The medium is the message.
This means that the way something is presented has an enormous impact on how it is perceived. The way something is delivered is often more powerful than the content itself.
Imagine me telling you that I really like you, but instead of saying it kindly I’m screaming it at you, my face beet red with veins popping out of my forehead and one eye twitching. What’s coming across more powerfully…the delivery method, or the content?
Think about this concept in relation to guitar sounds. The sound that a player uses will telegraph all kinds of things about his musical intentions. I would posit that our brains identify the quality of the sound faster than we can interpret the musical content.
“This is twangy…she’s going to play something country infused.”
“This is dark and woody…he’s going to jazz really hard right now.”
“This is loud and sounds like a million bees with tiny chainsaws…”
You get the picture.
Great players understand this concept and use it to their advantage. They don’t just play the guitar, they play the sound, with intention. Some develop such mastery of the sound that it becomes inseparable from the musical content. Check out Adrian Belew’s solo from this live Talking Heads show. It kicks in at around 3:52.
What he's playing would be impossible without the sound. Imagine him trying to execute this on a Gretsch Country Gentleman plugged into a Fender Twin.
What about this live clip of Buddy Miller. What is his sound telegraphing about the feeling of this song?
What about this clip of Fredrik Thordendal and Morgan Ågren? What he's playing wouldn't mean the same thing if he were doing it with Buddy Miller's sound...
We could go on and on. I guarantee you all of these players have put a lot of time and thought into how they get these sounds AND how they use them. They had a vision and they pursued it.
Be intentional with your sound. The next time you sit down to play guitar, take a moment to really envision what kind of feeling you want to create. Imagine the sound that most powerfully communicates that feeling. Try to visualize yourself making the sound, and then give it a shot. How did it go?
What worked? What didn't? What is holding you back? Something in your gear? Your hands? Your head? How can you change it, overcome it, or flip the script and turn it to your advantage? Bit by bit, you will find your way into the sound that expresses what you want to say.
It's important because...the medium is the message.
Thanks for reading,