Chasing our tails

JL_LI

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We say we’re chasing tone but are we really? What are we chasing?

I found my tone last week in strings, nickel with a wound G. There’s a thread today about pots caps and resistors to make one guitar sound like another. And every day there are many threads about pickups. There was a shootout between two cheap guitars, both of which sounded terrible to me. Either tone isn’t in the fingers or that guys fingers lost it somewhere along the way. So what is tone? Understanding what it is may actually help us find it.

Tone is the palette or distribution of frequencies we hear. Nothing more. Nothing less. Good tone is pleasing to the musician and listener both.

Do we hear what the listener hears? Probably not. You don’t hear the same tone playing an acoustic that you hear in front of it. The biggest influence on the listener’s perception of tone is the quality of the musicianship. It sounds good if it’s played well. Does it sound exactly like the original? Probably not but who cares? To the listener, it sounds the way it’s supposed to sound if it’s played well.

What about us? There was a thread a few days ago posted by a member lamenting 4000 Hz hearing loss. Speech is unclear. But those are higher order harmonics for a guitar and the speaker in the amp doesn’t reproduce anything over 7000 or 8000 Hz anyway. Hearing loss affects out perception of tone but not by as much as we think. And distortion pedals work by cutting into or clipping those higher order harmonics anyway. So how much does it matter if you can’t hear what’s not there anyway.

My chase of tone has been about finding a clean tone or two or three I like. I use three and occasionally a fourth tone from my Strats and my Telecaster. I use one and sometimes a second from my Gibson SG and my Gretsch. Dig in to layer on some crunch but not enough to clip. I change timbre with my fingers but that’s more about attack than tone. Choice of strings can affect balance between strings and an equalizer can smooth the output of pickups.

I believe many of us are overthinking tone and searching for it in hardware. Others are trying to sound just like somebody else. Your tone’s not there. Unless you’re in a tribute band, you’ll find your tone when you find your own tone. It’s actually in our perceptions of the sounds we hear.

I’m more interested in your opinion than mine. Please chime in.
 

ChicknPickn

Friend of Leo's
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Ole Virginny
We say we’re chasing tone but are we really? What are we chasing?

I found my tone last week in strings, nickel with a wound G. There’s a thread today about pots caps and resistors to make one guitar sound like another. And every day there are many threads about pickups. There was a shootout between two cheap guitars, both of which sounded terrible to me. Either tone isn’t in the fingers or that guys fingers lost it somewhere along the way. So what is tone? Understanding what it is may actually help us find it.

Tone is the palette or distribution of frequencies we hear. Nothing more. Nothing less. Good tone is pleasing to the musician and listener both.

Do we hear what the listener hears? Probably not. You don’t hear the same tone playing an acoustic that you hear in front of it. The biggest influence on the listener’s perception of tone is the quality of the musicianship. It sounds good if it’s played well. Does it sound exactly like the original? Probably not but who cares? To the listener, it sounds the way it’s supposed to sound if it’s played well.

What about us? There was a thread a few days ago posted by a member lamenting 4000 Hz hearing loss. Speech is unclear. But those are higher order harmonics for a guitar and the speaker in the amp doesn’t reproduce anything over 7000 or 8000 Hz anyway. Hearing loss affects out perception of tone but not by as much as we think. And distortion pedals work by cutting into or clipping those higher order harmonics anyway. So how much does it matter if you can’t hear what’s not there anyway.

My chase of tone has been about finding a clean tone or two or three I like. I use three and occasionally a fourth tone from my Strats and my Telecaster. I use one and sometimes a second from my Gibson SG and my Gretsch. Dig in to layer on some crunch but not enough to clip. I change timbre with my fingers but that’s more about attack than tone. Choice of strings can affect balance between strings and an equalizer can smooth the output of pickups.

I believe many of us are overthinking tone and searching for it in hardware. Others are trying to sound just like somebody else. Your tone’s not there. Unless you’re in a tribute band, you’ll find your tone when you find your own tone. It’s actually in our perceptions of the sounds we hear.

I’m more interested in your opinion than mine. Please chime in.
Well said. I, for one, like guitar stuff, and what I do is turn the knobs round and round until I need a new pedal.
 

WRHB

Tele-Holic
Joined
Nov 15, 2020
Posts
511
Location
USA
I plug in my guitar and play. I might turn the amp knobs but I’m not trying to find a specific tone, I’m just playing with the knobs because I own the amp so I might as well mess with everything. I play for my own amusement and I’m easy to please. If I was in a band I’d probably take things more seriously. But I’m not so I don’t.
 

bgmacaw

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Feb 11, 2006
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Near Athens GA USA
The typical tonequest illustrated...

laswercat_400.gif
 

sax4blues

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Apr 14, 2006
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Colorado Springs, CO
I’ve always liked the AC30 lineage of amps and leaned single coils over humbuckers. I don’t feel like I chase, but in 20 years I’ve had 9 amps(2 current), and 10 guitars(3 current), and every legendary OD we talk about(1 current).

