If there is one thing I would change about my playing today it would be my dependency on tone. I think this is true for everybody that has played for a number of years. The more refined your ear gets and the more in tune with nuance and touch you get, the harder it is to play when your sound is less than satisfactory. Of course there are many things you can do about it, from changing your guitars, amps, pedals—even down to strings, tubes and picks. But after you’ve gone through all that experimentation and you’ve established your signature sound, the curse of tone still hounds you. Now it has to do with the environment you’re playing in.
On tour this year over in Europe, I realize how much better I play when the sound is right. A three-piece band like mine needs a big room with a certain amount of live reflection but not too boomy. If it’s too live we hope the people will absorb some of the sound (they always do), but if it’s too dead we know it’s gonna be tough to get the cohesive sound we strive for. If you play down at the front of the stage you sometimes have to contend with front of house or worse, sub woofers under the stage. For me this can take all the definition out of the bass and mess up the low end of my guitar. A dry, dead room sometimes renders my distortion sound scratchy and brittle, and I have to compensate by turning down presence and treble and adding more delay.
On nights when my sound is not there I am always shocked at how poorly I play! Many years ago Larry Carlton came to my gig and I asked him, “What do you do when your sound is not working for you?” His response was, “I let the music take over and just try to get into the music somehow.” On this tour I’ve had one or two chances to apply that advice. It’s sometimes a struggle out there, but it really helps me deal with the curse of tone. —Carl Verheyen March 26, 2010