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General Tone Tips

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  • Re: General Tone Tips

    Practicing is imperative if you want good tone... time spent on guitar forums socializing with your online friends all day and night, when one should be practicing, is detrimental to your tone.
    Lefty Lounge Lizard's Guitars & Amps Extravaganza

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    • Re: General Tone Tips

      The last post in this thread was more than a year ago, but I've just read them all, and thought I'd add my own collection. Most of these have been touched on before, but, y'know, I can't not elaborate!

      1) Set up your guitar. If your guitar doesn't need any "destructive editing" (like filing nut slots or levelling the frets), this is super easy to do yourself with just a couple of allen wrenches (or maybe a screwdriver) and a strobe tuner. Peterson sells a strobe stomp box tuner for only slightly more than a new Boss tuning pedal (and less than the Boss Waza one). Get those strings up off the frets. If you play metal with heaps of distortion and lots of fast leads up high, this might not matter as much, but if you do anything else, your guitar will only ever produce one kind of tone: that weak, plinky sound of the strings spanking against the frets that's reminiscent of a cigar box and rubber bands.

      2) Record yourself. Until you've listened to a recording of yourself, there's no way you can divorce the perception of the sound coming out of your amplifier from the feeling of excitement and satisfaction you get in the moment of playing. It is vitally important to be able to experience your music like the audience will, and you'll never realize how bad your timing and tone are, how uneven your dynamics and articulation are, until you do. Also, recording forces you to work out all those transitions and nail down all those lead lines that you've been flubbing your way through or putting off finalizing. Use recording to figure out what you need to work on, and practice, practice, practice. All those little nuances that make you bite your bottom lip when you listen to great players are only possible when you have command of the instrument.

      3) Keep your signal chain simple. This one has been mentioned a lot in this thread, but I'd like to elaborate. Subtle tonal and timbral variations just aren't noticeable in a live situation. Your audience can't tell the difference between your fancy Strymon flanger and your MXR Phase-90, and when the rest of your band is playing, neither can you. Leave one (the expensive one) at home. Do you need a delay and a reverb? Do you even need either of them, or do they just clutter up the mix? Pick a few pedals that each make a unique, noticeable change that adds to what you're doing. As I'm sure you've heard, too many buffered (or unbuffered--they can both cause their own problems) pedals in your chain can attenuate and alter the frequency response of your signal in undesirable ways ("suck the life out of your tone"). Furthermore, fewer pedals means less stuff to haul around, fewer points of failure in your signal chain, less noise (unless you want to add a noise gate--oh, look, another pedal), fewer pieces of gear whose levels and settings need to be tweaked, less stuff to distract you from playing during your performance, less chance of losing or damaging your nice pedals, and there are probably more, but I think I've made my point. The one possible downside is that you won't dazzle the other guitar dudes in the audience with your collection of cool, obscure pedals. (I will be dazzled, too, but I'll be conflicted because I'm also judging you for having too many pedals.)

      4) Do not point your amp at your shins; that is not where your ears are. If your amp sounds good to you while it's sitting on the floor, pointed at your shins, it'll be an icepick in the faces of the audience. Point your amp at least somewhat at your head: Tilt your amp back a little (like with one of those purpose-made stands), get a cabinet with an angled baffle, or raise your amp up off the stage (grab a chair from the audience). This last option is particularly helpful for the sound guy if he's reinforcing your amp, because there's more rumble thumping around right down there by the floor.

      5) Turn that bass knob down. Those frequencies will just have you fighting with the kick drum and the bass player on their turf, where you are going to lose; the collateral damage from that battle is going to be a bunch more mud that makes the whole band sound loud but inarticulate. It takes a lot of energy to move air down there; let your amp use that energy where it will get a lot more mileage (y'know, the midrange).