My preferred electric guitar sound

While most of my electric gigs lately have been straight jazz dates I have been looking forward to testing a more energized approach to my sound. In other words, distortion.

In large concert settings I have used overdrive in certain pieces, mostly ‘blowing’ tunes where the improvisation goes ‘all the way’. In small restaurant settings or with Howard Miller’s group distortion isn’t appropriate — and that’s fine. There is a time and setting where the traditional jazz guitar sound is fitting and inspiring. Just to set the record straight: my jazz sound is not the woofy, dark, un-trebled sound a lot of players use. To roll off the tone until I lose the texture and dynamic of my picking is not what I’m after — it’s unusable as far as I’m concerned.

I go for a full-bodied sound, not overwhelming in the bass, but with mid-warmth and treble bite. Wes Montgomery had a round, punchy sound which benefited from his playing with the fleshy part of his thumb. Grant Green (Sr.) had a great sound, round and full without any frequency over- or under-emphasized.

The guitar of choice is my mid-70s Hagstrom Viking with John Pearse round-wound electric strings (.011) going through the Lab L3. Controls are somewhere around 9 o’clock for the bass, Noon for the mid and 1 o’clock for the treble. No bright switch. The master / channel volume settings make the real difference. The clean setting has them equal, set to the level needed for the gig. Today, however, I dimed the channel and increased the master to level. I am rewarded with a nice bluesy break-up with all the warmth and character I get for clean jazz and enough raw bite to be interesting. The final step is my $24 Arion Tubulator — a Tube Screamer clone, I set it for some drive and give the volume a boost to push the L3. Beautiful overdriven character with presence and dynamics and a taste of the hollow-body. No mushy low end or buzzy high notes. This is the sound I’ve had in mind for some time….

It worked great for Afro Blue this afternoon. I performed at a Buddhist World Peace event along with the Millenium Drummers percussion group (6 members), steel pans and a harmonica. (We nailed it without a bass.) I’m not sure if Mongo Santamaria had this instrumentation in mind when he composed this, or if Coltrane envisioned someone would take his fantastic interpretation in this direction but it worked great. This was my first time with steel pans and I’d like to explore this a bit more, maybe with acoustic in some settings.

Now, back to nylon strings…..

Matt's Hagstrom Viking

My mid-70s all-stock, all-original Viking.

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