5 Tips To Improve Your Guitar Tone

In light of the current global situation, we thought it's necessary to do our part to help those who are stuck inside. So, while you have tons of time to practice and play guitar, let's use this time to help you improve your tone with our 5 main tips while mixing and recording guitars!

Don't Exclusively Rely on Freeware Plugins

There are some really good freeware plugins out there that will get you very far - but taking your tone to the next level will require a little bit of spending, and it doesn't even need to be hardware!
A good example first off is your Cabinet sound. There are some great ways of emulating your guitar cabinet but for me, the best has to be Impulse Responses, and in particular Non-Linear Convolution (click here to understand what Impulse responses are!)
My go-to winner for cabinet simulation by far is Two notes Audio Engineering - Wall Of Sound Plugin.

The plugin is CPU light, easy to use, and initially free to use. Not only does it include professional sounding cabinets, an ever-expanding library where you can purchase new cabinets from inside the plugin (the average is about 6-8 EUR by the way to it's really not expensive!), and simulation of the Poweramp section of ahead in every way you can think - but you also have access to mixing 4 cabinets and Mic's in every way you can think, AND it includes Studio Grade processing units for Compression, Reverb, EQ, and an Exciter all built into one plugin.

Two notes Audio Wall Of Sound Plugin is a great alternative to mic'd up cabinets, and give you unlimited access to the worlds finest collection of impulse responses

Multi-Band Compression to tame that Low-Mid range

Possibly one of the most underused processes on Guitars (and in general) is Multi-band Compression. Let me explain why this is better in a lot of cases than EQ as quickly as I can.

EQ is typically for shaping the sound of the recorded source and removing unwanted frequencies / boosting wanted frequencies. When applying this to guitar, your tone can quickly become saturated with several notches, and mixed with ear fatigue, your tone will suffer very quickly especially when used on the lower mid-range of your guitar tone. This technique is, in short, a one-stop-shop to a thin and wispy tone.

So, this is where Multi-band compression comes in. When you don't want to eliminate the frequencies because they're only sounding unwanted on certain parts (think palm mutes, higher strings, sustained notes, and chords, etc.) and they just need taming on those certain parts; Multi-Band compression helps to compress that frequency range in particular, for that particular more low mid-range heavy part, and still manages to retain your overall tone with no sacrifice.

A few good examples are Fab-Filter MB (my go-to), Waves C4, and pretty much every single DAW will come with their own version of a plugin included out of the box.
In any case - I would recommend using a band from 80-90hz to 350-450hz. Once you've got the band size, reduce by a max of -4db, a ratio or 2:1:1 - 4:1:1 (use your ears to determine this), and finally adjust your threshold to a point where it only attenuates the low-mid frequencies when they are unwanted and not all the time!

Don't focus all your time on the Higher-Mid range

Now, I'm not saying it's not an important place to concentrate on - trust me I hate that frequency range as much as the next audio engineer on guitars, but it's not the one place you need to focus on.

Personally, I try to attenuate between 2Khz and 5Khz with bell peaks which in turn pull down other harsh frequencies with them. Try to use your ears to figure out which ones are 'whistling' or 'ringing' and attenuate in small increments till you're happy. But this isn't the only pace an EQ can be very powerful - High Passing at 80hz will eliminate rumble and help clean up your overall mix by allowing your sub frequencies from the Bass Guitar, Lower tuned shells from the Drum Kit, Room Mics, etc. to shine through.

This is my typical guitar EQ across the board - but it does change between every project to make sure you use your ears! Notice I'm only making small changes to the spectrum; if you find you're having to make drastic changes, go back to the source tone and try and improve there efore EQ'ing again.

Make sure to focus on is frequencies that stand out too much on your tone - usually in the low-mid range that can make your tone 'boxy' or 'woofy' but, that being said, without this lower midrange your tone will sound shrill and way too thin, so a few basic rules to follow are:

  • Small Cuts (around -2db or -3db), with a Bell Q of about 2 to 3.

  • Use a bell peak like described above and boost around 6-7db - move across the frequency range of the EQ, and when you find somewhere that pokes out too much, then cut by a small amount.

  • Don't Cut everywhere - try to listen in the context of the overall mix un-soloed, and figure out where frequencies are clashing - then when you cut them they will make a genuine change to your mix and your tone rather than just blind mix changes.

  • Lastly and most importantly - A/B Comparison. I can not stress this enough, any time you make a change to your tone using EQ, listen to your change, then Bypass the EQ, then listen to your change again - and decide if the cut or boost helps your mix and the tone overall!

Get yourself some GOOD accessories

It may sound silly to some - and I totally understand conserving cost as much as possible when starting out, however; you can do that and get professional quality at the same time.
To an untrained ear, admittedly, it may be hard to hear a precise difference in tonal quality. But a visual representation, for example, shows night and day differences; transients are more defined when DI recording, sonically there is less distortion, and it may just be me - but the tone sounds slightly brighter and extended on the Low-end particularly on Bass Guitar - not to mention the build quality feels stronger than most of my past relationships with low budget cables.
Make sure to pick up a few high-end cables next time you visit your local guitar store, I'm sure you'll notice the change in your quality just as I have.

Hosa Technology make a cabe called the Edge series i can't recommend enough - not only is it extremely high quality, but it won't break the bank either!

Practice and Pick Hard when playing

When starting off, I wasn't really too sure where to start but I wish someone had given me this advice early on - Practice.
Practice every day if you can. Even if just for an hour, it helps you maintain your motivation, your skill will increase the more you play, and you'll fall into a technique that feels comfortable to play in.
And on the topic of technique, fall into the habit of picking hard, and down picking where you can - the attack of the pick has a genuine impact on your tone and is widely agreed that 90% of your tone is in your hands and how you play.
Lastly, push yourself out of your comfort zone and don't be afraid to fail at what you're learning - it'll take time but in the long run you will notice the changes to your Playing, Recording, and Mixing and tone the more time you put into it.