Does a Guitar Ever Play You?

The other day I posted a demo for a high-gain pickup, and I’m usually a lower-gain guy. Zyon said in comments that it sounded like Santana. (It sort of did, if you can imagine a clumsy, out-of-tune Santana with a really short attention span.)

But I assure you, Carlos was far from my conscious mind. (Or at least 20 miles away at his place across the bridge.) It’s just that the pickup’s unaccustomed searing attack and saturated tone made me hork up those emotive, minor-key melodies.

Which makes me pose this question:

Isn’t it a rather pathetic rationale for having one of the main reasons for having a bunch of guitars? Not just the sounds they make, but sounds they force you to make?

It’s not just me, is it?

12 comments to Does a Guitar Ever Play You?

  • Matthew Seniff

    This is why I’ve never been wild about re-amping on recordings. I have 30+ guitars and they all move me in different directions when I play them. Like that old Grateful Dead song line “the music plays the band”. I like to capture the fire of the moment when recording. 

  • joe

    Interesting. I was going to say, “But I use reamping all the time!” But then I realized that yeah, I do, but mainly when either making audio comparison recordings, or when trying to run a line-level signal through a stompbox. But I almost never use the strategy of recording a neutral sound, and then “painting on” the amp later. 

  • The answer is YES. An unfamiliar guitar may let you come up with a riff or a chord progression that might never happen on your favorite “old friend/desert island/main squeeze” guitar. I love “cheapo” guitars like my little Silvertone Danelectro 1448. It makes me play differently. I have to make compromises because of the shorter scale and the single pickup. And it sure won’t maket me play like Santana 🙂

  • zyon

    ummmm, if every guitar didn’t bring out a different personality trait in our music playing, then why own every possible guitar we can buy. I’d no longer be able to validate buying “yet another guitar” to my wife…. To me, a guitar’s natural tone dictates what I’ll play when i pick it up. I own several Martin’s and each one brings out a different mood for me. 

  • Mat

    I definitely think different guitars influence your playing. The sustain on a tele (& the great clean tone) cause me to play completely differently to say an SG. Then there’s the neck. I’m far more likely to venture up to the top of the neck on the SG… and so on BUT I recon tuning has a far greater influence! Breaking muscle memory by playing around with a new tuning is great for washing away familiar (bad) habits & discovering something new!

  • Oh absolutely. Anyone who’s played an all attack/no sustain guitar like a Mustang or Jazzmaster quickly comes to terms with the magic boinkiness or gives up and buys a Les Paul. I love old cheapo electrics for this reason- they force you into weird corners.  I also avoid playing strats for this reason; it’s as though the combination of its design and our collective memory compels me to play a certain way that I don’t really like all that much. My strat is a very lonely guitar…

  • Via Gravis

    I feel like that when I play a Strat too, so I’ve never bothered buying one.  All my other guitars are in the Swiss Army category…P-Rails, Lace Sensor Duallys, Triple-shots, Phase switches and series/parallel swtiches are found on most of my guitars…I’m sort of looking to emulate others, but also just like being my own weird self.

  • JH

         Absolutely! Not external forces at all. It is the guitar. I started on a strat. My playing gravitated to sounds like hendrix, and srv. And not that I was trying to, it just guided me that way.
        Then after getting an lp, trying to play that way on it just plain didnt work. Chunky riffy stuff led the way. Thats the great thing about different types of guitars, you gotta let em pull you in whatever direction they take you, and then take it from there.
        And yea I do all kinds of crazy mods to my guitars wiring too, but I always make sure the manufacturers intended sound (wiring and pickups) is always there.

  • JH

       O and an even better case in point since your talkin about santana! A few years ago I was looking for a guitar with p-90s. I played an sg classic. Wow that guitar was great (I’m an idiot, should have snatched that up). Matched up santana’s classic sound to a t. Played his stuff on it and you can see how he had that solo sound oozing out. Not the most difficult stuff musically, but match the player up with the right guitar and magic happens.
       A few days ago I played a godin lp90. Very good guitar for what it is. Basic 2 p-90 pickup guitar, mahogany body…… SD sp90 pickups (classic sound).    But…   difference on that guitar is it has a shredders neck (16in radius). Cant see playing that guitar the same way as the sg classic. Just aint gonna happen. Pulls you in a different direction.
        BTW why the hell did santana ever switch to humbuckers?  His solos dont have the same feeling and depth any more. Just sounds generic now!

  • Oinkus

    I have to play the devils advocate , different guitars “sound” different because of a ton of variables.You play them and it enhances certain nuances in what you choose to play,but feel free to think it actually “causes” you to play differently.And yes I do many changes to every guitar I own also. (mostly because I can’t afford real guitars)

  • Dennis Rambo

    Without a doubt! I play MUCH differently on my Les Paul than I do on my Gretsch. Or Strat. Or Tele. Or funky old Kay and Kimberly guitars.

  • joe

    I don’t know anything about Kimberly guitars, but it sounds like I should! Tell more. 

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