Tone Tips for Rookies like Myself

Discussion in 'Effects, Pedals, Strings & Things' started by RandyFackler, Jan 27, 2012.

  1. RandyFackler

    RandyFackler Member

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    Playing guitar for the last 15 years, it wasn't until about a year ago that I actually considered tone as any element of my playing. I know that sounds asinine to many of you on this board that play professionally and gig frequently. I myself am just a meager, lowly bedroom warrior in terms of playing; I play a lot, I love it, and I am serious about, it just happens simply in the privacy of my own home. When I “discovered” tone it was both exciting and frustrating at the same time. Months of research on the internet, then joining a couple of other forums before finding the haven that is gearpage. I could not take one more “You should get a real Les Paul and some boutique pedals” or “Just use your ears” response to my simple questions on other forums. I just joined this site a few weeks ago and only have three posts, but everyone here has been great and very helpful thus far. So, I would like to share some key elements here with anyone like me who is having a hard time finding their sound. Like everybody else, my tone is a living and breathing specimen that will always be evolving and improving. As for right now, I think mine is pretty damn sweet. Here are some significant discoveries I’ve made through lots of reading, asking, testing, tweaking, and yes—using my ears! Just to note I play a PRS SE Custom 24 into a Vox AC4TV amp.

    --Every single thing matters. Tone starts with your hands and your pick, and moves all the way through every part of the guitar, through every cable and pedal, and into the amp. Simply having a kickass tube amp does not mean that you will sound great. Don’t believe otherwise, the less obvious parts matter just as much.

    --Pick. Use the heaviest pick you are comfortable managing. It attacks the string with more gusto, and using a very thin pick yields a very thin sound; picture playing the drums with a drinking straw. I use 1mm Dunlop Tortex (the blue ones, and one size down for my acoustic.)

    --Strings. This is always under heavy debate. I used Elixirs for years because they last longer and wouldn’t have to change out that often. I now use pure nickel strings because they sound better—end of story. Kind of like the pick, use the heaviest strings that you can comfortably play. I like Ernie Ball 10 gauge. Put them on correctly and stretch them.

    --Cables. A cable is a cable is a cable is absolute bull. A cable’s job is to carry your signal through everything. That is good reason enough and they are not all made in one factory and then stamped with different brand logos. I am not an authority on cables, but you can search this site and find a couple of brands that are highly revered.

    --Volume and Tone knobs on your guitar. Yes, they really do move—believe the rumors. I used to always have them “dimed” (this means all the way up) and never thought twice about it. Many guitarists use the volume knob to bring their rig in and out of overdrive by adjusting the power being fed to the amp. Turned up and you can push the tubes into distortion, and then simply roll back (decrease the volume) and you have a nice clean tone all the sudden! The biggest thing for me, however, was even simpler. I don’t turn my volume knob up past 8. 8 is my new 10 in other words; It’s hard to explain but it just sounds better—smoother, warmer, and not as harsh, whether playing clean or dirty. My tone knob (I just have one) lives at around 6-7 pretty much all the time, for the same reason as the volume scenario. Roll it all the way back or close to 0 and show me your best blues riff or Clapton’s legendary “Woman” tone—pretty cool.

    --Amp. Play a tube amp, and play it proud.

    --Guitar Setup. Make sure your guitar is set up well. This means truss rod adjustment for the neck, intonation, bridge/string height, pickup height, and whatever other machinery your guitar has. I do all of my own setup, and I love doing it. It is not very difficult and gives you complete control and access to your guitar. It’s too involved to get into here, but it is absolutely necessary. Also, if you change string gauges, you will need to do a complete setup.

    --EQ Settings. A lot of discoveries and fixes lie in your eq. This you need to adjust with your ears, unless you are reading about settings for the same amp/equipment that you have. Having the mids set at 6 on a Fender Twin Reverb is not the same as on a Crate solid state amp. But nonetheless, this is what I have found…..

    Lows/Bass: Not enough and your tone sounds thin and empty. Too much and it sounds muddy, thick and boomy. Get it to where it just fills out the overall sound.

    Highs/Treble: Not enough and to me it just sounds like crap—dead and lifeless. Too much and it is screamingly harsh, resulting in the dreaded “ice pick” syndrome. When you read or hear this expression it means that the highs are so high that they actually hurt your ears to listen to. Just
    enough treble to add richness and sparkle; I like mine as high as I can
    get before the ice pick knocks on the door.

