Get the Guitar Tone of Your Dreams

10 special ways to achieve the tone you have always wanted. Forge your own guitar tone with these 10 steps.

Ultimate Guitar
10 ways to get your gear sounding great to achieve the guitar tone you've always dreamed about. Enjoy!

Tip #1: Experiment with pickup heights

Learn how to lower and raise your pickup heights, pickup heights can make a big difference on volume but can also dramatically change your tone and make your sound "yours" eg. lowering your pickups will decrease your volume, but it's the pick attack that makes the difference, pick gently and lightly, and you'll get a clean yet warm tone, pick deep and hard for increased drive and output. Note: Adjust pickup heights small steps at a time, too much or too little can seriously kill your tone.

Tip #2: Pick your pick

Different picks have different sounds, find one that suits your sound and playing, and you can use the pick to shape your guitar tone. Different sizes, shapes, gauges, and materials all affect the sound. General rule: Thinner, lighter picks give a softer and cleaner sound, harder and heavier picks give a heavier sound and more aggressive attack, because the pick transfers all of the energy into the strings rather than into itself to bend.

Tip #3: Use your volume controls

Most electric guitarists turn the volume control knob all the way to 10 while playing, and maybe roll it back on clean. Some only push it to 10 when soloing-for the extra "boost." Using your volume control the correct way can get your guitar and amp to work together as one. The most common technique is to set your amp to the best lead sound you can get, roll your guitar's volume up to 10 for a crunch then roll it back down for smooth, clean sounds.

Tip #4: Experiment with different preamp tubes

Tubes don't just make your guitar louder, they make it louder with style. If you have already settled on one type of tube or don't want to change stock tubes, experiment with different makes of that tube.

Tip #5: Change the stock speakers

Learn about different speaker types and the characteristics. A change of a speaker can change your tone dramatically, learn about the different sounds you can get from different speakers.

Tip #6: Experiment with strings

Lots of players don't bother with trying out different strings, and prefer to stick to the "Ernie Ball" or "D'Addario" set that came on the stock guitar. Try different gauges, depending on your pick attack and aggression in your playing. Heavier strings are also suitable for lower tunings. Different strings also feel different to you and your string choice needs to be based on both feel and sound.

Tip #7: Pedals

An effect pedal's job is to alter the sound of your guitar before it reaches your amp, and in some cases, after it reaches your amp. You need to have your effects in the right order before you can even start to experiment with them, here's a basic guide to the order of effects:

Filters and EQs:
  • Wah
  • Graphic EQ
  • Octave/Pitch Shift
  • Treble Boosters
  • Clean Boosters
  • Overdrive
  • Distortion
  • Fuzz
  • Chorus
  • Phasers
  • Flangers
  • Delay
  • Reverb
You also need to know how to handle your effects and use them to your advantage. A few effects can be used to add colour and shape to your tone and give it a bit of your own taste.

Tip #8: Acoustic Woods

Learn about the different shapes and woods used in acoustic guitars and how they affect your tone, this is important because an acoustic guitar is often played... acoustically! So you can't drown it in effects to alter the tone.

Tip #9: Speaker Cabinets

A speaker can't function nearly as well without his house - the cabinet. The "Wooden box with a cloth window" contributes to your tone as much as the speaker itself, learn about the different sizes and woods and how they affect your tone, and learn about the famous question: "Open-back or closed-band?"

Tip #10: The Effects Loop

Some pedals function better in your effects loop, Modulation and Delay effects. Some effects have to be in the effects loop in order to function (Loop, Talkbox). Experiment with different pedals in the effects loop and in front of your amp for different sound. Note: Don't put and Boost/Overdrive effects in the loop or you could damage your equipment.


Thanks for reading, use these simple, yet effective tips wisely, and don't forget-experiment. Happy tone-chasing!

