8 Tips For Finding Great Tone

July 21, 2016


Written by PGS staff 

The quest to find TONE—it’s an endless, Sisyphusian journey. With the insane amount of gear available, we guitarists can have a tendency to not see the forest for the trees, constantly swapping gear in and out as we look for the sound we hear in our heads. This week, we’re highlighting ways to tweak your tone that don’t involve dropping a bunch of Benjamins on new gear—not to say that it isn’t a ton of fun, too.



It might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to listen passively. Actively use your ears and brain to hear tones, how adjusting pots affects a sound, how combining pieces of equipment sounds, et cetera. When you listen to other people play, listen actively and curiously; sleuth out how they’re making the sounds they’re making. Having an engaged ear will help you hear, not just listen.




You have a lot of options when it comes to strumming. If you use a pick, take a cue from our own Andy and start playing with your fingers. Do you strum in the same spot all the time? Try picking close to the bridge for a sound with some bite or closer to the neck to round everything off. Turn your pick around. Use a coin as a plectrum. Experiment with how you hit the strings and where.




Fresh strings are always a joy. It can be an expensive habit, but treat yourself and your guitar to fresh strings whenever you feel like it. I’ve almost always used 10s on my electric guitars, but once in a while I do something crazy and re-string one of them with a super light set (8s) or a much heavier set (12s). It always changes the way I play and winds up helping me work out aspects of my technique. If you usually use nickel strings, switch to steel or vice versa. Don’t be content to use what you’ve always used. 



Malekko - Sneak Attack



Along with experimenting with your string gauge and construction, playing with your tunings can free you from your habits and patterns and open up creativity in your playing and affect your technique. Switching a guitar into an open tuning forces your brain and ears to work in ways to which they aren’t accustomed. Even tuning down to Eb can be enough of a change.



Double check your signal path. Is there anything happening in your signal chain that is preventing you from getting the sounds you want out of your rig? Check your leads and patch cables for shorts. Evaluate whether a buffer would be useful in your board. Are your effects placed in an order that maximizes their performance?



Don’t ignore your “right hand technique” (sorry, southpaws!)—we spend a lot of time working on our fretting fingers and it’s easy to forget about the digits on the other hand. Make sure to exercise your strumming hand’s fingers. As per above, maybe put the pick down once in a while. Don’t forget: your strumming hand is also in charge of string muting, which is a critical skill to work on to avoid unwanted string noise. You can even go one step further and work on your Jeff Beckian ability to manipulate your guitars pots while you’re strumming. 



DOD - Carcosa


All loud, all the time is not necessarily the greatest thing ever. Practice playing at different volumes, intensities and speeds. Loud only has power when it is contrasted with quiet—and quiet becomes powerful when it is paired with loud. Don’t be afraid to take it down a notch when the moment calls for it.



Know your instrument inside and out. Your guitar likely has a tone knob—USE IT. If your guitar has multiple pickups, make sure to get to know your switching system and use it to its fullest. Keep on top of your guitar’s intonation. Your instrument is your partner in music; know it and take care of it for a long lasting affair!


As always, we want to know what you think—if anyone has great tips for honing in on tone, be sure to share them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!



Thorpy FX - Fallout Cloud



  1. Scott Grove says:

    Some good tips, some stupid tips.  The worst tip… have a tone knob….use it.  Um…..nope.  You can if you want.  All of my guitars are built with no pots at all.  Just a Morley PVO volume pedal that operates your volume via an electro-optical circuitry is completely free of pots that destroy your high end when you roll them back.  You get YOUR TONE at any volume.  Don’t let YOUR TONE suck because you turned down your volume knob to 9.  I’m pretty sure that when you find a great tone… don’t want to screw it up right away.  Think it through.  You’re welcome.

    posted on July 22, 2016 at 8:02 am
  2. William says:

    I have been playing for over 35 years, and have recently discovered the tonal differences you can achieve by even small manipulation of the volume and tone knobs.  Who knew?!  Give’r a go and see for yourself.

    posted on July 22, 2016 at 8:09 am
  3. scott campbell says:

    Tone and quality… Not quantity..
    Get finger picking. Plenty of lessons on the you tube.

    posted on July 22, 2016 at 8:12 am
  4. Joe says:

    I’m surprised that using harmonics in your playing was not mentioned here…

    posted on July 22, 2016 at 8:20 am
  5. midnight says:

    I notice A LOT of people overuse reverb and distortion. Backing off significantly on both is a great first step to assess where your tone may be suffering.

    posted on July 22, 2016 at 8:29 am
  6. zach says:

    Andy mentions using your tone knob. Nothing controversial about that until Scott Grove steps into it and says that it’s a stupid tip. He thinks he proves his point by talking about the issue of treble bleed when you turn down the volume. Grove is a bit confused.

    posted on July 22, 2016 at 8:41 am
  7. Bruce A D says:

    Different Guitars and pic ups,, also the pic up selector switch is another endless source of tone experimentation. It can be a costly quest.. Amplifiers from boutique to digital modeling, added to mountains of pedals , or running through different microphones into a mixing board . Speakers and cabs are another factor as well as the space that surrounds your signal.. I love it.

    posted on July 22, 2016 at 8:51 am
  8. Dan P says:

    Scott Grove comments are extremely short sighted.
    I would suggest checking out “Joe Bonamassa’s Gibson Les Paul tone tips guitar lesson” on YouTube and get some perspective from a truly gifted guitar player.

    posted on July 22, 2016 at 9:09 am
  9. Daniel says:

    Before folk go replacing or removing pots to improve their tone or make it more consistent, folk would be wise to recognize that many classic sounds are only achieved through rolling off highs coming from the guitar—with the volume knob.  Tone knobs become useful for balancing front and back pickups.  If you like full up all the time, that’s your choice too.  Cheers and happy music making.

    posted on July 22, 2016 at 9:19 am
  10. says:

    I help many ages of guitarists attempt to achieve their ‘goals’ and apart from the usual scales and Tabs /songs etc, I spend a lot of time opening their ears to tone and dynamics… Often I leave them unplugged and get them to get that Clapton or Peter Green tone just with their fingers on the fretboard. Is amazing how close you can get…

    posted on August 1, 2016 at 3:02 am
  11. Ben Agro says:

    Well, my advice might seem stupid, but it has been effective for me. If you find your tone, try first with your guitar… unplugged! Work on your right hand, picking, muting, expression, and on left hand for vibrato, hammering and pulling, sliding, places where you choose to play a note, etc…
    I thought this when I had the chance to attend a Steve Vai seminar in Italy, many years ago. He had an Ibanez and a Marshall JCM 900 amp from a local shop, a 30ms delay and… guess what… he had HIS tone!
    That gave me the certainty that it came mostly from his hands, considering the fact that, at that time, I had the same guitar and amp, but I was quite far from that sound. Not that I wanted to reach the same sound (there is only one SV, isn’t it?), and I play different music btw, but I think that, if you really want to achieve your personal sound, you should be able to show your trademark even with… a balalaika?
    Think at Mark Knopfler, you can hear his style with a strat, a Les Paul, a Dobro, a Gibson Chet Atkins, and so on.
    Then, of course, come all the frills and boxes to improve it and make your life easy, with colors and fireworks.
    Just my humble opinion.

    posted on August 15, 2016 at 10:13 pm

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