If you have ever heard Pat Metheny or Allan Holdsworth then you’ve felt tone envy. Such smooth, beautiful texture for melody and such svelte leads, but how do such great players achieve the tone they’ve chosen?
First off, take a look at your guitar. You don’t need a thousand dollar guitar to sound great. What you need is a tone knob and a volume knob. You also don’t need an amplifier that equals some people’s mortgage payments.
All you need is a mid knob, a bass knob and a treble knob, perhaps a distortion knob if you want to go further in the Holdsworth and Di Meola direction.
What types of pickups do you have?
If you have single coil pickups your tone will be a bit more fragile. That isn’t bad, it just means your tone will need to be adjusted accordingly.
If you have humbucking pickups then you will undoubtedly have a fatter tone. Just like the single coil pickups, this isn’t a bad thing, but it will affect how you dial in your tone.
The best place to start for a basic jazz guitar tone is with all dials at twelve o’clock (pointing straight up) and adjust by preference from there. For a smoother tone, you will want more bass and you’ll want to lay off on the middle and treble. For a more prominent tone you will want to have a bit higher mid and treble range.
If you don’t understand what each knob means, that is okay; most guitarists have no clue either.
The middle is the depth of your note that is neither high nor low, only medium. Higher middle will make your notes more prominent, but middle that is raised too high will make the notes twang and may become a bit unpleasant. Middle, just like any good support, needs to even out your bass and treble.
Bass is the undertone and substance. Too much bass will make your notes muddled and blurry. Too little bass will make your notes hollow. Just like in a full band, bass in your guitar notes is the key to making everything flow smoothly.
Too much treble without distortion can become very unpleasant. It may also hurt your ears. Treble is important because it allows you high notes to be heard. When properly balanced, treble is an invaluable tool.
As stated earlier, the best place to start is with all of your knobs at noon and adjust from there according to personal taste. With all of the qualities of the three main tone knobs described, you should be able to add and subtract based on what goal you have in mind.
Another great tool for achieving a great tone is reverb. While it sounds ridiculous, it isn’t; almost every musician uses reverb. It isn’t that the note bounces around, more like leaves a slight fade. Adding a bit of reverb can help your notes become smoother and more ethereal.
With these things in mind, it’s now your turn. Take your time adjusting your tone. Remember, this is the way you will be represented to your listeners. Keep in mind that tone begins in your fingers and won’t make up for lack of practice though!
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