Some easy tricks for coaxing primo timbres from your guitars, amps, and pedals.
Someone recently posted one of my pedal demos in a thread on a guitar forum and stated that he really liked the sound of the pedal in the demo. Another forum member chimed in and said that for some reason, everything I play through usually sounds good. Shortly after, forum member “Squank" replied, “It's a talent. Most gear can be dialed in to sound at least decent."
I agree with Squank, and I appreciate the compliment! We live in a golden age of guitar gear and I'm in the lucky position of getting to play through quite a bit of it. It's rare that I come across an amp, pedal, or other piece of guitar hardware I truly dislike, and I can usually get a decent, useable tone out of most modern equipment. This month, I'll share some of my thoughts on dialing in great tone on amps, pedals, and guitars.
Having all your guitars set up properly is an obvious essential for dialing in good tone. I like low-ish action, and for low action to work, I need to set my guitar necks to have just a bit of relief so the strings won't buzz and rattle, and in turn choke the tone. I'm always checking the neck relief on my guitars and adjusting the truss rod accordingly.
Pickup adjustments are also very important, and I set the height of my pickups by ear. I typically like the bass side of each pickup to be a bit lower than the treble side, so the wound strings don't overpower the treble strings. Also, strings generate more energy and volume in the area closer to the neck, so I typically set neck pickups lower than bridge pickups.
It's best to perform pickup adjustments while playing through a clean amp. You can more accurately hear the true tone and volume of each pickup when the signal isn't being compressed or overdriven by a cranked amp or pedal. Listen to the tone of each pickup position, and try to balance the height of each pickup until the volume remains relatively the same when changing pickup settings.
When I first plug into an unfamiliar amp, I'll start by setting all the tone controls to noon, and slowly raise the volume to a comfortable level. If the amp has a master volume, I set it for a good listening level and sweep the gain knob to explore the amp's overdrive capabilities. I then make small tone tweaks by sweeping each pot up and down and listen to the range they work in, and how they affect the sound from different points in front of the amp.
You want enough gain to get great sustain and an aggressive sound if desired, but you don't want to lose the punch, dynamics, and immediacy of a semi-dirty tone.
If an amp has a bright switch—and you decide to use it—be sure to check how your overdrive, fuzz, and distortion controls interact with it when engaged. A bright switch can make many drive pedals sound like a swarm of bees. Tip: Rolling the tone or treble dial way down on your overdrives and distortions can really help in this scenario.
Some amps have a bright cap on the volume pot. The purpose of this cap is to allow your amp to provide a bright, clear tone at lower settings on the volume pot. The more the pot is increased, the less effect the cap has. When the pot is turned all the way up, it should be completely out of the circuit. Like they do with a bright switch, drive pedals can interact with a bright cap and result in less-than-pleasant drive tones. If your amp has a bright cap and you don't like the way it responds to some pedals, or you find it excessively edgy at low volumes, consider having a competent amp tech change the bright-cap value or remove it altogether. This can be a worthwhile and easily reversible mod.
Speaking of overdrive and distortion, I come from the slightly less-is-more school. I recently heard Eddie Van Halen say he likes to crank things until they're ready to explode, and then backs them down just a hair. I dig that way of thinking, and it applies whether you get your distortion from a pedal, a cranked NMV (non-master-volume) amp, or an amp with a more modern preamp-gain circuit.
Excessive distortion homogenizes guitar tone. You want enough gain to get great sustain and an aggressive sound if desired, but you don't want to lose the punch, dynamics, and immediacy of a semi-dirty tone. Malcolm Young is my benchmark—a perfect sonic barometer to go by when talking about incredible rock-guitar tone. His playing proves you don't need a ton of distortion to rock with total authority.
I have a basic rule when it comes to overdrives, distortions, and fuzzes: When I engage them, I want the volume to either stay the same or increase a bit, so I'm "pushing" the amp with the pedal. Because drives compress the sound, they can tend to seem louder overall when you turn them on, but actually they might be reducing the overall peak level. I don't want to diminish the natural output level coming out of my guitar, and I don't want my guitar tone to vanish in the mix when I hit a pedal. As I mentioned earlier, I often run the tone control quite low on drive pedals, which I feel keeps them sounding warm and natural.
Above all, have fun, and remember: Even though I've implied there are rules, there really are no rules.
