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Are we too worried about tone?

chuskey

Member
Messages
478
Before I say this let me say that I am a complete sucker for guitar gear. I've played/owned every brand out there including every brand of modeler and literally one of every generation of Line 6 products. I have spent literally countless hours tweaking and will no doubt spend many more. And I KNOW I'll own a Helix as soon as I possibly can :)

But the question that keeps coming to mind is what happens when we get this elusive "perfect tone"? We all know that will never happen, but imagine of you could literally have your dream tone. What would you do next?

I started playing guitar to play music. To learn songs and perform them. The gear facilitates that, and is certainly part of the fun. I just can't help but think that there are so many guitar players out there who's whole existence as a player is to get better tone. At some point we need to remember that music is what it's all about. If we aren't playing music what's the point?

To balance that let me say that if you get happiness from amassing gear and tweaking it, more power to you. I enjoy that too, for as much as my budget and schedule allow :)

I just think that sometimes we can miss the point of why we started playing guitar in the first place. So go learn a new song, a new riff, jam with some buddies, book a gig. Go play some music!!

That's what I'm going to do, just as soon as I get that OD pedal dialed in on my live patch......
 

Astronaut FX

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
7,846
I wouldn't consider myself obsessed with it, but I am often inspired by a tone or an effect, etc. I have a broad range of influences and am not tightly dialed into a single genre, so I like having a variety of tones available. No different than preferring the big box of Crayons over the box with only four. You can draw a nice picture with only four colors, but for me, the big box opens more possibilities. I'm as much into sound design and writing music as I am playing guitar, and having tonal variety helps scratch that itch for me.
 

chuskey

Member
Messages
478
I wouldn't consider myself obsessed with it, but I am often inspired by a tone or an effect, etc. I have a broad range of influences and am not tightly dialed into a single genre, so I like having a variety of tones available. No different than preferring the big box of Crayons over the box with only four. You can draw a nice picture with only four colors, but for me, the big box opens more possibilities. I'm as much into sound design and writing music as I am playing guitar, and having tonal variety helps scratch that itch for me.
I completely agree and have had certain sounds and tones inspire riffs and songs I've written. My point isn't to limit your choices in gear, it's more about not letting gear get in the way of the creative process. Not making the gear the final goal.

I think abut someone like The Edge who uses TONS of gear, but uses that gear to write great tunes. If you can make great music with a few basic "crayons" then great. If you make great music with every color in the rainbow that's great too! The goal is good, inspiring music.

This can go the other way too. I've seen players with gear phobia. I can remember when I was gigging full time I had a large pedal board built around a Roland VG88 (this was around 2001). Occasionally I'd do gigs with players who would kind of snear at my setup and comment on how they didn't need all that stuff. Just a guitar and amp. More power to them, but I'm going to use the tools that accomplish the goals I want to accomplish. I never liked that small minded attitude, and almost without exception these folks weren't good players anyway...
 

jimfist

Member
Messages
1,559
The notion of one's "tone" is nothing more than an exercise in enforcing one's will over whatever gear you are using, really, IMHO. If you don't develop this (whether consciously or unconsciously) it won't matter a lick how good or cheap your gear is. You'll always be searching. This is an internal struggle that manifests itself when the musician interacts with the instrument. Certain combinations of gear will allow you to get closer to your ideal than others, and I'll admit that sometimes a combination of gear will make it almost impossible to reach your goals. Of course, these extremes tend to be the aberration rather than the norm, and most gear of reasonable quality should suffice.

OTOH, when you've gotten a grip on how to get "your tone", then you'd be amazed at how you can make otherwise mediocre gear sound really really good - even excellent. After that, the function of effects is highly subjective and thus will vary greatly depending on what the guitarist is looking for (simple or complex) and whether they are intended to be show stoppers or just background sweetening.

Jimi Hendrix always seemed to be identifiable, no matter what instrument (acoustic or electric) or amp he was playing through, and what effects he was using.

