Country singer-songwriter-harpist Heidi Newfield talks guitar and vocal tone, guitar gear, recording and practice technique, and advice for aspiring artists.
What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
A. Brilliant question. To me, it is quite simple…it is the quality, or lack thereof, of the purity and resonance of sound that evokes an emotional response. A voice, an old Martin D-28, a Hohner harmonica. A kick, a snare, all of it. Tone is everything. Tone makes or breaks you. It sets you apart from the rest and makes you unique in/on whatever instrument you choose.
- My vocal tone has always sounded almost exactly to or similar to now. I think I have grown as a vocalist over time, on many levels, so that allows me to use my voice in more diverse ways. I have always had power, but I’ve always had a bit of a natural break and a rasp in there too. However, now…I can sing quietly, in a breathy and soft tone, I can growl, I can sing up in my falsetto, I can use my voice in ways I am still discovering! Confidence makes all the difference too. I used to try to sing to please everyone under the moon, but the pressure wore me down, I began to question my own ability….now, I sing to please my fans, God, myself, and groove with my band. If I do that with verve and heart…I can usually get what I’m going for. Guitar and harp tone have changed immensely over time. Largely by good old-fashioned practice. I like gear…you could say it’s a bit of a ‘problem.’ I lean more towards vintage amps like my blonde ‘62 Fender Deluxe on the Telecaster and a 1920s funky no-name 6” speaker amp on acoustic slide. You can never go wrong with a ‘70s Champ or a Blues Junior on slide or harp too, but my favorite is either blowing harp clean through my vocal mic on Country stuff or through a copper Placid Audio mic for the dirty, mean tone, also fun for playing with or layering vocals.
Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
‘62 Telecaster with a Dimarzio Twang King and a single coil pick up. It twangs like a Tele and rocks like a Les Paul meets a Strat. I’ve got it sounding just how I want it. This guitar can multi-task!
‘69 Martin D-28
2006 000 Eric Clapton Belleza Bianca Martin acoustic
2000 Gibson Emmylou Series acoustic
1938 Gibson L-30 + many more…
Pedal Concierge by Jimmy Archey
I love the amps mentioned above, and other favs are usually some old weird tube off-brand babies found at music stores on the road.
What about strings?
Different strings for different things.
Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
Depends. If I’m recording a record, it’s all about a simple work tape, so we all don’t get demo envy or some preconceived notion of what we should play…I like to allow the song to reveal itself as we go. Most go down super naturally, and I love the surprise of what we’ve created, and some take some tweaking. For work tapes, I usually just lay down a dirty guitar track (far from perfect and usually very simple) and then sing with the track OR sing a pass to my guitar track afterwards. I only lay a harp part down later, if there’s a specific lick I don’t want to forget.
How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
Taking care of my gear, good road cases, and mainly a stellar sound man who knows me well. You’re only as good as your sound man!
What does your practice consist of?
I’ve been doing this weird COVID procrastination thing lately. So I cram in my practicing the day of a live stream (and often regret it).
When I get back to touring….I always have a solid show put together! Lots of rehearsals, and then, if there’s anything not jiving, I’ll sit in the house or studio and play it over and over until it feels easy to me. I also love to follow a setlist….so it sounds and rolls nice and professional, and the band knows what we’re doing, BUT I love throwing a curveball in there. Some old classic or just strip things back and do something new.
Favorite guitar riff or lick that inspired you to play guitar?
Anything by Jerry Reed. Amos Moses is a favorite. There’s a swampy ness and a funk in his rhythm that is unlike anyone else. His early jazz stuff was stellar as well. Waylon and that signature leather-bound Telecaster with that MXR Phase-90. Chet Atkins “Poor Boy Blues” Pwith Mark Knofler. Bonnie Raitt, Maybelle Carter, Nancy Wilson, Sister Rosetta Thorpe. Anything by Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, SRV, Albert King, Joe Bonamassa, Jimmy Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Brent Mason, David Grissom, Bobby Terry, Billy Gibbons, and Prince. (and that’s just for starters!)
What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
Don’t think you’re any different because you’re a woman; just work hard, practice hard, and remember…this is FUN!!!
If music is your calling, don’t let anyone knock you down, but there’s no need to be a bitch or a diva (99% of the time). Just be cool, surround yourself with great players, stay humble and kind, and be ok with letting yourself shine.