A couple years ago, Paul Gilbert was favoring semi-hollow guitars. You could attribute that to him being an at-times weird dude, but turns out that’s not (entirely) why he made the change to those guitars, albeit since reversed. So why did he like semi-hollows?
In a word, tone. That’s what Paul said in a Guitar Player interview – not real sure when it ran (assume June 2009, judging from the link) because GP recycles a lot of its interviews. Below are the interesting tonal-rific portions of the interview. My notes/questions in brackets.
GP: Your sound has cleaned up over the years, with more string detail and less gain, and Get Out of My Yard really illustrates that evolution.
Paul: What I love about distortion is that it increases the sustain and resonance [really?] of your guitar. But if you use too much, you lose the pick attack and your sound is mushy. And the main appeal of fast picking is the percussive, popsicle-stick-in the-spokes, kind of sound.
So to that end, I’ve been using semi-hollow guitars—with my current favorites being a ’79 semi-hollow Ibanez Artist 2630 that I got off of eBay, and a new Ibanez AS103NT—because they sustain and resonate more than a solidbody, which allows me to back off the distortion on the amp without losing the big rock feel.
I plugged those guitars into the amp I’ve been using for 10 years, a Laney GH 100L, for Get Out of My Yard. For effects, I mainly used a lot of MXR Phase 90 and an Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress for some flanging.
I have no standing to disagree with Paul about anything, but have to wonder why simply turning the amp up – to get that “big rock feel” and sustain – wasn’t an option. Paul does has hearing damage, which is why he wears over-the-ear phones, but the music as a whole is still loud.
Or maybe he needed to change amps – he now uses Marshall Vintage-Moderns, which to my ears (can) sound better/woodier than the Laneys.
Or maybe his hollow-body tonal epiphany was misattributed. After all, his older signature guitars were solid-bodies made of basswood (cough*crap*cough) with DiMarzio PAF Pro pickups.
I know some of you will disagree with me about basswood and I know EVH made it sound great, but IMO it’s a dead wood. Some of you may also like that pickup, and if so, great. I’ve never tried one, but the following un-woody description of it won’t get me to:
The PAF Pro [Alnico 5 magnet] was created when chops-intensive playing was first starting to happen, and high-gain amps and rack systems were getting popular. A pickup was needed that combined a lot of presence and cut with an open-sounding PAF vibe. The transparency of its sound lets the PAF Pro slice through heavy processing, where darker-sounding pickups get lost in the mud of the effects chain. Low notes have both snap and chunk, and there is a spike in the mid-range that gives the pickup a subtle aw vowel sound, like a wah-wah pedal stopped in the middle. Treble response is tweaked, so high notes stand out without getting brittle.
So call me nuts, but I think that in the older hollow-bodies with vintage pickups Paul discovered woodier, vintage tone (less gain, less modern, though he clearly likes those tones) more than hollow bigness.
Might be more evidence of this in his newest and most-favored signature model, the Ibanez Fireman – which has a korina body, fat (not shreddy) korina/bubinga neck, rosewood fingerboard and DiMarzio’s hum-canceling Area 67 pickups. Sounds a lot more vintage, and that guitar through a Vintage-Modern I’m sure sounds killer in person. It does in this YouTube vid:
A new, more-affordable Fireman?
More: Pick Angle
From the same interview:
GP: How does something like your pick’s angle affect your tone?
Paul: The angle of the pick to the string affects two things: the tone of the actual attack, and how easily the pick slides across the string. See, if your pick is perfectly flush with the strings, and you try to play fast, it doesn’t work very well because the pick gets caught up in the string and you won’t be able to play as accurately. [Unless you’re EVH!]
On the other hand, if you angle your pick 45 degrees or more, the sound becomes much more like a nice staccato cello [interesting…], and the pick slides across the strings much more easily.
The best way to experience this is to slowly alternate pick your open low E string, and listen to the attack as you change the angle of the pick. A great example of this is the middle of the Van Halen song, “Light Up the Sky,” right after the drum solo breakdown. You can hear Eddie’s guitar sound almost exactly like a cello as he lightly picks the low E. It’s beautiful.
But training your ears to know this sound is more important than anything else. Once you know the sound, your fingers can follow.
These vids can’t be embedded but are worth watching: