In Search of Tone: Part II

What's at the end of the path?


I last visited tone in this post here, but now three pedals later in my signal chain—clean boost, distortion and compressor—I’ve still not satiated my quest for tone. My amp puts out very clean tone from my guitars and they all sound great when I want to play clean, but there are many occasions in which I want to change tones for different moods and genres with the capability to dial them back in on demand. Pedal knobs are not known for their accuracy. Granted you can get back close to a previous setting: gain at 10 o’clock, volume at 9 o’clock, blend at 2 o’clock, and so forth. All right, you’ve got your pedals dialed in back to a previous setting and now it’s time to get those amp settings dialed in the way you thought they were the last time you played classical with a little dirt mixed in for accentual expression.

There’s got to be a more efficient way of changing tones. But wait there’s more. You find yourself in a quiet house, you’re all alone, the neighbors are supposedly asleep, you’ve got the pedals and amp dialed in, the amp is miked, the Mac is warmed up, Garageband is running, and you’re ready to record a piece of classical music that you’ve been polishing for the past six months. You record a few takes, export to iTunes, and then play it back as a backing track so you can record part two of a two part arrangement. You switch from a solid body to a semi-hollow body for part two to illuminate the elements of counterpoint and fugue. Your semi-hollow body needs a little boast because the pickups are not as hot as your Les Paul, so you make some tweaks to your pedals and cut back the reverb on your amp. Everything is cool. Three takes later, you’re satisfied and aim for the fridge to extract a few bottles of cold brew. You let your best friend in from the back porch and give her a pig’s ear to gnaw on while you listen to your mix. It all sounds good, but you decide there are three measures after a quarter rest in part one that you’d like to do over. Geez, what were those pedal and amp settings for part one? Oh, yeah, and your best friend’s wagging tail just knocked over your floor mic. A few more cold bottles of beer and a wee-hour call to your music buddy ends with him saying, “Dude, you need to get an amp/FX processor and start recording digitally.”

With 30 years of IT experience, I find programming anything is just part of a geek’s life. I anticipate it will be fun programming patches and recording digitally through a processor such as an Axe-FX II. I made the leap from film to DSLRs without regret, but I must confess that I’m a tad bit apprehensive about going from analog to digital with respect to music. Perhaps I’ll pull the trigger and just do it, so it looks like there will be a part three in my search for tone.