Where does your concept of tone develop from?

markd21

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My lady and I were talking guitars last night - specifically moddifying the SEs I got. She was curious why I changed some guitars, but not others. So I shared with her my "concept of tone" and what I need in a guitar to bring out my best performances.

For me, it starts with a playability that allows me to easily play chords and leads with little effort.

From there it goes to having pickups and electronics that allow clarity through the taper spectrum. I use volume/tone blends on all my 3 and 4 knob guitars. The interactions have to be musical.

The last time I was concerned with an artist's tone as inspiration was the "Parallels" album by Fatws Warning in 1991. That gave me the direction, but I never copied it. I could only sound like me - which is cool, and preferred.

Where does your concept of tone originate?
 

Birdsofprey

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I think your last paragraph nails it. Over time as new music came out my vision of tone has changed and there was always a little chase going on. Like you I change pickups because that’s the sound/tone that makes me happy. In the end I sound like well not Boston or on the other spectrum Grissom but just me. I’m cool with that. The definition of tone can be beat to death but in the end its what each of us hear and are pleased with. There’s lots of truly great tones from all kinds of artists in all genres using all different brands of guitars, effects, pickups ( as we are talking guitars). I think I also enjoy the satisfaction of the journey too. I’m a tinkerer by nature so many of the mods I do with my guitar probably aren’t even noticeable to anyone else but it satisfies me the guy that pays the bills or is that get into debt. Good topic!
 

JasonE

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I tend to be different than most guitar players. I have never chased a tone. I know what I like when I hear it. I like to try guitars, pedals and amps out and see what they have to offer. When I hear something I really like the sound of I tend to buy it. I must be on to something with this approach because I have received many frequent comments over the years on my tone at gigs. I have let a good number of other guitar players come up and play my rig and many of them tell me how much the love how it sounds and how touch sensitive it is. The good part is that I seem to be able to coax a tone I like out of a good amount of the common gear out there on the market so I can usually find something I an work with.
 

Bogner

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The "TONE" Topic Has Many Rabbit Holes To Wander Down. For Me...My Tone Has Come Into Being Over All These Years By Finding My Own Inner Musical Identity (Voice) And Becoming Aware And Comfortable With It. "That" Sound At Its Core Is Who I Am. It Is My Musical DNA Or Thumb Print If You Will. Different Gear Can Shape It A Bit Or Inspire Certain Nuances Or Highlight Aspects Of That Thumbprint. Other Artists And Bands Have Inspired That "Sound" And The Development Of My Sound And Musical Voice Along The Way And Continue Doing So. Getting "Your Sound" or "Tone" Takes Time To Develop In My Opinion.

What Gets A Person To Their "Tone"? For Me It Was Sounds That Inspired Me In Some Way. I Think Inspiration Is A Key Component. That Inspiration Can Come In Many Ways But Ultimately, For Me, It Comes In What I Am Hearing And What A Certain Sound Can Push Me To Create. Certain Things (Guitars, Effects, Mood, Mindset, Etc) Cause Me To Tap Into Certain Streams Of Creativity And Can Radically Alter The Sonic Landscape. Knowing What You Need And When You Need It (Along With Knowing How To Get It) Again Takes Time To Learn...At Least It Does For Me.

I Know I Rambled Here And Have A Lot More I Would Like To Say But Will Spare You From My Babbling. :)
 

markd21

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One of the best gear purchases I have made was the Line 6 Helix. At the time of purchase I was, like most of us, sitting with multiple tube amps and cabs. Ironically it was the tube amps that pushed me to get the Helix.

I was still gigging at the time, doing a lot of traveling. What I was after was an easy way to cart my tone without renting gear or using provided backline.

My main amps were my Rivera S120 or M60. Cabs depended on the venue. I found that I could emulate my Rivera using a Bogner Shiva model with IRs of a Marshall 1960 with EVM12L speakers.

Once I had my "voice" I was good to go. From there the Helix has become indispensable to my concept of tone. I've never worried about making a model sound like the "real thing" - I just need a model to mesh with a vibe I'm trying to create.

It has been fun creating musical textures with different guitars and "amps".
 

László

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My lady and I were talking guitars last night - specifically moddifying the SEs I got. She was curious why I changed some guitars, but not others. So I shared with her my "concept of tone" and what I need in a guitar to bring out my best performances.
You're lucky that your wife takes an interest in your guitar playing! If I start talking music, keys or guitar with my wife, her eyes glaze over, and she gets a faraway look.

"Too dull, huh," I'll ask?

"I'm about as interested in this topic as you would be in listening to me talk about lipstick," comes the reply.

My wife pulls no punches. She's straight up blunt about what she's thinking. I'm more diplomatic.

