Steve Lukather voices support for the ‘tone is in the hands’ camp: “There’s no magic guitar, just magic people”

Steve Lukather
(Image credit: Brian Ach/Getty Images for Journey)

The ‘gear versus player’ debate – whether it’s the individual playing the gear or the gear itself that determines the overall quality of sound – seems to be edging closer to a conclusion with every passing day.

Not too long ago, Bettencourt recalled the time he played through Eddie Van Halen’s rig hoping to sound like the late guitar hero only to realize, “It’s all about your fingers.” Before that, John Petrucci experienced something similar when playing through Joe Satriani’s equipment.

Now, Steve Lukather has agreed with his electric guitar contemporaries, philosophically summarizing the entire conversation by suggesting there’s no such thing as a “magic guitar”, only “magic people”.

When asked to choose between a good guitar and a cheap amp or vice versa in the new issue of Guitarist, Lukather opted for neither: “Here’s a really good answer: there’s no magic guitar, no magic amp, there’s just magic people.”

To support his argument, the Toto guitarist – like almost all his peers who have entertained the topic – once again called upon the times he’s played through other guitar rigs, and the negligible impact such gear choices ultimately make on his sound.

“I’ve played Eddie Van Halen’s guitars, Jeff Beck’s guitars, and I sound like me,” he said. “A great guitar and a great amp? Sure, that helps. How could it not? 

“But if you give a 1959 Les Paul to a 10-year-old kid that can’t play it’s not gonna make him sound like Gary Moore. You know what I mean?”

Though admittedly a fairly extreme example, Lukather’s argument has been proven time and again by the industry’s big guns.

“The guitar is a tactile instrument,” Petrucci once told Guitar World. “You’re using the flesh of your hands to interact with it, and regardless of everything else you use, the sound you make comes from you.”

Bettencourt, meanwhile, concurred while speaking to Rick Beato: “[Playing Van Halen’s rig] was the big[gest] bitch slap of all time when you realize, ‘Holy shit, it’s all about you. It’s all about your fingers.’”

Heck, when Joe Bonamassa – arguably the most devout gear connoisseur on the planet – is putting the player’s own individual touch above the equipment they use, as he did while talking to Guitar Player back in 2018, the writing is probably on the wall.

Head over to Magazines Direct to pick up the latest issue of Guitarist, which also features an early look at Myles Kennedy’s all-new T-type PRS signature guitar.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.