JMHO
 

chuskey

Member
Messages
478
The notion of one's "tone" is nothing more than an exercise in enforcing one's will over whatever gear you are using, really, IMHO. If you don't develop this (whether consciously or unconsciously) it won't matter a lick how good or cheap your gear is. You'll always be searching. This is an internal struggle that manifests itself when the musician interacts with the instrument. Certain combinations of gear will allow you to get closer to your ideal than others, and I'll admit that sometimes a combination of gear will make it almost impossible to reach your goals. Of course, these extremes tend to be the aberration rather than the norm, and most gear of reasonable quality should suffice.

OTOH, when you've gotten a grip on how to get "your tone", then you'd be amazed at how you can make otherwise mediocre gear sound really really good - even excellent. After that, the function of effects is highly subjective and thus will vary greatly depending on what the guitarist is looking for (simple or complex) and whether they are intended to be show stoppers or just background sweetening.

Jimi Hendrix always seemed to be identifiable, no matter what instrument (acoustic or electric) or amp he was playing through, and what effects he was using.

JMHO
I second that. The great players sound like they do because of how they play and their gear, as long as it isn't on the extreme end of being crappy gear, facilitates that. It doesn't make their sound, it's a conduit for their sound. I believe it was Jerry Cantrell that said when AIC was opening for Van Halen Eddie came down and played through Jerry's rig. He said it sounded like Van Halen. Didn't sound anything like Jerry Cantrell.

I've found through the years that whatever gear I get I tend to get it to a place where it sounds like what I hear in my head. For lack of a better term I always end up back at "my tone". Some gear gets me closer than others, but ultimately I end up at pretty much the same sound. Just gets more refined and detailed as modelling gear gets better.

With something like Helix I'm much more excited about additional flexibility and functionality than getting that little bit closer to perfect amp tone. Not saying I won't be happy with improved tone, but I'm not unhappy with how I sound now. I just want a bigger more versatile tool box.
 

shred440

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
801
Tone has always been a personal thing for me. If I love the way I sound and the way it feels, then I enjoy playing much more. In live situations, it helps me feel more in tune with the music. My mind is focused on that instead of the deficits of my tone. Our band has purposely practiced under created, less than ideal conditions so we can play our best regardless of how we sound because you don't always know what stage mix you're going to get. Tone really is a personal thing because in reality, if you have a have way decent tone that cuts through the mix, probably 95% of the audience couldn't tell the difference from that and your desired tone. You should be more focused on playing the dang song.
 

_pete_

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,642
I second that. The great players sound like they do because of how they play and their gear, as long as it isn't on the extreme end of being crappy gear, facilitates that. It doesn't make their sound, it's a conduit for their sound. I believe it was Jerry Cantrell that said when AIC was opening for Van Halen Eddie came down and played through Jerry's rig. He said it sounded like Van Halen. Didn't sound anything like Jerry Cantrell.

I've found through the years that whatever gear I get I tend to get it to a place where it sounds like what I hear in my head. For lack of a better term I always end up back at "my tone". Some gear gets me closer than others, but ultimately I end up at pretty much the same sound. Just gets more refined and detailed as modelling gear gets better.

With something like Helix I'm much more excited about additional flexibility and functionality than getting that little bit closer to perfect amp tone. Not saying I won't be happy with improved tone, but I'm not unhappy with how I sound now. I just want a bigger more versatile tool box.

Exactly. I always sound like "me" no matter what my rig is at the moment.

I've been obsessed with the Helix and the Fractal FX8 since they were announced and really like the possibilities of both of them.
But after playing through my rig a few minutes ago (Blackstar HT 60 Soloist, GSP1101 in the loop, and other stuff) I can clearly see I don't "need" either of those things. It's all in my head. My tone right now is as good as it's ever been. I can get any sound I want out of my current rig and I can get it fast. I know my gear like the back of my hand. There's no logical reason to change anything.
I really have to let myself be happy with my gear. GAS is all in the mind.
 

Jo-Jo Beans

Member
Messages
769
Yes. Short answer.

I build a ton (a TON) of DIY pedals from scratch, and I'm a member of the diystompboxes forum also. Over there, there's a funny saying: "Give a man a fuzz, and he'll jam for a day. Teach a man to build a fuzz, and he'll never jam again!"

