As guitarists, we’re always striving for the right tone. Whether it’s a killer Strat or Tele sound, a thick humbucker-driven rhythm tone, or an incisive shredder lead tone, we all have our own idea of what sounds good. The first thing to understand is that the sound and sustain of your instrument comes from more than just the pickups, strings and body woods; it’s also about how you play your instrument. Some players are known for their phenomenal technique — their names are synonymous with great guitar tone — but all guitarists can do things to improve their approach to playing. Here are some tips every guitarist should consider:
Maintain your guitar.
- Clean your guitar regularly.
- Keep it humidified and well-tuned.
- Keep the strings clean and oiled, and make sure they are not too tight or too loose (you can use a string winder or a peg puller to adjust the tension). The same goes for the wood of the neck, which can easily become warped if not taken care of properly (if you do notice warping start to happen on either one, simply re-waxing them will usually solve this problem).
- Cleaning up any dirt or dust that gets into your pick guard is also important so as not to have any excess buildup there over time because it could potentially cause problems later down the road such as cracking/cracking/splitting due to heat expansion etcetera; these things should be cleaned often as part of routine maintenance!
Keep it clean.
- Clean your guitar.
- Clean your strings.
- Clean the fretboard.
Choose the Right Gear.
The first step to improving the tone of your guitar is to choose the right gear. Here are some things to think about:
- What type of guitar do you play? (An acoustic or electric?)
- How do you like to play it? (Dynamically, with a pick or fingers?)
- What kind of strings do you use? (Do they need more tension? Do they sound best at lower tensions?)
- What kind of amplifier do you use and how does it sound with different guitars and pedals in front of it? If possible, try out some amps before buying one. You can also rent them at a local music store if needed!
- What kind of effects pedals do you have and what order do they go in when connected together via cables (cables connect pedals together — most pedals have only one input/output cable).
Go for a neck that feels right and a bridge saddle that feels good under your fingers.
The neck should feel comfortable in your hand. The best way to get the right fit is to hold it and play for a while, but if you don’t have that luxury, here are some things you can look for when purchasing one:
- The shape of the neck should be comfortable for you. For example, some people like more rounded backs on their guitars because they make them easier to play with their entire hand; others prefer more of an oval shape as it feels more natural in between their thumb and forefinger.
- The width of the neck is also important—if your fingers are short or too long they may not always fall naturally where they’re supposed to be placed on each string (which affects how clearly you hear each note). You should also consider how fast you play; if all things were equal then there would be no difference between such incredibly different instruments as an acoustic guitar with nylon strings versus a steel-stringed classical guitar with nylon strings or even an electric bass guitar—but since some guitars have significantly wider necks than others this makes quite a big difference!
Check your amp settings.
- Check your amp settings. If you’re practicing with your amp, make sure you are not clipping the signal or distorting it in any way. This is one of the main culprits of bad tone that most people don’t realize until they check their amp settings. If you want to keep things simple, just turn up the volume until it’s loud enough for you to hear yourself play but not so loud that it distorts (which means the sound quality gets a little fuzzy).
Moderate your volume.
Sometimes, it can be hard to tell what your volume level is. It’s easy to go from a quiet practice session to a full-blown performance without realizing it. To prevent overplaying and damage to your ears, use the volume knob on your guitar as a guide. If you find yourself turning up into the red zone (or close), pull back some—you don’t need that much power!
Amplify all frequencies equally.
You can use a graphic EQ, parametric EQ, multi-band compressor, multiband EQ, multiband expander or multiband gate. You could also use a multiband limiter. Just remember to amplify all frequencies equally!
Use effects wisely.
Effects are a great way to enhance, mold and transform the sound of your guitar. They can also be used to make it sound like something else entirely. But too often a guitarist will throw on an effect just because he thinks it looks cool or sounds good in his head, without giving thought to how the effect will affect their tone or performance. Effects that change the pitch of your instrument can make you sound like you’re playing another instrument entirely (the same goes for distortion). So if you want your guitar to sound like a tuba, go for it! But if you want it sound as much like your guitar as possible, there are better options out there.
Think of effects as tools in a tool box: use them sparingly and only when necessary!
Guitar tone is in the hands of the player, so do what you need to do to get the sound you want from your guitar!
One of the most important things to consider when you’re learning about guitar tone is that it’s all about the players. The tone and sound of your guitar can be changed by a number of factors, but ultimately, it will always come down to how you play. You control how much pressure is on each string, how close or far away your fingers are from each other, how hard or soft they press down on the strings—all these variables can change the quality and tone of what comes out of your instrument as well as its volume level (or loudness).
So if you want great-sounding music coming out of your guitar, then start paying attention to what’s happening with those hands! What do they look like? How close together or far apart are they when playing? How hard are they pressing down on those strings? Are there any movements in particular that draw attention to themselves? Can we hear them in our music when we listen back later?
There are endless resources to help you achieve the tone you want with your guitar. The important thing is to experiment and try different things—you may find that the secret to great guitar tone is just a few adjustments away. Good luck!