Nothing is on my radar now, I really enjoy my setup.
 

Chiogtr4x

Doctor of Teleocity
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Joined
Mar 29, 2007
Posts
14,157
Location
Manassas Park, VA
My tone is together
- as I just need a good clean amp tone, a way to make it dirty ( OD pedals, and a few basic effects), and use all pickup positions on my guitars.
I just bring one guitar to a gig, and just enjoy how I'm gonna play it/hear the sounds made, thru a variety of music. All simple old R&R/ Blues/ Country.
The music I play could all be done: guitar >amp ( Reverb, please)

What I do chase, is GIGS!
( not happy if I'm not playing something, somewhere, at least once a week)
 

elihu

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Dec 24, 2009
Posts
10,265
Location
Texas
I posted Further On Up the Road from the Last Waltz the other day in a thread about Music Man Amps. I was struck by the difference between Robby R. and EC’s lead tone. Clapton has a legato sound to his lines that I find pleasing. I noticed it with the Derek and the Dominos performance on the Johnny Cash show too. Both times Eric’s playing a relatively clean amp but his style make it sound full and warm with a singing quality. Even his acoustic lines on the unplugged album have this quality.
 

nojazzhere

Doctor of Teleocity
Ad Free Member
Joined
Feb 3, 2017
Posts
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70
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Foat Wuth, Texas
We say we’re chasing tone but are we really? What are we chasing?

I found my tone last week in strings, nickel with a wound G. There’s a thread today about pots caps and resistors to make one guitar sound like another. And every day there are many threads about pickups. There was a shootout between two cheap guitars, both of which sounded terrible to me. Either tone isn’t in the fingers or that guys fingers lost it somewhere along the way. So what is tone? Understanding what it is may actually help us find it.

Tone is the palette or distribution of frequencies we hear. Nothing more. Nothing less. Good tone is pleasing to the musician and listener both.

Do we hear what the listener hears? Probably not. You don’t hear the same tone playing an acoustic that you hear in front of it. The biggest influence on the listener’s perception of tone is the quality of the musicianship. It sounds good if it’s played well. Does it sound exactly like the original? Probably not but who cares? To the listener, it sounds the way it’s supposed to sound if it’s played well.

What about us? There was a thread a few days ago posted by a member lamenting 4000 Hz hearing loss. Speech is unclear. But those are higher order harmonics for a guitar and the speaker in the amp doesn’t reproduce anything over 7000 or 8000 Hz anyway. Hearing loss affects out perception of tone but not by as much as we think. And distortion pedals work by cutting into or clipping those higher order harmonics anyway. So how much does it matter if you can’t hear what’s not there anyway.

My chase of tone has been about finding a clean tone or two or three I like. I use three and occasionally a fourth tone from my Strats and my Telecaster. I use one and sometimes a second from my Gibson SG and my Gretsch. Dig in to layer on some crunch but not enough to clip. I change timbre with my fingers but that’s more about attack than tone. Choice of strings can affect balance between strings and an equalizer can smooth the output of pickups.

I believe many of us are overthinking tone and searching for it in hardware. Others are trying to sound just like somebody else. Your tone’s not there. Unless you’re in a tribute band, you’ll find your tone when you find your own tone. It’s actually in our perceptions of the sounds we hear.

I’m more interested in your opinion than mine. Please chime in.
"Tone" for me may vary a bit, day to day. My preference (for electric tone) is in the ballpark of Black Face Fender clean, little to no distortion, decent single-coil or humbucker guitar, and played "cleanly".....no sloppy, inarticulate fretting. But I'm not so particular that, say, I get a good sound, but if you change the treble or bass a tad I'm now unhappy. I play with a VERY stiff pick, so the only way to change the "attack" is to vary where I'm striking the strings. I HAVE been known to play an entire gig on the middle position of a Telecaster, occasionally bringing in a pedal for variety. When doing covers, my concern is mostly on nailing the parts (notes) correctly, and not as much on getting the original "tone" or timbre. I can, however, get an acceptable sound out of almost any guitar (as long as it's set up pretty well) and amp, whether it's a Fender, Vox, or Peavey. A gig is not going down in history. (like a record is) If my audience remembers I "PLAYED" well, that's what counts.
Lately, I've been playing 90% on a Yamaha Silent guitar with nylon strings. If I get pretty close to a "nylon" sound......and it will NEVER be authentic......I'm pleased.
To sum up, I don't "chase" tone. That implies never being satisfied with what you're getting now. The MUSIC itself is what matters to me. ;)
 

JL_LI

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Long Island, NY
I’ve always liked the AC30 lineage of amps and leaned single coils over humbuckers. I don’t feel like I chase, but in 20 years I’ve had 9 amps(2 current), and 10 guitars(3 current), and every legendary OD we talk about(1 current).

