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  1. #1

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    I have struggled for years to get a nice acoustic archtop tone a'la FG, at the full volume of a modern bb.

    Yet I wonder why people are so much more forgiving about bassists using solidbody fretless?


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  3. #2

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    I gave up worrying about this years ago and just play an L-5 with set-in humbuckers through Acoustic Image amps. No one has complained about it in twenty years—in fact, quite the opposite.

    Danny W.

  4. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Danny W.
    I gave up worrying about this years ago and just play an L-5 with set-in humbuckers through Acoustic Image amps. No one has complained about it in twenty years—in fact, quite the opposite.

    Danny W.
    I envy you Danny for getting the sound you like. The guys I play with are also always happy with my sound and playing. It's ME that's unsatisfied. I feel we guitarists definitely need two completely different setups for bb, one for that rhythm sound, and then one for the more high energy stuff. But why do the bassists get away with one compromise, and nobody seems to care including themselves?

  5. #4

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    Buddy Rich-wow.

  6. #5
    If i have the stuff to get a nice FG groove, then I can't do the other stuff. If I am doing more modern things, then I can't get that crispy acousticy-rhythm tone.

    And changing tunes throughout the night messes it all up, but why can the bass player get away with it on one axe? Not to mention the pianist on some kind of electric Nord or whatever? Nobody seems to care.
    Last edited by Woody Sound; 04-06-2021 at 02:00 PM.

  7. #6

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    In my college days I auditioned twice for a big band. Didn't make it the first time and they wouldn't let me be the water boy either. 2nd time, two year later, I got the chair, right place at the right time.

    I remember back then, the late seventies, if you didn't show up with a guitar that had f-holes on it you were making a bad first impression. More of an appearance thing than a sound issue I think. Roll off the volume and tone a bit on a solid body guitar and you have a fine sound for big band, imo.

    Les Paul's "Log":
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  8. #7

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    I once sat through a presentation by James Chirillo, the Lincoln Center big band guitarist. He does have an acoustic D'A clone but probably does most of his work on an L-5. He's written about this, and there's some videos on YouTube. What he spoke about was FG's style - not so much about tone. Perhaps there's a gold nugget or a few on tone as well, if you dive deeper into his social media presence.

    The guitarist has more than a comping role in a contemporary big band, and if he misses that four-note score on bar 121, the leader is not the only one to notice. If the music is modern, a solidbody could well fill the slot. But I think golden age swing calls for some authenticity. The old principle of being felt rather than heard still holds. A 17" archtop with acoustic qualities (Emperor Regent and up), strings higher than you'd normally have for lead and solo work, and the amp on low volume so you can get really physical and percussive with the strings. BTW, a little secret, at least in this country, is that when a big band goes to studio, the guitar is not the usual archtop but a flattop recorded separately, for that "fruity" acoustic timbre.

    This is coming from somebody with almost zero experience with big bands but a lot with various horn-rich ensembles on Classic Jazz camps. I hope our friend PCJazz will chime in, because I think he shares my view about how an upward-firing cab works in a big band setting.

    Edit: When I sat down to write this, there was just one reply. Now there's several, and some of my points are well covered.

  9. #8

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    Big Band Tone -  A Serious Conversation-dsc_0018-b-2018_08_24-00_11_34-utc-jpg

    This is what I use. If someone complains they can't hear me I say your playing too loud.


  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woody Sound
    I envy you Danny for getting the sound you like. The guys I play with are also always happy with my sound and playing. It's ME that's unsatisfied. I feel we guitarists definitely need two completely different setups for bb, one for that rhythm sound, and then one for the more high energy stuff.
    In Tom Bruner's "How To Play Guitar In A Big Band" he says precisely that. He used a Johnny Smith and an ES-355 for his big band playing. That's all too much for me--in most venues I'm lucky to find room for one guitar.

    I think this sounds fine and is much easier for me to achieve than the acoustic solutions I've tried.



    Just for the record, our bandleader complains often about our bass player's tone and is always asking him for more treble, or "more acoustic" sound from his 5-string Tobias solidbody.


    Danny W.

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woody Sound
    ... I wonder why people are so much more forgiving about bassists using solidbody fretless?
    Bassists who use solidbody fretless instruments in big bands are pussies and need to be beaten with a stick. Bandleaders who let them get away with it need to be beaten with two sticks. Listeners who can't tell the difference need to be ... well, you get the idea. NO SOUP FOR YOU, I say.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woody Sound
    I envy you Danny for getting the sound you like. The guys I play with are also always happy with my sound and playing. It's ME that's unsatisfied. I feel we guitarists definitely need two completely different setups for bb, one for that rhythm sound, and then one for the more high energy stuff. But why do the bassists get away with one compromise, and nobody seems to care including themselves?
    Because they are bass players

  13. #12

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    I play in a big band which has a guitar chart on one tune that includes the notation "Not F.G.".

    The arranger is telling the guitarist not to play that section Freddie Green style.

    Talk about influence! Mr. Green was such an influential player that an arranger has to tell the guitarist not to play like him.

