Five Affordable Tone Tips

April 9, 2013

Hello folks!  Welcome back to Andy’s Corner!  This week we will be looking at some inexpensive ways to improve your guitar tone.  The quest for tone is a lifelong search and can be an expensive endeavor.  In the last decade the cost of purchasing top end equipment has risen while pay for professional musicians quite possibly hasn’t.  But don’t despair, there are a myriad of ways to improve your guitar tone without spending thousands or even hundreds of dollars.  Small changes such as strings, speakers, pickups, tubes, and pedals can make a huge difference in the overall sound of your instrument.  It’s up to you from there to use that great tone!


Change Your Strings

A very commonly overlooked factor in tone is guitar strings.  Those of us that don’t play out all the time might think that we only need to change strings when one breaks or when they start to corrode.  Some of us gigging musicians only change strings when breakage occurs or when entering the studio.  Basically a lot of guitarists overlook the importance of the strings.  Your guitar strings are the first link in the chain.  They are the root of tone.  When dirt and grit build up on your strings, it makes it tougher for the string to vibrate properly and this can cause all sorts of tone-damaging effects.  The buildup will cause a loss of high frequencies resulting in a muddy tone.  Also, the string vibration does not ring out as long causing loss of sustain and those sparkling overtones.  Putting on a fresh set of strings will cause the guitar tone to jump out at you with clear, sustaining sound.  It’s also a good idea to clean the fretboard and frets between string changes to keep the buildup away as long as possible.  How often should you change your strings?  That does depend on how much you play but keep in mind; even stored in a case the strings can degrade and potentially lose tone over time.  My rule of thumb is always before a gig or studio event and once a week when rehearsing and practicing at home.



Change Pickups


So we’ve covered the first link in the tone chain, next is the second link, your pickups.  The pickups are a very large part of the overall tone of the instrument.  If you’re not completely satisfied with the overall tone of the guitar through different amplifiers, a little pickup makeover can bring a whole new life to your sound.  There are hundreds of pickups out there to choose from though so a little guidance might be necessary.  Many factors of the pickup will affect the tone it produces.  Things like magnet material, coil wire, and winding impedance will drastically affect the sound of the pickup and how it interacts with the wood of the guitar.  Some pickups are active, some are passive.  Then there is single coil vs. humbucker.  There are a lot of choices out there so do some research before running out and buying them.  Consult your local retailer or guitar tech if you have any questions you cannot find the answers to.  Replacing a single pickup in your guitar cost-wise should start around $35 (depending on the pickup) and can be a huge improvement in tone.  Here are a couple of informational articles on pickups that might help:



overdrive pedal

Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret MKIII

Add an Overdrive Pedal


Next in the chain is your effect pedal selection.  Barring all other effects, an overdrive pedal can change the overall character of your tone before being amplified.  Many artists get their sound directly from an amp but a lot of them have a “secret weapon” in an overdrive pedal.  The overdrive can be used in many ways; as a lead boost, as a “thickener”, as the primary overdrive tone, or as a tone “equalizer.”  If you’re using a higher wattage amplifier with no master volume, you might have to push the amplifier to ear-bleeding levels in order to get some overdrive from it.  This is where a great sounding overdrive pedal comes in handy.  It will allow you to obtain an overdriven sound while still staying in the good graces of the sound guy or the neighbors.  If you’re already getting some overdrive from your amplifier but find that your leads are getting lost in the mix, a TS style overdrive pedal can work wonders.  Midrange cuts through a mix there is no doubt about it, so having an overdrive pedal with a midrange “hump” is an extremely useful trick for soloing.  Sometimes an amplifier will have adequate overdrive for some applications but needs something to help “thicken” the tone.  A low to medium gain overdrive pedal can work wonders on this front.  Take the case of a small 15 watt tube amp with volume and master volume controls.  When you crank the volume it starts overdriving the preamp tubes for some great bluesy grit but it just doesn’t have the chunk you need for the sound you want.  Adding a gain stage in the form of an overdrive pedal can fill that chunk out, add sustain, and change the flavor of the overdrive.  Lastly an overdrive pedal with certain EQ characteristics such as a midrange hump/scoop or bass and treble controls can be used to fill in missing frequencies of an amplifier.  If you find your current rig is getting you a really nice bluesy crunch but you need ear-bleeding metal, there are overdrive pedals you can use that will scoop the midrange and boost the low end to bring a heavier feel to the sound.  It works in reverse with a midrange scooped amp as well.  Again, a TS style overdrive can work wonders in this case.  In general a reasonable overdrive pedal can be had for around $100. Check out the overdrive pedals we have avalible




