I have heard this phrase since I was a teenager first learning how to play a D and G chord. People would talk about the great Stevie Ray Vaugh or Jimi Hendrix and how their tones moved there souls and it came from there magical hands.
“It’s all in the hands” repeated in my brain. So instead of buying a tube amp I would practice scales. Instead of getting a Tube Screamer I stuck with the Boss Super-Overdrive. Instead of looking into better guitar manufacturers I kept looking at my fingers and wondered why they sounded horrible.
I was in shredder mode. And that was the last thing my church needed. What my church needed was someone who could just play the solo for “God of Wonders” as it was written with a good quality tone (i.e. gear) behind it.
Back to the Greats and their Magical Hands. Sure Stevie Ray’s sound is amazing if you are a Texas blues player who loves gauge 14 strings, but I’m not. Sure Jimi’s tone was amazing for it’s time, but I’m pretty sure if I rolled into my church with a Marshal Stack cranked to ten, no, eleven and a Fuzzface, people would give me a weird stare (or grimace…or look of complete anguish).
Do you remember that scene from John Mayer’s concert DVD where he is playing on a bluff overlooking LA?
When I first saw this I couldn’t believe his tone, neither could my buddy who said “Man that guy’s tone is amazing. How do I get my hands to sound like that?” It was a rhetorical question so I didn’t draw attention to Johnny’s Signature head that goes for $8500.00. Even the Greats use great gear.
I think the core message the phrase, “tone comes from the hands” is trying to convey is that technique makes good gear sound great.
Any guitar rig is just going to sound better in the hands of a seasoned player who listens to Eric Johnson and Joe Bonamassa than it will given to a teenager whose idea of a good guitar player is Billie Joe Armstrong. But I would also bet that the seasoned player will sound better playing through a Dumble ODS-100 than a Marshall JVM.
Now tone without technique is useless so please don’t misunderstand me. There must be a solid foundation of technique and skill to support any guitar rig; however, don’t tell yourself that just because you are not a virtuoso that you don’t need or deserve good gear. If you can play the riff to “Hosanna” smoothly to a metronome and you play in front of your church then you and your congregation deserve the best gear you can get your hands on.
Does tone really come from the hands? I guess it’s true, but don’t let that be an excuse from getting good gear. If the “Greats” need it, you do too.
Love you guys, keep sharp,