Experimenting on the Steel Guitar

November 8, 2012

This is Vic Lawson with today’s newsletter.

I was asked, “How much do you experiment and where do you experiment, during practice or onstage?”

Personally I only experiment during practice. I feel like if I experiment onstage, not only does it affect my integrity, but the integrity of the band. I just try to play what I should play and where I’m supposed to play and save the experimenting for home.

However I know a lot of people that do experiment, but it usually ends up in a train wreck which over a four hour period ends up making people think that guy screws up a lot. I think there’s an exception to every rule, but generally there’s a time and place for everything.

The only time I ever experiment is if I hear the guitar player or the fiddle player play a phrase that I want to jump in on. I may end up missing it, but that’s my version of experimenting. To me as a listener in certain places I can understand it, like if I’m downtown and it’s 12:30 in the night and there’s three people in the place, go ahead.

But if there’s a packed house, you need to play it like a professional and not experiment. As a musician I can appreciate what someone is trying to do, but as a member of the audience, it’s not something I want to hear.

It’s very easy to fall into safe licks. I did this weekend and I felt my creativity was way down this weekend. I just fell into a safe mode all weekend playing things I know will work all the time. However, just because I play it safe onstage doesn’t mean that I won’t try to push the edge a little further out.

There’s a fine line there when I think about it. For me pushing the edge makes me create licks that I know will work, but yet I know at the end of the lick I’m not going to completely blow it, whereas experimenting to me is not knowing the end result until it’s over.

How far you push the envelope is subject to your own limitations. Buddy Emmons would be much better at pushing the envelope than I would. Some nights it’s like you can’t mess up no matter what you do. Other nights it’s a struggle to just play it safe.

Your mental state when you go into a gig can really make a difference. If you’re too uptight and worried about messing up or who is listening, you’re more likely to mess up than if you have a more laid back attitude. Being on top of your mental game is a large part of being a successful musician. I may have more to say on the subject in the future. If any of you guys have any thoughts on it, pop me an email.

I’ve also been questioned about how I get my tone. My answer is, “What tone?” I’m kidding of course. Tone is very important to a steel guitar player. I say most of it comes from your hands and your heart, however I know those that will argue that.

It starts with a good guitar, but how you manipulate that guitar is how you get your tone and that would be your hands. To me, for example Tommy White sounds like Tommy regardless of what guitar he’s playing. Therefore, I think that’s what separates the great players from the good players.

With that being said, no matter what effects you use, if you’re still not happy with your tone, work on your technique. There are a lot more factors but that’s a good starting point.

Like Bobbe always says, you can give Porter Waggoner Dolly Parton’s microphone, but he’s still going to sound like Porter, not Dolly. Almost everybody has a signature sound which is what makes music great because no two players will play the same song the same way.

We’ve received a lot of emails about general music theory. Nashville musicians long ago developed their own way of communicating music theory. It’s called the Nashville Number System. If it’s something that you don’t understand, it’s something that you need to learn because that’s how musicians everywhere communicate.

I hear a lot of players who come in here say they play by ear and don’t need all that stuff. Well if they’re going to play with other people, they need to learn the lingo that everybody is using, otherwise it will just frustrate them when somebody calls out something they don’t understand.

It saves a lot of time a rehearsals and practice if you understand the lingo and don’t have to hear everything played before you can understand it.

We’re now offering narrow mount Lawrence 705 humbucker pickups for Sho-Buds, Mullen Royal Precision and other guitars that require a narrow mount pickup. They are only available in ten string models.

Here’s the link to the pickups: www.steelguitar.net/pickups.html

Check out our monthly specials at www.steelguitar.net/monthlyspecials.html

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