Bluffing Great Rock Guitar
When rock was being invented in the sixties, there were no light gauge strings. There was a standard set of what would now probably be considered medium/heavy. What we used to do was called “slackstringing”. Take the bottom E string off and move the A string down to where the E was. Carry on across the guitar, replacing the A with the D and so on. When you’d put the top E string where the B was, you used a banjo D string in place of top E. Primitive, but, listen to the records, it worked.
I now use 10 gauge. I experimented with 9s and less, but discovered that all that happened was my fingers got weaker, so I ended up with the guitar no easier to play, and less output and volume, so now I stick with 10s. If I followed that to its logical conclusion I would put 11s on and get stronger fingers, but, hey…
You can, apparently, now get as big a sound out of an amp the size of a microwave oven as you can from a Marshall stack. But, for me, sounding right is looking right, which is why I use a 100 Marshall and two 4 x 12s. They’re not as portable as a small combo, but eight 12″ speakers move an awful lot of air about, and I’m lucky enough to have a choice. Having said that, only the bottom cab is live.
For tone, what I bear in mind is that treble carries, bass doesn’t, so a big sound at the guitar-player’s ear often sounds thin and tinny by the time it gets to the audience, and a bright sharp sound often sounds unbearably buzzy. If we are there to entertain the audience, not just ourselves, then what counts is how good the guitar sounds to them, not us. So my settings are: bass 10, middle 10, top 4, presence 0. (Presence means voice frequencies, the ones our ears hear most easily anyway). With this setting, by the time the guitar-sound gets to the audience it still sounds big, fat and impressive.
Having said that, only the bottom cab is live. My tinnitus is not good; be aware: if you live this long you’ll wish you’d taken better care of yourself. I now always use ear defenders (nearly too late) by the very excellent Ascent hearing company to prevent my hearing deteriorating even further. See www.AscentHearing.co.uk.
Lead / rhythm
Whatever settings I have on my guitar, I use the two channel options for rhythm and lead: rhythm being the relatively clean channel and lead the dirty. Roughly rhythm is volume number 3 and lead number 6. Being a three piece I need to be twice as loud when I’m playing one or two strings at a time rather than six.
Mostly I use the tone and volume settings on the guitar quite crudely. For most of what I do one or other, or both, pick-ups full-on suffices. For tone they’re usually full treble, with treble occasionally full-off as a contrast. I have experimented with settings like Clapton’s both pick-ups with the neck (bass) pick-up backed-off a bit, but to be honest, live in your typical venue, most of us wouldn’t hear much difference anyway; it’s too subtle for live, more for recording.