Monday, May 9, 2011

How Do You Get That Tone?

Q: I was listening to you play on the YouTube video, the one of recording a Blues in a recording studio. How do you get that sound? I want it for myself. Are you using some sort of overdrive or something? Can you tell me how to get a similar sound?

A: It really isn't that complicated. You really have to start with the basics, meaning amps and guitars. 

Amps: I'm really old school about getting my tone. I like Marshall amps. Actually that's not really true, what I mean is that I like the sound of Marshall amps. I'm not sure that I like Marshall amps anymore because they seem to stop working on me and they don't all sound the same and on top of that, their effect loops on some of their models are weird. But when they sound and work right, I love them. There are other makers that duplicate what a Marshall should sound like but as I don't have an artist deal with any amp makers, I don't really want to advertise for anyone. But basically I like the sound or British type amps, the ones with EL34 power amp tubes and 12AX7 pre-amp tubes. The amp you hear in the recoding is a 100 watt Marshall half stack. I'm actually not sure which model because I don't usually pay very much attention, with a little tweaking I can generally make any of them sound the way I like. Anyway, I like to get about 75% of my overdrive and tone from the amp. 

Amp Tone: Marshalls are easy to set although most guys don't know how. Basically you crank up the bass and mids and keep the treble down with the presence mostly off. Maybe like this (in clock settings): Bass: 3:00, Mid: 1:00, Treble: 10:00, Presence: Off or maybe add just a tiny bit. Now this totally depends on your guitar and the room. If the amp is sitting on carpet rather than on a wood floor, things change a little. I like 100 watt Marshall (type) amps because the bass response is the way I like it. I know that those little 18 watt amps are popular (and I have a few myself) but they don't have a nice bass response like a blasting 100 watt Marshall (type) amp.

Gain: I don't blast the gain on the amp, I keep it at about 4 or 5. Some or the newer Marshall amps are wired to have more gain than their older versions so you have to use your sense. I usually have the amp volume around 4 or 5 (this is generally enough to piss off a sound man in a medium sized venue). Anything under 4 will lead to less round tone. Basically I want a crunchy sound, just about short of being able to play a singing guitar solo. Shoot for a great crunchy rhythm sound. I'll explain how to make it sing later. What you should do next is experiment with your pickup selector, tone knob and volume knobs.

Guitar Tone and Volume: Most Strats aren't wired right. You would figure somebody would get it right after all these years but not that many makers (other than the best ones) have figured it out. You want one volume knob, and two tone knobs. The volume knob is obviously wired to all the pickups and one tone knob is wired to the neck position pickup and the other to the bridge position pickup. The problem is that if you set your amp tone for the bridge pickup, you will find that your neck position pickup will sound muddy. If you set your amp tone to your neck position pickup, your neck position pickup will sound shrill and hurt your ears. You want to set your tone for your neck position pickup and roll off highs from your bridge position pickup, so obviously if you don't have a tone knob for your bridge pickup, you can't do this. This way you can use both pickups without one being too much of something or the other. Some guys will set their tone to the middle pickup. You should also be able to roll back volume from your guitar and clean it up almost completely. I don't generally use a two channel amp unless I need something absolutely distortion free for some reason or another. In the video, I have my guitar volume turned down to about 7 or 8 and the bridge pickup's tone down at about 4 (although I'm not sure I use this pickup at all in the recording). I think I exclusively use the neck pickup. 

Guitars: The guitar on the video was made for me by Devilstone but it is just a Strat for the most part and is somewhat reasonable price wise. It is made from Alder. I think Alder sounds great and have never really liked the sound of fancy wood. My pickups are vintage Strat style pickups, nothing special at all really. If there is anything unusual about the guitar on the video, it is that the bridge saddles are titanium ones made by KTS. They tighten up my tone and keep me from breaking strings. Besides this guitar I play a vintage Strat and an Xotic guitar that I also like. I like Les Paul sounding guitars as well and of course Telecasters. Now that you have a nice even tone and can manipulate your guitar's tone and volume knobs to create a whole range of sounds between all pickups, you'll need to use something to make your guitar sing for your solos.

Boost/Overdrive: This is where you want to plug in a booster to raise things a few decibels and add some singing sustain. Stevie Ray Vaughn used a Tube Screamer. I'm using an Xotic BB + in this video but these days I use Xotic's EP Booster. Basically you want the volume all the way up on the box, with the gain down to like 1. I know this is different from what most people tell you but it is true. I personally think the worst sound is a clean amp with a distortion box with the gain all the way up. I prefer a distorted amp with a slight bit of overdrive for my solos. Don't forget to play with your guitar volume and tone knobs because there are all sorts of interesting and different sounds you can find.

Delay: I'm crazy for delay but won't use a box in the studio. Obviously you want to put that on after. If you record with a bunch of effects already on your guitar, you are stuck with it. You also have to match up the repeats with the tempo of the song which is difficult with a stomp box. Live is a different story. In this case, I run the delay pedal in the amp's effect loop.  

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