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Principles of Rock Guitar Tone

Contributor: TC Staff    Rating: 4/5    Views: 8122133

Principles of Rock Guitar Tone

Tube amps sound good. Solid-state amps sound bad. Try to play tube amps
near their saturation point -- this brings out the power tube sound and
engages the guitar speakers. To play quieter, use a lower-power tube amp
such as 5 watts. Strive to bring out the physical, real, tangible tone of
saturating power tubes and hard-driven speakers. This includes using
feedback, room noise, room reverberation, and hum and buzz. Clinically
sterile tones such as a guitar effects processor and "speaker simulator"
(treble-cut) recorded straight into the mixer sound cheap and too convenient
and easily reproducible.

Some power tubes have a hard, sudden breakup, and some have a soft, squashy
breakup that comes on gradually.

Power tube saturation sounds and feels spongy; it has some dynamic depth and
greater tonal richness. The saturation comes on by degrees, fluctuating
along with the volume. Try using slight preamp tube clipping with heavy
power tube saturation using soft-breakup power tubes. This is a distinctly
tubey tone that solid-state amps and direct-to-console approaches can't

Amps without effects sound good. Effects without amps sound bad. Amps
with effects can sound good if the gear is connected according to certain
principles. Playing through a loud tube amp is a prerequisite for getting
the most impressive tone out of effects. If you have no gear and have to
choose between a tube amp and effects, buy the tube amp first, and make
arrangements to play it loud at least a couple times a week. That will set
the right foundation for effects, which are not as important as good tube
amp Tone. When buying effects, remember that the sound of the effect when
used with a loud tube amp is better and rounder than the sound of the effect
in isolation.

Combining effects and amps in certain sequences soefore distortion or
before power tube saturation sounds muddy. The safest placement for
time-based effects is after the mic'd guitar speaker.

Connecting a guitar preamp unit directly to the mixer is safe, easy, and
fake-sounding. Rock listeners want to hear the real, physical tone of a
stressed speaker wrestling with power tubes.

Effects sound better when combined optimally with a tube amp than when used
directly into the mixer. You can connect effects and amps in many ways.
But the default, optimal way of connecting them in the recording studio is
to place time-based effects after, rather than before, any heavily
overdriven stage. This prevents beats and preserves a clear Basic Tone.
When using a saturated power tube tone, reverb and echo are clearer when
placed after the mic'd speaker, rather than before the power tubes. When
playing clean, the order of effects and amps is more flexible. To study the
placement of time-based effects and overdriven stages, place an echo before
a distortion box, and then after. Slowly bend a note, listening for beats.
The resulting behavior applies to saturating power tubes as well as a
distortion pedal. As far as placement, think of a loud tube amp as a big
distortion pedal, and don't hesitate to place echo, chorus, flanging, pitch
shifting, or reverb *after* the mic'd speaker.

Speaker simulators, reactive loads, and power attenuators should not be used
for final recording. They all degrade the tone. The best rock tone is from
saturated power tubes directly driving a guitar speaker hard, with no load
or attenuator getting in the way. The only really satisfactory way to get
actual cranked tube amp and speaker tone with almost no room noise is to use
a speaker isolation cabinet and its attendant gear.

Eq *before* distortion or saturation sounds different than eq *after*
distortion. Think of all the tone knobs and frequency response curves of
gear placed before a distortion pedal as the first equalizer. Think of all
tone knobs and response curves between the distortion pedal and saturating
power tubes as the second equalizer. Think of all the tone knobs and
response curves between the speaker and recording tape as the third
equalizer. Shaping your amp tone is controlled by adjusting, one way or
another, one of these three effective-equalizers. To study how eq
alternates with distortion, use the chain: eq->dist->eq. The resulting
behavior applies to saturating power tubes as well as each individual stage
of preamp distortion. Bass boost before saturation causes a dry,

Smaller guitar speakers tend to sound brighter than larger guitar speakers.
Some guitar speakers sound very warm

A powerful way of connecting effects and tube amps is the chain:
effects->tube amp->speaker (isolation) cabinet->effects. This approach
requires a final amp and a full-range monitor speaker.

When thinking about Tone, consider the song to be a servant of the amp tone;
music exists to enable us to listen to amp tone.

Use guitars which ring true on almost all frets and

Spin your guitar around to find the angle with minimal hum.

Playing single notes distorts differently than playing multiple notes.
Power chords distort more clearly than complex chords. Power chords have
muliple notes, but really only two notes, repeated in multiple octaves.
Some power chords distort more clearly than others, depending on the
interval between the two main notes.

A good chain is: wah->compression->distortion->time-fx->loud tube amp
A clearer chain is: wah->compression->distortion->loud tube amp->time-fx

The Eddie Van Halen tone uses a bridge humbucker pickup. The Stevie Ray
Vaughan tone uses a neck single-coil pickup.

Thes e principles are known by almost all rock guitarists and producers, who
record rock guitar through loud, mic'd tube amps with no loads or power
attenuators getting in the way, and only a few effects.

-- Cybermonk, acid rock guitarist and theorist of self-control cybernetics

Contributor: TC Staff    Rating: 4/5    Views: 8122133

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