The Quest For Perfect Tone

As guitarists we are always looking for new ways to find that perfect tone (whatever that is). You might buy different strings, amps, tubes, a new “miracle” cable, pedals, effects etc. The truth about tone is every person hears something different. It is truly a subjective thing. Yes I think everyone can tell when something just sounds crappy, but it seems that most guitarists want the simple fix of bigger and better equipment (myself included), rather than putting the time and passion into making their current setup sing and sound beautiful. You’ll have a hard time convincing me that a $200 Squire amp cannot sound great. I had one. I used it for years. I learned to make it sound good through probably hundreds of hours of playing it and it worked. My point of this post is you might think you have insufficient equipment, be it the guitar or amp, but the ultimate answer to unlocking quality tone is you. If you cannot make your current guitar/amp combination sing I doubt a $3000 setup will magically make you sound like Slash. Put the time, hard work and passion into learning how to use the equipment you have, as well as learning how to play your instrument. After all, nothing worth having comes easy right? Also, did you know that mic placement in front of your amp has a huge effect on your sound when recording or playing live? How about your guitar’s intonation? Are you in tune? Are you playing on old rusty strings? Have you tried every combination of settings on your amp? These are things that will help you to sound your best and you need to know and experiment with them to find a good sound. I promise you, give Steve Vai a P.O.S. pawn shop guitar and amp and he will make it sound beautiful. But a $3000 Les Paul and $2000 Mesa amp wont magically make you sound like guitar god.  Bottom line… yes a high qualilty setup might potentially have more to offer but you must learn to use what you have if you ever expect to be able to make that dream rig sound great.

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3 thoughts on “The Quest For Perfect Tone

  1. While I understand your intent, after 20 years of playing and several years experience engineering in a professional studio I wholeheartedly disagree.

    I’ve heard dozens, if not hundreds of well played, but tonally terrible tracks that people have brought in. When they recorded it with better gear, they sounded significantly better. Thin sounding pickups and an amp that sounds like nails on a chalkboard would sound pretty bad even if SRV came back from the grave to use it. Certainly, you have to have skill and practice, but its a combination of competency and gear as they are not mutually exclusive of each other. You don’t have to pick one or the other.

    Is there a point of diminishing returns? Sure, but its a lot higher up there than people think. These days fortunately, there are dozens of companies making fairly decent tube amps for under $300.

    • Hey timmon. Thanks for the comment. While i understand your point and agree somewhat, my point in the post was that gear isnt the end all be all. Many new players think that “insert big brand name gear” will magically make them sound like a pro guitarist. While music is completely subjective, and many famous players and musicians have produced hit songs on some random cheapo gear they found because they wanted a different sound, i definitely disagree. Am I saying that a pro session guitarist is going to show up at a big name studio to record some tracks with a pawn shop amp or guitar?
      Heck no! But i disagree with your statement. Give a reincarnated SRV a squire strat and the crappiest amp you can find and he’ll make something happen. No its not the best circumstances but the whole point is, learn how to play on what you got and dont rely on geat to make YOU sound good.

      • I do somewhat agree with your statement of being a combo of competency/gear. Im absolutely not saying a squire amp sounds as good as a vintage Plexi. But the post is geared toward beginners and is ment to encourage them that they can use what they have to learn to be a great guitarist and sound good. Great comment i think there is truth in both our views.