Uli Jon Roth Explains Problems With Younger Guitarists: ’They Tend to Sound Factory-Made’

One of the earliest electric guitar virtuosos, Uli Jon Roth, discussed some of the biggest issues he sees with the younger generation of guitar players. While appearing on a recent episode of the “Academy of Tone” show, Uli addressed the matter while talking about his own approach to tone-shaping, as well as the generation that he comes from. When reminded of his “screaming” old-school-style guitar tone, he explained (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“I learned it from the best because I’m one of the few remaining dinosaurs who started being on stage in the ’60s. And I still remember that tone from back then. I still remember what it sounded like when Jimi Hendrix played in Hamburg Music Hall, and that tone and that’s not something you get from a little combo with overdrive, etc.”

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“And that’s real,” the former Scorpions guitarist added. “It sounded like a spaceship. It sounded incredibly 3D.”

“A little bit later, I heard Jeff Beck with Beck, Bogert & Appice, who also had a phenomenal tone back then with his Marshall and his Strat. Those two stood out back then. Mick Taylor had a great tone.”

“But back then, you had people who were producing organic, great tones, and they were tone-conscious, sound-conscious like Eric Clapton was extremely sound-conscious. He completely invented a new tone with Cream, which was beautiful and which worked so well with the electric guitar.”

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The problem, according to Uli, is that this is kind of a lost art these days. While he’s more than impressed with what some of the current young guitar players can pull off, he isn’t all that keen on their tone.

“This is an art form that, sadly, has been almost completely lost,” Uli said. “Nowadays, there are a lot of kids who have fantastic techniques. And they’re very musical, they can play, etc. But it’s so rare that you hear somebody who cares about tone and expression as they all tend to sound factory-made, and I can’t blame them because that’s how they grew up.”

The reason behind this, according to Roth, is because they’re used to the digital replicas of legendary guitar amp tones:

“Their reference was maybe a little box where you press a button, ‘Oh, that sounds like a Plexis or so.’ Of course it doesn’t. It sounds remotely kind of a little bit like that. But if you have the real ears and the real deal, it’s a big difference.”

Uli Jon Roth - Full Show - Live at Wacken Open Air 2015

Adding that “it’s like a difference between McDonald’s and maybe great Italian cuisine in Naples or Florence,” Uli said that there are still plenty of great guitar players these days but that their tone is seriously lacking.

“There are a lot of really good players who play with an awful tone most of the time,” he continued. “And I understand, sometimes this is what happens — you play a live gig, you have a bad amp, and everything is bad, yeah — and sometimes, it’s a no-win situation. I also sometimes don’t get the tone I want.”

“And although the older I get, the more reliable my tone gets — now 95% I’m getting that tone live — there was a period where I was experimenting a lot, and sometimes it wasn’t that great.”

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“So I’m not knocking anybody,” Uli pointed out. “I’m just saying it would be nice if this sensibility towards actual sound would find a little resurgence. This of course, with MP3 and everything.”

“In the ’70s and ’80s, you had a lot of audiophiles that listened to their omni speakers with copper wires [laughs] and all this, special this, special that, quadruple sound, and there was a time when there was a lot of progress was being made, coming with the Compact Disc, first 12-bit, and 16-bit. But now, we still use 16-bit compact discs! And we have MP3 and all this, and when people have their Alexa, it’s mono!”

“It’s like the end of civilization as we know it. And people don’t know it any other way [laughs] because they grow up in the McDonald’s society, and that’s what they have — ‘I’m just getting my mental or my ear burger. Turn up the volume, have it like this and this’, and then, ‘Oh, yeah, that sounds all right.’ But that isn’t necessary. It could sound so much better.”

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Discussing the issue further, Uli also added that it’s not just the guitar players but sound engineers and front-of-house personnel at live shows. He explained:

“Whenever I go and play in Italy with a different band, and then there’s a guy in the soundcheck — the engineer, the sound engineer — ‘Oh, mamma mia! You can’t play like that.'”

“And I think, ‘What? That guy never heard a real guitar tone, quite obviously.’ I mean, the guitar is like a tiger coming out of the cage or like a big stallion — it’s got to be real.”

Uli Jon Roth live | Rockpalast | 2018

“These kids have no idea,” Uli adds. “They’re used to these little Mickey Mouse sounds, and that to them is normal, because they can control that upfront. But they have no idea of the real magic that you can produce with some volume, when you’re shifting all the molecules in the room, they go straight into people’s senses. So normally, I don’t even do sound checks with engineers that I don’t know, because it’s always the same.”

Photo: Markus Felix (20180520 Gelsenkirchen RockHard Uli Jon Roth 0148)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.