    As far a tone goes, this band is filled with experienced big band players and nobody has ever complained about my tone. Volume, the occasional screwed pooch on a tune, but never about tone. I use the Comins GCS-1 or the Yamaha Pacifica cheapie. Both work. The Yamaha has less in the low end, which actually may sit better in the mix.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woody Sound
    I envy you Danny for getting the sound you like. The guys I play with are also always happy with my sound and playing. It's ME that's unsatisfied. I feel we guitarists definitely need two completely different setups for bb, one for that rhythm sound, and then one for the more high energy stuff. But why do the bassists get away with one compromise, and nobody seems to care including themselves?
    I beg to differ ! Most of the bassist I play with are very conscious of the sounds they are producing and they vary their playing style, technique (and if available the fx/amp-presets/channels etc.) , pickup choice and tone settings etc. accordingly. If the player was less experienced I have also made comments and suggestions in the past - not only re the bass but towards the drummer and and the keyboardist just the same. It's my firm belief that you must talk about these things as they are important issues in any band. As long as it doesn't get personal and the players are mature enough to consider a second thought/opinion and the experience of older colleagues then there shouldn't be a problem.

    Re the tone(s) we use while playing in a big band setting my experience over the past 44 years has been this :
    in a modern band that plays contemporary arrangements (plus several microphones, an electr. keyboard, mic'd drums etc.) a hollowbody guitar is very difficult to integrate into the overall sound. Amplification is difficult/complicated, feedback a constant worry, hearing oneself in all but the softest passages almost impossible - so from the start in my highschool stageband I used either an ES type guitar, my Suhr Strat or my Warmoth Tele. These and a long string of multi-FX pedals (starting out with a Boss ME-5 in the 90's to a Helix-Stomp today) have helped to make life much easier for me, the sound guys and my fellow musicians : I get heard with the proper volume and sound for the occasional solo (both with and without overdrive/FX) and the eq lets me dial in a very useable rhythm-tone that has enough "cut" to get through but doesn't get in the way.

    Should I be playing in a more traditionally oriented band (and have very few if any solos) then I'd opt for a small-ish acoustic archtop with a goose-neck mic (and/or a single coil floater) going into a small acoustic amp/monitor pointing towards me, sending a line signal to the house when needed. I once saw Natalie Cole in concert with the "Unforgettable" material and she was backed by a british/german bigband. The guitarist used - to my BIG surprise - a FLATTOP guitar ! He had a mic in front of it and might have had a pickup-signal too but I could not really see too much - the sound was absolutely ok and in a perfect blend with the rest of the rhythm section. The typical "chink" was all there ....

  15. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar
    I play in a big band which has a guitar chart on one tune that includes the notation "Not F.G.".
    I have seen that!

    I think my gripe is having to bring two full setups, carved top and acoustic amp for standard basie/nestico rhythm tone, then have to have a lam or semi and amp for more "Maynard-ish" things.

    THEN EVEN IF I BRING TWO SETUPS, ALL OF OF A SUDDEN IN THE MIDDLE OF MY ACOUSTIC RHYTHM GROOVE, THE LEADER YELLS, "GUITAR, TAKE IT!"

    And I want to scream FU.

    So how come the bass can get away with one inst and amp, the kb can get away with one inst and amp, but not the guitar.

  16. #15

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    Insist on a second guitarist.

  17. #16
    ps - And THEN after needing two different guitar setups, elec and acous, he says "Why do you need so much room?"

  18. #17

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    Seems you are not the problem. He is. But hey, have you tried a guitar (even a solidbody) with magnetic and piezo PU's? A long-time TOOB user (he's got five...) is doing wonders with such an axe. He's using two small stereo pairs, one for each PU, and mic'ing them for PA. Crowds up to a thousand. A small amp (BUD, one of mine?) mic'ed into the band's PA (and wedge monitors) would save precious space and help the rest hear you.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gitterbug
    I once sat through a presentation by James Chirillo, the Lincoln Center big band guitarist. He does have an acoustic D'A clone but probably does most of his work on an L-5. He's written about this, and there's some videos on YouTube. What he spoke about was FG's style - not so much about tone. Perhaps there's a gold nugget or a few on tone as well, if you dive deeper into his social media presence..
    I studied with James. Never saw him take out his Gibson. That Guild Artist Award that he has is a beaut of a guitar.

    The acoustic archtop was made custom for him by Carlo Greco. It is LOUD and clear as well.

    He even said that he has that Greco setup just to play big band. The Guild was for everything else.

    One day I complained about the action on my archtop. He said "that's almost as high up as my acoustic archtop, and it's like squashing golf balls to play single lines."

    He always dressed to the 9's for our lessons. Funny guy with a lot of stories. But ya better do your sight singing

    A month later, brought my guitar and found out that the truss rod sunk into the neck... nightmare

    I had a custom bridge built for my current Eastman AR803. The bridge is a solid piece of bone sandwiched in between two pieces of ebony. The tone screws thread through the bone. The bridge base is also ebony. Sounds cool. Does it work? Slightly

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woody Sound
    I have seen that!

    I think my gripe is having to bring two full setups, carved top and acoustic amp for standard basie/nestico rhythm tone, then have to have a lam or semi and amp for more "Maynard-ish" things.

