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Tone-Quester Fail.
June 18, 2010 8:35 AM   Subscribe

"Tone-Quester" is generally a musician (more than likely a guitarist) who purchases/modifies amps/pedals/cabinets in search of a certain sound. They fiercely pride themselves on being able to distinquish the differences between pickups, tube amps vs. transistor amps. With this in mind, Wolfe McCloud, a pickup designer, decided to challenge My Les Paul forum members.

Lynyrd Skynyrd. Simple Man.
We all know the song. We all (I hope) love the song.
The following track is is the guitar parts only for Simple Man. Two guitar parts.
Your challenge is to identify the tone...out of context! How close is it to the original?
Is it perfect? Close? Or not even close to the original song?
Better yet... identify what kind of guitars were used. New? Vintage? PAF? Not PAF?
Let's see how good you are

Simple Man


After many guesses at the equipment used, the results may surprise you.
[spoiler link]
posted by KevinSkomsvold (34 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Tone-Quester. Why didn't they mention that on career day?

This reminds me of a wine tasting I read about, where all the wines were the same, but had been opened at different times.

Also reminds me of the time I tried to impress my nephew by having him put any two colors of Skittles in my mouth, and I would chew them together, and identify both flavors. He stumped me by giving me two of the same flavor.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:46 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was right (Though to be honest, I was pretty certain about the answer before even hearing the original tune in the thread)! Yay me!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:55 AM on June 18, 2010


Heh I came to the final conclusion after about 2/3 the way through the first sample he placed and was pretty sure by the time organ was added. Neat though.
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:55 AM on June 18, 2010


Maybe they were missing the $400 wooden knob. I often forget the wooden knob.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:55 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


After many guesses at the equipment used, the results may surprise you.

Ha, that's pretty good. Nice exercise for sure.
posted by jquinby at 8:55 AM on June 18, 2010


Guitar, taken out of context, as with the first example, will never sound quite right. Even if it's the original parts.
Bury it in the mix, and it starts to sound a little closer. As layers upon layers are added, things get closer.


Reminds me of how the color surrounding another color will actually change the aforementioned color.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 9:00 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm just skimming the page too fast, but did he, in addition to the "big reveal" explain what gear was used, including guitars, pickups, amps, preamps, other outboard gear, console, tape, etc? Because I would be very interested to know that information. Not because I think that a sound can be replicated in that way, of course. Just because I like to geek out about that sort of thing.
posted by The World Famous at 9:09 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Semi-related: I've always wondered how Weird Al gets his parodies to sound right. No, wait, I'm serious. I saw Weird Al talk at SF Sketchfest, and I was somehow so flummoxed by some of the other attendee's questions that I didn't remember to ask my own: "What's the process you use to try and get the sound of the music so right in your parodies?"

Sometimes the parodies are enough that they just seem like what a standard cover band might do, but other times, it's all so close that I wonder if Weird Al and the band have actually brought in the session musicians and engineers from the originals. Do they get the original instrument and effects lists from the original producer? Do they hope for the best and just keep tweaking? Do they actually buy new instruments or effects to do certain parodies? Do they actually hire the same players? Do they get multi-track tapes to compare with?

Anyone who's seen a band which relies heavily on synth lines knows how different things can sound with the same gear, and the difficulty that musicians with modern gear and outboard effects can have getting certain things to just *sound* the same, even with the same hardware and settings, on a new mixing board. And it's just mysterious to me how Al and his band get it so right so often.
posted by eschatfische at 9:10 AM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe I'm crazy but pretty much every reply said it sounded just like the original.
posted by empath at 9:11 AM on June 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


(Start of the second paragraph was supposed to be "Sometimes the parodies are off enough")
posted by eschatfische at 9:12 AM on June 18, 2010


I noticed this effect when I heard the un-mixing of Bohemian Rhapsody a couple months ago. There was one track in particular which, solo, was terrible --- I thought it couldn't possibly be in the final recording. But it was, and listening for it as the other layers built up, the flaw actually added some color to the final product.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:14 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Btw, any electronic dance music forum is filled with posts of people trying to get their synths to sound just like other songs. Unlike audiophile stuff, there is actually a science to tone and timbre. Particular instruments, effects etc have easily identifiable effects on the waveform. This is not subjective.

