December 23, 2013
Jason emailed me from Niagara Falls, Canada. He asked me to explain how to do harmonics easier than by using your palm. There are many players that don’t use their palm. The top of the third finger can also be used to make a harmonic and this is by gently touching the string in the right place as you pick it. I believe this is the way Buddy Emmons does it.
This is very close to the way I do it which is even easier since I don’t use picks. Make sure your treble is turned up enough on your amp that your harmonics will sparkle.
I’m going to mention some things about tone quality today. Ever notice how some guys get a big rich full tone and other guys with about the same equipment sound anemic? There are several things that affect this. Some are very simple, like the kind of cords that you use, I mean the electronic kind that go from your guitar to your amp, not the kind that you play like triads, sevenths, ninths and so on.
The strings that you use are a critical factor in the tone you produce. That’s why I use and highly recommend Cobra Coil strings. If you’ve been playing them, then you understand why.
Another thing you need to do is run your volume control pedal near half wide open all the time. When you pull the control back, not only does your volume go down, but your tone changes a little which is not something that is desirable, but just the way it is. If you using an electronic pedal, you may not be experiencing this trait. However, it may be just as bad as an old tone pot rheostat.
Once you make sure you’re not losing tone in your cord, you can work on other more basic things. We have discussed volume pedal pumping in the past. Nothing is more aggravating in listening to a steel player play than hearing him pump the volume pedal. This is like listening to the radio while continuously dialing the volume knob back and forth.
I remember Jerry Byrd giving advice to a professional steel player here in Nashville a long time ago. He told the player that he would sound a lot better if he’d throw his volume pedal in the Cumberland River. Jerry was a direct kind of guy.
Of course there are times when you may want to use your volume pedal for an effect the way Curly Chalker did on Hank Thompson tunes.
Another big reason not to pump the pedal is to extend the life of the pot in the pedal. The more you pump it, the shorter its life will be. We all know what a mess it is when your pedal starts scratching and how expensive it is to replace the pot in time and money. I’m sure we have all heard other players pump the volume pedal. Listen to yourself and don’t do it. Ask other players if you are doing it because they’ll know it before you do.
Listen to Nashville’s finest players and you will never hear the volume fluctuating around.
I remember I was working in a club in Las Vegas with a local band from that area. Well, they were all local except the guitar player who was Jimmy Bryant of Capitol Records fame.
I heard a swoosh between songs. I looked up at the dance floor just in time to see a steel guitar case coming across toward the bandstand. I looked for who threw the guitar and there he was, Gene O’Neill. Gene watched me play for a little while, then said, “I can hear your volume pedal scratching. Why don’t you replace it?”
I told him the job didn’t call for it. It wasn’t no more important than the job was. He said, “You’re not doing it for the job, you’re doing it for yourself.” I never forgot that. He was right. Gene was a good steel player and a good friend. He was working Vegas with Charlie Pride and had a day off.
When setting the tone on your amplifier, be sure to have it set with plenty of treble and plenty of bass so you get a big fat tone. Don’t get carried away with the treble though. The mid range will need to be turned up enough that it balances out the treble and bass, not so much that it hurts it.
Just remember that most of your good tone comes from your guitar. Most brands of steel guitar today deliver a pretty good tone. Those guitars that don’t deliver good tone have pretty well fallen by the wayside.
I myself am looking for a new guitar after playing my last one for near forty years, an Emmons pushpull. I like the tone of the new Fessenden and the new Mullen. Either one of these guitars is a worthy successor to my pushpull. We try to keep both of these in stock at all times at Steel Guitar Nashville.
Good tone and good equipment isn’t for the dancers, it’s for you. Thank you for asking the question about tone because it is very important and is very important to me also.
Since this is the last newsletter before Christmas let me say once again Merry Christmas from all of us here at Steel Guitar Nashville. Remember, gift cards make a great last minute stocking stuffer and you can take your time decided what you want because they never expire.
P.S. I just got word that we will have a brand new Mullen Royal Precision 8/5 in black delivered today, December 23rd. You can pick it up here or I will pay the shipping within the lower 48 states if you order over the phone. This is one gorgeous guitar that you will love. It sounds and plays the way it looks.
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