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Tone and the quest for the perfect tone

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I must confess.

I once found perfect tone in a pawn shop, with a crappy, dusty guitar with five strings on it, and a no-name amp that was missing a Volume knob.

I have found perfect tone in a temporary drunken state that later found me barely waking up from a bourbon coma.

I have found perfect tone on a stage with my friends and band-mates on days or evenings when the wind was blowing just right, and our harmonies were tight, and the audience was happy and rocking.

I found perfect tone trying out a Telecaster in a music store in Yuma, Arizona years ago.
And it had more to do with the mood I was in more so than the guitar I was holding or the amp I was playing thru.

But I have never found any sort of tone wonderfulness or benefit from changing out:
this kind of tube for that kind of tube,
this pickup for that pickup,
these steel saddles for brass ones,
or
this brand of strings for that other one over there.

Tone is a state of mind.
It's confidence.
It's in your fingers.
It's in your head.

An older sage once told me, and bear in mind the topic was finding the right girl, and/or going out and getting laid;

"Sport, stop chasing it, and it will turn around and come to YOU."

Tone fanatics.
Stop chasing it already.

It's probably already there.
It's right in front of your face, most likely.

Just play your guitar, play it well, make good music, be a good band-mate, and give the audience what they paid for.

Tone will just happen, and it'll be good.

ūüėŹ

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQ3Je0WA1ebx8PlTKYrwrl

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I agree with much you say Sparky. 

However, I have changed pickups and discovered a significant benefit in tone.  I have found something similar with a new bridge. Fingers are a big part.  But other things are too for me.  

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I found my sound after 40 years of making do with old 60s/70's/80s gear. 

My perfect sound in my signal processor. I found it after spending hours experimenting with all likely options. The tone was tailored to the neck pickup of my guitar (I only use neck pickups when I gig). I fine tune the EQ to suit any new guitar I acquire and save the settings.

I have even performed the whole exercise again by starting from scratch and assembled the same tone as originally. There was only minimal variation. So there is no fluke involved. The only sound variable I have to cope with these days is room acoustics.

My ideal tone is not ethereal. It doesn't come and go. Its real, it reliable and I now don't mess with it. 

 

Edited by merciful-evans
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My tone is pretty nasty I guess - strident is probably the word, or maybe bitey....but it gets the right seperation from our lead guitarist's fuller more bassy round sound and that's what does the job . So mote it be.

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Well written John. I noticed a big difference when I learned how to bend strings and do slides and all the things with fingers as you say.  Thats a big part with good musical players.  However, I did notice a big difference in going with solid guitars with alnico pickups to hollow body guitars with P90's in them.  Or at least to me, they sound a whole lot better. 

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Decent cleans, decent grinds, decent Too Much Of Everythings.  That's all you need for gear.  It's all on you after that.  Confidence, which comes from acceptance of how you sound when you play, and how you play, that's what leads to confidence.  You should look like you own that thing because you feel like you own that thing.

rct

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My favorite tones are generated by the amp.  There is some tone shaping that happens at the circuit level.  That is where the magic is for me.  Fender cleans.  Marshall cleans and dirt.  Usually a fairly normal guitar through a great amp with a great player at the helm. 

 

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Yup........

Theres also the thing about how if you were to hear some guitar parts singled out on some tracks you really like it would sound awful.. BUT as part of a band of instruments its sounds great... It is about attitude and how you attack the guitar for sure..  Of course you can sound terrible if you have too much treble or too much bass but thats just experience and taste, totally subjective and objective.

Its why the whole tonewood debate is so silly.. Are there difference in woods and how they sound and sustain.. Sure there are, but not enough to worry about in any way what so ever. Thats why we have EQ controls on the amp, reverb and pedals and stuff.

Acoustic guitars though.. Totally all down to the wood how it sounds. BUT again it doesnt mean you are going to play it bad,  it might just sound different to what some people may expect.

Its the problem with a lot of electric rock players. They are  often so stuck in their ways and very conservative when it comes to their gear. Again, its not really wrong to be like that, there are good reasons why people are like that BUT if they spent as much time on practicing  and playing as they do moaning about all of the stupid technical details of electric guitars, they wouldnt have to moan cos they would be more confident in their playing and it wouldn't matter.

