After Saturday's post on Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush, I got thinking about how much I love good electric guitar work. Not simple shredding - although that can be fun. Good guitar work, for me, is about more than technical prowess. It's about using tone and effects, constructing not just catchy hooks and chords, but building upon these basics to create a total effect. The total, in other words, is greater than sum of all the parts. It requires more than being able to move your four fingers really fast all around the fret-board. A guitarist should know something about the electronics of his instruments and how they contribute to the effect he is trying to make. He should know about building emotion through switching tones, changing the pallet of sound. He should also, I think, Have a certain clarity of sounds - I really am no fan of the kind of heavily distorted sound one hears on some overamplified Gibson guitars. Notes and effect get lost in the barrage of sheer sound.
Eric Johnson has been criticized for being far too much of a perfectionist. A friend of mine saw him in the G3 concert series, and said he spent almost five minutes between two songs tuning, saying nothing to the audience during the process. Yet, he manages to create multiple tones from his guitar in a single song. In this, one of my favorite songs from his debut solo recording (coincidentally named Tones), you can hear what I mean. This is "Bristol Shore":
There is probably no guitarist today who knows his instrument, and what he can do with it, to it, on it, and through it more than Joe Satriani. While certainly a shredder extraordinaire, he also constructs beautiful pieces of music that do more than showcase his technical abilities, but use those abilities for the purposes of the song. I am still saddened by the fact I lost my copy of Flying In A Blue Dream in one of my many moves over the years. There any number of cuts from that recording that make my point, but the title track, especially in its live version, show that he even has the ability to use feedback in a way no one since Jimi Hendrix has managed to do - make what is essentially a warning of electrical overload, in to something musical. Even with the volume, his tone is clear, there is nothing muddy - he manages to make this more than just a conglomeration of notes and sounds, turning it into a song.
I must admit a weak spot for the kind of guitar sound one heard in mid- to late-1970's music. Part of that, of course, is this was the music to which I was first exposed. Yet, I find it hard to imagine anyone arguing that, just at the level of pure sound, there is something not beautiful about the way guitars were amplified, in such a way as to cut through the mass of sound, and deliver what they were supposed to deliver - something emotive. I have always like Peter Frampton's guitar sound on his Comes Alive album, and my remastered CD brings this out even better than any vinyl recording of it I've heard. One of the best cuts is the lovely "Lines On My Face", again using multiple tone textures and even something as simple as altering volume to create a change in emotive quality. With the limits on technology, apparent especially now, it is really quite amazing what he could accomplish.
I need ideas for next week. Echo and the Bunnymen, maybe? Depeche Mode? Something different, to be sure.