Guitar tone. Guitars matter, amps matter, effects (or lack thereof) matter, strings matter, cables matter, it all matters but ultimately tone comes from you. It’s in your fingers. It’s in how you play. And that’s what makes the guitar such a great instrument – it’s so expressive. It’s you.

OK, that’s the punch line. Now here’s my story. This past Saturday we did a gig for Festivals Kelowna. A company called SPL provided the kickass sound system and backline. It was a gig at Kelowna’s outdoor skating rink. We showed up 30 minutes early, being the seasoned and serious performers that we are (The Malarkeys, that is). I was delighted to see the amp they were providing was a Fender Deluxe Reverb, one of my very favourite amps in the world. In fact, I’d been practising that morning with my Robert Cray Strat and my own ‘67 Deluxe Reverb at home.

About 10 minutes before we were to start we fired up their Deluxe, and let it warm up for a minute. The temperature was just a notch above freezing. With the tubes warmed up I plugged in my pedal board, a BOSS LS-2, TU-2 and GE-7, cranked up the Strat and…nothing. No sound came out of that amp. So we started trying different guitar cables, checking the speaker to amp connection, etc., all the usual troubleshooting stuff. That speaker was blown.

At precisely 1PM, show time, the MC stepped up to the mic and introduced us to a round of applause. I then stepped up and said thanks, but we’re having a little technical difficulty. Standby. SPL had made a call, another amp was on its way.

Gail suggested rather than wait, since we only had 45 minutes and then another act had to go on, we try plugging the Strat right into the DI on the stage. Crazy, right? We decided to try it. Thank God for my great sounding Stratocaster. It sounded pretty good, straight through my pedals into the DI. I didn’t even turn the EQ pedal on. And away we went.

We sounded good, the stage sound was good, and we got on with our set. We could see people enjoying it. After the set, a few people came up and bought our CD. Yes, with no amp tone I had to skip any wailing solos, plus for the first 30 minutes I was wearing a fingerless glove on my left hand and blowing on it between songs, but I learned that after 30 minutes I warm up enough in cold weather to play just fine. And I was reminded that tone comes from those chilly fingers.

The audience didn’t care that I didn’t play any smoking distorted solos. They liked our choice of cover and original songs, they liked our sound, they liked our arrangements, and everybody had a good time. I got to play my guitar, and I got paid, so really, how does it get any better than that?

The Malarkeys at Jim Stuart Park. Photo by Jason Lane,