Miscellaneous Rumbles

Musings on the Subjective Nature of ‘That Great Gretsch Sound.’

1

Haven't been around lately; not that anyone should care too much; been renovating a house since May; man am I tired; not to mention out of shape on the guitar. I take a day off before a gig to try to pull it together, but I don't think I can get away with that for too much longer. Anyway, I just felt like posting something, and in missing playing the guitar every day (I love to practice and write music) I was thinking about how good Gretsch guitars sound, and also how subjective perceptions of sound can be.

For instance, a while back, I sold a 6118T that had TV Jones Classics. I always liked the guitar, but since I got this 1960 Annie conversion done, it has become my main instrument.

Here's a question: When the buyer plugged in and played the 6118T to check it out, it sounded soooooo good to my ears, like I'd never heard it that way before. It had that 'Great Gretsh Sound' in spades; twang, evocatice, atmospheric tone...... Now, I can understand listening to someone else playing your own acoustic and perceving the sound differently, simply because the sound is coming towards you and not going away from you, but with an electric played through an amp, this wouldn't normally be a factor, because you'd be used to having the sound come at you from different angles. Why would it sound so different hearing someone else play it? I'm not talking about attack, harmonic vocabulary, etc., simply about the tone; the sound of the guitar, that 'Great Gretsch Sound.'

I suspect there is some psychology at play here. Could it be something like, when you play your own guitar, you're used to the sound and a certain complacency settles in; it sounds like what you expect? When you hear someone else play it, the familiar tactile component of the experience has been removed, and you're hearing the sound in a purer way, and it's more of a suprise?

Once when I was teaching a student, I was showing him some lines that slipped 'outside' the harmony and back in. When the student played a line, it sounded really interesting to me, but when I played the exact same line, it didn't have the same excitement. During the lesson, Don Thompson (Jim Hall's old bass player who has GREAT ears) walked into the room (we shared an office) and I asked him why it sounded so much better when the student played the lines. He said, "Oh, well it's a suprise when you hear him do it. When you do it you know what you're going to play." If that's the case, it seems to support the overall theory behind this post.

Any thoughts or similar experiences?

2

I think most of it is that you knew it was going away.

I have that same experience when I get a guitar ready to ship after a sale - clean it up, tune it, play it one last time. It always sounds so good I don't want to let it go. If I hadn't already been paid, I'd probably back out.

Nothing is ever as precious as when we know it's the last time.

3

I’ve had the same experience and I’ve always figured it was a different angle for my ears to the amp and I always expect others fingers to sound different/better than mine.

4

I think most of it is that you knew it was going away.

I have that same experience when I get a guitar ready to ship after a sale - clean it up, tune it, play it one last time. It always sounds so good I don't want to let it go. If I hadn't already been paid, I'd probably back out.

Nothing is ever as precious as when we know it's the last time.

– Proteus

Well, that sounds plausable. So you agree that there is a change in aural perception. I suspect though, without any proof other than memory (also subjective at times) that the change in perception might occur when someone else is playing the guitar(s) even when they are not about to go out the door; not that separation anexiety couldn't also contribute to the phenomenon.

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the change in perception might occur when someone else is playing the guitar(s)

I'd agree with that, yes. Two things occur to me. The individual's touch has everything to do with the tone of a guitar. Also, your deliberate engagement in the process of playing gives you a different perceptual mix: you're simultaneously paying more attention (mechanically), and less attention (aurally) to the totality of the sound - even if you're more tightly focused on whatever particular aspect engages you at the moment.

Possibly some of the same psychology/neurology that prevents you from giggling and twisting away when you try to tickle yourself.

I suspect that, in a combo context, if you concentrated intently on what others were playing (while droning on mechanically yourself), when you brought your attention back to the sound of your guitar, you would hear it as just another instrument in the mix, and perhaps get a hint of the "other's" perspective.

6

I think that all of the above is true. Also, even with an electric and an amp, you really aren’t often in that sweet spot for listening.

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I bet if you listened to a recording of yourself playing, and then another person playing your guitar through your amp, you'd notice the difference immediately. Other people playing my gear don't sound like me, and I don't sound like them playing their gear.

The recording would eliminate all the factors related to your brain focusing on what you're about to play

8

"That Great Gretsch Sound" is probably the most subjective aspect of Gretsch guitars and their tone looks and style of build being the next. The reason IMO is that there simply isn't one sound/tone that represents everyone's idea of what defines the Gretsch sound. It's undoubtedly related to the sound of a particular artist through their guitar and of course their amp. Their style of music also factors into this equation.

For me, it's always been the tone Chet got from his guitar and amp, and of course how he applied his equipment to the style of music he played. For me, the sound he got simply best suited the music he played.

There's no one answer that defines what The Great Gretsch Sound is. Beauty is in the ear [in this case] of the beholder, so everyone chases there own sound goal. Knock yourself out folks!


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