5 Tips to Get Better Tone Without Spending a Dime

Monday, August 31, 2009| by Will Chen

We guitarists are such a fickle bunch. I know more than a few people who change rigs more than my wife changes outfits before going out to diner! Well, rest assured you’re sick. But there is a cure! Here are 5 steps to improve your tone without needlessly throwing money at the problem.

  1. Change your strings – that pack of “back up” strings you bought a couple months ago just in case you broke a string…put them on. Strings loose brilliance with time and that sparkle you’re looking for may be less than 30 minutes away.
  2. Put the guitar down – When ever I’m just not feeling it, I put the guitar down and walk away. More often than not, we are the variable which changes and our rig’s sound fairly consistent. Also, our ears fatigue and breaks ensure you’re hearing your tone as it really sounds rather than colored by hours spent trying to dial in your midrange exactly. Come back in an hour, day, or even a couple days and your rig will sound much better.
  3. Turn off the gain – We sometimes get lost trying to find the perfect crunch tone and forget what our guitars sound like. Turn off the gain and listen to your guitar clean. Ahh, all that chime and sweetness. Without a frame of reference, it’s easy to forget what our guitars sound like naked.
  4. Move around in the room – Everything sounding a bit dark and muddy today when it sounded bright and clear yesterday? Get on axis with your amp. As you move off-axis from you amp’s speaker, the high end will decrease. On small high directional amps, the difference can be staggering.
  5. Perhaps most importantly, know your gear – Do you really understand how to program that new effects processor? How exactly does the tone stack affect the gain stage of your new tube amp? With all the online forums, many of which are specifically dedicated to a manufacturer or even a specific product, there’s little excuse for not knowing exactly how your gear works and it’s strengths and weaknesses.
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