Now granted, it would be difficult to reconstruct a chain of processes from a final audio track to get the original inputs, but if you have a completed sound it is very possible to match it if you know how audio engineering works, even if you don't use the exact same things to do it.
posted by empath at 9:14 AM on June 18, 2010


And yes, mixing other instruments in does effect the final sound. This is due to obvious things such as wave interference, harmonies, beating and so on. I don't think what this guy did is anything special at all, this is music theory 101.
posted by empath at 9:16 AM on June 18, 2010


Tone-Quester. Why didn't they mention that on career day?

Why didn't my parents consider naming me Wolfe McCloud?
posted by Iridic at 9:17 AM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I guessed that he used the original before clicking through. His use of leading questions like "How close is it to the original?" makes it seem pretty obvious to me.
posted by gilrain at 9:22 AM on June 18, 2010


I noticed this effect when I heard the un-mixing of Bohemian Rhapsody a couple months ago. There was one track in particular which, solo, was terrible --- I thought it couldn't possibly be in the final recording. But it was, and listening for it as the other layers built up, the flaw actually added some color to the final product.
posted by fantabulous timewaster


I remember that solo as well. Brian May is one of my heroes but it sounded like ass. As did the rhythm guitar. Loading all the tracks to BR and futzing with them minimally made it sound glorious. Just goes to the show that the sum is greater than the parts.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:33 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


They fiercely pride themselves on being able to distinquish the differences between pickups, tube amps vs. transistor amps.

I'm skeptical that people can do this, but I'm 100% confident that someone can listen to a sound and say "if you use x, y and z, then you should get a sound which is very similar to this."

I mean, I'm no record producer, but I can hear a song and say, okay, this sounds like a detuned, chorused saw wave that's been run through a bit-crusher and reverbed. I couldn't tell you which synths and plugins specifically to use, but I could tell you which plugins and settings COULD make that sound.

I don't see why a guitar guy couldn't manage similar with the amps, etc that he's familiar with.
posted by empath at 9:43 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Empath - I think with DSP pedals it's much easier. I'm somewhat of a tone-quester too but gave up trying to nail sounds because it required a god-awful number of pedals in the chain. With a DSP (I use a Digitech RP350), it's all there. Pretty amazing and pretty close to nailing most any famous tone out there.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:51 AM on June 18, 2010


Here's something a bit similar: adding a classic Henri Cartier-Bresson photo to the "DeleteMe" pool on Flickr.
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:59 AM on June 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm skeptical that people can do this
Guessing the type of guitar usually isn't that difficult, among the popular electic guitars. Strats, Teles, Jazzmasters, Jaguars, Les Pauls, etc all have an extremely distinct sound.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:59 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I used to work as a recording engineer making Karaoke backing tracks. We had an absurdly high budget so we'd get in top NY session players to imitate the originals. The session players could all do this pretty easily- it's just part of their job. I'd do the mix on a huge Neive console and it was sometimes hard to tell the Karaoke from the original (apart from vocals of course).
posted by bhnyc at 10:05 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Neive = Neve)
posted by bhnyc at 10:06 AM on June 18, 2010


Also reminds me of the time I tried to impress my nephew by having him put any two colors of Skittles in my mouth, and I would chew them together, and identify both flavors. He stumped me by giving me two of the same flavor.

It's like arguing on the internet: even if you win, you just ate two Skittles.
posted by fleetmouse at 10:11 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or...even if you lose, you're still getting free Skittles!
(Skittles bag is half-empty, Skittles bag is half-full...)
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:49 AM on June 18, 2010


It's always interesting to read how certain artists (and producers) get their signature sounds. Tape Op magazine has a lot of interviews and articles along these lines. But people sure do get overly obsessive about "authenticity" and sounding Just Like somebody or other... Bluegrass banjo players will go to insane lengths in order to try and make their banjo sound Just Like Earl Scruggs' pre-war Gibson. Rims made from sunken timber! Cryogenically-frozen tone rings! Arguing about whether a certain 16th note should be played with the index finger or the middle finger!

