A thought about Phil's sound

A thought about Phil's sound

Postby jefkahn » Wed Jul 13, 2011 8:06 pm

It seems there's been a lot of activity on the board about Phil's sound lately. I've been getting more into his early 70's sounds (Europe '72 being as good an example as anything). And listening to those early 70's shows in particular got thinking that a key part of Phil's sound is what's is played--and what is not played--around him.

Few of us will be lucky enough to be in a band that provides each member enough space to work with. I would suggest that a big part of Phil's sound is being able to hear him clearly without a rhythm guitarist, lead guitarist, and keyboard player stepping on his toes. In much of today's rock music the bass player hangs on the root, roughly doubling what another player plays. How could a bass have good, pure tone if it's constantly mixed in with another instrument? The Dead would often play so apart from one another that there was a wide highway for Phil to do his thing, and his bass was clearly audible. His tone was unpolluted by lots of competing sound. I also think that the contrast between Garcia's high-treble guitar and Phil's bass probably led Phil's bass to sound a little extra sweet.

I'm not saying Phil's basses, preamps, poweramps, etc. didn't matter, and Phil's hands, fingers, and heart matter a lot in his sound, too. But much like a photograph needs a subject and a background, good bass tone needs a great background, and for Phil it was the rest of the good ol' Grateful Dead.
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Re: A thought about Phil's sound

Postby Phil Lesh101 » Wed Jul 13, 2011 10:15 pm

True, True... But for the Grateful Dead it was The bass and the Drums Played the song and The Guitars and keyboards Filled in.
I Personally like it when he Got into 6 String basses :lol:
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Re: A thought about Phil's sound

Postby seanc » Thu Jul 14, 2011 4:08 am

I think you are correct in a lot of respects. When listening to the early shows there is a lot to delve into there. Europe 72 is always a good starting point. But especially here it is a tough one. E72 is basically a studio album that was recorded at a live show. So everybody played their tracks and it was taken back to the studio vocals added and everything mixed, kind of cheating. So what you hear there is not really how the audience heard it.
Where I think you Are correct is looking at the balance of the tones. Jg on strat, very thin. BW on the 335, warm but not interfering with Phil. Keyboards are pretty much a tiny bit of PIG on the B and not on every sone and TC on piano generally really low in the mix at most times.

I have generally found that if the Bobby player keeps to the 7th fret positions it really makes a difference to the sound. The bass is able to really be heard. As soon as both guitarists play in the same position everything goes to he'll and the bass gets lost.
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Re: A thought about Phil's sound

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Thu Jul 14, 2011 4:25 am

Totally agree with the first post. A huge part of making the GD music work is that everybody needs to stay out of everybody else's way, especially Jerry and Phil. The way they had each individual instrument mixed is huge also - cut the lows on everything but the bass and kick drum. You don't need lows on guitars or keys, they just muddy up the mix and get in Phil's way, without adding any musical information.
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Re: A thought about Phil's sound

Postby strumminsix » Thu Jul 14, 2011 6:09 am

seanc wrote:I have generally found that if the Bobby player keeps to the 7th fret positions it really makes a difference to the sound. The bass is able to really be heard. As soon as both guitarists play in the same position everything goes to he'll and the bass gets lost.

I spend 75% of my time between 5-14. Some songs in E benefit by bring on the 2nd fret. Nothing open.
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Re: A thought about Phil's sound

Postby hippieguy1954 » Thu Jul 14, 2011 6:49 am

You guys are really hittin the nail on the head! It's hard to find players that get it. :smile: :smile: :smile:
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Re: A thought about Phil's sound

Postby tigerstrat » Thu Jul 14, 2011 7:41 am

Brent got some heavy bass on the B-3, no rolling off the lows there!! I loved it when he and Phil would lock into the same bass hits, on tunes like: I Need A Miracle, U.S. Blues, Don't Ease
"There, in huge black letters, was 'The Grateful Dead'. It just... cancelled my mind out."-Garcia
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Re: A thought about Phil's sound

Postby strumminsix » Thu Jul 14, 2011 9:09 am

hippieguy1954 wrote:You guys are really hittin the nail on the head! It's hard to find players that get it. :smile: :smile: :smile:

It took me too many embarrassing years before I figured it out.. Those were the same embarrassing years I played BIODTL wrong by doing a verse ending at the end of the chorus! YIKES! :oops:
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Re: A thought about Phil's sound

Postby hippieguy1954 » Thu Jul 14, 2011 9:49 am

strumminsix wrote:
hippieguy1954 wrote:You guys are really hittin the nail on the head! It's hard to find players that get it. :smile: :smile: :smile:

It took me too many embarrassing years before I figured it out.. Those were the same embarrassing years I played BIODTL wrong by doing a verse ending at the end of the chorus! YIKES! :oops:


Funny! Also, once ya got it, ya play soooooooooooo much better and I'm sure it's been very rewarding for you as a player ever since. Some how I guess I was just lucky enough to get it at a very young age. I went from listening and playin Led Zeplin etc. when I was 15 or so to playin Dylan, Dead and Neil Young the next year or so. Had a early transition musically.
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Re: A thought about Phil's sound

