Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Acoustic Guitar Solos - Why They Are An Important Part of the Scott Cooley Signature Sound

As a music consumer, I love perfect music that uses electric instruments, don't get me wrong, but as a musician, I prefer unplugging, especially for solos.  I know this drastically goes against mainstream music trends.  Boston's first album was one of my first albums I owned as a kid and I loved their perfect sound with awesome electric guitar solos, harmony guitar, and electric organ.  Every song was flawless and sounded like it was from the future.

As a musician though, there are times when you are sitting around in a basement, living room or garage with at least one other person and you're both jamming together on acoustic guitars.  Inevitably, in such sessions, you will get an opportunity to play a solo during an instrumental break section of a song.  

You're so excited about your chance to really shine that you grip the pick a little too hard and overplay a bit because you're a tad overenthusiastic.  The results can often be underwhelming as compared to what you imagined in your mind because you picked too harshly, which is an easy mistake to make with an acoustic guitar.  

Although I'm not sure how to explain exactly what is going on, but there's like an unintentional muting that can happen.  In these moments, you find your fingers press down too hard on the strings too.  Somehow you sort of want it to sound more like an electric guitar solo, and to stand out volume-wise over the other acoustic guitars, but overdoing it takes away some desired sustain so you overcompensate for that subconsciously. To me, despite being sonically imperfect and possibly undesirable, it is actually pleasing to my ears.

I am of the opinion that the aforementioned sound is more fun to listen to than an electric guitar solo played through an amp with effects.  You can hear the purity and joy and desire in there.  There's a raw sound of passion, and it produces fist-pumping adrenaline in the listener, which I suspect releases a rush of dopamine.

It's times like these that are often the most memorable as a musician participant, and for the audience.  Through my own informal research and testing and observation over many years, I've come to believe there's some honest truth to this theory, despite a lack of any real scientific proof.  When someone wants to rock harder than they're capable of - either with their technical ability or their equipment - you can hear that.  It's hard to explain but you know it when you hear it.  I happen to love that, whatever it is.

This is why I prefer to record such moments and incorporate them as key ingredients in my signature sound.   Yes, it has an amateur quality to it, but there's something about hearing great potential in your mind of what could be or could've been that is arguably better than a fully realized perfect version with high production value.  I argue it IS better to listen to this way.

We can't all play smooth and fast on acoustic like Billy Strings, and we all have our own style and influences.  In the 70s and 80s, I grew up on what is now called classic rock, but there was also punk, disco, and new wave in there, so it was confusing.  The music I liked best had great guitar solos, which may not happen much anymore in modern music, but I also loved acoustic music, and in my mind I've always had similarly weird ideas that acoustic music doesn't have to limited to folk and can have drums and bass too.  I also think leaving in a few imperfections in a recording can be fine.  Happy accidents.

I actually like knowing my signature sound makes people envision being at a house concert, or just hanging around their musician friends jamming in someone's house.  Informal, intimate, not doctored up too much with technology.  Maybe it's my fond memories of such times that skew my preference for the acoustic guitar solo, making me think it's cooler than it really is, so I can consider that.  

In the meantime, the best advice I've ever heard about being a songwriter/recording artist is to simply do what pleases you.  If you yourself like it, chances are others probably will too.