Carlos Santana - Tone Shaman by Greg Bahr
Carlos Santana formed his namesake band, Santana, in San Francisco in the late 1960's. The group's foundation was built upon Latin rhythms fueled by a percussion section which included drums, timbales, and congas, over which Carlos superimposed his tonal magic. Among his early influences were blues guitarist B.B. King - Santana not only imitated King's playing, but also the facial expressions of the "King of the Blues".
Building upon these stepping stones, he was able to create his own unique guitar sound from the use of jazz-rock scales augmented by feedback and sustain, creating a searing, soaring tonal montage. He once compared the three dimensional nature of his guitar tone to a pond, where you can see the sun reflecting from the surface, the fish swimming in the water, and the sand and corals at the bottom.
Santana's first break came from landing a gig at Woodstock, where they played the instrumental "Soul Sacrifice" to a receptive gathering that was perfectly suited to the spiritual nature of the embryonic band's musical offerings.
In this stage of his career, Carlos' musical vision was channeled through Gibson SG Special guitars and Mesa-Boogie amplifiers. Early tracks "Evil Ways" and "Jingo", from their debut album "Santana", as well as "Black Magic Woman" (written by Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green) and "Oye Como Va", from the masterpiece "Abraxas", provided the launching pad for Santana's career.
Further expanding their jazz fusion direction, Santana added to their legacy with "Everybody's Everything" and "No One to Depend On", from Santana III, and a cover of the Zombies "She's Not There" (featuring the use of a Wah pedal) from "Moonflower". During this period Carlos was partial to Gibson Les Pauls.
In the 1980's Carlos collaborated with musicians such as keyboardist Booker T Jones (leader of the instrumental rhythm and blues group Booker T and the MGs, drummer Buddy Miles (alumni of the Band of Gypsys, led by Jimi Hendrix), as well as jazz keyboardist McCoy Tyner and jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter. During this period, Santana began to endorse custom made Paul Reed Smith guitars. He received great critical reviews in this era, but not much commercial success.
However, that changed in 1999, with the chart topping CD "Supernatural", followed by another number one release, "Shaman" in 2002. At this point, Carlos was generating his trademark tone with custom made Dumble amplifiers.
From the beginning of his career to the present, despite all the changes in Carlos Santana's music and fellow musicians, and his choice of guitars, amps, and effects pedals, there remains one constant: his quest for the holy grail of magical, supernatural, transcendental tone.
Greg Bahr writes about the guitar and related topics. Read more at http://guitarmojo.blogspot.com