Tone Tips that Have Nothing to Do with Tone

Not everything is tone.

Heresy, I know. But wait! Everything can, and does, contribute to tone. And sound. We are wholistic people. So if you want the overall artistic sound that you are putting out of your amp, instrument, or voice to sound good and grab people’s hearts, sometimes it’s time to stop rearranging pedal orders and trying to decide which solder sounds best, and live.

1) Listen to Music Outside of Your Sphere

And I mean really listen. Especially to music that has nothing to do with your current style of playing, or your current instrument of choice. Music is meant to arrest the heart, and fill it with longings of beautiful things, thoughtful things, things we may not want to confront but should, and even things for which we were created and may have forgotten. And for musicians, we can sometimes lose that in the very effort of trying to learn how to create it better. We get caught up in the technicality and miss the beauty. I know for myself, a big part of that is that it is difficult to not listen to what they guitar is doing; because I play it, it interests me, and I’m constantly trying to get better. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. But sometimes I miss the entirety of the music, and hence cease to find any new inspiration, but only find new technicalities.

So what I like to do is listen to music without guitars, and music that I have no outlet to create. That will be different for everyone, but for me, it’s most often classical music and Celtic music. These styles, although usually done without my instrument of choice, fill my soul and mind with inspiration. So that when I go to play guitar, I’m not trying to create any techniques that I have heard within those styles of music, but rather the feelings they produced in me. In essence, I’m playing the feeling, not the music.

Now, you do need to listen to guitar music of course, to continue to get better and get new ideas technically. But, just for a bit, try divulging from that every once in a while. Listen to music that inspires you emotionally that is completely outside your normal listening sphere, and then, next time you play a note, or a riff, or write a song, try to play that feeling.

2) Do Something Physical

I don’t mean become a gym rat necessarily. But it’s amazing how pushing yourself physically opens up your mind. On the days that I work out, my mind is so much clearer. And, this is true, I can literally see the notes in my head better while I’m playing guitar. It sounds odd, but not when you think about it this way. Which do you think will inspire your playing that evening more: sitting on the couch all day eating cheese puffs and watching Vin Diesel drive fast again, or taking a jog? Playing World of Warcraft or pruning trees? It’s a little zen, I admit, but it actually works. Physical activity focuses your mind. I’m serious…try it just for one time, and see if the notes on your guitar don’t jump out at you more clearly.

3) Stop

Just take some time. Especially before a worship service. Pray, okay ya, but also just take a moment. We tend to pray so much and get together for prayer circles, and then the band, who’s been borderline coarsely joking with each other all afternoon or all morning, suddenly gets all spiritual and says phrases like, ‘in this place’ and ‘as we come together’ and ‘go forth in our midst’. And then everyone gives that Christian prayer moan thing. ‘Mmmmm.’ Ya, I know I do it too. haha And that’s all well and good, but maybe take some time to stop, and think about God. In a real way. Just shut up (in a really nice way), remember that He created you, then you didn’t think that was enough, and then He died for you. And then be quiet, let that sink in, and maybe He’ll say something to you. And maybe not. But that’s not the point. Psalm 46 says to ‘be still and know that He is God.’ It doesn’t give any promises of what will happen afterwards. Maybe God won’t speak to you as you’re still. But you did it, and that’s what He tells you to do. And I say this as much to myself as to anyone. :) It makes a huge difference.

4) Eat Right

Again, with the wholistic thing. Just like your germanium fuzz pedal doesn’t like to be fed 4 volts on reverse polarity, your body also reacts when you feed it things on which it was never meant to run. And then we wonder why we can’t think clearly. And I know…I know, I know…that if you were to have told me that 3 years ago, I would’ve laughed in your face. Or thought you were trying to sell me the latest version of that same pyramid scheme magic juice people have been saying will heal all your troubles for the last 20 years. But honestly, at least for me, eating things my body needs and can actually run on, has helped my playing tremendously.

5) These Things:

Strap Locks.