    THEN EVEN IF I BRING TWO SETUPS, ALL OF OF A SUDDEN IN THE MIDDLE OF MY ACOUSTIC RHYTHM GROOVE, THE LEADER YELLS, "GUITAR, TAKE IT!"

    And I want to scream FU.

    So how come the bass can get away with one inst and amp, the kb can get away with one inst and amp, but not the guitar.
    I play in a 19 piece band. PGBD rhythm section and 15 horns. Nuances of guitar tone? Not so much.

    That said, I do think they'd notice a guitar howling with feedback.

  21. #20

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    You know, Fender has made solid bodies for half a dozen decades that have multiple pickups providing different qualities of tone, with switches and knobs to dial in a wide range of sounds... just say'in.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gitterbug
    Insist on a second guitarist.
    An interesting point, I recall seeing a big band concert in a bandshell in a Paris park with an electric guitarist in the horn section and an acoustic guitarist in the rhythm section. Haven’t seen that on this side of the water.

    Thanks to Covid it’s been more than a year since I last performed or rehearsed with a big band. If memory serves, I found the “fountain of sound” from an upward-facing Toob ideal for rehearsals—the band could hear me at low volume for swing rhythm and I used a boost pedal or similar for solos. This worked exceptionally well with bands that rehearsed in a hollow square, when I could shove the speaker out into the centre of the room.

    In performance I might use the Toob facing frontwards or a larger amp and cabinet, depending on the room, with either an archtop or a solidbody. On the archtop I play rhythm with a pick, on the solidbody with fingers. For boosting the solos I like the Jr Barnyard with single coil or Rasmus’s polytone pedal with a humbucker. I haven’t had much joy with microphones on big band gigs but they can be fine in quieter settings.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by pcjazz
    An interesting point, I recall seeing a big band concert in a bandshell in a Paris park with an electric guitarist in the horn section and an acoustic guitarist in the rhythm section. Haven’t seen that on this side of the water.
    not the most novel idea ever


    Big Band Tone -  A Serious Conversation-freddiegcc-jpg

  24. #23

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    [BTW, Buddy fired that whole band -- starting with the bassist -- following that gig!]


  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woody Sound
    I have seen that!

    I think my gripe is having to bring two full setups, carved top and acoustic amp for standard basie/nestico rhythm tone, then have to have a lam or semi and amp for more "Maynard-ish" things.

    THEN EVEN IF I BRING TWO SETUPS, ALL OF OF A SUDDEN IN THE MIDDLE OF MY ACOUSTIC RHYTHM GROOVE, THE LEADER YELLS, "GUITAR, TAKE IT!"

    And I want to scream FU.

    So how come the bass can get away with one inst and amp, the kb can get away with one inst and amp, but not the guitar.
    Two setups not me ever. I play rhythm guitar in the rhythm section. If they want something else they can get somebody else.

    In our area big band guitarist are as rare as big bands.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woody Sound
    If i have the stuff to get a nice FG groove, then I can't do the other stuff. If I am doing more modern things, then I can't get that crispy acousticy-rhythm tone.

    And changing tunes throughout the night messes it all up, but why can the bass player get away with it on one axe? Not to mention the pianist on some kind of electric Nord or whatever? Nobody seems to care.
    Woody, you seem to have a mental rule that big band rhythm guitar has to sound like Freddie Green and other stuff has to sound different/modern. That seems to be the source of your problem rather than the actual sounds you're making. I suspect that everybody else in the band thinks of you exactly the same way as you're thinking of the keyboardist and bass player.

    Here's my thought: a two channel amp with different sounds dialed in on the channels and switch back-and-forth as needed. Or do what Jonathan Stout does and use a boost pedal to change the sound between more traditional comping and modern high energy playing.

  27. #26

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    About a year and a half ago I subbed in a 20’s/30’s stock arrangement big band using a Tricone. No soloing, no amplification. Even with that beast it was a “felt not heard” experience. If I were to do that more often I’d use my gypsy guitar through an amp and demand a few solos



    I hate solid body basses in any kind of a swing context. An EUB is just barely acceptable IMO. I also dislike pedal steel instead of console steel in western swing.

  28. #27

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    I pretty much always bring at least two guitars to a big band gig. It depends on the Repertoire which I'll bring. I hate to make compromises in Sound. I always Sound the best i can

    Paul

  29. #28

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    Bands play too loud. But what can you do?

  30. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by Webby
    I pretty much always bring at least two guitars to a big band gig. It depends on the Repertoire which I'll bring. I hate to make compromises in Sound. I always Sound the best i can

    Paul
    I also carry 2 guitars to most of my gigs but only as a precaution - too often there is no room on stage to safely stash a second guitar on a stand. My backup axe stays backstage.
    Re the sound-compromises we all have to make : some are sweeter, some are bitter but I care more about the notes I play, the WAY I play and generally how I can make the band sound better
    as a whole. The sound of my guitar def. plays into that but my priorities are in a different order. YMMV

  31. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    Bands play too loud. But what can you do?
    Keep at it.

  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    Bands play too loud. But what can you do?
    big bands get louder, while combos get softer. both is unfortunate.

