Tone Talk with Catbells

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My name is Catbells, and I grew up in New England and now live on the West Coast. I taught myself to play basic chords on guitar in the 7th grade and soon after begged my mom for some lessons so I could learn more. I still write and play on the same guitar that I learned on — a 1969 Yamaha FG180. The guitar has deep sentimental value to me, so it is a source of constant comfort.

Getting into the studio and recording this year has been really exciting for me! Wilderness is the first EP I have ever released! Acoustic guitar really defines the sound of these three songs, so thank you so much for having me in Guitar Girl Magazine!

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
Tone to me is a very personal expression of guitar playing. Like an artist who can be identified by use of color or brush strokes, I think of a musician’s tone much the same way. It can really be an identifying characteristic for a player, from the choice of pedals, amps, strings, instrument, and touch; these combine to create a player’s own tone and sound. Mine has been really defined by the sound of my Yamaha and in the studio transferred over to an insane 1954 Martin D18!!! The warmth and roundness of that instrument’s inherent tone is the best!!

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
I love my Yamaha and playing the Martin D18. I also have a Little Martin LX1E that is so much fun to play and is great to travel with!

What about strings?
The strings on my Yamaha are very old; haha, I haven’t changed them probably ever! But otherwise, for other guitars, I use D’Addario strings!

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
I enjoy a very low-key studio atmosphere. Recording straight to tape is super fun as it feels really organic and real, but there is also the nice ease of use with Pro-Tools and being able to erase and quickly re-record something!

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
I haven’t had a chance to perform live yet since the pandemic has been in full force throughout the inception of Catbells. But I hope to soon!!

What does your practice consist of?
I love having my guitar super close by and ready at any minute to pick up and play! Usually, before bed is the time I get inspired to sit and practice; fingerpicking is always fun to work on and try to improve upon!

Favorite guitar riff or lick that inspired you to play guitar?
There are many, but Cat Stevens’s “Wild World,” the riff in the chorus up and down the C scale was one of the first I learned on guitar. I don’t know if I have a favorite riff per se, but that was the first I learned and made me feel like what I was playing actually sounded like something familiar and identifiable!

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
My advice would be to keep going. I think it’s easy to get frustrated or feel like things don’t happen or move quickly enough, but staying steady and consistent is really important. Also, not getting overly distracted by social media as it’s easy to compare or fall into the trap of feeling not good enough; it’s such a fine balance between being something helpful and hurtful all at the same time!

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