A very intelligent musician once said that talking about music is like singing about football, and for this next section I’m kind of in that quandary. Guitars and how they sound is not really an objective point of view, in fact, what sounds like one thing to one person can be exactly opposite of what someone else hears, but this is my blog so let me flog away on it.
I enjoy the differences in guitar tones, probably why I have so many of these wonderful instruments, but to my ear each one has a distinctive sound and feel. On the acoustic side of the ledger there are my Martins and then my Gibson/Epiphones. I have three distinctively different sounding Martins, not only that one is a twelve string, which automatically sounds different, but the size of the body and width of the neck also influences the sound and how it feels to play. I love my twelve string, probably the hardest guitar I have to play because of the pressure it takes to get a pure tone when playing it in standard tuning. Slide is a whole different animal, and those tones are unmistakable. There is a great blues guitarist names Kelly Joe Phelps, plays six string and Dobro and when he plays a twelve string he makes the sound of angels emit from those strings, I have more of a standard blues technique, ala Huddie Ledbetter known affectionately as Led Belly. Having those sympathetic strings added to the mix just makes the sound huge. Speaking of six strings and Dobros, I love my martin with the serial number that can’t be traced so I think it was a prototype of their cutaway acoustics. It, even with it’s smaller and thinner body is so right for slide, and sometimes it even has a older almost silver tone like sound, but I’m sure that just the way that roger mics it, and we have mic’d it so many ways I think I’ll let roger tell you about that aspect since its his area of expertise. My two Dobros are completely different. One is wood with the resonator and has a picture of surfers and palm trees on the back, and that’s because I think it was first designed to play Hawaiian music, slack key with a little slide like you would hear in traditional Hawaiian tunes, and then there’s the new all metal one that is just blues at its best. A little dirtier sound but it really rings out. My understanding of the Dobro or Resonator guitar was that they were built to play in bands where they weren’t mic’d up. Finally my A. Davis guitar, one of the best sounding instruments I’ve ever owned. It plays like a dream and the tone is just sweet as honey, A. Davis is a little known luthier whose guitars are works of art as well as sounding fantastic.
On to the electrics, and the biggest difference is the pickups, single coil or humbuckers, a duel coil pickup that produces a thicker and more sustain, and of course less hum, one coil is out of phase with the other thus cancelling the excess hum you get from the pickup catching interference, being a single coil fan I get those buzzes and hums, but then I’m a srat man. I have now only 4 real strats and two are very old, so I’ve had clones made for me to take on the road. My Brown one is made like my 1972 strat using the exact dimensions and hardware even down to the brass nut, and my distressed blue one is made to play like my original black one, a 1969 strat that I turned into a slide guitar, but it has original hardware like a 1964 strat. I tune this one standard, I also have a 1987 strat plus and a 92 strat plus, I love the 1987 teal one as it has that original strat sound, but by 1992 they had changed something in the lace sensor pickups that kind of lost that loving feeling for me. The truth of the matter is I’ve had numerous strat like guitars made but only the ones that Seth Mayer has made for me have that true strat sound. I’ve got a Les Paul Jr. that I used on the nova train recording, and of course my Gibson ES175 from the 1950’s, somehow I managed to change the sound on it when I changed tailpieces, I was young and stupid to do it but live and learn, it had the most unbelievable sound and I did manage to blow up a couple of amps with it …. Hmmm blown up amps …. As for the difference in sounds, simple explanation is humbuckers thick and fat and sustain out the wazoooo and single coil, brighter with more bite, but both really can sound sweet when not overdriven, and of course the type of wood on the body makes a difference, a hollow body guitar like my ES175 can create a lot of feedback, a lighter weight wood won’t have as much “body” as something a little heavier. And there’s the necks to consider, rose wood fingerboard or maple, they all have a different feel and sound, but the most important difference in sound comes from one thing only - YOUR FINGERS.
Robert McGreevy: Do you actually take your ‘favorite guitars’ with you on the road? Aren’t you afraid they will get damaged or lost? Do you use less valuable ‘road’ guitars?
Paul: I used to, but no that I fly to more gigs I am using my Strat plus guitars, the ones made in 1987 and 1992, as opposed to the 1969 and 1972 Strat’s that are worth so much more.
Scott Fulton: For slide, do you prefer one make of guitar strings?
Paul: I used to use sets that I would put together for slide, heavier gauge and the three wound strings were flat wound, for the G string I would use an unwound 20.