I can’t believe we’re already into March, but here we are at the start of yet another focus for the month; and this one will get a few of you excited I think. As you can guess from the title of this blog, this month we’re focusing our gaze on Why Guitar Tone Matters and I’m going to be doing my best to help you all achieve the tone you’ve been chasing all this time.
So to start with, we’re breaking down the 4 most crucial elements (in my humble opinion) and putting them under a microscope to understand them in much more depth.
Let’s dive in!
It seems like an obvious statement, but cables do more than just transfer electrical current to and from the output of your amp to the input of a DI box or pedal board. And in fact, the more of them you use together in the instance of using a pedal board, the more problematic your tone becomes.
Firstly, let’s start with what makes a good cable - a good connector at each end (gold plated is always good), a decent build quality with the proper shielding needed to omit any interference, and finally an most obvious the length of the cable will always play a part in whether it’s useful in the moment or not. All of these things are essential to a cable to make sure it can do its job properly and the less you pay for a cable, usually the lower quality it’ll be; however don’t be fooled into the audiophile exploiters who believe their $300 cables are genuinely doing more than a $30 cable, they just simply aren’t and many experiments and tests have disproved why they were even brought on to the market.
The main issue with lower quality cables is the build quality more than the ability to preserve your guitar tone, but there are problems that can arise when you start to add a lot of cabling to your rig. The main issue that occurs is that the fidelity of the tone depreciates the longer the voltage has to travel, meaning that if you just plugged your guitar into a DI and played it using a 10ft cable, and compared it to a guitar tone that had a pedalboard that added another 30ft in cable length due to the patch cables adding more distance to travel, you’ll hear a steep decline in particularly the high end frequencies of your tone. This can be solved ever so simply, however, by just adding a buffer pedal or a tuner with a built in buffer to the start of your board. Buffer pedals keep the impedance of the guitar constant allowing you to add as much cable length as you like, without the tone being depleted of any information due to lower impedance outputs of pedals that might be being used.
Pickups, without a doubt, are responsible for at least 25% or more of your guitar tone, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when put together with the rest of the elements, that 25% makes a massive difference overall. Everything about the pickups such as:
- The angle and placement of the pickup
- The height in relation to your strings, and the output of the pickups (impedance)
- The magnet type, and winding of around the poles of the pickup
- The manufacturer and any capacitor or resistor modifications
All of these have a huge impact on the overall tone of the pickup itself. There are some really incredible pickups on the market now for every flavor you can think of, such as EMG, Fender’s official pickups, Seymour Duncan, Bare Knuckle pickups and Fishman; all of which sound slightly different and have their own characteristics. The best thing to do when searching for new pickups is to research artists you like the sound of, or perhaps reach out to a fellow guitarist in the community that can direct you in the best way. Failing that, visit a music store and play some different guitars with different configurations and focus on the sound of the guitar as this video below from Jim Lill proves that the wood won’t make a difference when testing out what pickups you like the sound of more:
Speaker and Microphone Choice
Until recently, I think a lot of people weren’t made aware of just how much speakers change the tone of your guitar, or how much the particular year of the speaker being made, impacted the tone. Adam Getgood of Getgood Drums and formally Periphery, released their Cali Cabs suite which has a range of impulses from specifically the Vintage 30 speaker made by Mesa Boogie, and in that library there are 8 cabinets with different ages of speakers that all sound drastically different from one another.
Just taking that into account, I wouldn’t hesitate to submit that the same can be applied for nearly every speaker on the planet; and with how many models of speakers there are, I’m kind of glad that there's really two main manufacturers of speakers widely used! That being said, Celestion Speakers and Eminence Speakers are by far and away the most popular, and many will have already heard of the Vintage 30 speaker mentions above, but there are some other classic speakers out there as well such as the G12M Creamback or G12M GreenBack speakers and their various wattages, as well as Alnico Blue speakers famously used in the Vox V30 amplifier or the widely used Marshall G12T which was the main speaker used in their 4x12 cabinets for years.
Whatever you pick, every speaker will sound different, and so it’s always a good idea to hear the cabinet and the speakers in the room before you buy something to use for regular recording; but there is one more major impact on the tone that can change the speaker's sound ever further…
Yes, I’m of course talking about the microphone choice. And just the type of microphone alone will give you a drastic difference in tone let alone the make or model. A dynamic microphone such as the HH1 will capture a lot more of the bite and body, as well as a lot of the high and low end content. Whereas a Condenser microphone (in particular large diaphragm) such as the V67 or BH1, will be able to capture all of the detail and depth of the tone in a much smoother manor than a dynamic mic perhaps will. Lastly, a ribbon microphone will sacrifice some of the top end clarity for a warm and full body and bottom end - however there are condenser microphones that can emulate the ribbon warmth as well, such as the V11 which is one of my favorite microphones to place in front of an amp for exactly this reason.
The V11 is almost exclusively used on guitar amps in my studio, I just love how good it always sounds in front of any speaker.
Whatever your mic choice, the placement just like on any instrument is vital to get right and even the smallest change in distance from the speaker or from the speaker's cone (center), and the angle in relation to the speaker can have a major impact on the sort of tone you achieve.
We’re going to dive more into the best ways to mic up an amp throughout this month, so make sure you’re subscribed to the email list if you’re not already - and until next week, stay creative!