Improve Your Tone For Cheap

No, I don't think you need a new pickup ...instead, why don't you improve your tone for cheap?

Ultimate Guitar

Let's face it. Every guitarist reaches a point where he/she decides that he/she must have a new guitar, or just new pickups, or a new amp. Why? They're not satisfied with their tone. Which is the cheapest upgrade? Pickups. So, our soon-to-be guitar prodigy logs onto UG and shoots out the familiar "What Pickup Is Good For So-And-So Guitar And So-And-So Music?" thread. After collecting a decent amount of suggestions and sarcastic remarks from the oh-so-helpful UG regulars, they shoot of to seymourduncan. com or dimarzio. com to check prices and whatnot. After seeing the high prices, they get sad, and then they get somewhat frustrated with their financial situation.

I'm here to bring some good news to them. First off, if you need to ask what pickups you should get, then you probably can't tell the difference. Sorry, but that's probably the truth.

Actually, a pretty well-kept secret is that you don't need to rob a bank to achieve better tone. Here's a couple ways you can improve your tone for cheap.

Aluminum Shielding

The materials you need for this are pretty straightforward - aluminum foil (like the kind your mom uses for cooking) and some glue. I'm pretty sure all of us have that. If you want to get fancy, get your hands on some 3M spray adhesive to speed the process up. The idea is isolating the cavity(ies) of your guitar with the aluminum foil. If you need it simpler, you cover the inside of your cavity(ies) with aluminum foil, in a continuous circuit, so that it isolates the inside of the cavity from the outside. Upon completion, any excess noise should be reduced greatly. This will, in turn allow your tone to stand out more. You're on your way to improved tone!

Potting The Pickups

Here's another technique aimed at cutting down the noise level. In my opinion, this technique and the technique above are effective at cutting noise than, say, a noise gate. Additionally, both these techniques are considerably cheaper. To pot your pickups, basically dip them in some hot paraffin wax and let them dry. If you have those humbuckers with those metallic pickup covers, dip the pickups with the covers on. If the covers are plastic, then don't bother dipping the cover in along with the pickup.

New Strings

Been saving up for gear so you're reluctant to throw down a couple of bucks for new strings? Wrong idea! Strings are very important to your tone. Find you the string gauge/brand that brings out your best tone and your best playing. All that aside, however, just having fresh strings as opposed to dead strings will greatly improve your tone - unless you're into that dead sound...


It's the small things. The material and the thickness of your pick will affect your tone. The good thing is, these little things cost very little. You can go to the store and buy every single type of pick you see and go home and try every single one and find one you like.

EQ Settings

Believe it or not, those little knobs/sliders are actually pretty important to how you sound. In my opinion, they may be more important than any pedal or gadget you can get. Now, the best way to find your own favorite EQ setting(s) is to sit down, and start with the EQ settings set so they're flat. Now, adjust each EQ knob/slider seperately to get a feel for what they do. Then, start experimenting, and seeing how they affect each other. If you're still lost, here're a couple EQ settings to get you started:

Bass: 10 Mids: 4 Treb: 6

Bass: 3 Mids: 7 Treb: 10

Bass: 10 Mids: 7 Treb: 8

My personal favorite is the second one. Here's why it works for me - my bridge pickup is a SD HotRails. These pickups have a very high bass and midrange response, but not very much treble response, so I use the EQ on my amp to adjust for that. However, I've got normal single coils in the other three positions, so when I switch to them, I get a very cutting sound that accentuates everything I do.


No, actually, I'm pretty sure you don't need more. Mine's usually around 5 (out of 10) just so I can get the sustain and the screamy sound out of my guitar. You're looking for a little grit to enhance your sound, not cover it. In short, try turning it down.

Well, that's it. Good luck and have fun!

