Electric Guitar Tone Guide

Getting great tone will always be an important part of any musician’s musical experience.  If you’re an electric guitarist, you’re probably looking for ways to improve, create and maintain consistently great guitar tone. I know I am.

I have found through trial and error and/or by advice that these will help improve my guitar’s tone.

I hope it gives you some ideas.  I’ll hopefully be adding more when I get the chance. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to suggest.

Here’s my current list of ideas for solidbody electric guitar tone that I try to follow.

“Fingers”

The fingers and the person are really the most important thing – check out 11 ideas for improving musicality

  • A great player will know how to make “cheap” gear sound great
  • If you don’t think you’re sounding good, don’t be mad at yourself, just try and take a step back and figure out why and what you can to produce “sweeter sound.” Also, consider practicing positive self-talk.

Take of yourself so you can play well for many years

Remember YOU create the good tone

  • Good gear (pedals, guitar, cables, picks) helps
  • Focus on playing well and sending out good vibes
  • Try to get the gear to be “transparent”, so you’re playing the music as opposed to doing workarounds to get gear to “play right”

I try to remember to send out good vibes and feel good vibes when I’m playing

Gear

Cables

  • Make sure they work
  • Bring backup cables
  • Better quality cables do make a difference, but usually not the biggest factor
  • Shorter cables usually are better because there’s less room for signal decay

Amp

  • Amp in good shape
  • I try to get my amps serviced once a year.

Power Strip

Amp

Make sure the amp is working well

  • No buzzing before anything plugged in
  • I usually get an amp check up once a year.  Unfortunately, I don’t know how to do this myself.

Tubes

  • I recommend tube amps for most uses. I think they sound warmer and fuller.
  • Let the tubes warm up for 10+ minutes before playing

EQ

  • All knobs set to approximate locations
  • Amp EQ isn’t too exaggerated but set to improve tone.  I use pedals to hone in the EQ.
  • I usually keep everything around 12 o’clock, then boost the presence. It really depends on what you’re going for.

Guitar

Well-tuned

  • Using a tuner, in many cases, will help because it’s hard to tune quick enough by ear between songs.

Strings

  • In good shape for intonation and tone
    • Quick lock tuners definitely help me to change strings quicker, which means I’m more likely to change the strings
  • Preferably thicker gauge for thicker sound – I usually use 12s and try to use 13s for jazz or really anything if possible, but I haven’t found the right set of 13s for “rock” stuff.  I’m looking for a set with heavy E, B and G string but relatively light D, A, E strings.

Clean

  • I usually clean the neck with orange, cinnamon and clove essential oils.
  • I wipe down the guitar when I get the chance
  • It’s good to wipe the strings after playing, though I usually forget

Guitar Intonation

  • It would be advisable to do intonation before every gig, but I usually just check general intonation once in a while
  • Probably would help to have a good quality case to prevent the neck from getting warped
  • Make sure the neck is intonated correctly
  • I use a strobe tuner to get good accuracy when intonating

Electrical Stuff

  • Usually, I’ll resolder the connections to the 1/4″ cable jack once I start hearing crackling.
  • 1/4″ connector well fastened to its nut and bolt harness
  • Pots cleaned or rotated to remove crackle
  • I also used copper tape to cover the interior of pickup cavity of the guitar. It seems like it reduces the buzz/hum

Picks

  • Enough backup picks, so I’m never without a pick
  • Picks have a clean edge (sometimes my picks get scratchy from playing) – if they don’t then I’ll get another pick, or file down the edge with sandpaper

Pickups

  • I think good quality pickups help
  • This is a personal preference, but I prefer humbucker or double coil
  • Make sure the pickups are shielded correctly (I need to do this) to minimize buzz. You can get copper tape to shield your pickups.
  • Make sure the pickup treble and bass sides of each pickup sit at the proper height. This will help balance between highs and lows.
  • Possibly adjust the individual magnets?

Case

  • Make sure your guitar is well-protected when in transport. This will help produce a more consistent tone day-to-day

Pedals

I’m not a pedal expert, but I generally go by ear and other’s reviews/opinions

  • Finding the best overdrive – I usually use some of the overdrive from the HotRod Deluxe and then use another overdrive pedal. I just ordered the Tube Works Blues Pedal!
  • I use the Xotic EP Boost pedal, which gives a warmer mid-range
  • Good reverb and delay will help the tone, as well as compression.
  • I am actually between compression pedals because my Electro-Harmonix Black Finger developed serious hum, and the cable keeps falling out when I play. I’m planning to fix it (it sounds great otherwise), but may get a Wampler compression pedal, the Xotic mini or a TC Electronics pedal.
  • Sometimes getting an EQ pedal will help. I’ve used the MXR 10-band (they have a new silver version that looks cool, too).  It sounds good, but you do need to dial in the right sound.  I’m going for the classic tube sound, so sometimes this pedal may be at odds with that. Once I get the Tube Works pedal, I may reintroduce.
  • A filter that cuts out the hum/buzz between songs and during quiet passages.  I use the TC Electronic Sentry Noise Gate.
  • A good tuner.  I use a strobe tuner .  A lot people like the TC Electronics tuners, too.

My Favorites

  • Very important pedals for me (assuming amp has no “effects”): overdrive, tuner, reverb
  • Important pedals for me: delay, wah, eq, tone boost pedals
  • Also important: boost, compression, chorus, phaser, fuzz, distortion, octave,

Pedal Order

  • Set up the pedals in a good order

Tone

  • Use good quality connector cables
  • Find and consider replacing pedals with buzz
  • I like to make sure the pedals have a very clean “clean” or “dry” signal – the whole true bypass thing
  • Consider getting a brick or something that “cleans” the power.

Pedal Buying Strategies

  • Depending on the budget, it’s probably more important to have a few good pedals than lots of sort of good pedals
    • Consider buying some pedals used
    • Also, consider DIY

Pedalboard

  • Get or make a good quality pedalboard
  • Make sure pedals are well protected when transporting – I put bubble wrap around my pedals, though I should probably just get a better case
  • You can put the pedals back in their individual cases or have some good shock absorption material

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