Ear for guitar


If only for a moment.....
Can you often tell the brand of electric or acoustic guitar being used in songs you like or hear ? Like, could you always tell a Rickenbacker or a Gibson or a Hagstrom or an Epiphone or an Ovation or a Martin or a whatever ?
I can't !
Its usually impossible to tell because the amp contributes as much as the guitar. Still there are "families" of sound, single coil, humbucker, Filtertron, P90. But saying for sure what was used in a studio is going to be a guessing game. People thought Jimmy Page used Les Pauls, but for the first LZ album he used a Tele and a Supro. Billy Gibbons was famous for playing Pearly Gates, but twice when I saw him, he was playing custom built Tele style guitars. He still sounded like Billy G.

Can you tell the difference between Brian Setzer and Mark Knopfler? Gretsch vs Strat. Roger McGuinn vs BB King? Rick vs Gibson. So, yeah, to some extent you can tell general trends. I doubt many people could tell a 335 from a Les Paul simply from a recording.

There are so many acoustics, it would be darn near impossible to be able to distinguish them all with any certainty. When I was shopping for my Taylor, I played maybe a dozen different Taylor models in one sitting. They all had differences, so you can't say that all Taylors or Martins or Ovations sound the same.
Here’s a good video along those lines. Basic premise is the only tone you can reference is a RECORDED guitar tone. Live, or in the room, it has no permanence. You’re only left with a ‘memory’ of a fleeting moment, which can be inaccurate.
The recorded sound goes through an elaborate chain, all of which contributes to the final sound you hear.

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I don't even know which of my own guitars and basses I used? Even worse because I rarely use much in the way of tone changing effects, bar the usual distortiony type things. My basses NEVER have treatment, just EQ and I often play the one closest to hand. With tone adjustments once recorded, I have no idea, until maybe a note bends or slides and I realise it was a fretless and not the one I thought!
In a general sense, I can spot Strat style guitars (position 2 & 4 type quack) and probable humbuckers but that's about it.
Can you often tell the brand of electric or acoustic guitar being used in songs you like or hear ? Like, could you always tell a Rickenbacker or a Gibson or a Hagstrom or an Epiphone or an Ovation or a Martin or a whatever ?
I can't !
Sometimes I can tell - Like Stratocasters in between positions - or a Telecaster on a Country song - but mostly I can identify where it's a single coil, a P90 or Humbucker - sometimes a Rickenbacker - but really after the recording processes a guitar goes through it's a wonder we can tell anything.
I don't know that I agree with JIm on this one. For much of my life, a lot of the guitar sounds I heard were live, not recorded, not through a mic or preamp or console. In some cases, it was an acoustic guitar, so there wasn't even an amp. With electric guitars, it was fairly easy to tell what was being played, as long as you weren't homogenizing the sound through a ton of pedals.

I was a color matcher for 40 years, We had different pigments, maybe 3 reds, 4 blues, 3 different yellows. I could easily tell you which pigment was used for a product, just by looking at it. assuming you didn't start blending stuff together although I could often spot them as well.. It was experience that allowed me to look at a color and tell you the product used. Just like a Telecaster or a Barney Kessel, they have distinct characteristics.

The problem I have is the use of the word "tone". It's an ambiguous word. It can mean different things to different people, except maybe in the broadest sense. The "tone" knob on a guitar or amp is mostly a bass/treble control. Yet people talk about "tone" when they are discussing overdrive, sustain, technique, and just about anything that can be adjusted with a guitar (or any other instrument).

As for if someone sounds like Keith Urban, or Joe Walsh, or Derek Trucks, that's not "tone". Technique isn't "tone". If you take Derek's SG, and try to play it, you probably won't sound anything like Derek, unless you've really worked hard to mirror his style of attack, how he holds his slide, and how he uses vibrato.
For a long time I at least THOUGHT I could tell a Ric 4001 sound and a Ric 325 sound in a recording. These days....you can make lots of things sound like other things.

Agree with Papanate - In many cases - I can distinguish between strats, LP/humbucker, and teles. Always easier when there is less gain and/or the guitar is not buried in effects and whatnot.
There are quite a few well known guitars that have a recognizable sound and I can tell them apart easily if they are played clean (ish) through the same amp with the same basic settings. Start jacking with the controls and adding distortion and all bets are off.