What is the Deal with Guitar Tone? [/Seinfeld]

I love me some 80s hair metal bands.

But going back and listening to them these days, I am sometimes struck by how bad some of their tone is.
I do love Seymour Duncan tone, even in the Duncan Design pickups (at least, paired with import Hamer bodies).

Maybe my favorite tone of all is ZZ Top, or maybe Neal Schon on Escape and Frontiers.  Or some Chinese guys I can’t name (because their music scene is mostly about the singers, not the backing musicians.  Very few bands, even fewer guitar heroes), or that you would have heard of for even those I can name.

But for as much as I like Loudness, Akira’s tone on Lightning Strikes kinda sucks.  It is sort thin, and almost sounds synthesized at times.  Thunder in the East is a little better, but not much.

And I even sometimes think that the guitar tone in Night Ranger is bad.  Brad Gillis’ distortion takes him into areas that stop sounding much like a guitar to me, and Jeff Watson sometimes gets the nasal, whiny sound I don’t like from Les Paul with some amps/distortion styles/levels.

Maybe it was because they were just learning to deal with the tone-suck of Floyd Rose trem systems?  It does seem like it took some time for pickup designers to successfully develop good pickups for the shredder guitars…

I was listening to Offspring the other day, and LOVING their tone.  I loved their tone so much that I figured they might just be playing Hamers.  Nope: they play Ibanez.  Ibanez!  Aren’t they known for thin tone?  And even if not every guitar/pickup offering from them is thin, how can they have a thick, rich sound that I associate with Hamer?!??!

Or am I just smoking crack?

In any case, I’m not going out and buying any Ibanez guitars, or selling my Hamers and Carvin.

What is good tone?  Heck, wow do you even describe tone?

I don’t have time now, but when I deploy, I’m going to make some short clips of guitar tones that I really like and post them here in .mp3, in hopes that someone with more knowledge than me can help me figure out how to replicate the tones I’m hearing.  Like, is it overdrive or distortion or fuzz or what?  Any compression?  Room/studio setting for reverb (seems to make a difference in the sound I like…)?

Here’s one of the sounds I like: a good crunch, but not fuzzing to the point where you don’t hear the pick attack.  I like for a string-dampened “scratch” to have lots and lots of overtone/harmonics, so there is almost a recognizable tone.  So it almost sounds as if the guitar itself is anguished, like the sound is being dragged from the guitar by force.

Another sound I like?  ZZ Top (as I’ve said a few times now).  Especially on “Tush”, but also “La Grange” and “Rough Boy” to a certain extent.

In an entirely different vein, I really like the menace in George Lynch’s tone on Under Lock and Key.  But going back and listening to the old stuff, it really seems like Warren De Martini and Jake E. Lee had similar tones, but much, much thinner/weaker.

Nuno Bettencourt seems to get some pretty good tone on Pornograffiti…but he’s part of the over-emotive school of guitar shredding which sometimes leaves me cold.  Or maybe a better way to put it is that I have a problem when a guitarist’s tone is bigger than he is. 

I like Dan Huff’s tone in Giant.

Who doesn’t love EVH’s tone on the first few albums?

But these are all Humbucker tones.  Single coil/strat tones are a whole ‘nother animal…it’s harder to point out a specific guitarist who sticks with a consistent tone that I like, but there are specific parts of specific songs I can point to as being something I like.  Like almost anything by SRV, or James Young’s middle position, or the guitar tone on Rick Springfield’s “Jesse’s Girl”.  But to me, perhaps it is best to say that single-coil tones are always supporting; I like them if they complement the song, whereas the humbucker tones are more of an integral/main portion, and can make or break the song itself.



Filed under guitar, Me

6 responses to “What is the Deal with Guitar Tone? [/Seinfeld]

  1. Rishi Gajria

    Wow! This is your best post yet. Have you heard Jake E Lee’s Solo album ‘A Fine Pink Mist’? It is very good. I can mail it to you if you wish to hear it. Folks criticize Jake’s tone as muddy and dirty but to me it sounds really good. George Lynch had a great guitar tone too. I like his tone on the Back For The Attack album. Have you heard Y & T? The production on two of their albums – Black Tiger and Earthshaker is on the weak side but the guitar tone is nice. John Sykes guitar sound on the first Blue Murder album is really good too. OK, I’m rambling here but great post. Fun Read.

  2. Rishi Gajria

    And you should totally post those mp3 clips demonstrating various tones that you have been able to procure from your guitars. Do provide an introduction and description to the hardware you are using at the start of the clip.

    • chiefmuser

      I am trying to write more about guitars. I’m glad you are enjoying it.

      When I was talking about posting .mp3 clips, I meant of the guitar sounds in songs that I would like to replicate, but don’t know how.

      I’ll get to that by mid-summer. Too many other things to work on now.

  3. “But for as much as I like Loudness, Akira’s tone on Lightning Strikes kinda sucks. ”

    It kind of figures you’d be one fo the four people in the US of A to have that. Now I’m going to have to dig out both the record player and the boxes of records and give it a listen. I know it’s in there somewhere.

    Along with most of everything else you mentioned.

    Getting deeper and deeper into guitar has had me listeneing more critically to old favorites as well.

    I think you can tell where the band was in its level of success (or at least who they were working with as an engineer) by the quality of the engineering on the sound. Ted Templeman shows up on the credits to a lot of those 80s albums. Ratt’s ep is thin, as well as Stryper’s first ep, but by their second albums had a really full mix. The Cult’s Love was thin, but Electric was a completely different dry, powerful mix.
    The Scorpions- some biting full tones. Really amazing. Metallica’s Master of Puppets, which was perfect. I mean the whole tone was perfect. Ride the Lightning was too thin, And Justice for All was too tight. Garage Days Revisited sounds great as well. Def Leppard got more and more over-produced; Judas Priest the same curve, but always raw and powerful.

    Maybe the rhythm section has something to say- especially in bands like Motley Crue and Guns & Roses?

  4. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox
    and now each time a comment is added I get four e-mails with the
    same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service?

    Many thanks!

  5. “What is the Deal with Guitar Tone? [/Seinfeld] | Chiefly Musing” was a splendid blog post,
    can not help but wait to browse more of ur blog posts. Time to squander some time on the net haha.
    Regards -Kellye

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