Chasing Your Guitar Tone

guitar tonGuitar Tone: A Lifelong Search

If you’re anything like me, you obsess over your electric guitar tone.  Of course, that means drooling over the vast selection of gadgets that litter every other page of your favorite guitar magazine.

When I was in my early teens, my good buddy William and I memorized the catalog descriptions for hundreds of items in the latest Musician’s Friend issue.  Even though I was up on all of the latest gear, I found I could seldom afford it.

My wants never seemed to line up with my “extra” cash.  (Incidentally, my Dad says there’s no such thing as “extra cash.”  I think I believe him!)

So, How do I sound like [insert name of latest guitar hero]?

Several years ago, I read an interview with Joe Satriani in one of the popular guitar magazines.  One of the questions for Satch was aimed at his guitar tone.  I can’t remember the question verbatim, but at its heart was, “How can one sound like Joe Satriani?”

We all wanted to hear all of the details:

-What kind of pick do you use?
-What amps/guitars should I buy to sound like you?
-What pedals and settings do you use on this song or that?

Joe simply and succinctly replied, “Tone is in the fingers.”

Huh? What the heck does that mean? Where can I buy these fingers you speak of? 🙂

To be honest, I was a little disappointed angered that Joe didn’t elaborate and describe his rig in detail.  ‘Tone is in the fingers’ didn’t make sense to me.  To me, tone is in the amp, the cable, the guitar, the pedal, the pick, the pick up, the strings, the…

 Listen to the Guru

Time marched on and the interview faded from my mind.  But over time, I began to hear subtle nuances in certain players tunes.  BB King has a touch that no one else has.  Light and meaningful.  Stevie Ray Vaughan is aggressive.  So much so, that you almost feel sorry for the guitar.  Hendrix is just wild, yet beautiful.

So maybe there’s something to this.  Pay attention to your fingers and their tone.  Add nuances you pick up from others.  Somewhere in the middle you will develop your own style and your own tone.  A tone that will be hard to replicate for anyone else.  And a ‘tone’ that you can recognize on any rig.

Think about it, Hendrix used a million different effects.  But when you hear his work, you know its him instantly, no matter what effect he is using.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my small pedal collection, tube amp and my guitar gets more love and attention than some of my family.  And I will certainly be in the market for more in the coming years.

But, I think it’s important to embrace Mr. Satriani’s “Tone is in the fingers” perspective.  It will help you become a better player on any rig.

For me it has been important to know that these little boxes with knobs and doodads only color your guitar tone.  The real tone comes from your fingers.

My Personal Challenge

So I challenge you as I have challenged myself:

Cobble a rig together from what you already have and use the hours you would have spent memorizing catalog pages to get better at your instrument.

Great blues can come from a $10 cigar box!

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