Monday, March 23, 2009

Sustained legato playing

I suppose I ought to discuss this topic, since I have placed this video on youtube displaying my efforts in pursuit of the perfect sustained legato sound.

The fact of the matter is that I have always been fascinated by the 'Fripp sound'. It is not exclusive to him of course, other guitarists have similar sounds, but Fripp is the one who perfected and used it consistently. What is this sound? Well, the notes seem to have a never-ending sustain, for one, and to make it more difficult, a lot of times the notes are seamlessly linked, as if played on a mono synth.

The way I figured this could be done is with lots of overdrive, to start with. So in the video I am using a doubly-overdriven sound. I have the overdrive in the amp cranked up to the max, and I put the guitar through a tube-overdrive pedal. To avoid too much brightness, I have the pedal tone control towards the bass. The guitar uses the bridge humbucker and I have the tone control closed fully (bass).

Now all this distortion poses some practical problems. If I am not careful with dampening the strings as I play, it's very messy. I have to play mostly monophonically, otherwise it's a mess. I have to control the volume well, to avoid further mess. In other words, touch and articulation is very important. A long
sustain is possible with this set-up.

Now, the hard part is to give that legato feel. It looks like we need to try
just using the fingerboard to get the notes, avoiding picking as much as possible.
On a single string, this works well. When moving strings, it's hard to get a
good note without picking. As I don't use a plectrum, finger-flesh picking seems to help avoid hard/strong onsets.

I would be interested to hear other people's recipes to produce this guitar tone.
To me, a lot of it is in refining the playing technique.