How to develop your own unique sound

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Why do you want your own sound?

Now why is such a technical aspect part of "Zen shredding?" Because there's a hidden agenda behind the need to create your own unique sound or tone. Why does it have to be unique? Why would anyone want to sound differently from others? And why is it that we're often repelled by copy cats and people who sound like someone else? It's because being unique, special or significant is part of a basic human strategy designed to keep us in the group.

Because if you're unique then that means you can contribute something special to the group. And "special" means "irreplaceable!" So if you're significant or special, no one can take your place in the group. Only you can fill that void with what ever it is that make you so special. But trying to be unique when that's what you already is, is a big fat waste of time. Just like it's a waste of time trying to impress people with your playing if you're already impressed with yourself! There's no one like you on this planet. You are unique by design and if you let that uniqueness express itself, your sound will be a reflection of who you are on a deeper level.

How to find the ultimate tone

Sometimes our basic instinct pull us away from what we really want. And what I suggest you really want that is not just an idea  or a thought in your head, is the perfect playing experience. Having that can't compete with the story of you as "the unique and significant one" because that just an idea, an illusion that can crumble the next second you get the wrong look from one in your audience. Having an instrument that doesn't obstruct your playing and a sound that excites you and makes you want to keep on playing, is real. That's an experience worth aiming for. And if you, out of that, create a unique sound, then that's fine and dandy, but it can't be the essential thing. Not if your aim is to have as much fun as possible in this life time.

The only way to be unique, is to trust in what you feel is right and what sound you like the most. And then to improve on what is perfect all the time. In this way, your tone won't be an expression of a superficial need to feel unique, but it will be a reflection of who you are, and there's only one of you in this universe. But you must be willing to sound like everyone else, if you're not, you'll listen more to the thought that asks "Yes it sounds great but is unique?!" than you will listen you what you really like.

Odd numbers Alternate Picking Run

This is not only a great sounding run but also a very good exercise for your picking hand. You keep playing the same sequence of notes but you have to shift between outside and inside string shifts every other time.

The path that every great artist follows

If you're not willing to sound like someone else you will hear some other guitar player and go "How does he get that tone?!" But then your brain will say "I don't care, I wont copy him, because I want something  unique" And then you natural creative mind can't operate freely. Copying others are very often the way to develop a style or tone of your own.

And if you don't stop trying to improve your sound, you'll take a little from one artist then a little from another until the result is your own. If you dig into the stories of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Clapton, Malmsteen or any other artist known to have a unique sound, you'll find that they came up with that particular sound by copying others. And then they improved on what was already great. Life is too short for you to try and invent everything from scratch.

The ultimate  playing experience

Some years ago I decided to create the perfect playing experience for myself. Up until then, I had focused more on what my audience would like to hear than what I liked the most. So I tried out different types of strings to find the ones that felt the best and gave me the best sound. Then I experimented with the scalloped fretboard, with different types of pickups (I bought some, then tried them out, then loved them, then found some even better ones, then sold the other ones and repeated the process.)

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost"

Martha Graham

The key here is to first find a guitar that you really love to play, and then to forget about effects and EQ until  you have 1. A guitar that you love 2. With the pickups that you love 3. With all the features and details that you love (Strings, the pick, the therm) I also experimented with different types of picks to get the most bright and clear tone possible and I found the metal picks to be the ones for me. My sound doesn't come from an effects board but from the basic combination of guitar, pickups and amp.

Your setup should sound amazing when you plug into your amp and crank up the volume. That's the sound that you should fall in love with. Then you can add a little reverb, delay, chorus, flange or what ever, but those things are spice and not part of the basic tone or sound. Trying to create a good sound with effects and EQ, on the basis of a sound that you don't really like that much, is like trying to "re-cook" a meal that tastes bad. No spice or added flavor will make it up for that basic taste.

You're an expert already

My mother recently wanted me to buy new stereo for her because,  as she said "You are much more knowledgeable than I in that area. I can't hear what's good or bad" My answer was brief: "Why would you need my help to tell you what stereo to buy when it's your experience that determines what you will find valuable? And if you can't hear the difference from one speaker to another why buy a new stereo at all?" The thing is, we enter into this strange world where no natural laws apply anymore and we think we need to be experts in order to buy something good, when "good" is what's good in our own experience. No expert can tell you what sound is the most pleasurable to you because only you can be the judge of that. More on that in my next article...