Like me when I make guitars.. I dont really care about tradition. I have made guitars from all sorts of wood people dont usually associate with guitars and guess what.. Every one sounded exactly like an electric guitar ūüôā I had people moan at me a bit about it and some saying I reckon you will turn to traditional woods And actually indeed they were right, but its not cos the other guitars sounded bad, its cos of what people expected. So I do both now.. Some people really dont care about it and have bought my so called "weird" guitars¬† ūüôā They have all been happy so far.

And yeah I reckon mood or state of mind has a huge part in all of this.. So you can dial in a tone one day, love it and then a day or two later go back to the same settings and its not sounding so good. The only variable in that is your own mind.

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I don't play out, so it's easy for me to get the sounds I want  in a medium size room with the equipment I've got. I'm happy enough with my tone until I try to record it. I call it the quantum effects of recording... the tone is never exactly where I want it. I can never duplicate the sound in my room on a recording, but I know next to nothing about recording, and I'm not interested in learning or spending the time and money to get it where I'd like it. Not worried about it. I record most of my new music just to have it done and move on.

If you include technique in a person's overall tone, that's a little different. I tend to like my tone better when I let just let go, play how I feel, and stop thinking about it. Sometimes a shot of tequila helps that.

Edited by zigzag
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Many wonderful things can effect your tone, one way to find out if you like your sound,¬†is to record yourself.. ūüôā

Edited by mihcmac
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11 hours ago, mihcmac said:

Many wonderful things can effect your tone, one way to find out if you like your sound,¬†is to record yourself.. ūüôā

 

That's it!  It makes evaluating your own sound so much simpler. 

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I am a firm believer that at least 95% of your sound is in your hands.  

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That's a beautiful Poem.. Much of it I agree. Some of it I don't.....

Great Tone is more than State of Mind... It's real & can be heard by the Human Ear.

There are many Instruments that have awful to average Tone. There are some that sound Steller.. Some modifications can improve the Tone.. Pickups & Tubes being a couple...

Some Guitars were made Perfect.. By accident or or maybe on purpose.. 

Of the 50-60 Guitars I've owned over the years & the thousands I've played only 2 were magic... They came that way.. 1 was a mid 50's Les Paul & the other was a 59 ES345. Their Tone was unbelievable! 

Foolishly questing for newer & better I sold those on.. I do have several Guitars with great Tone.. But, I have never been able to duplicate the Steller Tone of the 50's LP & 59 ES345 I had. I would buy both of them back if I could....

 

Edited by Larsongs
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I consider all of my guitars to be tone machines, all with P90's each a slightly different variation. My white SG with its Classic 90's sounds more like a Strat while at the other end of the spectrum my Blueshawk is smooth as silk with P90 Pro's. My guitars are maximized for center switch position with both pickups on, but when the bridge pickup is selected its like switching to a scalpel while the neck will tend to produce a bluesy clear tone. Each of my guitars has its own personality and depend on what my hands can coax out of them.

Edited by mihcmac
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New strings usually audibly improve my tone.

[thumbup]

 

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On 7/5/2020 at 8:20 AM, kidblast said:

I am a firm believer that at least 95% of your sound is in your hands.  

I tend to agree with that.  I once watched a video of David Gilmoure playing his electric guitar and then picked up an acoustic guitar and played the same song.  Granted, you could tell the difference between the electric and acoustic but, not really that much.  Both were amazing.  Still can't hardly believe he got those bends and tones out of an acoustic. 

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I remember going to see a friends band about 10 years ago. One of the guitar players had about 4 different guitars and this massive effects rig. He changed guitars after almost every song, but I couldn't tell the difference with all those effects it was going through. Not sure what tone he was trying to achieve there. 

 

 

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I was just walking around outside playing through my Danelectro Honeytone amp and I don't think they should use the word Tone. Seems I remember my micro Marshall sounding a lot better.

