Posted on Jan 18 2019 06:33 PM
I think that we may be defining the term clean differently.
All amplified guitar sounds are distorted. An amp always changes the signal a bit and that can rightfully be called distortion. But there’s distortion, and then again, there’s distortion. Using Ivan’s samples, yes there is a degree of distortion, especially starting from Death of a Gremmie on down, but even in that song, the notes retained their definition.
I’ve never cared for the sort of distortion Jimi Hendrix was famed for. Distorted guitar sounds have been around for a long time, but starting, perhaps, with The Stones “Satisfaction”, it began to be cultivated and has grown into a science of its own. I’ve often quipped that guitarists have more names for distortion than the Inuit have for snow.
At least for my purposes, it is a matter of definition. I enjoy hearing the attack and decay of each note. One thing I like about Surf guitar is that most practitioners have good technique and it really adds to the effect. While some Surf employs a degree of distortion, the Surf I enjoy tends to retain note definition.
Having lived through the sixties (I started playing in 1966), I heard music go from the clean sounds of Duane Eddy and The Ventures, on through the era of Hendrix and the endless succession of people that based their concept of sound on Hendrix. If you read Guitar Player magazine during the seventies, there was an amazing amount of column inches devoted to the subject of distortion. It was virtually the default sound of Rock for many years.
One other aspect was how distortion was achieved. Some of the distortion pedals sounded very canned, very artificial. An amp pushed into natural overdrive sounds completely different from a pedal, at least to my ears. I find that a lot more appealing to the ears.
I always have preferred the cleaner end of the spectrum. When Queen did Crazy Little Thing Called Love, it was a breath of fresh air. The sound was a bit more focused, perhaps, than the Classic Rockabilly sound, but it was a lot cleaner than most of what hit the airwaves in the late ‘70s.
Anyhow, my point is that there are degrees. I’ll gladly concede that not all Surf is crystal clear; long before this thread I’d be quick to agree that the Classic Brownface sound was not the same as the piercing cleans of a Blackface amp, yet it’s foundational to Surf. But that’s a far cry from Hendrix playing a Strat, through a Fuzzface and into a cranked Marshall.
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