Tone Talk with Cécile Doo-Kingué

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Wasup y’all? My name is Cécile Doo-Kingué. I’m a guitarist, singer-songwriter, recording engineer, award-winning artist, born and raised New Yorker, first generation from Cameroon, living in Montreal. I have four studio albums out and have toured them internationally in clubs, halls, and at festivals (more details at my Bandzoogle website, cdkmusik.com).

Although I’m a multi-instrumentalist, guitar is my main ax. My brother J.C. gave me my first guitar when I was a pre-teen. I fell in love with playing lead as a teenager through the blues, Freddie King and T-Bone Walker, to be more precise. Being from a multiculti background and large, music-loving family— I’m the last of eight kids—I was exposed to, listened to, and shed a wide variety of music and players from either side of the Atlantic, from jazz to makossa to soul to rock and everything in between.

I love rhythm playing as much as lead. Besides my solo project, I collaborate and produce. I also teach and offer master classes. I’m the co-founder and original host of Chick Pickin’ Mondays, a night Gern Vlchek and I started in 2008 to promote women singer-songwriters here in Montreal. It has since been turned into a video series by current host Aly Newman, and as a private showcase, I curate during music conferences.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
Tone is the intentional expression of your spirit through your instrument, which translates as a certain quality of sound. It starts with your hands and your mind.

To me, as a guitarist, it transcends pedals, amps, or even guitars.

How round, how sharp, how long, how fleeting, how percussive, how muted…All of it starts with the fingers, the hands, and their relationship to the instrument. Then, there’s the sonic quality you seek through picks or slides perhaps, amplification and the transformation through pedals that affect that expression.

I first started playing on acoustic. From the get-go, my brother drilled in me the importance of strong hands and intent. It wasn’t until much later I realized he was helping me set up the foundation for my tone. When I started playing electric, I thought you found it in pedals and amps. I didn’t realize they were just colors to paint with. It’s more in my early twenties that it clicked: I could dial in tone regardless of pedals and amp because I knew what I was looking to express.

Nowadays, I’m more interested in broadening the tonal palette of my picking, both flat and finger, acoustic and electric.

What are your favorite tonewoods?
I’m a sucker for rosewood fretboards. I love the warmth of mahogany, the bite of maple… Unite all three, and you get most of my favorite guitars 😉 To be honest, it doesn’t matter what wood. If the guitar speaks to me, her makeup will be my “favorite.”

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

ACOUSTIC

  • My first guitar, an Ibanez Lawsuit J45
  • A Gibson L-00, the balance of size and warmth
  • Larrivée L-09, brighter than the other two but with a round bottom. She’s the only one I played on Anybody Listening Pt.1: Monologues
  • Guild GAD N4 nylon

ELECTRIC

Semi hollows:

  • ES-335
  • Epiphone Riviere
  • NYC 4

There’s something majestic to the sound of semi-hollows and hollow bodies. That doesn’t mean they can’t be nasty, lol! The Epiphone might be tied with the Tele for the scrappiest of my guitars. The Vari-tone on the NYC 4 makes it the most versatile of the three semi-hollows. She’s the one I pull out when I want just one guitar to do everything.

Solid-body:

Custom Frankentele. My 21st birthday present, a Schecter custom Tele with a three humbucker set-up. It now has a Schindehütte neck. When I want straight-up nasty and percussive, this is the one I grab. From funk to Afrolicious grooves, this puppy has the bite that gives you stank face.

AMPS

I’m a Koch Amplifiers artist. The Studiotone is my go-to because it’s small but packs a big punch. I’m a sucker for mighty mites—my amp’s name is actually Mighty Mite, lol. Given the amount of road we were doing in close quarters with my trio, it was the perfect size for gear Tetris. It’s ideal for intimate halls or rooms where you don’t want to be the stereotype of the obnoxiously loud guitar player. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of unnecessarily loud volume… I pull out the Classictone II when size isn’t an issue, for bigger venues or when I need a bit more muscle. Mind you, with its variable output, you can dial in your tone on the Classictone at lower volumes as well, which makes it quite versatile. I also have a vintage Musicman HD 210-130 that’s been with me since my twenties.

