Tone is the thing…

During a look through the alt.guitar newsgroup I found this post. Again, verbatim folks…I don't think I could make this up.

Subject: Replacing Pickups: Which pots should I use?


Date: 6/3/00 12:22 PM W. Europe Daylight Time

I'm looking to replace the Vintage Noiseless pickups in my Strat (they're to "brittle" sounding). I'm probably going to get a set of Fralin's, and am wondering what would be the appropriate meg pots for the pickups. I'm looking for a clean sound like Eric Johnson - bell like and round (not to bright, but still articulate). Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.


John Doe  (NOTE:  Not his real name)

As you can see, the fellow above is a little confused. Probably the best thing to do is ask Mr. Fralin himself what value of pot to use, but nothing like throwing out a bone for the newsgroup.

What is this guy talking about? He is on the trail looking for that elusive commodity, tone. You know -- woman tone, brown sound, Dimebag's tone, Strat-like tone….whatever tone. He wants his rig to sound like Eric Johnson's. Assuming he doesn't have a "pile" of Dumbles, Marshalls, Kendricks, etc., he is thinking a set of Fralins and the right pot will set everything right. The real missing element is much more daunting -- he probably can't play as well as Eric Johnson, and no matter what he buys, he'll still sound like himself! What a sad reality! Oh by the way -- according to a magazine I bought recently, Mr. Johnson played an ES- 335 on Cliffs of Dover, one of his most famous songs. Mr. Johnson's tone related to the Strat or the 335?

We as players are always looking for that little something extra to make us sound good. However, I've found that gear acquisition syndrome (GAS) is nothing more than one's inability to face reality. That reality is that one more piece of gear will not make you a better player. I've always advocated buying a quality guitar and amp, then set about to really learn how to play. A really good player can make an inexpensive guitar and amp sound great. Unfortunately, a really good rig can't make a poor player into good one.

Here is a great example. I was at Tommy's Guitar Shop in Viersen (northwest of Düsseldorf) last Saturday. It was simply awesome -- a shop full of great Les Pauls and good players. While I was playing a new Les Paul Historic Reissue through one of the new Gibson Goldtone amps, the subject of Dickie Betts and The Allman Brothers came up. To keep my "one-upsmanship" going, I immediately stated that I had met Dan Toler, who had played with Dickie in Great Southern, as well as in the Gregg Allman Band. I saw Dan in 1986 at the Opry House with Gregg Allman -- they warmed-up for SRV. A great show in a great room.

The guys in the shop were impressed, and asked a lot of questions about Dan Toler. His refinished Les Paul came up, as did his massive tone. I told them about 'the tape' -- the killer tape of Dan playing Cross to Bear with some friends of mine. The tape is about 10 years old now, and it captured a rehearsal of The Taylor Brother's Band from Manchester, Tennessee. Dan and my friend Ken, who was a guitarist in the band, struck up a friendship when Dan lived near Manchester.   Through my association with Ken I got to meet Dan, visit his house, see his gear, and actually play some guitar with him. A nice fellow, and an awesome picker.

Dan Toler playing the refinished Goldtop given to him by Dickie Betts.  Note the off-center seam on the top and black tip cap.
The story of the tape is that Dan showed up at the rehearsal at Ken's house, picked up the lead singer'searly-80's ES-335, and plugged straight into this old blackface Fender Deluxe Reverb.

Note:  This is a really good sounding amp!

Ken said Dan "turned everything up to 11" on the amp, and the band started the song. I had heard this exact 335/Fender rig many times before, and I never thought it really sounded great. However, when Mr. Toler started his soloing, my jaw just dropped. How could it sound that way? How come he is so good?

I listened to that tape again last night, and made a safety copy of the cassette to my DAT machine. I actually listened to it twice, which is rare for me. It is pretty moving.  Click here to download an MP3 of the song -- it is killer!

Based on some analysis, the answer to this question is that Dan Toler is a really good player that could probably make any guitar sound good. When we go see a guitarist we immediately assume the reason he or she sounds so good is based on the guitar and amp or effects combinations. What is really hard to deal with is when you hear Dan Toler literally obliterate a "decent" sounding rig, one which most guitarists wouldn't give a second look.

The next time you hear someone talking trash in a music store about tone, remember this example about Dan Toler. When I listened to the tape, I asked myself: Was it the amp and guitar combination that was responsible for that tone? Was it the cord? What kind of strings was he playing? Had Dan eaten a big meal prior to the session? Did he use finger weights? The answer is that Mr. Toler had the technique, confidence, and maturity not to get "wrapped around the axle" about the guitar's action and tone, nor the amp he was playing through -- he just strapped that 335 on like a grownup and played his butt off.

You see, the fellow that left the post above is going to continue to be disappointed. He probably doesn't realize what pots do, or the effect they have on the guitar. He just wants to sound like Mr. Johnson.

My recommendation to John Doe above is to save your money, keep the Noiseless pickups, and start practicing really, really hard.


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