Watch the Sonic Qualities online guitar lesson by Robben Ford from Rhythm Revolution
There are a lot of ways to achieve sounds with the guitar. The guitar is an extremely versatile instrument sonically. There are all kinds of guitars that you can play, from strats to the Les Paul to the Tele, 335 and even this Epiphone for me. Many humbucking pick-ups, it's a whole different sound than a humbucker or a strat pick-up, or a Tele. The guitar is incredibly versatile that way. And amplification - there are many different amplifiers you can use. I myself like to keep things really simple. I think any guitarist should really push himself to be able to get a good sound with one amplifier and one guitar and be able to just play. With nothing else beyond that. No overdrive, no pedals. Reverb is kind of important. There actually is natural reverb. You need some kind of an ambience otherwise the guitar can sound very dry and very flat, so I always want a little bit of reverb. I actually need it, even though for a while I've gone to just a delay because I couldn't find a reverb that worked well with my particular amplifier which is the Overdrive Special. I've finally come around to using a little bit of pedals and I spent a lot of time developing a pedal board - tried out a whole bunch of different pedals, different delays, different tremolos or chorusing effects. Wah wah pedal, boost, bright, switch - a lot of different things and after really working with that for a couple of years I've come right back to just the guitar, amplifier, maybe some reverb, a little delay and occaisionally just a little bit of a boost. Very basic things. I recommend that you ask this of yourself, especially when you're in the formative years and just learning. Beyond that it all comes down to taste and what you're looking for. As a blues player I've found myself using a Fender Telecaster for my blues guitar. I'm fortunate enough to have a 1960 that is a great Telecaster and it has served me so incredibly well. My last record was called "Bringin' It Back Home" and it's basically an old school approach to sound and how we play and I used this guitar because this mini humbucker in the rhythm position just has this woody hollow sound that I was looking for. I was looking for something very particular and I found it on this guitar with this pickup and I wouldn't have had it with the telecaster, close but not exactly what I was looking for. The type of music that you're making can require a certain instrument. The Les Paul has basically been my humbucking pickup guitar of choice for the last several years. It's got that big meaty treble pickup sound, and I would almost never use the rhythm pickup on a Les Paul because they are just too dark for me. The mini humbuckers give me a rhythm pickup that I like the sound of. It's a little more akin to the Telecaster rhythm pickup, it's a little more clear. Also just a little darker and woodier than the Tele can be. These are very basic and classic guitars. I've got the Overdrive Special but in a pinch I can be very happy with a good Super Reverb. I have a very classic sound and a very classic approach. I like the Fender amp sound and these classic guitar sounds. I never really became much of a strat player because it was uncomfortable for me. My hand kept running into the volume control. The telecaster has been by great friend for many years. I'm not a big effects guy, as I've said, but some people have done incredible things with effects such as Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Johnson does wonderful things with delays and reverbs. Mike Landau is just an amazing master. If you don't know who Mike Landau is you should really find out because this guy does so much with the sonic possibilities of the guitar, it's amazing. Of course, Jeff Beck as well, but just the way he plays and the way he uses slide and bending and things like that. It's not so much effects, he just really knows what to do with a guitar. I would recommend that you really try to establish yourself with just a guitar and an amplifier. Make sure that you're doing something with those two things that is already substantial before you start investigating what you can do with pedals and effects. As a rhythm player how do you fit into the mix of a group of musicians playing together? There are a variety of ways of doing that of course, which is pretty much dictated by whatever is going on around you. I've been on my own as an instrumentalist, a solo career, for many years now but in the past I played with some pretty great artists. When I would go out there to play, if I could hear myself better than I could hear everybody else then I was too loud. I literally would hear myself a little less than the other instruments on the bandstand. It can't be all about you and what you are doing. It has to be an integrated situation. You have to give up a little bit of your ego. That was a great lesson to not be so attached to making sure I'm being heard. Instead it's like what's going on with these people, what can I do to enhance what's already going down there? That could be playing very little, generally it's a temperate approach to whatever you are going to play. There are times when you want to step out and you can step out and inspire the people around you. The guitar has so many ways it can integrate into a situation, it's wonderful that way. I think that other instrumentalists could actually take that same approach. Piano players have ten fingers, they have eighty-eight keys, they have a lot they can do. When you're talking about rhythmic music, again rhythm is the key word here. So a rhythm section - it's about rhythm. So paring things down to a minimum is a good place to start. Then where things need to be filled in, you can tell, there's kind of a hole in that area of the sonic spectrum, right in the middle or in the lower mids. If no one's playing high, I'll play high. If no one's playing low, I'll play low. If no one's playing in the middle, I'll play in the middle. If somebody's playing loud, I'll play softer. If somebody is playing softly, I'll wait for a point that I can play something that will jump out a little bit. It doesn't get in the way of what that person is doing. When there is a space for it I will just jump in with a little riff or a chord, then wait and listen to hear what else this person is going to play. So you separate yourself from everything else that's going on, but really you are integrating yourself into the situation and you are adding to the situation. So it's very important for you to be listening to what's going on around you. I have sat down with students having them play a little bit to see what's going on with them. The guy's amplifier will be pointed right at me and all I can hear is his amplifier, I can't hear myself at all and he doesn't even notice it. We are supposed to be playing together, it's not just you playing at me. You have to really appreciate that it's a sharing situation, we're here for each other and can you hear me well enough to even have an idea what I'm doing. Listening is number one and joining in the situation with a good attitude is important too.