  33. #32
    I really appreciate everyone's input here. I am rethinking the whole situation. Maybe I am being too fussy about my own sound, rather than the notes.

  34. #33

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    At some point you do have to compromise, if your ideal sounds for different styles come from different instruments, and you need to change between them on the fly.

    So I'd choose one guitar and try to make it work. Worst case scenario I would experiment with some booster/preamp pedals for a second color. But one of the big joys of jazz for me is using a simple guitar-cable-amp setup..

  35. #34

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    If you don't want to buy a Variax axe or a large overkill pedal like Boss SY 1000, you can look into SIM1 XT-1 or the cheaper alternative Mooer Tone Capture GTR

  36. #35

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    Another possibility is an EQ pedal. I have a Boss EQ10, and it works pretty well as a boost pedal. It can also be used as a reverse boost pedal, with the volume set low when it's on, and when it's off the volume comes up, like turning up the volume control. It depends on whether you need to EQ the solo or the rhythm. Or you can just set everything flat, up the volume, and use it just as a boost. It's a very versatile pedal, and I don't even own a separate boost pedal, no need for it.

  37. #36

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    Ideally I'd like to use a lavalier mic on my archtop when I do big band work. I have a nice sounding carved top acoustic suitable for that style. Sadly, the repertoire jumps from Glenn Miller to Tom Jones (a random example!) very frequently and I'd be constantly swapping instruments.

    Even in the swing repertoire, the reality is the bass is amplified, drums are loud... even with a mic I would be struggling.

    I compromise by using a fairly microphonic single coil floating pickup and EQing the amp to get as 'acoustic' sounding a tone as one can get. This works pretty well... not perfect, but does the job.

  38. #37

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    Took operatic-pointed vocal lessons for several years a decade back from a great teacher.

    Her comments on the five main voices:

    Sopranos, especially younger ones, are completely mentally and emotionally destroyed if they are told a sound isn't perfect. Leave a lesson in tears.

    Mezzos, well ... sigh. Whatever. Do you like this better?

    Tenors ... ya gotta be kidding, whaddaya mean my top sucks?!!!

    Baritones, well ... I suppose I could try something if you wanted me to, wink wink chuckle.

    Basses ... hey babe, whatever you want if it makes you smile (before they pull a practical joke on you).

    Basses were always the easiest to work with. Never any worries about criticizing their techniques because hey, they're Basses. They don't take *anything* seriously.

    Except the check, of course ... lol.

    So perhaps some even jazz bassers have a bit of a laid back attitude ...

    Sent from my SM-G960U using Tapatalk

  39. #38

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    Quote Originally Posted by rNeil
    Took operatic-pointed vocal lessons for several years a decade back from a great teacher.

    Her comments on the five main voices:

    Sopranos, especially younger ones, are completely mentally and emotionally destroyed if they are told a sound isn't perfect. Leave a lesson in tears.

    Mezzos, well ... sigh. Whatever. Do you like this better?

    Tenors ... ya gotta be kidding, whaddaya mean my top sucks?!!!

    Baritones, well ... I suppose I could try something if you wanted me to, wink wink chuckle.

    Basses ... hey babe, whatever you want if it makes you smile (before they pull a practical joke on you).

    Basses were always the easiest to work with. Never any worries about criticizing their techniques because hey, they're Basses. They don't take *anything* seriously.

    Except the check, of course ... lol.

    So perhaps some even jazz bassers have a bit of a laid back attitude ...

    Sent from my SM-G960U using Tapatalk
    Haha me too.

    I am a bass-baritone who dated a soprano for years and married a mezzo. This all checks out.

  40. #39

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    In a slightly more constructive vein, I play in a big band with a noisy bunch of West End pit musicians (theatre players are notorious for being loud) playing mostly Basie, Ellington and Buddy Rich charts.

    due to a gear failure ended up using my much maligned K&K Definity on a Loar LH600, through my hilarious little BAM/Toob Metro set up, and not only was it more than up to the task of rhythm guitar, I was easily able to solo with it. I got some comments about how ‘authentic’ the sound was as well as some astonishment about how audible I was with such a comedy set up. I’m not sure but I think the trumpets felt mocked.

    I generally use more of mag pup type sound for that band, but if you want more of an acoustic tone, this works well and I’d much rather do that then piss around with lavelier mics and annoy the band with squealing feedback. YYMV, but I’ve never had much luck with those things.

  41. #40

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgosnell
    Another possibility is an EQ pedal. I have a Boss EQ10, and it works pretty well as a boost pedal. It can also be used as a reverse boost pedal, with the volume set low when it's on, and when it's off the volume comes up, like turning up the volume control. It depends on whether you need to EQ the solo or the rhythm. Or you can just set everything flat, up the volume, and use it just as a boost. It's a very versatile pedal, and I don't even own a separate boost pedal, no need for it.
    +1 on that. I have the even simpler Boss Ge-7 eq pedal, it is very cheap, never breaks, and works with everything. I've used it with acoustics, electrics, nylon strings, archtops. Half the usability is the simplicity, and it can really transform the way a guitar sounds in seconds.

