Tuned Down and Out

Posted: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 by •»¶hê ƒRëq»•-)•–––– in

Over that past 10 years I've created a few music forums and sites observing local musicians and their music and commenting on the good and or bad that these artists do.   Yeah, I know,  if you don't have anything good to say about anybody, don't say anything at all.  Sorry,  I'm just not into the bury your head in the sand style of  media.  I'm not saying it's wrong.  I'm just saying that there is always a story to tell and every aspect should be looked at and told, good or bad. 

I have looked at hundreds of local band videos over the years and even more recently as local bands jump on the Youtube band wagon for showcasing themselves.  When you watch a lot of these videos in repetition you start to see a lot of similarities between a lot of the local bands but you also see a lot of flaws or what I call shortfalls. Believe me, my own bands and music have their own short comings too so I'm not just picking on others.

What I have noticed is how many local bands tune their guitars down from their normally designed pitch, which is A440, the standard pitch for most guitars.    Yes, I know, rock guitarists always strive to get the the heaviest sound possible and tuning down appears to these players as achieving that, but you also lose massive amounts of clarity.   With it, the bass and vocals also have to come down in pitch to match.   What happens is that the guitar sounds start to sound similar with all these bands.   In my own opinion ;-)  the sound becomes a drone like sound comparable to the low note on a set of bag pipes.   Listening to an albums worth of tuned down guitars, just becomes, boring and quite frankly, sonically annoying.    I look at some of the pioneers of music like Led Zepplin,  Rush, Black Sabboth, Pink Floyd and more and can't believe the clarity in their music over some of this tuned down material you hear today.   In my own love of music, I prefer bands that experiment with tunings, but always keep the designed pitch the norm.   Some players like Stevie Ray Vaughn tuned a half step down (a single fret position) on their guitars to enable the use of extremely heavy gauges of strings for big tone.  By using heavy strings, it makes it hard to bend the string, so tuning a half step down, you enable flexibility in the string to bend it.   That said, there's really not a lot of bending in today's rock music to compare with Stevie's technique of bending.   Still, I can honestly say I'm sick of the tuned down sound.    Like I mentioned earlier, when watching local band videos, some of these bands are tuned so low that the strings are hanging off the guitar fret board and at that point, losing clarity.
A few years ago, a band called Big Wreck hit the charts and what I liked about their first album was that each song experimented with a different tuning.   They weren't the first to do this, but they reminded me of Zepplin when they use to experiment with tunings.   The bottom line is that it just makes the music sound more interesting.

My other hang up while watching the local bands vids and their originals is the lack of  the "hook" or  a definitive groove.  Maybe I'm old and that's not important anymore but sheesh, legends were made from those 2 key points. Also, the use of the basic boring bar chord is just so dull to me.   I constantly nag my own band about over using bar chords.   It's like the hammer on for guitarists.. I find it boring unless Van Halen is using them.  Have you ever seen a chord chart for guitar or piano?  There are TONS of interesting chords you can play yet most bands, especially local, focus on the extremely basic ones.   Yes, we all use them but is it too much to ask to use them sparingly?    Listening to Jazz and classical music opens the door to amazing chording  which in turn will make your music a bit more interesting.   Something has to change because I just find the original music in our city is slowly repeating itself and on every repeat, something else seems to get lost or eliminated.  Is it music in general that's losing it's luster?  It's possible.  I guess the term stagnant should be used.   My other observation is the lack of  good lead guitar work.  In some cases, guitar leads are non existent but when they are there, most aren't very good.   This is actually music wide not just local.  It's sad to say but Nirvana killed the guitar lead.  There is also the opposite view where over playing during a guitar lead ruined music which I can also agree with.  Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot but it seems no one wants to try and achieve it anymore.

Drums are also losing their luster in the local music scene.   Where are the dynamic players??  In these local vids, the drummers are beating the crap out of the kit.  There is no dynamic at all.  Dynamics are what makes each player unique so without it, drummers start to sound alike.  Don't get me wrong.  There are good drummers out there but unique ones, not really.    I watched a lot of local bands at the KISS Battle contest a while back and only 2 stood out.   That's 2 out of a ton of bands.  The rest sounded like clones of the others which I found really odd. Of course, that again is my own opinion but the bottom line is that the rest of them all sounded like they were stamped out of the same mould.  That is what bothers me.   When you take away aspects of music like dynamics, tuning or  even inventive chord patterns, you're left with some pretty dull, uneventful music.  To add to that, vocal harmonies are not longer popular with local bands taking away yet another tool to be unique.   You're left with something so basic and bland that it feels like musicians have not evolved or learned a thing from their music history.

I guess I'm just discouraged by what I hear locally.  There are popular bands but none to me fit the bill as being unique or innovative.  I don't mean that as an insult but more so as an eye opener.  Maybe being unique is harder to achieve these days OR it's magical and only happens once in a while.  I'm not sure but I hope to see and hear something new soon as it's getting pretty dull.

glen "the freq"