Change Tubes



So next up we come to the amplifier.  You’ve saved your pennies and purchased a great tube amp and it sounds good but the same amp you heard that guy in that band playing last week at the local club sounded better.  Or perhaps you just feel that it isn’t quite giving all it can.  A simple solution is to try some different tubes.  In an earlier Andy’s Corner we discussed the tonal possibilities of the V1 preamp tube.  This is the first tube in the signal path and can be swapped out to add gain, lessen gain, or give a different tonal flavor.  The next thing to do would be replace your power tubes with a different brand or gain rating.  Some tubes will provide rolled off high-end for those super bright amps while some will provide more midrange content or low end.  Changing preamp tubes will have a different affect than changing power tubes so consult with a tube supplier or technician and tell them what you’re looking for.  They will be able to steer you in the right direction.  Preamp tubes start around $10 each while a matched pair of power tubes should start around $20-$25 depending on tube type and brand.

BE CAREFUL!!!  Replacing a preamp tube is usually pretty straightforward and can be done in a matter of minutes.  Power tubes are more involved and the circuit contains high enough voltage to kill.  If you don’t know much about tubes or have never replaced them before, let a technician do it for you.  This is extremely important when changing power tubes.   


Replace the Factory Speaker



Celestion Vintage 30 Speaker

Swapping out the speaker can have a pretty drastic affect on the overall sound of the amplifier since it’s the final link in the tone chain.  Speakers are basically the reverse of a pickup, so they are affected by some of the same characteristics such as magnet and coil material.  On top of this, the choice of cone materials (paper, hemp, synthetic etc.) has an effect on the sound being produced.  Alternate materials excite different frequencies, causing various subtleties in the tone.  The wattage of the speaker can also affect your tone.  A lower wattage speaker will tend to have some distortion of its own when pushed, while a higher wattage speaker will stay cleaner and tighter at higher levels.  For example, a Celestion Vintage 30 will produce a bit more midrange “grind” than say a Greenback which has a brighter overall tone.  A JBL E130 rated at 300 watts will not distort when pushed by a 30 watt amplifier while the 15 watt Jensen Alnico will.  Normally, I’ve found that alnico magnets have warmer lows and a “jingly’ top end while a ceramic magnet will generally produce a classic midrange bite and more defined bass.  A very popular thing to do is to have one of each in multiple speaker cabinets.  A nice alnico 12” and ceramic 12” in a 212 enclosure will tend to bring a very balanced sound with rich tone across the spectrum.  Replacement speakers usually start in the $90 range and go up from there.



So, we have 5 different ways to improve your tone.  Any of these by themselves will not break the bank and are usually easy to do.  Try a few and listen to what changes can come up for the better.  Just remember, it’s best to swap one component out at a time.  This way you can single out the tone changes and hear how they interact with your rig. With a little experimentation you can achieve your ultimate tone without spending thousands on guitars and amps.  If you’ve already bought that boutique, hand-wired amplifier and the custom built guitar, these upgrades still apply.  Small changes in the signal chain can have large effects on tone. Note: Be sure to consult with manufacturers before changing tubes, pickups, and speakers to make sure you don’t void your warranty and most of all, have fun!!!!!



