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  1. #1

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    I know back in the day, before electricity and amps, the big-assed archtops many of us love were used in big band rhythm sections. I just don't get how it worked. I've seen James Chirillo's video here where he talks about appropriate volume levels, projection, etc.
    I play with a big band (and only 2 or 3 in each section), and I'd love to leave the amp home, but I can't imagine even hearing myself without it. I have a couple of L-5 size archtops, but they're laminate topped, nowhere near loud enough. My Martin D35 is much louder, but I doubt it could cut it either.

    So how does it work? (I know, Charlie Christian came along...)

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  3. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by JGinNJ View Post
    I know back in the day, before electricity and amps, the big-assed archtops many of us love were used in big band rhythm sections. I just don't get how it worked. I've seen James Chirillo's video here where he talks about appropriate volume levels, projection, etc.
    I play with a big band (and only 2 or 3 in each section), and I'd love to leave the amp home, but I can't imagine even hearing myself without it. I have a couple of L-5 size archtops, but they're laminate topped, nowhere near loud enough. My Martin D35 is much louder, but I doubt it could cut it either.

    So how does it work? (I know, Charlie Christian came along...)
    I would check out Jonathon Stout's blog for more info, but as I understand it there's a combination of factors:

    1) big bands today are LOUD - in the old days they played to the level of the rhythm section
    2) drums used to have hide heads, which are quieter
    3) the modern ride cymbal wasn't an option until the early 40s (I think?), so made it easier for the guitar to cut though. Earlier drum styles focussed on bass drum, snare and hi hat
    4) archtops cut in a specific register. They may not seem as loud as a Martin dreadnought, but they cut in a specific place in the mix

  4. #3

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    Note that James Chirillo's acoustic archtop is NOT a Gibson, or a Stromberg. It's a custom guitar built by an Italian American named Greco (not the Japanese brand).

    I've said several times before: Chirillo's guitar is very loud in person. No amp, no pup, nothing.

    But I find it curious that he had an acoustic archtop custom made, as he plays a vintage Artist Award when he plays electric (he also plays a Gibby)

    I wonder if he had the guitar voiced in a more "modern build" to accommodate for dynamic disparities

    Wynton Marsalis is all about the "authenticity" in his big bands... but the drummer's set looks more modern than the old giants of yesteryear (those kits were huge!)

    I could try to reach out to James... haven't spoken to him in years... Ask Stout as well, I'm sure he'd be happy to help.

  5. #4

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    Also, when electric instruments came in, just about everybody switched to them.

    FG and a few others, like Steve Jordan, were the hold-outs. My guess is they switched because they wanted more volume. Prior to that, there was a volume-race among the archtop makers, culminating, reportedly, in the biggest, loudest, Strombergs.

    I found some old film of the Basie band where there seems to be a mic near the guitar (and bass).

    My guess is they struggled with the volume issue.

  6. #5

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    I play with one drummer who uses period equipment and it just works.

  7. #6

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    He’s almost never on the cymbals.

    Also guitar in swing big band equals rhythm, not solos. No one wants to hear you in the shout chorus. You are what’s there when the smoke clears, making sure the drummer doesn’t rush.

  8. #7

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    I'd argue it's not even about you hearing yourself, most of the time!

    Simple fact is, few guys know how to play to show for a true acoustic rhythm guitar. So either find musicians who do, or amplify.

    You might just take a look at something like a Loar 600 though...itll blow your Martin away.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Also guitar in swing big band equals rhythm, not solos. No one wants to hear you in the shout chorus. You are what’s there when the smoke clears, making sure the drummer doesn’t rush.
    There's a story that when Freddie Green got an amp for gigs with the Basie band, other members hid it. The sense was that Freddie was not meant to be heard by the audience but felt by the rest of the band. (And for this person, SEEING him---his arm moving---might serve so set and keep the time even if now and then you couldn't actually hear his guitar.)
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  10. #9

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    I agree that most modern bands are much louder than they used to be. But unamplified guitarists (or at least Freddie Green) set their action very high to get more volume out of the instrument.
    Last edited by KirkP; 07-19-2019 at 11:36 PM.

  11. #10

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    IMO, if you're playing rhythm in a big band and the audience can hear you clearly, you're doing it wrong. A guitar in a big band is for rhythm, not for volume. Check big band recordings from the '30s and early '40s. You don't heard a guitar at all on most tunes. But it's in there, filling out the sound of the band just enough.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgosnell View Post
    IMO, if you're playing rhythm in a big band and the audience can hear you clearly, you're doing it wrong. A guitar in a big band is for rhythm, not for volume. Check big band recordings from the '30s and early '40s. You don't heard a guitar at all on most tunes. But it's in there, filling out the sound of the band just enough.
    Years ago, I recall hearing a story about an argument between a band leader and a guitarist.

