Sunday, December 26, 2010

On Music, Modern and Otherwise

Now, I've never been one who pedestaled "youth". Indeed, I sounded like a grumpy old man as a teenager. And the truth is that I like modern pop music. Lady Gaga is amusing. And I like that song Bulletproof by La Roux.
And I certainly don't mind doing covers of classic songs (I actually released a 12" EP with a cover of Cream's Sunshine of Your Love with a "band" called Plaid Cow.)

But when you're a hard rockin' outfit like Type O Negative you'd thing you'd do something other than making a kind of meh cover of Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl. Wouldn't you?
Now this is actually a lesson I have to keep learning. There are, for instance, things which are fun to play (like high-gain preamp distortion) that actually don't sound that good. They feel good. They don't sound good.
When mixing, the same thing happens when you add too much compression. You feel like it's better. But it's not. It's just louder. And although you think louder is better (everyone thinks louder is better, it's virtually a principal of psychoacoustics) it ain't necessarily so.
And it takes discipline to play a guitar which isn't screaming on every note. A guitar which actually rings and then dies out. You know, like a natural instrument.
I've been playing both my amps at a variety of volumes. I have cranked up my JTM-45 clone, the Celtic Amps Edana that is, to 11. And it turns out that just too much. I know because I've listened to recordings where I've "dimed" the amp (the controls only go up to 10, the "11" thing is just a Spinal Tap joke) and it actually over-saturates. It's awfully fun to play. But it's too much.
At about 4 on the dial the guitar sound will rock your vole. If you play some power chords hard with a Les Paul, the growl you get is like no other sound you can imitate with other gear. And if you pick lightly, there's this amazing sheen in the sound.
Neil Young actually uses a relatively clean sound here. I mean "relative" to a modern rock high-gain sound. The guitars certainly break up. But the dynamics and the incredible one-note solo are the point.
But with the tools available to the modern guitar player and mixer, it's awfully tempting to go a lot further than this sound, even if you don't really need it.
And instead of linking to either version of Cinnamon Girl, here is Down by the River instead.
Neil famously uses a Fender Deluxe. The amp I play in tandem with my Edana is a Lil' Dawg Mutt, which is a Deluxe front-end with a Champ power section. It's a remarkably loud little 6-watt amplifier.

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