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If you are a guitar player, you know how important it is to find the perfect guitar tone for your style. Whether you play rock, blues, jazz, metal, fusion, or country, you want your tone to match your musical vision and express your personality. But how do you achieve that elusive sound that you hear in your head or in your favorite artists music?
In this blog, I'll share my best tips on dialing in your ideal guitar tone for any style. We will cover the fundamentals of guitar, amp, and effect pedal settings that can help you shape your tone and get the most out of your gear. We will also give you some tips and tricks on how to tweak your settings to suit different genres and situations. My goal is to provide you the fundamentals for each genre so that you can begin to dial in your ideal guitar tone for any style.
It’s important to note that the right settings for your gear are dependent on the products you use. The adjustments you make to your EQ and gain as well as your tone controls and pickup switching are completely dependent upon factors such as how hot your pickups and amp are. For example, my headless guitar with high output Fokin pickups requires that I roll down the treble and gain much further than I would on my tele to achieve a smooth, flat jazz tone.
The settings I provide are meant to be a starting point and it’s important to experiment with your own setup in order to achieve your ideal sound. There may be suggestions you disagree with, and that to be expected. Opinions on guitar tones will always vary and I encourage you to leave a comment on your favorite tips for getting a great guitar tone so we can try them out ourselves.
On that note, let’s dive in and start dialing in our sound!
Indulging in the profound world of music, few sounds match the expressive nature and raw emotion of blues guitar tone. Its ability to traverse the spectrum of human feelings, from the depths of melancholy to the pinnacle of elation, is truly remarkable. But the question remains: How does one achieve that elusive and captivating blues guitar tone? What ingredients come together to craft this timeless sound?
While there is no definitive answer to these inquiries, as blues guitarists possess their unique preferences and distinctive styles, several common elements can help pave your way toward an authentic and compelling blues tone. From the choice of guitar to the pickups, amp, effects, and settings, each facet plays a pivotal role in sculpting this classic sound.
Broadly speaking, a blues guitar tone should be saturated with a touch of overdrive, creating a rich and resonant soundscape without delving into excessive distortion. The equalization should lean toward the midrange and treble frequencies, endowing the tone with a luminous quality and lucidity. Furthermore, the volume and tone controls on your guitar become the keys to fine-tuning the dynamics and expressing your musicality.
One of the most important factors for getting a good blues tone is choosing the right guitar. The type of guitar you use can affect the sound, feel, and response of your playing. Generally speaking, blues guitarists prefer guitars with solid or semi-hollow bodies, typically tele or strat-style guitars. Highly-resonant hollow bodies are much less popular among blues players. However, you can still get a great blues tone if you have a hollow-body guitar as well.
The type of pickups you use are essential to getting a great blues tone. Single-coil pickups tend to produce a bright and clear tone, while low-output humbuckers tend to produce a warm and smooth tone. Both types can work well for blues with the main difference being that humbuckers are better suited for higher gain since they aren’t as noisy when you crank the overdrive. Humbuckers will also create a thicker sound, whereas single coils create a thinner, spankier tone. I personally recommend using the bridge humbucker for dialing in a majority of blues tones.
Another aspect to consider is the use of tone controls and switching. Blues players are well known for using a wide range of dynamics. By adjusting the volume and tone knobs on your guitar, you can change the amount of overdrive and brightness of your tone to create a soft, gentle ambience or a harder, more aggressive feel. By switching between different pickup combinations and control settings, you can change the character and balance of your tone.
Setting the EQ on your amplifier is crucial for shaping your blues tone. I recommend starting with the treble and mids at 6-7, and bass at 2-3. This configuration allows for a well-rounded tone that retains clarity and warmth. However, don't be afraid to experiment with different settings to suit your specific gear and personal preference. For instance, boosting the mids and cutting the treble and bass can deliver a classic blues tone, while scooping the mids and boosting the treble and bass may yield a more modern blues sound.
The gain knob on your amp controls how much distortion you add to your signal. For a blues tone, you want to set the gain low enough to get a clean sound when you play softly, but high enough to get some crunch when you dig in. This way, you can use your picking dynamics and touch to control your tone.
I suggest starting with the gain around 3-4 for a good blues tone, but you can also adjust it according to your preference and style. For example, if you play more aggressive blues like Stevie Ray Vaughan or Joe Bonamassa, you might want to increase the gain for more bite and sustain. If you play more mellow blues like B.B. King or Eric Clapton, you might want to lower the gain for more clarity and warmth.
