As guitarists, we are certainly obsessed with our tone these days. It seems like you can’t get into any discussion or other dialog about the instrument without getting heavily into the “tone” issue. The tone you produce comes from so many places that there really is no one place we should overly obsess about.
The first thing to realize is that the main source of your tone is what simply comes from your very own fingers! How that translates through the strings, the fretboard, the guitar, and finally the amp is what really makes up the whole “tonal” spectrum for you, and what eventually and truly becomes “your sound.” Obviously, what I look for most is simply how truly all of those elements translate by the time it reaches the amp, and your ears. What you hear should be what you are feeling and most of all what you are wanting to hear! All the links in the chain can have an effect on your eventual sound, and no aspect should be overlooked. Everything, right down to even the pick you use can have a changing effect on your sound, and before getting into effects and other “stomp boxes” you first must make sure you are happy with the actual sound you are making. The natural approach at first is best, meaning what you sound like basically with your guitar plugged into the amp with just a cord between you. This will tell you what your pickups are doing for or against you, and will help you determine just how “real” what you’re getting truly is.
Many different types of pickups, in various configurations, are available to the guitarist these days, and whether you are playing humbuckers or single-coil pickups will have an immediate effect upon your sound right off the bat. It’s almost as if these two kinds of pickups also represent two “points of view” when it comes to your overall tone. In the end, it’s your call, but you should definitely try both to see just how they ‘speak” for you. Then there are other choices such as whether you’re playing a maple fingerboard, or a rosewood or ebony board. These also have an altering effect on your sound, as they are different woods, with varying densities. One can even tell the difference if you play acoustically at first, and feel the vibrations that particular finger board is giving you back through your fingers.
The guitar body itself, the density, the kind of wood, etc. all play into the sound as well. I tend to like lighter weight guitars that have a good resonance that you can actually “feel”, whether you are plugged in or not. I have actually even bought some electric guitars just by checking them out acoustically, even before playing them amplified!
So, never forget that the tone you want really starts with you and your fingers, and everything after that should do the job of reproducing how you want it to sound. If you’re not quite sure of what that sound is yet, feel free to experiment and to see what works best for you…only after that, can you even begin to start to add other sound-altering devices, such as effects pedals, and the like.
So have fun on your tonal “quests”, because the search is really half the fun! After that, it’s all in the fingers, and all totally rewarding!