It's like anything, really - it's easier to dump a bunch of time and money into finding that elusive next instrument/lens/tool/synth that will somehow magically unlock all of your potential than it is to just practice, practice, practice. I'm definitely guilty of this myself.
posted by usonian at 12:23 PM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


i thought it sounded a lot like the original - but i really don't think that it's possible to get a real handle on recorded tone without the realization that what the engineer does as he's recording and how it's processed and mixed has just as much to do with it as the guitar, fx and amp - of course it sounds different - they put a bit of reverb on the straight parts to spread them out over the "soundstage" and added some compression to the distorted bits

i have a friend who records local rock bands and they have a hard time understanding that what they do live might sound great in a bar, but it's not going to work in a recording studio - they set up, loud as hell, in a boxy little room and then my friend gets to figure out how to get them to turn down enough so he can record them properly - it's a real struggle and he doesn't often get the sound he really wants from them because they don't get it

he has another friend who's worked for nin, among others, and has his own home studio around here - my friend asked him if he could bring over bands to record on his superior equipment and his answer was - "i am SO sick of rock bands"

and that's kind of the impression i get of a lot of people on guitar forums - they're obsessed with tone and what to use to get it, but they don't consider the context they're putting that tone into or how it's going to work when they're in a studio and what's going to happen to it there

of course, you get up to the level of professionals like lynyrd skynyrd or karoke recording sessions, i'm sure they do understand that - but local type bands often don't
posted by pyramid termite at 12:27 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sometimes the parodies are enough that they just seem like what a standard cover band might do, but other times, it's all so close that I wonder if Weird Al and the band have actually brought in the session musicians and engineers from the originals.

I don't know how often that happens, but as I recall Mark Knopfler's condition for Al's "Beverly Hillbillies" was that he get to play the guitar part himself.

But really, there's a lot to be said for being competent, having a good ear and versatile gear, and just getting close enough. A good session player can pick up a typical part and put it back out close enough to note perfect pretty quickly, which is why they get work, and you don't have to recreate a chain perfectly to get it sound enough like the original for most work. Two or three electrics, a couple of amps, and even just a POD or other similar effects unit will cover a tremendous amount of ground on guitars, for example.
posted by cortex at 12:28 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


One thing I've learned from building guitar pedals is how convinced some people are that little things that don't make a difference in sound make a difference in sound (on the pedal building boards, this is sometimes referred to as "mojo"). Apparently the sticker on a pedal enclosure can change its sound.
posted by drezdn at 12:47 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm 100% confident that someone can listen to a sound and say "if you use x, y and z, then you should get a sound which is very similar to this."

Electro-Harmonix's website features a periodic blog from a guy named Bill Ruppert who does this, explaining how to create random sounds using guitar effects. Obviously his goal is to sell EHX equipment, but it's a very cool blog. I particularly recommend Volume 4: Hammond B-3 Organ. (It gets dead-on at 0:47.)
posted by cribcage at 12:48 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


This says all I want to say about effects.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:09 PM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I mean you can say that if you want, but there are good reasons for a lot of them -- mostly to do with mixing down songs. For example, delays can 'fatten' a guitar sound and make it take up more of the mix, flangers add some movement to repetitive parts and so on.
posted by empath at 3:37 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


The funny thing about Mark Knopfler playing on the Weird Al song is that Mark reportedly stole that sound from Billy Gibbons. Gibbons said that Knopfler called him to ask how to recreate the ZZ Top sound for Money For Nothing. When Gibbons wouldn't share, Mark reportedly bribed the music store that Gibbons frequented to find out what equipment he had purchased and copied the sound based on that. At least that's the story as I remember it. So I guess Mark is/was a tone-head.
posted by irisclara at 6:43 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


That story sounds apocryphal to me. According to Wikipedia, Knopfler asked Gibbons about the tone and Gibbons didn't tell him anything. But figuring out that it's just Clapton's "Woman Tone" (Les Paul or SG with tone knob down and Crybaby engaged at about 1/3 pedal) with a lot of extra gain couldn't have taken more than about 10 minutes.
posted by The World Famous at 6:57 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


That story sounds apocryphal to me.

me, too - billy gibbons picks with a coin, mark knopfler fingerpicks - i do both and you CAN'T get one sound by doing the other

he's somewhat close, but he'd have nailed it if he'd put a coin in his hand

gear's not everything
posted by pyramid termite at 10:08 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


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