From Chris in Nottingham, England
Do you have opinions on which areas of a guitar influence the tone & sustain most: body/neck/fretboard wood-type, neck joint type, pick-ups, bridge/saddle design, nut, anything else? What influenced your choices for your Ernie Ball Music Man signature models?
This is a great question. From my own experience, I can answer some of it. I tend to have an analytical approach to sound changes on guitars. Right off the bat, the fact that every one is different due to the density of the wood comes into play. It's difficult to do a true A/B comparison of each change. To help me get a reference point, I often will record the guitar, then make a change, record that, then listen to the two recordings. Even with that kind of approach, there are subjective elements that are difficult to describe, and more difficult to reproduce reliably.
First for me is the pickups, then the bridge, then the density of the wood body. Neck and fretboard don't change the sound much on a solid body electric to my ears. My old frankenstein telecaster had a tune-omatic bridge with nylon bridge wedges instead of metal. When I changed it for a metal one, it was such a drastic tone difference that I immediately switched back. Likewise, when I don't need a whammy bar for a song, I will gladly change back to a hardtail bridge, simply because they sound better to my ears. The whammy bridges that I have are high quality and have plenty of sustain which will get a currently familiar sound with no problem, but they do not have the lively, reactive feel of the simple bridges I prefer. By the way, I attribute some of that effect simply to the shape of the fulcrum point on some bridges with curved saddles instead of sharper wedges, but mostly to the mass and resonance of the bridge itself.
Pickups are very important, in the same way that the preamp settings on your amplifier are important. They are basic tone coloration, especially the position of the pickups. On my guitar, the neck position pickup needed to be exactly where it is, which meant limiting the number of frets, which was a compromise in favor of tone and roundness over having frets 23 and 24 on the fretboard. Setting the distance of the pickups from the strings is very important, too. On almost every signature Musicman that I have signed or played, I would bring down the single coil pickups farther from the strings, almost to the pickguard. It doesn't look symmetrical to the eyes, but it works for me. Keep the humbuckings closer to the strings. The reason is that single coil pickup(s) work best with the guitar volume on 3 or 4, when their naturally brighter sound makes up for the loss of square wave harmonic (apparent) high end when you turn down the guitar to clean it up. Also the farther from the strings they are, the less likely they are to overload the input of the amp.......which is how I can get clean sounds from the amp without having to switch channels on the amp.
I've never been able to make a scientific comparison of through-the-body neck design versus bolt on, but I have switched necks back and forth. While one neck may sound different with different frets, or even the slight differences in the height or angle of the nut affect open chords, the sound will be virtually the same. Adding a great deal more mass seems like it could affect it, of course. Once I had some experimental frets with very large radius which did, in fact, change the sound and sustain, but on a very mechanical level. Same for frets which are not broken in, or polished very smooth, they will mechanically interfere with the string holding sustain. Instinct tells me that the wood type of the neck would change the sound, but I have never experienced it in a true scientific, A/B test.
From Daniel in Texas, USA
Do you have any pre-show rituals or warm-ups that you like to do?
Yes, I like to warm up for at least 45 minutes before, (in addition to actually practicing early in the day) preferrably with a metronome. In real life, however, there are constant interruptions, so that has to be partially done in the hotel room beforehand. Then, some simple warmups of any type right before going onstage is sufficient. Sometimes, especially with the Dregs or SMB, we would travel all day, then not have time to warm up before the gig, and the half hour before going on stage is spent with Dave and I frantically trying to get our fingers up to speed, running scales and difficult parts constantly. I much prefer having the bulk of the daily busy work type of practice done before I get to the gig, so I can relax and not worry about the distractions and interruptions that will surely happen.
From Thomas in Belgium
What is the last CD that you bought?
I think it might have been Megadeth, for my son, Kevin, who has been playing for a few years now, and has a very nice appetite for any kind of intense guitar playing.
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