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Analog guitar distortion

 
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Hmmm. Maybe I should get around to visiting the Gibson guitar factory here in town (Memphis).

I don't know anything about guitars, but I remember a Cheech & Chong movie in which Chong fantasized about what he would do if he hit it really big: "I'd have a house with a Fender in every room!"

Of course, guitar music is passe' now; the new generation is into accordians.
 
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there are many places now where guitars ARE passe - in these places turntables for "turntablists" are outselling guitars
 
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Originally posted by Bert Bates:
there are many places now where guitars ARE passe - in these places turntables for "turntablists" are outselling guitars


That trend is reversing again.

In the mid-90's, after playing and teaching for all those years, I did put away my guitars in favor of 2 Technics 1200 turntables. I was burned out on guitar, and turntablism was really exciting at the time. I never got very good at it, but I had a lot of fun mixing spoken word albums (like a 3-record set about how to fly an airplane) over obscure music.

In most circles, turntablism has now become passe after peaking in the late 90's. The "hip" mags like URB have come full circle to focus on a new breed of "garage bands."
 
marc weber
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DJ Z-Trip: "Scratching. You've seen it. You've heard about it. Let's discuss it."
 
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Originally posted by marc weber:
DJ Z-Trip: "Scratching. You've seen it. You've heard about it. Let's discuss it."



Ok , but first...

It's been interesting reading this thread. I play guitar as a 2nd instrument (my primary is keyboards). I have one of those Japanese strats that I retrofitted with humbuckers a few years ago. The tone is much better to my ears as the original triple single coil setup could get way to tinny for me. The last effects module I got was when I got my Fender Princeton Chorus 2x10 about 15 years ago. It was the Alesis Quadraverb GT, one of the early DSP modules. Going through the amp it sounded ok, but not through a mixer. I've only been in one band playing guitar, and have played keyboards in all the others. The band I'm in now, we sometimes swap instruments for fun, but never on stage.

Back in the mid 80's I was in a cover band playing top 40/funk. We had a few tunes with scratching. One of my boards was the Casio CZ-101, which had an impressive sound engine for the time, but that was about it. I had programmed a patch to sound like a scratch. It actually was pretty impressive, at least enough to fool the audience and was easy for a keyboardist to use. Not quite the real thing, but hey, you asked for it

Since we're turning left on this thread, I'd be interested in discussing keyboard things too. My current rig consists of Kurzweil, Roland and M-Audio gear, and I use Sonar for my DAW.

Aloha and Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian for Merry Christmas!)
Doug
 
Frank Silbermann
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What is amazing to me is that with so many hi-tech electrical guitar options and so many people who are so particular about the sound they get, there is so much music in which the guitar sound is ugly. Equally amazing is that this is actually deliberate, in that there are entire music jaundres built on harsh and unpleasant sounds (e.g. heavy metal).

I mean, one would think that electric guitars would ideally sound just like accoustic guitars -- only louder. (If you want to hold a note, well, that's what violins and wind instruments are for.)


[ December 26, 2007: Message edited by: Frank Silbermann ]
 
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Originally posted by marc weber:
I'm using older Fender Strats through a Mesa Boogie Subway Blues amp, which is all-tube and switchable down to 10 watts with spring reverb. This amp has no gain control -- just a single volume -- so for overdrive, I'm using a Fulltone Fulldrive 2.

What is overdrive in an electric guitar?

Is the rock band name "Bachman-Turner Overdrive" a reference to this feature? I had always assumed that this was just another of the many nonsense phrases so popular among names of rock bands. (For example, humorist Dave Barry once played in an unsuccessful rock band called "The Federal Duck.")

[ December 26, 2007: Message edited by: Frank Silbermann ]
 
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Okay,

Say (hypothetically), that I want to do some digital recording, and further (still hypothetical) I want to capture some of that great "tube amp, sometimes distorted" sound.

What would the most cost-effective route be? Get an actual vintage tube amp (if so, what would be a cost effective amp) and mic it? Or get some synthesized tube amp sounds - if so which ones are good?

At this point, all I have left is an old pig-nose
 
marc weber
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Originally posted by Bert Bates:
... Say (hypothetically), that I want to do some digital recording, and further (still hypothetical) I want to capture some of that great "tube amp, sometimes distorted" sound.

What would the most cost-effective route be? Get an actual vintage tube amp (if so, what would be a cost effective amp) and mic it? Or get some synthesized tube amp sounds - if so which ones are good? ...


