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What the heck is “tone” anyway?

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by TokyoPortrait, Jul 18, 2020.

  1. TokyoPortrait

    TokyoPortrait Friend of Leo's

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    Hi.

    I hear “tone is in my / your / the fingers” quite a lot.

    To be honest, I’ve never understood this. To me, ‘tone’ means the quality / pitch / interval of sounds.

    In other words, the general character, quality, flavour, mood, etc., including degrees of smoothness and harshness.

    Or, to borrow from visual arts, the colour, hue and texture of sound.

    To me, this must logically be largely a mechanical and electrical phenomenon.

    If I fret a note, and then someone else frets the exact same note on the exact same equipment, I think it will be by and large, identical. It’s still human skin holding down the string, and it’s still the same plectrum or a human finger pad plucking the string. Any differences I hear in actual playing isn’t “tone,” except for any sounds produced by specific use of technique. Which can be replicated by others. It’s still a universal mechanical thing.

    Now, I’m not saying different players cannot and do not sound vastly different on the exact same gear, even to the point you might deny, in a blind test, that they are using the same equipment.

    I’m just saying, I don’t think this difference is “tone.”

    Thoughts?

    Pax/
    Dean
     
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  2. dlew919

    dlew919 Doctor of Teleocity

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    Those hues are affected by several things. One of them is how your fingers react with the guitar and amp setup. Time and again we see well known guitarists with a particular sound pick up completely different rigs and sound like they do on their standard rig.

    Certainly I think we can put too much emphasis on little things. Amps are probably the most important thing followed by pickups.

    But as any tech will tell you everything adjusts the tone somewhere.
    I suspect things like vibrato and placement on the fretboard has a it to do with it.

    I think this is a good discussion to have as there are a lot of assumptions and givens that we rarely deal with properly.


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  3. MarkieMark

    MarkieMark Friend of Leo's

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    First disagreement= "interval"
    This implies timing, or relates to choices in notes and scale, unless I misunderstand your intended use of the phrase.

    Beyond that, I would suggest "tone" = "Timbre" primarily.
    And that the players hands and technique are very much a part of the "mechanics" of timbre, as is the amplifier, settings, pickups, signal chain, string design and gauge, and every further minor detail imaginable.

    But to chase "toan" and ignore the player, is an endless and hopeless road to travel IMO.

    And yeah, this should be an interesting thread.....
    (Even if it has been beaten thoroughly to death and back) :cool:
     
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  4. ieatlions

    ieatlions Tele-Holic

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    Tone for me, is a generic term used to describe the overall sound of a combination of gear/equipment.

    So.. A strat through a Marshall jtm45 has a different tone to a Les Paul played through a blackface.

    A guitarists style is how they execute the various techniques and mechanics of playing a guitar. Again I think the use of ‘tone is in the fingers’ is just generic vernacular to describe individual player nuance.

    This is the most soulless interpretation of guitar playing I’ve ever written lol but I think it has some relevance to your point of view.
     
  5. BorderRadio

    BorderRadio Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    “Tone is in the fingers/underpants” statements refute tone ideals, as it pertains to gear obsessing and over-listening to frequency response and timbre.

    It just doesn’t matter, not as much as what the player is sayin’, and what they are contributing to the music.
     
  6. Guitardvark

    Guitardvark Tele-Afflicted Platinum Supporter

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    tone is the last thing you hear before it starts to get too loud
     
  7. 3-Chord-Genius

    3-Chord-Genius Poster Extraordinaire

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    To me tone is 0% fingers, 40% guitar/pickups, and 60% amp.
     
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  8. Ebidis

    Ebidis Tele-Afflicted

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    iu-5.gif
     
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  9. Richie Cunningham

    Richie Cunningham Tele-Holic

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    Tone is, to me, the player and the “English” that he or she puts on every single note, gesture, and nuance, convolved with what the gear does with it. No player, no tone. No gear, no tone.
     
  10. TokyoPortrait

    TokyoPortrait Friend of Leo's

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    Hi.

    That’s a good point. I guess what I’m trying to say, in part, is that “tone” is the wrong word. But I guess it reads better than ‘individuality and expression are in the fingers’ for instance.