    Leader: we can't hear the guitar.

    Guitarist: you're not supposed to hear it, you're supposed to feel it.

  13. #12

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    But Count Basie would say, 'If you can't hear Freddie Green, you are too loud.

  14. #13

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    You don't need to plug in. Into the amp, that's it. But you do need a mic in a proximity. Just check all the videos of modern big bands, even those who go after the trad thing. Everyone has a mic on stage.

  15. #14

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    Yeah I don’t think it was ever a satisfactory thing, they made it work.

    Also they had band shells on stage, and risers to help with projection and acoustics.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes View Post
    There's a story that when Freddie Green got an amp for gigs with the Basie band, other members hid it. The sense was that Freddie was not meant to be heard by the audience but felt by the rest of the band. (And for this person, SEEING him---his arm moving---might serve so set and keep the time even if now and then you couldn't actually hear his guitar.)
    The story I heard was that Basie was pushing Freddy Green to get an amp because 'All the cats have one', Freddy Green resisted until Basie finally got him one as a 'salary advance'. Freddy compromised by having it on stage plugged it but not turned on, Basie left him alone after that. He held out as long as he could.

  17. #16

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    Hey if anyone wants to know what the drum kits and drumming styles of the era were like, this channel has great stuff on it.







    Bass playing was different too.....

    If your drummers references for big band swing is Buddy Rich, you are going to have problems lol

  18. #17

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    christianm77,

    Very good !

  19. #18

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    I got to see the Basie band in the mid 70's. There was a mike in front of Freddy but not very close.

  20. #19

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    Most Big Bands didnt have loud drumers like Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa and Many of the horn sections would play with the horns facing down ward towards the floor or muted. The guitar was not suposed to be as loud as the other instruments. Before the guitar was used in the big bands they used a Banjo.

  21. #20

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    I was a trombone player through college, played in the jazz bands.

    Fascinating watching the relationship of the sections.

    Saxes HAD to be out front because the trumps were too loud otherwise. And loved to stand as much as possible knowing (and enjoying) their bodies were sort of muting the trumps.

    Trumps knew THEY were the proper lead sound, didn't like band leader telling them to point at floor and quiet down. Sullen trump players crack up bonists, btw.

    And bonists ... we wuz there just trying to help the team. Taking it one day at a time, hoping that one of the charts would actually feature the section or at least have something interesting to play somewhere in it.

    And knew, of course, that the saxes and trumps didn't take us seriously at all. Actually speak up about anything, it would get quiet and both the two Superior Groups would turn and ... look at you ... why are you interrupting?... writ all over their faces.

    Sigh.

    Bonists never get no respect.

    Sent from my SM-G960U using Tapatalk

  22. #21

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    Respect this...

    Andrei Murchinson with Abdullah Ibrahim,


  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by rNeil View Post
    .

    Sigh.

    Bonists never get no respect.
    Your own fault for playing an instrument that changes shape as you play it . Ain't nobody got time for that .

    Guitar in a big band is more like a percussion instrument , like maracas in cuban music .

    Listen to this , the guitar is not clearly audible but is a rhythmic presence , almost subliminal


  24. #23

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    It is too bad todays big bands don't play more like Basie. The dynamics are one of the things that made the Basie band so great. Dynamics are marked on the charts but no one seems to be able to read them. It seems like there are two modes Loud and LOUDER.

    I would like to play un-miked but I would be really lost in the mix. A small clip-on mike and a LoudBox Mini gives me just enough to be present in the mix. Just the right volume and sound.

    Here is my favorite example from a few years ago.


  25. #24

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    Unamplified acoustic bass with gut strings, acoustic piano, smaller drums and cymbals, no steel strings, no mylar heads, more attentive audiences who understood when to be quiet, even when dancing.

    At a recent BB rehearsal our singer forgot to bring her mic. She sang unamplified, we all played much quieter and the sound was fantastic, with a real 40s vibe. Unfortunately the following week she remembered her mic.

  26. #25

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    JGO, where guitarists tell everyone ELSE to turn down.

  27. #26

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    I do a lot of acoustic big band Gigs, and I gotta say it does work.
    BUT: I use a non-cutaway Eastman, that's set up especially for big band rhythm.
    For me the biggest concern is the Room you're playing in, especially the ceiling. If It's fine i go completely unplugged. But i always carry a small Clip on mic with me for less ideal rooms.

    In A Mellow Tone by Swingcat - Listen to music

    The Clip above was recorded with a Zoom recorder in front of the Band, no amp, no microphone.

    Paul

  28. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by rNeil View Post
    Bonists never get no respect.
    I wasn’t able to find a photo of Rodney Dangerfield playing trombone, so this will have to do. Big Band Playing unplugged?