Why have I not heard or thought of this before? That’s a rubber washer from Home Depot. Fits any guitar, no modification, can use any strap, interchange different straps, no clicking like normal strap locks, zero installation, and .98 cents. Okay, you need two of them, so $1.96. I guarantee that having strap locks for that cheap will inspire you so much that you can just pretty much forget about the previous other four points. hehehe

But in all seriousness, life is not tone. But a life lived well, will translate into every aspect of that life, including your artistic expression, music, sound, and tone. This is a journey I’ve been on for about three years now, and is coming more into focus daily. It’s a passion, and as I think it’s important, but don’t want to subject all musicians reading this blog to it, I’m going to be posting about life, simplicity, and cleansing, on my wife’s blog: Gluten-Free Wife. So, if you’re interested in increasing your tone, hehehe, by eating nuts and seeds, go there. If you’re interested in increasing your tone by watching lots of U2 videos, stay here. Or, as I’m gonna do, you can do both.

And, of course and as always, feel free to disagree. Especially on the other blog, because I know there’s a lot of people who do. But this is what works for me, and as usual, I for some reason decide to spew it out online. Hope it helps you, amuses you, angers you, or makes you like Coldplay. All of the above is cool, too.

Tone. Life. Cheap strap locks. Yes.

Splendid.
Karl.

42 thoughts on “Tone Tips that Have Nothing to Do with Tone

  1. My best melodies, song ideas and riffs came while jogging. I have forgotten more ideas while running than i have written down or recorded.

  2. Are those washers glued to your strap, or are they just “there”? If it really works, that is genius. You can now package them with a picture of the Edge and sell them for $19.99…

  3. Nate–nice!! That’s actually really awesome, bro!

    Matt P–nope, just there. They just keep the strap from slipping off the strap bolt. I actually got the idea from what I guess is the famed ‘Beer Bottle’ washers on Gear Page. ;) Guess I can learn stuff there when I’m not searching for pedals to buy! hehe

  4. While U2 is still my all time favorite band, I’ve recently fallen heavily in love with Muse, and especially Matthew Bellamy’s guitar playing. If you haven’t listened to much of them, and are trying to get out of your regular element, watch some of the Seattle 2010 pro-shot videos on YouTube. He’s definitely talented…

    • +1 on Muse. Awesome band.

      And I agree wholeheartedly with #1 of Karl’s points. The musicians I’ve found hardest to work with are those who only have a really narrow field of musical interest (thrash metal anyone?), whereas those whose tastes are eclectic are generally a lot more relaxed about trying different things.

      Listening different can improve you tone, and also playing different can help get you back into the worship. I left my pedals and amps at home today and just played 12 string acoustic and mandolin and sang a few harmonies – and I felt more plugged into the worship than I have for a while.. despite having hand cramp and sore fingers!

  5. Stuart–great stuff! I do enjoy me some Muse from time to time. I think they do a great job of marrying some of the ‘fiercer’ guitar playing with accessible melodies. :)

    Brandon–for sure! I couldn’t believe I’d never tried it before! :)

  6. cool tips, bro ;)

    as for straplocks, my LP has a nice stap lock as it’s heavy had slipped many times in the past. but my tele is so light that i doubt i ever need to put strap locks … in any case, I’ll remember this cheap rubber gasket solution. thanks! :)

    • it’s hard to put pros & cons for different style/types of guitars. it just really depends on what you want to do & how much your budget allows for.

      post this question in the forum, there are a few who are using LPs exclusively there. you might get a better answer than I can provide :)

    • I love LPs!! Thus my blog….
      It really is about your style and where you are comfortable playing. My only con-critique is that with humbuckers, things can get real heavy, real quick because they really pickup up a dynamic range. It takes a little to dial into if you aren’t use to that great LP tone. Post the forum and I’ll give more details :)

    • I love my les paul. However, after playing my telecaster a lot I’m thinking I’d like to change the stock pickups on my studio. It sounds a little bit too muddy/dark for my taste so I often find myself using my tele for the lead parts at church since it cuts through the mix better imo.

  7. Baggas–you played 12 string and mandolin?! You’re my hero for this week. :D That’s awesome.

    On Les Paul’s, my take on different guitars is that it’s more about quality than it is about type of guitar. In my experience, I agree with Rhoy with the budget thing. Because even though a Les Paul style guitar should technically sound thicker, a good strat with good wood and good pickups will sound thicker than a cheap Les Paul. I guess what I’m saying is rather than have a few different style cheaper guitars, I’d prefer to have just one style guitar, if it’s a really good one. The money will equal about the same. :) In my humble opinion, of course.