    Mids/Middle: I saved these for last because they have the most important impact on your sound. You hear a lot of business about “cutting into the mix” and this is where it all lies. It’s hard to explain, but if you’re playing by yourself in your bedroom, it sounds awesome with the mids down pretty low. If you leave them set like that and then play with a
    drummer (as I often do,) you’re better off strumming a pork chop. You’ll
    be twisting your eyebrows in thought trying to figure out why you can’t
    hear yourself playing—it’s the mids. If they’re up too high, especially
    when playing clean, they sound….. uh…. squawky. That’s the best way I
    can put it, but it doesn’t sound pretty. Kind of like the highs, I like them
    up as high as I can get them before they squawk at me.
    Presence: Every time I’ve researched this one I just get a series of longwinded, extremely technical explanations on the flow of electrical current. Good luck!

    --Effects. I love effects, and so should you. I will talk about these in a future reply because this thing is just getting really freaking long right now. Here are some of my words of wisdom, however, in the meantime. I look at effects like cocaine—use just the right amount and you are the hit of the party; go overboard and nobody can stand being in the same room as you. *On a side note, I have never actually tried cocaine, nor plan to. In 2003, I snorted a Ritalin at a party and that is the extent of my rock n’ roll lifestyle. Personal preference, but I don’t really use effects to use the effects. I use them to delicately season my sound (I’m a Chef by profession, I had to say that.) When used gingerly (here I go again!) they can really round out, fatten, enrich, color etc. your tone quite nicely. Except for the mighty Phaser—I love that ******** thing and all of its unsubtleness. My biggest epiphany with effects was use of the level/mix knob on them; adjusts how much of the altered sound gets mixed into the original sound (signal.) At 50%, it’s taking half of your guitar signal and adding the effect to it, and leaving the other half pure. I love to run the mix pretty low, which adds a very nice subtlety to my sound.

    Well, that’s it for now—hope this helps out anyone who is staring at a multitude of knobs and dials and feeling overwhelmed.

    -Randy
     
  2. Stratoben127

    Stratoben127 Member

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    That was cool of you for sure to do that but honestly it sounds like you copied that out of a textbook. I don't wanna make you regret being on this forum or anything but that post was pretty contradictory. Tone is a living, breathing thing like you said and most professionals that have tones that are memorable that people wanna copy come upon them by mistake or by just experimenting. They didn't know what any of this stuff did to your tone- they just had a guitar and an amp and starting changing, adding and taking away stuff until they felt the guitar and amp was an extension of their body and they could convey their ideas in the manner they wanted to. I set stuff differently every gig I have until I feel that it sounds good at that moment. There is no physically set tone that I have but there is one Kthat I always strive to get and usually can- and it's my own. I want my instrument to feel like a part of my body that I use to express myself, not a tool I use to make good noises.
     
  3. tonegangster

    tonegangster Silver Supporting Member

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    2 months on TGP and he's a pro!! LOL

    :spit
     
  4. Stratoben127

    Stratoben127 Member

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    Sorry If that came off a little rude, I actually agree with many of those things and I'm sure you may agree with me. That post will certainly help many beginners from not sounding like crap. I just wanted to put what I said out there to clarify.
     
  5. Jahn

    Jahn Listens to Johnny Marr, plays like John Denver Supporting Member

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    Nels Cline from Wilco: "Use a heavy pick. You can always pick lighter with a heavy pick, but with a light pick, there's nowhere to go when you want to strum hard." Something like that.

    Did you change string gauge? Your intonation probably changed too. Time to setup your guitar again. Especially if you have a Strat with a floating trem.

    Nuts. They will ping if not filed properly. You don't have to live with a nut that catches strings and making a mess of your playing whenever you bend a string. Find a good resource like Dan Erlewine's book and file away. I use soldering tip cleaners to file nut slots, cheap solution.

    What, everything's still catching and pinging? Did what you could with the nut and saddles? Nut Sauce is your temporary friend. Buy some, or rub some pencil lead in there, and be temporarily happy.

    Pedal Order? Uh oh. Do a search on TGP? Because two pedals is a party, three is a headache. It really depends on what you have - but i bet someone here has done it before and can help you.

    Don't use Pledge on your nitro guitar.

    Don't use Pledge on your nitro guitar that is white, then stick it wet into your red velvet hardcase. Pink Ensues.

    Match the ohms of your amp with the ohms of your cab, although going from a 16ohm amp into an 8ohm cab is ok. Going from a 4 ohm amp into an 16 ohm cab is not. Lots of other combos of ok and not ok, but to be safe, just match perfectly, or get a Weber Z-matcher.

