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Optimizing Your Electric Guitar’s Sound

Looking to improve your electric guitar’s sound?  It’s important to understand all the components involved.  It all begins as your pick strikes the guitar strings.  The electric current created by your guitar’s pickups travels along the cables through any effects pedals and into your amplifier for final massaging.   Each piece affects your final tone and sound.

All these components combined are known as your guitar’s sound chain or signal chain.  By reviewing each part, you can optimize your sound.

Guitar picks:  Everything starts with your guitar pick.  Don’t just choose them for feel, they also affect your sound.

  • Material – Plastic has sharper sound than nylon
  • Gauge – Thicker picks have bolder sound
  • Shape – Pointed edge has sharper tone while rounded is warmer

Your Guitar:  Early guitar manufacturers largely got it right, so most electric guitars have the same basic shape and components.  However, small variations do affect your sound.

  • Pickups
    • Single-Coil – Brighter, thinner sound
    • Humbucker (Dual-Coil) – Warmer, fatter sound
    • Active – More powerful signal, added sustain
  • Strings
    • Gauge
      • Lighter gauge – Easier to play, more bendable, less volume & sustain.
      • Heavier gauge – More volume and sustain, often used for lower tunings.
    • Material
      • Nickle-Plated – Good attack, balanced warmth & brightness
      • Pure Nickle – Added warmth, less brightness
      • Titanium – Strong with moderate brightness
      • Stainless Steel – Great sustain with crisp, bright tone
    • Winding
      • Flatwound – Popular for Jazz, warmer mellow tone
      • Roundwound – Sharper tone, great attack & sustain
  • Control Knobs
    • Volume Knob – It’s generally best to crank your guitar’s volume knob to the max, for the strongest signal, and make adjustments further down the chain.
    • Tone Knob(s) – The tone knobs reduce certain frequencies. Start with them all the way up and adjust as needed to reduce feedback or fuzz.
    • Toggle Switch – The toggle adjusts which pickups are “active”.
      • Neck pickup – More lows with a warmer sound
      • Bridge pickup – Brighter, sharper sound

Cables:  With cables, quality is important to make sure your signal remains strong and uncolored.  You don’t need to buy the most expensive cables out there, but maybe pass on the cheaper options.

Effects pedals:  Pedals come in a wide variety and modify your signal’s electrical current to create a unique sound.  While we won’t cover all the various effects pedals in this article, there are a few ways you can adjust your pedal setup to create new sounds.

  • Pedal Sequence – A typical pedal sequence is gain – modulation – delay, such as a distortion pedal, then a tremolo and finally a reverb. Try switching this up and see what happens.
  • Boost – Boost pedals power up your signal. Try them in different postions in your signal chain.
  • Wah-wah – While Wah-wah pedals are most often at the start of the chain, moving them to a later spot can create a cool effect

Henretta Orange

Check out our selection of guitar effects pedals.

Amplifier:  Many amplifiers today have all sorts of knobs, but they’re most likely all related to one of the areas below.  Play around with your amp’s settings to find the right sound for you needs.

  • Gain Control – Gain increases your signal in your amplifier’s preamp stage. Try less for a clearer sound and more for distortion.
  • Tone Controls – Most amps today have bass, mid and treble knobs, which when turned down, reduce that area of the signal’s frequency. Experiment with different setups.
  • Volume Control – If you can’t get the sound you want at the volume you need, consider reducing the gain on your amp or gain-type pedals, like overdrive, and crank up the volume.

Check out our selection of guitar amplifiers.

Now that we’ve covered the main components that created your guitar’s sound, try experimenting with different variations along your signal chain.  The number a variations and tones you can create are nearly endless.  If you do find a sound you like, be sure to note the setup so that you can recreate it as needed.  You may need to make a change between songs or even within a song, like a solo section.

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