Thursday, November 22, 2007

Guitar Tone: How to Tweak Your Signal Chain and Nail those Elusive Tones

This is the continuation of my previous article on duplicating your favorite guitar tones.

Once you hook everything up, the first order of business is to address the settings on your guitar. Since the guitar is the first element of your signal chain, it only makes sense to tweak that first. Brief experimentation showed that the pickup selector needed to be on “Treble” so it is using the bridge pickup only. Many references assume you already know this and do not mention it. Big difference, so before you begin tweaking anything else, experiment first with your pickup selector, otherwise you will be chasing an elusive tone all over the place without dealing with the source first. Ditto on the volume and tone controls on the guitar. From there, it is a balancing act.

Each setting of each element in your signal chain affects your tone. Cranking the overdrive on the Tube Screamer to the firewall only served to create a muddy tone. One thing that immediately became apparent is that “Heavy Metal” or “Rock ‘n’ Roll” as AC/DC characterizes themselves is not simply mega distortion. The tones are cleaner than that. Where I ended up after experimentation is as follows:

Guitar Pickup selector (figure 1) – Treble
Guitar Volume (figure 1) – 90% - to compensate for not having the driven Marshall amp sound I used the guitar volume knob to put more gain into the Tube Screamer.
Guitar Tone (figure 1) – 100% treble
Tube Screamer (figure 2) – Overdrive at 70%, Tone at 60%, and Level at 50%.
Amp (figure 3) – Clean channel, reverb at 30%, treble at 90%, bass at 90%, middle at 50%, Normal/Bright set to Bright.

I tried ramping up the drive on the Hot Rod Deluxe but it did not have the crunch of the recordings. Added drive from the guitar volume, brightness from the guitar tone, the Tube Screamer, and the clean channel of the amp created the crunch that matched up well with the recordings.
After rereading this, going to this level of effort may seem obsessive to some readers. It does to me anyway. Keep in mind though; this effort is not just for duplicating the sound of “Shook Me All Night Long”, as fun as that was. Your goal as a player is to develop your own style and tone. An important part of that is learning the relationship between the settings in your signal chain and their effect on your tone.