  42. #41

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    I'm not in any big bands but I noticed that the entire top of my 1940 ES 150 is microphonic, due to the pickup mounting and the 80 year old pots. What comes out of the amp sounds a LOT like an acoustic. Comping 4 to the bar through an amp sounds awesome with this guitar.

  43. #42

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hammertone
    Bassists who use solidbody fretless instruments in big bands are pussies and need to be beaten with a stick. Bandleaders who let them get away with it need to be beaten with two sticks. Listeners who can't tell the difference need to be ... well, you get the idea. NO SOUP FOR YOU, I say.
    A friend of mine plays in a big band in Oregon, and when I visited I was astonished at how much gear he brought- more than he ever did when we played in rock bands in NYC back in the day (80's).

    -Full size upright bass
    -Amp for upright
    -Fretless Fender Jazz bass
    -Fretted 5 string bass- fanned frets!
    -Decent size amp for the electrics
    -Pedalboard- bigger than my guitar pedalboard!

    He completely filled up his large station wagon- crazy!

  44. #43

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    I have the even simpler Boss Ge-7 eq pedal,
    I had a brain fart. Yes, I meant the GE-7. Mine is about 40 years old, and still works fine. It's easy to use, and built like a tank.

  45. #44

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgosnell View Post
    I had a brain fart. Yes, I meant the GE-7. Mine is about 40 years old, and still works fine. It's easy to use, and built like a tank.
    Yes, I have a brighter archtop that I play through a Fender BF style amp and I have always thought it would sound good for big band comping, but I like a fuller sound for soloing, and the GE7 allows me to fill in the mids nicely.

    If you want to get geeky about it, you can buy one from Analogman, all of the critical components are replaced with higher quality parts. It’s very clean sounding. A lot of studio players use them.

    EDIT: but if you are also playing modern fusiony charts, that to me would be a second guitar!
    Last edited by bluejaybill; 04-09-2021 at 12:41 PM. Reason: Additional info

  46. #45

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    I realize this is a thread about tone, but the sound of a guitar in a big band context depends as much or more on chord voicings, pick attack, time and nailing that swinging quarter note feel. Get all that down and tone is icing on the cake.

    I've played a lot of different guitars with big bands and the guitar itself never seems to be an issue.

  47. #46

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    I just thought about this again. I think I'm convinced that acoustic and electric guitar are two completely different Things and switching between them - at least to me- is like switching between upright and electric Bass. It might work in some instances, but in others it won't.

    That said: there are workarounds though. I used to play rhythm on a plywood acoustic. It would cut through, but I still think i would have gotten away with amplifying it without Feedback if i had put a floater on it.

    Paul

  48. #47

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    Quote Originally Posted by Webby View Post
    I just thought about this again. I think I'm convinced that acoustic and electric guitar are two completely different Things and switching between them - at least to me- is like switching between upright and electric Bass. It might work in some instances, but in others it won't.

    That said: there are workarounds though. I used to play rhythm on a plywood acoustic. It would cut through, but I still think i would have gotten away with amplifying it without Feedback if i had put a floater on it.

    Paul
    Ive seldom run into feedback problems with my LH600 funnily enough, with mag pickups or piezos.

    Microphones of course a different story.

  49. #48

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    Having been both guitarist and bassist in several big bands, I found that my Godin nylon-string with pickup worked very well with a small multi-processor that allowed for the acoustic sound and, dialing in more mids and amp sim, perfectly acceptable electric guitar sounds. Played lots of shows with that setup as well. As far as bass goes, I found that a hollow-body fretless electric, in my case a Hofner Club bass that I had my luthier pull the frets from and fill the empty spaces with maple strips, really was the best of both worlds. In modern big bands, the upright is amplified enough so that it often sounds like an electric anyway. I also found that my big-band guitar setup really only sounded good in that context, I had to make other settings for solo and small-group work, but it was a lot easier than carrying two guitars.

    The perception of how music sounds has changed pretty drastically since the acoustic big band days. David Byrne's book "How Music Works" traces the development of amplification and its effect on players and listeners over the years, well-researched and well-written, highly recommended.

  50. #49

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    I gotta be honest, this thread kinda bums me out. I've written several treatises in response, only to delete them because "who cares?" or "nobody wants to read my cranky ramblings". But here we are again...

    I get that life is full of compromises, and even my purist attitudes are riddled with compromises (though ones I've deemed either worthwhile or insignificant), but the general attitude of acquiescence just bums me out.

    For me, the sound and time-feel of "Freddie Green"-style, i.e. swing-era rhythm guitar, is almost inexorably linked to the natural timbre and decay of an acoustic archtop. And the insistence on that time-feel is literally the reason I started a band, and why I have a music career 20 years later.

    I too had heard that "studio secret" that players would use a flattop on a big band recording session rather than their archtop, as though that was a "good" thing. I mean, to the extent that most archtops in the word aren't built or set up to be even remotely "acoustic" guitars, of course a flattop acoustic guitar is actually a better choice than a plywood box with two heavy-ass humbuckers deadening the top, which is barely being being driven by relatively low action strings, which because they're flatwounds don't decay "properly" (which is to say, like an "acoustic guitar"). Now, I get that for most people out there, or in here, that for the "jazz" they think of when they think "jazz", such a plywood box is actually the ideal tool - but it just bums me out that such a "secret" owes that "jazz guitars" as so divorced from their acoustic heritage that it'd be easier to grab a flattop than own an acoustically viable archtop guitar.

