right time. Most of this will apply to my experience in a live performance context, but opinions about recording are welcome too.

    Sometimes there is too much of a good thing, especially guitar-wise. When I first started playing with bands I wanted the biggest and fattest guitar sound to take up as much sonic space as I could. I'd work and work at home to make this huge guitar tone, only to get to the performance and walk away feeling like there was something unbalanced about things. I started to think. Was my "huge" guitar tone getting in the way of everything and everyone else else?
    I did some careful listening both to I considered live great bands and great guitar and found that in almost every case the guitar player was very complementary. What I mean is that he/she picked the right tone at the right time, even if it meant a somewhat "less huge" tone at times. I then decided to try it myself.
    I made a conscious effort to play more conservatively with sound and it paid off big time! My bands suddenly seemed to magically sound better. Everything balanced well.
    Sometimes you need to give a little bit in order to make a performance really work.

    Anyone have any thoughts?
     
  2. Bryan T

    Bryan T Guitar Owner Silver Supporting Member

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    A lot of modern bass guitar tones sound terrible. What I think has happened is that guitarists kept encroaching on the low end, which led the bassists to EQ into other parts of the frequency spectrum to be heard. The end result is a full guitar tone, but a bad bass tone, which results in a bad mix.

    My general rule is to watch how much low end I'm adding to the guitar sound, as that gives the bassist some room. Getting the midrange right is a lot more important than a full low end in a guitar sound.

    Bryan
     
  3. gtrfinder

    gtrfinder Supporting Member

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    I agree completely. I think that the advances in technology and sound have pushed the bass player more towards the middle of the mix, or worse out of the spectrum entirely.
    I tend to equate the low end and bass in particular with more of a feel than a sound. If the bass gets to midrangey or has too much treble it kind of sounds strange (At least for the music that I play).
    This leaves the guitarist covering the low, or what I consider more rhythmic frequencies, and sadly a lot of guitar players are severly lacking with regard to rhythm.
    The guitar is such a unique instrument...it is certainly one of the most versatile, but while it can approximate a lot of sounds it may never replace a bass, or a keyboard, or anything else we try to make it sound like.
     
  4. GtrWiz

    GtrWiz Member

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    a lot guitar players seem to forget, in thier search for the ultimate tone, that it is really a midrange instrument.
     
  5. esmiralha

    esmiralha Member

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    I have noticed the same thing over the years. When I started some 15 years ago, I used a lot of distortion and bass eq to achieve a fuller sound. I loved the way I sounded in my bedroom, but in the studio or live, I would always be buried in the mix.

    In time, I learned that if I used less gain and favored mids over bass, I would sound very good in the band, even if the tone was less impressive per se.

    Live, I strive for making the band cover a fuller spectrum. I think it sounds better this way.

    In the studio, you can experiment more. Led Zeppelin used to do it a lot, like in "When the Levee Breaks", where the drums are huge and the guitars very muddy, but the overall sound is amazing and conveys to me the image of a flood.
     
  6. willhutch

    willhutch Supporting Member

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    Good thread. The Two-Rock vs Fuchs thread got ridiculous 50 posts ago - everyone knows Two-rock is better!!

    Levity aside, tone needs to be evaluated within it's context. What sounds great in your living room may not be appropriate with a band. The biggest revelation I've had lately is that luscious, pristine cleans often don't sound great with a band. My experience is that some of the ingredients that make for a gorgeous clean are lost in the din of the whole band. This only leaves those tones that cut thru - the higher frequencies - audible. The result is the perception of a harsher tone. A little fur and compression seems to soften the guitar tone and make it blend better.

    Playing in a manner that complements what is going on is crucial. A complementary tone is one aspect of this, but more important is playing in a complementary fashion. I mostly play on the top 4 strings to stay out of the bass reqister. Rythmically, I try to listen to what others are doing and play something that fits in to the whole - be it via contrast (be simple when others are complex) or similarity (play sustained notes on legato passages). You gotta blend dynamically, too. That is loud at the right time and quiet at the right time.

    That's my take for now. This is an important element of making music that is not discussed enough.
     
  7. BuddyGuit

    BuddyGuit Supporting Member

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    My take is this ....... when you're playing w/others you're playing the song NOT the guitar. That includes what sound is the best for the song regardless of the equipment.
     
  8. gtrfinder

    gtrfinder Supporting Member

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    Good point about playing for the song. I play with a band that has 8 members and I'm the only guitar player. At the end of the day there is just not alot of sonic space left for the guitar in all of that mix. I now feel like I have to be pretty selective about what I'm playing.
     
  9. g-nem

    g-nem Member

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    A couple of things I've noticed recently- the reason why that marshally midrange sound works so well is that it fits in the mix- also why I think sm57s are so popular.

    Also, I've been in a few situations where the bass was so boomy and loud that it sucked up all of the guitar sound, leaving it thin and piercing. It's all a balancing act. . .
     
  10. gainiac

    gainiac Senior Member

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    When I started playing with other people I too had huge sound syndrome. A bass player walked up to me once, thumped his strings, and said "that's my job" please roll your bass back a bit and BTW I think you'll agree that we sound better together.

    We still write and play together. Our tone is pretty frickin' awesome.

    I've kinda given up on the whole "virtuoso" quest, I just don't have that discipline, but the joy of noise is something to revel in.

    To me each and every song/piece, whatever deserves it's own unique palette of sounds. There is an unlimited realm of possibilities there to fathom which doesn't require the strict rigor of flawless technique and I'm quite happy plumbing those depths!

    Listening is good, dynamics is good!
     
  11. Brian D

    Brian D Member

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    Excellent subject.

    The best way to get this concept under your belt is to do some FOH mixing. That will teach you the importance of fitting the guitar to the overall band sound in a heartbeat!
     
  12. gtrfinder

    gtrfinder Supporting Member

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    When I began playing with groups I played places that did not have a PA or sound guy. Everything was brought and done by the band. I ended up having to do alot of the mixing on the fly as we played, but it was difficult to get the mix right while not being the focal point of the band's sound.
    I'd like to become involved in FOH stuff eventually. Then I can be the one to tell the guitar players to turn down...
     

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