Regardless of what you’re trying to achieve as a guitarist, your playing starts with your tone. It’s the quality of your sound, the voice that you use to convey the message of your music. However, unlike notes and chords, a guitar’s tone can feel like a very ethereal thing. This is because there really isn’t an objective “perfect tone”, despite how often you may hear that phrase being thrown around, and there’s no defined road to success when looking to change it. You can find the right notes, you can play perfectly to a beat, but if you don’t have the right tonal quality, your playing isn’t likely to have the desired impact.
With all of this in mind, fret not, as this lack of objective perfection can also provide you with a considerable amount of freedom to find your specific sound. So, for those that want to take their performances to the next level, let’s take a look at ways that you can improve your guitar tone.
Getting Your Guitar
When speaking to guitarists that are just starting out, I’ve found that most of them are under the impression that, aesthetics aside, guitars are mostly the same when it comes to sound. When selecting your rosewood guitar, although the designs may be the most striking difference between them, there is also a sizeable tonal shift from instrument to instrument. In other words, if you’ve tried everything and still can’t get your guitar to sound quite right, it may be because you’re attempting to play in a style that your guitar isn’t ideal for.
This is why it’s important to know a guitar’s sound and feel when possible before buying. A jazz guitar will be able to provide you with sonorously smooth lows and mids, but if you’re trying to play power metal, it isn’t going to have the same impact as a Kramer. So, keep your desired guitar style in mind when choosing your instrument.
The Pick Problem
It’s easy to underestimate just how much of an impact your pick and picking style have on the tone of your guitar. However, you would be amazed at just how important your choice of plectrum is when defining not just your tone, but your playing style at large. A heavier pick is going to provide a thicker tone, while a lighter pick will generally allow you to sit more smoothly within a full band mix.
Selecting the right pick for your desired tone will require a bit of experimentation, but it’s ideal to have a number of different pick gauges on hand in case you want to switch things up a bit. With prices spanning from a few cents to a few dollars, this is by far one of the cheapest, easiest ways to switch up your sound.
The Sound of Speakers
Despite the amp head being the main source of power for your guitar setup, the speakers themselves will invariably have an enormous impact on your sound. So, before you go to trade in your tried and true combo valve amp, try experimenting with a few new speakers. A more efficient, optimised speaker setup will help you to avoid muddiness or dullness, especially when dealing with lower notes. Plus, if you’re using older speakers, wear and tear can begin to degrade the quality of your guitar tone, making it very difficult to maintain a consistent, crisp sound regardless of other potential factors.
Pedals exclusively exist to provide you with more control over your sound, so if you’ve ever listened to a guitarist and wondered how they have achieved such an immaculate tone, chances are that pedals had something to do with it. Many professionals always have their chosen reverb/delay pedals always with them. One of the best information you can read out there is MusicCritic’s TC electronic review. As with other effects, there are different reverb settings to choose from, including your typical plate and spring versions, as stated by audiophiles on MusicCritic. While most people gravitate to the more identifiable pedals, with effects like overdrive and delay having an immediate audible impact on a guitar’s sound, there are more subtle options available.
One often-overlooked secret weapon of guitarists looking to really cut through the noise is a compression pedal. These pedals are designed to enhance the sound of your guitar, balancing out the volume of your playing and increasing the sustain time of notes. This makes compression pedals perfect for those that prefer to play without distortion, as clean guitar notes tend to decay very quickly. While compression isn’t the only effect that will improve the tone of your guitar, it’s certainly a fantastic choice for those that want a quick boost to their sound.