Who doesn’t love a good guitar solo? And who doesn’t like playing them. Youtube and Google are full of tabs & tutorials aplenty. But why is it so hard to get the same tone and feeling that we hear in our favourite tunes?
Getting the notes right is one thing, but capturing the same feel and raw emotion – that’s something different entirely. Of course the way you play is everything but the wrong guitar tone can severely limit your ability to make music. It’s more than just notes; it’s all about the sound too.
Here are my top tips for figuring out the right guitar tone.
Grab your guitar
You don’t need to spend thousands to achieve a particular type of tone although investing a little doesn’t hurt. As the old adage goes, it’s how you use it. Before going any further, take a look at the settings on your guitar and your amp. Set your amp to a neutral tone (e.g. an even bass, mid and treble) so you can hear what’s really happening on your guitar.
Are you looking for a harsh, trebly tone that cuts across? Try playing your bridge pick up. Try adjusting your tone pots (next to your volume) to experiment with the sound. To warm or dull up your sound, try turning your tone down.
Throughout, listen to the sound and critique it. Then adjust. Repeat until you feel like you understand the limits of your instrument’s tone.
Adjust your amp
Not only do you have tone control on your guitar but also on your amp. Now you’re happy with the basic set up of your guitar, try setting your volume to a reasonable but not crazy level and adjust the EQ (bass, mid & treble). If it’s too quiet, you’ll struggle to hear the changes but too loud probably won’t help either.
Perfect your pedals
If you’re using guitar pedals like stomp boxes, then make sure you turn each setting on and off and repeat the process one by one. It’s worth spending a fair amount of time on this to explore the limits of your gear. I personally dislike multi-effects pedals (Sorry Line 6) for this very reason. It’s too much to play with and really hard to take the time to discover the sounds available. The last thing we want is some cheap and nasty hyper distortion effect (that is of course unless that’s what you’re into). Even if you play like Malmsteen, it’s going to sound rubbish with a poor tone.
When in doubt, pull back to the bare essentials.
You’d be amazed what you can accomplish with a cheeky tuner, crunchy overdrive and light reverb (my personal favourite is Cathedral Reverb by Electro Harmonix)
You can always add in more exciting effects like compression, delay, wah, chorus and more later on.
Touch up your technique
It’d be incorrect not to mention your playing at all in the mix here. Of course the greatest gear set up is always going to fall flat in the hands of a poor guitarist. I’d say that the very process of learning about achieving good tone through your gear is the same process you should apply to your playing. How does it sound? How can you get more out of the notes and put more feeling and emotion into them? What about new techniques like vibrato, slides, hammer ons and pull offs? Have you considered guitar lessons?
Last but not least… have fun! Let go, explore and enjoy your new awesome sound.
What are your top tips for achieving the perfect tone? Share in the comments below!