5 Ways To Improve Your Tone By Adjusting Your Playing

It’s not an old wives tale, tone really is in the fingers! So instead of swapping out your guitar or reaching for a gear based solution, Mitch Laddie shares some tips to improve your tone naturally.

We’ve all done it - bought the pedal, amp or even the guitar our influences and heroes use; only to be left bewildered as to why we don’t magically sound like someone else. The answer is super simple: we don’t have their hands. However, we do have our hands and along with intuition and practice, we can work to mould our playing style into an amalgamation of our influences; whilst forming our own musical DNA.

1. Practice With A Clean Tone Whenever You Can

Whether or not playing clean is your bag, when practising it should be your priority. Get to know your playing. Has taking away the veil of gain unearthed slightly out of tune bends or uncontrolled vibrato? If you can get to know “your tone” and build on the fundamentals confidently, just think how invincible you’re going to feel when you do turn it up to 11!

2. Never Underestimate The Power Of Your Picking Hand

The picking hand contributes a huge proportion to your overall tone and how you can reshape it. Whether it be with a pick, without a pick, piano style, finger style or tapping; each wields a very different tonal palette. For example, maybe that sick run you’ve been working on just isn’t quite cutting it - mix it up with hybrid picking instead of alternate picking for that raw bite and accent on certain notes. Even if it’s as simple as changing where on the guitar you pick to find what sounds best to you, the picking hand can open a whole new world of tonal possibilities.

3. Finding The Sweet Spot

Much like our picking placement, we all have a sweet spot within every single fret that works/sounds best to us. Take time to slow down when practising and pay attention to where your finger lies within the fret. Is it too near the fret wire, does it vary from finger to finger? What sounds like a menial part of guitar playing could revolutionise your tonal control and clarity - play around with some scales to start and have some fun!

4. Record And Analyse Your Playing

Recording and listening back to your playing is guaranteed to get you to both think about your playing from a different perspective, as well as help you get closer to moulding “that” sound in your head. What sounds great on a practice amp in a small room may sound terrible in context of an ensemble recording. Experiment with backing tracks, record yourself (whether it be within a daw or using your phone camera) and analyse what you like and don’t like about your playing. Also, never be afraid to take a chance on changing your sound to fit the context of what you’re playing; it’s only going to make you a more versatile player!

5. Get The Most Out Of Your Instrument

Whether you’re a humbucker fanatic or single coil crazy, get to know your instrument. Do you find yourself staying in one pickup position because your favourite player does? Such an approach could be detrimental to your tone. Of course, figure out which pickup position and blends of tone and volume controls works best for you, but don’t forget to figure out what sounds best for the song or style learning/playing.

Without using a single effect, the tonal sculpting possibilities within the instrument itself are paramount in the quest of carving your identity as a guitar player.