Ultimate Santana - sheet music Guitar Tabs for Ultimate Santana. Includes "Oye Como Va" and "Black Magic Woman."

Ultimate Santana - sheet music Guitar Tabs for Ultimate Santana. Includes "Oye Como Va" and "Black Magic Woman."

Santana's Tone: Playing Style

It's An Issue of Timing

One feature that has marked Santana's playing since the beginning is his unusual sense of timing. Al DiMeola once remarked "A player should be able to write, in standard musical notation, any riff he plays." What DiMeola meant was that a riff should not be random; that no matter how complex a lick is, it should still fall within rhythmic guidelines. In general, it's good advice.

Guitars, Amps, Effects

As it is for most influential guitarists, Santana's Tone is a mixture of his playing style and equipment. For over five decades, Carlos has been refining his gear, as he developed his technique.

Thus the raw, untutored style of his early periods was combined with a Gibson Les Paul or Gibson SG guitar, and a Fender Twin Reverb amp (probably "hot-rodded" by Randall Smith). Eventually, he evolved into his current setup: multiple Mesa Boogie, Fender, and Dumble amplifiers, plus Marshall and Brown Cabinets; and, of course, his Paul Reed Smith Santana Signature guitars.

Santana's phrasing, however, pushes the boundaries of this tenet. Overall, Carlos has a way of playing riffs that are melodically simple, but rhythmically complex. In addition, he tends to play some notes earlier or later than they might be expected (just listen to the second solo in "Black Magic Woman"). This adds to the passion of his guitar sound.

Santana: Then and Now

You would certainly expect a musician's technique to change over the course of 50 years, and Carlos Santana is no exception. As exemplified in the first two albums, the debut, and Abraxas, Carlos' playing was initially somewhat raw and uneven (in a good way!).

Through judicious use of the volume control, he moved back and forth between nearly clean tones to saturated distortion. In order to get a thicker sound, he would sometimes double his parts in the studio. This somewhat untutored technique created an unpredictability that has never quite been duplicated in his later playing

Starting with Santana III and continuing into Caranvanserai, Santana was developing the smoother, rounder tone and more controlled playing style that marks the largest portion of his career, from the early '70s until almost the end of the '90s. Although Santana didn't have the amount of album sales and radio spins that his earlier and later albums generated, his legend continued to grow.

Though Carlos was heavily influenced by -- and experimented with -- jazz/rock fusion during these years (especially at the beginning), he simply didn't have the chops that other players had. John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, Neal Schon (ironically), Jeff Beck, and others, while inspiring Santana, couldn't cause him to stray too far from his core: a pop melodist with Blues and Latin shadings.

Finally, we come to the present day. Starting with Supernatural, producers took Santana's completely evolved playing and tone and smoothed it out even further in the studio. With the implementation of modern recording technique and effects, the result is a pristine, digitally enhanced version of the signature Santana sound.

Unsuprisingly, with all of his different tones throughout the years, Santana manages to sound unique in his own way, and his guitar riffs are instantly recognizable -- the mark of a true artist.

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