This is a tricky question, because it all depends on the abstract sound you're thinking of when you say "that great 'tube amp, sometimes distorted' sound." Also, there are a lot of variables here (pickups, effects, amp, speakers, mic, digital converter, etc.), so I'll just focus on getting that "warm, break-up" sound. To me, the Fulltone Fulldrive pedal handles that perfectly. Using it with a nice tube amp certainly helps, but at around $180, that pedal might be the most cost-effective way to get the sound you want even with a less-than-stellar amp. If you can try a FullDrive at a music store, I think you'll be impressed.

Personally, I don't like digital processing for amp simulation or overdrive/distortion, but maybe I just haven't found the right software. I've heard good things about Guitar Rig. I think there's a free demo mode, but I haven't tried it.

Recording software often has guitar processing included, so depending on how you're recording, you might already have what you need. I think the amp simulators in GarageBand are lame, but I've heard that Logic Express (which is now only $199!) has some really nice options. This is probably what I will get when I upgrade to an Intel Mac.
 
marc weber
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
...one would think that electric guitars would ideally sound just like accoustic guitars -- only louder...


A motorcycle is not a bicycle that's just faster. These are different animals.

If someone wants a loud acoustic sound, it's a simple matter to mount an acoustic pickup.
 
marc weber
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Originally posted by Doug Slattery:
...I have one of those Japanese strats that I retrofitted with humbuckers a few years ago. The tone is much better to my ears as the original triple single coil setup could get way to tinny for me...


Many of the Japanese Fenders have notoriously weak and thin sounding pickups. (I had a Japanese Tele that was a great guitar with crummy electronics. Now I wish I had kept it and installed Lindy Fralins.) I like single-coils because of their definition and attack, but it's critical to have a balanced tone: solid bass and decent midrange without that single-coil treble that's like an ice pick in the ear. Humbuckers do have that nice thick sound (without the hum, obviously), but to me the midrange is usually overpowering, and you lose the clarity and "shimmer." But that's just my personal preference.

Originally posted by Doug Slattery:
...I had programmed a patch to sound like a scratch. It actually was pretty impressive, at least enough to fool the audience and was easy for a keyboardist to use. Not quite the real thing, but hey, you asked for it ...


Interesting. Especially back then, I don't think many audiences knew where a scratching sound came from. I remember hearing simple rubbing on a Ministry single in the early 80's, and I couldn't figure out what was making that sound. And of course, there was Herbie Hancock's "Rockit."
 
marc weber
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
What is amazing to me is that with so many hi-tech electrical guitar options and so many people who are so particular about the sound they get, there is so much music in which the guitar sound is ugly...


It's always kind of funny to read about how obsessed a particular guitarist is about their tone and everything they went through to get the right sound, and then hear the final product and think, "That sounds terrible."

To a lot of guitarists, I think tone is a very abstract ideal. The "sound" in their heads is not as well defined as they think it is. It's like when you get an idea in a dream, and don't realize how vague it actually is until you try to write it down. This is why guitarists keep switching gear, looking for that elusive holy grail of tone. It's pretty much impossible to nail down, because they really don't know what they're looking for. They might say things like, "I want more harmonic overtones" or "I want smoother breakup," but when they get that, it changes some other aspect of the sound, and it's still not right.

On the other hand, sometimes an "ugly" color is just right for the painting.
 
marc weber
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
What is overdrive in an electric guitar?

Is the rock band name "Bachman-Turner Overdrive" a reference to this feature? ...


Good question.

"Overdrive" refers to driving an amplifier to the point at which the waveform is clipped. Imagine a sine wave with the peaks and valleys "cut off" and replaced by flat edges. Originally, amp manufacturers regarded this type of distortion as a Bad Thing, and it could only be achieved by turning the volume up farther than designers intended. When guitar players started using overdrive as a "feature," amp manufacturers modified their circuitry so that the preamp (gain) could be overdriven for clipping, but the power amp could be controlled separately with a "master volume."

Guitar players also use electronic "signal processors" to achieve these sounds. In this context, "overdrive" usually implies soft clipping, and "distortion" implies hard clipping. These are not just different degrees of the same effect -- they use different circuitry for slightly different wave edges. A "fuzz" sound is generally more extreme, transforming the output closer to a square wave. (Some say this was meant to emulate a blown speaker.)

According to Wikipedia, this is not the "overdrive" Randy Bachman had in mind...

