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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Make a Great Sound on the Guitar

Carlos interviewed on Radio Nuevo Leon Monterrey, Mexico, 2009

Nail it down now by separating fact from fiction!

Lots has been written about this by lots of distinguished guitar players and pedagogues. Some comments are excellent and I agree with them, but others I have found absurd and confused. So here is a checklist which in my humble opinion separates fact from fiction, and divides clear thinking from the wishful variety.

You need a good guitar to make a great sound.
True or false?

A player with good tone can make a rough guitar sound good and deceive a listener into thinking it is a really good instrument. A player with poor tone will make a good instrument sound OK, but not great.

Verdict: true and false.

You need good nails to make a great sound.
True or false?

This statement assumes that you need play the guitar with nails. Until the 20th century this was not the case. Almost all early guitarists and lutenists played without nails. Since nail-playing has become standard, fretting and worrying about broken and chipped nails has become part and parcel of many a guitarist’s make up. And talking of make up, false nails can sound as good and often a lot better than real nails. I have not been able to tell them apart on various occasions. The only downside is the time they take to fix on and the lurking danger of them flying off into the front row of an unsuspecting audience.

Verdict: false.

You need good strings to make a great sound.
True or false?

There are few more dispiriting things about playing the guitar than playing on dead strings. No matter the quality of your guitar, good or indifferent, a new string adds life and intensity to the sound. A new string hums and sings with you as you give it vibrato, and what’s more it plays in tune (or should do) unlike dead strings which are hopeless above the 5th fret.

Verdict: true.

Good tone will develop naturally the more you practise and as you become more experienced.
True or false?

This assumes that players listen to their tone at all times and develop the skills necessary to refine it just as they do with technique. It would appear reasonable to make this assumption since we all hope for a player’s development to be consistent. It has been confounded in my experience by observation and listening. Players can become completely immersed in developing acrobatic guitar-playing techniques and one of the first casualties is good tone.

Verdict: false.

The secret to good tone lies in the correct right hand position.
True or false?

Try a simple experiment: play the strings with the worst hand position you can imagine while at the same time trying to make a pleasing sound. I hope you will be surprised that it can be done, provided you do not play loudly. The explanation is simple: the key to good tone lies in the subtle relationship between nail, fingertip and string and this is only partly affected by the hand position. Everything changes though when you try to project the sound fully. This is when hand position becomes crucial.

Verdict: true and false.

Free-stroke technique can produce as great a sound as rest-stroke.
True or false?

Now we are going into a controversial area but I find no problem to answer the question with certainty. The free-stroke can never have the complete roundness and firmness of the rest-stroke although you should aim to attain that sound. To banish rest-stroke from playing is to diminish the range and depth of tone at your disposal.

Verdict: false.

Sunmary: I hope this article serves as an introduction to this important area and gives you the confidence to proceed with confidence to play with great tone. What matters more than received wisdom about fingertips or nails or technique is listening to your playing and experimenting with small changes to how you play. This may be obvious but needs to be said out loud as I have tried to do here.

This has been my rough guide to making a great sound on the guitar.

10th March 2013, London

For a complete index to my blogs click here

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=2269 .
© 2019.

1 Comment   »

  • Steve Higgs says:

    Great blog Carlos. As you say, the notion that a good sound will naturally develop is unlikely, as technique/habit is much more difficult to 'unlearn' than to learn from scratch (not a good choice of word for talking about sound quality). Really enjoying the hints and tips. Regards. Steve

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