Finding New Guitar Tones
A few days ago I was trying to come up with some new guitar tones for a gig I was about to do. Yep, I spent some time geeking with pedals, different guitar and working the tone controls on the amp – all in search of new guitar tones.
There are a few short insights that I thought I’d share with you. Here’s what I found:
Think Guitar Chain
The chain of guitar effect pedals you have all effect the overall tone. If you move one pedal out or change two around, you should notice a change in the overall sound and the tones you can achieve. It doesn’t matter the amount of pedals you have, but the location of each effect pedal in the chain does.
For example having a Wah (however, uncool they are currently!) first will sound completely different from moving it so that is after all your dirt or overdrive pedals. Try it – it just might change where you put your Wah in future.
So first tone tip is try moving pedals around within the chain and see if it changes your base tone.
During in my geek time, I was trying to come up with tones which sounded kinda Synth-y. I knew I wanted to use my Duo Jet for the Bigsby –because I wanted to be mess with the pitch.
So guitar selected! Next up I tried using a RAT distortion for the base sound. So, I started with a really overdriven and fat guitar tone! Nice! I added a short delay, 100ms to be exact – with two repeats and set the feedback so it was just audible if you raked the strings. Adding the delay gave the tone some depth to the sound.
The guitar tone wasn’t fat enough, so I clicked in a compressor pedal before the RAT. While the RAT pedal does compress the sound a lot, it can be pushed into even more distortion and sustain by slamming the front end with another gain based effect.
I wanted to throw into the mix a Phaser pedal – It’s new, barely been used and was a bit of fun. I tried adding it at the front of the chain – didn’t change a thing. Darn! How about half way through the chain? The next minute of so involved some pedal moving.
With the Phaser inserted instead of my booster, the most unholy guitar based Synth sound was created. The perfect guitar tone for the song! Moral – trying pedals in different location is worth it!
The biggest change to your tone you can make is to try a different guitar. While you might not have a few different electrics around, you probably have a friend or two who you could swap with for a week or two. It will be worth doing purely for the challenging of trying a different guitar.
And so, I changed guitar and played my Peavey Rockingham – What a guitar. It’s like having to relearn how to play and bend in tune. I prefer using it for either modern pop – as it sit perfectly in a mix without being overly noticeable (which for pop tracks can be a real plus) or jazz. I sadly can’t play rock-a-billy so can’t really use it for what it built for (sorry Darrel and Peavey!).
The time you’ll notice the biggest change is in the studio, where simply changing guitar and keeping the rest the same will inspire you with a completely different sound and feel.
Geek The Base Tone
Try running a booster or compressor on and first in the chain. It will fatten your sound and is likely to push the amp into the edge of natural distortion. You notice this more, if you run a smaller tube amp (15 or 20 watts) – you’ll have to readjust your gain based pedals but the overall tone will sound fatter and grittier.
I have used this in the past and have been able to chuck half of my overdrive pedals off the board. Currently, it doesn’t work as I’m playing with a loud drummer on some gigs and no amp mic. I might change my rig back to two mic’ed Laney VC15s, so I can have the volume I need and natural distortion without having to be stadium loud.
Guitar Amp Tone Controls
Want a more Voxy tone? Then crank the mid control on the amp. The same is true if you want get to that hollow tone that is perfect for funky single note line – just select both pick-ups (or the “middle” position on a Strat).
If you wanted a jazzier tone, then turn up the bass and back off the treble control.
More twang? Back off the bass and pump up both the mid and treble controls, while switching to the bridge pick-up.
You’ll want to move your tone control back to the midday and have a more neutral tone.
Cut most of the mids and you’re probably close, boosts the bass and treble a little to shape your guitar tone.
The amp’s EQ controls are really powerful and can have an adverse effect if not understood or used correctly.
A word of caution! If you do this on a gig, always remember after the song to flatten or adjust the EQ back to what you started with!
Fingers vs Picks vs Hybrid
The biggest tonal change anyone can make is to drop the pick and use just your fingers. Another epic tonal change is pick and use the free fingers to plug strings (called hybrid picking).
I’ve been switching between these three picking concepts for a while now. Over time, I’ve worked out how to hide the pick in between fingers (usually between the second and third) and bring it back, into the normal position when I need to use it. This means I don’t need to drop the pick (and therefore have to hunt for it when I need it later in the song!) or place it in my mouth.
Key Take Aways
When looking for new guitar tones:
#1 Think about your chain, play around with moving pedals both in and out and where they are in the chain.
#2 Try the same pedals and amp (with the same setting) with a different guitar – it’ll sound fresh and could inspire you to play better
#3 Thinking about using a smaller tube amp and setting it on the edge of break-up. You can then use pedals to push the amp into natural distortion which gives you a fuller guitar tone.
#4 Try messing with the amp’s tone control to add depth the style of music you’re playing. Even consider different EQ settings for songs and for each guitar. Just remember to change it back in time for the next song.
#5 Think and experiment with using just fingers. Have a go with using fingers and pick – work on being able to use the three different picking ideas at will.