While the foundation of your blues tone lies in your guitar and amplifier, incorporating effects can take your sound to the next level. An overdrive pedal is a must-have for adding crunch and boosting your signal, injecting that gritty blues flavor. Additionally, effects such as reverb, delay, chorus, and wah can contribute to the sonic tapestry of your blues playing.
However, tread carefully to ensure you don't overshadow the natural character of your guitar and amp. For instance, a spring reverb can infuse a vintage vibe into your sound, while a slapback delay can transport you to the rockabilly era. Meanwhile, a chorus pedal can create a lush soundscape, and a wah pedal can provide expressiveness to your leads. Remember, the key is to use effects tastefully, allowing your guitar and amp to shine while adding subtle enhancements.
The Karma MTN-10 Overdrive is our favorite overdrive pedal for sculpting top tier blues tones, but it is amazingly versatile and can be used for any other genre that requires gain. It also makes for an excellent clean boost making it great even for jazz.
From country to metal, the Karma MTN-10 has it all covered!
Fusion guitarists are widely recognized for the intricate nature of their playing and their highly creative and expressive phrasing. Having the right tone is essential to articulating the feel of jazz fusion and to correctly blend elements of jazz, rock, funk, that are commonly utilized by fusion players. So, you’re probably asking: How does one achieve that versatile and captivating jazz fusion guitar tone? And what ingredients come together to craft this eclectic sound?
While there is quite a variance in the tones of jazz fusion legends such as Alan Holdsworth, Pat Metheny, and Scott Henderson,, several common elements can help pave your way toward an authentic and compelling jazz fusion tone. From the choice of guitar to the pickups, amp, effects, and settings, each facet plays a pivotal role in sculpting this diverse sound.
Generally speaking, fusion guitarists, like blues guitarists, prefer guitars with solid or semi-hollow bodies, typically super-strat or archtop-style guitars. Fully-hollow bodies are much less common among fusion players. However, you can still get a great fusion tone if you have a fully-hollow guitar as well.
The type of pickups you use are crucial to getting a great fusion tone. Humbuckers tend to produce a warm and smooth tone, while high-output single coils tend to produce a bright and edgy tone. Both types can work well for fusion with the main difference being that humbuckers are better suited for lower gain since they aren’t as harsh when you dial back the overdrive.
Humbuckers will also create a fuller sound, whereas single coils create a sharper, more articulate tone. I personally recommend using the neck humbucker for dialing in a majority of fusion tones since it is better suited for that foundational jazz tone.
The best amp settings for a fusion guitar tone often follow the same rules as a jazz tone. It’s best to start with the EQ settings relatively flat and you should aim for a balanced volume across the treble, mids, and bass. Somewhere around level 4-6 for each frequency range will create a good foundation to start from. For a slightly darker sound, experiment with reducing the treble, which can also be accomplished by rolling off the tone knob on your guitar.
Unlike typical jazz, a good fusion tone typically utilizes a touch more gain to create a bit more snarl and punch than the soft, rounded sound of a clean jazz tone. I usually land somewhere around levels 3-5 for the gain when I am playing jazz fusion, but you’ll definitely want to use a clean channel on your amp to maintain that fundamentally flat sound.
Jazz players often use a variety of effects with the most popular choices being delay, reverb, chorus, and overdrive. It’s important to note that creating a solid jazz fusion tone means not going overboard with any effects in order to preserve the articulation and dynamics of great fusion guitar playing. When it comes to jazz fusion, the feel and emotion of your music should come mostly from your hands and any effects should be used to enhance your playing and not overpower it.
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Like most of our community here at Ploutone, you probably have an appreciation for the powerful nature and aggressive expression of metal guitar tones. Their ability to convey intensity, speed, and heaviness is unlike the sounds of any other genre.
Again, I feel it’s important to state that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to dialing in the perfect metal tone, as guitarists possess their unique preferences and distinctive styles, several common elements can help pave your way toward an authentic and compelling metal tone. From the choice of guitar to the pickups, amp, effects, and settings, each facet plays a pivotal role in sculpting this ferocious sound.
Most metal guitarists rely solely on the bridge pickup since it is much punchier and thicker than the neck pickup. Oftentimes, guitars designed specifically for metal will only come with one humbucker in the bridge, and although they look awesome, I personally prefer to have an instrument that is more versatile and wouldn’t recommend buying a guitar with only one pickup unless you plan to play the same type of music all of the time, or have the budget for multiple instruments. As for the tone and volume controls, it’s best to leave them be. The tone knob controls the amount of treble in your output and you don’t really want to lower it for most metal tones.
