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We could sit here and play five thousand blues... Because all three of us here now, we knows it. When he sings it (Brownie McGhee), when he starts it then it comes to me, and it comes to Sonny (Terry) and then to Brownie... Because you feel it from one another, which don't happen to all musicians though - Big Bill Broonzy

Author Topic: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?  (Read 6063 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Hi all,
In recent years, I've seen an expansion of the notion that you need a guitar of a particular type, usually preferably vintage and/or ladder-braced to get an authentic Country Blues sound.  From my own vantage point, this appears to be perpetrating the idea that an authentic sound is something that can be purchased--not so!  If a vintage guitar was required to have an authentic Country Blues sound, then the various rediscovered bluesmen who recorded in the '60s like John Hurt, Rev. Davis, and Furry Lewis, as well as more recent players like Robert Belfour all had an inauthentic sound, by virtue of playing new or recently purchased instruments, including instruments that were cheap in some instances, or not ladder-braced or were electric.  Does anyone seriously believe this to have been the case?
There is a tremendous temptation to hope that the best equipment will automatically confer authenticity to the sound and playing of the people who purchase such equipment, and there is no arguing the fact that nice instruments are nicer than instruments that are not so nice.  The simple fact, though, is that you could have the greatest guitar for country blues ever, and if you didn't listen to the music, get the sound of it in your head, practice like crazy, work on and think about the music all the time, that great guitar is not going to make you sound any more authentic than a junker would.  Sounding authentic is not something an instrument does, it's something that a player does on an instrument.  And a person who sounds authentic on any instrument will sound authentic on any number of other instruments of the same type.  I think to imagine that the particular guitar that Lemon Jefferson played was crucial to the sound and content of his music is akin to suggesting that the piece of chalk that Albert Einstein used to write e=mc2 on a blackboard was a crucial component in his Theory of Relativity.  
The more you play, the more you are going to sound like yourself on whatever instrument you play, and that's because the sound is in you--it's not in the instrument until you put it there.  If you have the disposable income and want to get a really nice vintage or custom guitar, go for it, and have fun with it!  But if such instruments are beyond your means, I hope no one here is credulous enough to believe that the lack of such an instrument has ever prevented someone from making authentic Country Blues.  Many of the greatest performances in this music were made despite the instrument being played, not because of the instrument being played.  
All best,
Johnm  
« Last Edit: September 25, 2010, 07:13:49 AM by Johnm »

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2010, 11:03:11 PM »
Amen to that John. Perfectly said.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Online Nicolas Dussart

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Re: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?
« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2010, 05:00:24 AM »
I agree 100%

Offline Stumblin

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Re: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?
« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2010, 05:32:57 AM »
I concur.
It's refreshing that someone has addressed this particular elephant in the room so succinctly.
I still want to buy a National though!

Offline sustaireblues

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Re: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?
« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2010, 06:49:14 AM »
And I just want to find that guitar that has only the sweet notes on it. I know they're out there, I've seen these guys like John that play all over the fretboard and his gits just don't have any bad notes. The guitars I come up with seem to have 'em all over the place!  :(

Joe

Offline blueshome

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Re: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?
« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2010, 07:52:21 AM »
A point well made!

However, it is fun trying different instruments and arguing about which is best for this or that. Also, if a particular guitar helps you find the sound in your head.......

Offline Vintage Licks

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Re: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?
« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2010, 09:00:27 AM »
IMHO, it is hard to deny that specific sound qualities are not inherent in a particular guitar. And some pickers do agree, an authentic depression era sound for example, can only be achieved when played on guitars built lighter than today?s standards and constructed of superior tone woods than available today with much thinner finishes. Like the guitars the music was originally played on. And that the examples built ladder braced do have specific sound characteristics that differ greatly from an X braced example of the same era, like far less sustain.  

What does that mean to the player you say?
Well, when a ladder braced guitar is played by a beginning to intermediately skilled finger style player, the guitar is more forgiving than an X braced guitar with ringing sustain. (i.e., notes decay much faster and actually get out of the way before the next note hit)

When played by an accomplished player with command and control?. they ?speak? the notes.

Of course, a highly skilled player can make any guitar sound good.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2010, 09:21:43 AM by Vintage Licks »

Offline dj

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Re: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?
« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2010, 12:15:43 PM »
I say play whatever instrument makes you happy.  And when in doubt, assign any tonal shortcomings to yourself rather than to your instrument.  More often than not, you'll be correct when doing this.

Offline Rambler

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Re: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?
« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2010, 07:03:12 AM »
Excellent point between the accouterments of the blues and playing the blues.   

Many of us who get into earlier forms to want to replicate the tones as well as the music. Consider.  Country bluesmen used the guitars they could get. If Charley Patton had been offered an x-braced jumbo, he might have jumped on it. So ladder braced guitar would reflect what they recorded with, but not necessarily their preferences.

