In the constant quest for perfect tone, musicians often forget the simple things. It’s always fun to upgrade to a better guitar amp, put more pedals into your chain, or buy a new axe, but let’s face it- the cost of all that adds up! If you’re a working musician, the next level of tone isn’t always within easy reach. In the meantime, as you’re adjusting your amp’s EQ settings or pondering what mods you can make to your guitar, try to tweak what’s right there in front of you- your guitar’s onboard tone controls!
Amp Vs. Guitar Tone Controls
For guitarists who rely on one or a few tones for an entire live set or session, dialing in the amp to taste and running all the guitar’s tone controls on full is a common method. However, players who jump in between different genres or different tones throughout the course of a performance may find more utility in setting the amp for a more neutral tone and using the guitar’s onboard tone controls to make on-the-fly adjustments between or even during songs, without having to readjust amp settings.
Regardless of which camp you’re in (or even if you dabble in both) there are many practical uses for your guitar’s tone knobs that don’t involve you buying more gear and can help you shape your tone!
Volume Knob Tips and Tricks
Much like using a volume pedal, your guitar’s volume knob can boost your signal for a solo or a lead part. Backing off the volume can clean up your tone significantly, giving you the ability to go from all-out grit to just a touch of it. Try setting your amp for a dirty sound and using your volume knob to determine how much overdrive is present in your signal. The volume knob also affects the clarity of your signal, and at full your tone tends to be much clearer, sharper, and more present.
If you’re using a guitar that allows for volume control of each individual pickup, you are offered even more flexibility in shaping your sound. Instead of running both pickups on full and setting your tone at the amp, try setting your amp EQ fairly flat and then using the pickup volume controls to get your sound as close as possible to how you want it before making further adjustments. While EQ is undoubtedly powerful, your instrument’s volume controls can also offer a great deal of versatility.
Using the Tone Knob
The standard guitar tone knob tends to roll off treble a lot quicker than an amplifier’s treble control. While reducing the treble on your amp will gradually roll off the high end, a guitar’s tone control will more sharply cut treble once it’s past about the halfway point. Rolling it back down to halfway can really warm up your tone and provide a more mellow, less shrill sound. So if you’re playing through an amp with a lot of inherent brightness and midrange, try simply backing off the tone control. For another useful variation in sound, try reducing the tone control, but bumping up the mids and treble on your amp. Doing so will add a little more thickness and girth.
When evaluating your tone, be sure to take a look at every piece of equipment in your chain- including your instrument! Just like with an amplifier or effects pedal, a little turn of a knob can go a long way.
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