- Tone Tips: Getting Heard, Not Buried - Premier Guitar ›
- Tone Tips: Decoding the PAF Humbucker - Premier Guitar ›
- Tone Tips: Dialing in Maximum Tone - Premier Guitar ›
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We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
Use the Gibson Digital Amp’s jamming guide to get started and transform your sound with built-in effects and pedals, jam to backing tracks, or use it in lessons and songs. The Gibson Digital Amp only requires your phone, and wired headphones for the best playing experience, no cables are needed. The amp features 3 acoustic mic presets, 4 electric amp presets, and 6 effects pedals.
The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
Players can also challenge themselves by speeding up or slowing the tabs. Like having a full-time guitar teacher, the Gibson App keeps track of all your progress and adjusts lesson plans accordingly. The Gibson App released a “backing track mode” which supports both lesson and song playback without headphones, so users can self-select what works best for their current environment. And that’s not all: the Gibson App also packs in a fully-featured digital tuner for guitar first-timers, there’s even a detailed lesson on how to tune your instrument, a multi-function metronome, players can connect to free one-on-one consultations with Gibson’s Virtual Guitar Tech team, and to direct links to the Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer online stores for easy shopping for guitars, gear, apparel, and accessories.
Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
Belltone Guitars, as part of their Custom-Select System curated offering of pickups, has partnered McNelly pickups to create a one-of-a-kind retro-vibe P-90 pickup in the standard Filtertron size format. This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl, and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
The McNelly P-90 Foil-Coil comes housed in a ‘raw’ nickel outer casing with a dull nickel foil face with metal mount screw gromets to complete the ‘new-vintage’ aesthetic, making it a perfect choice for your signature Belltone custom build. Available exclusively through Belltone Guitars.
Check out the Custom-Select System belltoneguitars.com to preview the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons and all our standard and selectable components available to create your own signature Belltone. Then visit the Dream Lab on our website and select either model B-Classic ONE with its top binding or B-Classic TWO with its arm and body contours select your body color from our wide range of offerings, select your neck profile of either standard ‘C’ or thicker ’59 Round Back and either Maple or Rosewood fingerboard followed by your tuners, pickguard, and strings. Finally, review our curated custom-designed, and unique pickup selection to locate the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons to complete your signature build.
Builds start at just over $2,300.00 with a custom case and shipping included.
For more information, please visit belltoneguitars.com.
McNelly P 90 Foil Tron video Sep27
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the release of the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses. The new Relentless P and Relentless J series pickups feature the Relentless cover designed in collaboration with Billy Sheehan.
As with the Relentless pickups, we removed all the hard edges from the standard P Bass and standard J Basspickups, and added an arch to the top of the pickups to bring the sensing coils and pole pieces closer to the strings. These improvements increase the dynamic range and make active circuitry unnecessary.
The Relentless P and Relentless J pickups incorporate Neodymium magnets and produce 70 percent more output than traditional passive pickups, and they’re dead quiet due to the incorporation of metal covers and foil-shielded cables. To dial in (or fine-tune) the individual string output, the Relentless P and Relentless J include eight adjustable pole pieces. These pickups also have a broad magnetic field so you can even bend notes without volume dropout.
DiMarzio’s extra shielding makes the Relentless P and Relentless J better for both recording and stage performances. We’ve mounted them onto robust .09375” thick circuit board base plates to eliminate the annoying protruding mounting screws — ultimately creating a more comfortable and consistent foundation to rest your fingers on.
The new Relentless P steps beyond the traditional P-Bass sound and can only be described as massive. It has more of everything: more volume, beefier lows, a growling midrange, and crispy highs with better individual string definition.
The Relentless J incorporates a new invention, (patent pending) parallelogram-shaped coils, offering an expanded mid-range punch, snappy highs, precise lows, and a new dimension to the sound of the Relentless series pickups.
Relentless P and Relentless J pickups will breathe new life into any bass, increase playability, and work well for any style of music from Motown to metal.
DiMarzio’s Relentless P, Relentless J Bridge, Relentless J Neck, and Relentless J pair are made in the U.S.A. and may now be ordered for immediate delivery.
Suggested List Price for the Relentless P is $169.00 (MAP $119.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Bridge and Relentless J neck is $155.00 (MAP $109.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Pair is $296.00 (MAP 209.99).
For more information, please visit our website at dimarzio.com.