    Pax/
    Dean
     
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  11. MarkieMark

    MarkieMark Friend of Leo's

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    Well, we could go with "tone is in the tone knob"
    And hopefully there is only one. ;)
     
  12. Henley

    Henley Tele-Holic

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    There are certainly guitars that produce a different tone when played the exact same way by a machine. Is there little doubt that, other than the quality of vibration/sound a well made instrument produces during playing, the player indeed holds most of the tone in their fingers from the style, attack, tempo, timing and nuances learned from years of playing?

    To me tone is subjective as it means different things to different people. So to define tone you would need to define the absolute meaning of tone. That is an elusive critter, but there is little doubt that a skilled pro player can get better tone from a bucket than a rookie on a Les Paul Custom.
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2020
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  13. TokyoPortrait

    TokyoPortrait Friend of Leo's

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    Hi.

    I’m pretty sure one meaning of “tone” is related to intervals. Hence whole tone, semitone, etc.

    I was referring to what I think are the meanings of “tone” in various contexts in relation to sound (TDPRI generally has a nice tone too).

    The point being, none of those adequately, sufficiently and certainly not completely correspond with what I think people might be referring to when they use “tone” in statements like the aforementioned.

    Pax/
    Dean
     
  14. MarkieMark

    MarkieMark Friend of Leo's

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    Well, yeah ok. "Tone" is also a description of pitch.

    But when discussing a guitar, or rigs "tone" I think that may be throwing a bit of a broad net IMO.
     
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  15. TokyoPortrait

    TokyoPortrait Friend of Leo's

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    Hi.

    Actually, that’s my point.

    While I totally agree these things are real, and indeed of crucial importance, to the point of what actually makes music good, none of these are actually “tone.”

    To me, that’s playing (and / or, phrasing, whatever), not “tone.”

    Pax/
    Dean
     
  16. Paul G.

    Paul G. Friend of Leo's

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    If it isn't tone, what is it? I've got a good buddy, great guitar player. We often hang out, playing guitars, passing them back and forth. I'll tell you right now, same guitar, same amp, same settings, same volume...and I sound much brighter. Every time, every guitar. I don't know why, but it's definitely there.
     
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  17. TheGoodTexan

    TheGoodTexan Super Moderator Staff Member Ad Free Member

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    My father got out of the USAF and used his electronics training to repair stereos for people... late 1960s. He tells a story about a guy that brought in a stereo receiver with a complaint... "Only the right channel is working and it's extremely bright - no bass at all."

    Dad wrote up a work order and put the unit on a shelf. A few days later he began to work on it.. plugged it in... and sure enough, music was only coming out of the right channel and it was really bright - no bass to speak of.

    So he turned the unit around... to find the knobs on the front labeled "Balance" and "Tone".... were turned all the way to the right, clock-wise. Dad centered them back up and the left channel worked fine, and the bass returned to both speakers. He called the customer to come pickup the unit - no charge.

    When the customer arrived, dad explained to him that the Balance and Tone knobs were adjusted all the way to the right, and that was the only problem. The customer replied, "Yes, I know. When I listen to music, I like a lot of balance an a lot of tone."

    No one really knows what tone is. It just... is.
     
  18. Torren61

    Torren61 Poster Extraordinaire Gold Supporter

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    I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of sounds I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["good tone"], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I hear it, and the sounds created by Randy Rhodes is not that.
     
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  19. Henley

    Henley Tele-Holic

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    Indeed a Telecaster sounds like a Telecaster due to the construction and the pickups. It's the player that delivers that tone in the form of their playing. I believe some playing styles sound better on some instruments where others would not...for example you are not going to shred on a Martin D28...but you could never say that guitar does not have supreme tone.

    That would depend on the player as each skilled subtle nuance of ability brings out tone a rookie could not reach. Depending on skill level, I think the tone from the guitar will ride with player, good or bad. The music being good or bad is another thing.
     
  20. schmee

    schmee Doctor of Teleocity

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    Yeah BUT, "quality / pitch / interval of sounds" and other things can be adjusted with fingers.
    There are very subtle things: Duration/time, fast hammer, slide up into the note, slide down into the note, multi hammer, abrupt stop, Finger vs pick, slide up out of the note, slide down out of the note, Where you pick between the bridge and nut. The list in endless.

    Many players created a signature sound with a few of these. One example would be Derek Truck's style of slide. He does this "waver>slide down" thing out of a note. He sounds much different due to this than Duane Allman. While I prefer Duane's sound, I respect Derek.

    One thing I discovered is by finger picking (not folk style but more, just individual notes like blues players do) and playing with my looper for accompaniment, I can sound just like the Chorus is turned on.
     
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