RE: tone

All the recent posts regarding tone got me to thinking that often 
times what we perceive to be "good" (or "bad") tone isn't even 
determined by the actual player...  To wit:

When Little Walter made all those fabulous early records for Checker 
(ie c. 1952,) he would've been recording at Universal in Chicago. 
Although using an amp, in those days amplifiers simply amplified -- 
that is they had no effects like reverb, echo or tremolo.  Walter 
would've been presumably playing his harp as usual (and nobody used 
earphones in those days,) while Bill Putnam would've been on the 
other side of the glass adding plate reverb and/or echo, etc. 
Probably the first time Walter would've even heard his 'tone' 
would've been upon playback.

Of course LW had fabulous tone, with or without effects, amplified or 
acoustic... but there was no real discernable "Little Walter tone" -- 
he sounded different at virtually every recording session.  Always 
great -- but *different* great.

To go back even further, in the pre WWII days, before the advent of 
amps and/or effects, one can jump to the wrong conclusion about a 
player's tone for the opposite reason -- ie it's easy to 
underestimate the 'tone' of many prewar acoustic players, due to the 
lousy recording conditions.  In the mid-20's, records were still made 
with megaphones, not mics. How many of us would like to be remembered 
for the tone we were capable of generating under those kinds of 

Granted, both Little and Big Walter had fabulous tone virually all 
the time, no matter what they used... but the rest of us mere mortals 
need all the help we can get! :)

I can't count the number of recording sessions I have personally done 
in which I came in, laid down my part, left, then 6 months later 
heard the CD only to discover the tone was terrible due to the 
addition of chorus or some other garbage...  Or tinny due to 
somebody's bad EQ decisions.  Or ridiculously wet due to too much 
digital delay.  Or or or or...

I guess what I'm getting at is that the "tone" we are discussing is 
all-too-often a result of the addition/subtraction of other musical 
information via electronics, and/or determined by recording 
conditions.  The wrong recording mic can make an acoustic harp sound 
tinny and awful - especially a high harp.  And for electric players, 
if you're blowing through a pre-CBS 4x10 Bassman and a Fender tube 
outboard Reverb unit with a vintage crystal JT-30, doesn't it stand 
to reason the resultant sound would be better than if you're using a 
Solid State Framus with digital delay and a Sears condenser mic?

And all this is without even getting into the inalienable fact that 
when it comes to tone, one man's ceiling is another man's floor... 

Anyhow... just a few random thoughts... :)

cheers to all,

Tom Ball
Santa Barbara CA


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