#1
Ok, so we've all heard that "tone is in the fingers" a thousand times, and I don't doubt that, but how would you go about actioning that in your practice sessions?

I know it sounds like a bit of a facetious question, but improving the 'sound' of my playing is obviously something I'd like to improve.

Thanks

Fraser
Last edited by fwatt at Feb 5, 2014,
#2
i feel like you can't consciously practice "finger tone" because it's something you unconsciously practice all the time without realizing. Your finger tone will always be developing whether or not you realize it. It's the combination of everything you've ever learned to do on the instrument and it always evolves.

This is just my 2 cents, others may think differently so I'm interested to see what they have to say.
#3
I agree with Vayne, but i think it is worth mentioning that the best way to develop your tone is making sure you are playing everything as perfect as you can. If you are trying to learn a song you want to not only know the notes and rhythms you are going to play, you want to imitate the articulation, the dynamics, the feel, and the phrasing. Basically everything.

If you get all the elements of music down when learning tunes you will, as Vayne said, constantly improve your tone in a very good way. Especially if you are into many styles, cause you will then get inspiration from many sources and develop your tone in a very wide fashion.

As Vayne said, this is just my 2 cents and others will most certainly think differently of this than i am.
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#4
You can look at that saying as basically stating "your tone is only as good as your playing will allow", which is very true.
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#5
Tone is NOT in your fingers. I can't plug a Squire Strat into a little 8" speaker practice amp and sound the same as Slash on stage. He couldn't sound like Slash, either.

Tone is in your amp, your pedals, your guitar, and everything else that makes up your rig. What you can do with that tone is an entirely different matter. Somebody that has good tone but can't play will not sound good, period. But it doesn't work vice versa. Someone that can play very well will still sound like crap through a rig like I described above.
#6
well, quality of tone depends on many things. pick up an acoustic guitar and try to get a good sounding tone out of it - just a single tone. notice how much pressure you apply, what is the exact location and angle of your fingers, what you do with the pick / right hand fingers etc.
beside these things, wood, pickups, strings, amp, pedals etc. matter as well of course.
#7
While Kail brings up a good point, using dynamics can greatly add to your playing. Knowing when to dig in and when to slack off is harder than it sounds, but when it becomes natural you can sound like a pro, regardless of what style of music you're playing
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#9
Quote by KailM
Tone is NOT in your fingers. I can't plug a Squire Strat into a little 8" speaker practice amp and sound the same as Slash on stage. He couldn't sound like Slash, either.

Tone is in your amp, your pedals, your guitar, and everything else that makes up your rig. What you can do with that tone is an entirely different matter. Somebody that has good tone but can't play will not sound good, period. But it doesn't work vice versa. Someone that can play very well will still sound like crap through a rig like I described above.


Tone starts at the fingers. It's the first link in the chain. If it's wrong then good equipment won't fix it. I feel you're missing the point of the apophthegm.
#10
Ok, the statement "tone is in the fingers" is weird and possibly slightly misleading if you don't understand what people tend to mean.

Firstly there needs to be a separation between "gear tone" and "finger tone":

Gear tone is everything that's specified by what you own; pedals, amp, guitar, cables, everything. Basically it defines the nature of your tone. A strat will always have that identifiable character about it, humbuckers will almost always sound fatter, a certain amp will always have a particular character to it and the way everything works together will produce one specific kind of tone. You can't put a strat through a Fender twin and expect your fingers to magically make it sound like an EMG'd Les Paul through a 6505.

Finger tone basically defines the quality of that tone... but is still dependent, at least in part, on your gear. Certain amps, guitars and so on pick up nuances in playing better than others so you can't really expect to go through a little no-name practice amp from a pawn shop with a £50 charity shop strat knock-off and expect to be able to hear the small differences in people's playing but through higher-end gear the person playing can make a big difference.

It's how come, even through amp, pedal and pickup changes, Paul Gilbert's playing still has that essential quality that is his: he has good vibrato, distinct pick attack, very specific phrasing... no matter what he plays through, the nature of the tone changes but you can always hear when it's him playing.