Ahem...so...where did my concept of tone originate? It's taken a journey of more than half a century. One tries different things, one finds what delights the ear.

Eventually you glom onto something that gives up the goods the way you want to hear it, and you go down the 'refining my tone' rabbit hole.
 

Moondog Wily

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The tones often start in my head, and I then try to find the closest match I can with the equipment I have available to me. Then there is also the concept of playing with my modeler and finding tones that I never even imagined only to find a hookah smoking caterpillar staring at me with glassy eyes as I traverse that rabbit hole! One thing I have not done and have no intention of ever doing is "cop" that sound XXX uses on YYY or Amp A with pedal B. I am interested in the present and the future that I can create, not the past and what others have done! Now whether anyone else wants to hear my wayward explorations is another question!
 

ViperDoc

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This is a deep topic. Very interesting to think about. It starts in your mind, how you touch the guitar with your hands and how the guitar interprets that through your rig, and how your rig in turn interprets that, then the speaker, the mic, the console, etc. It's crazy complex, man.

When in graduate school, I was playing a lot of acoustic guitar inspired by the Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia trio. Check out their recordings if you've never heard them, OMG. Pure mastery. Of course, I couldn't play the way they did, but the dynamics and vocality of their playing entirely changed how I approached mine. Their guitar tones are insanely good, and that acoustic input is where it all starts. It made me learn to use less compression in my electric playing so I could hear the transients more, and try to allow my own playing dynamics to come through and sparkle. It also made me learn to use heavier strings and play with less force.

Ultimately though, your question is where your concept of tone comes from. Maybe its an evolution of what you are hearing, what you've heard in the past and how that touches you emotionally. Great tone blesses people, man, it just does. I was talking with the great Steve Miller long ago about how mp3 and other compressed music technology has brainwashed humanity out of the medicinal effects of high quality sound. No one hears what those guys heard at the mix desk, which was intended for everyone to hear. I met Andy Johns at Steve's home studio when they were mixing Steve's blues album around 2009. I watched them tailor the mix through $60,000 (each!) studio monitors, it was f8cking crazy, man. Andy would nudge the fader and tweak the guitar for "more balls", finesse the reverb on the drums, all that. It sounded so good. Pressed down to vinyl and played in a nice room, you'd have a chance. Now most of us don't do that anymore. So that concept of tone really comes from listening. The more we hear, the concept expands. That's why you play PRS, man. True? True.
 

Lewguitar

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Tone? I've always been attracted to a beautiful tone and still hear new things I want to sound like and be part of me.

It's like being attracted to someone who's going to become a life partner isn't it?

I just absorbed the sounds, vibrato and techniques of my favorite guitar players and the stew that comes together sounds like me and a little like "them".

Jeff Beck's a big influence:


So is Clapton's tone with Cream.


Also Peter Green's tone with the Bluesbreakers.


BB King too. My favorite players have what I think of as being a beautiful tone. BB King sure did.


And don't forget Eric Johnson...


I'll leave out the acoustic players, but Joni Mitchell has had a HUGE impact on my acoustic playing.
 
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Longneck Tenon

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I tend to be different than most guitar players. I have never chased a tone. I know what I like when I hear it. I like to try guitars, pedals and amps out and see what they have to offer. When I hear something I really like the sound of I tend to buy it. I must be on to something with this approach because I have received many frequent comments over the years on my tone at gigs. I have let a good number of other guitar players come up and play my rig and many of them tell me how much the love how it sounds and how touch sensitive it is. The good part is that I seem to be able to coax a tone I like out of a good amount of the common gear out there on the market so I can usually find something I an work with.
Yeah, I really made a breakthrough when I stopped trying to force a sound into my rig and instead try to pull out the best sounds in each piece of kit by finding those sweet spots where the amp or pedal is right on the edge of most change. I start on the neck pickup with volume and tone controls full. That way I can turn down volume to get a clean/edge of breakup and then turn up for solos. That way no matter what guitar I am playing I get the tone and dynamics I need.
 

Longneck Tenon

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This is a deep topic. Very interesting to think about. It starts in your mind, how you touch the guitar with your hands and how the guitar interprets that through your rig, and how your rig in turn interprets that, then the speaker, the mic, the console, etc. It's crazy complex, man.

When in graduate school, I was playing a lot of acoustic guitar inspired by the Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia trio. Check out their recordings if you've never heard them, OMG. Pure mastery. Of course, I couldn't play the way they did, but the dynamics and vocality of their playing entirely changed how I approached mine. Their guitar tones are insanely good, and that acoustic input is where it all starts. It made me learn to use less compression in my electric playing so I could hear the transients more, and try to allow my own playing dynamics to come through and sparkle. It also made me learn to use heavier strings and play with less force.

