Tone Talk with Beth Marlis

Beth Marlis
photo credit: Kathleen Clark
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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 11 – Spring 2020 – SoCal Inspired

I’ve played guitar for a long time, performing over the decades as a freelance player with hundreds of great musicians from Bebop to Bluegrass and far beyond. I’ve been fortunate to have had world-class teachers, and I’m a Vice President and senior faculty member at Musicians Institute in Hollywood.

Recently, I performed at two jazz festivals, one as an Artist for Benedetto Guitars and the other with the wonderful R&B singer Judith Hill. As a result, I’ve become super-energized about practicing hard and performing more often. I’m in the process of helping to put the wheels on a new band for 2020 with a great LA area pianist/composer that will really push my capacities as a player. I can’t wait!

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

I’m more convinced than ever that tone comes from you. It’s your hands, your heart, and your ears. Tone=touch. It’s articulation and expression. This is the truth.

It helps to have professional-level gear, obviously.

I’ve owned dozens of guitars and amps and experimented a lot to find what feels and sounds right to me. I enjoyed the process of elimination, and the eventual gravitation towards the gear I use now. If these elements aren’t in alignment, then it hurts your ability to have and produce great tone… but these things do not bestow it upon you. It’s all YOU.

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

My current artist endorsements are with Benedetto Guitars, Henricksen Amps, D’Addario strings, and Moody Leather Straps.

For jazz, I play small-bodied archtop guitars: The Benedetto Bambino (Deluxe and Elite) 14.5-inch body is exceptional. For funk/blues/versatile situations and teaching – my #1 is a Gibson CS-336, (carved top, 13-inch body) it’s smaller than a 335. I also play custom Suhr chambered T-style and custom Tom Anderson chambered S-style guitars. They’re very lightweight, and I like their “splanky” tone for funk. I also have excellent guitars by Sadowsky, Takamine, and others.

I use Henricksen Blu 6” and 10” amps—they’re small (the 6” is tiny and I love it), and they sound incredible, warm, and powerful! I use a Fender Blues Deluxe reissue for louder gigs.

On my pedalboard, you’ll find Xotic AC and RC booster pedals for transparent and/or bluesy overdrive, JAM pedals Waterfall (chorus), Crybaby wah, and an Ernie Ball volume pedal.  Really simple.

What about strings?

I’ve used D’Addario strings for decades. NYXL 11-49’s on my archtop jazz guitars, and regular NYXL 10’s on my various other guitars.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?

My set-up is fairly straight-forward and really analog, so there aren’t a lot of ghosts in the machine. Being very friendly to the sound crew is a good strategy, too!

What does your practice consist of?

I’m very focused these days. Warm-ups are usually one of three variations depending on mood and time: Version one is five patterns of all scales/arpeggio and sequences working tempos up to 16th notes at 145 bpm. Version two is reading several pages of Bach Partitas and Sonatas, since they are perfect melodies and reading helps to warm up the fingers and the ears. Version three is playing whatever I feel.

After these warm-ups, I practice solo choruses of fast rhythm changes at 215 bpm for five or ten minutes non-stop with a rhythm track. Then, I like to run through several random standard jazz standards with normal solo choruses, and sometimes trading fours with myself, solo for 4 bars, comp for 4 bars, and work on new concepts, etc.

Next, I’ll work on new tunes, ideas, or licks that I’m learning (or stealing)! If I’m learning new material for a show, then I will spend a few hours per day on that material. I’m happy if I can get at least 4 hours of practice per day on the weekends, and an hour or two on regular work weekdays. I always include time for short breaks to clear my mind, and time to be totally creative and unstructured, jam out, and just have fun.

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

If this is your passion, if you love it, if you’re driven, then do it… have fun and enjoy the adventure!  Along the way, be kind to other people and be kind to yourself. Say “yes” to showing up, getting involved, meeting people, and creating relationships. Do the work, and learn from every situation. If you’re a musician, study the music business as well. If you’re in the music business, then learn how to make some music. Find a mentor or two that you trust. Be strong, be brave, PERSIST, trust your own heart, and be 100% yourself. The rest will follow, and the world will be better because of you.

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