Tone Talk with Ellen Angelico

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My name is Ellen Angelico and I’m a musician at-large and an employee at Fanny’s House of Music. I play for the country artist Cam. When I’m not running around playing guitar, I’m behind the front desk at Fanny’s House of Music in Nashville.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
Broad question! I think tone is your sound and what makes it uniquely yours. It has a lot to do with how you play, but it’s also important to make sure you have the right tools for the job. My needs have changed over the years, so the tools have necessarily changed as well. For instance, I’ve been doing a lot of recording from home, so I sold some of my gigantic amps and focused more on small amps and modeling technology. They’re all just tools, and to a certain extent, I can get a serviceable tone out of all kinds of gear. But if you have a box of hammers and you’re trying to cut something, you’re going to wish you had a saw.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
My main electric is a Dismal Ax Barnstormer. Gwen Forrester is the name of the luthier who makes Dismal Ax guitars, and they’re just the finest electric guitars I’ve ever played. Acoustic-wise, lately I’ve been using a big old Goya dreadnought I bought here at Fanny’s. I don’t usually like playing dreads because they’re huge, and I’m decidedly small, but this one has such an amazing sound. I’m learning to deal with the size. I have a lot of amps, but my current favorite is a 3rd Power Dream Weaver. It can do so many sounds well. It’s a lifesaver in the studio.

I love pedals. I have about a kabillion pedals. I like all kinds of pedals too: analog, digital, MIDI-controlled, loop switchers, multi-effects—my love of pedals is indiscriminate. My pedal obsession led to me learning how to build them, which is my new favorite hobby. I mod pedals and circuit-bend and design stuff on breadboards. Sometimes I wish I could have solder-scented cologne. Is that weird?

What about strings?
I used D’Addario NYXL’s on most electrics. I have a couple of electrics with D’Addario Chromes, which are flatwound strings. My acoustics are all over the place. Some sound better with phosphor bronze, some sound better with nickel-wound, some I don’t play as much, and I like to put coated strings on those. I’m choosier with acoustic strings.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
I’m pretty basic in the studio. I like Shure SM57’s and Royer 121’s on guitar cabs. For acoustics, it depends on the guitar and what sound I’m going for. I built a medium-diaphragm condenser mic that works well enough for me at home, but I like having options when I’m at a studio.

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I always enjoy the opportunity to record with a full band, as opposed to doing overdubs. I like leading a band in the studio and making charts. But I like playing live the most.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
I think it depends on how much consistency you’re talking about! When I play with folks who need it super quiet on stage and have complicated shows with cues and in-ears and tracks and stuff, I tend to use my Line 6 Helix and go totally ampless. That way, I have the exact same settings and sound every night. But I use amps and stuff too, and achieving consistency in that department is a combination of knowing your gear and being flexible. I like adjusting my amps to the room I’m in; some rooms are really bright or really dark, and I’ll compensate for that on my end.

What does your practice consist of?
When I’m busy, it revolves around the tunes I’m learning for gigs. Since it’s my job, the practice sort of dictates itself. I’ve got to learn “x” number of tunes by Thursday or whatever, so I buckle down and do it. At the beginning of the pandemic, I had a glorious period where there was little on my docket, and I reconnected with why I fell in love with guitar in the first place, which was hearing something amazing and trying to figure out how to play it. It’s magic. It’s my own little kind of magic. So that’s my favorite way to practice: hearing something bonkers and thinking, “I bet I can figure that out!” And then becoming obsessed with it and playing it for hours every day, annoying my wonderful long-suffering girlfriend until I get it perfect.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
I would recommend reckless, unfettered confidence to anyone! It works for me. It’s important to find your people, but also seek out collaborators who are different from you. Find great mentors, but carve your own path. Make art you care about, and know your worth! Those of us who’ve gone before you are here for you.

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