I recently received a letter from a reader who was interested in tips for getting a good country guitar sound. The reader was using a Fender Telecaster with a Fender Pro 185 amplifier, and was worried because the sound they were hearing was more 'metallic' than 'country'. I asked several guitar players who specialize in getting the 'country' sound how they do it, and the responses were so good, I thought I'd share them with the world this time.
"As far as the Telecaster is concerned, I'm assuming this is an American Standard Telecaster with the American Standard Tele pickups or the Texas Special Tele pickups and not the Squire Telecaster or some of the other models (I count 38 at www.fender.com) with the Humbucking pickups. Take your guitar down to your local music store and plug into a Blues DeVille. If it doesn't sound like a classic Telecaster, consider replacing the pickups with Texas Specials (wired in series) or one of the Seymour Duncan Vintage replacement pickups (Lead Stack or Broadcast depending on the sound you're looking for)."
"I'm not that familiar with the Pro 185. As far as Fender Amps go, I've used the Super Reverb, Twin Reverb, Dual Showman, and the Blues DeVille with 4-10's. My question on this amp, is it one of the solid state or hybrid series amps? If so, I would recommend a Bellari Direct Drive Tube Mic Pre-amp to warm up the sound. I use these Pre-amps for all kinds of applications. I have a solid state Crate amp that I use sometimes. I'll run the Bellari into the insert plug, and bypass the Crate's solid-state pre-amp altogether. Together with my other effects, I can get just about any guitar sound I want. If your Pro 185 is a tube amp, check the output tubes and pre-amp tubes. If your output tubes are 6V6's, you may want to have them changed to 6L6's. 6L6 is the tube originally used in all those classic Fender Amps."
"I personally don't have a Telecaster; my '67 Rickenbacker Standard will come fairly close to that twangy Tele sound. The absolutely best country Tele sound setup I've heard, didn't use a Fender Amp at all. A friend of mine, Jeff Huber, uses a Maple necked Tele Standard, with the Texas Special pickups, an Art effects processor (a little chorus, reverb & tremolo) and a Seymour Duncan adjustable amp driving 4-12's. The adjustable amp let's you cut down the output power, while still overdriving the pre-amp. Unfortunately this amp is no longer made, and are very hard to find. I hope this helps."
"I don't know anything about a Pro 185. But I use a Telecaster with a Fender tweed Pro Junior for small gigs and a tweed Blues Deluxe for larger ones. My partner uses a couple of different Matchless amps that sound really good too. I haven't tried one yet but I hear the VHT Pitbull 45W is pretty good."
"The expensive high-end rig to beat these days is the Egnater guitar tube preamp and A VHT power amp component set-up."
"You also need a compressor and a delay unit to make just about any amp sound smooth and correct."
"Even for a "clean" tone you got to have a little tube distortion to keep it from sounding too wimpy or pingy. Most guys starting to play country think it's supposed to be too clean so they get these real clean amps that won't break up. You got to have a little warm tube distortion. Go for small amps generally, warm and fat as opposed to big clean bruisers like a Twin or a Music Man, etc."
"Experiment. And buy an amp at a place (like the Guitar Center in L.A.) where you can get a 30 day return deal so you can take it back if you don't like it. You can't tell anything about an amp playing it in a music store. You got to get it in the heat of battle, like at two or three gigs in a row, where you can tweak it some before you find out if it's right for you. If it's a studio amp, the only legitimate test is how does it sound miked up, listening back in the control room. Good luck."
"My style is more honky-tonk/rockabilly with some country and blues. I play straight into the amp with the guitar tone knob all the way on. I play with the volume depending on the song, the band, and the venue. I usually play with the guitar volume knob up all the way to get as much tone from the guitar as possible. (Jerry Byrd, famous steel guitar player, taught me to do that)"
"My usual amps are a Fender Deluxe Reverb and a Fender Super Reverb. I like the sound of 10" speakers but the Deluxe is lighter and more portable. As for amp tone settings, I go for 6-7 on Bass and Middle tones, and 8-10 on Treble, Reverb is set on 3. When I play my Telecaster, the bridge pickup is a screamer so I rest my palm to control howling. In the past couple of years, I have modified my Ibanez Roadstar with all Seymour Duncan pickups -- Vintage Tele bridge pickup, Vintage Strat in the middle position, and a Jazz Humbucker by the neck. I have a 5 position switch with another phase switch. I have graphite saddles to prevent string breakage and loss of tuning."
"The Ibanez is my workhorse now because I can go from thin tones to thick tones with the flip of a switch. As for my right hand, I use hard picks but I also play with my fingernails in a classical technique during leads. The rest stroke brings out more tone also when I do this. I have been doing this so long though, I don't think about it. If the song sounds like it needs a bigger, rounder tone, I will switch automatically."
So dust off the ten-gallon hat and dial up some country-fried licks using these sound ideas. Good luck! I'd like to hear what you come up with.
Dan McAvinchey is a guitarist and composer living in Raleigh, NC.
He believes every musician or composer has the power to write, record and release their own music.
His 1997 CD release on Guitar Nine was entitled "Guitar Haus".
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