Famous Guitarists Answer: Where Does the Tone Come From

Origins of toan finally explained. Featuring Michael Angelo Batio, Jeff Loomis, and more.

logo
Ultimate Guitar
Famous Guitarists Answer: Where Does the Tone Come From
6

After asking a variety of notable guitar dudes at this year's NAMM on how to play guitar (in 3 words or less), Tyler Larson from Music Is Win now asked a bunch of famous guitar dudes on where the toan comes from.

You can check out what the dudes had to say below, make sure to watch the embedded clip for the whole thing.

Where does toan come from?

Michael Angelo Batio: "It doesn't come from being ambidextrous. Toan comes from your hands."

Jeff Loomis: "Toan just comes from your hands. If I was to go on Eddie Van Halen's gear, I would not sound like him."

Dave Nassie (Bleeding Through): "Toan's coming out of the hands of the player."

Adrian Emsley (head designer of Orange amps): "Well-designed gear and a good sounding guitar; really, that's probably about 30% of it. The 70% comes from the fingers and the player really."

Joey Allen (Warrant): "80% of it comes right from here [shows fingers]."

Jinxx (Black Veil Brides): "Toan comes from not only the pickups... The pickups definitely, and the wood is used in the guitars, and the player."

Rachel Bolan (Skid Row): "Toan, to me toan comes from wood. Wood, and wire. Some wood, this much wood [shows not a whole much wood with fingers], this much wire [shows the same amount with fingers], and the rest is all soul."