This is really what people mean and it's something that comes with experience playing: you can always tell a real beginner because their attack is uncertain, vibrato weak, phrasing poor and so on. Gear can make your tone better but no amount of amps, pedals and expensive guitars can make you sound like you know what you're doing.
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#11
^ I was thinking about Paul Gilbert too when I was reading this. It's pretty amazing watching some of his lessons on you tube, where he has the volume down and the individual notes sound kind of puny, and then he puts it together and it's like "wow!". I think he's one of the best examples out there of tone coming from the fingers.
#12
Quote by Sickz
I agree with Vayne, but i think it is worth mentioning that the best way to develop your tone is making sure you are playing everything as perfect as you can. If you are trying to learn a song you want to not only know the notes and rhythms you are going to play, you want to imitate the articulation, the dynamics, the feel, and the phrasing. Basically everything.

If you get all the elements of music down when learning tunes you will, as Vayne said, constantly improve your tone in a very good way. Especially if you are into many styles, cause you will then get inspiration from many sources and develop your tone in a very wide fashion.

As Vayne said, this is just my 2 cents and others will most certainly think differently of this than i am.


Yeah, you gotta strive to milk everything out of every note you play.
#13
To get good, consistent tone you have to develop solid technique and use it all the time. It's really easy to work on your chops and then totally forget to apply it when you sit down to jam. Even if you have to play simpler stuff, make a point of always using your best technique, always playing in rhythm, and always accentuating the important parts.

Like the guy above said, "Milk every note". Don't throw any notes away - really use subtle techniques like vibrato and pre-bends to make the note matter.

Quote by KailM
has good tone but can't play will not sound good, period. But it doesn't work vice versa. Someone that can play very well will still sound like crap through a rig like I described above.


Tone =/= audio fidelity. Good tone from an instrument can only be gotten with good technique. No awesome guitar/amp/effects combination is going to hide poor playing.
Last edited by cdgraves at Feb 5, 2014,
#14
I disagree that you can't practice improving the tone from your hands. The rig you play through might have a ceiling on how good it sounds but playing through a good rig doesn't mean you will sound good and playing through a cheap one doesn't mean you will sound bad.

Tone in the hands comes from good intonation, attack, vibrato, dynamics, timing, cleanliness, etc. No matter what you play through listening to how you sound by recording yourself is paramount. Focusing on playing so all the notes sound the best they can. By doing that you can sound good even playing through a cheap amp.

One way to achieve that is by playing through a cheap practice amp, completely dry. Something that is terribly unforgiving. If you can maximize your attack, dynamics, etc there than when you plug into a nicer rig you will retain all of the attack, intonation, etc you have practiced in making the cheap amp sound as good as possible but now you will be plugged into something that has a higher quality sound.

Bumblefoot(Ron Thal) said he used to practice on a guitar with terrible action so that when he switched to a one set up better everything was easier to play. Same concept.
#15
Quote by paulhudginsgt
One way to achieve that is by playing through a cheap practice amp, completely dry. Something that is terribly unforgiving. If you can maximize your attack, dynamics, etc there than when you plug into a nicer rig you will retain all of the attack, intonation, etc you have practiced in making the cheap amp sound as good as possible but now you will be plugged into something that has a higher quality sound.


The problem with that is that while cheap practice amps tend to sound bad they're not generally particularly unforgiving; a lot of them are poorly EQ'd and sound very muddy.
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#16
Quote by Zaphod_Beeblebr
The problem with that is that while cheap practice amps tend to sound bad they're not generally particularly unforgiving; a lot of them are poorly EQ'd and sound very muddy.


The point is to learn to manipulate the sound with your hands not worry about the tone of the amp or how it is eq'd. The majority of guitar players would be far better off practicing with a completely dry signal through an amp with only enough moderate distortion to add some sustain.

That said there are some decent practice amps for about 100 bucks that have a workable EQ and can get just gritty enough to give you a nice sound to practice with.

I personally don't have a practice amp at the moment but when I practice I either go completely dry straight into a mixer or use TH2 . When I really want to play I go into my modded Marshall 1987X but the practice with the dry sounds makes playing through the half stack sound that much better.
Last edited by paulhudginsgt at Feb 5, 2014,
#17
I can get cool half stack tones from 6" speakers dry. The Th2 helps. or the Acmebargig..
My 86 G120C creat with 4x12 piledrive has a slight lower bottom end feel to a marshall.
The head on that thing has a nice warm distortion.
The cabinet looks mean with daimond grills. That cabinet cost more than the head.
The twin (spring)reverb with tubes and open back sounds cool in a different way.

I like guitar amp emulators. I cant afford all different amps.lol
The 50watt peavey with 12" has a different distortion I dont like. So running
a TH2 or whatever amp emulators to jam out with drummers is cool.
I dont likee hauling the 1/2 stack around everywhere.

