Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why I'll Never Be A Great Jazz Guitarist

I have been staring intently at jazz guitar players for years.  I have seen them live, on video, on YouTube, and at guitar shows.  Aside from technique and years of experience, not to mention an ear for jazz, what do these guys have that I don't?

It's not like rock guitar, where the criteria are different.  In rock (and by extension, blues), it's all about the Guitar Faces.  Not the equipment, years of practice, or even a great groove - it's totally about the faces.  This was explained to me by an incredible but slightly odd electronic technician once and it took quite a while to get it.  My wife, on the other hand, got it right away - it's the faces, stupid!

If you don't believe me, check out Robin Trower, arguably the greatest living guitarist by faces alone.  Bonus for guitarists: dig the CBS Strat, the Marshalls, and the definitive use of the Univibe.

So today I came upon a random link and It finally hit me: jazz was going to be different than rock and roll.  It would not involve guitar faces at all.

The secret to jazz playing is entirely in the knobs.  It took way too long to put this together but I finally nailed it.  Watch any jazz guitarist and the first thing you notice is almost obsessive tweakage of the volume knob.  They might only move it 1/100th of a turn, but they allegedly hear something.... something that makes them play a bit, then go back to adjust the volume some more.

The audience never actually hears the effect of the volume knob but because this is jazz, trusts the player's instinct and takes on faith the aural effects thereof.

Back when I was doing sound and recording, someone asked me to turn down the SUCK knob.  We didn't actually have a suck knob but this birthed a tremendous idea: psychoacoustics.  Before you get your brain cells in a knot, this is not the psychoacoustics of the past twenty years or so, which deals with the perception of sound.

Or maybe it is - wtf do I know?  I would designate one knob as the psychoacoustic knob.  It did absolutely nothing and was connected to nothing. When a particularly picky band member would have me making minute adjustments to his instrument or headphone mix ad nauseum, I'd get aggravated and tweak the Psychoacoustic Knob, then smile and ask him didn't that sound better now.   The answer, in one hundred percent of cases, was yes.


Nothing.  We learn nothing of value from this blog.  Ever.

That aside, we learned that the key to rock guitar is Guitar Faces.
We learned that the key to jazz guitar is Volume Knob Adjustment.
And we learned that no matter how bad they sound, you can't turn down the Suck Knob.

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