Tone Talk with Pi Jacobs

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Photo by Sean Rosenthal

I’m Pi Jacobs, I’m a native of Northern California and grew up in a Hippie – Bohemian household, which included living in a commune or two and making our own yogurt and granola. I’m influenced by any good music, regardless of genre, but the music I make myself is a bluesy, Americana thing. I’m signed to the Travianna / Mountain Fever Music Group label, and just released my second album with them, Two Truths and a Lie. I typically tour a lot, but these days I am doing a lot of live streaming, working on a new crowd-sourced quarantine video for my next single, (“No Sin To Be Poor” – April 24), and trying to keep sane with my man and dog in a canyon in Los Angeles.

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

Tone is the most important aspect of any instrument, voice or mix. It’s the innate sound of the thing before it even gets defined by playing, so ideally, it should be inviting and pleasant, from note one. I have always gone for warmth, with a little grit and dirt.

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

My current fave is my 1954 Gibson ES 125 Hollowbody. It’s in great shape, and really “cradles” my voice. I also have two Martins, a jumbo and a concert; I love them both for very different applications.  My “I can’t play without it” pedal is an Electro-Harmonix Soul Food, which I leave on all the time with a hair of overdrive. It makes the tone warm, salty, and delicious. I love my Fender Princeton Reverb (Reissue). I CRANK the reverb on it and depending on the song, the tremolo too.

What about strings?

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I’m a huge fan of Thomastik Strings. They are just so balanced and warm, and superior to everything else I’ve tried. They make it seem like I got a new (more expensive) guitar when I put them on! I use Jazz strings on my electric, and bronze sets (medium to heavy) on my acoustics. They cost more, but they last forever.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?

I try to get the guitar sound right in the room and don’t like to do much computer processing, even though sometimes you have to. Vocally, I’m so into tube mics right now. I don’t like compression on my voice, but a good tube mic will naturally sort of compress, so that you can sing soft to hard, without being super concerned about mic technique. I can get really loud, so sensitive condenser mics can peak really easily if I’m in my zone.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?

I always try to bring MY gear, but sometimes you can’t. For fly dates, I’ve been experimenting with pedals to go amp-free. I can’t say its perfect, but right now I’m using an MXR Dyna comp, Electro-Harmonix Soul Food, Joyo American Amp simulator, and the “Boing” reverb. It’s decent.

What does your practice consist of?

I always warm up with scales and patterns, and then I like to run songs. I go through deep periods of study, where I’ll pick an online course or an artist to study. I studied the artist FINK quite heavily a few years ago and ended up writing two albums almost entirely in DADGAD because of that.

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

First off, to REALLY love music, just for its own sake. If you really love it, that will steer you right in the hard times. Secondly, to learn about every aspect of music you can: Recording, business, band leadership, songwriting, gear, etc. I’m still learning, and I use every bit of knowledge that I’ve accumulated over the years to navigate this difficult path. Lastly, love yourself, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and to ask for help from people you trust. This is a hard road, so don’t try to go it all alone.

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