SPECIALTY GUITAR STEW BY PAUL “TFO” ALLEN
Dialing in a guitar tone is a lot like cooking a meal:
Every little ingredient or component alters the final product, and
you have to make several crucial
choices as you create a dish. Most
of us have a pretty good idea of
how to pull up a good guitar
sound, but sculpting tones for
specialty instruments—like baritone, 6-string bass, and electric
12-string—is a little more elusive.
In this column, I’ll explain some
different qualities I look for in
specialty instruments, beginning
with the 6-string bass.
A 6-string bass, like a Fender
VI or Schecter Hellcat VI, offers
a great way to add a thick layer
of low-end reinforcement to a
riff. Because a 6-string bass is
tuned exactly one octave below
a guitar, you don’t have to mentally transpose the fretboard. All
the chord shapes, fingerings, and
note names are identical to a
standard guitar—they’re simply
pitched an octave lower.
The Hellcat Vl has Duncan
Designed MH- 102 pickups,
which do a great job of translating both attack and rich lows. A
6-string bass can easily become
“woofy,” so I prefer low-tuned
instruments with pickups that
can be coil-tapped, like the
MH-102s. Coil-tapping the
pickup is a fast way to cut out
unwanted bass frequencies.
Coil-tapping is also a great
option on a baritone guitar, an
instrument that’s typically tuned a
fourth (B-B) or fifth (A-A) lower
than the guitar. My Schecter
Blackjack Baritone sports a pair
of Seymour Duncan pickups,
which deliver a nice variety of
tones. The ’ 59 series pickup in the
bridge position is huge sounding
for high-octane rock, but when
it’s coil-tapped I can also get tic-tac bass tones that work really
well for old-time cowboy music.
Amps are another big factor
in the specialty instrument tone
equation. After experimenting with
many guitar heads, bass heads,
bass cabinets, and guitar cabinets,
I’ve settled on a 1966 Ampeg
B-15N bass head and a 2x12
Mesa/Boogie Lonestar cabinet for
low-tuned specialty instruments.
Top: A cosmic trio (left to right): Schecter Stargazer 12-String, Schecter
Hellcat Vl, Schecter Blackjack Baritone.
Bottom: A 1966 Ampeg B-15N bass amplifier works great for providing rich low end to baritone and 6-string basses, and also adds body
to electric 12-string guitars, which can easily become too chimey
and shrill. Photos by Paul “TFO” Allen
produce an offensive high end, so
I use the B- 15 to keep the upper
register smooth and under control.
Going back to our cooking
analogy: Creating an instru-
ment tone is like making a stew.
Frequencies are like flavors in
that a single ingredient shouldn’t
be too overpowering (too bit-
ter or too bassy), because then
it calls attention to itself and
detracts from overall enjoy-
ment of the dining or listening
experience. Ingredients should
work together to create a single
pleasant taste—or tone. Over the
years, I’ve found that most peo-
ple’s ears are like their taste buds:
They’re looking for quality that’s
full and evenly distributed.
PAUL “TFO” ALLEN
is a multi-instrumentalist who
has worked with Big & Rich,
Adele, Sebastian Bach, 112,
Jake Owen, Larry the Cable
Guy, and many others. He
also has his own project
called Ten Finger Orchestra, and can be
reached at email@example.com.