We’ve come to the end. The tone series is over. There have been 2 effects articles, 6 amp articles, and 4 guitar articles. That’s 12 articles on tone. (Not sure why I had to add them up like that…maybe just in case the math was giving you trouble.) So if you can’t get good tone after all that, then the only thing left to do is to buy more gear. Better gear! Which, incidentally, happens to be very fun.
But if you just can’t bring yourself to buy more gear…if you just know that there’s good tone hiding somewhere in your rig…and you know that not even the purchase of a 3 Monkeys amp with a BJFe Honey Bee hitting the front end is going to give you tone that you dig any better (and I was almost going to say a Digitech Bad Monkey hitting the front end of a 3 Monkeys amp, so that then I could make fun of a movie with a lot of monkeys, like Congo…but then I realized that I don’t really like the Digitech Bad Monkey…which made me sad, because Congo is a horrible movie, and just begging to be made fun of…hey, if they weren’t begging to be made fun of, they wouldn’t have put Tim Curry in it…but then I also realized, ‘Hey! It’s my blog! I can make fun of Congo even without mentioning the Digitech Bad Monkey……and I’m so gonna………and all that was just in case you were curious as to the origins of some of these interminably bad movie references in my posts…which I realize you weren’t…but I really, really want to make fun of Congo!), then…well, first off, if you don’t want to buy any more gear, you’re in the state of mind that we ‘true’ musicians like to call…uh…’wrong.’ Tone comes from ebay, not from practice. But if you’re one of those ‘wrong’ and weird musicians who think that you can have good tone for less than a $50,000 Dumble ( 😉 ), that’s going to be where the following tips come in. These are the ones that didn’t really fit in any of the other 12 articles on rig tone. But they can really, really help you get some good tone without having to spend a ton more money.
(Yes, these are the special effects in Congo. And yes, that’s a guy in a suit. And no, it was actually made in 1995, not 1938. I know.)
Rig Tone Secret #1: Get your amp off of the ground.
Here’s the thing. We guitarists always seem to eq our amps while standing right above them. I know, that’s the path of least resistance from our hands to the knobs. However, treble frequencies focus, and bass frequencies roll. So, standing directly above your amp, things are going to sound much more bassy, middy, and muddy. So we guitarists are famous for then cranking our treble to where it sounds balanced from our vantage point of being right above our rig. And then we walk to our pedalboard about 2 feet away, and play the whole set with our ears about 4 feet above, and 2 feet away from our rig, sending out what to our ears is tumbling waves of aural lusciousness. The problem is, of course, that one, our audience is much farther away from the amp than we are; and two, we’re not mic’ing the amp where our ear is when we eq it. We’re mic’ing it right on the speaker cone. Ya. Not so much lusciousness. This is probably the main reason why, when we hear a recording of our guitar live, it sounds so thin and weak. Or why the audience or congregation says the electric guitar hurts their ears. Because it does! We’re off in our rolled off treble bliss high above the amp, while the mic and the audience is getting the true harmonic spectrum from the speaker…which amounts usually to getting punched in the eye socket with treble.
So one of the huge factors in getting a good live tone, is to actually bend over (I know…that means more work) and put your ear to the speaker as you’re eq’ing your amp. However, when you play, now in order for you tone to sound good to everyone else, it has to sound terrible and muddy to you, as you stand over it. There are two things you can do here. One, is to stand at least 8 feet from the amp. That’s the distance at which you start to get almost the full spectrum of the speaker’s harmonics. But sometimes on small stages that’s impossible. So you can also raise the amp us closer to your ears, or tilt it up towards your ears. Personally, I have a two foot high rack case that I bring with me everywhere I go to set my amp on top of. I cannot tell you how much of a difference this has made in my live sound.
Honestly, this is huge. Next time you play, eq your amp while standing over it. Then bend down and put your ear to the amp. You’ll be amazed how different it sounds. Another fun experiment is to walk around while you’re playing. Totally different sounds depending on where you’re standing. So, it might sound kind of stupid, but stacking your amp on something, making sure you stand a few feet away from it, and making sure you stand close to the ‘beam’ of the speaker’s path, is crucial in eq’ing your sound for what the audience and mic will hear.
(Yep. More special effects. Yes, the good guys have lasers. No, this is not set in the future. Sadness. Obviously, they tried to fill a lack of plot with searing the flesh off of monkeys…with lasers. You’ll never guess what they came up with to fill the lack of special effects budget, though.)