PEDALS

I’ve accumulated several over the years. Unless I’m on a corporate or experimental gig that requires a broad palette, I try to keep it simple: overdrive, tremolo, delay, reverb. As a general rule, the easier a pedal is to use, the better. Most of the time, I’ll just use the OD and tremolo from the amp when there is one. Live, I like having the reverb in my set-up as opposed to using the amp’s, in case there’s unexpected movement that could accidentally activate the springs.

  • The J-Drive is a nice combo of overdrive and boost. I leave the boost on to tighten / tame the low mids on the semi-hollows.
  • The Flint is basically the only effects I’d want on an amp: tremolo and reverb. It offers great options as far as the types you can choose from.
  • The Empress and T-Rex sound great, have a tap and the ability to fine-tune your parameters

My main current pedalboard rotation:

  • DI: Radial Tonebone PZ-Pre
  • Overdrive: Diamond J-Drive, Rockett Blue Note, Rockett Archer
  • Modulation: Strymon Flint, Strymon Lex, TC Electronic Nova Modulator
  • Delay: Empress Tape Delay, BOSS DD-20, T-Rex Replica
  • Reverb: Strymon Flint, TC Hall of Fame, Neunaber Wet.
  • Power supplies: Truetone CS7, Voodoo Lab Mondo, T-Rex Fuel Tank

 

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
The recording techniques I use depend on where I am, what kind of tracking I’m doing (electric, acoustic, bass, etc.), and the aesthetic or sonic quality I’m going for. In general, I like a bit of air in the sound. Even close micing amps, I still want space, at least one to three inches between the amp and the mic.

During confinement, coupling a direct sound with a mic has been my go-to recording technique at home for electric guitar. I grab the direct out from my Koch and blend it with the signal from a condenser mic positioned to capture the unplugged sound. It gives an extra dimension and organic life to the sound. It works well with a straight DI / straight to interface and mic combination as well. One of the advantages of having a DI signal is the possibility of re-amping, which opens up all sorts of sonic possibilities.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
My sound starts with me and my guitar, then the gear. That means maintaining my playing (practicing), maintaining my axes and gear, and knowing how to access what I need or want from each, regardless of how I’m feeling.

As players, we have to put in the time to understand how to achieve the tones we enjoy, be it the guitar, the amplification, or the effects. Once you have that understanding, it’s easier to dial in the sounds we want, regardless of gear or setting.

What does your practice consist of?
I work in phases depending on what it is I’m trying to absorb or perfect. Regardless of whether I’m working more on technique or vocabulary, etc., the approach is the same. There’s the mental and spiritual side, and the physical side.

  1. Immersion

You have to expose yourself to and do what it is you want to learn or master. That means active listening, researching the genre, culture, theory, history, whatever of what it is you want to absorb.

  1. Practice
  • First, I relax the mind and the body through meditation, breathing, and muscle activation. This sets me up for better reception and execution. Activation also wards off injury. Warm up that body, y’all! Not just the fingers…
  • Whatever I’m working on, playing, reading, whatever, I learn and practice it slowly and with a metronome to develop accuracy and muscle memory in both my mind and body before going for speed. Working things out slowly cements them in your hands, mind, and ears.

You sound so much stronger when you work your way up to tempo and beyond.

Favorite guitar riff or lick that inspired you to play guitar?
There were and are so many…

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
Although we’ve come a long way, we still aren’t judged on the same scale as men or shown the same respect or latitude. That means we still have to work twice as hard, be twice as prepared, and swallow twice as much crap as our male counterparts, often for less money. That being said, in my experience, when you do the work and stay true to yourself, your talent, spirit, and professionalism will reach the right people and open the doors for you to thrive.

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