  1. Roger W. says:

    Great advice!!! I always figured you didn’t change string,you just change guitars!! HaHaHa

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 4:15 am
  2. still rockin' says:

    When changing the pickups two more things that will really help, are shielding the control cavity with copper foil. And if you can spare the extra coin, replace the pots, caps and wiring with vintage upgrades. I did this to a Epi LP, 57s and vintage wiring harness. It sounds better then my Gibson 60s reissue LP.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 4:21 am
  3. Dan H says:

    Basic tone recipe 101 class which most folks don’t know .  Of course It gets more complicated when you start matching tubes to amps, speakers to amps, amp and guitar combinations, etc, etc,  ad infinitum, but the basics need to be covered for the bulk of the guitar and bass playing public who haven’t a clue.  Good Job.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 4:25 am
  4. Steve says:

    Good article, but (there’s always a but right?) I think speakers get overlooked more than any other element in the chain.  Too much importance is given to the tube.  If you have an amp with 3-band tone controls, contour, resonance, etc. (and tubes that aren’t total junk)—you’ll see more improvement with new drivers than NOS Tung-Sols.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 4:29 am
  5. daddymack says:

    If you have good tube amp, try removing the toys (distortion/delay/chorus/flange/etc) from your signal chain. Then you will really know what your amp can do and can’t do. I would do this long before I started swapping tubes looking for something that may have already been there but was masked by an effect box. When it comes to great tone, less is more. Once you know what the amp does, then look to see what can make it sound better (tubes, caps, speaker); after that, then I would start adding the effects to the chain, one at a time.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 4:30 am
  6. MB says:

    Article misses one of the simplest, cheapest (with the exception of strings) things to change and has a greater impact than half the things on this list: your guitar cable.  Everyone should do themselves a favor and google “guitar cable capacitance” and read up a bit.  Saves dropping tens - or hundreds - of dollars on new pickups or speakers, especially when you don’t even understand how those new pickups would interact with your cable or what frequencies and their corresponding amplitudes will be reaching the amp/speaker.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 4:42 am
  7. MM says:

    One important item was not mentioned…the guitar cable! I went from an inexpensive fender cable to a George L and the tone change was amazing!! I tried all my cheap and mid price cables again
    then back to the George L. I could hear the real tone for the first time.It was even more true when I recorded. There are many very good cables available.Try this first.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 4:48 am
  8. G Man says:

    Good tips.  It should also be pointed out that when changing power tubes, many amps will need to be re-biased for best effect.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 4:59 am
  9. Thomas Braam says:

    Not affordable for me….. :(

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 5:01 am
  10. Munga says:

    Before you change pick ups, be sure you’ve tinkered with the height adjustments on your current set.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 5:08 am
  11. elvis costanza says:

    +1 on ‘upgrade pots and caps’ and do that BEFORE you spend a fortune on new pickups. Even if you still get new pickups at least you will get your money’s worth from them by using quality pots/caps/wire

    use a decent cable!

    buy the best 12ax7 tube you can afford and use it in the V1 slot

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 5:12 am
  12. frank r. applegate says:

    hi , i play a epiphone les paul i999 with a fender r-25 frontman amp. what can i do to make it sound better like a tube amp. thank ‘s.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 5:23 am
  13. marc vee says:

    Here’s a tip that has worked well for me. Practice your instrument. Great tone is in the fingers and it can be changed just by altering how you pick, fret and work your guitar and amp’s controls. Also, how you play scales, licks, phrases and the intention behind your playing. It seems that more and more people lack these things yet they have the best guitars and amps.

