What exactly is "clean"?

Discussion in 'V.C.'s Parlor' started by duceditor, Sep 18, 2020.

  1. duceditor

    duceditor Squier-Axpert Gold Supporting Member

    Age:
    73
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    The electric guitar was invented with really one purpose: To make the guitar louder. Loud enough to play with a band or even a full orchestra. Changing the guitar's sound wasn't initially the purpose -- raising the volume was.

    The earlier methods of making guitars louder had run into problems. Make the guitar louder they did, yes. But they also changed its sound. So much so that now, when loudness is no longer an issue, the guitars that came from those earlier efforts and still loved -- not for their volume so much as for their unique voices. Resonator guitars for example.

    When we speak about "clean" tone on an electric it is now a given that we don't mean the sound of a just louder acoustic. No, electric guitars have a sound that is their own. In fact even with no added distortion there are families of guitars with their own sound. Teles for instance. Strats. Les Pauls. Juniors. ES models.

    We here love to post videos where some famous (or famous wannabe) person plays a Squier. This is understandable -- Squiers have for so long been dumped on by some Fender players that seeing them getting the respect we know the deserve is a pleasure. But if you think about it this is a bit silly. That because what makes Squier so remarkable is that you can't tell a guitar is a Squier by listening to it. And that's the point. It is in fact a Tele, or a Strat, or a Mustang, or a Jazzmaster. Yes a real one. Saying "Fender" or "Squier" on the headstock means very little and is getting to mean ever less.

    But when we talk about "clean" vs. distortion there is still a difference. But only some. For, really, when it comes to electrics what means "clean"?

    My Les Paul sounds very different "clean" than does my Tele. Or my Jazzmaster. Or my Jaguar. Or (often for me of late) my Black Holiday.

    No, these guitars each have a voice of their own. And that voice changes from one amp to another even if it being played "clean."

    To some this may have little meaning. Their "voice" is rarely "clean." Amps are manipulated to add overtones that we admittedly call "distortion."

    "Distortion" does not mean ugly. It means changed. And adding pedals to the sound changes them yet more.

    But what if we look to not change the sound? To allow the guitar and amp combination to sound as unchanged as possible for that combination? That is what I (and I think most of us) mean when we say we are playing "clean."

    Some here say they "hate" distortion and never use it. I'm not among these. The sound I heard in my head when I wrote a good deal of my music had added overtones. some gentle, some relatively harsh, built in.

    But what do I mean when I say I am playing something "clean"? That is amazingly varied!

    My "cleanest" is a mid `70s Silverface Twin Reverb. That and a Tele is probably the gold standard of "clean."

    It is a sound I love for the music of others, but have never -- not once! -- been one I've written for myself.

    An ES guitar thru that same amp, on the same settings, yes. And if I'm in the mood for true `60s surf the Jazzmaster thru that amp is a perfect example of what I mean when I say "clean."

    But of late my sound has been very different. Much of my playing of late has been voiced by a VistaTone PUP loaded 'acosta-glas' Supro guitar through a Supro amp -- one that is not being pushed hard at all.

    It, too, is "clean." But very very different sounding than would be the same song played in the same way through a Tele and a Twin Reverb.

    Is it still, then, "clean"?

    Yes. But with a sound of its own.

    Lately I've been working on an old Stones song played through this combo in just this way. Its "voice" is, I think, rather unique. "Clean." But so full of personality that I have to question: Is it clean? Really?

    I'll post a vid as soon as I think it is ready.

    Comments are, as always, welcome and appreciated!

    -don
     
  2. RegularJim

    RegularJim Squier-Nut

    Age:
    48
    871
    Dec 30, 2017
    Illiconsin, Wisinois
    My theory is that distortion was nothing but a happy accident. Before the advent of solid-state electronics, all they had was old-timey radio technology. When brought up past a certain volume the tubes did what tubes do. That eventually became the default sound of Rock-and-Roll.

    My theory also says that if they had the technology to create a clean sounding solid-state amp (instead of using finicky old-timey radio parts) to make a cheaper, lighter, cleaner appliance, then they would have. And that distortion, as we know it, would have never existed.

