Tone Is In The Head

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There is a huge debate as to where tone actually comes from. Does it come from the hands? Does it come from the gear? Does it come from the wallet? Does it come from the sound engineer?

Whether tone comes from magic fingers or big price tags, most players usually have tone and sound in their head that they are trying to create.

I recently came across this video with Joe Bonamassa talking about the mysterious tone in the head. Take a quick look.

(I don’t know why anyone would turn their delay pedal off, but to each his own)

Working at a guitar shop and hearing about various guitarists search for tone on a daily bases has given me an appreciation for how hard it can be to take the tone from the players head and bring it to the listener’s ear. Working with lots of musicians has given me an appreciation for those musicians who can bring out the tone in their heads even when circumstances may be challenging and less than ideal.

Because there are so many variables that can change, it is an important skill to be able to unleash the tone in your head and bring it to life for everyone to hear.

Here are some tips to help you perfect and master this elusive skill.

Use Your Hands

Gear is great and gear does matter, but it’s easy to forget what a huge impact our hands have on our tone.

Earlier this week I was involved in a conversation with two very good guitarist. One had been playing for decades and had played everything from blues, funk, hair metal and country. The other was bass player turned guitarist and plays in a style in the vein of Guthrie Govan.

These two were having a conversation about the difference the right hand can make in the tone of the guitar. How you pick, the angle of the pick and where on the guitar you pick makes a difference.

The second guitarist said “As a bass player, it had always come naturally to me to change where I pluck the string to change the tone I was getting. When I started playing guitar I just naturally did that; I thought it was normal. But it seems like a lot of guitar players just rely on there pedals and pickups for different tonal changes and are missing out on the different tones you can make just with your strumming hand.”

Let Your Ears Guild Your EQ

I fall into this trap all the time. I set my amp and pedals to setting I have liked before and then wonder why I don’t like the tone I’m getting, all the time, never thinking to start turning knobs and changing settings to get the tone I’m looking for.

It’s like I have some weird superstition about the mids being at exactly three o’clock and I though it must sound good that way even when my ears were telling me otherwise.

Hold on to your settings loosely. Don’t be afraid to tweak and adjust even if that means you end up with different settings every time you play. Your ears are the boss of the EQ. Don’t let your settings tell you anything different.

Your Guitar Has Switches And Knobs Too

At the end of this video, Joe Bonamassa talks about how much he changes the settings on his guitar. The reason why is because there are an abundance of tones to be had right from the guitar. Mess with them. Start turning knobs and selecting pickup positions you don’t normally use and see how it works. Experiment and get a feel for every tonal possibility your guitar offers.

Play Through Someone Elses Rig

Guitar, amp and pedals. Try playing through your friend’s gear and see if you can dial in the tone in your head. There is something about playing through another guitarists gear to give you a little snap shop of what goes through their head when they are dialing their tone. Getting that perspective can help give you ideas for your own sound.

If they are cool with it, start turning knobs and experimenting with settings. Try to dial your tone with gear you aren’t familiar with. This will be a good test to see you are progressing at nailing the tone in your head.

Keep sharp,





3 Responses to "Tone Is In The Head"
  1. Joe Bonamassa is SO overrated do yourself a FAVOR and look a little deeper that the “typical corporate musicians;

    Rory Gallagher Ghost Blues;

  2. Wolf says:

    I agree that the best thing is to start trusting your ears, and look for tone in your fingers and playing versus gear. A lot of players get trapped in a gear obsession that never ends, when they really should be trying to make the most of themselves. Music flows inside-out and even bad tone can sound good in the hands of someone with expressive capability.

  3. Jason says:

    Prince played with a cheap 70’s hohner telecaster. Enough said!

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