"Tone is in the hands" - silliest buzzword of the decade?

DaMasta

Strat-Talker
Feb 9, 2019
107
California, USA
Ever since I saw Brian May's guitar tech do a rig rundown o youtube, and he said the secret to May's tone is his hands, I see this phrase pop up more and more often. Today I even saw someone use it about Nile Rodgers on a thread discussing how to get his clean tone. Like, seriously dude? Nile Rodgers is reported to follow a very straight forward and relatively simple way to reach his sound. Its not necessarily easy to get his exact tone, and its an interesting debate to have. But to say that the secret to Chic tones are "in the fingers"?? I'm pretty sure there are many talented funk guitarists who can play those simple riffs just as well as Nile.

Perhaps you could get away with saying it about Brian May - but I'd argue the use of this catchphrase has reached insane levels. Its not helpful, and most of the time its not even true. Stick to facts - what equipment was used, when, how. Thats fruitful.

Oh, and also - lets agree to never again say the words "there is no right or wrong, experiment to find what you like" - we know that. When somebody wants to know how to achieve a specific sound, they are looking for methods and principles, not a therapy session.

Sorry for the harshness. Its been bottling up...

Only 10 pages ... you guys can do better than that!
 

zackstexas

New Member!
Jan 16, 2022
5
12801
Ever since I saw Brian May's guitar tech do a rig rundown o youtube, and he said the secret to May's tone is his hands, I see this phrase pop up more and more often. Today I even saw someone use it about Nile Rodgers on a thread discussing how to get his clean tone. Like, seriously dude? Nile Rodgers is reported to follow a very straight forward and relatively simple way to reach his sound. Its not necessarily easy to get his exact tone, and its an interesting debate to have. But to say that the secret to Chic tones are "in the fingers"?? I'm pretty sure there are many talented funk guitarists who can play those simple riffs just as well as Nile.

Perhaps you could get away with saying it about Brian May - but I'd argue the use of this catchphrase has reached insane levels. Its not helpful, and most of the time its not even true. Stick to facts - what equipment was used, when, how. Thats fruitful.

Oh, and also - lets agree to never again say the words "there is no right or wrong, experiment to find what you like" - we know that. When somebody wants to know how to achieve a specific sound, they are looking for methods and principles, not a therapy session.

Sorry for the harshness. Its been bottling up...
Right on point. I suggest my latest least favorite buzz phrase is at least as stupid.... "beware the guy with only one guitar. He probably knows how to use it."🙂
 

Intune

Senior Stratmaster
Jan 14, 2021
4,490
Edmonton, Alberta
Distortion is part of timbre, which is totally an aspect of tone. When you turn on that Boss MetalZone or stomp on the Big Muff, it changes your tone. All pedals change timbre, that's what they're for. (Except tuners LOL) Scales, phrasing, and rhythm are part of technique but don't have anything to do with the timbre.

Most instruments have some variation of timbre built in. Guitars have more than most, their touch-sensitive nature is a big part of why they convey emotion so well, and why we like them so much. Guitar is able to convey emotion because of all that little variation we can make just by varying the right hand. But it's about interaction of the hands with the gear. Both the hands and the gear make profound differences in the sound that comes out. Neither one does much without the other. And there is a sound--or range of sounds--that's inherent to the instrument. Practice all you like, you won't make a Strat sound like a Classical.

I find this true, you and the guitar or gear produce the sound. You still need skill to do this. Buying the “correct” gear doesn’t grant you automatic skills.

So with zero skill all the ins and outs of gear theory is pointless. It’s a huge rabbit hole if you can’t or don’t know how to use it.
 

CRobbins

Strat-Talker
Silver Member
Oct 19, 2014
344
Meiners Oaks CA
I thought that tone was in your ears.

lX25YT7.gif
 

Seamus OReally

Fading away
Gold Supporting Member
Feb 11, 2019
5,839
Santa Rosa, CA
If you haven’t figured out what “tone is in the hands” means, then you’re not yet a skilled guitarist.

Yeah, right, seen the King’s new clothes yet?
I’ve played the guitar for 55 years. I did it for a living. I saw the light when Robben Ford took my SG, plug it into a Deluxe Reverb, and sound just like Robben Ford. His tone - that snaky, throaty, vocal tone comes from the way he picks. Yes, Robben plays a vintage SG through a Dumble, and I’ve heard him do it and it’s drop dead gorgeous. But his sound lives inside his head and his hands.
 

guitarman1984

Senior Stratmaster
Jul 24, 2013
2,813
Italy
Tone is in the rig, the style is in the hands (and mind and heart). SRV had very different tones in his career, with some distinctive examples like Austin City Limits live when his tone was over the edge. But you can recognize his style, always.
So, style is in the hands, for me!
 

Wrighty

Dr. Stratster
Mar 7, 2013
11,091
Harlow, Essex, UK
Tone is more related to style and technique than sound.

An amp makes a sound.
A player’s playing style affects the tone.

When I traded rigs with my bandmate, his amp (which I disliked) was still making the same sounds, but what I was pushing through it—my picking technique and playing style—changed the tone of what came out.

My flesh-n-fingernails-no-pick finger picking, the way I gripped the neck and fingered the fretboard all affected the sound and tone; it became darker immediately—most likely due to me playing guitar with five pieces of meat (my fingers) than one piece of plastic (his pick).

Also, I pick towards the middle of the body—directly over the space between the neck and the middle pickups or closer to the neck; he picks closer to the bridge—that also changed the tone of the guitars and rigs we each used.

He attacks the strings, I caress them—again, changing the tone of the sound coming out of our respective rigs.

