Getting Great Guitar Tone involves several factors. This post will touch on a few of the most important elements to achieve above average guitar tone while playing the electric guitar. I am going to explain so anyone might understand it and I will elaborate on each of the 6 topics listed below in the form of a new comment on my main topic “How to Achieve The Ultimate Guitar Tone.”
I will start with a list of the elements (not necessarily in any order) which will be broken down to explain the significance with achieving ultimate guitar tone. I will continue to elaborate on these elements so please check back from time to time, there is really a lot involved and I will elaborate more after I cover the basics on achieving the ultimate guitar tone.
- Your Guitar
- Your Fingers
- Power Source
These are a lot of factors (but not all) to consider, some being way more important that others, but are all in the equation to achieve what you are looking for, and that is the ultimate guitar tone!
I know everyone has a different idea or “sound in their mind”of what perfect guitar tone is so let me try to set a standard for all of us to go by. Throw out the end component of what your desired tone is, and what I mean by this is just imagine your amplifier alone, no effects, with you and your axe. Got that, PLUG STRAIGHT IN. Ok, now you need to play some licks and really listen for “piano like reproduction” of the instrument you are tendering. Just you and your guitar and amplifier are making this happen right now so realize, these are the most important basis to build the rest of your guitar tone stack on. A good analogy would be to compare how a picture or video file gets distorted when you upsize it from its original size; the better the “original size” is the better the final desired outcome will be. This said I know you will not be able to get your complete desired tone for some applications just playing straight out of your amp, but your end tone will be its best if you learn to achieve your “dry” tone to its top capabilities.
Now that I have hopefully gotten us all on the “same page” I will continue to explain the important elements of getting the ultimate guitar tone. I will just follow the above list and elaborate on each topic.
Your Guitar plays one of the most obvious roles for achieving incredible guitar tone. There are too many guitars to choose from these days, and I am sure there are a lot of great ones, but I always stick with the top industry standards, such as Gibson, Fender, Tom Anderson, Shector, Paul Reed Smith, and so on. Make sure you always have good strings, I prefer pure nickel, but at least get nickel wound. Your strings do have a life span and you will lose tone when they begin to go. Always wipe them down when you are done playing to help with premature string damage, Stringease can be helpful. Make sure you keep your pots clean and if you have active pickups always check your battery. Make sure your pickups are set up correctly and to maximize tone transfer from your strings. Periodically check your jacks to make sure you are getting proper contact when you plug in.
The next topic in getting great tone is your fingers. We all have different fingers, and fingers do influence your tone. Grabbing a note is an art in itself, so do not be shy, grab your notes with authority and confidence, this will help with conveying your tone. Keep those deep calices in shape! Also try picking with your fingers for a really fat tone; I try not to use a pick most of the time, but sometimes you just gotta have one!
Next is Amplification! It is my opinion and many others that that basis for ultimate tone must come from a hand wired all tube amp and a properly made cabinet. I guess the proof lies in the fact that there are so many tube amp companies making killer amps like in the vintage days. Even Fender has reissued most of their old popular models. Back in the early seventies solid stat amplifiers came into the game, but it was not long after that guitar players were missing their tube amps, mainly the tone which they produced. Players were happy to not have to deal with tubes anymore but the trade off was not worth the loss of tone!! Sure there are many amp emulators out there, but the digital stuff will never really sound just like a tube amp, and I can say this from experience. You need a well build amp with a solid wood cabinet Your amplifier cabinet has a pronounced effect on the tone you can achieve. I will elaborate later on cabinets and their tonal differences. When you turn the beautiful analogue sound wave into 0’s and 1’s you are losing the “guts” of your tone. Why to try to recreate what was already perfect! Get a real Amp with A real Cabinet.
Your instrument Cables and effects will have an influence on tone as well. Signal loss is a major tone issue, so always use good quality cables and run the least length you can get away with. Also, try to use analogue effects, and where applicable have them modified with a double pull/double throw switch, this will eliminate signal loss. A good example where this is needed would be on an original Dunlop crybaby. There is a noticeable loss of tone when you turn the effect on, just listen! There is a lot to talk about when it comes to effects, cables, batteries, and signal loss. I will touch on this more in my comments to this post.
Your amps power source is important too. Make sure you have a true, constant voltage coming out of the receptacle you are plugged into. This effects tone and the well being of your amplifier. You can purchase a voltage regulator that will provide a steady current to your amplifier. You can check the source with a multimeter. You would be surprised at how many stages have faulty wiring, I have played on too many of them!
Lastly, remember your surrounding has a big effect on tone, especially to your audience, so make sure to sound check properly and get your EQ adjusted accordingly. You may sound ok on stage but your listeners hear something different. Playing outside is another animal, which can really mess with your head. The idea is to bring more amp to outdoor gigs, as they tend to sound thin outdoors. I always have the bass up a bit more when playing outside, and the volume knob is always up considerably as well. I always try to have someone in the audience who is listening and giving me signals regarding to my tone, this is important to learn the different sounds of different clubs or venues so you know how to optimize your tone for each place you play.
Please visit my Squidoo page for advice on how to build a great sounding amplifier cabinet and get great guitar tone!