A few days ago I recorded a jam to try out my new Line6 Pod X3 Live some more, and I posted it on YouTube:
I also posted it on some guitar forums, as I usually do, to get some feedback. The result was more than I could ask for. For example, one guy liked it so much, that he also posted it on a forum of his own: This kids got skills! (Tasteful shredding). And the people on that forum appeared to really like it as well.
On another forum, someone actually described it as having ‘goosebump moments’. In fact, after I gave him the backing track, he recorded a jam video himself:
As he says himself, he was influenced by the jams that I did on this track, and indeed, I can clearly hear parts that were reminiscent of my takes.
Well, what more can a musician, or any artist in general, ask for? I am honoured that people feel inspired by my playing. And I can really find myself in the description of “tasteful shredding”. “Soulful” is another word that some people used to describe my playing. That’s another one I can relate to. As for “goosebump moments”… Sure, you always try to convey some kind of emotion with your music, but it’s nice when people actually get out of the music what you try to put in, so to speak.
I want to discuss two aspects of this experience. Firstly the past, where I ‘came from’, so to say… and secondly, I’d like to go back to what I said about guitarists and their obsession of gear and tone a while ago.
Some of you might remember where I came from… For the first few years when I started to post and discuss some of my music online, I felt that I was mostly misunderstood. People would say that I didn’t play with emotion, that I was playing too fast, and all that. A lot of people also didn’t seem to like my tone. I’ll just post a recording of a few years ago, using this same backing: http://soundclick.com/share?songid=3221578
Well, I’ll admit, this tone was recorded with my Zoom 8080, which isn’t quite as good as the Pod X3… but it’s not that bad, is it? Also, I don’t think my playing style has changed all that much. I think that most of the ‘soulfulness’ or emotion in my playing comes from the way I use bends and vibrato to really milk those notes. I think that aspect of my playing was pretty much fully developed at that point.
So I don’t see too much progress in my playing or my tone from where it was about 4 years ago, when I made that recording. Still, that recording was poorly received. I’m not sure why that is exactly. Is it somehow harder for me to judge my own progress than it is for other people? Or perhaps I just wasn’t using the right forums? The majority of people there might not have liked that style, and rather than just not liking my style, they would make it personal.
I’ve had this theory that some people are just too close-minded when it comes to music. Some people seem to think that for example blues is the only music with emotion in it. As such, they cannot detect emotion in other types of music. So, since my playing isn’t all that blues-based, they don’t pick up any emotion from it. They don’t pick up any kind of emotion from well-respected guitarists who play the same type of music, such as Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. Except they don’t say that. They somehow expect you to play the type of music they like, or else they’ll just claim your music lacks feeling.
Clearly I never intended my music to lack feeling. Even though I may possess a reasonable amount of speed and technical bag of tricks, I have never really considered myself a shredder. I have always wanted to ‘paint landscapes’ with my music, and to tell stories through melody. When I listen to certain instrumental music, such as Joe Satriani’s, or some movie soundtracks, I can see these images, and get the feeling that I’m on some kind of musical journey. That is what I’ve always wanted to achieve with my own music as well.
Therefore, the basis of my playing has always been the ‘vocal quality’ of the guitar. I always wanted each and every note to sound as good and expressive as it can be, much like a voice. I spent a lot of time on my bending and vibrato technique to be able to control the strings almost like my own voice. Much like the old cliché of being able to say more with a single note than with a thousand.
So that’s me I suppose… Tasteful shredding. Tasteful because I try to play slow and hit notes that sound good, and shredding because I can also get up to reasonable speed, and use speed as another way to try and convey emotion, tell a story, or what you want to call it. Not that I’ve ever considered myself a shredder, really. I’ve never considered myself fast enough or my technique good enough for that. Besides, my focus in terms of practice has never really been on speed or technique. Funny enough there are lots of guitarists I’ve heard who seem to be the opposite. They may be much faster than me, and can do all sorts of technical tricks that I could never do… but they can’t just play a simple melody and make it ‘sing’, they just lack the basic control.
Tone and gear
The gear I used in this video was pretty modest… a stock Ibanez S7320, which is a cheap Korean-made 7-string guitar, and a Line6 Pod X3 Live. If that is enough for people to experience ‘goosebump moments’ or hear the ‘soul’ in my playing, well then the gear apparently doesn’t have that much to do with it, does it? To me personally, this particular video doesn’t exactly have the best tone I’ve ever recorded. I’m still getting the hang of the Pod X3, and so far, I have to say… it doesn’t sound bad, but I think the Zoom G9.2tt had a bit more finesse to it. Not to mention the Marshall 6101 amp. And the S7320 isn’t exactly my best-sounding guitar either, especially not through the Pod with the current settings. As a result I thought the tone was a bit fizzy and fuzzy. But nobody else seemed to even have picked up on that. I guess most of it got lost in the backing track anyway.
I think the ‘soul’ comes through because of the bending and vibrato I do. And it’s just a single take as well, all improvised on the spot. I’ve said it to other people before, although they didn’t seem to agree. You either ‘have it’, or you don’t. When I hear someone who plays off-pitch notes a lot, that’s just lacking basic technique, nothing else. It’s not because of the gear, or because you have only done a single take…
So, would I sound better with better gear? Probably. Would it make a difference to anyone else? Probably not. I’ve had various discussions with people, talking about how the pickups in the S7320 are useless, and how the Axe-Fx or a real tube amp is so much better than the Pod X3 and all that… But does it really matter? I’ve heard nobody say that my playing sounds ‘digital’ or ‘fake’, or whatever other problems people ascribe to the Pod or cheap guitars/pickups and all that. Nope, people say they can ‘feel’ what I’m playing, they find it ‘soulful’ or ‘tasteful’. So really, what more do you want from your gear than that? As long as you can convey your emotions, that’s all that matters, isn’t it? And apparently you can convey emotions through a stock S7320 and a Pod. I wonder if all those people raving about pickup replacements and expensive Axe-Fxes or tube amps can do that. Sadly they never post any music…