When you reach the point you always wanted to be

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.

The past

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…

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4 Responses to When you reach the point you always wanted to be

  1. Mark says:

    Hi Scali,
    After watching your video (80’s ballad Les Pauls) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_X4_K4FVq8E
    I have to applaud and say “This is a point where I want to be!”
    although you can definitely hear Joe Satriani’s influence in your phrasing style, the arrangement of your solo over this track simply has no equal. Was it a ‘one-off’ improv or did you arrange and practice it? Either way it’s truly epic and something that belongs alongside the works of our heroes. I don’t believe Satriani could have done it better, and I’ve always been a huge fan of his.
    This is honestly the first track I have heard from any unsigned artist that has actually brought tears to my eyes!
    I’m fairly new to home recording and was curious to ask you about your recording setup…..I understand you were using a PODX3 Live – USB or miked amp? I just have a POD XT and while it is a worthy little piece of equipment I always seem to end up with that digital graininess inherent in these devices. Youtube is full of examples – mine included. It also seems to lack any real dynamics – i.e. sensitivity to attack etc. Obviously you know what I’m talking about. Last night I was able to get close to your ‘clear singing’ quality by dropping the modeled amps drive parameter down to 1.5 ‘ish and tweaking the tube screamer and reducing treble and presence a little. Having read your blog articles regarding sample rates etc., I’m a hair away from purchasing a used X3 desktop bean or a slightly newer model if money allows, but I also realize that 50% of good tone is determined by good technique and playing so I would rather explore that option before sending more $ out the door. I realize you’ve spent a considerable amount of time perusing the subject and was simply wondering if you have any tips I can use.
    Thanks for helping me spend 4-5 hours a day practicing. We all need to be inspired somehow.

    Mark – Toronto, Canada

    • Scali says:

      Hey Mark. Thanks, glad you liked my videos!
      And yea, that video was just an improvisation on the spot. I suppose all my videos are.

      I just use the X3 through USB, recording directly with Cubase using the ASIO driver.
      I’m not sure if the X3 is much of an upgrade from an XT to be honest. Now the HD series is another story, they seem to be a step up both in hardware and the amp models included. But as far as I know, the X3 is just a slightly updated XT, with more amps and effects bundled. I don’t think it sounds all that much better. There’s still that digital graininess. I had to get used to that myself… The Zoom G9.2tt that I used earlier, had quite a different sound to it. It had a tendency to sound nasal and middy. But the Pod is more annoying in the higher frequency ranges. Giving a sort of ‘hissy’ quality to the sound. It’s also overly sensitive to feedback whistles because of it, and it amplifies string noise a lot. Especially the squeaky sounds when you slide your fingers down the strings.
      So neither is perfect really (and I didn’t buy the X3 because I didn’t like the G9.2tt… I bought it because the G9.2tt had some broken buttons. So I figured I’d try something else if I had to buy a new modeler anyway. Else I’d probably still be using the G9.2tt today).

      But as I try to say in this blog: It’s not the equipment you use, it’s what you do with it.

      • Mark says:

        Thanks for the reply Scali!
        I’ll be the first to admit my technique needs much practice and improvement along with theoretical study! I sort of equate this to photography: a great photographer can get a great picture with a pinhole camera. Study, Practice, Technique and Experience.
        It’s something I never really grasped until a little later in life and I have great admiration for people who can apply these and come up with something such as your performances, especially the one I quoted above – it truly is a gem.

        Keep up the great work and I hope to see more amazing playing online.

        P.S. are you the same person that does the organ/piano performances for hire also? (just wondering about your theory background)

      • Scali says:

        Well, I guess practice is more important than theory. You don’t need a lot of theory to play blues, rock or metal. You just need to practice on making it sound good.
        Especially blues is all about that. It’s just a simple scale, and just 3 chord changes. Nothing fancy theory-wise. The trick is to play the right notes, at the right time, and play them the right way. That’s what makes it sound good. I don’t think you can really learn that from theory.
        I think you should just start by imitating other guitarists, and trying to make the sounds in your head come out of your instrument.
        Gear doesn’t help you with that, really.

        And no, I don’t do organ/piano performances. I can barely play enough keys to create my own backings 😛

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