What is hands down the best tone decision you’ve made in your life?


I think many players follow that same trajectory of starting with high output pickups and high gain and gradually tapering off to less and less gain with low output pickups. I’m definitely one but I still like high gain in the form of fuzz or cascading overdrives. But for me? CLARITY is my favorite decision, which encompasses a spectrum of things—not only less gain than when I was 17, 23 or 35, but switching from SG’s to Tele’s was a massive game changer. Then when I got to hankering for an EL84 amp(I’d owned everything else in prior decades), the first dip of my toe being a little Peavey Delta Blues, then I decided to sell my Super Reverb(70W Ultralinear, no bueno) to try and score an AC-30. During that hunt I stumbled on a Dr Z RXES in a pawn shop for less than what most AC-30HW’s were going for at the time, so I plugged a Tele into that and BOOM!!! So crisp and clean, with a set of A3 Tele pickups it’s like an aural artesian well. Nowadays while I do use a smidge of compression I mostly can’t stand anything that’s too wooly or muffled or compressed sounding. I mean I love SP, Dino Jr, & Kyuss/QOTSA as much as the next guy but that tone was just never for me.


Probably going for a USA-made Telecaster after years of not being completely satisfied with Mexican and Japanese Tele's. The jump in sound and quality was immediate and huge. Best decision I made with gear and a good investment too since it's only appreciated in value from what I paid for it secondhand.

This was based on my wife's advice to "quit buying and selling average stuff you're not happy with - just get the best one to keep and be happy with" - ok hunny, there's actually this local listing right now... :D She was right though, except I have bought another Tele since too... American ofcourse!

The other might be going for a high wattage amp - going from Blues Deluxe and Deluxe Reverb 20-40 watt type amps to a Mesa Electra Dyne 90 watt - the headroom, power and majesty of the bigger amp just makes me grin in a band situation - I can't go back.
Long-Wind Alert!!

TGP is great! I always do what I want, but people's ideas on TGP can cue you into your own ideas or into areas where you should be applying yourself.

Second Instruments Improve The First
I'm an avocational bass player, but I also struggle with an ES-135 with HB's, an old Leedy Plectrum Banjo and a Joe Pass archtop. I first noticed improved tone and rhythm when lowering the volume.

I'm old now, and like most of us, I never made it in music. And now the trend has faded out. As a child in the 50's, I seen men wearing hats and suits going to work with an instrument case. Women dressed to sing and dance in floorshows. They actually supported families by being a professional musician. Today, musicians pay night clubs for the chance to play on a stage...

So I branded myself as an avocational musician and went back to school after the military, to work in more lucrative jobs with big companies and pensions. That was my first step towards a signature bass tone. With my family's future assured, I had the worry-free time to work on the bass as an avocational musician. Beware... Life marches on while you're practicing your scales...

I met a host of musicians on the journey, but my playing always seemed to improve once the other noise makers departed. People are like buses. They come and they go. They get on, they get off; they transfer. Always sign a pre-nup... In the end, when all the smoke clears, all we have left is our experience and what's in our brains and hands.

I realised that the source of one's tone is multi-faceted and that as soon as we amplify our instrument, we need to be concerned with the electronic signal produced, to manipulate it and strengthen it. Even if it's just a microphone.

Tone Takes Time
Everything matters... Seated or standing? Bedroom or stage? The form of our hands as we pluck and stop the strings... Pickup height? What style of music are we pursuing?!!

My next step on the endless journey to developing a signature sound with superb tone was to purchase flatwound strings of the heaviest gauge. D'Addario Chromes and Labella 1954's, though I've always respected the sound of gut strings on an upright.

Using a plectrum as well as playing pizzicato, like Ladi Geisler's playing in Bert Kaempfert's orchestra. "Knack-Bass". Then there's Carol Kaye and Paul McCartney...

Developing the plucking fingers to be nimble and quick to swing like Ray Brown and boogaloo like James Jamerson. Much tone can be assimilated by emulation. Use YouTube to follow certain artists of interest. Listening to Latin bass playing or to Ron Carter's fingerboard tones on his CTI recordings.

TASCAM CD-BT2 CD Bass Trainer
Playing along with a versatile recording collection while focused on invoking the tone and the vibe that made the record a hit... Using different instruments for different eras. Always play along without the bass track to discover what you really sound like as the sole bassist.