34 comments sorted by best / new / date

    How can a boost in the loop damage my equipment? Honest question.
    It hardly can. A simple example of such a setup would be an amp with a master volume preamp. The signal that goes of there is of line level (so the same as running the booster after some line level effect) and stomping on the boost is the same as turning the amp's master volume up (with a bit of additional colouring, of course). It might pose a problem if the preamp is already on Volume 10, then the power amp would work on the very edge; that would get absurdly loud even on moderately sized amps (most probably driving the output tubes into pretty heavy distortion), but I still wouldn't expect anything to break easily in this case. If you have a loop with variable send and return levels, then it gets even safer, as you might tune the return attenuation to act as unity when the amp is turned to 10 volume and the boost is engaged, thus guaranteeing you never run over what it normally would, but still keeping the ability to boost the signal. As a sidenote, this creates an interesting opportunity of using the boost pedal not as a volume boost per se, but more as a tone changing option. In this case, set it up like I mentioned above, and instead of stomping on the boost, stomp on the fx loop switch . The volume should stay the same, but you can now add the boost coloring at will. Feel free to downvote and correct me if I'm mistaken.
    If it's a boost designed for guitar use, it most likely won't. Anyway, quite disappointed by this guide. I guarantee that something far more useful to 90+% of guitarists would be learning how to actually get the sound they want from the amp by understanding basic concepts of sound. 1) Don't EQ the amp from a standing position... get down low and get your ears in line with the speaker(s). If you're using a multi-speaker cab, mic up the same speaker you're listening to... this applies to both studio and live settings. 2) Understand that most of a guitar's tone lies in the midrange of the audible frequency range for humans... this means that scooping your mids takes out the majority of the tonal information and you'll need the guitars even louder to cut through a full band mix. If anything, ditch low end and excessive high end, because they are less important to a guitar's sound, and low end in particular can muddy up a live sound (we often high pass filter guitar tracks at 120HZ or higher, in the sound engineering trade). 3) Especially when you're new to guitar, don't use excessive gain to make up for sloppy playing. If you can't nail a technique with a gain level that suits the sound you're after, you can't nail the technique. As a general rule, until you're accustomed to getting a good tone you will probably benefit from setting the gain how you like and then rolling it back a notch or so. It will aid definition, particularly with metal, and will also improve the cohesion with the rest of the mix.
    Honestly, the first tip I'd make to most people... Turn down your gain if you're trying to get a "heavy" tone and you're a beginner. SO MANY people add way more than they need and it makes your tone sound like a buzzsaw. Unless you want to sound like Dimebag, in which case, carry on. If what you're playing really is heavy and it's loud enough, it'll come through.
    this list is missing one very important piece of equipment which has the biggest impact on your tone
    Or get an Axe Fx
    Axe FX is, as far as I can see, a good low-budget, low maintenance way of doing club gigs in the back of a van. There is no other real excuse for using one.
    Low maintenance is a great excuse. You don't have to worry about the fragile parts, you can save all your presets to memory, you can plug directly into the board and have fuller control of all the sounds. And at this point the emmulators or AxeFX (or Kemper) when done right can be near indistinguishable from a lot of tube amps.
    It is incredible to me that in the space of about 5 years, amp modelling has gone from sounding worse than a starter pack amp to become quite viable in modern music production. The Axe-FX and Kemper are marvels of audio technology and even some high end Line 6 stuff sounds fairly good.
    Metallica have recently gone full - Axe FX. You are not going to say that the whole of one of the most famous bands ever have all made a mistake at the same time, are you?
    Get the guitar tone of your dreams... You will never, especially since these "tips" are pretty much common knowledge.
    Some boost pedals work very well through the fx loop. I wouldn't throw a overdrive or distortion pedal in it tho. I use a boost pedal in my fx loop of my 5150 for solos.
    Funny how you presume that everyone is using Tubes.
    Well I think most guitarists that are looking for great tone are using tubes. When I was younger I only had solid states and no matter how much I spent on a solid state amp I always knew that I could never get the tone I really wanted.
    Dimebag is the only person to ever get good tone from a solid state.
    Let's be honest here, Dimebag may have been an amazing player but he objectively had one of the worst tones.
    JD Close
    Pantera records sound like they were recorded underwater. Not in a good way.
    Always, ALWAYS, use a curly cable
    Are you kidding me? Curly cables are absolute shit. If your not an incompetent knob who wraps his guitar cable around his arm to loop it and actually know how to properly put a guitar cable into a loop for storage your cables will last for a decade at the least. I've seen people with curly cables who are consistently tripping over themselves (or tripping others) because their stupid curly cables stretch out instead of staying flat to the ground like a cable should.
    Nice tips. Here is something to try. For example you have your favorite setup of amp settings and pedal settings and your guitar on hand, you like the sound. Its nice thing to try to move all the sliders to zero, and start shaping your sound again. I found that I was using some settings of my amp and pedal, now I changed them a bit like toned the distortion a bit, increased the middle and high, and still its very nice sound.
    I would say that boosting mids and cutting some gain can help a lot.(usually) Also, even though I think tubes are generally better, there are "some" solid states that kick butt.