#1
This is a reprint from an article I did for another forum. A lot of guitarists use the word tone and I figured some clarification might be in order. Hope you enjoy reading it.


So much is said about tone on forums like this. What the hell does the word even mean? In the truest definition, a tone is just a sound. To musicians, tone is the quality of timbre.

We often talk of sweet tones, elusive "holy grail" tones, etc.... This got me thinking. Ask 5 guitarists to set up some magical amp that can get any possible tone. Tell them to take as long as they want, use any guitar they want, dial in the perfect guitar tone. I bet you get 5 radically completely different tones.

I remember when I first started playing guitar, I wnated Yngwies smooth and silky tone from the Rising Force album so badly. To me, it was so perfect and sweet. Then, I got into a bit of Randy Rhoads, but never liked his tone so much, too brittle. Ronnie Le Tekro of TNT, he had a monster 80's metal tone.

Then I got into Metallica.... the tones on Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets were so brutal at times, so delicate and layered at times, and various shades in between. For years I modelled my metal tone after them. Until.....

Vai's Passion and Warfare came out. I had been a Vai fan since day 1 as a guitarist. The movie Crossroads was one of my inspirations to start playing. His tone on Eugenes Trickbag was so elusive to me. Clean, but not clean. I spent a lot of time and money chasing that particular tone..... But the tones on Passion and Warfare were just phenomenal too. For the Love of God had that super sweet neck pickup tone, The Audience is Listening featured a really cool stratty clean tone in the intro.

But Blue Powder was the song that for me epitomized what a great lead guitar tone should be. That song to this day hits me on so many levels; intellectually, spiritually, emtionally, that song is a masterpiece. The tone on those firstfew notes, so saturated and thick, but so controlled. Of course later I found out just how easy most tones on that CD are to produce, even with cheap gear.

For so long I was into older Mesa's with their tone. I started boosting the mids on the Boogies to push as much fat signal through the gain stages then using a slightly modified "V" in the graphic to scoop it, but nowhere near as much as Metallica did. I realized early on that the sweet, legendary lead tones, the musical ones with nice audible complex overtones, had a good amount of midrange in them. Not to much or it gets nasally, but enough te fatten the sound and put the guitar a little more out front in the mix.

To this day I abhore mid scooping, even when playing full on metal. But if I were to ask guitarists at random, some might say it is the only way to fly, while others agree with me. And still others would say "dude I just put all my knobs on 10, take a bong hit, and play man.....".

For most of my career, I have used humbucking, active EMG pickups. I used Dimarzio's for a while too. Now, I am strongly leaning towards single coil pickups mounted on plastic attached to an alder body. Why? Two words: Jimi Hendrix. It's hard to believe I made it so long in life playing the instrument and never once thought that his reputation might have been more than the collective bad judgement of a bunch of old stoners. But his tones on his clean lead playing and chording are so unreal.

Two weeks ago, I was introduced to another guitarist that I had never heard of. This guy had been famous since before I was born. I never knew even what style he played. Couldn't name even one of his songs. But the funny part is, I had been a fan of his music for years and never even knew it!!! The Weather Channel plays his stuff a lot, and I used to turn it on and leave it on at home while I worked on whatever project as background noise jsut to hear this guy play, and never knew his name. Who is tis guy? Jeff Beck.

My current musical obsession is Jeff Beck. Wired and Blow By Blow have ht me so hard. Forget the music a second, though it sounds a lot like a better version of some of my prog trios stuff.... forget the music, the tone of his strat is sublime. It is truely an easily identifiable tone, and so musical.

It is funny, I mentioned how for years I was into the EMG active humbuckers thing..... I spent a long time trying to avoid any hint of "quacking" in my tones, clean or dirty. God forbid even a hint of twang come from my guitar!!!! Now, I am spending money and research time, as well as practice time, in order to maximize those very qualities!!!!

I guess what all this is saying is that tone is so subjective. We all hear and appreciate tones in very personal ways. I know guys who just love the fizzyness of Mesa Rectifier amps. I know guys who love the brittle sound of a Fender Twin with an over drive in front of it. Amps like the Carvin Legacy (one of my favorite amps of all time, regardless of price) are a mixed bag, some, like me, love is velvety smoothness, others hear it as low gain (it's not, it has a ton of gain, just focused on lower frequencies than many amps. Full, singing, not fuzzy....ahhh the Legacy.....).

Great tone is in the ear of the beholder. One thing I know from not only my experience but that of many piers and students, if YOU do not appreciate your tone, your playing suffers. For me personally, nothing blows a gig more thn hearing a less than good tone coming from my amp. I end up spending too much effort attempting to overcome whatever the deficiency might be. So, when chasing your tone, it is best to let your own ears do the work. Do not rely on marketing hype, your buddy or some other bands opinion, etc....... I admit I got my first Mesa based soley on hype, but that little Mark IV combo, pushed through a couple Mesa 4x12 steel grill EV/Celestian cabs lived up to and surpassed any expectations I may have had.

My recent experience comparing the tone of my Agile to 2 really nice Carvins and a couple Ibanez guitars really highlighted the above assertion for me. Tonally speaking, my el cheapo Agile strat kills the Carvins and the Ibanez. I wasn't very surprised about the Ibanez guitars, but the Carvins, well, I had exected them to fare better against my little cheap knockoff guitar. But again, subjective, ou might hear them and say the opposite.....
Thanx for reading.........
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#3
i should write this down on a giant sticky note and pull it out everytime someone asks me why i still like my Squier (semi vintage) bullet p-bass

and also why i dont think i'll get another 5 string (ive got an sr505, which retails at 700ish cdn, but i really havnt played one bass yet that suits me more than this one. if i do buy another bass, its going to be because of number of strings, or becuz i need a one trick pony to pull of this one tone or something)


you should write an article about how amps are so much more important soundwise than guitars too. you'd be good at taht