Why do session guitarists need a variety of guitars?
Reason 1: Be prepared. Just like a plumber or carpenter, the right tool for the right job goes a long way to making the music we are playing sound more appropriate for the situation.
When you walk into a session, you never know, or most of the time, are unaware of the style you will be asked to play that day. A jingle can span the realms of classical to country to metal to jazz. And sometimes all in the same cue if you are playing a soundtrack!
Budgets are usually tight and you may be required to do an instrumental choreography to switch in the middle of a cue from acoustic, to classical, to electric and back again...all in one take...while sight reading. THANK GOD I do not get called for those! Well, never say never...but you never know, and it is important to be prepared. By the way, often enough, a certain guitar is often requested by a client! If it worked for them before, they know it will work for them again. I rarely sell guitars. You never know.
Reason 2: Attitude. I find that I play completely different on each of my instruments. They tend to sway my attack, attitude, feel. When I pick up a Strat, I tend to do more chimey chordal things. My playing is bluesier. My feel is looser. I play fewer notes, but find I play with more emotion.
A polar opposite is a Les Paul. On a Paul I tend to play with a harder edge, more attitude. I dig in deeper and play heavier, more in your face. On an Ibanez RG I play faster, want to shred more. I use a more modern approach, dial in more distortion ... actually as much as I can get! And those are only three. I have some specialty instruments that may not get used often, but when they do, I know exactly what's going to happen. I pick up my 1949 L7 and it's nothing but jazz. Old school bop. I pickup my custom made Ted Crocker Hot Rod (Thanks again, Robbie Sambat!) and I am down south in Mississippi and playing the dirtiest deepest low-down blues and wishing I were a better slide player!
Maybe it's the history, or maybe my own influences, that cause me to play differently. I see a Strat and I think Rory Gallagher, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Johnson. I see a Paul and I think Joe Perry, Jimmy Page and Paul Kossoff. I see and Ibanez and I think Steve Vai and Paul Gilbert. These players are burned into my guitar mind and they aren't going away. Maybe you see things differently. It's all good.
But the way I play is seriously influenced by the guitar. Or maybe it's the wood, the neck, or the sound of the pickups. I am certain they all contribute greatly. So when I am playing on a session, I want to give it the best I've got. Not only the right notes, but the feel and appropriate sound.
Reason 3: There is one final reason we carry, own and cherish so many guitars. BECAUSE I CAN'T THINK OF ANYTHING BETTER THAN BEING SURROUNDED BY A BUNCH OF BAD-ASS GUITARS AND GETTING TO PLAY THE HELL OUT OF THEM EVERY DAY!
Till next time …
Ron Zabrocki on Ron Zabrocki: I’m a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just believed everyone started that way! I could pretty much sight read anything within a few years, and that aided me in becoming a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could and was fortunate enough to have some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played many jingle sessions, and even now I not only play them but have written a few. I’ve “ghosted” for a few people that shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I got the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.