I still like the sound of my little 8" crate practice amp. It has it's own tone.
It's an open back with reverb. It depends on how far from the wall and what type
floor. Bare cement or carpet. It's a totally different beast Dean Markley 6" with no reverb.

With that said. I could never get my tones to sound like eric johnson.
Not until i purposely practice doing vibrito with me fingers.
The same with sliding backward like Steve Via or Satriani.

These little inflections makes a huge difference. I practice doing them slowly at first,
as in anything. The hammer on , pull offs.

I also pick different ways to get different tones. The angle of the pick, at what part
of the guitar i pick from...ect
Sometimes i even pluck with my hand to get certain tones.
#18
Quote by paulhudginsgt
The point is to learn to manipulate the sound with your hands not worry about the tone of the amp or how it is eq'd. The majority of guitar players would be far better off practicing with a completely dry signal through an amp with only enough moderate distortion to add some sustain.



I'm sorry but I just can't agree with this. Good tone is part of what influences you to PLAY BETTER. The way the instrument, amp, and rig altogether respond can affect how you sound in a big way. I actually find myself playing differently through amps that actually have dynamics as opposed to a crappy solid-state rig.

I played for 15+ years through various shitty solid-state amps before finally entering the world of tube amps. When I did, I was like "Holy balls, I didn't realize I could sound like that!!!" I have increased my playing and my abilities exponentially ever since.

At least for me, if I'm not stoked on the tone the rig is putting out, I'm not gonna keep playing. It's like an extremely talented painter being restricted to using crayons, toy paintbrushes, and cheap paper. He or she will never be able to show his or her true potential.
#19
Quote by KailM
I'm sorry but I just can't agree with this. Good tone is part of what influences you to PLAY BETTER. The way the instrument, amp, and rig altogether respond can affect how you sound in a big way. I actually find myself playing differently through amps that actually have dynamics as opposed to a crappy solid-state rig.

I played for 15+ years through various shitty solid-state amps before finally entering the world of tube amps. When I did, I was like "Holy balls, I didn't realize I could sound like that!!!" I have increased my playing and my abilities exponentially ever since.

At least for me, if I'm not stoked on the tone the rig is putting out, I'm not gonna keep playing. It's like an extremely talented painter being restricted to using crayons, toy paintbrushes, and cheap paper. He or she will never be able to show his or her true potential.


I agree with you that playing through a great amp and guitar can be inspiring.
I would never intentionally play through a crappy sounding rig, but there is a difference between playing and practicing. If I am practicing I want to focus on intonation, timing, attack, etc. A practice amp with some dirt is all I feel you need.
I think I have always taken Steve Vai's philosophy on practicing where you are trying to turn the most basic playing elements into in an exercise of learning how to control and manipulate sounds and listen to how they relate.
#20
Quote by Zaphod_Beeblebr

Firstly there needs to be a separation between "gear tone" and "finger tone":


+1

That's what I've been saying for years.

It's a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but if you put a world champion formula 1 driver in a family hatchback instead of an F1 car, he's not going to win the race. If you put me in an F1 car I'm not going to win the race either.

Similar thing (to a slightly lesser extent, but it's still valid, if you ask me) here.
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#21
Quote by KailM
I'm sorry but I just can't agree with this. Good tone is part of what influences you to PLAY BETTER. The way the instrument, amp, and rig altogether respond can affect how you sound in a big way. I actually find myself playing differently through amps that actually have dynamics as opposed to a crappy solid-state rig.

I played for 15+ years through various shitty solid-state amps before finally entering the world of tube amps. When I did, I was like "Holy balls, I didn't realize I could sound like that!!!" I have increased my playing and my abilities exponentially ever since.

At least for me, if I'm not stoked on the tone the rig is putting out, I'm not gonna keep playing. It's like an extremely talented painter being restricted to using crayons, toy paintbrushes, and cheap paper. He or she will never be able to show his or her true potential.


I really agree with this. There are all these little nuances the go into getting things to sound as a good as you can that are specific to your setup. If it's what you're going to be playing through, then I feel you should tune your technique to that setup.

