(Published in Rave magazine 18/07/2006)
This month we'll be talking about your guitar in relation to tone, and what role your guitar plays in your overall sound.
Strangely, people often consider timber an unimportant factor when choosing an electric guitar. Listen to the guitar with the volume turned completely off to get a good idea of what the guitar really sounds like. At least if it has good tone acoustically, and not so good when its amplified, you'll know that its not the guitar itself. Replacing the pickups should give you a better tone. Common woods are Ash, Swamp Ash, Alder and Mahogony. Try to play as many guitars as possible with varied body wood. This will give you a feel for what the different timbers sound like.
Fingerboard material plays a big role in the make-up of your sound. The two most common types of fingerboard materials are rosewood and maple. Rosewood tends to be darker in tone. Maple needs to be lacquered to stop it from absorbing moisture. This layer of lacquer, in combination with the timbers natural sound gives the maple fingerboard a much brighter sound compared with rosewood.
Thin strings tend to give you a thin sound. The thicker the gauge of string, the rounder your tone will be. Keep in mind that you'll get less 'bite' out of really thick strings, so try to find a set that gives you enough treble as well as being thick enough to give you body to your tone. You can choose steel or nickel strings. Nickel tends to produce a more mellow tone than steel strings. Steel will give you a higher out put volume and a brighter sound in comparison.
The distance between the nut and the bridge is called the 'scale length'. Aside from having an effect on feel (and thus how you vibrato on the instrument), a shorter scale length will produce a darker sound than a longer scale length guitar. Scale lengths of full size guitars vary from 24" to 25.5".
Getting out a screw driver and having a fiddle with the screws that control pickup height can be a really rewarding exercise. As the pickups get closer to the strings, not only will they produce more output, but also your tone will get brighter.
The volume control does more than just effect your volume. As you back your volume away from maximum towards zero, you'll find that the top-end (treble) is reduced. This is a handy trick for getting different tones with only a subtle adjustment.
Obviously there are many more variables in getting a good tone from your guitar. Due to the limited size of these articles, I've had to cut out a lot of information. In the interest of completeness I've put the full length article as well all of the previous articles in this series on my website: www.andrewfarnham.com As always, if you have any questions, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.