Chasing Tone....... A ToneJunkie's blog
Ok so I'm going to start “blogging” more. You'll have spoken! You have to understand I'm not a real blogger by any stretch. Most of the time this will be random ramblings of a guitar player/teacher/student/musician! So please keep that in mind.
I asked for suggestions on what everybody wanted the “blogs” to be about. The list was amazingly diverse. I guess I'll start with one thing I won't cover, cover songs. There are thousands of sites and YouTube pages that deep dive every song under the sun. Plus I truly believe you will get a much better understanding of the instrument by learning by “EAR”. You can always check your progress using videos or tab, but your ears are the key to being a great musician, not just a guitar player or shredder.
Well where to start?................
Lets talk about tone. What does tone actually mean?
1: any sound considered with reference to its quality, pitch, strength, source, etc.:shrill tones.
2: quality or character of sound
3: vocal sound; the sound made by vibrating muscular bands in the larynx.
4: a particular quality, way of sounding, modulation, or intonation of the voice as expressive of some meaning, feeling, spirit, etc.: a tone of command
5: an accent peculiar to a person, people, locality, etc., or a characteristic mode of sounding words in speech.
6: stress of voice on a syllable of a word.
7: Linguistics. a musical pitch or movement in pitch serving to distinguish two words otherwise composed of the same sounds, as in Chinese.
Now to guitar players this word takes on a entirely new meaning. This is the thing that keeps many of us up at night. The search for the perfect overdriven tone, many call the “Brown Sound”. Ask ten guitar players whats the best overdrive pedal, tube amp, tone wood and you will get ten different answers with very passionate explanations on the how and why.
I was lucky. I found my “tone” very early. I knew what I was searching for, warm, loud, pushed and smooth. I didn't want to be drowned in gain and I wanted a healthy mid range punch. Something many of my Friends were chasing that gainy scooped mid sound, mainly because it made it easy to seem like you were playing fast.
So with the help of my mom and a part time job I scored the amp I still have and use to this day a 1982 Mesa Boogie Coliseum 300 MKIIB head and an M series Marshall bottom with greenbacks. For the first time I could plug straight in the amp, no pedals, nada. Just my guitar and a cable. Now I would be lying if I didn't tell how many more heads, pedals, tubes etc. I went though. The one constant was my head.
For those that are new to playing live, the tone in your “head” really effects how your hands feel. Yes read that again. Seems silly doesn't it. To explain my point I have an overdrive on my main big tour board and my small board as well. Now if I dig the tone of my Boogie so much why is it there? Its my feel good button! Lol, some guys have delays or wahs (Hey Kirk Hammet) for me its overdrive. If the monitors suck, I'm super tired or just not having a great night I just step on my pedal and somehow I always not only feel better, but I feel like I play better. The funny part of all this is I use very little drive on the pedal. Its almost like a pinch of salt. I promise you no one out front can hear the change. My tech knows whats up, but thats about it. But like I said its for me lol!
So how do you find your tone? Simple start with what you like. Do some homework. Ask yourself some simple questions.
Who has your favorite tone?
What amp do they use in the studio (thats how they really get their sound)?
Do they use any pedals?
What speakers are they using?
Thats a great place to start. Now here is the biggest thing in all of this tone chasing! You will never sound exactly like your heroes. Most of your sound/tone is in your hands. I didn't truly believe this to much later on in the quest for the ultimate tone.
The first time I came back from heavy gigging/touring whatever ya want to call it. I went to my local amp guy (David White) and wanted my amp looked over and tweaked. This poor guy walked me though different tubes, effects layouts, speaker cab wring, adding insulation to my cabs. You name we did it. Finally sent the amp back to Boogie and had a Deaf Louie effects loop mod and a the pre tweaked a little. That was it the amp hasn't been touch since. Other then basic upkeep.
The next step was cabs. I had six Marshall's behind me (which was flat-out overkill) but only had three on max, mostly two. Over time I now use two 412 slants on big stages and two 212's on small stages. Im a Celestion guy all the way. I used GT65's forever. I switched over to V30's whens I started using Boogie cabs. While recording the second KIDD HAVOK cd Dirty Money I used the house Boogie Recto 212 and was hooked. Sold all my Marshall cabs and switched to Boogie recto's.
I'll skip over effects for now. There are so many options and wiring possibilities I could write a book on it. And probably will some day.
So it won't be as easy as in the pre internet days, your first step should be to try out as many amps as you can. Bring your own guitar and a pedal or two if you already have some favorites. Check around maybe your local rehearsal place has a bunch of amps. Really pay attention how it feels to you at different volumes. I had a 68 Plexi that was amazing wide open, and only wide open.
Don't be afraid to ask questions and a lot of em. If you get it right the first time you may not have to (but you might want to) buy another amp again! The next test will come when you play with a band or at a club. Does it still sound good? Are you to loud (I know I get that complaint every so often)? Welcome to the beginning of the never-ending quest.
Hopefully this will get you started on the great quest for tone! I still chase it. Thats half the fun! Please email, PM me with any guitar,gear,tone questions!!!
Thanks for reading!