Introduction to Tone

(Published in Rave magazine 16/05/2006)

Hello Everyone. My name is Andrew Farnham and I'll be spending the next couple of editions of geared talking to you about guitar tone.

Guitarists are always in search of the magical piece of equipment that will improve their sound instantly. Rarely does just adding a box or rack summon the magic tone fairy. So, in this article I'll be outlining some of the things that can help save your tone, and hopefully help you make more considered purchasing decisions.

Tone is a personal and individualistic thing. That having been said, there are some things that people who are considered to have good tone have in common: clarity, impact and an interesting timbre.

We need clarity so that we can be heard without having to turn up excruciatingly loud. 'Amp Wars' will result, and your sound guy(girl) won't be happy having to compensate for your volume battles. Some amps change tone at different volumes. So, by hiking your volume higher and higher you'll be destroying all of your carefully considered EQ settings.

Impact means that our tone doesn't sound hollow or weak and that what we're 'saying' is going to have an affect on our listeners. Clarity has a lot to do with impact, because if you're 'mumbling', what you have to say won't really affect the audience because they just can't hear you.

'Timbre' is a term used to describe the way a sound sounds. From a technical point of view, timbre has to do with the harmonic makeup of your sound. If you want a more technical definition, search for timbre on . Basically, the richer and more complex the set of harmonics our sound contains, the warmer and fatter it will sound. Rich, fat tones have a real emotional impact on the listener (yourself included) so its an important thing to cultivate. Hitting a note with a rich, warm tone is enough to inspire the rest of your performance.

Below are the four steps that go into producing your tone. All of these things directly affect your Timbre, Impact and Clarity.

The Player: The way that you fret, hit and hold the guitar. Even what picks you use have a huge impact on your sound. Your Guitar: Its not just the pickups or body timber that make a big difference in sound. The condition of your frets, your pickup height and fingerboard timber all count. Everything in between: Leads, stomp boxes, multi-effects pedals and wireless systems. All of these things suck the life out of your tone. How much depends on the quality of the equipment that your using and how cleverly you put it all together. Your Amp: Most amplifier EQ is weird compared to normal audio EQ, and most people set their EQ without really listening. I'll be covering these in detail over the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you have any specific guitar tone questions that you'd like to have answered. Please drop us an email on