    And when I've heard that secret, it was presented as though a flattop is actually better - and that's just not the case. The natural EQ signature of a dreadnaught, for example, is actually a bad fit for the job - way too much bass and treble, plus they have more sustain so they require additional effort to keep the note durations under control. And the whole point is big band music and acoustic archtop guitars evolved together - and the projection and mid-range focus, with less sustain, makes an acoustic archtop the perfect tool for the job. So, it's not so much that the "secret" is false (because you are better off with a flattop acoustic over an archtop that isn't acoustically viable), but that it misses the point: you're ideally going for an acoustic archtop sound, not merely an acoustic one.

    And of course, it's not the gear, it's how one plays it. But, there's a way the gear informs and facilitates the playing, and how the original gear helped shape the style to begin with. If one doesn't know how it's supposed to feel or sound, it makes it soooooo much harder to do on the wrong gear. And without learning on something closer to the right gear/set up, it's similarly hard to ever do right.

    But, there's another big dissonance that underlies so much of this discussion, and my bummed-ness about it.

    The time-feel of acoustic four-to-the-bar rhythm guitar is somewhat anachronistic to the time-feel of jazz rhythm sections generally once bebop takes hold - and frankly, I think it's often at cross purposes to the rest of the rhythm section. On the rare instances I play with "regular" straight-ahead jazz musicians, the quarter note chunk of four-to-the-bar just seems to clash with the more ambiguous beat of legato walking bass and drums that are mostly ride-cymbal and back-beat hi-hat pedal click. There's a reason, historically, that big bands tended to shed their rhythm guitar players as the 40's became the 50's. Duke never replaced Fred Guy when he retired. I don't know how many of you know the story that Basie didn't hire Freddie Green for his small-group when he disbanded his big band, but that the following week of the small group run, Freddie just showed up and forced himself on the gig. Freddie's insistence is the exception that proves the rule. ( Freddie Green Quotes and Anecdotes )

    Just like how "electric archtops" are so far removed from their role as acoustic rhythm guitars, bass and drum gear is similarly removed from that original job. And similarly, if they really knew how to play in that style, a bass player or drummer could make their electric uprights and bebop kits work, but it's way harder, and if they're making those gear choices, what are the odds they are able to do so or even interested in it?

    So, to the OP's question/point... if the bass player is playing an electric upright, I would say, what's even the point of having four-to-the-bar rhythm guitar? I'd spend the entire gig clashing with the natural sound and time-feel of the bass, regardless of what guitar I brought. Frankly, I think the tradition of having four-to-the-bar rhythm guitar is often thoughtlessly adhered to by many guitar players and bandleaders, neither of whom actually understand what it's supposed to do.

    Importantly, I try not to use "Freddie Green"-style as a term, because while Freddie was thought by many to be the best, his personal style, especially as it evolved during the "New Testament"-era of the Basie band, is idiosyncratic and thus distinct from the general style of playing such the term is supposed to be referencing.

    So are there ways to play the style "right" on electrified archtop? Sure - Charlie Christian was doing that in 1939...
    Here's Charlie from a jam session in 1939 before the BG Sextet had even waxed it's first studio recordings:


    And yes, I'd concur with omphalopsychos about the microphonic character of an ES-150 from that era, but I'd also add that I find the guitar body itself to be more acoustically resonant than most electrified archtops as well. I'd also concur that using something like a GE-7 is a good, modern solution, so that you can tailor an electric sound to the mid-heavy, lower volume tone that would be better for rhythm, and then turn it off for your normal electric tone.

    However, I think it's telling that as late as 1942, guitarists in big bands were still playing their acoustic archtops, and separately had an electric guitar if they were lucky enough to be featured for a solo. There's so few examples of this kind of thing, because guitar was so rarely featured in big bands, but I found two:
    1. 1942 - Dave Barbour with Benny Goodman from the movie "The Powers Girl", playing "One O'Clock Jump".
    Dave is shown playing his 1940 blonde L-5, with it's original white pearl pickguard before he removed it, but then there's an overt pause, as he switches to a pickguard-less ES-150 for his short solo. I mean, they're MIMING and not actually playing here, so why bother, unless that's literally how it went.


    2. Here's a 1944 or 1945 Barney Kessel with Artie Shaw's band, where he was a part of the Grammercy Five small group, and recorded a couple guitar solos with the big band. This photo was uploaded in a comment in the Barney Kessel facebook group, so I assume it's ok to put up here. Barney is playing the slanted pickup ES-300 he's playing the film "Jammin' the Blues", but there's an acoustic L-5 on a stand next to him.
    Big Band Tone -  A Serious Conversation-bk-two-guitars-jpeg

    So, I always bring two guitars to a big band gig if I'm expected to take a single-note electric guitar solo on top of playing rhythm.