The best amp settings for metal can vary depending on the specific genre of metal, but I recommend starting with the treble around 5-7, mids between 3-5, and bass set to 5-7. This configuration allows for a powerful and aggressive tone that has plenty of low-end and high-end bite, but don’t be afraid to experiment with different settings to suit your specific gear and personal preference. For instance, cutting the mids and boosting the treble and bass can deliver a classic metal tone, while boosting the mids and cutting the treble and bass may yield a more modern metal sound.
As you can probably guess, metal guitar tones often utilize high-gain, but there is such a thing as too much gain, even when it comes to metal. Start with your gain around 6-8 and dial it in to provide the perfect level of grit and breakup without over saturation. You want to retain clarity and separation between notes while avoiding turning your tone into a mushy mess.
There are quite a few pedal types that are popular in metal. An overdrive or distortion pedal is probably the most essential, especially if you don’t have an amp that is suited for high-gain and able to pack the punch or provide the grit necessary for a great metal tone. A noise gate is another valuable pedal for shaping a good metal tone because it helps to silence some of the unwanted string noise that comes from high gain.
However, you don’t want to rely on the noise gate and you should always focus on hand technique for quieting those unnecessary string vibrations. Reverb and delay pedals can also be great for adding a bit of depth or thickness to your sound, but they should be used sparingly. Only the tiniest bit of delay or reverb should be added and you should avoid any noticeable echoing or lasting reverb.
Looking to expand your musical palette? The Cort KX508 is an 8-string machine for the modern guitarists and it's Fishman Fluence pickups make it capable of handling anything you throw at it, not just metal.
Country guitarists are perhaps best known for their vibrant and emotionally expressive playing styles. Their ability to convey a wide range of emotions, from joy to sorrow and everything in between, is no less than remarkable. Having the right tone is essential to capturing the authentic country feel and sound.
There are several common factors that can help you on your way to achieving an authentic and captivating country tone. From the choice of guitar to the pickups, amplifier, effects, and settings, each aspect plays a crucial role in shaping this classic sound.
For most, if not all guitarists, the first instrument that comes to mind when they think of country music is the tele. Though the shape of the guitar has little to do with the sound it creates, it's really the single coil pickups in the tele that create the snappy, crisp tone, and country twang. If you are seriously passionate about dialing in a country sound, you’ll want to strongly consider investing in an instrument with single coil pickups. Otherwise, it will be quite the struggle, if not impossible to replicate a genuine country guitar tone.
A typical country tone often uses EQ settings similar to a rock tone in the way that the mids are scooped and the treble and bass remain somewhat higher. Start with the mids around 2-4, the bass around 3-5, and the treble around 4-7 for that bright country twang.
The amount of gain used by country guitarists can vary greatly depending on the artist or the section of a particular song. Melodies and rhythms are typically played clean with very little gain, while solos and lead lines often require a bit more gain to add a touch of crunch or grit. Start with the gain on the lower end, around 1-3 and adjust based on your desired sound. It’s important to listen closely to your favorite country artists to figure out how much gain they are using, which can change from song to song.
Although effect pedals are not necessary for a decent country sound, there are a few types of pedals that can help you create a more expressive sound. A compressor helps to even out the volume of different frequencies in your tone to create a thicker sound often sought after by country guitarists. Reverb and delay can be used to create ambience that is typical in some, but not all country music. Lastly, an overdrive pedal can be a great addition to add a bit of distortion and crunch that you hear in a higher-gain country guitar tone.
The Mooer R7 X2 is an excellent reverb pedal for adding ambience to any genre.
Jazz guitarists captivate audiences with their sophisticated and versatile playing styles, showcasing a range of emotions from elegance to excitement and beyond. Crafting the perfect tone is essential to achieving a smooth and refined jazz sound. There are several key factors that contribute to achieving a warm and rich jazz tone, tailored to the preferences of jazz guitarists. From the selection of guitar to the pickups, amplifier, effects, and settings, each element plays a crucial role in shaping this timeless sound.
When aiming for a jazz guitar tone, it should exude warmth while maintaining a touch of brightness, creating a well-balanced and velvety sonic texture without becoming muddy. Emphasizing the bass and midrange frequencies through equalization provides the tone with a full-bodied quality and a comforting warmth. Moreover, the volume and tone controls on your guitar serve as essential tools for adjusting dynamics and expressing your musicality.
For a great jazz tone, you'll want to utilize both the bridge and neck pickups, or in some cases just the neck pickup depending on how hot your pickups run. The goal is to balance out the low and high frequencies and create a flat and balanced tone. It can also help to set your guitar volume around seven or eight and to roll back your tone knob to remove some of the higher frequencies. This will give you more control over your dynamics and reduce the brightness of your sound.