The other thing is the sheer enjoyment factor. This is something that we all pour hundreds and eventually thousands of hours into, so it makes sense to enjoy it to your fullest by playing through a nice setup, subject to what a person can afford. About 5 years ago, I splurged on a Marshall half stack (JCM 2000 head), and a year later added the other cabinet to make it a full stack. It sounds great and I think playing through a nice setup helps you get into the flow state where you are totally focused, and get the most out of playing and practicing.
#22
There's plenty of interviews with people out there stating that they sound like themselves no matter what they're playing. There's one where Jerry Cantrell said he tried EVH's rig before a show and...he sounded like Jerry Cantrell.

I found a thread a while back on Strat-Talk, where they gave blues legends some Squire guitars...and they sounded like themselves.

I have some Peavey amps, some Mesa and a few H&K amps. I play LTD, Ibanez, Fender, and BC Rich guitars. I sound like myself on each one. Even on my crappy Vox practice amp. When I sit in with other bands on their gear, it's still the same. I just sat in last weekend with my old band. Guy has a Spider Valve (which I hate) and I got a tone and sounded like me.

It's about the way you hold your hands, pick the strings, vibrato, etc. The guitar and amp are a part of it....but not as much as people think.

I understand being happy with your tone, and getting into it more...but in the end you're still you.
Last edited by bish0p3473 at Feb 6, 2014,
#23
Tone is a combination of wood, hardware, string material, string thickness, string winding, string age, pick (seriously, the pick you use has a considerable influence on the sound), body shape, body chambers, the frets, the pickups, tone knob, volume knob, knobs on the amp, the speaker, age of speaker, etc. There's no one dimension to it and with high end gear you could tell differences between these most all these things so long as it wasn't tiny tiny changes.

That saying is just about the emphasis you place on certain ones directly controllable at any one time. Dynamics are important, and really are quite idiosyncratic at times, particularly when analysing individual musician's styles.
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Last edited by Banjocal at Feb 6, 2014,
#24
I have heard this saying also, and I agree. I also agree on the distinction between your rig tone and your playing tone. You will always sound like yourself after years of developing your style and technique.

It can come down to even the slightest angle you are holding your pick, to where on the string you are picking mostly, and also whether you use a pick at all. I constantly am switching from using only my fingers to using a pick within the same song, very frequently. I do this because I cannot achieve the same tone I am going for with/without the pick. Also, I do not grow my nails out, because I prefer the softer sound of my finger pads to the twangy sound of nails. This is all subjective and completely up to the player and what they are going for though...

And I agree your vibrato are a huge part of your sound also, seems like the more experienced a player gets, the slower their vibratos, or at least more controlled, or maybe I'm just getting old.
Last edited by Adam Meachem at Feb 7, 2014,
#25
Yes tone is in the fingers. That’s the source of your tone. YOUR tone. Your own personal tone.

I’ve listened to Eric Clapton play from the early sixties to today, using all different types of guitars through a variety of amps, from little tweed amps to Marshall stacks to proto-metal amps (Soldano SLO’s) and throughout all that time, using all that equipment he sounds like… Eric Clapton.

He even sounds like Eric Clapton when he plays acoustic!

The meaning of the phase “tone is in the fingers” really means that the tone of THE GUITARIST is in the fingers. The basic tone comes from the player. The equipment adds colour to that tone – either good or bad. Some gear enhances the guitarists tone and some gear detracts from it, but all the gear does is colour.

That’s why you can’t buy your way to success in this game. You are as good as your fingers. Everything else is a tool through which your fingers express your musicality.
#27
This is what I've come to learn over the years pondering this question. Your gear is the foundation of your tone, it's going to allow you to play whatever the gear is able to do. Now, the way you sound/play/overall tone is in your playing. You can't sound like Slash if you don't know how to play like Slash. You can have his exact gear on his exact settings, but you wont have Slashes tone if you can't play in his style.

Same with country music, I wish I could play it, I can get the exact setting for it, but I can't make my fingers move the right ways to get the sound, the tone, it just sounds like a brighter, twanger version of my style of playing.

The way you fret, the way you bend strings, the way you pinch harmonics, the way you chord, the way you bar, the way you change chords/notes, all those little techniques play a role in your overall tone. Everyone has a different way of doing those techniques, some sloppy, some precise. I'm more on the sloppy side, but it gives me a unique style of playing and an unmistakable tone.

Gear is your foundation, fingers are your style/overall tone.
#28
how would you go about actioning that in your practice sessions?


Personally, I would say -

Don't worry about where "tone" comes from. Just try to make everything sound great when you practice.

This includes things like avoiding fret buzz (use the tips of the fingers near the fret), good string muting (video below) and control of pick attack.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIEnzboW0Hc