    To the OP's question upthread... about the bandleader who doesn't really give time to switch. Well, you have to tell them to give you warning. Most bandleaders know not to write charts where a sax player doesn't have time to switch to clarinet, or a brass player doesn't have time to put in or take out a mute. You just need to inform them of the issue.

    Lastly, I'm not opposed to reasonably amplifying acoustic rhythm guitar with a mic. Perhaps someone would see this as a contradiction to my ethos, but like I said, life is full of compromises. The main distinction here, is that preserving the timbre and decay of the instrument are key. And while there are a variety of threads on here where christianmiller77 and I go back and forth about transducers and mics - I don't like transducers, and he can't abide the kind of clip-on lav mics I advocated - either is still so much more preferable to me than magnetic pickup electric guitar.

    Circling back, there is a truth to the whole "it's not the gear, it's how you play it" thing, but again, one that while true, sort of misses the more important lesson. You actually have to know how to play it - i.e. what it's supposed to sound and feel like - when you try to render it on the "wrong" gear. And I think there's a lot of jumping past that - and I mean that in the real world, I'm not calling out anyone here. Which reminds me of this video - where a Rockabilly guitarist makes some great points about the value of "authentic" gear versus the value of actually knowing the style and vocabulary. I won't spoil it, but it's worth a watch:


    And to this end... everything I've said sort of style assumes one is already playing the kind of traditionally streamlined rhythm guitar voicings. While some of the great original rhythm guitarsists, people like John Truehart (with Chick Webb), or Laurence Lucie (with Fletcher Henderson), were likely playing fuller voicings early on (more akin to the 5- and 6-note voicings many jazz manouche players use), I think the style evolved and coalesced around those streamlined 3-note (or 4 or 2...) voicings because they better concentrated the important harmonic information in the narrow frequency range that allows a rhythm guitar to pop out of a dense big band, especially as the 10-piece bands of the early 30's grew to 14/15 pieces in the late 30's, to the 17/18 or more of the early/mid 1940's and beyond.

    Anyway, perhaps someone will find something in this useful or interesting....

  51. #50

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    Hooray for Jonathan Stout!

    Quote Originally Posted by campusfive
    I gotta be honest, this thread kinda bums me out. I've written several treatises in response, only to delete them because "who cares?" or "nobody wants to read my cranky ramblings". But here we are again...

    I get that life is full of compromises, and even my purist attitudes are riddled with compromises (though ones I've deemed either worthwhile or insignificant), but the general attitude of acquiescence just bums me out.

    For me, the sound and time-feel of "Freddie Green"-style, i.e. swing-era rhythm guitar, is almost inexorably linked to the natural timbre and decay of an acoustic archtop. And the insistence on that time-feel is literally the reason I started a band, and why I have a music career 20 years later.

    I too had heard that "studio secret" that players would use a flattop on a big band recording session rather than their archtop, as though that was a "good" thing. I mean, to the extent that most archtops in the word aren't built or set up to be even remotely "acoustic" guitars, of course a flattop acoustic guitar is actually a better choice than a plywood box with two heavy-ass humbuckers deadening the top, which is barely being being driven by relatively low action strings, which because they're flatwounds don't decay "properly" (which is to say, like an "acoustic guitar"). Now, I get that for most people out there, or in here, that for the "jazz" they think of when they think "jazz", such a plywood box is actually the ideal tool - but it just bums me out that such a "secret" owes that "jazz guitars" as so divorced from their acoustic heritage that it'd be easier to grab a flattop than own an acoustically viable archtop guitar.

    And when I've heard that secret, it was presented as though a flattop is actually better - and that's just not the case. The natural EQ signature of a dreadnaught, for example, is actually a bad fit for the job - way too much bass and treble, plus they have more sustain so they require additional effort to keep the note durations under control. And the whole point is big band music and acoustic archtop guitars evolved together - and the projection and mid-range focus, with less sustain, makes an acoustic archtop the perfect tool for the job. So, it's not so much that the "secret" is false (because you are better off with a flattop acoustic over an archtop that isn't acoustically viable), but that it misses the point: you're ideally going for an acoustic archtop sound, not merely an acoustic one.

    And of course, it's not the gear, it's how one plays it. But, there's a way the gear informs and facilitates the playing, and how the original gear helped shape the style to begin with. If one doesn't know how it's supposed to feel or sound, it makes it soooooo much harder to do on the wrong gear. And without learning on something closer to the right gear/set up, it's similarly hard to ever do right.

    But, there's another big dissonance that underlies so much of this discussion, and my bummed-ness about it.

    The time-feel of acoustic four-to-the-bar rhythm guitar is somewhat anachronistic to the time-feel of jazz rhythm sections generally once bebop takes hold - and frankly, I think it's often at cross purposes to the rest of the rhythm section. On the rare instances I play with "regular" straight-ahead jazz musicians, the quarter note chunk of four-to-the-bar just seems to clash with the more ambiguous beat of legato walking bass and drums that are mostly ride-cymbal and back-beat hi-hat pedal click. There's a reason, historically, that big bands tended to shed their rhythm guitar players as the 40's became the 50's. Duke never replaced Fred Guy when he retired. I don't know how many of you know the story that Basie didn't hire Freddie Green for his small-group when he disbanded his big band, but that the following week of the small group run, Freddie just showed up and forced himself on the gig. Freddie's insistence is the exception that proves the rule. ( Freddie Green Quotes and Anecdotes )

    Just like how "electric archtops" are so far removed from their role as acoustic rhythm guitars, bass and drum gear is similarly removed from that original job. And similarly, if they really knew how to play in that style, a bass player or drummer could make their electric uprights and bebop kits work, but it's way harder, and if they're making those gear choices, what are the odds they are able to do so or even interested in it?