    Trumpet and reed sections do tend to dump on the bone section. I’ve only known one bone player who deserved that kind of treatment.

  29. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by Webby View Post
    I do a lot of acoustic big band Gigs, and I gotta say it does work.
    BUT: I use a non-cutaway Eastman, that's set up especially for big band rhythm.
    For me the biggest concern is the Room you're playing in, especially the ceiling. If It's fine i go completely unplugged. But i always carry a small Clip on mic with me for less ideal rooms.

    In A Mellow Tone by Swingcat - Listen to music

    The Clip above was recorded with a Zoom recorder in front of the Band, no amp, no microphone.

    Paul
    UGH, it sounds so... GOOD!

    And you did that on an Eastman...

    Here we go...

    Your point about the ceiling makes sense. James Chirillo kept telling me to angle my guitar to the ceiling to get more projection--so if the ceiling is made of that cheap stuff...

    Kinda like this: Ceiling Tiles | Mineral Ceiling Tiles | USG 2310 Radar™ Ceiling Panels, Mineral Fiber, White, 48" x 24" | B1627299 - GlobalIndustrial.com

    I could see how that ruins the sound. I only know this because I'm a school teacher--I've seen those types of ceilings a lot... especially while I'm looking up waiting for kiddos to be quiet.

  30. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by KirkP View Post
    I wasn’t able to find a photo of Rodney Dangerfield playing trombone, so this will have to do. Big Band Playing unplugged?

    Trumpet and reed sections do tend to dump on the bone section. I’ve only known one bone player who deserved that kind of treatment.
    T-bones get revenge in brass bands though. Which is all the rage these days. There are tons of them in NY, and tons of gigs. Bad news for us guitarists, usually we are not needed there.

  31. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by Webby View Post
    I do a lot of acoustic big band Gigs, and I gotta say it does work.
    BUT: I use a non-cutaway Eastman, that's set up especially for big band rhythm.
    For me the biggest concern is the Room you're playing in, especially the ceiling. If It's fine i go completely unplugged. But i always carry a small Clip on mic with me for less ideal rooms.

    In A Mellow Tone by Swingcat - Listen to music

    The Clip above was recorded with a Zoom recorder in front of the Band, no amp, no microphone.

    Paul
    Great drummer. Barely heard him.

  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by Irez87 View Post
    UGH, it sounds so... GOOD!
    Thanks a lot!

    Quote Originally Posted by Irez87 View Post
    And you did that on an Eastman...
    Actually that recording was made before I got the Eastman. What you're hearing there is a cheap plywood Höfner 456, it still works though even though that one doesn't have a solid top and isn't particulary large too.


    Quote Originally Posted by Irez87 View Post
    Your point about the ceiling makes sense. James Chirillo kept telling me to angle my guitar to the ceiling to get more projection--so if the ceiling is made of that cheap stuff...

    Kinda like this: Ceiling Tiles | Mineral Ceiling Tiles | USG 2310 Radar™ Ceiling Panels, Mineral Fiber, White, 48" x 24" | B1627299 - GlobalIndustrial.com

    I could see how that ruins the sound. I only know this because I'm a school teacher--I've seen those types of ceilings a lot... especially while I'm looking up waiting for kiddos to be quiet.
    These are the worst. Any "dead" room is really bad, since it just sucks up the tone. No other chance than micing the guitar. Same thing for outdoor gigs. Without a ceiling to reflect I always feel like the sound gets completely lost. You really want some reflection in order to project. I think wooden floors help a lot too.

    Paul

  33. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hep To The Jive View Post
    T-bones get revenge in brass bands though. Which is all the rage these days. There are tons of them in NY, and tons of gigs. Bad news for us guitarists, usually we are not needed there.
    Moar bonez



    Do you know Josh Holcomb by any chance? I thought he was making this shit up haha.

  34. #33

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    Thanks for all the tips and examples.
    We were supposed to play outside last night, had my Roland JC 55 loaded to go when it started pouring. Plan B was inside, a carpeted church assembly room, so I switched to a 1x12 Fender Mustang, had it up on a folding chair. I was seated off the end next to the saxes, electric bass and fairly loud drummer behind me. I could barely hear myself, after sound check and even during our set I was asked to turn UP! I'm not used to playing that loud- things get a bit boomy..

