Tone Talk with Jess Garland

Photo Credit: Ash Gongora

Jess Garland is a Dallas based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, performing and recording artist. She is a graduate from Southern Methodist University with a BA in Political Science. She is also a film producer, composer, educator, community organizer and booking agent. She has played many music and art festivals and has opened for Academy Award winner Gingger Shankar and Madame Gandhi. Some of her musical influences are Alice Coltrane, Joni Mitchell, Sade, Erykah Badu, Bjork and Missy Elliott. Having just released her debut single “GLOW” she is currently working on a soundscape composition and film confronting environmental racism in Dallas sponsored by Aurora and The City of Dallas’ Offices of Arts and Culture. She is currently working on expanding her 501c3 non-profit free music education program, Swan Strings. Swan Strings is a non-profit whose mission is to provide free music education and sound therapy services to North Texas Individuals with limited access. Her personal mission is to offer healing and promote self-love while representing for Black women in music. She is continuing to use her music and platforms to inspire those in this world to push forward in a positive direction.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?

My definition of tone is the voice of the sound and the balance to maintain it. Every guitar sounds different based on the kind of wood, strings and materials used to make that instrument and how the musician/artist uses their voice.  For example, I don’t play with picks and I keep my nails slightly longer on my right hand for tone. I also play with delay and reverb effects as it is essential to my sound. 

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?

I play harp and guitar in my set and I drive a sedan. So I need a small amp that packs a punch. If it’s a DIY set up, I’ll bring my Fender Mustang amp. At times, I’ll bring it to music venues because sound guys usually freak out about how much gear I have or at the sight of a harp when I only need one channel for my instruments. Sometimes, I’ll have them just mic my amp if I’m not going direct to the PA. I used to play my Lucero classical nylon stringed guitar on stage but now I use my gold limited edition Epiphone Wildkat. I love the tone juxtaposed to my harp using the Way Huge electronics Aqua Puss pedal for both instruments. I also use a Boss RC-1 Loop station for both instruments. I play different types of gigs but I play Avant-garde/experimental music. So, for my solo performances featuring my music includes songs that are created with live looping. 

What about strings?


I mostly use D’Adarrio strings, but I have used La Bella and Ernie Ball. I keep it normal/medium-light tension for my strings.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?

I prefer to record at night, I feel most creative after a long day and it’s easier for me to go within. I usually always record directly to the soundboard using a DI. For harp, I’ve done direct and have also used a vintage mic for recording.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?

I use the same gear when I’m recording as I do live to keep the sound consistent.

What does your practice consist of?

IK Multimedia's Fender Collection 2

I teach every day and so I have to make sure I set aside time to practice what I preach. I play scales and chord progressions around the circle of 5ths and improvise with myself using the Boss Loop Station. At times, I practice covers for ear training. If I’m practicing for a performance, I warm up with scales and run through my set-list. If I’m doing performance art, I run through my set list and movements and different ways to be interactive with the audience.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?

My advice for young women who hope to work within the music industry is to find your tribe which can take time and patience. You’ll find others that may be close to you who are extremely competitive that will attempt to sabotage your goals. Learn from those experiences but mostly importantly stay focused. Practice and study your art, believe in yourself and keep moving forward.

You can keep up with Jess by visiting her website