OK so I was probably a bit harsh in my last post on this topic but wanted it to strongly reflect my belief that ability is the major factor for a good tone. BUT as guitarists we love the hobby aspect of collecting pedals and trying new set-ups and this is what we want to read about. Is there a blog that will give us particularly good tips in setting up that killer sound?
I personally take a bit of the Neanderthal approach to guitar in that I think everyone MUST have three great sounds. After that all the other effects are just icing:
1) A great clean tone. I prefer single coils for this and especially love the neck & middle pickups on a strat for single note stuff and the just the neck or middle pickup for strumming. I swear by a tube amp due to it’s responsiveness which is especially noticable when playing single note runs on the neck & middle setting of the strat. I also always have a hint of reverb. In a band setting you need to EQ a bit more trebly than you would in your bedroom so that the sound cuts through the mix. When it comes to strumming you have to be a bit careful to control how the strings ring so I pretty much always palm-damp. A bit of chorus sounds nice BUT only once you’ve got the clean sound useable on it’s own.
2) A great rhythmy drive tone. This time the bridge pick-up either single coil or humbucker seems to work best especially if playing with drums and bass (it will sound too trebly on its own but you really need this especially if there is also synth or keyboard in the band). Again tube overdrive sounds the best to my ears as does a 12 inch speaker. I’ve never been impressed with 2×10’s although 4×10 are OK. I like a bit of reverb and occasionally add a short delay to make the sound seem a bit bigger. The trick is to avoid the “angry bee” sound that cheap transisters seem so keen to provide. If you have the angry bee sound and can’t get rid of it with your EQ you need to think or trying out a new pre-amp. I personally like the (discontinued) mesa V-twin however there are many similar options such as the damage control “womanizer” that also sound great. Drive wise I like to just hear individual notes in a chord. I normally set my drive level by switching to the front pup of the strat and playing a couple runs making sure that gentle picking sounds pretty clean but then harder picking brings in the drive nicely. Finally if Free’s “Alright now” riff sounds good you know you have the sound – I call it the nut factor.
3) A great solo sound. For this the front pup of a strat sounds bluesy and the bridge sounds rocky. Unlike the rhythm sound you want to hear the drive no matter how quietly you pick a note, and you also want it to ring enough to pull off some tapping. This may mean that the guitar feels a bit like a live beast but its up to you to try and control how much the strings ring with damping and also making sure you are accurate when you hit your notes. Volume wise it needs to be substantially louder than the rythm which can be a bit disconcerting in a live situation, however it helps to step closer to the bass players amp when playing a solo in order to stay in time and hear the chord changes. It is the solo sound that is most likely to show up poor technique and sloppy solos. The best practice is to play scales trying to make sure that you distinguish between notes as clearly as possible.
Once you have the above three sounds sorted out you can do whatever you like experimenting with effects BUT if you don’t have these sorted out spend money on your speaker, amp and guitar lessons before buying more effects!
Finally these sounds can’t be worked out at bedroom practice levels. I have ALWAYS been disappointed when trying to translate the perfectly dialled in bedroom sound into a live situation. You have to find these three sounds at gig volume with the rest of your band, tweaking perhaps during a practice or even a gig, and then trying to remember what worked!