I can not tell you how many times I've seen a guitarist on stage who has a rig I'm envious of. 

 

He's sporting a shiny new SG, plugged into a Marshall Bluesbreaker reissue and I'm salivating. Now, I'm not here to comment on what he's playing and whether he's good or not, as this isn't the proper forum for such commentary. What I will complain vigorously about, is when a guitarist has top of the line gear, and doesn't seem to have a clue as to how to use it to produce a quality sound.

What do I mean? What do you think I mean? I mean when a guy has a shiny new Fender Telecaster and doesn't seem to be able to get a handle on that high end treble that's forcing the crowd to think about going outside to smoke a cigarette until he's done.  I'm talking about a guy with a classic Les Paul he saved up years for, and has a distorted tone that sounds like his amp is underwater.  Worse yet, I see these guys frequently set up before a gig and only touch the gain and master volumes on their amp.  Nothing else!   

What I'm saying fellas is this: you can be swingin' around the biggest cock on the block, but if you're just jammin' it in and goin' for broke, you ain't gettin' booked for the next show, you dig?

Let me tell you, a decent, moderately priced rig, can sound infinitely better than the highest price set-up, if the former knows how to get the most out of his gear, and the latter does not. Allow me to just go over some basics here with you.

 

 

For the sake of this article we'll assume you have any decent electric guitar that intones properly (each string producing the correct pitch open and at the 12th fret), and that you're using any old tube amp (solid states are like synthesizers in my mind) with high/mid/low tone knobs, without a gain knob paired with a master volume.

knobs

 

First of all, those tone knobs on your amp were put there for a reason.  Not only will every guitar sound different through your amp (a Les Paul and a Telecaster will require two very different tone settings), but every room you play in has different characteristics that will effect your lows vs. highs. Even the size of audience affects this. You need to shape your sound accordingly. Don't go into any situation with preconceived notions of where the knobs should be either. The only rule that matters is the one that is most pleasing to the ear.  

After you plug in, set the high, mid, and low knobs each to 50%.   Set both tone knobs on your guitar all the way up.  Then you can strum for a bit, playing chords, low end runs and high end licks.   Adjust as you go so all three elements start sounding better and better.   Switch your pickups as well to each setting.   Make sure all three elements sound as good for each position.   You need to make sure your neck pickup isn't too muddy and your bridge pickup isn't too sharp.   If you have a good amp, they should all sound "good" at the start, but you want them to sound BETTER. Keep going. Tweak a little here, a little there, until you hit the sweet spot.  (That's what she said.)  

Next, we'll work on your clean vs. overdriven tone. I'm not talking distortion here, I'm talking overdrive. There is a difference. We're talking about the sweet, sweet sound of your tubes being driven past the point of a clear signal, and then even to the point where your speaker is pushed past its physical limits.   

Keep in mind that if you don't have a gain knob and only have single volume, you need to match your amp to the gig.  You can't bring a Marshall 1987x 50 watt head to bar and expect to get your "on 10" overdrive lead sound.  That amp was built for large venues like arenas.   Low powered amps in small venues can be cranked to produce a better sound at appropriate volumes than your high watt amps can produce at the same volume.

Now, if you're the kind of cat that just wants to play on 10 the whole time well, that's fine.  But most serious players want subtlety, want dynamics, want to make love to their guitars instead of just bangin' them in the bathroom stall between sets.

The sweet spot on most amps I've found is controlled from your guitar while you're playing.   Get your amp, using either the gain and master volumes, or just the master if that's all you have (the Marshall 1987x plexi didn't have no "gain" knob) to the point where you can use your guitar like this:

  • Guitar volume knob on 4: Clean sound.
  • Guitar volume knob on 7: Slightly overdriven rhythm tone.
  • Guitar volume knob on 10: Pure overdriven lead tone.

Any halfway decent guitar and tube amp will respond like this. You just have to know where its sweet spot is. Just like you should for any woman, take your time to learn where it is.  Enjoy the process of getting to know your equipment and seeing what it can really do and how good it can sound.  

The audience, just like any woman you're making love to, will be grateful and reward you in kind. 

Category: Gear Porn