YouTube preview picture

81 comments sorted by best / new / date

    GhostHost13
    For me, it all comes from my Line 6 spider (with no mids) and my Metal Zone pedal.
    eatfresh1736
    True. You gotta find the biggest spoon you can, and scoop the hell outta those mids. Make sure you use the "Insane" amp model, so your fan knows that you are the most metal guy ever.
    rubixnoobix2
    thas what I`m talkin about I`m goin to get a onboard pre amp mid booster soon Man this spell checker on here is annoying!
    zephiro989
    Like I get the joke and all and it's kinda funny and all. But whats the deal with all the hate on line 6... You would think being a place where musicians congregate that they would be intelligent enough to use the correct pickups/equipment with the line 6 to obtain the best sound. They sound fairly decent if you do so. That said, this is by no means a plug or a recommendation for line 6. There are much, much better options out there that won't pigeon hold you into using specific equipment all the time.
    sol_afro_within
    I don't think the line 6 hate is justified but the spider series is horrible for sure, their modeling (amp, not cab) and pedal line is pretty solid.
    Hiddenelegy
    agreed, i happen to find a lot of use for my HD500x and JTV-89, and it definitely doesnt sound like shit. My spider however.... sounds worse than shit on a good day
    cheesefries
    srs. for the price of a new mark v head you could just buy 25 or so Spider IV 15 combos. So much tones. Stage filling tones. 25 times tones in fact. Much impressive tones.
    franciscanv
    "All tone comes from me." - Dave Mustaine
    jarneapril
    you mean Metallica still uses his tone? If that's the cas it can't be long untill UG writes an article about this shocking news... :p
    Tfritz754
    Tone comes from the players fingers.. but please buy my artist signature gear to sound like me!
    IvyRock
    Tones comes from the hand. Warning...It does not apply to masturbating.
    Zan595
    "Toan just comes from your hands" I get the sentiment behind this, but I wish people would stop saying this already. Clearly if your playing is sloppy, or if you aren't utilizing dynamics with your hands correctly, you won't sound as good. But if you're trying to tell me you sound just as good playing an $80 Sears guitar through a practice amp with a blown out speaker because "tone is the fingers", you're full of shit. Just give people what they want and talk about the gear you like, you're at NAMM for fucks sake lmao
    selkayann
    I think it's not about sounding exactly the same on different gear, but rather about being unable to sound like someone else, and that's not only because of the fingers themselves. Every guitarist has his habits of playing that shape his basic tone, and that basic tone cannot be replicated by just using the same gear.
    Zan595
    True, but I wouldn't really consider that "tone" as much as I would consider it dynamics. Playing style and hand position certainly affect your sound, but they aren't necessarily part of the tone. If the term "tone" was just defined as "How a guitar player uses dynamics to sound unique", the word would be used completely differently.
    travislausch
    Well, there is that video of Satch playing a cheap sub-$100 (probably plywood) Strat copy, through what's probably a practice amp and a cheap multi-effect, and still sounding decent. But tone comes from so many fucking places that you'll never be able to completely properly quantize it.
    Parthan
    Here's the video for proof. Despite using a shitty guitar through a meh pedal and an ick amp and recorded with a crap camera, Satch still sounds like Satch. Moral of the story: toan is in your fingers and ears. Great guitarists can get great sounds even out of crappy equipment
    Dynamight
    Tone does NOT come from the fingers and it's becoming irritating to read that bullshit. If it did, then pickups, pedals and amps would be completely irrelevant, and yet each of the above guitarists uses a meticulously selected variety of those. If you play an open string and just let it ring without doing anything else, the sound that is produced is the tone. It makes exactly 0% difference whose fingers are responsible for hitting that string—on the same rig it will sound the same. The notes are what defines the tone, the transition between them is not.
    Carl6661
    Hit the nail on the head there. People are forever harping on about how a particular sound is 'all in the fingers', and it just isn't. People get mixed up with someones tone and their style of playing. Maybe it doesn't help when we use a very vaguely defined word like "tone" - some people (by the sounds of it, you and me) take that to mean nothing but the signal chain, it's that guitar with these pickups through this series of pedals into that amplifier and cabinet, etc. That's something that's pretty easy to replicate, and it's possible to achieve a very similar sound to whoever you're inspired by. Others take "tone" to mean a players style and what makes them unique or innovative, which is further confused because sometimes it's a weird mix of how they physically play the instrument and particular equipment they use. Stuff like note choices, chord structures, phrasing, techniques they use most often, and any kind of inflections in their playing are entirely down to the player, which is a very individual thing and much harder to mimic.
    Dynamight
    I don't think the term is very vaguely defined. It does however have more than one definition depending on context, and that's what people seem to have trouble with: adapting language to context. In music terminology "tone" has a strict definition, but I'm thinking that because famous guitarists are generally not the most educated fellows, they might conflate it with the "don't speak to me on that tone" sense even in musical context—it would then make sense to think of the term as synonymous to "play style".
    mulefish
    I don't know about you but I can produce a variety of different tones from the way I pluck an open string... Not saying gear is irrelevant, but nor is ones touch/picking style etc, which brings in that extra little bit that helps one differentiate certain guitarists even on the same rig. It's not just a phrasing/playing difference [although that is a big part of it], it's also a slight tonal difference
    Dynamight
    I don't know about you but I can produce a variety of different tones from the way I pluck an open string...
    No, you can't. And the fact that you think so means you don't understand what "tone" means. Besides, the way you pluck the string can be imitated by just about anyone, so it doesn't make you special.
    scoobybass
    Maybe I am old but WTF is with Toan? Is spelling it wrong cool or does it mean sometime besides tone?
    travislausch
    Tone comes from EVERYTHING around or involving a guitar player. Yes, it comes from the fingers, and the truth is, you'll sound like your own playing style no matter what you play on. But the subtleties of tone are much, much more dynamic than that. Tone comes from the environment you're playing in. Your guitar tone can be VASTLY different depending on the kind of room you're playing in. Tone can come from your entire signal chain. In a recording situation, your interface, microphone, cable, and DAW choices can have an impact on your guitar tone. People do this whole "tone comes from your _____" thing almost as if every guitarist literally has only one tone that's completely uniform whether they're in an echo-y bathroom or playing Wembley.
    Eifler121
    It doesn't drive anyone else crazy they spell the subject of the article wrong, the ENTIRE article.
    janick6
    I was a little disappointed, i usually define tone as the natural sound of the equipment, and style as the way you play it/pick/etc. It's important, but if we're talking about getting a tone with a lot of mids for example, you'd say something about cranking up the mid knob on your amp, or using a certain guitar, etc
    leatherbarrel
    jfc, does no one edit these articles? I could see one "toan" slipping through the cracks, but 8 times in this short of a piece?
    Zan595
    Honestly after finishing the article I kinda prefer it being spelled "toan" now.
    Kreuger
    You guys are idiots. "Toan"? Grow tf up.
    OneEyed
    I agree. Anyone who intentionally misspells words to "look cool"...I immediately discredit anything they have to say.
    rubixnoobix2
    Hey u can allways play the Blues on crappy guitar and sound good though Blind Melon Chitlins
    rodrigo.mij1990
    I'm studying English teaching and in phonology we have to defined what is a tone in human speech...and I'm not able to memorise it yet
    selkayann
    You're studying English teaching, yet you write "have to defined", "a tone" and "memorise"... I find it funny : )
    plbrynt
    Tone, it comes from the knob on your guitar, it's labelled 'Tone' I turn this all the way up for maximum tone..
    terranraptor
    what you do with the tone comes from the fingers but the tone itself comes from the equipment! Very expensive equipment that is. You don't see many famous guitarists play instruments that cost less than 500$ (now i am sure someone will point out a couple of names but it doesn't matter since there are always exceptions). And contrary to popular believe you CAN sound exactly like the rock stars if you use their equipment! I don't mean the instruments that have their name on them or the type of instruments they use. I mean if AC/DC stage is all set up and all the sound check is made, any of us could pick Angus Young's guitar and pluck a chord and sound exactly like him. The problem? Well as soon as you realize it's not him, you'd start denying that it's as good as he would've done because he is the legend. I'd sum up by saying overall tone is 70% equipment and 30% the player (and i am being generous towards the player here).
    rubixnoobix2
    Yeah, can u pinch harmonics Like Mick Mars ans Billy Gibbons? on crappy guitar?I get that a good player can still sound good on a crappy guitar/amp but not that good.. and my Line 6 sounds great for most things maybe not as much wit a strat !!!
    andrew.soli
    oh shit... you messed it up multiple times... unless toan is something new i've never of
    Kueller917
    Has there ever actually been a case where some big guitarist used another big guitarist's gear and still brought their tone through? It's an often mentioned example but I've never seen it, and could make for an interesting video or something.
    Vampire_State
    Well, technically speaking, anyone with a Les Paul or Jackson Rhoads. That said, i've seen quite a few Zakk Wylde Les Pauls and Alexi Laiho ESP's out there.
    AvoidingBee7
    I wanna shake that last guy n say " just spit it out already! One sentence is all I'm askin!"
    Jhbrady98
    If these guitarists had said good "toan" had come from so and so pick up, or whatever amp instead of from the fingers; then everybody would be commenting to complain about how having good gear wont make you a good guitarist.