The vintage hunt made sense 30-40 years ago, when much of the new guitar production was compromised. Not so, now. Meanwhile, vintage has moved to mass market (aged, reliced & road worn models)--heck even the despised 70s models command a price). Idolatry?

As for new production. One used to go out and get a 'guitar' (a 0018, a strat). Now, there is an unimaginable smorgasbord of options. Some of this is welcome (reviving the CFM OM, for ex).  There's a great temptation, however, to load up.

Thanks, John. Much food for thought.
 

Offline Coyote Slim

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Re: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?
« Reply #9 on: September 28, 2010, 09:43:30 PM »
I can play on any guitar and still sound like me.  But I don't like the tone (or lack thereof) and feel  in most modern acoustic guitars.  I do like the tone and feel (the feel of the guitar in my hands is an essential component -- how my fretting hand fits around the neck especially) of very expensive modern acoustic guitars, some Gibson models in particular.

 My current gigging guitars are a Regal RC-2 resonator (the 2nd one that I've owned, as the first was stolen), a Johnson "Sterling" resonator (which I've had since 1998, its been refretted once before and needs it again), and a Epiphone "Dot."  The Regal RC-2 is probably the nicest resonator that I can afford, and the Epiphone is the nicest electric I can afford.  For some reason Gibson's Epiphone line of electric hollow-bodies sound and play better than the Epiphone acoustic line (I guess because the acoustic guitar depends on wood for tone).

I've had a few old parlor guitars that have been my gigging guitars from time to time.  One was a Regal that I when I bought it off of ebay was all busted up.  I had it repaired and it treated me well for a long time despite a few intonation issues.  It needs new frets and some neck work now, and I don't play it anymore.  Another is a "Collegiate" Oscar Schmidt-Harmony hybrid made of birch.  I still play it once in a while but it needs some work too and has intonation problems.  I do love the the sound of those old guitars.
Puttin' on my Carrhartts, I gotta work out in the field.

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Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?
« Reply #10 on: October 04, 2010, 01:55:43 AM »
I also agree with John's comments. I seem to remember trying to make a related point in another thread earlier this year. Is there too much striving for a guitar sound that only exists because the guitars used were the only ones the performers could afford? Who knows....

I just love acoustic steel string guitars.
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

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Re: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?
« Reply #11 on: March 22, 2011, 02:10:20 AM »
John, I've come back to this thread again and again recently.  It's thoughts like these that have helped me save a lot of money and my marriage...and music.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2011, 03:02:22 AM by stevej »

Offline eric

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Re: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?
« Reply #12 on: March 22, 2011, 10:05:58 AM »
When I get frustrated with the instrument I have, I just think about Mance Lipscomb's Texas Sharecropper LP.  He recorded that with a Harmony Sovereign, a real beast of a guitar, and the LP is a masterpiece.  There are many other artists that produced great stuff with cheap instruments.
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Eric

Offline CF

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Re: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?
« Reply #13 on: March 22, 2011, 12:14:48 PM »
I'm glad John made the effort to make this point because it is very important that folks remember that the essense of the music is in the musician, not the instrument. I know many guitar players who go through them like they are kleenex & they just never seem to be happy with any of them.

I DO think that some of these vintage instruments are ideal & really must be wonderful to play (I wouldn't know) & certainly a great-sounding instrument can make you want to play your guitar more than your crappy-sounding one. Someday I will make an effort to get a beautiful vintage guitar.

My almost complete non-interest in gear period has been a good & bad thing for me, for sure. The bad being I beat the crap out of my instruments & maybe don't care for them enough, the good being I never let gear or the price of my instrument & it's dearness or whatever get in the way. They are simply non-issues. I think that has left more room for me to be creative & musical. 
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Guitars/Gear of whatever sort--how much of a difference do they make?
« Reply #14 on: March 22, 2011, 06:16:33 PM »
I'm glad John made the effort to make this point because it is very important that folks remember that the essense of the music is in the musician, not the instrument. I know many guitar players who go through them like they are kleenex & they just never seem to be happy with any of them.

I DO think that some of these vintage instruments are ideal & really must be wonderful to play (I wouldn't know) & certainly a great-sounding instrument can make you want to play your guitar more than your crappy-sounding one. Someday I will make an effort to get a beautiful vintage guitar.

My almost complete non-interest in gear period has been a good & bad thing for me, for sure. The bad being I beat the crap out of my instruments & maybe don't care for them enough, the good being I never let gear or the price of my instrument & it's dearness or whatever get in the way. They are simply non-issues. I think that has left more room for me to be creative & musical. 

Agreed. I'd much rather hear someone with some real musical sensibility playing a plain jane guitar than someone with no groove or taste wanking away on their collection of vintage guitar porn.

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