Ultimately though, your question is where your concept of tone comes from. Maybe its an evolution of what you are hearing, what you've heard in the past and how that touches you emotionally. Great tone blesses people, man, it just does. I was talking with the great Steve Miller long ago about how mp3 and other compressed music technology has brainwashed humanity out of the medicinal effects of high quality sound. No one hears what those guys heard at the mix desk, which was intended for everyone to hear. I met Andy Johns at Steve's home studio when they were mixing Steve's blues album around 2009. I watched them tailor the mix through $60,000 (each!) studio monitors, it was f8cking crazy, man. Andy would nudge the fader and tweak the guitar for "more balls", finesse the reverb on the drums, all that. It sounded so good. Pressed down to vinyl and played in a nice room, you'd have a chance. Now most of us don't do that anymore. So that concept of tone really comes from listening. The more we hear, the concept expands. That's why you play PRS, man. True? True.
The choice of guitar is crucial but it extends from it through the pedals to the amp. Listening to all of it is the key.
 

László

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This is a deep topic. Very interesting to think about. It starts in your mind, how you touch the guitar with your hands and how the guitar interprets that through your rig, and how your rig in turn interprets that, then the speaker, the mic, the console, etc. It's crazy complex, man.
Brilliantly stated! I've often said its a hands>ear>brain>hands (etc) feedback loop.
When in graduate school, I was playing a lot of acoustic guitar inspired by the Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia trio. Check out their recordings if you've never heard them, OMG. Pure mastery. Of course, I couldn't play the way they did, but the dynamics and vocality of their playing entirely changed how I approached mine. Their guitar tones are insanely good, and that acoustic input is where it all starts. It made me learn to use less compression in my electric playing so I could hear the transients more, and try to allow my own playing dynamics to come through and sparkle. It also made me learn to use heavier strings and play with less force.
Dynamics are so important in music. Of course if you love the above players, you know Return to Forever, with the greats DiMeola, Stanley Clarke, Chick Core (RIP) and Lenny White. It was inspiring to listen to. I loved DiMeola's 'Elegant Gypsy' album after RTF, too, and listened to it over and over, and got into the Chick Corea recordings as things in his career progressed. My playing, whether keys or guitar is a million miles beneath their stratospheric heights, but they've been inspirations. Same with McLaughlin (remember when he took Santana under his wing?) and Paco De Lucia. Greats.

Then there are Pat Metheney and Lyle Mays...also fantastic creators and players.
Ultimately though, your question is where your concept of tone comes from. Maybe its an evolution of what you are hearing, what you've heard in the past and how that touches you emotionally. Great tone blesses people, man, it just does. I was talking with the great Steve Miller long ago about how mp3 and other compressed music technology has brainwashed humanity out of the medicinal effects of high quality sound. No one hears what those guys heard at the mix desk, which was intended for everyone to hear. I met Andy Johns at Steve's home studio when they were mixing Steve's blues album around 2009. I watched them tailor the mix through $60,000 (each!) studio monitors, it was f8cking crazy, man. Andy would nudge the fader and tweak the guitar for "more balls", finesse the reverb on the drums, all that. It sounded so good. Pressed down to vinyl and played in a nice room, you'd have a chance. Now most of us don't do that anymore. So that concept of tone really comes from listening. The more we hear, the concept expands. That's why you play PRS, man. True? True.
What a fantastic experience that must have been!

Like you, I can't stand listening to lossy audio formats like MP3. I can barely stand listening to satellite radio in my car on trips!

In my studio, I listen to other folks' recordings through Audirvana Studio. It's a high fidelity player that sounds worlds better than Apple Music's player, and you can set it up so it handles the audio for the entire rig, including Apple Music, which I sometimes have to use to reference client requests.

However, I don't run my recording software through it, because both Logic and Luna, the DAWs I use, have great fidelity.

Apple Music will play AAC, which isn't a very lossy format, instead of MP3 if you tell it to.

I've been lucky enough to work in world class rooms since the early '90s, and loved the time I've spent in them: GTN Studio A (most often there because it's nearby - it's a Russ Berger-designed studio that's easily as well done as any, anywhere); Right Track NYC, Producers Color, The Record Plant LA, Wisseloord, Netherlands, and Plus XXX Paris, etc., are other favorites. A few no longer operate, sadly.

Nonetheless, a smaller, correctly treated room with a first class set of near field monitors comes awfully close in fidelity at the mix position - the main difference is ability to handle volume and the low frequency content.

I also love the Audeze LCD headphones that lots of mastering engineers have been using to reference their mixes; the great mastering engineer Glenn Schick uses a pair of Audeze exclusively now, and doesn't even bother with speakers. During the COVID days I used them to mix national ads with clients using real-time, HD quality AV software and hosting called Evercast, with clients on their computers remotely so they could participate.

