Ken Hower, IT consultant and guitarist in Priest /DC with Jeff Martin and Scott Travis answers:
There are usually 5 reasons why a guitar player switches guitars…..
1) Breaks a string/Out of Tune. I combined these, because usually string breaking with a floating bridge, means out of tune. In larger bands, an out of tune guitar is often easier to solve and FASTER, by just switching guitars. The guitar tech will retune that #1 guitar backstage, and it will go back into rotation. This is how Angus Young in AC/DC would solve an out of tune guitar. You’ll never see Angus tune his guitar between songs.
2) Different Tone. Different guitars sounds different…makes sense. So if a song needs more bite or softer tone, that can be accomplished by changing guitars.
3) Change in tuning. Perhaps a song is in standard 440 tuning. But the next song is tuned 1/2 step down. Maybe the melody is too high for the singer live, so they tune down to make the vocals easier. Well, if that’s the case, it’s much easier to change a guitar, than to tune down on stage between songs.
4) Alternate Tunings. Maybe the song is in Drop D (Meaning the top E string is tuned down 1 step to “D”).
5) Change for Change. Some guitar players have huge collections, and they just like to change regularly and show off their collection. Others, like Angus in AC/DC will play their #1 guitar the whole show unless #1.
So…How can you tell?
If only 1 guitar player changes, it’s probably #1 or #5.
If both guitar players switch, it’s probably #2 and #4, especially if the song changes tone.
If Bass and guitars ALL change at the same time…it’s #3. Listen carefully, and you’ll be able to tell it’s tuned down.
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