Nothing is on my radar now, I really enjoy my setup.
I play clean finger style with the exception of five songs where I use a pick. My. Fenders all sound a little different but their sounds are almost interchangeable for what I play. I have a Gibson SG and a Gretsch Anniversary. I didn’t find my tone on them until I stopped looking for some tone I had in mind and let the guitars sing in their own voices. You can’t force tone but you can help it along.
 

57joonya

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Jul 23, 2021
Posts
1,157
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47
Location
New Jersey
I’m may be rare here , but I’m very content with my home for a long time now. I have a great acoustic,
And when I’m playing electric I just go straight into a reverb pedal and then the amp.that’s all I need .
I would like to get a 5 watt amp for low volume dirty sounds . My current rig is 17 watts . So I guess that’s the last thing on my hunt , for now
 

johnnylaw

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Apr 17, 2007
Posts
2,163
Age
64
Location
New England
Chops rule.
I’ll take listening to a great player on crappy gear over hack flogging the Holy Grail of Tone.
I am weak with a desire to experiment however. I spend more time playing the guitar and less twiddling knobs. Actually, I twiddle the guitar knobs more than amps or effects. Anyway, the process of all the exploration has been amusing and challenging.
Chase on!
 

Dennyf

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Feb 9, 2011
Posts
1,756
Location
Mt. Holly, NC USA
When I've "chased tone," I've really been chasing someone ELSE'S tone. Or an amalgamation of several "else's" tones.

I also have recordings of myself playing in various bands over the course of a number of years and a number of guitars, amps, pedal boards (or not). There is not a significant difference in my tone in any of them. Well, except maybe one.

Here's the thing: While I might think I'm looking for a better tone, the first thing I find myself doing with a new guitar or amp is to try to make it sound as close to my current sound as possible. WTF is that about?! And if I can't get close to that, I put it away and move on.

I guess it might be different if you feel your tone is crap out of the gate, and have to find something better. But when you have a sound you more or less like, and just want to "improve" it? I think it's a rabbit hole with an express elevator.
 

jaxjaxon

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Joined
Apr 4, 2020
Posts
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SanluisObispo CA.
The first thing I change for a different tone are the strings. I have found that the material type the type of wind and the gage all will effect the type of tone I get. But if the pickup is over wound/ hot it will be less noticeable. There is a difference between a pure steel round wound the a pure nickel flat wound and a nickel plated half round wound string.
 

Cosmic Cowboy

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Dec 10, 2020
Posts
1,178
Location
New Mexico
I think part of the issue is playing covers. I think we want to be able to sound like Journey on one tune and Roy Nichols in the same set. Well, unless you have multiple rigs, that is kinda unrealistic.

I found "my" tone about 6 years ago. A single coil Fender into a fairly pushed, cleanish Fender combo amp with a couple of overdrives to get an even more driven tone when needed.

A touch of delay and some verb.
 

H. Mac

Friend of Leo's
Joined
May 26, 2012
Posts
2,654
Location
Atlanta, Georgia
We say we’re chasing tone but are we really? What are we chasing?

I found my tone last week in strings, nickel with a wound G. There’s a thread today about pots caps and resistors to make one guitar sound like another. And every day there are many threads about pickups. There was a shootout between two cheap guitars, both of which sounded terrible to me. Either tone isn’t in the fingers or that guys fingers lost it somewhere along the way. So what is tone? Understanding what it is may actually help us find it.

Tone is the palette or distribution of frequencies we hear. Nothing more. Nothing less. Good tone is pleasing to the musician and listener both.

Do we hear what the listener hears? Probably not. You don’t hear the same tone playing an acoustic that you hear in front of it. The biggest influence on the listener’s perception of tone is the quality of the musicianship. It sounds good if it’s played well. Does it sound exactly like the original? Probably not but who cares? To the listener, it sounds the way it’s supposed to sound if it’s played well.

What about us? There was a thread a few days ago posted by a member lamenting 4000 Hz hearing loss. Speech is unclear. But those are higher order harmonics for a guitar and the speaker in the amp doesn’t reproduce anything over 7000 or 8000 Hz anyway. Hearing loss affects out perception of tone but not by as much as we think. And distortion pedals work by cutting into or clipping those higher order harmonics anyway. So how much does it matter if you can’t hear what’s not there anyway.

My chase of tone has been about finding a clean tone or two or three I like. I use three and occasionally a fourth tone from my Strats and my Telecaster. I use one and sometimes a second from my Gibson SG and my Gretsch. Dig in to layer on some crunch but not enough to clip. I change timbre with my fingers but that’s more about attack than tone. Choice of strings can affect balance between strings and an equalizer can smooth the output of pickups.

I believe many of us are overthinking tone and searching for it in hardware. Others are trying to sound just like somebody else. Your tone’s not there. Unless you’re in a tribute band, you’ll find your tone when you find your own tone. It’s actually in our perceptions of the sounds we hear.

I’m more interested in your opinion than mine. Please chime in.
Hold on here. Common sense, logical analysis, and careful reasoning are not compatible with chasing tone. ;)

Kidding aside, an excellent post!
 




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