Terms And Definitions: Guitar Tone
Todd Simpson
Jul 25 2020, 07:59 AM
Posts: 20.784
Joined: 23-December 09
From: Atlanta, Georgia, USA

We often hear “Tone is in the fingers” and there is a LOT of truth in that. Ideally, the tone in your amp should compliment the tone in your fingers. Sometimes, folks try to just copy their “HERO GEAR” and seek out the “HERO SETTINGS’. This is perfectly normal. After all, our Guitar Heroes are who motivate us to play and learn. So it’s only natural that we might want to get their signature guitar/pickups/amps/etc. Of course, this is usually early on in a players journey. As we progress, we learn to find our own tone along the way and our gear usually changes a bit as well.

Let’s take it from a ROCK”ish” perspective and I’ll assume you want to have some distortion on a good bit of your playing of lead tracks, as is considered traditional in just about any variant of rock. Clean tones can work as well, but let’s talk about that later. For now..


This is a crucial question. How much Gain/Distortion will you need in order to get to the tone you are looking for. Some people use 3 basic tones. Clean, rhythm and Lead. Other players get way more complicated about it. It’s a good idea to start with the basic 3 tone types though and go from there. It’s a good idea to not over do it with gain. Too much gain can really over compress / squeeze your tone and add a lot of extra noise. So always try to use just enough gain to get what you are going for. How much or little gain you use will be determined by what you are trying to play. The more complicated bits, you may need to back off a bit Don’t just crank it to 10 and go from there.

Tight VS Loose is often describe how much bass is being used on a given distorted tone. If a tone has more bass, it can be described as sounding “loose” where a tone with a bit less bass can be described as “tight”. You will often hear people talking about using a tube screamer to “tighten” up their tone. They use the tube screamer as a “clean boost” which is to say not using much distortion from the pedal, mostly using the volume knob before say an amp head. This drives the input of the amp a bit harder without creating too much bass input which would make it feel “loose’. Also, most tube screamer pedals have a “high pass filter” (letting most of the sound pass through, and trimming out some bass along the way). This helps to tighten up the tone. If you don’t use a clean boost/high pass, and just crank the gain knob on the amp instead you can get a much “looser” tone. DOOM Metal often makes use of this type of loose tone.

With loose tone, the notes can blur together and it can lack detail and clarity. However, if this is what you are going for in your tone, then more power to you.


Dynamic tone is often best used when playing guitar parts that are complex and have multiple layers. Compressed tone, is often best used when playing DOOM Metal riffs that ring out and shift to feedback.


“Modern” tone typically has a bit less fuzz character to it. “Fuzzy” tone, obviously tends to have a bit more. Each one has it’s purpose and sometimes, as with all these, you will blend both to get what you want. Orange Amps tend to be more “Fuzzy” amps. Doom bands LOVE orange amps for this reason. Bands like Periphery have more of a “Modern” tone which does better with fast picked passages/triples etc. Things that require fast stops and where notes running together would not help it sound better

Tube Based Distortion can sound a bit more complex and sometimes more interesting than solid state based distortion but not always. Like everything else here, these are just terms for reference. Getting your own sound/tone will mean working through these variables to find what works best for what you're going for.

So take all the variables into account and start tweaking your settings. These things apply to sims and to real amps. Good sims try to replicate the behavior of a real amp. Great sims to a convincing job of it. Rules are only there go guide you as you move forward in seeking your tone. The rules are there to be broken if that is what best serves your music. Play on!

Before one can start “seeking tone” it’s important to understand some of the terminology that people use to typically describe a given type of tone. Your tone should also match the intention of your playing on a given track.


You are at GuitarMasterClass.net

Don't miss today's free lick. Plus all our lessons are packed with free content!

Don't miss today's free blues, jazz & country licks. Plus all our lessons are packed with free content!

This post has been edited by Todd Simpson: Jul 25 2020, 08:00 AM
Go to the top of the page
+Quote Post

Reply to this topicStart new topic
1 User(s) are reading this topic (1 Guests and 0 Anonymous Users)
0 Members:


RSS Lo-Fi Version Time is now: 14th August 2020 - 02:46 PM