#1
Frequency. Tone should just be called frequency. Each frequency or tone is very similar. It is always a guitar making the sounds. The differences between each tone is not that great. 
#2
A frequency, say 1000hz is a tone. But by 'guitar tone' we are generally referring to the combination of frequencies that make up the sound we hear when we play a note on the guitar. So saying the frequency is similar may be confusing as people might think you are talking about the underlying note pitch and not the differences in overtones and harmonic content.

I'm not really sure what you're saying?
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#3
Tone: A sound that is the result of a oscillation consistent enough in frequency that it produces a discernible pitch. Also used to describe the qualities (brightness, harmonic content, etc.) of a complex sound wave. 
Frequency: How many complete oscillations happen within a second (hertz), which defines what discernible pitch is produced by the oscillation.
Last edited by Will Lane at Jun 19, 2017,
#4
They seem to be the same. 
#6
I have no technical knowledge to offer to this discussion, but "hot dang that guy has awesome tone!" sounds better than "hot dang that guy has awesome frequency!"

I think the Tone version makes more sense.. after all, isn't tone the make up of many different effects (probably each with their own frequency)?
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#7
There's a massive difference in different tones. Would you say that a low E through a driven 5150 doesn't sound very different to that note played on a bass through an Ashdown ABM?
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#8
Frequency is the root sound of a note.

Example, the low E on a guitar is about 80Hz. So the Frequency is 80Hz.

The 'tone' is the harmonic structure of the specific instrument/amplifier/etc. I don't mean in terms of a chord's structure, but the ordered harmonics in a sound that fill it out. The E on a guitar is not just an E, but a pile of other notes that interact with the root frequency and fill out it's characteristics. This is referred to as Timbre.

The low E on a guitar sounds different than the same E on a piano . This is because the harmonic timbre of that note on a guitar are formed differently than on a piano. So the harmonics produced by a guitar's strings, air cavity, and soundboard will have different reactions than the same note produced by the interactions between the piano strings, air cavity, and soundboard.

We need to also understand something called Even and Odd functions. To try to simply these physics, E/O harmonics are additional frequencies produced by a sound source when activated that add to the sound. The Even/Odd distintion is as:

Even order: 2/4/6th+. These are the harmonics that fit into a Octave based structure. These will enhance the sound and make it sound more full and musical.
Odd order: 3/5/7th+. These harmonics that do not fit into the Octave based structure. These will detract from your tone if overused. A good example for this is dubstep. A lot of the 'wubs' and sounds that are really discordant and unmusical are odd-ordered. A really nasty distortion (metalzone) is heavy on odd-order harmonics.

A proper blend of even and odd order harmonics determine how your note sounds in terns of tone. As an example, here are the harmonic orders for a 110Hz signal. Note that every 2nd note sounds off in varying degrees:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Harmonics_110x16.ogg

Another defining part of this difference is attack (the way the note starts) and release/decay (the way the note trails off). Guitars and Pianos have different attack characteristics (guitars often being brighter but with less power) than a piano (more direct percussion with a large amount of power). The release is also different as the sympathetic resonance is radically different. A guitar only has 6 strings (sometimes less or more, which can affect everything), but a grand piano has 230. While these are muted somewhat by the key/hammer mechanisms, they will still resonate and provide that lush sound that pianos have as the strings all 'sound' and add to the root note.

From here, we can surmise that acoustic guitars and pianos (keeping to this example) are the same basic function with radically different timbre characteristics... but then we get into the mess of electric guitars and basses.

Outside of the normal resonances of the guitar body/neck and strings, we now need to look at the electronic considerations.

Your pickups will affect the tone of your guitar (even when not amplified due to magnetic gauss interacting with the strings. If you don't know what I mean, mess with your pickups and raise them towards the strings... your raw tone will start to get a little strange in parts due to the vibrations being affected slightly).

The biggest factors with pickups are the magnet type and positioning. An Alnico pickup has a different sound (usually warmer (meaning more even-order harmonics)) than a Ceramic pickup (usually clearer (slightly less 3rd and 4th order harmonics) than a rare earth pickup (less upper order harmonics). From here the size of the magnets will affect the tone again (bigger magnets = more sensitive to vibration, therefor higher output and more harmonic structure) as well as placement (more control over the gauss (magnetic field and pull) allowing for a cleaner pickup).

After this we get to the amp. I'm going to skip the cables as I don't buy into the 'omg need gold cables to get better tone' nonsense. Buy a quality cable and you'll have no issues. I'm also going to skip pedals as these are designed to adversely affect your tone, and there are drive and load calculations that can be done for each pedal that I don't want to get into.

The amp has a massive difference again. Solid state amps and tube/valve amps will impact your tone more than anything on an electric guitar.

Tube/Valve amps are known as the Pinnacle of Tone (tm) for a reason: the human ear is built for even order harmonics. Tubes inherently (when healthy) subtly distort (even when clean) the 2nd, 4th, and 8th order (if my memory serves me right) harmonics of a note, making it sound 'lush and full'. This is true for ALL tubes in an amp (and not all tubes are pre/power. Some are effects loop, some are EQ).

The affect of distortion on a tone is a whole other physics lesson that I have a decent understanding of that doesn't belong here as of yet. I may add it in if needed.

