Ohhhhhh… that question that haunts us all. As musicians we are always in search of something to that tone in our head to be the same that comes out of the speakers. The quest for tone is difficult, because there are so many factors. As they say, tone comes from the fingers. This is true, but gear can help you get closer too depending on the situation. But it can get difficult and expensive because there are many pieces to this puzzle – from the instrument to cables to pedals to amp, etc. Any of those are bad, well, you might have a problem or an issue.
When I talk to other musicians that ask me about various strategies for achieving what they want, I always say, start with the foundation. That foundation is always the instrument AND in many cases, the most important factor, the amp. The specific tone/style with the instrument is usually broken down to a single coil or humbucker sound, but when it comes to amps, things can get very complicated. Do you want a versatile amp? What volumes do you need to hit? How important is the headroom? Want loud clean? Want natural amp crunch? Looking for that Fender bloom? If I was a millionaire and money was no objects, I would have stacks of heads and combos all over the place. The problem with amps.. they’re expensive so often you’re stuck with the amp you’ve been using for years and the next logical step is to modify/compensate with pedals.
Pedals can help get you there, but it can often be putting lipstick on a pig – depending on your situation. Typically, this can be difficult if you’re trying to emulate/replicate an artist/band. For example.. how disastrous this can be.. check out this video on “how to sound like The Cure” – OMG https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOn6xSrykzU As you can see.. guitar, amp and pedals are wrong.. therefore, this is horrible.
The quest for tone is a mindset. When it gets good – is at the point where you understand your sound with what you have an only need to make small improvements to fine tune it. This is when pedals become creative tools vs. the base tone. Usually at this time, you have the perfect amp and the perfect guitars and the foundation is solid.
If you’re reading this post and realizing the foundation isn’t right, it’s time to possibly liquidate some gear and focus on that amp or guitar to bolster that foundation.
With that said – what’s your next gear purchase – and why?? Comment below!