5 Simple Tricks: Get A Better Guitar Tone
Posted: September 26th, 2016 by Ashley Saunders
We all search for better guitar tone, trying new pedals, a different signal chain, and more. If I told you there’s five simple, quick things you can do today for little or no money which would give you better tone, would you believe me? Well, here’s my top 5 tips for a better guitar tone.
How you pick has the great impact on your tone. Where also matters, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Are you being more percussive and therefore using only fingers? Are you picking the guitar’s string lightly to add to the emotion of the song? Do you want to accent certain notes and therefore consider using pick and fingers?
Try this, grab a guitar and a pick. Strum a single G chord (or whatever is your favourite). Firstly, try to attack the strings really softly – barely audible. Next go for rock guitar god and try to strum the loudest you can! In both situation, notice how the strings react, the amount of sustain created, how quickly the volume drops off. You’ll see there’s lots you can do to improve your guitar tone by just watching how you attack the strings.
Where You Pick The Strings
So, we’ve talked about How you pick. Now let’s talk about where. If you pluck the string close to the neck, you’ll get a jazzier tone – it’ll be darker, rounder and smoother. On the other hand, if you pick near the bridge, then you’ll have a brighter guitar sound. More country-ish and pronounced. I often remind students, that even moving a few mm in the space between the neck and the bridge can have a big impact on how the guitar sounds.
To demonstrate, if you pick your G chord again, try strumming with your thumb over the 22 fret, or whatever number the last fret is before the neck. You’ve got a jazzy tone without the work! Next if you try the same thing with a pick, it sound a little brighter and take longer to decay. Try these two ideas up and down the area between the neck and bridge. I’m sure you’ll see there’s a massive difference in the guitar tone whether you use your thumb or pick and the location you strum.
Fingers vs Pick
Whether you use a pick, your thumb, fingers or a combination of all of them has a massive impact on how you guitar sounds. Most guitarists, unfortunately forget to use or try fingerstyle guitar playing or that they can use a combination of both fingers and pick. To use a combination, you’ll want to hold the pick using your thumb and first finger and then use your second, third and fourth for fingerstyle.
Try this pattern, C, Am, G, Em. A bar per chord. Start by strumming one chord per bar. Sounds good? Next try this just with fingers, nice! Then with a combination. You don’t have to find something complex to play, just make it sound and feel good.
The biggest thing you can do to get better guitar tone is to simplify your pedalboard and signal chain. If you’re using more than 12 pedals, then it’s time to re-think. Unless you’re doing a lot of studio work where you need everything at your fingertips. Pulling a few pedals off the pedalboard will have a dramatic effect for your guitar tone and will make you really think about what you are using.
You can get a massive amount of tones out of one pedal by how and where you attack the strings, and where your volume and tone controls on the guitar are set.
Volume and Tone Controls
Most people, myself included set all the controls on the guitar to 11 and forget it! There’s so many guitar tones in between 1 and 10! Experiment by playing a lick or chord pattern at volume level 2, then 6, and then 10. There’s quite a difference in guitar sound. On lower volume settings, your guitar will sounds darker and brighter on higher volume settings. The same can be said about tone controls.
I’ve started to add volume pedals to every setup as they allow me to improve both my guitar tone and help me to control my sound better. Again this added flexibility enables me to have better guitar tone.
If you turn your amp on with everything on 11, then try to turning the tone controls back to midday. If you set your tone controls in the middle, then you have room to boost or cut certain elements. In my opinion, if you’re using the amp’s EQ in a drastic way then you’ve got a fundamental problem and it could be time to change guitar or your signal chain. To me, the amp’s tone control are a way to shape the guitar sound to the room and not to shape the guitar’s natural tone. A guitar sounds it’s best when the amp is just making the sound louder while adding a hint of it’s own personality.
Get yourself a better guitar tone
If you start to think about some of these ideas, whether it be what you do with your picking hand, trying to remove a few pedals or spending some time messing with the controls on your guitar, then you’ll find that you have better guitar tone without really trying.