I think that's a serious consideration, though. When I get into building pedals (or especially troubleshooting one if it doesn't work right) I'll go for days without playing other than strumming a few times and playing a few riffs to make sure the pedal works right. Once the project is actually finished, though, I do play a lot more with the new effect I've built, but I think we do chase tone so much that we forget to enjoy the reason we play guitar in the first place. I went for about a year once where I had a killer setting on my Twin Reverb, a few pedals I really enjoyed, and a few great guitars with lots of tonal options. I played a lot more in that year period than I have recently, when the GAS hit me again and I started making lots more pedals and buying and flipping a lot of guitars. My mind focuses on the acquisition and the next great thing rather than the enjoyment of jamming with my buddies and having a good time.
 

Rewolf

Member
Messages
941
Well at least decide that you re bored of that particular style and they try to nail it in a different style and unfortunately your current gear won't let you.

No matter how hard you try a single humbucker guitar through a Marshall will never sound anything like a position 2 strat through a AC 30; that's how I anded up in modelling in the first place.
 

Astronaut FX

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
7,846
Yeah, this is anothe thread where we might all be having different conversations because we're all operating with different definitions for "tone."
 

Gtrman100

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,928
I have to admit, when Helix was announced I was totally stoked, and my GAS took over- I had to have one. Then, last weekend I did another gig with my Dream Rig, and listened to the demo of the Plexi- Helix vs HD500x. I was very happy with my live gig tone (after years of tweaking a multitude of presets) and I thought both demos sounded damn good.

Now I'm thinking, do I really need a Helix to get the tones where I need them, and do I need to spend hours tweaking it to work with my current tunes?

Hell yes- GAS wins again!!!
 

phil_m

Have you tried turning it off and on again?
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
12,597
I do think there is an inordinate amount of time spent here worrying about getting whatever one things it the perfect tone. I think it's funny that many of samples we put up of guitar tones are just guitar and nothing else. It's really impossible to tell if those tones will work in the context of a song or not. If you actually listen to the isolated guitar tracks from many recording, they're nothing all that spectacular. I sometimes imagine it would be funny if it were possible to go back in time and post samples of some of tones here and see the comments here - "sounds way too fizzy for my tastes", or "that just doesn't sound very 3D to me"...
 

chuskey

Member
Messages
478
I do think there is an inordinate amount of time spent here worrying about getting whatever one things it the perfect tone. I think it's funny that many of samples we put up of guitar tones are just guitar and nothing else. It's really impossible to tell if those tones will work in the context of a song or not. If you actually listen to the isolated guitar tracks from many recording, they're nothing all that spectacular. I sometimes imagine it would be funny if it were possible to go back in time and post samples of some of tones here and see the comments here - "sounds way too fizzy for my tastes", or "that just doesn't sound very 3D to me"...
This is very true! We end up with an idea of perfect tone, but as you said if we were to hear say an isolated track from early Van Halen it would most likely be very fizzy.

I've learned not to spent too much time working up a patch before I test it in a band or mix setting. You really have to strive for balance in the frequency range of everything that's going on.
 

ZeyerGTR

Member
Messages
3,882
Some people are, some people aren't. I don't worry about it too much as there's such a huge range of "good" tones. Even the nastiest tone is the right tone for something, and within reason I can get a tone I like out of most gear. That doesn't mean I don't have preferences! I will spend time futzing with knobs to get the high end right, that's the one thing that grates on me if it's "wrong" to my ears. Of course, for someone else that could be perfect... ;-)

The good part of "worrying" about tone (although I'd call it thinking about and listening to tone) is learning to use the gear you have. It's part of the exploration, the same as exploring unique ways to use those 12 notes.

The notion of one's "tone" is nothing more than an exercise in enforcing one's will over whatever gear you are using, really, IMHO.
That's a really great way to state it. Well said, I totally agree.
 
Last edited:

swiveltung

Senior Member
Messages
14,486
Given the choice of great guitar tone and a Robben Ford song, or sterile terrible guitar tone and Mustang Sally, the listener will choose the latter! The guitarist.. not so... :>)
 




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