There’s one thing virtually every guitar player wants, and it’s perfect tone. Some guitarists even spend their entire life pursuing it. For others, perfect tone is slightly out of reach–reserved for the guitar gods they idolize on the radio. Although perfect tone may seem impossible, there are plenty of things you can do make the tone of your guitar better than it currently is. Before you head to the music store for a brand new guitar, you may want to consider some of the simple, effective, and affordable upgrades on this list. If you’re a guitarist who wants to improve their sound, read on for some tips from the pros.
String for Your Style
Changing your strings regularly is only half of the battle. If you’re accustomed to switching out strings regularly and are ready to improve the tone of your guitar even more, consider purchasing strings that best match your playing style. Strings come in a variety of flavors and gauges, with some strings reserved for particular genres. If you’re a jazz guitarist, flatwound or half-rounds will do the trick, while rock and country musicians may benefit from round-wound strings. Many guitarists are blown away by how easy it is to test-drive a new sound at a very minimal cost by simply trying out a new type of string.
Practice Proper Intonation
Changes in climate, improper storage, and even everyday use can quickly throw the tone of your guitar out of whack. Making sure that your guitar is properly intonated is fundamental to its sound, but it can be a daunting task, especially for new guitarists. If you’re uncomfortable making adjustments to your own instrument, take it into a repair shop or ask your guitar teacher to show you how. Even better, ask if you can watch them and/or write the steps down. Regardless, here’s some basics: sound a note at the 12th fret, play the 12th-fret harmonic of the same note, and compare the two pitches. If the fretted note is flatter than the harmonic, move the strings bridge saddle slightly forward. If the fretted note is sharper than the bridge saddle slightly back.
Tweak Your Pickups
If you aren’t already familiar with what a pickup is, it’s a device that converts vibrations of your guitar into an electric signal that’s amplified to produce sound through a loudspeaker. What many guitarists don’t know is that they can adjust the height of their pickups to set them either closer or farther away from the strings. With these adjustments comes changes in sound–it may take some experimentation until you find the tone that you prefer, so be patient and continue testing different variations out. Play around with your pickup’s height (or the height of each pole) and you may be surprised at how drastically tweaking your pickups can change the tone of your guitar.
Learn About Your Gear
If you haven’t gotten to know your gear, you aren’t fully taking advantage of it. For this reason, it’s important to make some time to “learn” your gear. Mess around with the knobs of your amp and see what happens. Watch tutorials online, visit message boards, and read through any how-to guides or other literature that came in the box with your gear. Try different combinations of your amp settings and guitar settings, and see how the two interact. It may seem like a tedious process, but it’s the only way you’ll be able to truly “understand” your gear.
Use Quality Cables
Cable shopping can be intimidating, even for the most seasoned guitarists. All the styles and prices can be confusing, and it’s easy for a new musician to become overwhelmed to the point where they say “it’s just a cable, does it really make a difference?” To put it simply, yes it does matter. A well-designed cable can do wonders for your tone, while poorly constructed cables can leave something to be desired. And good cables aren’t always those that are more expensive. Generally speaking, the longer the cable, the more high end you’ll use. For this reason, only use a cable that’s as long as you need…extra-long cables can muddle your sound, especially if you’re not taking advantage of the length.
Order Your Effects Properly
Getting your effects in the “correct” order is difficult, and it can be tempting to put the reverb in front of the delay and the way behind the distortion. Playing around (and perfecting!) the effects order isn’t simple, but here are four quick guidelines for effects order.
- Wah, compressors, and EQ should be placed BEFORE distortion and overdrive should be near the start of the signal chain.
- Modulation effects typically work best AFTER distortion. With this in mind, it’s worth noting that some analog pedals often work better in front of distortion.
- Since delay and echo effects are designed to repeat what’s been played into them, they should be placed towards the BACK.
- In pretty much every instance, reverb should be placed at the END of your chain. If you place it anywhere else it can mask its effect and sound weak and messy.
For even more tips, check out Six Guitar Upgrades That’ll Improve Your Sound (or Save You Money.)