A solid state amp uses transistors to distort, resulting in a 3rd and 5th heavy mix. If you can control it, you can get decent tones, however this is why SS amps sound 'buzzsaw-like' when distorted, and have rather flat and uncolored cleans. For clean, this isn't so bad as you can definitely control your clean tone on SS better than a tube amp (due to the saturation and sag affects with tubes, another physics lesson that is very high level).

After this, your speaker has an affect, but I'm not as sure as to the physics of the materials used, and can't comment much.

TL;DR: A lot affects tone vs frequency.
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#9
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We need to also understand something called Even and Odd functions. To try to simply these physics, E/O harmonics are additional frequencies produced by a sound source when activated that add to the sound. The Even/Odd distintion is as:

Even order: 2/4/6th+. These are the harmonics that fit into a Octave based structure. These will enhance the sound and make it sound more full and musical.
Odd order: 3/5/7th+. These harmonics that do not fit into the Octave based structure. These will detract from your tone if overused. A good example for this is dubstep. A lot of the 'wubs' and sounds that are really discordant and unmusical are odd-ordered. A really nasty distortion (metalzone) is heavy on odd-order harmonics.

...

Tube/Valve amps are known as the Pinnacle of Tone (tm) for a reason: the human ear is built for even order harmonics. Tubes inherently (when healthy) subtly distort (even when clean) the 2nd, 4th, and 8th order (if my memory serves me right) harmonics of a note, making it sound 'lush and full'. This is true for ALL tubes in an amp (and not all tubes are pre/power. Some are effects loop, some are EQ).

...

A solid state amp uses transistors to distort, resulting in a 3rd and 5th heavy mix. If you can control it, you can get decent tones, however this is why SS amps sound 'buzzsaw-like' when distorted, and have rather flat and uncolored cleans. For clean, this isn't so bad as you can definitely control your clean tone on SS better than a tube amp (due to the saturation and sag affects with tubes, another physics lesson that is very high level). 

The affect of distortion on a tone is a whole other physics lesson that I have a decent understanding of that doesn't belong here as of yet. I may add it in if needed.

A solid state amp uses transistors to distort, resulting in a 3rd and 5th heavy mix. If you can control it, you can get decent tones, however this is why SS amps sound 'buzzsaw-like' when distorted, and have rather flat and uncolored cleans. For clean, this isn't so bad as you can definitely control your clean tone on SS better than a tube amp (due to the saturation and sag affects with tubes, another physics lesson that is very high level). 
This isn't entirely accurate.

Consider a 100hz fundamental. The 2nd order harmonic is 200hz, the 3rd is 300hz, the fourth is 400hz, etc...
Knowing that a doubling of hz equals an octave, it's clear that the second and fourth order harmonics are octaves of the root. The sixth order, however, is an octave of the third order, and the 10th is an octave of the fifth order - these are certainly not octaves of the root.

The third order harmonic is actually a perfect fifth above the octave, and thus it strengthens the fundamental and generally sounds musical. The fifth order is where things start getting a bit dissonant, but it is still basically 2 octaves and a major third above the root. The seventh order, however, is about 30 cents away from a minor seventh and is thus pretty dissonant.

Lots of distortion pedals and amps produce far more odd order harmonics then even. Tube amps can be designed to create both odd and even harmonics, or can suppress even order harmonics, creating predominantly odd order harmonics (push-pull topology does this). Very few devices create purely lower order even order harmonics (I think the aphex aural exciter might...).

Really, what's more important is the production of lower vs higher order harmonics, not even vs odd.

In distortion applications, even order harmonics are formed by asymmetrical clipping. So consider the difference between an ibanez tubescreamer and boss sd1. The circuits are very similar, but the tubescreamer is nearly entirely odd order harmonics (no asymmetrical clipping), whereas the sd1 (with asymmetrical clipping) produces far more even order harmonics (as well as the odd order). I wouldn't call the tubescreamer 'nasty' in comparison to an sd1.
Indeed, it's not odd order harmonics that make distortions 'nasty'; rather it's the presence of more higher order harmonics.

The input stage on a general fender amp, for instance, creates higher order harmonics depending on signal level. First, second order harmonics are produced, then third and then fourth etc. as the signal level rises. A jfet, used in place of the tube, in comparison, will create only second order harmonics until the signal level is large enough to induce clipping. That isn't to say that a jfet device can't be designed to respond similarly to the tube in terms of harmonic content generation, just that it requires a different design. 

Looking at simple waves can be useful. A sine wave has only the first order harmonic (the root), whilst a square wave is only odd order harmonics and a sawtooth is a full range of both even and odd harmonics. Triangle waves contain only odd order harmonics, but contain far less higher order harmonics than square waves. Even more useful is getting a hammond organ simulator and mucking with the drawbars. Ignore the first two bars (sub octave and fifth), and you've got 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th harmonics on the rest of the drawbars. Really useful way to explore harmonic relations.

A popular 'scientific' article circulated a while ago claiming that tube amps sound better than transistor amps because tubes produce far more even order harmonics then transistors. This is bullshit, it's entirely dependent on design. Both devices are capable of creating both order harmonics. One of the differences between tubes and transistors, however, is the differing amount of higher order harmonics compared to lower order harmonics produced. The entire odd order vs even order harmonic dichotomy is a bit misleading.
Last edited by mulefish at Jul 1, 2017,