Saturday, January 2, 2010

Strat Guys and all others

When it comes to signature guitar tone, nothing seems to speak more truly than a Fender Stratocaster.  There's no confusing Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, Mark Knopfler, or Eric Clapton's classic tones, are there?  You recognize them from the first note.  Granted, they all have unique techniques, and different rigs, but hey're all playing roughly the same guitar.

More than any other single instrument, the Strat allows the soul of the user to shine through.  Listen to anything by Stevie Ray Vaughan.  Instantly, you know it's him.  In a world in which it's getting tougher by the moment to recognize who's who in the mainstream rock world, I notice that fewer and fewer players are wielding Strats, instead opting for the de riguer sound of humbuckers thru Rectifier sound, and there's so much gain that all sense of personality and individuality go out the damned window.  Can you really say the signature tone of Metallica's Kirk Hammett?  Not to pick on him, he's a helluva player, but can you really say you recognize his lead tone the second you har it? I can't.  I can hear Hetfield's right hand though, letting me know it's them.  My point is that I guess I'm not hearing anything in the way of seriously distinuishing tone signatures going down these days, and that fact saddens me.

Listen to almost any Pink Floyd song, and Gilmour's tone jumps out bigger than life.  Granted he's a fabulous player, but that's another thing about athe Strat.  It seems to coax more of the soul of the guy who's playing.  Give a listen to the big Gibson Les Paul guys, Jimmy Page and Billy Gibbons for instance, they're more definable by their writing, and arranging than for the sound of their guitars.  I always hoped to hear Gibbons tackle a Strat, but he avoids single coil pickups like the plague.  Even when he opts for a Tele shaped guitar it generally features humbuckers, and he EQs his tone massively to achieve a Gibson-esque tone.

Maybe it's that the Strat's tone is less massive than a humbucking pickup's and in this world of louder, louder, louder, there's just not a need for the individual voice, or there's too much space to fill for the dynamic voice of a Strat, to which I say, bullshit.  Now, more than ever, from a whisper to a scream, we need some uniqueness to show itself in the world of rock guitar.  Who are the great new players?  I don't know.  There are seemingly no new guitar heroes.  And that's a shame.  You may say that all that showing off is vanity, but what great, classic band didn't have a recognizable guitarist with recognizable tone?  Hell, even Yngwie Malmsteen, the man more responsible than any, perhaps, for the shred guitar antics of the 80s, got there with yet another unique Strat tone.  He got his kicks from Blackmore (yet another Strat genius), and Hendrix, yet sounds nothing like either.

Why? Simple.  The Fender Stratocaster.  All three used a Fender Strat and a Marshall 100 watt amp (yeah, Blackmore's may have been beefed, but the tone remains the same).  They achieved their uniqueness, their tones, using one guitar and one guitar only.  I love Rick Nielsen dearly, but he has not had a moment of unique guitar tone since he quit using Strats early on in Cheap Trick's career.  I hear a huge difference in tone once he went to pretty much all humbucking, Gibson type sounds.  The fact remains that the Strat is the one tool that can more than any other single piece of equipment, get a guitarist closer to finding the soung of their own soul.

Shredders like Satriani, Vai, and Van Halen would have all done well to pick up a Strat and give it a whirl.  Aren't their tones all somewhat generic, especially as time has marched on?  Van Halen had a unique tone at one time, and no one sounds like Satch or Vai, but I hear their hands way more than their guitars, and for me something is missing in the soulfulness of each's individual tones.  Maybe it's me, but I don't think so.

Check it out, give it all another listen and see if you don't go, I'll be damned, he's right, nothing brings out a player's personality more than a Fender Strat.

Good guitar tone seems more rare with each digital moment.  Remember, or find out the difference now, before it's too late.

All this digital crap is homogenizing the personality right out of rock.  And that sucks.

Fender Stratocaster + tube amp = rock nirvana.

Peace, love, and loud guitars,

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