The G Spot
May 2005
The "tone" of a player's guitar sound is one of these things that keeps many of them awake at night. This may seem a little extreme, but remember that your tone is your "musical voice" to the world and is something that should be treated with the highest importance. If it isn't something that you have really given a great deal of consideration, or you have and you're still not getting the sound you want, here are a few tips you might want to try.

1. Make sure that your equipment is kept in good condition. Make sure that your leads, pots and input jack sockets aren't "crackling", that there are fresh batteries in your pedals and fresh strings on your guitar (I would advise changing strings every 2-4 weeks). Also ensure that the gauge of strings you use isn't too light, it can make you tone sound thin. All the blues guitarists I know never step below a 10-46 electric gauge as a rule.

2. If you are using an amplifier with a transistor power amp section (don't confuse with pre-amp section), I urge you to save up/trade in for an all-valve amplifier; the difference in tone is seriously that vast. As an example, if I had to choose between going onstage with a Korean Tele Copy and a Fender Twin (all-valve) or going onstage with a USA Fender Tele and a Fender transistor amp, I'd always choose the former over the latter. Over the years I've heard a few models of transistor amps that sound great (all of them manufactured by Roland, worth a look if you can find them) but these are definitely the exception, not the rule.

3. Avoid using a great deal of effects pedals or cheap effects pedals. Every extra pedal you put between your guitar and your amp diminishes the quality of your initial tone, and cheap pedals generally compress the hell out of your sound. Good pedals are costly, but they are less expensive than a whole stack of cheap ones. I'd also tend to avoid digital pedals/racks too; they tend to "sanitise" your original signal too much. I really love the Ibanez "Tube Screamer" series (for overdrive), the Danelectro "Dan-Echo" (great vintage 'echo chamber' delay) and "Tuna Melt" (fantastic tremolo). If you're looking for a wah-wah, Jim Dunlop make what others try to imitate, and if you're looking for some great rock ("...paging Angus Young, please...") overdrive, the series of distortion pedals from Marshall are awesome.

These are just a few tips and just the tip of the iceberg really. If you have any questions about improving tone, or anything mentioned in these columns, email me at

All the best in blues,
'Sweet Baby' James.

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