  35. #34

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    Quote Originally Posted by JGinNJ View Post
    Thanks for all the tips and examples.
    We were supposed to play outside last night, had my Roland JC 55 loaded to go when it started pouring. Plan B was inside, a carpeted church assembly room, so I switched to a 1x12 Fender Mustang, had it up on a folding chair. I was seated off the end next to the saxes, electric bass and fairly loud drummer behind me. I could barely hear myself, after sound check and even during our set I was asked to turn UP! I'm not used to playing that loud- things get a bit boomy..
    Yeah modern big bands get legit loud

  36. #35
    Can't seem to find that video that shows close-ups from Freddie Green's guitar playing. His string action is about 4-5 centimeters.. unbelievably high!! Don't think anything other than the small voicings he used to play would be comfortable on his guitar!

    And I do think they used to mic him in the later years, I recall seeing many videos where they is a mic in front of his guitar.

  37. #36

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alter View Post
    Can't seem to find that video that shows close-ups from Freddie Green's guitar playing. His string action is about 4-5 centimeters..
    I'm sure you meant 4-5 millimeters.

  38. #37

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo View Post
    I'm sure you meant 4-5 millimeters.
    I'm not so sure about that:


    Paul

  39. #38
    Yeah man that was the video, thanks! Talk about action eh? I used to play with my strat like that for years, action as high as I could get it without sounding out of tune. Doesn't do legato though! Don't think I could manage today, and I still play with 13s on my Taylor..

  40. #39

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  41. #40

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    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop View Post
    Here’s a good photo:

    Big Band Playing unplugged?-f9938060-887f-4fca-a995-74e9782de16b-jpg
    Call that a high action?

  42. #41

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    could you imagine playing bebop on that
    White belt
    My Youtube

  43. #42

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    Quote Originally Posted by joe2758 View Post
    could you imagine playing bebop on that
    About 10 years ago I would have been up for it

  44. #43

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    Looks like there’s a lot of relief on that neck

  45. #44

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    About 10 years ago I would have been up for it
    White belt
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  46. #45

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  47. #46

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    When all sections of the sixteen piece band are playing I use a foot control to set my 25 W Fender amp volume that I can barely hear. When one section or a soloist is featured I use the foot control to eliminate amplification . The section players and soloists appreciate my laying down the rhythm and chord sounds they can hear. Members of audiences have often commented to me that they cannot hear the guitar. I advise them they are correct, and I control the volume so that the band hears the rhythm and chord lines. When I play solo or fill parts behind the singer I adjust the amp foot control to a level the band, the singer and the audience can hear. I play a Gibson L-5. I recently purchased a hand crafted arch-top guitar by Australian Sean Hancock, which projects non-amplified rhythm sounds greater than the L-5, and I am anxious to play for the band at our next bi-weekly rehearsal.

  48. #47

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    That rookie Freddie Green played with his archtop tilted toward the ceiling, not parallel to the walls as required. How did he ever keep a job doing that?

  49. #48

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    There’s a web site devoted to Freddie Green and his technique.
    Freddie Green Style: Instruments & Setup

    I found this quote there:
    Rhythm guitar is like vanilla extract in cake.
    You can't taste it when it's there, but you know when it's left out. — Irving Ashby

    Of course, these days a lot of the big band repertoire is not in the Basie style. The last big band I played in ranged from swing to latin to polka to rock (including some guitar solos), so I had to be ready to shift styles instantly. It was an amateur community band that didn’t require close replication of period recordings — it just needed to be listenable and danceable. I tried a variety of guitars, but my Ibanez AF105NT (Ibanez Artcore AF105NT | Vintage Guitar(R) magazine) seemed the most versatile in that situation. Unplugged was not an option, so I’d fiddle with tone control settings and playing technique to try to approximate the harmonic content appropriate for each tune. I usually dialed the bass down and set the volume to be felt more than heard.

  50. #49

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    Quote Originally Posted by KirkP View Post
    There’s a web site devoted to Freddie Green and his technique.
    Freddie Green Style: Instruments & Setup

    I found this quote there:
    Rhythm guitar is like vanilla extract in cake.
    You can't taste it when it's there, but you know when it's left out. — Irving Ashby

    Of course, these days a lot of the big band repertoire is not in the Basie style. The last big band I played in ranged from swing to latin to polka to rock (including some guitar solos), so I had to be ready to shift styles instantly. It was an amateur community band that didn’t require close replication of period recordings — it just needed to be listenable and danceable. I tried a variety of guitars, but my Ibanez AF105NT (Ibanez Artcore AF105NT | Vintage Guitar(R) magazine) seemed the most versatile in that situation. Unplugged was not an option, so I’d fiddle with tone control settings and playing technique to try to approximate the harmonic content appropriate for each tune. I usually dialed the bass down and set the volume to be felt more than heard.
    I’ve used a tele for gigs like that

  51. #50

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    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop View Post
    bebop chops

    Big Band Playing unplugged?-ef899f05-1cf6-4320-80f5-ca8618c50c74-jpg
    I’m just saying cellists kick sand in our faces.