Crafting the ideal EQ settings for your jazz guitar tone is paramount to achieving a balanced and captivating sound. Fine-tuning the frequencies on your guitar and amplifier can make all the difference. While there are no rigid rules, I recommend beginning with a balanced foundation and most jazz guitarists use relatively flat EQ settings. Start by setting the treble and mids at 4-6, while keeping the bass around 3-4. This configuration allows for a well-defined tone that preserves clarity and warmth, essential elements in jazz music.
Amp Gain Settings for Jazz
The typical jazz tone utilizes very little gain and I recommend starting with your amp gain set around 1-2 to get a clean and smooth sound. You’ll want to keep your amp on the clean channel. If you want to add a bit of punch you can roll the gain up a bit, but you want to avoid creating excessive brightness and you should keep the gain from the level of breakup.
While it’s possible to create a decent jazz tone without effects, various pedals such as a compressor, chorus, and reverb are popular among the jazz guitar community. However, their use should be limited and only used in small amounts to color one’s sound and create a bit more expression. Most of your tone should come straight from your guitar and amp, without excessive effects.
Don't neglect the importance of the right guitar pick! These thick picks from GT Plectrums are perfect for metal, jazz, and any other genre that requires fast, controlled picking.
Rock guitarists are revered for their raw and powerful playing styles, commanding attention with their energetic and electrifying performances. Achieving the right tone is paramount in creating a punchy and dynamic rock sound. There are several key factors that contribute to crafting a gritty and aggressive rock tone. From the choice of guitar to the pickups, amplifier, effects, and settings, each component plays a pivotal role in shaping this iconic sound.
In the realm of rock guitar, the tone should be characterized by its edginess, delivering a combination of raw power and intensity. It should possess a balanced mix of brightness and warmth, creating a harmonious sonic blend without sacrificing the necessary grit.
Selecting the right pickups on your guitar is one of the most important factors in creating a great tone for rock. A bridge humbucker is the go to choice for this genre of music since it produces a higher output to drive the amp harder and maintain a tighter sound under high gain.
The bridge humbucker will also produce louder mid-range frequencies while maintaining better definition than you get with the neck pickup. Rock and roll often incorporates harmonics which are easiest to create using the bridge pickup. You can use the volume knob to switch up your dynamics throughout a song, but it’s best to leave the tone knob all the way up when playing rock music.
A good foundation for your rock tone starts with bumping up the mids to somewhere around 6-8 while keeping the bass and treble a bit lower around 3-5. Raising the mids helps to create a somewhat fuller sounding tone that is typical in rock music. By keeping the treble and bass a bit lower, you can create a somewhat punchy tone that sounds thick yet retains clarity and isn’t overly saturated throughout the entire frequency range.
As you probably already know, most rock music requires a higher level of gain than most other genres. The goal is to create a good deal of crunch and sustain. The best amp settings for rock start with the gain somewhere around 5-7. Again, we don’t want individual notes to blend too much, but we want to create some interesting harmonics between intervals and, ideally, some level of breakup especially when playing lead lines or solos.
Using your guitar volume knob can create more expression and dynamics in rock and roll music by allowing you to control the amount of distortion and output from your pickups. By turning down the volume knob, you can clean up your tone and get a softer and quieter sound. By turning up the volume knob, you can boost your tone and get a louder and dirtier sound. You can also use the volume knob to create swells, fades, or accents in your playing.
When it comes to rock and roll, there really is no limitation to the pedals that can be used. Many of the same effects I’ve recommended for other genres work great for rock. I definitely recommend an overdrive pedal to achieve the necessary grit and edge-of-breakup effect. Reverb is another great option for adding ambience and a sense of space to your playing. Fuzz pedals like the Danelectro 3699 are also super popular especially among classic rock guitarists.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and learned something new about guitar tone settings for any style. I try my best to cover the basic principles and guidelines that can help you find your perfect tone, but remember that there is no one right answer. The best tone is the one that you enjoy listening to and find inspiration in.
Experiment with different settings, try new combinations, and listen to the sounds of your favorite guitarists. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to break the rules and find your own voice. Your tone is a reflection of your musical identity and creativity. Have fun and rock on!
You can find more great articles with tips and tricks on how to improve your tone and technique in our Hone Your Tone blog.
Brett, the owner and founder of Ploutone, is a modern guitarist on a mission to create a sustainable future and build a thriving community through the power of music. Brett founded Ploutone to celebrate independent artists and foster connections among guitarists worldwide. With a vision of spreading positivity and promoting sustainability, Brett hopes to inspire others to push the boundaries of their instruments and contribute to a better world.MEET THE OWNER