(Yep. Heart. When the movie’s not grilling guys in monkey suits with lasers that have yet to be invented, it’s tugging on your heart strings with another guy in a monkey suit…who maybe…just maybe, is filling the hole in this guy’s broken life that his failing marriage can’t. This is the same movie as the other pictures. I’m not even kidding.)
Rig Tone Secret #2: Power.
As I mentioned in the last post, electric guitars tend to sound better with…ya, electricity. I know, I know. Don’t skip this one yet, there’s more. I’m not expecting anyone to go, ‘Oh! That’s why my tone’s been sucking. I gotta plug the amp in!’ But that’s the concept. These pieces of electronic equipment need electricity…and they need enough electricity. You ever have those times when it’s like, your rig sounded great yesterday, but not today? Of course that can be strings getting older, or ear fatigue, or what have you; but a good portion of the time, that can be from your rig not getting enough power. So you’ve set your whole rig to sound great in your house where it’s drawing a steady 120 volts. But then you go to a gig, ad the place is only supplying you with 105 volts. Now your sound is browner and saggier. So you re-eq everything. But then the club owner turns on the cappuccino machine. Now you’ve got 102 volts. All that to say that in order for your rig to sound consistent, you’ve got to supply it with consistent power. Getting a power conditioner in your rig is crucial. This was one of the biggest changes I heard in my day to day live sound. Plus, it also gives you cleaner power, for less noise.
Also, make sure that your power supplies are rated properly. I used to constantly have this huge sag in my tone. No punch. So then to fix it, I’d buy another amp or a louder amp. But the problem was, I was running everything off of a 3 dollar 99 Cent Store power strip rated for like, 5.3 amps. So adding amps or getting higher powered stuff, was just causing everything to get even less power. So check your extension cords, power supplies, surge protectors, all that stuff. Read the amps they’re rated for, and add them up. A new Two Rock isn’t gonna do you much good if it wants 3 amps, and your power supply can only spare it 1.5.
(This is Tim Curry’s plotting face.)
Rig Tone Secret #3: Don’t freak out if there’s another guitarist.
I definitely didn’t write that correctly. But here’s the thing. A ton of times I’ve freaked out because my tone sounds horrible. And I’ve gone through and changed everything. But if there’s another guitarist playing live with you, make sure you listen to your tone when he’s not playing, before you freak out and change everything. So many times it’s the mix of the two electrics that doesn’t sound the way you want it…not your tone. And 9 times out of 10, that is best fixed with figuring out what his base tone sounds like, whether or not you like it, and figuring out what tones, frequencies, and octaves compliment what he is playing. A Tele through an Orange and a 335 through a Marshall can sound great together. But not in the same register. Sweet mercy, please not in the same register.
Rig Tone Secret #4: Tubes and delay. And that is all you ever need know.
So that just about wraps up this 13 part series on rig tone. And in the spirit of consolidation (wow, that phrase just sounds boring!), here are the links to each part of this series:
- Electric Guitar Rig Tone (that’s the one you’re reading right now)
- Guitar Tone Part 1: The Importance of a Good Instrument
- Guitar Tone Part 2: The Parts That Make Up Sweet, Sweet Tone
- Guitar Tone Part 3: The Secrets to Guitar Tone
- Guitar Tone Part 4: Pickups
- Amp Tone Part 1: tube versus solid state
- Amp Tone Part 1.5: the Reason to Use a Tube Amp (And for the Love of Sweet Mercy Please do not Riff Every Chord Even if You Are Really Excited that the song is in a Minor Key so it’s Awesome Because It’s Really Hard to Hit a Wrong Note)
- Amp Tone Part 2: Styles of Power Tubes
- Amp Tone Part 3: Change Your Tubes
- Amp Tone Part 4: Getting Good Tone Out of Your Amp
- Amp Tone Part 5: Speakers and Cabs
- Effects Chain Part 1: Tone Suckage
- Effects Chain Part 2: The Actual Effects Chain
But this is not the end. The moment we stop experiencing life and learning new things about it (and remember, the most correct definition of life is ‘music’), is the moment that I’d probably care to stop living. So I’m hoping to learn more things about tone that’ll add on to this series. And more than likely, those ‘learnings’ will come from mistakes. And for some reason, in my case, they always seem to be huge mistakes. Like when I tried to run an amp as auxiliary power from the speaker jack of another amp. And now I know.