To an extent, we all do this. And there’s nothing wrong with it. However, the make-me-sound-like-that-guy request can be a tall order. If your favourite player uses a Les Paul, you might get a Les Paul. Then you might find your hero’s Les Paul had its pickups swapped out for Lollars. You ask your guitar tech or repair person to spec out a set of Lollars.
It’s not the same, though. It still doesn’t sound like the album or the gig I saw last month. Maybe something else is missing. What sort of capacitors should I put on my tone control?
The thing is, the noise you hear coming out of a PA array at a gig, and especially the noise you hear coming out of your stereo when you listen to the CD, is the sum of a lot of parts.
Everything from the grey meat in the player’s skull through his or her fingers, the pick, the strings, the pickups, the guitar/bass, the electronics, the pedals, the signal run, the amp, the room, the mic, the preamp, the desk, the compressors, the reverb, the plugins, the engineer, the producer, the tapes/DAW, the mastering tools, the mastering engineer…(phew—deep breath)… Everything has an impact on the sound to a greater or lesser degree.
You can’t possibly replicate all of these things so have a think about how far you feel it’s important to go and what's actually important to you.
An anecdote might help. Gather around…
A number of years ago, I had a customer tell me they wanted to upgrade the pickups in their Strat to sound like Guitarist X. Now, I knew that Guitarist X tended to play Strats with Fender Texas Specials so after some conversation (and a shortened version of the list above), he asked me to order up some Texas Specials and install them.
This done, he collected his guitar. A few days later he called me back saying the sound wasn’t what he wanted—it was ‘too weak’. We chatted some more and I double-checked the guitar to ensure it was working properly (it was). I offered to reverse the changes for him but he didn’t feel comfortable with my doing so any more.