Refining and Developing Your Sound at Minimal Cost by Taking a Closer Look at the Little Things
It’s important to develop your own unique sound. Something that makes you stand out. Something that makes you different. But doesn’t that mean buying an expensive new guitar, amplifier or pedals? While those things obviously can impact your sound, there are also some cheaper ways that you can refine your sound and create your own style. Some are even free and just involve making the most of the equipment you already have.
Changing the gauge of your strings can substantially alter what the guitar sounds like. The strings gauge is essentially its diameter; not only does this impact the tone, but also how easy it is to play. So you can get the thickest strings which are heavy gauges and thinner strings which are âlight gauges.
Have a think about what sort of guitarist you want to be. Do you like playing faster music? Then a light gauge will be the best – it will mean the frets are easier to press down and the strings can be picked faster. But if you want more sustain and a louder / bigger sound then perhaps heavy gauge strings are the way to go. There are also gauges in between the heaviest and lightest. Much of the time it will come down to personal preference. What sounds / feels the best to you?
If you like to play music which has a heavy emphasis on chugging chords, it’s no good having a pick which feels like a piece of paper when you hit the strings! Likewise, with a rock solid pick it’s going to be harder to play the strings quickly. Much of the time the pick will be influenced by your string type. Heavier strings will need heavier picks.
Picks can also be made with different materials, have different edges or be shaped differently. These can all impact comfort & sound.
The good thing about picks is that you can spend £3 and buy loads of different varieties to see which one suits you the best.
Amp & Guitar Settings
There’s still quite a bit you can do to modify and tweak the sound of your guitar on even the most basic equipment. Most guitars have pickups which can be used in a variety of positions and even cheaper amplifiers have bass, mid and treble.
Pickups which are placed closer to the bridge tend to have a brighter & sharper tone while pickups closer to the neck have more of a rich sound. This is because the string sounds different at different points along the length. Some guitars may also have a pickup placed in the middle which provides a sound somewhere in between the two.
The key thing to do is experiment. Play with the pickup in a different position for a day. Don’t just switch position, decide you don’t like it, and switch back. Sometimes a new change automatically sounds bad. So at least play with it for a while and see if it grows on you.
Remember too that the tone setting on your guitar doesn’t always need to be at 10. Sometimes taking it down to 8 can get more of the subtle tones you need.
As for the amplifier settings, this is something that you need to spend even more time experimenting with. It’s best to start with everything at 5 (or the 12 o’clock position). Then from there you can make minor adjustments to see what you do and don’t like. Generally speaking each of the controls will do the following, however it’s hard to properly describe their function with words alone. So do some testing yourself.
Bass – Makes the sound more full and booming.
The mid range can help your tone cut through other sounds and makes it more noticeable.
Treble can add to the overall brightness of the sound.
The best (and one of the cheapest!) things you can do is simply improve. There’s only so much that equipment can do. Experiment with different styles – don’t just copy your favourite bands and musicians or you’re not really making your own style. Start writing your own songs and riffs.
Recording what you play can really help. It lets you listen back to your own work and analyse it. What sound good? What sounds different? What’s too generic? Once you’ve got a good idea about where you stand, you can start developing your sound. Do your solos sound a bit generic? Try using some lesser known scales. Does the chorus sound boring? Then mix up your timing signatures.
So trying (preferably) all of these approaches should set you down a road which lasts your entire guitar playing career. It will also help you make the most out of the equipment you currently have (or can get cheaply!) before feeling the need to spend hundreds on an upgrade.
On my quest to always perfect my sound, I have tried and tested guitar gear all across the UK and have recently found some great low cost equipment at GuitarAC as well as my local guitar store Badlands Guitars.