    But in theory (a very gerneral theory s different amps and rigs totally affect this like crazy):

    Strats (usually characterized by ash, alder, single coil pickups): trebly, slappy, smooth

    Les Paul’s (usually characterized by mahogany, maple top, humbucking pickups): full, mid-heavy, cutting, warm

    Tele’s (usually characterized by ash, alder, maple, single/humbucking pickups): biting, warm, attacky

    Hollow/Semi/335′s (usually characterized by mahogany, hollow, humbucking pickups): warm, resonant, jangly

    Those are really the 4 main ones…single coils are basically strats, PRS’s are basically Les Paul’s, etc. And this is extremely generalized.

    And this absolutely varies from amp to amp, pedal to pedal, and person to person. This is just what I’ve heard generally with my own personal ears. hehe And again…one good guitar of any of those styles will sound warmer, more jangly, smoother, or more cutting than a cheap guitar in any or all of the other styles.

    :) IMHO, YMMV, and whatever else I’m supposed to say. haha

  8. I originally put strap locks on my guitars so that I could do guitar flips with them… That was embarrassing to admit but it’s true. I just use them all the time now. I like being able to click the strap on and off instead of fiddling with the peg in the little slit of the strap. Now, both of my electrics have strap locks and both of my straps do as well. I can use either one on either guitar at any point. I think it’s personal preference though.

    I would definitely recommend them for a heavy guitar though. I just don’t like taking the chance even with my cheap strat. I still don’t want to fix it…

  9. Is #4 really true? I’m starting to believe it–I’ve been using the “sag” feature on the Hartman, around 5 or 6 volts, and it just doesn’t sound good right away. Maybe the transformers need 10 minutes to warm up–I haven’t been playing guitar as much or fuzz enough to be that patient to wait. I’m quite impatient lol. Anyway, are you going to battery now?

  10. I have to search slightly further than some people to come across music with instruments I don’t play regularly or that I didn’t at one time. So I find myself coming back to this:

  11. This is one of the best posts I’ve read from you. I’ve been neglecting my physical health in a lot of ways this past year and I’ve also noticed others aspects of my life going downward, including my spiritual life. Not good. Hoping to undo that habit this summer.

  12. Hey Karl – have you ever seen these?
    http://www.jimdunlop.com/product/lok-strap
    It’s a very similar idea and the best strap lock I’ve ever used. You can usually find them in a jar next the register at any given music store for a buck or so.

    One of the best things/complaint I heard said about playing in a band, in particular a worship band, was the idea that “The song has started. Therefore, I must be playing!” I myself have been guilty of this too many times.

    Music should be a conversation. Have you ever listened to someone who talks non-stop? It’s annoying. There should rests, dramatic pauses, wait for response, etc. Tried to have a conversation with someone who talks too loud? You just want to get away. And how about someone who constantly interrupts? You don’t want to be around that person, do you?

    BB King is, in my opinion, the all time Master of musical conversation. He gives the listener time to absorb what he “said” and in doing so, builds anticipation for the next thing he wants to say.

    One more thing. (I don’t post often, so I’m making up for lost time). I was fortunate to spend a week a couple years ago at Stanford University’s Jazz Camp, where I spent some amazing quality time with some of the best Jazz musicians in the world. I asked many of them how their feelings affected their playing. We all know what this means, right? If you’re sad, do you play to reflect that? If you’re happy, does it come out in your playing?

    I got one answer that blew my socks off. It was such a beautiful response, I have never forgotten it and I have tried to play this way ever since. He said, “To me, music is perfect in every way. It knows no errors. It is perfect mathematically and eternally. If I approach music when I am not feeling right, the music corrects me. It gives me the feeling of perfection.”

    And really gang – isn’t this what being a Christian should be like? We ourselves can’t do it on our own, but when we approach Christ and keep our eyes on Him, we experience that perfection and get to claim it for our own.

    How beautiful is that?

  13. You may have met one of my co-workers at Jazz Camp. He goes almost every year and has been encouraging me to go. I would love to take a class with Bill Frisell, who is on the faculty this year.