    But today, we have technology capable of creating a super-clean amplified sound, but we "dumb it down" in order to try to mimick the best they could come up with in the '40s and '50s.
     
  3. duceditor

    duceditor Squier-Axpert Gold Supporting Member

    Age:
    73
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    The early SS amps made just that claim. The engineers we SO proud of what they could do.

    To we guitarist they sucked.

    Would they have if our ears had not been trained by what had come before? Its hard to say.

    But it is a fun and interesting question. And an idea we are free to play with ourselves. Kind'a what I've been doing lately. :)

    -don
     
  4. wonkenstein

    wonkenstein Squier-holic

    Feb 3, 2017
    NH
    I think this goes right back to the venerable tube amps of yore..... the smaller 15 - 30 watt combos we grew up hearing the sound of early to mid 60s.... these guys were just plugging straight in, 'going clean' as in directly into the amp with no pedals in between. When the tones were 'clean' with the volume on the guitar backed off it was still raw and in your face, maybe a hint of clipping and natural tube compression when they were digging into the rhythm parts, chunking away. A two or three note would be right on the edge of clean, a full barre chord hit hard on the down beat just enough to break it up. Then with the guitars turned up for a single note line, the harmonic overtones and even more preamp tube compression brings on what @RegularJim says, that happy accident of harmonic distortion..... the signal coming out of those pickups with the volume WFO is just pummeling the amp - but with no pedals in the signal chain, it's still 'clean'. Whatever guitar is plugged in still has the characteristics of that guitar, LP, Tele, Strat, Jazz Box you name it, and you can hear some of the jazz guys on those early recordings getting those overtones, their amps clipping and breaking up, too. Playing clean and playing dynamically. Early fuzz afficionados were using razor blades on their speaker cones. Back then there was no viable solid state option for us. They really did suck. Truth be told, solid state and even hybrid amps didn't start sounding good until the 90s to my ears anyway. These days we've actually got a few really good solid state options now - ones that can replicate tube compression and good old fashioned speaker sag. When you say 'clean' I take that to mean just that guitar through that amp exactly the way it sounds.... you have the amp dialed it and you do the rest with that guitar and hand dynamics. This makes for one hell of a tonal pallet with just one guitar....
     
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  5. duceditor

    duceditor Squier-Axpert Gold Supporting Member

    Age:
    73
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    Exactly so! :)

    -don
     
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  6. VM51SQ

    VM51SQ Squier-Meister

    371
    Apr 14, 2017
    oregon
    As already pointed out in a few posts, solid state clean is way different from tube clean. Personally, I tend to like the pristine cleans you get from a solid state amp, to the cleans you get from a tube amp. It's kind of the opposite when it comes to dirty tones; tube amps have the upper hand. I guess clean is a relative term, depending on your expectations ad preferences.
     
  7. duceditor

    duceditor Squier-Axpert Gold Supporting Member

    Age:
    73
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    Another joy in pursuing this 'clean thing' is rediscovering the truly different voices of various amps. Something we tend to miss out on especially when pedals are a big part of our regular sound, and not the occasional spice that they were earlier.

    That's why my Supro Blues King 12 is so often being used. It's not that it universally sounds "better" than other amps, but it does sound different.

    For myself I sold some now true "classic" amps when I discovered for myself the power of modeling. And in truth I could be satisfied with just my DuoVerb and get any sound there I hear in my head. But the Supro gives me sounds I've never heard in my head. Ones that could no doubt me modeled as well as any, but that neither of my modeling amps at least touch upon.

    Good stuff all this! :

    -don
     
  8. Triple Jim

    Triple Jim Guy Who Likes to Play Guitar Silver Supporting Member

    I grew up with some nice tube hi-fi equipment around and knew what distortion sounded like before I heard it from guitar. When I did hear distorted guitar it sounded terrible to me and I wondered why anyone would allow that sound to be heard by an audience. But it's all a matter of what you're used to, because only a short time later I thought it sounded good.

    In recent years I've tried to see if I could perceive distorted guitar the way I did at first, like a stereo system that's turned up too loud and distorting, but I can't. It's not unlike what I thought of the taste of beer the first time I tried it, compared to what I think of it now.
     
