We've got 25 great ways to help you make your gear sound great and perform at its best, plenty of which are simple “trade secrets” of the pros that you probably haven’t encountered before. Enjoy!
Tone Tip #1: Clean It Up
Most traditional tube amps have two inputs, one for high gain and the other for low gain, but very few players ever use input 2. Plenty of tone-conscious pros know, however, that plugging into that low-gain input can help clean up fat humbuckers, and in many cases will sweeten your tone.
Tone Tip #2: Pickup Heights
Learn how to tweak your pickup height to optimize your guitar’s response. This makes a lot more of a difference than you might think, and in some unexpected ways!
Tone Tip #3: Pick A Winner
The skinny on the tone of the humble pick. There’s a surprising amount of variation in the sounds that differently shaped and constructed picks produce, and you can use this knowledge to shape your guitar’s voice.
Tone Tip #4: It All Starts With The Wood
However superlative your pickups, you’ll never get the tone you’re looking for if the wood is working against you. Dive in here for a rundown on the characteristics of different tonewoods used in electric guitar manufacturing.
Tone Tip #5: Use Your Volume Control!
Obvious? Apparently not … Plenty of guitarists never touch the volume controls on their guitars while playing, but experienced tonehounds know that judicious knob manipulation is one of the secrets to making your guitar and amp work as one. Dig it.
Tone Tip #6: Match the Amp to the Gig
Maybe the stadium rockers look pretty cool with three 100-watt full stacks up on stage, but you’ll never achieve a satisfactory sound by over-matching the amp for your own gig. Learn to get it right, and discover what glorious tone is all about.
Tone Tip #7: Set It Up
Get your guitar set up, and set up right, and you’ll not only sound better, you’ll play better too. Things you can do yourself, and others that it pays to turn over to a pro.
Tone Tip #8: Preamp Tube Tasting
You can go a long way toward fine-tuning your tone just by swapping a single preamp tube in your amplifier. Explore this tip thoroughly to discover how much this knowledge can help shape your voice.
Tone Tip #9: Wobble 101: Get That Bigsby Working!
The Bigsby vibrato is one of the coolest pieces of hardware on the planet, but it definitely requires some tuning and maintenance know-how to keep one working right. Learn the secrets, and groove that retro vibe action.
Tone Tip #10: Speaker Swapping
Learn about the characteristics and performance specs of different replacement speakers, and discover one of the simplest tone tweaks available to the mod-hungry guitarist.
Tone Tip #11: True Bypass Pedals and the Buffer Zone
“True bypass” is the big buzz word in the effects world these days, but it might not be the best option in every scenario. Learn where this format can maximize your tone, and where another approach might be a better way to go.
Tone Tip #12: Keep Your Tubes Happy
Clued-in guitarists know that those glowing glass bottles are still the way to go for juicy rich tone, but you need to know a trick or two to help them perform their best, and to keep them healthy and working for you.
Tone Tip #13: Pickup Selection
There’s a booming market in replacement pickups these days, but you need to know a thing or two about how different strengths of pickup interact with your guitar and your amp if you’re ever going to find the right model for your sound.
Tone Tip #14: Output Tubes
Those big output tubes are pretty much all the same, right? Wrong! Each type and make of tube has its own tonal character, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each can get you down the road toward your dream tone a lot quicker.
Tone Tip #15: Frets
When was the last time you spared a thought for your humble frets? A long time ago, if ever, I’m willing to bet. Different types of frets do feel and even sound different, however, so a little knowledge in this department can go a long way.
Tone Tip #16: Strings
It all starts with the strings, and strings of different designs, compositions, and gauges can have remarkably different characteristics. You need to know this one before you can even begin to hone your tone.
Tone Tip #17: Speaker Cabinets
You thought the speaker created all the sonic splendor? Think again, Batman — this unsung wooden box contributes a surprising amount to the final sound of your guitar and amp, and different kinds of speaker cabs have remarkably different tonal signatures.
Tone Tip #18: Effects Pedals, Pt1
The first of a two-parter; this one helps you get your pedals in the right order for you, and examines some of the differences a little mixing and matching can make.
Tone Tip #19: Effects Pedals, Pt2
More on maximizing your effects usage, with a look at what goes where regarding amplifiers’ effects loops.
Tone Tip #20: Guitar Cords
No, not Gm7—that’s chords with an “h”—but the long thin things you use to plug your guitar into your amp. Simple, they work or they don’t work, right? Not so fast … a quality cord (lead, cable) can greatly improve your tone, while a poor one can make you sound dull and lifeless. Read on …
Tone Tip #21: Tube Amp Maintenance
Don’t sell that great old tube amp when its tone starts to slip — get it tuned up, and chances are it will sound better than ever. Check out this Tip for some things you can do yourself, and others you can advise a qualified professional to undertake for you.
Tone Tip #22: Wood Resonance-The Secret to Superlative Tone
Learn to hear the sound in the wood, and you’ll fast track yourself to landing the right electric guitar, and achieving the tone of your dreams.
Tone Tip #23: Acoustic Tonewoods
A guide to the sounds of the most popular tonewoods used in acoustic guitar manufacturing, and how to choose the right wood for your music.
Tone Tip #24: Let It Breathe-Guitar Finishes
Guitar finishes — they look pretty, and when they wear out you get them refinished. End of story? Not so fast … the appearance of any guitar’s finish is just the beginning, and the type and method of application can actually affect how your guitar sounds.
Tone Tip #25: Speaker Cables-Use ’Em!
Sometimes they might look a lot like guitar cords, but genuine speaker cables (used to connect an amp head to a speaker cabinet) are actually a lot different inside, and using the wrong thing can damage your tone, and your gear. How to spot ’em, and even make your own.