He had a dirtier sound—humbuckers through a distortion pedal and a high-gain amp, vs my single coils through an overdrive and a Fender ‘63RI Vibroverb tube amp—but our differing playing techniques made for some major differences in how those instruments responded.

We (the players) changed the tone of the sound coming out of our instruments, due to stylistic and technique differences.
Tone is more related to style and technique than sound.

An amp makes a sound.
A player’s playing style affects the tone.

When I traded rigs with my bandmate, his amp (which I disliked) was still making the same sounds, but what I was pushing through it—my picking technique and playing style—changed the tone of what came out.

My flesh-n-fingernails-no-pick finger picking, the way I gripped the neck and fingered the fretboard all affected the sound and tone; it became darker immediately—most likely due to me playing guitar with five pieces of meat (my fingers) than one piece of plastic (his pick).

Also, I pick towards the middle of the body—directly over the space between the neck and the middle pickups or closer to the neck; he picks closer to the bridge—that also changed the tone of the guitars and rigs we each used.

He attacks the strings, I caress them—again, changing the tone of the sound coming out of our respective rigs.

He had a dirtier sound—humbuckers through a distortion pedal and a high-gain amp, vs my single coils through an overdrive and a Fender ‘63RI Vibroverb tube amp—but our differing playing techniques made for some major differences in how those instruments responded.

We (the players) changed the tone of the sound coming out of our instruments, due to stylistic and technique differences.
Sorry but, no. I’ll accept that playing harder can cause distortion by increasing the output but that’s all. A trombone sounds different to a saxophone a set of bagpipes and a ukulele. Different tones. As guitarists were unable to make their instrument sound like a didgeridoo or a trumpet, midi devices were developed to do it for them. Couldn’t be achieved using their fingers.
 

Wrighty

Dr. Stratster
Mar 7, 2013
11,091
Harlow, Essex, UK
I’ve played the guitar for 55 years. I did it for a living. I saw the light when Robben Ford took my SG, plug it into a Deluxe Reverb, and sound just like Robben Ford. His tone - that snaky, throaty, vocal tone comes from the way he picks. Yes, Robben plays a vintage SG through a Dumble, and I’ve heard him do it and it’s drop dead gorgeous. But his sound lives inside his head and his hands.
I can only repeat, it sounds like him because he plays the way he plays. Nuances, attack, timing etc. Tone? Nope!
 

Guitarchaeologist

Master Spuddler
Silver Member
Dec 17, 2016
7,699
Behind the 8 ball
For me, it's Friday night. The Mrs. is watching TV. The cat is asleep. And I was bored.
So, I sat here. Guitar in hand. & read all eleven pages of this train wreck of a thread.
Yep, all 11 pages.
Pretty sure I've lost about 12 IQ points in the process and I'm certain I can't get this time spent back.
Cheap entertainment. Sure wish I had started drinking before I started reading.
🤨
 

hogrider16

Strat-Talker
Jul 26, 2017
147
Martinsburg, WV
I think tone is in the mind. I tend to dial up very similar tones on whatever gear Im playing thru, with some variation, of course.

Even when I purposely dial a different tone, I tend to say, "nah", and dial it back to what Im used to.

I think thats part of why it would cool to have a producer. They might do a tweak I couldnt make myself do.
Bingo!!!!!

We gravitate towards the tone we love and usually when we grab a guitar, we try to dial in the tone closest to that.

IMHO the tone is in every component of the signal chain BUT, not all components have an equal impact. I have two different style picks I use - one for jazz, one for everything else. They have very different sounds. My hybrid picking sounds very different than playing strictly with a pick. My Les Paul Custom and Marshall half stack sound very different from my Telecaster and Deluxe Reverb.

Certainly the hands (really just the person) have a huge impact, but to say it's the only impact is just stupid.
 

drp146

Strat-Talker
Jun 8, 2020
290
Oklahoma
While my style of playing sounds the same on any guitar, when I play one of my SSS Strats, the tone is different from when I play one of my Les Pauls, and the one with P-90's sounds different from the one with humbuckers. So I believe your hands are a large part of your style and sound, and tone involves both you and the gear.
 

gitapik

Strat-Talker
Jan 24, 2011
191
NYC
Sure but the difference isn’t tone.
Maybe this is about semantics...?

Or you haven't spent a lot of time on an acoustic guitar. There's no other way to produce different tones on an acoustic guitar than with both of your hands and how they engage with wood and silver (or nickel). And it does translate to the electric in the same way.

Some (but def not all) (must stress that) of the metal that I hear doesn't have a lot of tonal variation, so I can see where gear and the players knowledge of it would take more precedent in that genre. If that's where you're coming from, then I think I see your point. This woman's awesome (as is the piece, of course)...but the tone is pretty constant due to the high gain she's working with. I've played some Bach pieces at similar gain settings and it's definitely harder to change the tone with just your hands:



Tone being EQ.

Agreed, we mix up meanings and misuse words.
So for the sake of page after page arguing semantics, let’s not repeat the mistake of TONE meaning phrasing, rhythm, distortion, or scales and theory.

Can we make a darker gear/ setting sound brighter with just our hands? Not using our hands to adjust tone circuitry?
Yes.
Can we make a brighter gear/ setting sound darker with just our hands? Not using our hands to adjust tone circuitry?
Yes.

Then in the context of tone being EQ or bright vs dark, is there tonal variation capability in the guitar players hands?
Or is there NOT tone variation capability in the guitar players hands?

Maybe some agree but think our hands are insignificant in our tone shaping as we play music?
That would be a great loss to players who think that way.
We can never really master the instrument if we can’t understand how much tone shaping our hands on the strings alone can do.

👍🏻👍🏻
 


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