5 Cheap Ways to Get the Best Tone Out of Your Rig
As guitarists we’re always looking for ways to achieve the perfect tone.
It is tempting to buy new guitars, amps and equipment. But it's possible to improve your tone with cheap and easy adjustments.
We’re going to look at 5 ways to get the best tone out of your existing rig, without having to upgrade any of your gear.
1. Optimize Your Guitar
The pickups and tone wood of your guitar defines how it sounds, but there are many other factors too.
These four elements are easy to adjust and have a big impact on your tone.
Use Thicker Gauge Strings
Using thicker gauge strings can make your guitar sound fuller and more powerful.
Thicker strings release more energy when they’re plucked. This results in a stronger tone.
Blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan used very thick strings. Try swapping out for .009s for .010 or .011 gauge sets for a boost in tone.
Experiment with Fret Wire
Fret wire - the metal bars that create the frets on your fingerboard - have a huge impact on how you play and sound.
While they don’t change how the guitar sounds, the fret wire changes how you play.
Taller, thicker frets make bending, vibrato and fast lead playing much easier. For lead guitarists, jumbo or super jumbo frets will improve the sound of your playing.
Get a Professional Set Up
Making sure that your guitar is well set up is another important factor in your sound and tone.
A professional will correct problems with intonation, uneven frets and warped necks. This will make your guitar sound and play better than ever. They will be able to adjust your action, which has a big impact on the tone of the guitar.
A higher action gives the strings more room to vibrate and resonate. This results in a more powerful sound.
2. Order Your Pedal Board
Knowing how to order different pedals is crucial for getting the best possible tone.
There is no definitive right or wrong way to order pedals. Some guitarists do it in unconventional ways to achieve unique sounds. That said, as a general rule order different effects like this:
Pedals that manipulate EQ, such as wah pedals, should be first in the signal chain.
Compression pedals sound better when placed before drive or distortion effects.
Overdrive, distortion and fuzz pedals should be near the start of the chain. If you’re using many dirt pedals, the heaviest pedal should go before the lighter effect.
Modulation effects include chorus, phaser, flanger and vibrato. They sound their best placed immediately after distortion.
Delay, reverb and echo pedals sound best repeating the exact inputted tone. They tend to sound better towards the end of the signal chain.
This is the order most guitarists use. Yet, experimenting with the order can result in interesting tones. We encourage you to sit down with your pedalboard and find an order that works for you and the music you make.
3. EQ For the Full Band Mix
One of the most common complaints guitarists have is that their sound gets lost in a full band mix.
This is because they are dialling in their tone to sound good in isolation. This doesn't consider how it will sound alongside a drummer, bassist and vocalist.
Many guitarists scoop their mids and boost the bass frequencies. A scooped sound competes with the bass guitar and the cymbals across frequencies.
Make sure your guitar is inhabiting the mid-range frequencies that it should be. Experiment with reducing the bass and treble and dialing in more mids to get a mix cutting tone.
4. Optimize Your Amp
Alongside your guitar, the amplifier you use will have a huge impact on your tone and sound.
Knowing how to get the best sound out of an amp is crucial for any gigging or recording guitarist.
The easiest change that many guitarists don’t know to make is to reduce the gain. Having too much overdrive compresses the guitar signal, so it is less dynamic and full.
Experiment with rolling back the gain to achieve a bigger, fuller sound.
For those with tube amps, they sound at their best when you’ve hit the sweet spot volume. Played loud, these amplifiers open up and sound fuller with more harmonic resonance.
Guitarists using 100W amps can't get to this spot for most gigs and rehearsals.
So many professional players are now using lower wattage amps with lower volumes.
Another alternative if you’ve already got a high wattage amp is an attenuator. These units reduce the volume, while still allowing the amp to drive hard.
5. Find Your Cab’s Sweet Spot
The speakers and cabinet you use will also have a big impact on the way your guitar sounds.
It's important to work out how to make your speaker cabinet sound its best when mic’ed up.
Speakers degrade at different rates. So the speakers may sound a little different. Spend time mic’ing up each speaker so you can decide which speaker sounds the best.
The position and angle you use to mic up the cab will change the way the guitar sounds. Record your guitar with the microphone at different distances and angles.
Once you find a position that you like, mark this on the cabinet grille with masking tape. At your next gig you can mic up the cab in a way that sounds the best.
Using these 5 tips can transform the way your guitar sounds, at very little extra cost. It’s important to get the best possible sound when playing guitar. But, this doesn’t have to mean investing in expensive new equipment.