8 Tips for Finding Great Tone
By PGS Fitz
It’s an endless, Sisyphus-ian journey, the quest to find TONE. With the insane amount of gear available to us, 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 in the corner, we’re highlighting ways to tweak your tone that don’t involve dropping a bunch of Benjamins on new gear. Not that THAT isn’t a ton of fun, too.
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, etc etc. 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. Speaking of strings…
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 (08s) 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 just use what you’ve always used.
Along with experimenting with your string gauge/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 ear to work in ways they aren’t used to. 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?
THE OTHER HAND
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 and use your fingers. 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 JeffBeckian ability to manipulate your guitars pots while you’re strumming.
All loud all the time is not necessarily the greatest thing ever. Practice playing at different volumes, intensities, speeds, etc. 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!
*not my actual guitar, sadly...
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!