Improve Your Guitar Tone Without Spending A Dime

If you're like most guitar players, you are in a perpetual cycle of chasing the perfect tone.  You spend thousand of dollars on amps, guitars, pedals and thousand of hours reading about all of it.  But somehow the “perfect tone” eludes you.

Here are a few things to try that may help you get closer to achieving guitar tone nirvana without spending any money (or very little).  Start with these simple suggestions and you’ll surprised how much your tone can be tweaked for the better.


Try different guitar picks

Using a different pick thicknesses or material can make a big difference in your tone. For example, when strumming with a clean tone, a light pick can add a trebly, percussive timbre to the attacks while a heavy pick makes for a tighter, more aggressive hit on the strings. Different materials will sound different as well.  Nylon, tortex, durlin, metal, etc etc will all produce a unique addition to your overall sound.  Depending on your playing style the change in tone can be subtle, but those little differences are what separates a good guitar tone from a great one.


Tweak your pickups.

You can adjust the height of your pickups to set them either closer or farther away from the strings. With some pickups you can even adjust each pole’s height under the string. Play around with your pickup’s height or the height of each pole and you may be surprised at how drastically it can change the tone of your guitar.

Use your guitar’s volume and tone knobs.

If you are one of those players that always runs at a volume of 10 and your tone knob maxed out, try playing around with them.  You will be amazed at all of the different sonic possibilities you have right there on your guitar.  Riding the volume knob is a great way to go from a cleanish rhythm type tone to a full on distortion.  Using your volume knob can help you transition between sections of songs that need that difference in distortion levels.  Definitely something for everyone to experiment with.


Try different string gauges.

String gauges will impact the tone of your guitar, with higher-gauge strings (i.e., thicker strings) generally making for a warmer, richer sound. Note that changing string gauges may require a tweak to the truss rod since heavier strings increase tension on the neck. If there’s an impact on your intonation, your guitar might need adjustments made to the bridge or saddle.


Experiment with the order of your effects chain.

Changing the order of the pedals in your signal chain can influence your guitar tone. You may want to first eliminate any pedals that you dont use. Keep it simple. Keep in mind that each pedal will color the sound it receives from all the pedals that precede it in the chain. As a rule of thumb, distortion pedals usually come early in the line-up, and reverbs and delays at the end. You also may want to move your modulation effects (chorus, delay, etc) to your effects loop instead of routing them through the front of the amp.