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Corey Christiansen Shares How He Gets His “Sound”

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Jazz guitarist Corey Christiansen describes the individual elements that provide his unique sound.

When Bob Bakert called and asked me to write about how I get my sound I immediately thought about the gear I use, (and I will get to that) but as I started to really think about “how I get my sound,” I was then reminded that as a younger professional I received face-to-face advice from both Joe Diorio and Vic Juris within two months of each other to “work on my sound.” So, I decided to take this article a step or two further.

I feel there are a couple of ways to think about sound. Obviously, timbre, or quality of sound, is what most people think of when we talk about sound, but we also can be referring to the languages we speak on our instrument. Our “sound” is not just timbre but also how we the style we play, the way we feel time, the way we articulate, the attack and decay of each note as well as the melodic and harmonic language we employ. So, before I get too much further here I’ll say that my sound has everything to do with how I marry my timbre with everything else. In other words, I’ve tried to develop and evolve a sound around the language I want to speak.

My sound is the result of decades of listening. Listening to my favorite players on many different instruments.

I’m a firm believer that gear, although it helps, doesn’t give you your sound. One’s sound is a result of hearing others and identifying what you like and adding that to your sonic palette. I think it’s better to decide what you want to sound like with a dream of YOUR sound and then chase and obtain the gear that helps you realize what you’ve been hearing in your head. In other words, I think it’s wise to chase a sound with intention rather than try to serendipitously fall into a sound that you kind of like. I started a mental collection of sound qualities that I like and wanted for me. I loved the attack and percussive nature of earlier guitarists that allows them to emphasize the rhythmic complexities in their language. I am drawn to the sustain of more modern guitarists (through the use of delay and reverb) and horn players and how that allows them to sing and soar through melodic passages. Fewer notes can take up more space in a nice way with sustain not usually found in a traditional acoustic guitar sound. Sometimes I like to hear a little dirt in sounds and sometimes I really like it clean. All of this has been conscience in my mind as I search for my sound. With that said, Here is the conduit from my mind to the listener’s ears as of this writing.

Guitars: I am lucky to have endorsements with Benedetto and Valle Guitars. My main jazz guitar is a Benedetto Pat Martino. It’s just incredible. No feedback problems for the louder gigs, yet it still reacts to my picking with lots of articulation. The guitar fights back a little which I love. I feel like when I get on it and pick harder it has more “headroom” than any other guitar that might be comparable in size and design. It’s simply incredible and really does it for me. The neck is perfect and the setup with 12s is exactly what I like in this type of guitar. (I use D’Addario Pure Nickel 12-51 strings with an unwound 19 or unwound 20 for the third string.) I am also a lover of teles. I have two tele-style guitars built by master building and set up guru Pablo Valle. I like the sound of the single coil pickups and one of my teles has been rigged with a left-handed bridge so the bridge pickup is on a reversed angle. I get some fantastic tones from both of these guitars, but they are different animals from the Benedetto. I just need all three for what I’m trying to do with my music at this point.

Pedals: I’m not too elaborate here compared to others I know, but I have been very deliberate about how I’ve put this aspect of my sound together. I go from my guitar into a wah (either the MXR or a vintage Vox) to a Vertex Boost. From there I go into an Empress ParaEQ. These three pedals all have something to do with the signal strength and/or the EQ. Wah is really just a manipulation of EQ. These pedals are up front as to affect everything that happens after. I have two Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork Pedals. One set to an octave higher (steel drum/Jim Hall/Metheny synth type of vibe… yes, Jim Hall used to use an octave pedal). Sometimes I use it an octave Low ala Hendrix. I use the other Pitch Fork on the unison setting and it creates a pretty nice modulation. It also seems to fatten up the sound just a little without being muddy. Quite the opposite actually. I think it sparkles the sound just a little. I run a Diamond Tremolo into an MXR Carbon Copy which is used for long, sustained sounds. From there I run into a Strymon Timeline which is almost unnoticeable but always on. I have it set to a tape delay sound that I created and stored. I use this pedal because it is incredibly transparent and does what I want it to do without messing with the sound much. I also have some presets that are pretty extreme and only are used on occasion. Maybe once or twice a performance. I then run into a Strymon Big Sky Reverb and I control that reverb with an expression pedal. Again, I want the ability to move from a short-note sound to a sustained note sound.

Amp: I either use an old MusicMan 210 HD (65 watt), Marshall 20-watt SV20H head through a Dr. Z 2X12 or a Fuchs 1X12 cab. These amps have a vibe and work differently with different guitars. Mostly I’ve found a way to get a clean sound with these amps with just enough hair on the sound to make it soft and cuddly. Yes, even the Marshall. Granted I have to channel jump the Marshall to get it to do what I want, but I get some very nice, warm sounds from that rig.

Picks: I’ve been using the D’Andrea Pro-Plec for decades. I do use some very fine abrasives to shape the sides differently to create a warm sounding pick with a lot of attack. I also have some vintage picks that I will use for recording sessions but never take them on gigs. I’ve been a pick collector over the years and I really don’t want to risk losing some of the picks I have in my collection so I use something that is replaceable on all my live gigs.

Cables: I use Planet Waves and EBS cables. All my cables are soldered ends.


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