August 16, 2019
We guitarists are always in search of “the perfect tone.” That phrase means something different to every guitarist but, in our opinion, “the perfect tone” should also be versatile. Some would say that versatility comes from having a well curated guitar rig. We’d argue that versatility can be had without acquiring tons of equipment. In fact, there’s something you most likely have already that can succeed in getting you more tones than you’ve probably imagined: your TONE KNOB! Yes, the guitar tone knob; often underused and misunderstood and a powerful tool waiting to be taken advantage of. We hope that once you’re done reading you’ll go pick up your guitar and start exploring what your tone knob can do. But first, let’s establish what the Tone Knob is actually doing…
The Tone knob can be thought of as a controller for a Low Pass Filter, or LPF for short. These circuits don’t ADD Bass of Treble. Instead, they work by REMOVING high end. (Subtractive EQ’ing as some call it…that’s another article…) Tone circuits work by using a resistor (which, in this case, is your Tone knob) in combination with a capacitor to determine the cutoff frequency of the LPF. When you have the Tone Knob turned all the way up, you are getting the most Treble possible from your guitar tone. Once you start turning the control down you are dialing out the Treble frequencies, starting from the cutoff frequency, and leaving your Bass frequencies untouched. The lows in your signal PASS through to your amplifier while the highs are filtered out through your instrument’s ground.
All this sounds complicated but it’s a simple circuit with a LOT of tone-shaping power!
One commonly heard effect of the Tone knob is Eric Clapton’s famous “woman” tone. This was achieved by switching to the Neck pickup (normally a Humbucker back in the day) and rolling the Tone control ALL THE WAY down. Sent into a cranked British amp and combined with a fuzz pedal you’re treated to the wonderfully smooth and singing lead tone Clapton made famous!
Let’s say you’re playing in a Metal band through a RAGING high gain amplifier. Everything is going well but you get the feeling that you’re getting too much “pick attack” in your sound. Instead of turning the Treble down on your amplifier USE THE TONE KNOB. Even a slight adjustment will soften the attack…no EQ pedal or new amp purchase necessary! This is also a great trick to help “warm up” the Bridge position single coils on Tele- and Strat-style guitars.
One last suggestion: are you playing in a Jazz band but you only have a solid-body electric guitar? You can very easily get a usable “jazz” tone by just using the tone knob! Much like Clapton’s “woman” tone this also involves rolling the Tone knob down on the Neck pickup. But instead of turning it all the way down, leave it up JUST A BIT. This will let a small amount of treble stay in your signal so you can get some good articulation for your be-bop licks! It also helps your guitar maintain a spot in the mix of a Jazz band.
Not all tone knobs are created equal. Different pot values used with different pickups can have different effects. But, for the most part, you will find it to be an invaluable tool.
So go show your Tone knob some love and get more tones than ever before!
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"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all of the earth; make a loud noise and rejoice and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp and the voice of the psalm." - Psalm 98:4-5