What makes a great tone? How do you get your tone?
Two questions that I get almost daily.
The first one is easy. What sounds good to you? Do you want a scooped mids metal tone? How about a jazzy old solid state clean tone? Maybe the good ole brown sound via Eddie?
That's where you start. I started out wanting to sound like Eddie, Randy and Jimi. I read every issue of Guitar Player, Guitar World, and Guitar For The Practicing Musician. I asked a ton of questions to everyone and anyone who played guitar. I played all my friends gear. Went to every music store and played every amp and pedal I could get my hands on.
Then I was lucky enough to find the core of my tone when I was about 15/16. I got a used 1982 Mesa Boogie Coliseum 300 MKIIB head and a 69 Marshall Bottom.
The chase for tone got kicked up about ten notches. I was hooked. After that I owned every big name amp but alway went back to that boogie.
Hit up a local big box or if you're lucky enough to have a high-quality mom-and-pop go there and check out every amp you can.
Bottom line is if your tone inspires you and makes you feel like you play better because of it then you have your tone. It makes no difference what name plate is on the amp. Or how many pedals you have etc.
Tone lives in between your ears and manifests itself in your finger tips. I think that's why people get so emotional about it. It's the connection to the first time that sound (insert your favorite tone here) moved you.
A big a-ha moment for me was when I saw the video of me at a guitar contest in 2004. I wasn't allowed to use my own amp. I plugged straight into a Line 6 (HD187 I think) and found a usable tone fairly quickly. When I saw the video I sounded like me. When I watch video stuff from NAMM or any of the trade shows, It still sound like me. It's almost kinda of funny. Watch the Keeley Electronics video from the Dallas International guitar Festival. Its borrowed guitar (that I never played before) and I didn't touch a knob on any of the pedals or the amp. Robert dialed it in and it sounded and felt great. And still sounded like me.
For new players or parents of my students. I always recommend buying a Line 6 spider, Roland Cube or Fender Mustang (read the rest before you write me a hate filled pm lol)that way you can get a taste of effects and different tones. Once you spent a good few months with one of the above amps you can then put together a budget based on the tones and effects you like. Then it's off to the races building your dream rig. Plus you will still have a decent bedroom amp for practice.
Guess what the chase for tone never ends. But It's such a Beautiful chase.