...the band changed its name to Bachman-Turner. Shortly afterward, Randy noticed a copy of a trucker's magazine called Overdrive in a roadside restaurant, and the name Bachman-Turner Overdrive was born.

 
Frank Silbermann
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Originally posted by marc weber:

It's always kind of funny to read about how obsessed a particular guitarist is about their tone and everything they went through to get the right sound, and then hear the final product and think, "That sounds terrible."

...

On the other hand, sometimes an "ugly" color is just right for the painting.

It's still facinating. I mean, when artists had to depend on individual patrons to buy their work, ugly colors were used sparingly. It was only upon the rise of museums (which could impose ugliness upon people seeking to purchase cultural respectability through their admission tickets), run by people who didn't actually have to live with the artwork -- that paintings devoted to ugliness became common.

Yet, a huge number of individuals are quite willing to buy music that is ugly through and through. I guess for some people, rhythm is what mainly interests them. (I've actually heard people use the term "rhythm guitar"!!!)

It's as if blind people were buying ugly paintings because they felt nice to touch.
 
Bert Bates
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Well I guess "ugly" is in the eye of the beholder

I think that there were periods of time when Mahler and Shostakovich's music was considered "ugly".

What is true however is that, for most people, completely accurate and clean tones aren't very interesting. Whether it's a violin or a Stratocaster, the human ear tends to be intrigued with the faults that go along with the tones.
 
marc weber
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Thelonious Monk's "Ugly Beauty."
 
marc weber
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
... I've actually heard people use the term "rhythm guitar"!!! ...


That's a very common term. "Rhythm guitar" means the backing or the accompaniment -- the chords or patterns behind a vocalist or soloing instrument. In contrast, "lead guitar" is the fills and solos.
 
marc weber
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
... It was only upon the rise of museums (which could impose ugliness upon people seeking to purchase cultural respectability through their admission tickets), run by people who didn't actually have to live with the artwork -- that paintings devoted to ugliness became common...


Hmmm... I started college as an art major (and ended up with an art minor), and that theory doesn't sound familiar. Maybe I was gone that day.
 
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
Hmmm. Maybe I should get around to visiting the Gibson guitar factory here in town (Memphis).

Of course, guitar music is passe' now; the new generation is into accordians.



Are you serious or just kidding!

Because I have a story about accordions and children learning music.
 
Tony Alicea
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I don't know but when I watch concerts on DVDs and TV now by any artist that has gained my attention, they usually have: Fender tube amps (or Marshall amps depending on the act) and (another of my favorites) an old Hammond organ with Leslie speakers.

Not much has changed in this respect since I was involved in all this in the mid to late 1960s when I was just a teen...
 
Frank Silbermann
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me: Of course, guitar music is passe' now; the new generation is into accordians.

Originally posted by Tony Alicea:


Are you serious or just kidding!

Because I have a story about accordions and children learning music.

Just wishful thinking! I'd like to hear your story.
 
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Originally posted by marc weber:

Good suggestion -- we're obviously on the same page!

A power soak is an intriguing idea, but I'm pretty leery of these because of their high potential for damaging amps

What kind of gear are you using (guitars, amps, effects)?



I know that mines helps Groove Tubes revenue, as it can take the life out of power tubes, but it sure sounds right.

I've got a tweaked mexican Strat and a wonderful Gibson ES335 feeding a recent Fender Hotrod Delux. The the Sholtx and a line6 pod.

I occasionally lust after the flea powered boutique amps.
But I really have to play better to justify one
 
Pat Farrell
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:

I mean, one would think that electric guitars would ideally sound just like accoustic guitars -- only louder.




Oh no! not that. If you want the sound of an acoustic guitar, just louder, put some decent mics on it, and amplify them.

The first thing to realize is that an electric guitar is an instrument with two parts, the wooden log with strings and the amp. The two of them, together, define the sound. Its not supposed to sound like a Martin or Collins.

The sound of a 60s beach song is that of a Strat or Tele though a tube amp with a spring reverb. That is what the sound is, not that of a guitar made louder.

Listen to some Wes Montgomery 'jazz' to hear how an electric guitar and a gently overdriven tube amp can sound. It is not the sound of an acoustic guitar.
 
marc weber
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Originally posted by Pat Farrell:
...I occasionally lust after the flea powered boutique amps. But I really have to play better to justify one


Don't be so practical! The way to rationalize this is to turn it around: If I just had a flea-powered boutique amp, then I would play so much better.
 
marc weber
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Originally posted by Pat Farrell:
... I've got a tweaked mexican Strat and a wonderful Gibson ES335 feeding a recent Fender Hotrod Delux...