    Attenuation sometimes is a necessary and cheaper evil than buying a smaller amp - and even 4 watt amps can be TOO LOUD for recording and home practice.
     
  6. AXXA

    AXXA Supporting Member

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    Those are all some great points, very valuable info indeed. I agree that all parts of your rig are important factors of your sound. This will no doubt be helpful to people who are not used to this way of looking at their rig. And welcome to TGP!

    However, I do disagree with one point about the mids: I like them 'squawky'!
     
  7. RandyFackler

    RandyFackler Member

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    So you're saying I'm a good writer--thank you! Just a mental textbook of my own experiences, my friend.
     
  8. RandyFackler

    RandyFackler Member

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    Never claimed to be a pro, or even close to one--I sat down and spent an hour typing this with the sole intention of giving other people like myself a push in the right direction on figuring out what different things do. I cook for a living, and play guitar because I love to.
     
  9. RandyFackler

    RandyFackler Member

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    My landlord was in my driveway the other day and came banging furiously on my door to tell me that my "rock concert" could be heard quite a distance from the house. I cherished every moment of it (my tube amp is 4 watts.)
     
  10. RandyFackler

    RandyFackler Member

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    Oops--I don't know how to put multiple people's quotes in the same reply. I'll figure it out; sorry for my poor forum etiquette!
     
  11. corbs

    corbs Supporting Member

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    Thanks for taking the time to compose that, and welcome to the forum !
     
  12. fuzz_factor

    fuzz_factor Supporting Member

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    The OP said he's been playing for 15 years. Does the time spent (wasted? :cool:) on TGP count for more than actually playing your guitar?

    If <insert favorite, successful, revered guitar hero here> signed up for TGP tomorrow, would we dismiss everything they said because of low post count?

    Not trying to fight with you, but tons of posts to a forum don't mean much and a lot of what the OP said is true, even though I still don't give much of a crap about cables and just buy the lifetime warranty stuff from my local shop.
     
  13. mc2

    mc2 Member

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    Rock on, brother!
     
  14. Stonebandit

    Stonebandit Member

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    Well spoken, welcome. Thanks for passing on some of your experiences, you'll enjoy it here.
    A haggle here and there is the way it is, it is often just in good humor.
    Just like in your profession, some things are to taken with a grain of salt, other maybe the seasoning to taste, it's your call how you react with finishing the right balance in how to del with certain customers (other members).

    There are very many great people here that are passionate about their music and we are fortunate enough that there is a well run site here. Discussions can be had, and even when they are of contentious nature, generally we are a civil group. Heated discussion occur because people are entitled to their own opinion, however some times we get a bit heavy handed in our responses. This occurs as we are standing up for our point of view, however there are some guide lines that keep the place civil.
    We are all human after all.

    Enjoy.
     
  15. sanhozay

    sanhozay klon free since 2009

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    welcome and thanks for thoughtfully & kindly expressing yourself. in short order, you'll understand that there are a fair share of people that participate here that lack the tact & maturity to respond the same way or with the same respect that you do. don't dumb down for the sake of fitting in. personally, i don't like rules & advice when it comes to music. it's more in the ears than in the art.
     
  16. tubetone74

    tubetone74 Supporting Member

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    Why are so many musicians (pro through rank novice) often so jaded? Let the guy post his thoughts and if you don't like it just ignore it.
     
  17. JRBain

    JRBain Member

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    - If a dirt pedal (in particular) costs more than your amp, you probably shouldn't buy it.

    - If a dirt pedal costs $400 or more, be very suspicious, and/or don't buy it. Particularly if it's flavour-of-the-month or a favourite around here.

    - TGP is likely to tell you at some point that you have to have some expensive boutique because non-overpriced-and-overhyped pedals aren't good enough. Likewise, you have to have a Strymon delay for your dotted eighths and slapback. :D
     
  18. DavidG

    DavidG Member

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    Yes, that has always been my # 1 rule... use yer ears.
    Welcome to the forum OP!

    " personally, i don't like rules & advice when it comes to music. it's more in the ears than in the art."
     
  19. dysorexia

    dysorexia Senior Member

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    Always play as loudly as you can.
     
  20. avgjoe

    avgjoe Member

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    My thoughts exactly.

    One of the reasons I don't post here that often, is I've been ripped on other forums for sharing my thoughts on something someone didn't agree with.

    To the OP, thanks for the well-written, well thought out post. Welcome.
     

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