There Is No Such Thing As Bad Guitar Tone
The Perfect Guitar Tone
Guitar players, myself included, are basically always in pursuit of that perfect guitar tone. Every guitar player I know has amps and tones they love, and those that they hate. I’ve finally come to the conclusion after over 20 years of playing the guitar that there is no “bad guitar tone”. Allow me to explain my new found enlightenment and reasoning.
Great Tone Is Subjective & Opinionated
We gitfiddlers can get pretty picky. You likely have spent quite some time creating your go to guitar set up that makes that tone that you love. In fact, if you’re like me, you may have even marked the settings on your amp so that if the knobs get accidentally bumped, you know where to set them back. Even so, there is always some boutique amplifier, or different guitar, or pedal that could make our tone just a bit better in our stubborn minds.
Maybe you love a Strat neck pickup through a vintage Fender Bassman, I mean who doesn’t? Maybe your preferred sound is a Jackson Dinky into a highly overdriven Mesa Rectifier. Me, I’m a fan of both! Maybe you even prefer a thinner fuzzy tone that is very popular among indie rock and recent blues artists like Jack White or The Black Keys? You get the point, one man’s (or woman’s) tone is another guitar player’s trash.
Right Song, Wrong Tone
Some players won’t change their tone with the music they are actually playing. If I’m honest, I’ve been guilty of this. Our go-to tone is not always appropriate and what should be used. Sure, the ole’ faithful set up is great if all you perform are originals specifically tailored for that tone, but most of us are playing covers, in a church, or playing a wider range of music genres and audiences. While having a cranked Marshall stack tone is amazing and my personal favorite, it’s not the greatest choice for most praise and worship songs, and likely the two holes on the side of everyone’s head are not going to be too happy either.
Here’s another great example, where tone needs to fit the music. Take the classic song, Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum. Most players would consider the guitar tone awful, yet it works really well in this song, almost annoyingly well. I want to hate it, but it is the perfect match for the time period, and the overall gestalt of the song. I think you get the point.
It’s Not The Tone, It’s You
A good guitar player or someone with a good ear can plug into almost anything from an old dusty solid state amplifier to the most fickle class A boutique tube amp and get a playable, good tone out of it. You’ve hear it before, tone is in the fingers. While there is a lot more to it than that, there is a lot of truth in it too. A players style, technique and ability greatly affects how the sounds waves coming out of the box behind you sounds. We have all seen the players that have more money than talent. A $3000 guitar amplifier is still going to sound as good as the musician plugged into it. If you want “better” tone, you may want to start with your hands.
Your Audience Doesn’t Care
I have no idea, it would be an interesting study, to find out what percentage of music lovers judge the tone of the instruments they hear in the music they listen to. I’m going to go out on a limb and say, most don’t care, especially with the ever so popular dub-step genre these days. I can’t think of a more annoying compilation of sounds, but that’s just my opinion, which is back to my first point.
Now that I’ve come full circle, I want to hear your thoughts? Is there really a bad guitar tone? Please share and comment below!