Expanding Your Tone With Your Current Setup

Learn how to expand your tone with your current set-up!

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Today I will be talking about how to expand you tone with your current set-up. Most people look to change their amp settings, pedal settings, or strings to enhance their tone, but the answer (literally) already lies in their hands: The guitar. I am not saying you should buy a new guitar, but rather utilize all the parts of your instrument to create a more dynamic tone. The answer lies in the: 1. Pick-up selector and 2. Tone knobs (See http://www.squidoo.com/what-are-the-parts-of-the-guitar?utm_source=google&utm_medium=imgres&utm_campaign=framebuster) The combination of (1) and (2) with the situation your are in (is it a blues jam? a funk jam? a heavy metal ballad?) allows you to sound like a muted-jazz guitarist all the way to the lead guitarist in an overdistorted punk rock garage band. 1. Pick-up selector This it the little switch on the guitar that lets you select what pick-up will be used to produce the sounds your guitar makes. On the two guitars that I use (Strat and RG), I can select between 5 different settings: 1. Neck pickup 2. Neck/Middle pickup 3. Middle pickup 4. Bridge/MIddle pickup 5. Bridge pickup Most guitars allow for these 5 settings, although some have more or less. Each one generates a unique tone. The majority of guitarists I have seen will typically leave it in one setting throughout a song/jam (usually the bridge). Although this isnt necessarily bad, they lose to access to a range of tones that can help enhance the dynamics and feel of the song. To find out which ones to use, experiment on yoru current setup and see how much of a difference it makes. Some of my favorites include: FOR RHYTHM PARTS - Neck pickup (clean guitar): It helps create a richer, fuller tone. I will mostly use this during fingerpicking and soft, jazzy parts. - Bridge/Middle pickup (clean guitar): This helps gets a Dire Striats/80's Ballad tone. I like this setting for strumming chords because it is not to trebely (like the bridge) and it is not too overpowering/full (neck pickup). - Bridge (overdriven guitar): This helps get a chunky, hard-rock sound. I use this when I want to do alot of palm-muting and pinch-harmonics. FOR LEAD PARTS - Neck pickup (clean guitar): This helps create a rich, souldful blues tone. In addition to sounding really good, it gives (on my guitars) a slight volume boost. - Neck pickup (distorted guitar): I use this for the majority of my lead parts. The go-to for most guitarists is the bridge, but in most cases it comes of as feedbacky and trebely. Using the neck for disotrted leads allows you to play screaming leads without having to worry about the audiences ears. Although these are a few of my favorites, I will usually end up using each one by the end of a night. Experiement to find out which ones you like best as each set-up is different. 1. Tone Knobs In addition to the pickup selector, the tone knobs help fine-tune the tone. The tone knobs allow you to have a muted-jazz to trebely metal guitar tone, regardless of what pickup selector you use. Guitars typically have 1+ tone knobs, with each one affecting a certain set of pickups. For example: - My Ibanez RG has one tone knob that controls each pickup selector position. - My Fender Strat has two tone knobs that either controls the (1) Neck, Neck/Middle, Middle postions or the (2) Bridge, Bridge/Middle, Middle positions. The tone knobs range from 0-10, with each number influencing the pickup selectors differently. For ex: - A 3 on the bridge pickup may be equal to an 6 on the neck pickup. WIth the combination of the pickup selector and tone knobs, you have access to a range of tones that can be used in a variety of situations. Combining the pickup selector, the tone knobs, and the situation, here are a few of my favorites: - Neck pickup (clean guitar; Tone Knob: 0; Situation: quite jazz jam - Neck pickup (clean guitar); Tone Knob: 7-8; Situation: dirty blues - Bridge/Middle pickup (clean guitar); Tone Knob: 8-9; Situation: dire Striats-esque clean solo - Bridge/Middle pickup (distorted guitar); Tone Knob: 5; Situation: funky rhythm/lead - Bridge pickup (clean guitar); Tone Knob: 4-5; Situation: Post-rock lead - Bridge pickup (overdriven guitar); Tone Knob: 6-7; Situation: heavy rhythm guitar I add the situation because that is as important as your tone. Morphing your tone into a muted jazz guitar during a low breakdown can have a much greater impact than making it bright and full. Nothing is worse than expecting a rich, full blues tone and hearing a trebely mess. The key to understanding the situation is to listen and determine which tones create the largest impact on the feel and dynamics of the song. This can be done by: 1. Experimenting! 2. Listening to music! See how other musicians blend their tones to create different impacts. These are just a few that I know off the top of my head, and I am constatly changing and experimenting to find out which tones work best where. HOMEWORK! The best way to learn is to try it yourself. Sit down with your full setup, and: 1. Select a clean tone. Play a little bit (both lead then on rhythm) on each pickup selector while adjusting your tone knobs from 0-10. Try and find 2-3 good ones that you really like, and incorporate them into your jamming/playing. 2. Select a overdriven/distorted tone. Play a little bit (both lead and rhythm) on each pickup selector while adjusting your tone knobs. Try and find 2-3 good ones that you really like, and incorporate them into your jamming/playing. If you find some good ones, share them here! Check out www.facebook.com/Brandon.Sollins.Music for more lessons!