Edited by mihcmac
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After decades of searching for ‚Äúperfect tone,‚ÄĚ I became ‚Äútone deaf.‚ÄĚ ¬†......llSeriously, I don‚Äôt know if I‚Äôd know it if I heard it. ¬†Besides, what‚Äôs perfect for me might be lousy for you. ¬†All I know is that if a guitar sounds good to me, then that‚Äôs close enough to perfect tone. ¬†

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8 hours ago, MissouriPicker said:

After decades of searching for ‚Äúperfect tone,‚ÄĚ I became ‚Äútone deaf.‚ÄĚ ¬†......llSeriously, I don‚Äôt know if I‚Äôd know it if I heard it.

 

In my experience, that is a real thing, a serious problem for lots of guitar players, especially since the internet.  I can show you a bunch of players around here that spend an entire gig doing nothing, and I mean nothing, but obsessing over what is coming out of their amp or the monitors.  It's like they aren't even there anymore, just filling a spot in a band, listening for good "tone". Man.

It's a shame.  Enjoy what you do, do what you enjoy.

rct

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28 minutes ago, rct said:

 

In my experience, that is a real thing, a serious problem for lots of guitar players, especially since the internet.  I can show you a bunch of players around here that spend an entire gig doing nothing, and I mean nothing, but obsessing over what is coming out of their amp or the monitors.  It's like they aren't even there anymore, just filling a spot in a band, listening for good "tone". Man.

It's a shame.  Enjoy what you do, do what you enjoy.

rct

Exactly!  Playing music is a real blast.  At whatever level one plays, it can be very rewarding.  If it’s not fun, you’re doing something wrong.   When you’re playing be a guitar player, not a sound engineer.  Life has enough bull crap.  No need to add our own.

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7 hours ago, rct said:

 

In my experience, that is a real thing, a serious problem for lots of guitar players, especially since the internet.  I can show you a bunch of players around here that spend an entire gig doing nothing, and I mean nothing, but obsessing over what is coming out of their amp or the monitors.  It's like they aren't even there anymore, just filling a spot in a band, listening for good "tone". Man.

It's a shame.  Enjoy what you do, do what you enjoy.

rct

Yep, It's much less stressfull for us that just play at home and not up on a stage.  However, say if I play a song  like "My Hero's Have Always been Cowboys."  I will set the amp for more clean tones. But if it's, "American Woman." then I want more fuzz and turn the amp to channel 2.  So I do play with amp & guitar settings for songs I do play. Normally, I leave it alone and play as many songs that sound good on the setting I have it on. It is fun to see what I can get out of the amp. 

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10 hours ago, Retired said:

Yep, It's much less stressfull for us that just play at home and not up on a stage.  However, say if I play a song  like "My Hero's Have Always been Cowboys."  I will set the amp for more clean tones. But if it's, "American Woman." then I want more fuzz and turn the amp to channel 2.  So I do play with amp & guitar settings for songs I do play. Normally, I leave it alone and play as many songs that sound good on the setting I have it on. It is fun to see what I can get out of the amp. 

 

I'm playing mostly at home now too. Not just because of Covid, our 20 year old band is fizzling out, with just a couple of gigs in prospect at any one time. 

It does feel weird, but its becoming the norm. I frequently play in the evening with the TV on. Just to keep limber mostly. For years it was unplugged, but now I like to hear what I'm playing too. Like you I will keep one setting going for ages. 

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4 hours ago, merciful-evans said:

 

I'm playing mostly at home now too. Not just because of Covid, our 20 year old band is fizzling out, with just a couple of gigs in prospect at any one time. 

It does feel weird, but its becoming the norm. I frequently play in the evening with the TV on. Just to keep limber mostly. For years it was unplugged, but now I like to hear what I'm playing too. Like you I will keep one setting going for ages. 

20 years is really a pretty good run playing together.  Playing at home does have its disadvantages though.  There are so many times that I wish I could have another guitar or two playing the other parts with me.  You get used to it though, I guess.

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1 hour ago, Retired said:

20 years is really a pretty good run playing together.  Playing at home does have its disadvantages though.  There are so many times that I wish I could have another guitar or two playing the other parts with me.  You get used to it though, I guess.

 

I dont use them myself, but loopers are useful. There are also backing tracks for all sort of musicians. Our bass player Paul uses them all the time.

https://www.facebook.com/100004776005125/videos/1495268173975702/  

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