    This is more important than buying more stuff unless your gear is broken or stolen.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 5:30 am
  14. Gavin Downie says:

    one top tip i have shared with guitarists I have toured with as their guitar tech.. point your amp at your ears not at your knees. People often stand above their amp and dial in a “tone” and think it sounds great but have not gotten near the actual speaker and had a listen to what was actually coming out. It sounds too simp,e to be true but this happens al the time. The amount of bands that have toppy and over scopped tones just because it sounds great standing 4 foot above the speaker not even close to where the sound developes. either get an amp stand and tilt it bck to your ears or sit your amp on something so you get to hear exactly what your guitar pickups and strings and speakers and amp are pushing out.. you’ll be surprised. And if your an audience member at a show then your gonna get that sound right at ear level off the stage even in tiny small bar venues.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 5:56 am
  15. Big Lou says:

    I just purchased a Marshall DSL2000 used from somebody at church and I didn’t notice but the springs that hold down the Power Tubes were not connected.  Any harm in this?  I tried to put them on and got all but one on but they sure are snug.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 6:05 am
  16. -jim says:

    Sorry but that’s a bit of a sales pitch, ain’t it:
    - Change strings before every gig - no way - that’s insane - try practicing more.  There are people that have to change strings often because of oily skin, they are the exception.  Me, once a year on electrics, so maybe once a month max.  BTW if you’re breaking strings there’s a problem either with your playing or if they always break in the same place you’ve got a sharp edge that needs to be eased.
    - Pickups, OK why did you buy the guitar, you liked it right or you wouldn’t have bought it - pickups are not cheap and will cost nearly as much as a new axe - but if you’ve got the money go for it.
    - Pedals, this one is reasonable (see below too) but first practice more.  I’ve been asked by good players since there are no pedals what I did to my amp to get that tone, my answer is it’s a factory amp and guitar - the tone is in the technique
    - Tubes, not inexpensive, if you are actually burning out tubes your amp has a problem - preamp tubes last pretty much forever with very little change in tone, power amp tubes get soft but that’s usually the best tone.  That being said there are huge differences in tone from tube to tube.
    - Speakers, again why did you buy the amp?  You liked it right, upgrading the Speakers is not cheap. 

    Here’s my advice (in order of how to do it)
    - Practice getting a good tone, both with and without an amp.
    - Don’t try to get all your sounds from the same rig, a LP will never have a good Strat tone, etc.  That solid state amp isn’t going to sound like a good tube amp, ever.  There are only a handful of pros that always use the same rig but does Andy always play the same axe in his riff of the day?  You’re better off with 2 guitars that each does it’s job well then one that sort of does both, same for amps.
    - Pedals,  I own quite a few pedals I rarely use but it’s totally legit to use pedals all the time if that’s how you get your tone.  Here’s the thing, think it out.  Sometimes I play in situations where I need a great variety of tones quickly but none has to be perfect, I use a Vox tonelab or POD in those situations.  Other times you don’t need as much variety but want it to be perfect that when the right stompboxes are great.  Keep in mind pedals are also a money pit, you can never have enough cause there’s always something new that does something a little different.

    So, basically all five tone tips are good to understand but none are cheap.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 6:20 am
  17. Andrew Meyer says:

    +1 on the overdrive section. When you need to cut through, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MIDS!!! Hell, for me it’s always about the mids. I run a ts-808 into an Egnater Tweaker with the mids CRANKED and it cuts like a knife. As an added bonus it makes pinch harmonics a lot easier to achieve.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 6:27 am
  18. Graeme Bronson says:

    Feedback on the Tone Tips:  Thanks for sharing your experience, so amateurs like me can learn from those with the knows.  I am a guitar addict for six years so am sucking up this advice…reckon I will be getting the pots an caps done on the 1970 SA-30T Yamaha I love ... oh yeah!