Instrument Selection
In 1969 I decided on a Fender Bass Sound, a PB Fretless with a Jazz neck. Later on a JB with frets and a double bass for pizzicato and bow. Bowing can teach one everything they need to know about tone production. Spending extra for a double bass with a spruce top.

Amp Selection
Purchasing Ampeg bass amps (Rocket 1x15 and SVT Classic Heritage 8x10). Tubes for Bass...

String Dampening
Using some type of string muting device. Endless fiddling about with that... but effective on electric bass guitar.

I put together a compact pedalboard for clean sounds: wah pedal and signal splitter so that I don't lose the bottom, a volume pedal because details count, a volume booster for soloing, a line driver to fight coax cable losses in tone, a compressor... looper and tuner. Always remembering that just a little goes a long way.

Using Simandl 124 in the lower neck positions, sometimes Italian 134, reserving 1234 for higher positions where comfortable. Bass lines fit 124 far better in the real world than 1234 with the unused pinky finger flaying about...

The Dusty End
Throwing in passages from the upper end of the fingerboard, when appropriate. Exploit the fingerboard quadrants for their inherent tonal qualities. The bass intro to Good Vibrations... Chuck Rainey's octave contrasting excursions.

Practicing musical scale/interval/arpeggio exercises/sequences in rhythm with articulations and a nome. Yes, your tone will improve... Every key has it's own tone to learn.

Tone Is In The Fingers
Use a file on nails and callouses. The callous is a large part of one's tone on both hands. Practice finger strength and intonation techniques. Concentrate on how each note sounds, forming tone with the fingertips and flesh. Even the thumb has a sound of it's own.

Shift More
There's a more vocal-like tone when playing along the strings than when playing across the strings.

Working on your Time as well as Tone. Timing and phrasing. Time & Tone make up one's Signature Sound.

Some Negative Lessons:

Guard Your Gear
I had an Ampeg B15N that got stolen. Lost possibilities... However, I found out later that the Motown studio used a particular plug-in unit for all instruments that led to the board and contributed much to James Jamerson's recorded tone. It was not a B15 in the studio.

Be Alert
I wasted some years wanking on small-gauge round-wound strings. They are fast but weak on the dance floor. Good for the bedroom. Also, spending too much time stuck in one genre of music, or with people who were.

Set Up Your Studio
Like a work shop or an artist's studio, the practice room must be always ready with everything you need for your routine. Not having a dedicated studio is a hindrance. There
s also a lot to be said for old, abandoned industrial site that rents out small, cheap rooms on a monthly basis. The rates for downtown rental rooms are approaching those of apartments.

You Can't Be All Things To All People
I never learned Slap-Pop percussive playing. I was bored by the repetitiveness and preferred melodic playing. There's only so much one can do and I chose a different path. I still won't invest the time in it, but it does have a magic if used sparingly. Maybe in my next life...

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Silver Supporting Member
Take time and notes to really learn my gear and what it’s good at, particularly amps. No pedal can put a round peg into a square hole.

109 Strings

The best tone decision I’ve made in my life, hands down, has to be going halves on a rental space with my frontman. 24/7/365 access to be as loud as I ****ing want. 3am? Can’t sleep? Roll down to the spot and crank that ****! Plus it’s under heavy surveillance so no worrying about crooked ****ers trying to rip me off, comes in real handy when trying to make a sale too.

Lmao ahh, what a godsend... how about you?
ToneKing Imperial MkII

Matt Coffman

Classical guitar lessons from an incredible teacher.

To pick one direct-to-electric benefit: knowing proper classical vibrato technique allows for an array of expressive options in chordal and single-line lead playing on the electric guitar.


Silver Supporting Member

Lollar pickups. ( Installed in both )


Gold Supporting Member
Replaced one of the Vintage 30s in my 2x12 combo (Mesa Maverick) with a G12H (55). Night and day? No, but a nice improvement -- a lot more successful than my various pickup swaps over the years, anyway.


Gold Supporting Member
Definitely making sure to pick up my acoustic at least once a week. Harder to play and no hiding place from bad technique

Mike Sch

Dallas Rangemaster. The only FX I never discovered over decades of playing until a couple of years ago. My life literally would have been very different had I discovered it early on.

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