101 comments sorted by best / new / date

    you shouldn't have much problem w/ noise if you had humbuckers in the first place, iamjonscranium
    the basist
    tried it and it was gerat thanks it sounds awsome with some of the songs me and my band made
    dan_the_pie: eastbay is a homo. he wants to screw his dad and have his grandpa slap his ass. wat a queer. eastbay is a negro sports catalog rite? wat r u doing on a guitar site? waiting for yer $250 shoes to come back in stock? go to hell u dick, btw pantera, that really was intelligent and funny. i do beleive youre correct. he also has a pecker in his ass hole Why does every reply section have to end like that? If you want to make fun of someone or say that they are gay with their dad that is what PM is for.
    i gave u one star guitar noob because i hate you and the article was so dull i didnt completely read it. make a better article next time, u douche dong
    eastbay is a homo. he wants to screw his dad and have his grandpa slap his ass. wat a queer. eastbay is a negro sports catalog rite? wat r u doing on a guitar site? waiting for yer $250 shoes to come back in stock? go to hell u dick, btw pantera, that really was intelligent and funny. i do beleive youre correct. he also has a pecker in his ass hole
    you'd be surprised how many people will jam on an amp, talk shit about it's tone and not even touch the EQ. It's amazing.
    Crank the treble on the equalization settings? Are you nuts!? That's just plain bad advice right there. Don't you know anything about signal break-up? I don't know anything about the SD Hotrails, but I've never heard of an amp that doesn't have any problems when cranking the treble like that. Don't believe me? Have somebody else play your guitar outside somewhere while you listen from about 50 yards away. Then tell me your tone doesn't suck.
    Sweet. My Ibanez stock produces alot of noise, maybe I'll try what you suggested. Can't really vote seeing as I haven't tryed some of the things you suggested.
    sheilding your guitar will cut down on noise, but it will actually decrease your tone. i took the aluminum sheilding off of my backplate, and took the covers off of my pickups (i have humbuckers) and it sould better.
    I dunno if they ideas are good or not because I really don't know poop about electric guitars (I barely play mine) but this is a good article. I had never heard of any of that stuff so it apparently is at the very least helpful to the novice. Nice job.
    Cant agree with you on the pickup part. Asking others for advice does not equate to not being able to tell the difference. It's just a commitment to see what others think then try it out yourself. Nice other suggestions. But don't diss people off for asking question that are totally legitimate.
    Oh and 5 stars dude. I actually paused Heart Shaped Box (WTLO vrs) to read it (in the words of Dr.Hibert- GOOD GOD!)
    Legend dude! N thanks for putin in the he/she, his/her thing (I am the most annoying person on this, I can't forget lil ole Beanze) Most of you seem to think there's only dudes on this whole thing. I bet I'm the only girl who actually read the whole dealie by the way- PANTERA YOU SICK FREAK! ..jus noticed that as I was about to click the dealie there (the button! that's it!!) And people..STOP BANNING ME!!
    AC/DC freak
    how much does it costs to buy paraffin wax anyway? and is it true that if you arent carefull and if you have ceramic pickups, you can screw them up pretty bad by pickup potting?
    damonkinmond also gives asscheeks hickies, again, cuz hes a dickhead, pervert, and a son of a bitch, as well as an incestuous freak
    Lifeless Figure
    It does work!!! I spent all of yesterday doin it on my geetar and after like 4 hours it worked... i used just regular candle wax and tin foil... i dunno if i put the aluminum in the right place i put it wherer the pickups rest in that hole and i just melted regualr candle wax near my bed and brushed it on with my toothbrush.... anywho it works like a charm... the only real problem i had making shure i didnt rip anyof the wires, kause if u do that ur screwed up the ass and the springs when u put the pickups bak in... i still dont think i did it rite but anywho it works and im happy.. i have a fender strat and it works like a beauty... thx a bunch man!!!!
    Erm im still a little confused about the aluminium sheilding man, wat exactly do you do?
    i love all the comments about "i don't think the foil would work" "dipping my pups in wax just doesn't sound right" i can tell you from experience that tin foil shielding works, especially on strats, and especially on cheap strat knockoffs. as far as wax potting goes, gibson does it on both their humbuckers and their single coils, and you don't hear anyone complaining about gibson's tone, do you?
    i agree with sun of a studio..very good article..and yes..eastbay still has some sand in his vagina..quite the crybaby
    Sun of a Studio
    Good article. I was just getting ready to dip my pups but wasn't too sure of it. And by the way eastbay is a crybaby. Just wanted to make that clear.
    Just looked at the first 10 or so replies, saw lots of "don't want to cover up my shiny guitar with foil"... I'm sure it's been said, but to re-emphasize, he's talking about putting aluminum foil inside your guitar, not on the outside. On Strats you can see this cavity by taking the pickguard off, Les Pauls and others by removing the plate on the back.
    Cavities are the bits where the electronics sit. usually you stick the foil onto the back of the plastic plates that cover them. not very hard. were you thinking that you had to cover your guitar in foil or something? jesus, some people. BTW your article was spot on. ***..
    damonkinmond, go dip your dick in wax, you son of a bitch! you dickhead! you pervert!
    matt 2b5 kisses his dads privates all the time. he also bites the pimples on his grandpa's but cuz hes a pervert. matt, change your name to the hammer cuz u pound so much butt. go to hell
    generally, i think dipping humbuckers isn't all too useful - it shold already be bucking that hum and whatnot - the difference before/after dipping would be more pronounced in single coils
    yeh has anyone tried it like im scared ill screw it up??? the wax thing i mean?
    I tried the aluminum foil thing it took about 30 seconds to do and it works wonders. my bridge pickup is a duncan humbucker so it is already wax potted and i dont think its worth my trouble to do it.
    cool, i havent tried any of this and probly wont cuz i'm lazy, so i wont rate it. and to the guy above, i feel the same way. but if it works? still no.
    eastbay36: but are there any tips for improving your tone on an acoustic guitar besides buying new strings? [POSTED: 13 August 2005 - 16:24]| dan_the_pie: how stupid. youre a moron [POSTED: 13 August 2005 - 16:31]| metal_thunder: ^smash it and but a nicer one [POSTED: 13 August 2005 - 16:34]| r_lightning: smart article [POSTED: 13 August 2005 - 16:37]| the_white_bunny: hey how about this learn how to play good and set your damn amp and dont only use you lead pick up and spend more then 300 dollers on a guitar [POSTED: 13 August 2005 - 17:16]| YOUR ALL ASS HOLES, YOU YELL AT ME FOR BEING MAD AT PEOPLE FOR NOT ANSWERING MY QUESTIONS IN FORUMS AND THEN I ASK A NICE QUESTION AND YOU RIP ON ME, IM REPORTING YOU ALL!!!..