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 6:54 am
  19. Ben Smith says:

    The tips in the article are probably the most common suggestions you’ll hear and certainly all have merit. Most of the followup comments I’ve read also have merit. My only added suggestion is to try to think in terms of what’s appropriate for the style of music you’re playing or the particular song you’re playing. About pedals; there are so many, and even if you opt for a multi-effects pedal, it can run into serious money. I’ve recently come across the greatest value pedal I’ve ever experienced and would recommend it to any serious player, including experienced professionals, provided you’re willing to undergo a pretty serious learning curve in terms of tweaking patches. That pedal is a Vox Stomplab 1G. (Make it a 2G if you like to use an expression pedal.) You’ll never get a better return on such small outlay.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 7:03 am
  20. Caleb James says:

    Also its great to spend the money on some good quality patch cables like george l’s if your using pedals. Also if your using alot of pedals have a look at the JHS Buffer if your struggling with a muddy sound, and again if you have lots of pedals have a look into a looper a guy called timon klein sells them, they are pricey but will do wonders to your tone if you have alot of pedals.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 7:16 am
  21. justin says:

    great article! other tips, pick attack, right hand technique (or left if your a lefty), even the pick you use, these are all cheap to free alterations which drastically effect tone. When I started studying Scofield’s approach and seeing how many various tones you can achieve with said approaches, its pretty remarkable.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 7:17 am
  22. Murry says:

    I think you did a great job, Andy! I tend to agree with those guys who said practice is most important, as well. For an inexpensive effect, I would add changing your type of guitar pick. Hard picks have quite a different sound than nylon picks, and there are advantages to each, so which ever one you play, try the opposite type!

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 7:26 am
  23. Steve says:

    @Jim above.  Jim, if you change your strings once a year, then your opinion on tone is completely irrelevant to me.  I change my strings at least once a week, and always before a gig. There is a huge difference in tone between a new set of strings and strings that are just a week old. (If you play your guitar that is)

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 7:34 am
  24. Anthony Lee says:

    The Basic and most important piece of gear to get a great sound is your cable.
    Check all your cables one by one ,First connect to amp without guitar put volume up to 6 and hear the difference of noise in the cables . (get rid of the noisy ones) then do the same thing with the guitar connected . be amazed.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 8:05 am
  25. Ron Morgans says:

    You forgot a big one. Play, play, play, and then play some more.
    Every time you sit down and play your Guitar for a couple of hours you learn something new every time. A strong hand will reap many new tones.
    Peace & Twang-

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 8:07 am
  26. Gary says:

    I would always put on a new set of strings before every gig.  Every time I did not, I would break a string.  This is good sound advice for anyone playing hard on their axe for 4 hours straight!

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 8:22 am
  27. Will says:

    I thought you just changed to $100 paper in oil caps and heaven would be reached. Or was that just a marketing push? Tone caps are frequency filters, as such , can not add to your tone. But yes, these suggestions are good, and can be proven to work. Jimi used a curly high cap cable, which dulled the tone of his strat. Not all is logical in the world of tone.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 9:04 am
  28. Joe says:

    +1 on the pickups suggestion. Another commenter (‘jim’) says that pickups cost as much as a new guitar and suggests that if you don’t like the pickups, you shouldn’t have bought the guitar. For $40-$70, you can get Seymours or Dimarzios off of eBay or other places. I’ve replaced EVERY PICKUP I’VE EVER HAD IN EVERY GUITAR and I’ve changed many multiple times until I’ve settled on what I need. And if my needs change, there go the pickups! It’s such a powerful mod.

    Currently in my Am Dlx Strat: Dimarzio Virtual Solo (bridge), Dimarzio Virtual Vintage Blues (middle), and Dimarzio Area ‘61 (neck). Great combination. Much better than the stock (Noiseless) or the Fat 50s that were in there.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 9:45 am
  29. Edmar says:

    Andy, you will can write about brand tubes, like RCA, amperex bugle boy, tung sol and others and how these tubes work in marshall, fender and another amplifiers.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 12:11 pm
  30. Elliot says:

    +1 on play, play, and play some more.  I got my first guitar in 1991, my dad bought it for $20 at a garage sale.  Many years and a dozen guitars later, I found it at the old house, under the sofa.  I thought it had been stolen a long time ago.  It’s my new favorite guitar again, and every time I play it, I sound better.  My kids think I am the best guitarist in the world. 
    Gear comes, gear goes. Spend too much, and you will be pawning instead of playing it.  The forlorn instruments taken apart in my basement, and on my workbench would be happy to tell you that sometimes, it’s better to leave them alone. 
    Then again, sometimes, as with this ‘70’s Harmony, it is time for new pots and a jack… 

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 2:13 pm
  31. Adam B. says:

    Nice article, Andy.  Please allow me to mention guitar picks too.  I started using thick lucite picks from V-Picks about 2 years ago and haven’t looked back.  The change in tone very noticeable, like as much as switching to deluxe cables.  The mass of the object that strikes the string really does make a difference.  More expensive but worth it, and they last.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 2:19 pm
  32. Elliot says:

    Thumbs up to Andy, the comments here.  Adam, I noticed a difference with picks, too.  First I switched to heavy picks, and it worked better on the electrics.  Then I got into fingerstyle playing on the acoustic, and have been ever since.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 2:35 pm
  33. Elliot says:

    One more tip for everyone here:  If you are using pedals that are not true-bypass, don’t have more things wired in series at once than you intend to use.  Having a bunch of choruses and delays in the chain will suck the gain and warmth out of your tone on the way to the amp.  If you have an effects loop in the amp, try putting your delay, reverb, flanger, or chorus there, instead of in front of the amp.  Or, try an overdrive pedal, tweaked “clean” as a booster in the chain. 

    Here is an example:  From the guitar, into the wah, fuzz, then into the amp, then through the tape echo in the effects loop, back into the power section of the amp.  Sounds good to me.  Fuzz pedal doubles as a boost into the front of the amp this way. 

    Anyone concur?

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 2:41 pm
  34. Marc Vee says:

    It’s an exciting world for then modern guitar player. That said, there are some observations I would like to make and they are related to tone. Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, David Gilmore, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Carlos Santana are all well known players and each has his own signature style and tone. Those very identifiable tones are the result of a desire to make their mark in the world and go beyond their heroes. What all these greats have is in their minds and executed through their instruments. When I go on youtube and look for new guitarists with a unique tone and style, I come up short most of the time. The reason for this is due to many of us emulating our heroes and not taking it much further. If Eric Clapton had remained copying Robert Johnson’s playing style, he wouldn’t have played Crossroads with such a fresh and original tone back in the day. Technology made it possible, but a desire to be different was behind it all. We are all naturally different even though we all have similarities. If we just express ourselves we would be evolving and moving forward instead of being stuck being copy cats. If you are being true to your muse, this doesn’t apply to you. I say this with a positive intention since I have a long way to go myself.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 2:42 pm
  35. Greg says:

    I tried turning the amp on and the sound improvement was unbelievable.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 5:20 pm
  36. matthew says:

    all of your five tips will do wonders for your sound,but you will need a small pile of cash.practice ,practice…that doesnt cost a dime,and you are only gonna get better.the one thing i didnt see in any of the coments,probably cuz it cost alot is getting a mercury magnetics transformer upgrade,and adding a choke to your amp.when i say amp,i mean a tube amp.the sound quality is 100% better then a stock amp,and the choke is like the shocks on your makes the touch sensativity much more pronounced,a solid state amp is a waste of money.any guitarist knows this.if you have good gear you will be more apt to play.i wont change any pick ups on my gibson cuz it devalues my guitar.but i will upgrade the caps and wireing.and if after all you lose intrest in playing ,you can always take up bird watching…just sell me you gear at a huge discount

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 10:21 pm
  37. Caleb Frost Sanderson says:

    The PICK!!! (or plectrum for our foreign friends who think we are being cheeky). Does it sound different when you play with your fingers? Its as drastic as changing pickups to my ears. Then there is an infinite number of shadings you can get with a pick. Most players go by feel here instead of tone, but if you can learn to adjust/adapt to different thicknesses and/or learn to play with you fingers you will truly start to learn what every one of my guitar heroes has said “its in your hands”.

    posted on April 9, 2013 at 10:33 pm
  38. Silverface says:

    All good tips, although the quoted prices on tubes is disconcertingly low; “Joe Player” will walk into his nearby big-box instrument dealer and find prices 30%-100% higher than those listed.  Same with speakers - it would have been more realistic to provide a range and not “starting from” prices, because the “cheap” ones likely won’t be tone improving but tone degrading.

    The comment that strings only need to be changed once/year must be a bass player (grin).  4 sets/hours is bout max most players should expect out of a set of strings.  Sure, they’ll *last* longer - but they’ll degrade your tone, sustain, basic tuning and intonation.

    Wholeheartedly agree that pick attack and touch are #1 - and free!  Learning how to crank the amp, pick with an ultra-light touch/heavy pick and how to “dig in” for overdrive/distortion (along with learning how to actually use the guitar’s volume and tone controls, which most players seem to “dime” and then rely on pedals for all dynamics), pick in different positions with different angles and strength of grip - with a very light grip the “clean tone” starting point - will do more for your tone than any single or carefully selected combination of gear.

    posted on April 10, 2013 at 3:12 am
  39. jeff says:

    for strings. Elixir Polywebs WITH ANTI RUST PLAIN STRINGS
    last forever since these guys are the ONLY company that coats their strings the right way.
    DO NOT buy dr, daddario, ernie ball, dunlop, ghs, and blue steel they are all garbage.
    DO NOT purchase the elixir NANOWEBS those are also garbage. polywebs are the best of all strings if taken care of properly. Look up groovydjs he´ll guide all you guys with the elixir strings.

    posted on April 10, 2013 at 3:28 am
  40. Terry says:

    My experience is the same as Jeff’s re the Elixir Polywebs. They’re harder to find than the Nanowebs, but well worth the hunt…great tone for a VERY long time.

    posted on April 10, 2013 at 6:19 am
  41. Jeff Shields says:

    Great article and loads of good feedback. Have to agree with people who are saying about cables and picks. I use a medium pick but turn it and use one of the rounded corners adds thickness to the sound.

    Have to agree re the strings but I suspect like 99% of us I spend to much time dreaming up excuses not to change them.

    Lets face it we are all gonna be chasing the tone forever, never gonna be 100% settled, always gonna regret selling/swapping some piece of kit we once had, so just enjoy playing and experimenting, with the availability of kit now and the relatively good trade-in/resale values we have never had it so good!!

    Demo IT = Genius by the way

    posted on April 10, 2013 at 8:37 am
  42. sissy says:

    Nice article.

    posted on April 10, 2013 at 9:33 am
  43. Rick says:

    I agree with Silver face and Jeff Fields, Learn to play the instrument not force it to give you what you want. Pedals are just color to the artist’s pallet and I, own a few but that’s all I need.

    posted on April 10, 2013 at 10:34 am
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  45. John says:

    Also, if you don’t use your tone control very much on your guitar, consider bypassing it altogether. go straight to the output jack. it tends to “open things up” a bit. it’s a subtle difference, but added to everything else it makes a difference

    posted on April 10, 2013 at 10:01 pm
  46. Stan says:

    It’s funny how people take 5 general “basic” tips and run with with it.

    posted on April 12, 2013 at 10:07 pm
  47. Elliot says:

    This is turning out to be a great thread.  Thanks everyone, for the
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    Just a thought:  I am building another Strat from parts, should I spring for a high-mass bridge, or just stick with a stock one?  I already have a great neck and pickups.

    posted on April 12, 2013 at 10:17 pm
  48. Graeme Bronson says:

