Five Cheap Tone Tips!
We're always on the hunt for tiny tips to help shore up our sounds, from the super obvious to the under the radar. Today in the Corner we're looking at five ways to help ensure that you're getting the best tone possible. As always, share your tips in the comments!
It’s easy to overlook this one—a lot of times we get our guitars and just plug in to start ripping without taking a minute to evaluate pickup height—and it can make quite the difference! Though there is sort of a standard method for setting pickup height (the typical advice is to raise the pickups as high as possible but just shy of raising them to the point where the magnetic field they create starts exerting pull on the strings, which interferes with the strings ability to naturally vibrate)—there are definitely other factors to consider.
Lowering the pickups a touch may give your guitar a slightly reduced output, but it will also give your strings plenty of room in which to vibrate fully, producing a richer, more resonant tone. You can always add gain with pedals or amps (or both!) to bring that rich tone to life. Lowering them too much, of course, will dramatically weaken your tone, so play around til you find the sweet spot.
Keep It Clean!
Does your amp have two inputs? If so, one is likely high gain and the other is low gain… people have a tendency to always run in to the high gain input so they can get a lot of punch, but guess what?! Using the lower gain input can help clean up the high output of humbuckers and give you more overall control of your tone.
Better yet, use an ABY switch to use both inputs—you can bounce back and forth between inputs and even use one input as a sort of boost, not to mention selecting the Y setting which will blend both inputs for a sweetened tone.
Pick the Right Pickup!
Pickup manufacturers have been riding the tide of “high output” for years, constantly striving to produce higher and higher output pickups. That might be good for the metal bands of the world, but you don’t necessarily need the highest gain out put to get the right tone. Lower output pickups respond better to the nuances in your playing and can really help deliver an articulate tone representative of your playing.
Use the Right Cable for the Job!
It’s easy to mistake cables… in our line of work, most of them are quarter-inch cables that look exactly alike, but there are differences… speaker cable and instrument cable are NOT the same thing.
Speaker cable actually has two cores, versus the single core of the instrument cable. A correct “speaker cable” delivers the amp’s output to the positive and negative terminals of the speaker equally; a single core guitar cable potentially creates an impedance mismatch between your speaker and your amp. Additionally, speaker cores are typically of heavier gauge and can better handle the load than the thinner wire of an instrument cable, which could then get overloaded and short out (which could even blow your output transformer entirely—a repair that is a lot more expensive than just replacing a blown cable)…
Here's a great pic by www.sonicsense.com to help you identify the differences between the two types:
Treat Your Tubes Well!
Most of us love our tube amps til the end of days and most of us know that tubes can be a bit fickle. There are just a couple tips to help you keep your tubes in tip top shape.
Letting your tubes warm up? Give them at least 60 seconds to warm up before you take the amp off of standby—it will help preserve the life of the tubes by preventing the DC current of the amp from overwhelming the tubes before the AC current has a chance to heat the tubes up first.
Letting them cool down? Inversely, you should switch your amp to standby for at least a few seconds before powering off the amplifier.
Treating your amp with kid gloves? Tubes can be damaged by every day jostles, bumps, or vibrations—so make sure to treat it gingerly. Even if your amp or it’s case has casters, try to avoid rolling it on bumpy terrain (pavement, typically).
Keeping your tubes cool? If your tubes run too hot, their life expectancy will dwindle. Ensure adequate air flow to your tubes. Some people go as far as installing fans to cool the output tubes, sometimes greatly extending the tubes’ life time.
Using the correct speaker impedance? If you mismatch your amp’s output and your speaker’s impedance, you can strain the entire system (output tubes and output transformer, particularly) and cause: FAILURE! Though many tube amps can tolerate a mismatched impedance of 100% in either direction, it’s best to keep your ohms matched up: use an 8 ohm cab for an amp with an 8 ohm output and so on and so forth.