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  9. wonkenstein

    wonkenstein Squier-holic

    Feb 3, 2017
    NH
    Your own ears must always be your guide.
     
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  10. radiotech

    radiotech Dr. Squier

    Apr 23, 2014
    Freedonia
    That’s exactly why Bassists embraced solid-state amps first:
    Clean Amplification, flat frequency response, like a PA... with more projection for lower frequencies.
    Jensen Special designs were voiced for the instrument (though the Early bass models we’re almost identical to the voice models). It was the concept of the time, make it simple, and cheap... tune it to the instruments frequencies.

    My only amp for decades was a tube PA, that even maxed out, could barely distort (ideal for a PA, not so much for a guitar amp). As I was told in my early early days playing (and I have repeated many times since): “You can dirty up clean, but you can’t clean up dirty“.

    When meeting up to buy a guitar, I bring my Roland Bass RX battery amp, and only play the clean models with no effects... this tells me how the guitar sounds sterile.... and if you don’t like how it sounds sterile, you’re probably not going to like how it sounds cranked, or distorted (garbage in, etc ).
    Same goes for music store, I either play what I have at home (Mustang III), or I play through a bass amp (especially for acoustics).
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2020
  11. fattboyzz

    fattboyzz Dr. Squier

    Age:
    55
    Nov 29, 2017
    Newnan ,Ga.
    I guess clean tone is truly a subjective ;)
     
  12. Uncle Joe

    Uncle Joe Squier-holic

    Age:
    57
    Dec 18, 2015
    Jersey
    What about perfect? Maybe there is neither. Maybe not.

    When he takes off on the recognizable melody that is what I have in my understanding as the true clean electric guitar. Yes, there are overtones and it has more low end and some distortion but, for lack of a better term, it is what I have in my head as "Electric Jazz Clean". Johnny Smith too, but Smith may be a bit more distorted. Wes Montgomery. Barney Kessel. So many greats have this similar tone.



    Actually, Montgomery may be a better example of the sound in my head:

     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2020
  13. Jmv668

    Jmv668 Squier-Nut

    Age:
    42
    994
    Feb 21, 2017
    Chile
    For my clean is the champ volume at 4 and the bassman at 5.
    Are you right every guitar sing in a different way , same is for the amps, i love rotate my tube amps and find the perfect tone every time.
     
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  14. CVSteve

    CVSteve Squier-holic ‎‎‎‎‏‏‎ ‎

    Age:
    66
    Dec 28, 2017
    Texas
    This is clean:


    This is not:
     
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  15. LOSTVENTURE

    LOSTVENTURE Squier-Nut

    CLEAN = LES PAUL CUSTOM + FENDER DUAL SHOWMAN
     
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  16. DougMen

    DougMen Squier-holic

    Age:
    66
    Jun 8, 2017
    Honolulu, HI
    All electric guitar sounds, thru a guitar amp, whether SS or tube, are colored and filtered, by the preamp circuitry and the speaker, to make the guitar sound good to us. To hear your guitar without these frequency tweaks, play it thru an amp without a cab filter on the headphone out, with a good, accurate set of phones, and, chances are you won't like it very much, even on a clean amp setting, let alone a distorted one, which, without the frequency filtering, will sound horribly shrill, buzzy, fizzy, and annoying. You can do the same thing by plugging your guitar straight into your computer, or stereo, or into the aux. input on a modern guitar amp that has one, and it'll sound lousy too.
     
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  17. duceditor

    duceditor Squier-Axpert Gold Supporting Member

    Age:
    73
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    No argument with the correctness of your thesis, but if the input is, say, line level or the impedance is poorly matched that alone will give the thin sound you describe.

    Still amp simulators exist for a reason -- and that is just what you say: Guitar amps have their own inherent sound shaping. Each its own. As different from one-another as are our various guitars.

    -don
     
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  18. Uncle Joe

    Uncle Joe Squier-holic

    Age:
    57
    Dec 18, 2015
    Jersey
    This is a tune that's clean...

     
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