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I was always intrigued with the way Ted Nugent/Adrian Belew/Jeff Beck/Jimi Hendrix/SRV were able to control feedback and make it musical - are there guitar/amp settings and techniques that can make this kind of control a part of a players repertoire?

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Great question! –  Jduv Jan 24 '11 at 17:59
I remember a G3 video with Steve Vai where he taped large X's on the floor at different points on the stage. At one point he was feeding back and he stepped from point to point and the tone of the feedback changed, so it leads me to believe that there may be some property of feedback that can be taken advantage of--possibly related to harmonics. I'll research this a little bit and see if I can uncover something cool. –  Jduv Jan 24 '11 at 18:27
If you watch some of Santana's videos you'll see him turn and freeze to lock in a note. Distance affects the frequency as does volume. Natural harmonics (octave, 2nd octave, fifth above that) are jumps you can control pretty easy, especially if you use artificial harmonics to encourage the pitch change. –  Anonymous Jan 25 '11 at 0:13
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6 Answers

The answer to a ton of the questions here so far are the same basics: practice and experiment.

In order to get feedback, all you really need is a loud amp and an electric guitar. Hollow or semi hollow guitars can be kind of hard to control the feedback, so definitely start with a solid body. The thing to experiment with is your guitar's position relative to the amp. Where you position yourself will change the frequency of the feedback you are getting. Moving the guitar around can change the note that's feeding back.

Some other hints:

  • Use some vibrato to help keep the sound "going".
  • Feedback is easier with a gain in addition to volume, so make it a bit dirty.
  • It's easier with a guitar that sustains well.
  • Compression will help you get some good feedback going, as it keeps your signal going for longer at higher volume (i.e. sustain).
  • You can use a wah pedal to control your feedback and the note that you are getting. Just slowly sweep through the wah's range and see how your note breaks up / feeds back.
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The amp doesn't even have to be loud. Creating a feedback loop is simply a matter of transferring the vibration from the guitar to the amp and back, and can result from touching the guitar's body to the speaker cabinet, effectively coupling the vibrations of the two. Then it's a matter of finding the resonating frequencies for the guitar; Hopefully they'll be in the key of the song. Sometimes they aren't, but when they are is when the fun happens. –  Anonymous Jan 24 '11 at 23:53
+1'Use some vibrato to help keep the sound "going"'. I think this is a real important trick. By keeping the string vibrating against the fret you can fine tune the pitch as the resonance sets in to find the right frequency. Even at low volume, with good compression and a sensitive guitar, you can get the right notes to grab hold. I was holding a conversation with mine feeding back as we talked over it one day. Made me love that particular guitar. –  Anonymous Jan 25 '11 at 0:07
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A lot of folks get their pickups dipped in wax to help control feedback.

Here's a link to Premier Guitar that explains how to wax pot your own pickups: http://www.premierguitar.com/Magazine/Issue/2009/Apr/How_To_Pot_Your_Own_Pickups.aspx

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You're talking about what a lot of us call pickup squeal, caused by the windings vibrating. That's not what the OP was talking about though. –  Anonymous Jan 25 '11 at 0:03
Potted pickups do indeed tighten th pickup a little, and the wax reduced the micro phonics of the coil--so if anything my intuition tells me that it would reduce the amount of feedback you receive (I need to research this claim). Also, I would really advise against potting your own pickups--especially if you have a nice set. I would hate to ruin a $300 set of Lollar Imperials, and most high end pickups already come potted--but the article is great if you want to experiment on a set of cheapies. –  Jduv Jan 25 '11 at 13:00
-1 Didn't read the question. –  Anonymous Feb 14 '11 at 17:12
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Assuming you mean feedback from the amp, it has a ton to do with the amp circuit used. It is quite easy to make an amp oscillate. Usually this isn't preferred because it can be hard to control but I suppose with a properly designed amp and a bit of practice it wouldn't be too hard. The part of the amp that seems to have the most effect on controlling feedback is the the negative feedback. This is added to reduce distortion(which also reduces gain).

So first things first is to make sure you have a good amp to work with.

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You're confusing amplifier feedback, with feedback caused by resonating vibration in the guitar's body and strings when the amplified notes reinforce the vibrations. A clean amp with high damping can still cause guitar feedback, and be controlled by the player with a little bit of practice, which is what the OP was talking about. –  Anonymous Jan 24 '11 at 23:57
Um, no. In both cases it is due to the acoustic resonance GENERATED by the speaker of an amp. With a high gain amp it is much easier. The OP didn't mention anything about clean or distorted but gave references to people who use distortion. In both cases they are the same but my answer is more appropriate than yours w.r.t to the OP. –  Anonymous Jan 25 '11 at 0:59
BTW, a clean amp with too much "dampening" will not generate feedback. It depends on the amp, the guitar, the speaker, and the position/angle. But if you've every messed with high gain amps you will know how easy it is to get such feedback. It would be exactly the same with a clean amp but much harder. –  Anonymous Jan 25 '11 at 1:00
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Get yourself a Sustainer or Sustainiac, switch to harmonic mode and you'll be able to get feedback when playing straight to tape.

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Hendrix would walk around the stage with his guitar during soundcheck and mark the "sweetspots" with masking tape so he knew where to stand when he wanted feedback.

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The way I usually do it on stage is as follows:

Run a guitar straight into a Line 6 Pod X3 Live and then take that into the DI input for the venue backline (this lets me use my preset amp simulators) and have a pretty loud front of stage monitor.

In soundcheck I take a good look at where I can get feedback and although I don't mark them on the floor, I note where I need to be for particular songs or sections. I also set the volume so feedback will only happen at full volume on my guitar. When I don't want feedback I slightly back off on my volume or tone.

If I get feedback slightly wrong, I can move forward or backward a very small amount to get it to sound 'in tune'

caveat - this works well for loud rock and metal. Not so good with an acoustic guitar mic'ed up. For that I always rather have my monitor behind me so feedback doesn't ring so harshly.

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