“The tone is in the fingers.”

Or the hands. Whatever. It’s a oft-spoke saying, considered common sense. Kurt Ballou gets that monster sound while completely altering his amp configuration every year. You could plug into Dimebag’s Randall but you’d sound like crap. If you’re not picking like Scott Ian you won’t get that chunky tone. And so on. But is this actually the case, especially when we take leads out of the equation? In today’s world of re-amping, digital amplifiers, and ultra-processed rhythm guitar parts, does the truism still apply?

Spector Sound Studios‘ Glenn Fricker, mic cupping aficionado, put this platitude to the test by rounding up three other guitarists and instructing everyone to play the same riffs through identical rigs. And what do you know, it’s very hard to hear the differences between the players, particularly in the context of the mix. I did pick up on some subtleties, for example I think Brandon White might be the hardest picker of the bunch.

I do have one thought though, besides the basic editing critique that I would have preferred the song to have more repeats of each part, because by the time you get to guitarist 3 the riff has already changed (yeah I know it goes through everyone on each part eventually but it made comparisons too much of a chore). And also, ignoring the basic caveat that you’ll hear much more guitarist individuality on a lead/melody line. No, the great leveler here is that all of these guys could play the parts perfectly well. “The tone is in the fingers” really means something when you factor in guitarists who can’t nail the parts. If you’re struggling, then your tone suffers. That is often why you don’t sound like your idols. It’s why I could play Faceless riffs through Wes Hauch’s rig and not sound like Wes Hauch.

If we’re truly doing this for science I’d like to see a return to this idea with more musician variety: lighter non-metal players, heavy handed all-downstroke chugmasters, beginner guitarists barely able to play the parts but technically hitting the notes, and mid-level axe slingers who are pretty much there but could be fingering things better.

That said, awesome video. Give it a watch.

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Chris Alfano has written about music and toured in bands since print magazines and mp3.com were popular. Once in high-school he hacked a friend's QBasic stick figure fighting game to add a chiptune metal soundtrack. Random attractive people still give him high-fives about that.