Improve Your Tone - Part 2


Hey everyone, welcome back to my series of articles of guitar tone, 'Improve Your Tone'. This is part 2.


In Part 1 we have looked at how you can deliberately change your technique to get the tone you want from your fingers. This is done by finding all the tones you can make with your picking hand, and then choosing which sound we prefer. The goal is to make THAT SOUND into your personal tone, by changing your technique. To summarize, we have:

- checked out HOW HARD exactly to hit the string with the pick to get the best balance between a firm-but-not-snappy attack and a long, relatively loud sustain;


- checked which combination of strings and pick is easiest to the hands, making it also easy to get the hardness of the pick attack just right;


- checked out WHERE exactly we want to hit the string with the pick to accent certain overtones;


- practiced playing single-note runs using up- and downstrokes, while trying to get an even sound. So we've been picking all the notes with the same force, at the same exact place on the string, holding to pick at the exact same angle. Remember, to might mean you have to completely rework your picking technique!


Signal path - Gear

Now we have found the tone we want. From the fingers at least. We've changed our picking to get that tone on every single note.


So, it's time to look at which gear we need to preserve that beautiful tone and get it through the signal path as good as possible. By the way, the SIGNAL PATH looks like this:




As you see, a lot of steps before your beautiful notes come out of the speaker, and into your ears and the ears of the audience. This means that every improvement to any of the components of the signal path WILL IMPROVE YOUR TONE. Cool, huh?

improve your tone - dunlop picks


The Pick

Yep, the pick. This first component, after your hands, is very much related to your technique of your picking hand. So, let's find the pick that will get you that beautiful personal sound, while also making it easy to pick.


Picks, as we know, come in different sizes. Let's look at how the size of the pick influences the tone and the finger control/playability.


- small size pick: softer tone, more control, fingers are closer to the string so it demands precision;

- medium size pick: good tone, ok control, does not demand as much precision;

- large size pick: good tone, offers less control, fingers are further from the string, does not demand as much precision.


A medium size pick will offer the best balance between tone and playability. No wonder most guitarists use a medium size pick.


Picks also come in different materials. Nowadays, they come in plastic, celluloid or nylon, hardwood, felt, stone and even metal. The material of the pick has a big influence on the ATTACK of the note and thus, of the quality of tone. If you have a bunch of picks, made out of different materials, listen to the attack of each one by unplugging the guitar, muting all the strings with the left hand, and picking up and down on one string.

Here's the thing: some picks make unwanted noise when they hit the string. Stone and metal picks even make their own little note every time they hit the string, actively working as if the string was fretted. This might not be what you want. In that case, STAY AWAY from these expensive Japanese hardstone or fancy metal picks.

Find a pick that does not make an unwanted high-pitched click when strumming, but gives a beautiful, deep sounding plock instead!

Oh yeah, it also has to have a GRIP that is immediately comfortable. If not, throw it far from you 'cuz you are wasting time!


Picks also come in different thickness and hardness. This influences both tone and playability in a big way. Let's find out how: get 3-5 picks of the same brand, material and size, all in different thickness. (for instance, Fender or Dunlop). Again, pick while muting the strings with the lefthand.

This is what happens:


- soft gauge pick: softer tone, weak attack, easier chord playing, less control on single notes

- medium gauge pick: better tone, more attack, offers more control

- hard gauge pick (1-2 mm): better tone, strong and deep attack, offers more control, but requires softening your grip on the pick without it slipping.


I will now say that a hard gauge pick offers the best possible tone. Even if it's more difficult to play, because you have to loosen your grip a bit, it's worth working on your picking technique until you can comfortably use a hard pick, even while playing very fast.


To summarize a bit crudely: in terms of pure tone, get a medium sized, hard gauge pick that doesn't make unwanted sounds when it hits the strings, just a good deep 'plock'. Than, learn how to comfortably play using that pick.


In Improve Your Tone - Part 3, i will take you through the next parts of the signal path: the strings and the pickup.


Stay tuned!


Scott Henderson - Tone Freak