    Cheers all and Elliot, it’s great that nearly everyone is demonstrating passion in this blog. .. and selflessly sharing tips and expanding on the basics. (I am the 70’s harmony guy) I agree that practice is the big one.
    I can’t afford to change my electrics too often, so practice on an old classic Suzuki and manage to make my strings last 300 hours a set (Savarez Yellow) by moving them just before they wear through despite my strings looking like zebra crossings the high tensile silk hangs out to the bitter end.  Then I go to electric and give it heap at club days and gigs where the tone has got to be right. There I use a compressor and tweak analog delay, so far so good..
    I live in New Zealand and am on Face Book if anyone would like to send me a request ... just positive guitar addicts please… Country/Rock/Blues/Reggae/Retro .. that’s me…amateur, 62 now and trying to color in my life. Peace ... perfect tone to all. And thanks again :)

    posted on April 13, 2013 at 10:47 am
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    posted on April 15, 2013 at 8:41 am
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  54. Chris Burns says:

    Right, so these tips are all well and good BUT far from cheap.

    I have a few of my own

    1. Fiddle with your pickup heights!

    This plays a huge role in how your instrument sounds! Closer is not always better (even you EMG users) Now I personally set my amplifier with all the EQ dials at 12 on a clean channel, pickups as low as they can go and adjust the pickup until the EQ sounds right. Do NOT (and I can’t stress this enough) worry about the gain coming from the pickup, this is easily corrected on the amplifier!

    2. Try different strings, this will play a reasonable role in how your instrument sounds.

    Different compound strings are going to sound vastly different. Pure nickle wrapped being ultra warm, nickel plated steel being what most strings are, alloy 52 and Ernie Ball’s cobalt strings being brighter again, stainless steel being the brightest.

    Dont forget string gauge and even the type of winding used. Flat wounds being a very mellow sound and not as bright, ground wound will be brighter, round wounds being the brightest of the lot.

    3. Don’t underestimate the humble pick and fingers!

    If you are a pick player, try using your fingers and nails (best thing in ever did) and lets not forget the pick itself!

    Picks have infinite options, different points, thickness, texture, stiffness, the edge of the pick (round or flat) and over all size play a fair bit in your attack and the way the string responds.

    4. Components

    OK so this is mostly going to play a part in non EMG user’s tone. For passive users, pot changes are your best friend in changing your tone!

    If your guitar is sounding a little dark, try changing to a larger pot. This will lessen the resistance on the circuit and give you a little more top end as well as a little more gain.

    If your guitar is too bright, you can go to a smaller pot, this should add some resistance and darken your tone.

    I personally like to use a slightly larger volume and tone pot on my guitars with a larger capacitor, this gives me a brighter tone to begin with and then a darker tone when rolled off and therefore giving me a wider range to work in.

    You also have many different options with running coils in series/parallel/split(for humbuckers)/out of phase with only a few changes to your guitar. Push pull pots are fantastic because you can get away with using these options without drilling into the instrument.

    A Les Paul can get away with up to 4 push pull pots and run a combination of different options. I would be running a push pull pot for series/parallel on each volume pot and a split on each tone pot, this gives you a huge number of pickup combinations while requiring no modifications to the body. (this only works with 4 conductor humbuckers)

    There are many many more wiring options you can do to your guitar, out of phase can work well on strats if you run the phase inversion on the middle coil (this should give you a more nasal tone when you flip to your 2 and 4)

    5. Cables Cables Cables!

    You are only as good as the weakest link in the chain.

    Find yourself an extremely low capacitance cable and only buy a cable as long as you need, the longer the cable, the darker the tone will become. A long cable is like turning down your tone control, the same with curly cables. If you can find a silver core cables, buy them! Silver being more conductive will let the signal run through with more purity.

    There are many more options you can make the most of for your guitar, but these are a little more costly or require more modifications to your instrument/rig and the name of the game is to keep down the dollar.

    posted on April 29, 2013 at 1:32 pm
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