I thought I'd post this for all to read. It's from an interview with me about tone.
Question: What would you
say to the aspiring guitarist about finding "their tone"?
Lyle: In My Opinion....Tone starts for your inner ear, or what you imagine in your head of what you want to sound like. Then your fingers relay these ideas out of your body onto your instrument. You train your fingers to make the sounds, ranging from Major, Minor, Diminished, Blues, Jazz, Metal, Classical, whatever sound you want, but you have to train your fingers first. Next it is important that you have a decent instrument, wheather it be an acoustic or electric guitar to make the tone with. This doesn't mean a guitar worth thousands of dollars, but one that is properly built and setup to be played well. You can take a $300-$800 guitar and have it setup and tuned up by a pro so that it can be played to its optimum level. This will help you produce the tone that is coming from your fingers. Like in motor racing, the tires are the only thing between the car and the road, making rubber compound a very important issue depending on what type of motor vehicle the tires are for, and what type of road or track they will run on. The guitar is the main thing between your soul and the world. The amplifier just makes it louder for all to hear. The electric guitar should sound good without being plugged into anything, no amp at all. Every note on the fretboard should sound pure and sustain. If you can make an electric guitar sound good without it being plugged into an amp, you're on your way to manufacturing your own great tone. Many times a guitar hanging on the wall at a music store isn't setup properly and might not play very good. This annoys me. I used to work in a couple major music shops here in Seattle and was in charge of the guitar department. I would always make sure every electric guitar was up to my standards before hanging it on the wall for sale. For a very small price, you should take your favorite guitar into a trusted guitar service shop for a "setup and intonation" fix. It's well worth the money.
Now you take the sounds in your head, along with the guitar that sounds good, without being plugged in, and start trying out different amps with NO effects. You need to listen to the raw sound of your guitar into the amps.
As far as what equipment you should buy depends on the type of sound you want. Let's say you want to sound like Hendrix. You'll need a good Stratocaster and a tube Marshall amp with Celestion speakers. For effects you'll need a wha wha pedal, and univibe, and a fuzz face pedal. Then you'll be close as far as having the same tools that Hendrix used to produce his tones. If you want to sound like a certian player, you'll need to know and understand what equipment they use to produce the sound that's in their head. Which guitar they used is the best place to start. SRV used a strat, Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin used a Les Paul a lot for live. Brian Setzer gets that old school rock-a-billy sound from a hollow body archtop guitar with f-holes and a whammy bar. Country pickers like the Telecasters to get that sharp electric twang tone that the tele is able to produce. Jazz guitarists like the big hollow body guitars with humbucking pickups.
The all tube amps are prefered, but are expensive. With the new amp modeling technology, you are able to afford to have many simulated tubes amps, all in one unit, for half the price of one all tube amp. Do they sound the same, and as good or better? Many different opinions out there. I say the modeling technology comes very close, close enough that I use it live and in the studio with great results.
About effects. I like effects, always have, always will. First effect I ever had was the wha wha pedal. I've used many kinds, from the floor stomp boxes to the digital rack mounted kind and now the modeling kind. They all have their place as a tool to color your tone. But that is what they do, color and reshape it. Too much use of effects will destroy your tone and you'll risk sounding thin or muddy. Go easy with your effects. The basic effects are: Reverb, Wha Wha pedal, Chorus, Delay, Distortion/Overdrive, Flanger.
To sum it up, get a good guitar and amp sound first, then season your tone with effects. Like in cooking, too much seasoning will ruin a good dish.