Postby strumminsix » Thu Jul 14, 2011 10:00 am

hippieguy1954 wrote:
strumminsix wrote:
hippieguy1954 wrote:You guys are really hittin the nail on the head! It's hard to find players that get it. :smile: :smile: :smile:

It took me too many embarrassing years before I figured it out.. Those were the same embarrassing years I played BIODTL wrong by doing a verse ending at the end of the chorus! YIKES! :oops:


Funny! Also, once ya got it, ya play soooooooooooo much better and I'm sure it's been very rewarding for you as a player ever since. Some how I guess I was just lucky enough to get it at a very young age. I went from listening and playin Led Zeplin etc. when I was 15 or so to playin Dylan, Dead and Neil Young the next year or so. Had a early transition musically.

Very, very true. I'm reading this book Zen of Guitar and it talks about the goal to always be a white belt and student of the guitar. Fascinating stuff!

While it's so nice when it clicks, the journey to clicking is also sooo rewarding!
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Re: A thought about Phil's sound

Postby zambiland » Thu Jul 14, 2011 10:38 am

seanc wrote:I think you are correct in a lot of respects. When listening to the early shows there is a lot to delve into there. Europe 72 is always a good starting point. But especially here it is a tough one. E72 is basically a studio album that was recorded at a live show. So everybody played their tracks and it was taken back to the studio vocals added and everything mixed, kind of cheating. So what you hear there is not really how the audience heard it.
Where I think you Are correct is looking at the balance of the tones. Jg on strat, very thin. BW on the 335, warm but not interfering with Phil. Keyboards are pretty much a tiny bit of PIG on the B and not on every sone and TC on piano generally really low in the mix at most times.

I have generally found that if the Bobby player keeps to the 7th fret positions it really makes a difference to the sound. The bass is able to really be heard. As soon as both guitarists play in the same position everything goes to he'll and the bass gets lost.



I agree completely about guitar registers. I've tried to talk to guitarists and keyboard players about this a lot to varying degrees of success. As a bass player, keyboardists who blindly play roots with their left hand really drives me nuts. They should listen to some McCoy or other jazzers who cover thirds and sevenths with the left hand, leaving the right open for tensions and lines (or high tension lines!).

As far as E72, goes, I think you might change your mind about it when you hear the new album. I've had the good fortune to check some of it out at David Glasser's mastering studio and it sounds even cleaner and clearer than the album. Of course, there are some lyrical flubs and everything, but it leads me to think that the audience did hear something closer to the album than what we might have thought. It was a tour that was sweetened, rather than an album recorded in front of an audience. I think there's a lot less "cheating" than you might think. Of course, this leads to the question of what relationship a recording bears to the original show: some say the tape never lies, some say the tape always lies!

Oh yeah, that's Keith, not TC. TC was long gone by then.

It's interesting to compare the GD arrangements to the larger world of music, if you step outside the rock and roll environment. I had a classical music teacher back in the 70s who hated rock music, but he did go see some Fillmore East shows and the only ones he like were the GD shows because he said "They played with the intensity of a string quartet." They also played with the arrangement style of a string quartet. Many string quartets are set up with the first violin and the cello carrying the melodic weight and often in counterpoint. The second violin and viola have very interesting and shifting roles, sometimes playing background, sometimes coming to the fore. At least Weir and Phil were both very aware of string quartet voicings and arrangements.

And, as has been discussed a lot, the classic jazz combos were also a model, again with the bass and soloist providing melodic shape with the piano playing a very unrock and roll like support.

So, it becomes pretty immediately obvious when playing in rock bands who the musicians are who only listen to their own instrument for guidance and those who venture into the wider world of music for inspiration. Phil clearly had very little electric bass roots, Weir went for McCoy and Dvorak, among many others and Garcia was just a sponge, even his mom recognized his horn influence. All of this allows room for some very inventive bass playing.
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Re: A thought about Phil's sound

Postby strumminsix » Thu Jul 14, 2011 11:02 am

I'm not a learned musician, if you will, but I recall being told that anything below the low C on the low E string was in the bassists register so treat lightly on that string in the lower register and brighten up that tone. I think Jerry handles it nicely with crispy openish lead riffs like GDTRFB
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Re: A thought about Phil's sound

Postby Phil Lesh101 » Thu Jul 14, 2011 12:20 pm

When I Listen to A Concert From 83-86 The bass Rattless the car on 5 volume :lol:
"I didn't ask them to misspell anything to prove their authenticity, but I believe they're legit." ~ Rusty The Scoob.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tV9EGVZio2M
https://archive.org/details/DA2013-10-19
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Re: A thought about Phil's sound

Postby seanc » Thu Jul 14, 2011 3:16 pm

101 you have a car?


Wow it's KG? It is so heavy handed, I assumed it was TC!!!
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Re: A thought about Phil's sound

Postby strumminsix » Thu Jul 14, 2011 3:37 pm

Phil Lesh101 wrote:When I Listen to A Concert From 83-86 The bass Rattless the car on 5 volume :lol:

All 13 y/o have cars!
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