The most common mistake when chasing killer tones

Long before I owned my first guitar, as an impressionable teenager I used to study the product catalogues of the day. They were from companies like Ibanez, Fender, Gibson and ESP.

I was heavily influenced by my favourite guitar players and I swore to myself that I would do whatever it took to save enough money to buy some decent gear in order to sound like my idols. My first electric guitar was a cheap Strat copy, made by Sierra and that guitar was my first musical love.

I remember buying my first decent guitar, which was a green Fender USA Standard Stratocaster with three single coil pickups. A little later on I bought my first real guitar amp, which was a Crate 120 XL Combo Amp because it was the most affordable of the amps that my guitar heroes played. At the time I really wanted to get the Bon Jovi/Ritchie Sambora guitar tone.

I couldn’t wait to get my new guitar amp home. I proudly set up my Crate amp in my bedroom, plugged my Strat into it and turned the gain and tone knobs on the amp up to 10. I thought I was going to end up with a sound very similar to my idol. That’s when I received my first rude surprise.

Of course being young and inexperienced, I had no idea how to adjust the tone and volume knobs on my guitar to achieve a great guitar tone. I also didn’t have the first clue on how to dial in a great sound on my guitar amp. Like so many young, beginner and intermediate players, I didn’t know how to correctly set the bass, treble and mid tone knobs to get the guitar sounds that my idols were creating from the same amps, guitars and pedals. I didn’t understand how to set gain levels on my amp to help shape my tone either.

I ended up with a harsh guitar tone that didn’t inspire me. For the $1200 I had spent on my USA Fender Strat, I felt less than enthusiastic when I played through my new guitar and amp. Like many young guitarists, I persevered with average tone and never actually realised that just by learning a little bit about tone shaping, how much I could have improved the sound on both my guitar and my amp. I could have made my formative years on the guitar so much more exciting and enjoyable.

Fast forward a few years later, I was ready to start buying my first guitar pedals. I’d heard that pedals were the missing link to helping you achieve great guitar tones. I remember the first real guitar pedal I bought, having fooled around with some cheap overdrive and distortion pedals in the past. It was a G2D Super Overdrive pedal (made in New Zealand) and it cost me the princely sum of $450.

Here’s what I wish I had known when buying my first overdrive pedal.

I was convinced that the pedal would be money well spent, as it was demonstrated to me in store that I would be able to get the beautiful overdriven blues sounds that I was searching for at the time. You guessed it; I got the pedal home and I plugged it in in a hurry so that I could replicate the amazing guitar tones that I had witnessed with my own ears in store but what came out sound-wise was less than pleasing, to say the least.

The guitarist that had demonstrated those killer tones was a very seasoned New Zealand guitar player named Grant Wills (one hell of a great guitar player). However when I plugged the pedal into my guitar amp and my guitar of the day, it should come as no surprise now to me, or to you the reader, that my guitar, my amp and the pedal combined did not sound nearly as good as the in-store demonstration.

Chasing tone – the missing piece of the puzzle

What I’ve learned over the years is that it’s not enough to simply buy the best guitar and amplifier that you can afford. If you really want to get the full value and full enjoyment out of your instrument, it makes sense that you should sit down and either figure out the sweet spot for the desired tones on your guitar, or have an expert sit down and guide you through the journey to help you save days, weeks, months or even years of guitar playing frustration.

The same can be said for seeking out expert advice on how to dial in your amp and your guitar pedals.

We’re all guilty of chasing tones. It’s one of the most fun aspects of developing as a guitar player – hearing the tones on your favourite records and from your favourite artists, then being able to replicate (as close as possible) those tones creates an amazing sense of accomplishment and usually increases your excitement level on all things guitar. This is especially important if you want to master the same guitar techniques that your guitar heroes are performing.

For example, learning how to play those Guns’n’Roses Slash licks or Eddie van Halen hammer on and pull off licks. Having the same sound really helps your ears and your fingers to nail those techniques more rapidly and confidently.

In summary

Don’t just go out and buy great gear then allow it to perform beneath its true potential. Also invest in a knowledgeable guide who can help show you how you can tweak your guitar, your amp and your pedals to get those killer tones that you’ve been looking for.

Let me ask you three questions:

  1. Is your guitar living up to your tone expectations?
  2. Is your amp dialed into that sweet spot where you just can’t get enough?
  3. Is your pedal board giving you the sounds that you want to help you sound as good as you can be?

If you answered “no” to any of the above, I can help you chase those tones, catch them and make them work for you. Let’s work together to make sure your gear sounds as good as it possibly can. You’ll have more fun and progress as a guitarist faster as you won’t want to put your instrument down!

This is also a great way to extend the tonal possibilities of your existing guitar, amp and pedal board. Contact me now.

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