Own Your Tone! A Practical Guide to Electric Guitar Tone

Not everyone may be aware of just how important their guitar tone is, so in this article we discuss how this can be a part of sounding just like your guitar heroes or to know when certain tones are stylistically appropriate. Not only should the player understand exactly what is guitar tone, but where certain tones can serve particular purposes to best achieve the sound that they are looking for, and how much of an important role this will play when trying to improve on their instrument.

Importance of Electric Guitar Tone

Matching the Song You Want to Play

Have you ever sat down to practice one of your favourite songs on the electric guitar, but found that although you were playing the correct notes and chords in time, it just didn’t sound like the original? One reason for this could be that your tone isn’t matching the tone in the song.

So what is guitar tone anyway?

Guitar tone is the sound or timbre of the guitar which could mean the effects that are being used, what pickup selection is being used, is it played with a plectrum or fingerpicked, and many other factors. You could say that the sound difference between an acoustic guitar and electric guitar is due to the difference in tone. Or the difference between Kirk Hammett’s distorted guitars in Metallica and Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits’s clean to lightly overdriven sound is due to differences in tone.

Feeling Inspired

Once you have your tone sorted play a few bars of your tune that you were practicing. Sound closer? If so you may find that you now feel much more inspired to play the tune and find that it matches up much more closely to the track when playing along. Feeling inspired and motivated to practice is a very important thing to consider, since if you are thoroughly enjoying yourself when you play you will memorize and internalize more of the song and the techniques used. If you are trying to learn “Master Of Puppets” by Metallica but had previously been playing this with a clean
tone, you may have been frustrated that you didn’t sound like the recording which could have completely been due to the tone and not your playing at all!

Man with musical instrument setting up guitar audio stomp box effects and cables in music studio

To Sustain Or to Not Sustain

An important part of guitar tone that is particularly useful when soloing is the use of sustain. When you have a distorted or overdriven tone the notes will naturally sustain, meaning that they will ring for longer before decaying. This is used a lot in rock and heavy metal music as when you ring out a chord in a song or hold a note in a solo, you don’t want it to disappear instantly. If you are soloing and want your notes to hold for longer, experiment with different amounts of gain on your sound to see where the sweet spot of having a tone that isn’t too dirty for the style that you are going for is, but will also allow the notes to ring for longer.

On the flip side of that coin is what if you don’t want the notes to decay? Some styles of music and guitar playing may actually benefit from having a guitar tone that doesn’t sustain, such as funk music. Funk and other related styles such as RnB will often have short staccato parts played on the guitar, meaning the notes purposely don’t decay at all to create more space in between the notes to give a funky feel.

Understanding Where Different Tones Are Appropriate

A big part of using different effects such as distortion and reverb is to also understand where it is stylistically appropriate to use them and also how much of them to use. For example, your over saturated and distorted lead tone that you use for your ripping guitar solos may not be the
appropriate tone to use for your rhythm guitar part when you play chords, since the large amounts of effects could cause your tone to sound muddy and create a mess around the other instruments playing. Many players will set up different presets on their equipment to have a different tone for
their rhythm parts than their lead parts. They will also have an array of other cleaner and ambient tones ready for different songs or different sections of the songs.

Start messing around with tones at home to discover how much of a difference and how important guitar tone is to your sound!

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Cameron Hayes has been a professional musician for close to 10 years. After completing his Bachelor of Music Degree from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), Cameron made the move to London (United Kingdom) where he quickly became busy as a sideman/session musician to a variety of different singers and artists in the rock/pop/blues/soul/RnB genres. A guitarist in high demand, Cameron performed in various venues around London and greater England, as well as recorded in the studio with these artists and remotely from his home studio. Cameron also regularly transcribes sheet music for clients all over the globe, most commonly for artists in the USA, UK and Australia, so that they can record their own original music or cover songs with their own musicians in studios around the world! He has now returned back to Australia to be based in Melbourne where he continues his work as a session musician, as well as being involved in different songwriting and original projects. When he is not busy with any of the above endeavours, Cameron will often be teaching guitar lessons via Zoom to a select number of students situated around the globe, or writing music-related articles for different websites. https://www.londonguitarinstitute.co.uk/

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