02010-02-22 | Uncategorized | 12 comments

TONE and NOTE are the exact same letters, rearranged. In fact, if you discard the “e”, NOT is TON backwards. In my opinion one could not, should not be without the other.

Victor commented on February 19th, 2010 at 12:37
Hi Ottmar would you mind sharing about how far the mic is from your guitar or hand when you are recoding? Just wondering as I saw a pic of John measuring mic distances. Love the way your guitar sounds and how you capture the beauty of your playing.

Thank you, Victor. No, I don’t mind at all, because the secret of my tone lies not in the distance of the microphone to the guitar, nor does it, I believe, lie in the model of microphone or pre-amp I use. I also don’t think the guitar itself or the brand of strings is most important. To be sure, all of these items add to the sound, and have been carefully selected to either bring out certain qualities of tone I like or make the playing of the instrument more enjoyable.

Since I don’t have a fixed distance between the guitar and the microphone, I will measure the distance once we are set up for recording in HD, next Tuesday. I generally use a greater distance for solo recordings, and move the microphone closer for band recordings. I’d say the mike is about a foot away from the soundhole, and maybe a foot and a half for solo recordings.

Jon suggested also doing that for my solo concerts last fall, since I don’t have to compete with other instruments and the P.A. only amplifies my guitar. We moved the microphone, which is normally just a few inches (((I’d say between 1 and 2 and no more than 3 inches))) from the soundhole when I play with the band, to a distance of about a foot away from the guitar and it sounded very nice and natural.

Short list of my equipment, pretty much unchanged since 2002:
Lester DeVoe Flamenco guitar (1 Negra and 1 Blanca)
D’Addario Composite strings for the 3 bass strings and D’Addario Titanium for the 3 treble strings
Shure KSM141 microphone (live) and Neumann M-149 (studio)
Martech MSS-10 microphone pre-amp (was only studio, but I will also use it on tour this year)

I think the most important part of my gear is the shape of my fingers, the shape and thickness of my nails and how I touch the strings. I think because of the HD recording quality and because it’s just a trio (((no rhtyhm guitars or percussion to distract))) one will be able to really hear on the new album how I constantly change my hand position, from playing by the bridge to playing over the soundhole and near the neck.

Hope that helps. More next Tuesday, and please remind me on Wednesday if I forget to post the distance.
PS: (updated on Monday)

steve commented:
I believe it was Jaco Pastorius who said, “the sound is in my hands.”
If one listens to Jaco on various recordings, no matter what bass he plays, it sounds like Jaco.

Very true.

Brenda commented:
Would you share a lttle more about your first paragraph? Thank you.

In the first paragraph I was wondering whether there is a linguistic reason for the fact that the words “Note” and “Tone” contain the same letters. After all, they are equally important for making music. Even on the piano, which, unlike the guitar or trumpet, is a mechanical instrument, one can often distinguish the touch of different pianists.

On many instruments the tone-creation is an essential element of the perfomance. It does not matter how well you can play the notes on a saxophone or trumpet if you can’t produce a pleasant tone – who wants to listen if you have an ugly sound.

Then there are synthesizers, a relatively new instrument. It’s quite a tricky instrument. Some very accomplished pianists sound terrible on a synth, because while they have great technique, they have no ear for programming a nice sound on a synth. Then there are keyboard players like Brian Eno. He does not have much of a technique or training, and yet he produces marvellous synth pieces that rely on gorgeous sounds.

The guitar, I feel, lands somewhere smack in the middle. There are plenty of guitarists who play the notes well, but produce a rather ugly tone. I find that practicing one’s tone-production is just as important as playing the notes.


  1. steve

    I believe it was Jaco Pastorius who said, “the sound is in my hands.”

    If one listens to Jaco on various recordings, no matter what bass he plays, it sounds like Jaco.

  2. Brenda

    Would you share a lttle more about your first paragraph? Thank you.

  3. Ottmar

    I will, on Monday.

  4. Adam Solomon

    The DeVoes are beautiful guitars. Vicente Amigo’s been recording with them for years, and they say Paco finally dropped his Conde in favor of a DeVoe for his current tour. My teacher owns one of his negras, easy to play, the most gorgeous tone…. mmm :) So expensive, though!

  5. Ottmar

    Yes, they are, Adam. But, it’s not the guitar, it’s how you play it. Nouveau Flamenco was recorded on a $500 Spanish classical guitar, because that’s all I had at the time.

  6. Carol

    And there’s no mistaking your music. Every note is so personal. You put a definition on it, ‘tone’ but it’s impossible to define. The very touch of your fingers to the strings are from deep within you and magically transferred though your instrument. One doesn’t say, How great . He never missed a note. I’ve heard that kind of music that you could claim is perfect but it lack the real thing. Watching the Olympic skaters is a perfect example of the difference between perfection and giving more from the heart. thank you, Ottmar.

  7. steve

    One of the things I particularly like about stringed instruments, is the infinity of ways that a note may be played. Especially with plucked instruments, notes are (almost) like snowflakes: no two are exactly alike.

    This is not the case with, for instance the piano.

  8. Brenda

    Thank you for the beautiful explanation. :)Yes, the words tone and note do contain the same vowel o also, so to know the history or how the word was created would be a cool thing to know. (Aw, in the middle of a brainstorming session the creators of the word note and tone made a Defining choice to communicate the essence for our Webster).
    Yes, I like that you chose the words ugly and gorgeous sounds as choices in listening.
    Thank you for taking the time to explain. I appreciate it.

  9. Carol

    Well, if you think about it, even the piano keys know who’s touching them. And trumpets can be so personal. We know Satchmo Armstrong and Miles Davis after a few notes (tones). I like the reference to snowflakes, Steve…and too soon melted.

  10. Ottmar

    True. But with a piano the finger touches a key that moves a lever that moves another lever that moves a hammer that strikes a string… With a trumpet the player has to create the sound with their mouth. That’s quite a different level of intimacy.

  11. Victor

    I remember one of my teaches telling me that only the guitar has both hands (finger tips/nails) touching the string even the violin does not. I think Ottmar is right on its all about tone and thats what I think the listeners are looking for. I think Ottmar has some of the best tone on a nylon guitar ever produced. Its like the tones sounds touch such a deep place and even made me want to play the guitar again after putting it down for a few years. Tone is the zone to be in. I like what Steve said too about how the notes are like snowflakes.

  12. Brenda

    Possibly, when someone is speaking, we listen to the tone of their voice first, and then secondly receive, the “letters” “word” “note” that has become a “tonenote” beautiful sound creation, and in the future , we choose to select listening again and again, when given an opportunity. Yes, I like that phrase “Tone is the Zone” to be in.


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