Thursday, January 20, 2011

ben's guitar tone primer

I remembered that I've never done a post on guitar tone. 

Clearly, this must be remedied, ASAP.

We've all heard guitarists who we would rather not hear. Guitarists who have a guitar sound that is almost physically painful to listen to. Here's a few of my tips based on nearly 11 years of playing guitar on how to develop your own guitar sound, (and a guitar sound which other people can stand)

1. Less = More:

Say I had $2000 to build a pedalboard. I could use that money to purchase approximately 33 Behringer pedals. I could use that money to buy around 12 Boss pedals or I could use that money to buy 2-3 high end pedals from Empress, or Strymon, or Eventide, or any other flash brand.

Option a would get me a huge pile of different sounds. But they would be unreliable, noisy and many of them would actually sound pretty bad. Also, with 33 pedals at your feet, it would be ghastly to find the right sound in time. And they are ugly. and ghetto as. 

Option b would get me a large pile of different sounds, and Boss pedals are well made, so they would be reliable. But still, not every pedal would truly sound incredible. Might also be noisy.

Option c is more my cup of tea. I would hand pick just a few pedals, all of which have amazing sounds. They would be quiet, reliable and easy to use. I could hang on to these pedals for 20 years, as they're made to last.

2. Buy a tuner pedal.

It's not complicated. An in-tune guitar sounds significantly better than a out-of-tune one.
And if you buy a tuner pedal, it's easy, quick and silent to tune your guitar. No excuses. Bassists too. go buy one.
I recommend:
Korg PitchBlack or Boss TU3. Both around $150 kiwi pesos

3. Distortion works best in stages:

Lots of guitarists seem to have two sounds. Clean, and nuclear disaster. Best to have an in between level as well. And dial back the nuclear disaster to a simple bogan beating, please.
So: Clean. Overdriven. Distortion.

This allows you to build the energy of your guitar sound, as the song's energy builds.

4. Chose your tone with ears close to the speaker:

When you mic a guitar amp, where does the microphone go? Right up close to the speaker.
But when we set our tone, we tend to stand on the other side of the room, often meters away. Up close, it sounds brighter, harsher, and more aggressive. And that is what us dumb guitar players feed to the sound tech. The sound tech feeds that to the congregation/audience. Nasty. So set your EQ and distortion levels while sitting close to the speaker. You will sound better in the PA. Guaranteed. 

5. Figure out what you really need:

I play mostly modern praise and worship music. This means I need an overdrive, a delay with tap tempo for those U2/Hillsong delay sounds, and a higher gain overdrive for solos, lead lines and bridges.
There's no point in spending hundreds of bucks for a Univibe if I don't need it.
In the same way, if you play in a Bon Jovi cover band, you won't need a delay, and you will need a talkbox.

6. Get your guitar fixed up:

Any half-decent guitar technician can fix up your guitar so that it sounds in tune, and it is easy to play. Get it done once a year. In Wellington I use Kenny Duncan 021 235 7000, on Manners Mall.

7. Don't spend all your money on pedals:

At the end of the day effects pedals are just that - something that effects the sound. Before you go crazy on pedals and toys, make sure your guitar, and your amp sound tasty. You don't need to spend a fortune, but you really need your guitar+amp combination to sound GREAT. If your amp and guitar sounds bad, adding pedals is like rolling a turd in glitter. Sure, it may look better, but it's still poo.

8. Don't skimp on the boring bits:

So you could spend $200 on a set of high quality cables OR spend it on a new flash whosameewhatsit pedal that does some crazy weird noise. The pedal is more exciting. The cables will make your rig sound better and be more reliable. Get the cables. You need to know your rig will always work. In the same way, buy a good power supply. I used to find my rig was noisy on some days, or certain stages, or in certain rooms. I splurged significant bucks on a Voodoo Labs PedalPower 2+ and have never had the slightest issue with hum or noise since. 
(reminds me, I really need to buy another good power supply for my acoustic pedalboard.)

and that's all that comes to mind right now. Hope that helps someone.

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