April 28, 2023
The art of playing guitar is a subtle, long term-pursuit. You can learn it quickly, but mastering it takes a lifetime. The same can be said about getting a great guitar tone, but in reality, it’s not as big a task as playing. It just takes a few knowledge points, some patience, and the will to experiment.
Here, we’ll go over some basic fundamentals to guitar tone that should help speed up your process.
Understanding the basics of your guitar’s anatomy is the best place to start in getting a grasp on shaping your sound. So, at the risk of repeating what you already know, let’s review that anatomy.
Three Key Components to Guitar Tone
Now that we’ve been reminded of the components and how each affects your overall sound, we can dive into the big three factors that determine guitar tone: strings, pickup selection, and amplifier settings.
Strings play a huge role in shaping tone since their tension affects both volume and sustain (the length of time a note is sustained after being played). Lighter gauge strings are easier to bend but don't necessarily produce as much volume; thicker gauges provide more beefy tones but require more finger strength for bending notes. Experimenting with different gauges can help you find your sweet spot!
Similarly, pickup selection plays a role in determining how your signal will be heard by an amplifier. Single-coil pickups tend to be brighter while humbuckers offer thicker tones with less noise interference; if you're looking for something more unique try P90s or Filter'Tron-style pickups might be worth considering too.
Clearly your amplifier settings have the most influence over your final sound than any other component, so it makes sense that guitarists (and engineers) spend plenty of time with their amps.
Start with gain (don’t confuse this with volume). Your gain setting will affect both your volume and distortion levels. If you want a cleaner sound, set the gain lower. If you want a more overdriven sound, bump or even drive the gain hard
After setting gain and dialing in your dirt, go after the EQ. Use the low to get beefy crunch but watch for mud. Cutting mids can help add clarity, but you may not want to go too far there. The truth is, this is all about listening and dialing in – remembering that especially your EQ settings may need tweaking depending on the room you’re in.
Once you’ve got your dirt and EQ set, then bring in your reverb. When selecting reverb effects, consider what type of environment you're trying to emulate (small room, hall, etc) but don’t forget to consider where you actually are. If you’re already in a live-sounding venue, too much reverb on the amp may just muddy the waters. In the studio, unless you’re going for a unique sound you can’t recreate in post (or that really affects how you play), your engineer will almost certainly want you to cut it dry. After you can add verb later, but you can’t take it away.
There’s a subtle art to shaping a great tone with just the guitar, amp, and playing technique, and some guitarists make it a point of pride to really dial it in before adding any pedals. That said, there’s no rule against ‘em! The right pedal board can be a wild ride or you can simply use strategic pedals to get a great tone quickly. With something like Carvin Audio’s VLD1 - Legacy Drive, you can get an amazing tone and skip the amp entirely.
Of course, even if you have your basic tone dialed in, extra pedals give you access to an entire world of tonal possibilities that would otherwise be unachievable. Chorus, flangers, more distortion, wah wah, delay, reverbs, phasers – there are no real rules here other than this advice: Do dial in your favorite tone before hitting the effects, that way you have a go-to unadulterated tone. Depending on your genre, you may want this basic tone to be clean or close to it – after all, if the guitar/amp combo isn’t clean and you need clean for a song, you’ve got nothing to do but manually dial up a clean sound midstream (unless you’ve got a switch between clean and gained-up tones on the amp). You can always get overdrive from the pedals.
Guitar tone is a little bit science, a little bit art, and a little bit magic – at least to some. But it’s not necessarily rocket science. Mess around until it sounds awesome. If it sounds awesome, it’s awesome. There’s no secret where you think it’s good but it’s not. In that sense, getting a great tone is just a matter of you being you.
November 06, 2023
One of the most misunderstood things in mixing is bass – whether it’s getting the low end right in general, letting the bass guitar cut through without overpowering everything else, or just making the bass interesting and cool. It can be tricky to get it right, but there are plenty of tried-and-true tricks for getting there quickly. Let’s go over a few of those.
October 30, 2023
Some of the great guitar-playing artists were self-taught – which means a great many of them use weird tunings. That’s probably no coincidence – using alternate tunings is a great way to come up with a unique sound. So, let’s look at a few of the most common uncommon tunings you could try with your guitar – or your bass.
October 23, 2023
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