Talking Tone With Dan Patlansky
Last night I had the great pleasure of attending an online tone and gear workshop run by Dan Patlansky.
Not only is Patlansky a killer player, he has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of tone. Crafting a beautiful blues and blues rock guitar tone has been a life long passion of his. It is he feels, “the most important thing in music”.
For those of you not familiar with Patlansky, he is an amazing South African blues guitarist. A disciple of the high intensity, Stevie Ray Vaughan style Texas blues, Patlansky has taken a vintage blues style and tone, and fused it with modern song writing. If you are new to him, start with his most recent album, Perfection Kills to hear his playing in action.
Patlansky went deep during the workshop, covering every element of his signal chain in almost forensic detail.
A lot of the material was totally new to me, and I wanted to pull out 5 of the key takeaways that you can implement easily to improve your tone. Here are some of Dan Patlansky’s top tone tips:
Know Your Tone
In Patlansky’s belief, the first obstacle that stops blues guitarists getting great tones, is that 90% of the time, they haven’t even established the tone they want to achieve. And as he rightly observes, this makes it very difficult for them to build a rig that really works.
Patlansky’s biggest tonal influence is Stevie Ray Vaughan. As a result, the majority of decisions he makes regarding his tone are designed to get him closer to sounding like SRV. It is for this reason that he plays a Strat, why he fits that Strat with heavier gauge strings and why he uses Honey Bee Amps. Patlansky doesn’t care about tonal versatility. He has a very clear idea of the tone he wants to recreate, and optimises every part of his rig to get that sound.
If you want a killer blues tone, you need to do the same. As Patlansky points out, so many players develop rigs that are at odds with the tones they want to create. They play a Strat, even though they want to sound like Gary Moore. Or they buy a Tube Screamer to sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan, even though their rest of their rig is totally different to that which Vaughan used.
Long story short – if you want to develop a beautiful blues tone, you need first to have a very clear idea of the type of sound you want to create. This will empower you to always make informed decisions about your set up. You will buy pedals and guitars that compliment your rig, and your tone will be so much better as a result.
Tone Is In The Hands
The idea that ‘tone is in the hands’ is not new. You have probably come across this phrase countless times, and seen it used in reference to early bluesmen, who got beautiful tones without relying on tons of different amps, guitars and pedals. It is also a statement that is very difficult to disagree with. Obviously the way you play your guitar makes a big difference to your tone.
Yet Patlansky has taken this one step further by developing a trusted method for getting better tones from your hands.
For an hour every week, Patlansky purposefully plays with a tone that is almost unusable. He plugs directly into a cheap, poor quality mixing console and runs that through an equally low quality wedge speaker. What he ends up with is a harsh and grating tone. But this forces him to focus on his hands. And within 20 minutes of practicing, his tone has dramatically improved. This is not from any change to his gear. All of the changes in tone come from his hands. His picking, vibrato and dynamics are better, and his tone improves as a result.
To get the best tone from your rig, try doing the same. Don’t hide behind expensive amps and pedals. Push yourself to develop the tone in your hands and you will sound infinitely better.
5 Is The Magic Number
When it comes to pedals, Patlansky adopts an economical approach. He swears that 5 pedals is his magic number, as it is here that he can get the tones he wants without sacrificing the quality of his clean tone. Because – as he points out – if you aren’t careful, your pedalboard is going to be the place where your tone goes to die. You can have the best guitar and amp, but if you are playing through a pedalboard that has been poorly set up, you will struggle to get a decent tone.
Critically, every pedal you add to your board will cause a weakening in your signal and affect your clean tone. As a result, Patlansky only has pedals on his board that he uses consistently. He got rid of his Uni-Vibe and Octavia pedals, and even went so far as to take his tuner off his board! He did this because he felt like he was sacrificing too much of his clean tone for the sake of using his Octavia pedal for a couple of minutes in each gig.
This is definitely something to think about if you suffer from G.A.S. (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome). Pedals have their place, and they can do a lot for your tone. But be mindful about how your rig works as a whole. It is this that will ultimately determine your tone.
Tone vs. Playability
Patlansky points out that when it comes to the blues – it is a battle between tone and playability. Raising your action will improve your tone by increasing resonance and sustain. Yet it will also make your guitar harder to play. Using heavy gauge strings will do the same, but again it makes playing more challenging. Because so much tone comes from your playing (Patlansky ventures around 50-60%), if your playing suffers, your tone is never going to be good, even if everything else in your rig is perfect.
So when you are chasing down the perfect tone, make sure that you are never sacrificing comfort or playability. And here Patlansky recommends taking a conservative approach.
As an example, if you want to play heavier strings, don’t jump up from 0.09s to 0.12s. Work up to 0.095, spend a week or two playing there and see how you get on. Then go up to 0.10s etc. It is about finding the sweet spot where you get a great tone and you can play comfortably.
Give Yourself A Boost
Patlansky believes that a big part of his tone comes from his signature Honey Bee Clean Drive pedal. This is a clean boost pedal that he uses as an ‘always on’, tone shaping device. It takes the sound of his amp and just pushes it a little harder, fattening up his tone without colouring it.
This is a great trick to use, especially if you are doing a lot of your playing at home. It can be difficult to get high quality blues tones at low volumes. Tube amps work best when you push the volume and the sound starts to break up. This is what produces the warm and softly overdriven tones that you hear on so many classic blues records.
Unfortunately, playing at low volume is what most of us have to do, most of the time. There are usually family/friends/neighbours that we need to consider.
And this is where a boost pedal can work wonders. All you need to do is place the pedal in front of your amp and dial it in to your desired volume. You should find that the boost pedal adds warmth to your tone and makes your guitar sound bigger.
Learn More From Patlansky
What I’ve highlighted here is just a tiny fraction of the information that Patlansky covered. He runs these workshops regularly, so keep an eye out on his social media for any upcoming dates:
The workshop last night only cost $10, which is unbelievable value for money. And as it so happens, over the next 3 weeks Patlansky is running a 3 part series on playing, entitled: 7 ways to improve Improvising with Dan Patlansky.
Each session is only $10. So if you want to add some spice to your lead playing, I would definitely recommend checking them out. You can sign up to the first session HERE.
Well that’s it from me guys, I hope the advice outlined here is helpful, and I hope you enjoy listening to Patlansky if he is new to you. Time to plug in and get those killer blues tones! 🙂