I would love a 335 in natural maple, but the action feels so tight to me, I have trouble playing them.

Speaking of ES-335s, great tone, and great playing... Larry Carlton. His solo on Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne" is classic!
 
Frank Silbermann
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Originally posted by Pat Farrell:



Oh no! not that. If you want the sound of an acoustic guitar, just louder, put some decent mics on it, and amplify them.

But if a truly LOUD band tried that (e.g. Spinal Tap), wouldn't there be a danger of feedback?
 
marc weber
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
But if a truly LOUD band tried that (e.g. Spinal Tap), wouldn't there be a danger of feedback?

But feedback is integral to Nigel's solos.

I've only used an amplified acoustic in a live setting once. That had a bridge pickup and wasn't loud (it was for a wedding ceremony). In a LOUD setting, you really need to know what you're doing with an acoustic. (See this page for an overview.)
 
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It might be insightful to consider that today's electric guitar is derived more from an electric lap steel guitar than an acoustic guitar. Solid body ("Hawaiian") steel guitars had been using magnetic pickups since the 1930's, and Fender was making steel guitars and amps in the 40's. The idea was to make a solid-body instrument that played like a "Spanish" guitar, but used magnetic pickups to sound like a steel guitar (without the steel bar). This is a very bright and compressed sound, not at all like an amplified acoustic. And when combined with the "other half" of the instrument -- the amplifier -- this becomes an entirely different species (even without considering all the signal processing options that followed on the heels of "overdrive").
 
Pat Farrell
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
But if a truly LOUD band tried that (e.g. Spinal Tap), wouldn't there be a danger of feedback?



Actually, it depends.

The common wags say that guitarists listen with the backs of their knees.

When the Beatles played Shea Stadium in 64, they had their usual Vox 30 amps. It didn't matter, the girls screaming made the music impossible to hear anyway. As bands got serous about playing in stadiums and giant outdoor theaters, they added ever more 'back line' amps and speakers. The idea was to have it be loud enough in the cheap seats.

What it really did was make all the musicians go deaf.

Nobody does that anymore. Sometimes it looks like they are doing that, but no one seriously does it. You use a guitar amp to make the tone sound right, and then mic the amp, and feed it to speakers out in front of the stage, pointing to the audience. (Plus all the musicians that are not deaf wear hearing protectors).

So if you wanted to take a Martin or Collins and turn it up to 11, you
could have the mic on the stage, in front of the musician and guitar pointing back upstage. Then the amps at the front of the stage take it up to 11 to the audience, with zero feedback.

But, feedback is part of some styles. Jimi Hendrix made it popular

a properly setup audience speaker setup does not feedback.
 
Frank Silbermann
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Originally posted by marc weber:
It might be insightful to consider that today's electric guitar is derived more from an electric lap steel guitar than an acoustic guitar.

Yes, that reminds me of a misconception I had as an eleven year-old. I was reading the back of a Monkees album (yes, I was that nerdy) and it listed the instruments played by each Monkee. Mike Nesmith (son of the inventor of LiquidPaper correction fluid) played, among other instruments, the steel guitar. Peter Tork played lead guitar.

I had always thought that guitars were all made of wood, so I was amazed that guitar bodies might also be constructed out of such metals as steel or lead.
 
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
guitar bodies might also be constructed out of such metals as steel or lead.

 
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There's a local band in St. Louis where the bass player has an aluminum upright bass: photo
 
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
...I had always thought that guitars were all made of wood, so I was amazed that guitar bodies might also be constructed out of such metals as steel or lead.


Yes, the "steel" refers to the steel bar that players slide over the strings instead of depressing them behind a fret. But even a steel guitar is (usually) constructed mostly from wood.

People are always surprised when they hold an electric guitar for the first time. They're heavy! Some of the ash bodies can be exceptionally heavy. (Personally, I like alder.)

There have been some metal bodies on production guitars, usually hollow aluminum. And then, of course, there are the resonator guitars, like National and Dobro, which are often incorrectly called "steel."
[ January 04, 2008: Message edited by: marc weber ]
 
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
Yes, that reminds me of a misconception I had as an eleven year-old. I was reading the back of a Monkees album (yes, I was that nerdy) and it listed the instruments played by each Monkee.



