“They tend to sound factory-made”: Uli Jon Roth laments the lack of tone and expression among young guitarists

“This is an art form that, sadly, has been almost completely lost.”

Guitarist Uli Jon Roth performs

Image: Stefan Hoederath / Getty Images

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Scorpions virtuoso Uli Jon Roth has opined on the lack of ‘tone consciousness’ among young guitar players, saying “they tend to sound factory-made”.

Roth makes the comments in a new appearance on the Academy of Tone podcast, where he discussed his approach to tone as well as some of the problems he sees with guitarists from the newer generation.

Reminded of his own “screaming” guitar tone, Roth says that he “learned it from the best” and that he still remembers “what it sounded like when Jimi Hendrix played in Hamburg Music Hall, and that tone and that’s not something you get from a little combo with overdrive, etc.”

“Back then, you had people who were producing organic, great tones, and they were tone-conscious, sound-conscious like Eric Clapton was extremely sound-conscious. He completely invented a new tone with Cream, which was beautiful and which worked so well with the electric guitar.”

“This is an art form that, sadly, has been almost completely lost,” Roth explains [via Killer Guitar Rigs], adding that while many young players are technically proficient and highly musical, “it’s so rare that you hear somebody who cares about tone and expression as they all tend to sound factory-made, and I can’t blame them because that’s how they grew up.”

The reason, he says, is because they’re accustomed to digital replicas of legendary guitar amp tones: “Their reference was maybe a little box where you press a button, ‘Oh, that sounds like a Plexis or so.’ Of course it doesn’t. It sounds remotely kind of a little bit like that. But if you have the real ears and the real deal, it’s a big difference.”

According to the musician, “it’s like a difference between McDonald’s and maybe great Italian cuisine in Naples or Florence.”

“There are a lot of really good players who play with an awful tone most of the time. And I understand, sometimes this is what happens – you play a live gig, you have a bad amp, and everything is bad, yeah – and sometimes, it’s a no-win situation. I also sometimes don’t get the tone I want.”

“So I’m not knocking anybody,” Roth continues. “I’m just saying it would be nice if this sensibility towards actual sound would find a little resurgence. This of course, with MP3 and everything.”

That said, it’s not just players but sound engineers too that Roth takes issue with: “Whenever I go and play in Italy with a different band, and then there’s a guy in the soundcheck – the engineer, the sound engineer – ‘Oh, mamma mia! You can’t play like that.’”

“And I think, ‘What? That guy never heard a real guitar tone, quite obviously.’ I mean, the guitar is like a tiger coming out of the cage or like a big stallion – it’s got to be real.”

“These kids have no idea,” Uli says. “They’re used to these little Mickey Mouse sounds, and that to them is normal, because they can control that upfront. But they have no idea of the real magic that you can produce with some volume, when you’re shifting all the molecules in the room, they go straight into people’s senses. So normally, I don’t even do sound checks with engineers that I don’t know, because it’s always the same.”

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