Wednesday, 23 September 2015

maybe the time has come

does anyone out there have the need to rebuild a guitar to their concept of new guitar design? based on what I have suggested? I am getting close to a year doing this. just let yourself go. what do you want? throw me a bone.

1 comment:

  1. I've been a good boy and studied really hard. First I learned how things worked, then how to design/build them, and then I learned a bit about how various options and things sound. I have at least some capabilities throughout the chain from fingers to speakers.

    So what should I do with this capability? What is good tone? It seems arbitrary.

    Leo Fender made the cheapest electric guitar and amp that he could make, while giving a nod to sounding "good", and it was fairly popular. Then the kids turned it up way to loud, and got a kind of angry, plaintive (and loud) sound, and an iconic tone was born. It wasn't designed in. It was an accident. Some guitars might have weak pickups, so the amps needed a volume knob that went too far with a stronger input signal in order to support a weaker one. The designers would have heard significant distortion and said to turn it down. Instead, the kids left it cranked and created a musical revolution.

    So there are iconic tones. Flatpicked Martin acoustics. Fingerstyle nylon strings. A Les Paul into a Marshall. A Strat into a Fender Twin. All these tones now carry emotional connotations in and of themselves. They communicate by tone/timbre alone.

    Actually, most folks are happy to clone one or more of these tones, but, if we leave the iconic standards, there are multi-dimensionally infinite possibilities within reach. So where should one go?

    I was thinking about how arbitrary "good" tone is one night, and as I thought about Eric Clapton saying "I want to play that one note that makes everybody cry", and listening to Gary Moore play blues, I googled "pitch rhythm tone speech music" or something similar. Google gave me "prosody", and led me to some Wikipedia articles.

    "Prosody" can be though of as how pitch, timbre, rhythm, volume, etc. are used to communicate. It's usually used with respect to language. There are three idiomatic prosodies that cover most of the world's languages. The same tools are used in music, with somewhat similar idioms.

    In college, I had a music professor, and in the first lecture, he asked us to define "music". He concluded that it can't be defined. I've thought about it a lot, and I'm satisfied with "any sound other than speech that is intended to communicate or generate an emotion".

    You need prosodic tools and idioms to best perform this task.

    So I no longer view "tone" as arbitrary and problematic. The better guitar sound chain has more prosodic capability. There's still the fingers - the player - but what sounds can the player generate? Is it communicative? And there's always the song. The last big instrumental hit was "Classical Gas". Are you old enough to remember? and Bobby McFarin won a Grammy for "Don't worry. Be happy."

    So now, when I hear Nu Metal, which now claims to be "Metal", I hear a constant tone, as the gain obliterates dynamics, and I hear lack of prosody. All that's left is rhythm and anger. I value distortion that changes with pick attack, and harmonic structures that vary along with the ADSR envelope. I think about the harmonic interaction between strings when they are played together, and I pay some attention to understanding the idioms that the listener translates as emotion.

    Cycfi's Nu pickup has me excited too. Distorting, filtering, or ADSR processing each string individually before summing them does lots of great things. Giving individual strings or groups of strings a different timbre is powerful too. Really understanding inter-stage coupling caps in a tube guitar preamp opens new prosodic possibilites.

    Mark Knopfler sings about "Guitar George - He doesn't want to make it cry or sing."

    I do.