7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    5150jazz
    Great job sharing tone techniques! Your method of changing between pickups and use of tone knobs is almost identical to how I play, but I think it would be helpful for alot of people to also talk about two pickup guitars, either HH or SH setups. With my HH guitars, the neck pickup tends to be noticeably louder than my bridge, with a huge boost in bass response, so sometimes it's necessary to turn down either the amp (for volume) or the guitar (for attack). Since my main guitar is a Carvin 727 with only one dedicated volume knob and I've seen quite a few guitars with similar setups, do you have any tips for balancing the difference between the two pickups in real time while switching between them? All I've been able to do is split my neck coil, but that's not a common option for most people...
    The2abraxis
    Good question! I do not have too much experience with 2 pick-up guitars (although I played an SG and it had 2, but it also had 2 volume knobs which made it easy). But like I mentioned every guitar and set-up is different, so it takes experimenting and practice to find out the tones and sounds that you like for yourself. One tone knob and pick-up selector setting can sound really good in one guitar, but bad in another. My 3 pick-up guitars also have different volumes between each pick-up setting, so I find that I mess around with my volume knobs and volume pedal as well. This way I can have a lighter tone /w lower volume (switch volume with the volulme knobs) or the same tone /w lower volume (switch volume with the volume oedal, no loss on attack).
    Brainpolice2
    This was a pretty good article. It's definitely useful to experiment with tone knob and pickup selection settings. Having a coil-splitting 5-way selector HSH style guitar myself, I like messing with the options as well. I actually have gravitated toward liking Neck + Middle for leads, for that combination of single-coil attack and neck richness. There are some aspects of this question that couldn't be touched on in the article though, or instances in which some of what's said can be rather specific to certain kinds of guitars (like another poster mentioned, what about HH style guitars?). There's also the question of how your guitar settings interact with an amp and its settings. It can be hard to abstract a general rule about guitar settings without regard for everything else. You could have bright guitar settings going into a dark amp or round, rolled off guitar settings going into a bright amp.
    geetaraddict
    5150jazz wrote: Great job sharing tone techniques! Your method of changing between pickups and use of tone knobs is almost identical to how I play, but I think it would be helpful for alot of people to also talk about two pickup guitars, either HH or SH setups. With my HH guitars, the neck pickup tends to be noticeably louder than my bridge, with a huge boost in bass response, so sometimes it's necessary to turn down either the amp (for volume) or the guitar (for attack). Since my main guitar is a Carvin 727 with only one dedicated volume knob and I've seen quite a few guitars with similar setups, do you have any tips for balancing the difference between the two pickups in real time while switching between them? All I've been able to do is split my neck coil, but that's not a common option for most people...
    try adjusting the height of your neck position pick-up. it sounds like it might be a bit high, play around with the screws til the volume is the same. shouldnt mess with your tone too much either