I sent out sets of decent headphones via Fedex for clients to use for the sessions, so they could actually hear with reasonable fidelity. I've thought of mixing other folks' music doing that, but haven't gotten around to it so far - I don't know if there would be a market for it. Seems like a good idea, though.

So excellent cans are another valid choice instead of spending a fortune treating a room, and you hear everything with the best cans. They sound natural and they're accurate. I have to use Sonarworks with other headphones, but not with the Audeze.
 
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garrett

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I gave this some thought and determined I can describe it technically. It comes down to achieving what I consider a neutral tone from the guitar and amp. They're all colored in their own way, but my starting point is to have plenty of highs, though not overly so. Clarity through the midrange. Not too much low end. That's my ideal clean tone. My logic is that by using pedals and amps it's easy to add bass and mids, and easy to remove highs. It's difficult the other way around.

The other thing, and why I'm a fan of treble bleed circuits, is I want that base tone be constant, no matter where I set my volume knob. That keeps me in "my tone" so I don't have to think about it.

All of the above is a major reason I have ended up modifying every guitar I've owned. No two are the same, so I feel the need to tweak things.

The funny thing though: As I listen to recordings of myself over the years, I sound like me even though the rigs varied greatly. :confused: After some time, I learned to accept and appreciate "my tone".
 

markd21

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Same. Each guitar and amp gives me a variation on the tone, but it's always 'my tone' basically.
Yup. I have been "me" for many years, regardless of Ibanez, ESP, Jackson, Hamer, EBMM, PRS, Gretsch. Bad Cat, Rivera, Marshall, Fender, etc...everything ends up sounding like me!!

Now, if my soul could connect with ONE guitar then I could achieve "god-like" status on the instrument, lol.

I am a firm believer that the true masters of the guitar tend to stick with ONE guitar (or a color variant) that gives them ALL the voices they need. I want to be there.
 

László

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I am a firm believer that the true masters of the guitar tend to stick with ONE guitar (or a color variant) that gives them ALL the voices they need. I want to be there.
I've been a one-guitar person many times over the years, often for several years at a time (if acoustic guitars are considered separately).

When I have a few more, as I do now, they're all PRS, with the formula of mahogany/maple sandwich, mahogany neck, and rosewood fretboard. It always works for me, and nothing else seems to, though I've tried MANY of the alternative options. Too many.

So I guess my process is kinda-sorta similar to the idea of one guitar; my keepers are all small variations on one type of platform.

But for every one-guitar master, there are folks like John McLaughlin and many others who play a variety of guitars, often from different makers. So my guess is what works for the individual player is good, whatever that may be.
 

dogrocketp

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My tone was basically a sound that I heard in my head. My hands could get me part way there. I could never get the high frequency and low frequency balance I wanted until I got my first SE. All of my PRS enable me to get the sounds I want, and each reacts differently to the same amp. I only gig two amps these days for that reason. I never really wanted to sound like a particular artist. I wanted to be able to bend notes like Albert King, phrase like Larry Carlton, comp like the immortal Bucky Pizzarelli or Eddie Lang, have the warm sound of Wes Montgomery, and get funky like Bruno Speight. Other than that, it didn’t matter. My soapies will always get me there, but I think I need other guitars to help me think and hear a little differently.
 

Sonic Blue 55

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My tone was basically a sound that I heard in my head. My hands could get me part way there. I could never get the high frequency and low frequency balance I wanted until I got my first SE. All of my PRS enable me to get the sounds I want, and each reacts differently to the same amp. I only gig two amps these days for that reason. I never really wanted to sound like a particular artist. I wanted to be able to bend notes like Albert King, phrase like Larry Carlton, comp like the immortal Bucky Pizzarelli or Eddie Lang, have the warm sound of Wes Montgomery, and get funky like Bruno Speight. Other than that, it didn’t matter. My soapies will always get me there, but I think I need other guitars to help me think and hear a little differently.
It's all about the soapies.
 

Gtrbldr

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Same. Each guitar and amp gives me a variation on the tone, but it's always 'my tone' basically.
Jup, same. I always seem to dial in a tone that is recognizable "me", regardless of the amp.

I have no reference, other than the tone in my head. Only criterium is how it sits in a mix, audible, but not in the way of other instruments, while isolated sounding "musical" to me. Clear, mids, no boomy lows. I don't want a sound engineer to muck up my core tone to fit in the mix. I am the master lf my tone ;-).

However, I have always modded my guitars with pickups that provided a good fundamental tone and dynamic response for *that* sound.
 
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