    So, to the OP's question/point... if the bass player is playing an electric upright, I would say, what's even the point of having four-to-the-bar rhythm guitar? I'd spend the entire gig clashing with the natural sound and time-feel of the bass, regardless of what guitar I brought. Frankly, I think the tradition of having four-to-the-bar rhythm guitar is often thoughtlessly adhered to by many guitar players and bandleaders, neither of whom actually understand what it's supposed to do.

    Importantly, I try not to use "Freddie Green"-style as a term, because while Freddie was thought by many to be the best, his personal style, especially as it evolved during the "New Testament"-era of the Basie band, is idiosyncratic and thus distinct from the general style of playing such the term is supposed to be referencing.

    So are there ways to play the style "right" on electrified archtop? Sure - Charlie Christian was doing that in 1939...
    Here's Charlie from a jam session in 1939 before the BG Sextet had even waxed it's first studio recordings:


    And yes, I'd concur with omphalopsychos about the microphonic character of an ES-150 from that era, but I'd also add that I find the guitar body itself to be more acoustically resonant than most electrified archtops as well. I'd also concur that using something like a GE-7 is a good, modern solution, so that you can tailor an electric sound to the mid-heavy, lower volume tone that would be better for rhythm, and then turn it off for your normal electric tone.

    However, I think it's telling that as late as 1942, guitarists in big bands were still playing their acoustic archtops, and separately had an electric guitar if they were lucky enough to be featured for a solo. There's so few examples of this kind of thing, because guitar was so rarely featured in big bands, but I found two:
    1. 1942 - Dave Barbour with Benny Goodman from the movie "The Powers Girl", playing "One O'Clock Jump".
    Dave is shown playing his 1940 blonde L-5, with it's original white pearl pickguard before he removed it, but then there's an overt pause, as he switches to a pickguard-less ES-150 for his short solo. I mean, they're MIMING and not actually playing here, so why bother, unless that's literally how it went.


    2. Here's a 1944 or 1945 Barney Kessel with Artie Shaw's band, where he was a part of the Grammercy Five small group, and recorded a couple guitar solos with the big band. This photo was uploaded in a comment in the Barney Kessel facebook group, so I assume it's ok to put up here. Barney is playing the slanted pickup ES-300 he's playing the film "Jammin' the Blues", but there's an acoustic L-5 on a stand next to him.
    Big Band Tone -  A Serious Conversation-bk-two-guitars-jpeg

    So, I always bring two guitars to a big band gig if I'm expected to take a single-note electric guitar solo on top of playing rhythm.

    To the OP's question upthread... about the bandleader who doesn't really give time to switch. Well, you have to tell them to give you warning. Most bandleaders know not to write charts where a sax player doesn't have time to switch to clarinet, or a brass player doesn't have time to put in or take out a mute. You just need to inform them of the issue.

    Lastly, I'm not opposed to reasonably amplifying acoustic rhythm guitar with a mic. Perhaps someone would see this as a contradiction to my ethos, but like I said, life is full of compromises. The main distinction here, is that preserving the timbre and decay of the instrument are key. And while there are a variety of threads on here where christianmiller77 and I go back and forth about transducers and mics - I don't like transducers, and he can't abide the kind of clip-on lav mics I advocated - either is still so much more preferable to me than magnetic pickup electric guitar.

    Circling back, there is a truth to the whole "it's not the gear, it's how you play it" thing, but again, one that while true, sort of misses the more important lesson. You actually have to know how to play it - i.e. what it's supposed to sound and feel like - when you try to render it on the "wrong" gear. And I think there's a lot of jumping past that - and I mean that in the real world, I'm not calling out anyone here. Which reminds me of this video - where a Rockabilly guitarist makes some great points about the value of "authentic" gear versus the value of actually knowing the style and vocabulary. I won't spoil it, but it's worth a watch:


    And to this end... everything I've said sort of style assumes one is already playing the kind of traditionally streamlined rhythm guitar voicings. While some of the great original rhythm guitarsists, people like John Truehart (with Chick Webb), or Laurence Lucie (with Fletcher Henderson), were likely playing fuller voicings early on (more akin to the 5- and 6-note voicings many jazz manouche players use), I think the style evolved and coalesced around those streamlined 3-note (or 4 or 2...) voicings because they better concentrated the important harmonic information in the narrow frequency range that allows a rhythm guitar to pop out of a dense big band, especially as the 10-piece bands of the early 30's grew to 14/15 pieces in the late 30's, to the 17/18 or more of the early/mid 1940's and beyond.

    Anyway, perhaps someone will find something in this useful or interesting....