The Player and Tone

(Published in Rave magazine 20/06/2006)

Introduction to Tone

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 The Player and Tone Hello Everyone,

Last month I promised to cover in details all of the elements that make up a good tone. This time I'll be talking about 'The Player':

'The Player' is where it all starts. If the tone you're producing isn't good, then nothing else in the chain afterward is going to save it. When you hear a great guitarist, it doesn't matter what instrument they're playing, it always sounds like them and it always sounds great. So what makes a player produce good sound? Let's break it down into the following:


The material as well as the thickness of a pick makes a difference in tone. I avoid picks made out of 'glossy' materials. Thinner picks tend to produce more harmonics, and also a brighter attack. Thick picks are good for a jazzy tone as they produce that marimba-like tone necessary for a classic jazz sound.


How tightly do you hold the pick?. Gripping tightly tends to create a very bright, brittle tone (it also makes your strings more likely break). A loose grip will give you a fatter, rounder tone. Try it yourself and listen closely to the sound. Sometimes (like if your playing surf music) an extremely bright tone works well.

Angle of Attack (vertical):

When you swing the pick does it travel parallel to your fingerboard, or does it tend to arc down towards the body of your instrument. Swinging parallel will increase your sustain and give you a clearer tone. If you angle your picking action down into the fingerboard, string 'crash' will result. This produces a shorter, slightly strangled tone. Sometimes this is cool, but you should be able to do it on demand, rather than have it happen randomly.

Angle of Attack (horizontal):

Try hitting the string with the face of the pick parallel to the string, and then try rotating your pick so that the edge strikes the string first. With the string rotated you should get a fair bit of 'scrape'.

Placement of Attack:

Between where you're fretting the note and the bridge, there is a lot of string to play with. Experiment picking at different places within that length of string. Picking somewhere in the middle of the string length will produce the most volume, and the sweetest tone. Picking up against the bridge will give you a bright tone, moving towards the fretting hand will give you a rounder tone.


Having both hands arrive at the same time, i.e. your fretting hand touches down on the string at exactly the same time as your picking hand strikes it. This will increase sustain, give you clearer tone and a habit of listening closely to what you do.

Experiment with all of these things, and listen closely to the results. Record them if you can, and you'll start to get a feel for ways that you can improve your tone dramatically.

As always, if you have any questions. Please drop us an email on