Depends on which album it was. The first couple of Monkee albums were written by Brill Building folks and all instruments were played by professional studio musicians (Glenn Campbell). The Monkees were a purely "made for TV" group. But Nesmith was a real songwriter and musician, and he lead a revolt against the packaging.

Steel Guitars are usually "pedal steel guitars" which are either a Hawaian guitar or a 'dobro'. Dobro is actually a brand name, but everyone calls 'resonator guitars" dobros as generic terms.

Most steel guitars have wooden bodies, some are all steel, steel and fiberglass, etc.
 
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Originally posted by Bert Bates:

Say (hypothetically), that I want to do some digital recording, and further (still hypothetical) I want to capture some of that great "tube amp, sometimes distorted" sound.

What would the most cost-effective route be? Get an actual vintage tube amp (if so, what would be a cost effective amp) and mic it? Or get some synthesized tube amp sounds - if so which ones are good?



I'll assume you are going to use great mics and record at 88.2/24 rather than 44.1/16.

There is a third option (actually area of options). The actual vintage tube amps can cost a lot (say a grand) and they tend to be fairly fragile. caps leak, solder joints fail, etc.

You can buy new tube amps. You can get them for as little as $400 or so, on up to several grand. This is where the 'flea powered boutique' amps that I referred to up thread come in. Fender, Marshal, and other sell mass market tube amps.

The story is that Clapton's Layla was recorded on a Fender Champ, a cheap amp in a little box, typically 3 to 5 watts or so.

The good thing about low power tube amps is that you can get the distortion you want without being too loud.
 
Tony Alicea
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Originally posted by marc weber:
It might be insightful to consider that today's electric guitar is derived more from an electric lap steel guitar than an acoustic guitar. Solid body ("Hawaiian") steel guitars had been using magnetic pickups since the 1930's, and Fender was making steel guitars and amps in the 40's....



Ha! Well put. I wonder, in retrospect, what would the audience reaction had been to Bob Dylan's first electric appearance (Newport Folk Festival, 1965) if someone had explained then the difference between acoustic and electric guitars in such detail, then.

Could not help but think about the event...
 
Frank Silbermann
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Originally posted by Pat Farrell:


Depends on which album it was. The first couple of Monkee albums were written by Brill Building folks and all instruments were played by professional studio musicians (Glenn Campbell). The Monkees were a purely "made for TV" group. But Nesmith was a real songwriter and musician, and he lead a revolt against the packaging.

Wow. The first two albums were some of their best work. I suppose this could be used as an argument by those who claim the Beatles were better.
 
marc weber
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
...I suppose this could be used as an argument by those who claim the Beatles were better.


What? The Beatles better than The Monkees? Who would say such a thing? :roll:
 
Pat Farrell
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Originally posted by Frank Silbermann:
Wow. The first two albums were some of their best work. I suppose this could be used as an argument by those who claim the Beatles were better.



The Brill Building folks wrote great songs. The session musicians that were hired were fabulous. Glenn Campbell in the 60s was as good of a guitarist as Clapton.

Tom Hank's That Thing That You Do is a mediocre movie but has telling insights to the music business of the time. The scene where the session musician instantly plays what the kid thought was a complex rift was priceless. Apparently it was taken from history, Simon and Garfunkle's first hits were recorded without any electric guitars, drums, or other "rock" parts. Paul Simon has written about being on some show, Carson or Sullivan, and going up to tell the guitarist how to play his song. Not knowing that the guys in the studio band was the guy on the record -- Simon was in England or Europe when those tracks were recorded and added to the record.
 
marc weber
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Session artists and the producers who use them... This could be a thread of its own, especially when we need to put "producers" in quotes.

Session artists are monsters (which in musical terms is a Good Thing). I mentioned Larry Carlton earlier in this thread, and his "Kid Charlemagne" solo is worth mentioning again! Marcus Miller on bass, the late Tony Thompson on drums... These guys can play.

More importantly, they can groove.

If you're a producer whose job is to "get it on tape," session musicians can be the answer. But when self-proclaimed "producers" make a practice of putting together entire albums using freelance artists, I think the groove of a working band is usually lost. Not to single anyone out, but I'm thinking of an industry of "pop vocalists" who show up to drop marginal performances over bland, mechanical tracks recorded by musicians they've never even met. It's all canned, with no opportunity to feed off of each other's ideas. That's not production -- that's pure marketing.
 
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