    Karl – great stuff. I feed my kids stuff that is healthier than what I eat. I quit drinking soda (Coke in particular) last year but could use some improvements on the diet side. I still have coffee. :)

  14. Josh–haha Ya, I’d go with actual strap locks too if I were flinging the guitar around my neck. hehe

    Caleb–ya, I find the Hartman germanium saggy enough. I just use the reverse polarity 9v adapter. Nice and simple. Sounds great for me. :)

    Naal–right on!

    Bernard–thanks, bro. Same here!

    Tom–wonderfully well said! Can’t add much more to that.

    And jealous of your jazz friends! :)

    Rhoy–hear hear.

    Dan–that’s awesome. Ya, I don’t believe soda has any place in the human body. Especially those new ones with no calories. Then what exactly are you drinking if it’s not water? The answer is plastic. Sucralose plastic. ;)

    • Yep it sold out super fast.
      I was lucky to get one despite it rejecting my credit card the first time (seems there were lots of processing errors like that) – I switched to PayPal and it worked fine.

      Now I nervously wait to see how the shipping process works. Since Strymon won’t ship outside of North America, I’m having mine sent to an intermediary company borderlinx.com, who will then forward it on to me here in Australia. I haven’t used their service before so will be a little anxious until I get the Timeline here safe and sound…

      also ordered the Strymon T-shirt… will be glad to wear that around and see if I get any comments from the rare person who has heard of Strymon. I’m betting it’s unlikely over here in West Aust.

      Anyone else get one? Karl?

  15. My payment wouldn’t process and then paypal login wouldn’t work. I didn’t get one from Strymon but bought one from John Fromel. Sorry CA for not paying any sales tax ;)

  16. Are you guys kidding me?! Do you really think I’d buy into that much hype over one single pedal as to wait around by my computer to push ‘buy’ on the dot before they were sold out? It’s just a pedal!!!
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    Yes, I did get one.

    ;)

    • Haha! Karl is like……..YES! I just got my DD-20, and I am loving it. I will stick with that for a long time!

      I do want to get an FD2 though to replace my noisy Danelectro Fab Tone Dist. It is a nice dist. especially out of really good tube amos, but it gets noisy pretty fast when it is left on…

  17. hahaha … i wasn’t going to get one but when I got the email from Strymon that it will be available at 7/5 @ 7:05, I felt like I was supposed to get one. got home and checked with the big boss: YES! I also got one :)

  18. hehehe Same here. I had absolutely made up my mind about 2 months ago that I was not going to buy one. Which, I pretty much knew, meant that I definitely was going to buy one when the email finally came out. And, sure enough… hehe Come on, there’s no way I have that kind of willpower!

  19. Brandon–ya, that Dano isn’t bad! But noisy, for sure.

    Cam–so good!!! Until…4:05 today. Let’s just say that if I like it and don’t resell, I owe it to my cleanse to sell a DD20, a DD7, a ZVex Super Duper, and a studio EQ. haha

  20. Hey Karl,

    I already got my TimeLine!!! I super highly doubt you will want to part with it… It is amazing! I have had it for about 4 hours now, and I have to say that every setting on this thing is super nice. Honestly the depth and warmth from the original TimeLine is still there in this baby! I would like to see how you perceive things though, cuz my ears may be getting older. But in my opinion, you are going to get rid of some stuff, as this thing has so many options, way more than the original. Peace out man.

  21. Name–haha They’re the best!

    Beau–sweet!! Ya, same here. Uploading a really, really quick first impressions demo as we speak. I may sell it due to one thing I’m waiting to hear back from Strymon on. But soundwise, it’s surprising how close it is to the original Timeline. They both sound like…well, the Timeline. haha

    Baggas–right on! Praying for your overseas thing to work out. Been reading the manual too, as the manuals do not come with the Timeline’s.

  22. Rhoy, it’s a feature where the tap tempo sets subdivisions ‘off of’ the bpm setting, and the time knobs set bpm as if they are ‘reading’ the subdivision. I can see where it’d be kind of cool in some applications, but for mine, I’m not sure it’s gonna work. I put it in the most recent post, and I’ve got a video uploading.

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