The Ear of the Beholder

Posted: February 26, 2011 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

Hi Paul,

I’ve recently subscribed to your online lessons, and they are going great!  The information is clear and easy to follow and I’m very happy with them.

I was wondering how you are getting your metal tone, for example in Week 9, Chapter 15, with that Blue Yamaha guitar.  Amp: Peavey 5150?  Effects? Pedals?  What pickups do you have in that guitar?  According to your gear page, I noticed you don’t use overdrive pedals, but distortion pedals.  Why is this? Thanks,  -Scott


Great to hear from you Scott, thanks for subscribing!

I do like overdrive pedals. My favorites are the Boss SD-1 and the Ibanez TS-9. I joke that these are like breast implants for your amp, they don’t change your tone, they just give you more of what you already have. I use them mainly for extra gain on solos.

To answer your other question about what gear I use, most of the videos at including the Harmony and Theory chapter you mentioned, I used my Yamaha guitar with its regular pickups plugged into a Roland VG-99, this makes the process easier. From there, I go direct into my computer. The patch I use in the VG-99, I made with a High Gain Marshall amp model and a simulated Tube Screamer. I also added some modeled tape delay and ‘verb at the end of the chain.

When I mix the audio and my voiceover, I use the Waves SSL plug-ins and the Chris Lord Alge “Heavy Guitar” preset on my guitar. I just checked that particular video and I’m sure I added lots of the delay in the mix too.

But Scott I have to tell you, guitar tone is in the ear of the beholder. You always sound different depending on the room, your location in relation to the amp, and even depending on your mood. But, the one thing that never changes, is that your tone is connected to what you’re playing. Your personality is contained in every note, that’s why its so important to play every note just the way you want.

I’ve recorded so many different ways, with different guitars, amps, effects, mics, mic-pres and different rooms but I can’t escape the simple fact, I pretty much sound like myself. Let me tell you about some recordings I’ve made with completely different rigs and studios and I’ll include some audio clips of those tones, and you be the judge. I say, if you change your gear, you’re still mostly the same. Learn to vibrato better, dampen unwanted string noise and play solid rhythm, then you sound better.

My first solo album The Visitor was recorded in Munich Germany. The studio was designed to record orchestras so it was huge. We rented two Marshall stacks and I played through both amps really loud. Marshalls have 3 voltage settings, 240, 220, 120. The voltage in Germany is 220, but we used the 240 setting so the amps were working on less voltage than they were set for, an old trick.

On this record I used no effects, just a long cable from where I was in the control room, out to the amp in the live room. I played my Strat with a single Gibson humbucker in the bridge location. I had a great engineer, Sebastion Thorer, who, when doing guitar overdubs put mics all over the huge studio. Then in the control room each mic was on it’s own fader so we could mix and match mics to get the tone we wanted. Here’s an excerpt:

“Come and Take It” solo:  

 My second album The Paul Hanson Orchestra was recorded in Europe too, this time at the AIM music school in Vienna Austria. I had all the recording gear including my favorite 50 watt Marshall head up in my 3rd floor teaching office. I ran a mic cable and speaker cable out the window, down to the boiler room in the basement. It was dark and creepy down there but it sounded great. I put an SM-57 in front of my favorite 4×12 Marshall speaker cabinet down there. Upstairs the mic was plugged into a Tascam board.

I used different guitars on this one than on my first album. Those days I endorsed Westone guitars and I had custom made strats with humbuckers. One thing I really liked about those guitars is that the bodies were made of with a very light wood called poplar. I think lighter guitars sound heavier. Here’s an excerpt:

“Summertime” verse:  

My new album Mindscanner was recorded at my home studios in LA and Seattle with my Yamaha and Ibanez guitars. I used a lot of different gear for this one. My Peavey 5150 mic’d up with an SM-57, plugged into my vintage Neve mic pre, then direct into my computer. On some tunes I also used a Roland VG-88 and a VG-99 direct. The LA tracks were recorded with ADATs and a Mackie board a few years back. Here’s an example of one of those tracks. This is my Yamaha Pacifica and my 5150, I may have used a Tube Screamer too, I can’t remember:

“Mindscanner” solo:  

You be the judge. Each example is from different time periods in my career and with different gear, but I think you’ll find, I still sound like me. There’s a story about Eddie Van Halen on his first tour when Van Halen was the warm up band for Ted Nugent. Ted was so impressed with Eddie’s tone he asked if he could try playing Eddie’s guitar. Eddie said sure, so Ted picked up the guitar and started playing. Well, guess what, Ted sounded like Ted, not Eddie. It’s not the gear, it’s your hands, fingers and brain that make your unique tone.

Rock on Scott!




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  1. bingefeller says:

    Great stuff as always, Paul!


  2. Tejashwi says:

    I’m from KTM Nepal, Infact My Cousin was your student in Git Cal. U used 2 call him Micky (he told Me).Since then I’ve been listioning your riff with my Brother.I still have your CD (eg with Dorian Mode)….I m your Fan & will Be For ever….Keep Rockin !!!

    • phanson says:

      Hi Tejashwi, thanks so much! Micky from Nepal? I’m trying to remember, was he a really good horse rider?? Did Micky’s family ride horses standing on the horeses backs at shows??
      Katmandu’s Motto: My legacy, my pride, my Kathmandu…I’d love to visit your city someday , so much history. All the best!!!

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