Getting Your Own Sound with Guitars & Amps

Hello my friends in guitar land. The most frequent question I receive from my fellow guitar players is how do I get my own sound. First, I would like to say that in my opinion a signature sound comes from your hands not from your gear. And also from a picture you have in your mind of what you want your “voice” to convey. But the idea that certain equipment will help reproduce the sound you have worked so long and hard to achieve is relevant. So I will give you an idea of what I think is a good set-up for certain types of music and specific roles being played in a musical setting. Please remember that I humbly submit these opinions in good fun and are based on over 30+ years of playing live and in the studio, as well a collecting guitars and amps during those years. I know there are plenty of guitar players out there who know a helluva lot more then I do about guitaring.

First some quickie suggestions right off the bat for you guys and gals.

Phase 1

  1. When using a wah wah and a distortion always have the wah wah before the fuzz box (how’s that for old school?) in your chain. You want to effect your guitar signal before you distort it. When using a clean boost that should be last in your chain right after your distortion units.
  2. Use as few pedals as you can. The more effects you use the more your sound suffers. If you are using more than 5 or 6 pedals try using an A/B switch and set up two loops to keep the chain as short as possible.
  3. If you like a tight sound, ceramic speakers are a good way to go. In general AlNiCo speakers tend to be a bit more saggy. But there are some Alnico speakers that are clean too, these tend to be the higher quality ones. And as they break in the ceramics tend to be tighter and cleaner.
  4. Lower output pickups tend to be thinner eq wise, and subsequently a hotter pickup tends to be darker sounding. If you want to use a lower output pickup for the reason that they reproduce your playing dynamics better, you must use a higher output amp. Again, if your guitar is a high output axe you can use a smaller amp, and still achieve a nice fat sound.
  5. Shorter scale guitars make light gauge strings feel extra light, and consequently longer scale guitars make light gauge strings feel a bit heavier. This is why back in the day when light gauge strings were not readily available, guitar players preferred Gibson guitars over Fender.
1962 Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar (Vintage)

1962 Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar (Vintage)

Phase 2
Next on the cavalcade of hits, I will give you some examples of typical setups for certain types of music. Remember you can mix and match these suggestions for your signature sound.

Clean Country Sound:
This is a sound made popular by country pickers since the 1960’s. It’s a clean sound, very little if no distortion at all.

  • Guitars: Fender Stratocaster, the bridge pickup for a bright twang with a bit less output and fatness then the Tele bridge p/u. You can also get a great albeit a more modern country sound using the between the pickups sounds (2nd and 4th) on the Strat. For all you Eastwood fans check out the Wandre and the Joey Leone Signature Models for a great bunch of aforementioned country sounds.
  • Gretsch models w/ DeArmond Dynasonic pickups give you a great country sound with alot of dynamic range for subtle to ear splitting tones. For those of you who want to dabble in some cool country tones try the Eastwood Classic 6 for a very reasonable starter country axe.
  • A Gibson thin line arch top like a Byrdland is also a great clean country axe, don’t believe me? Ask Roy Clark and Hank Garland (Mr. Sugarfoot Rag). One of my idols Scotty Moore (of Elvis fame) played an L5 and an ES-295 during his years with the King.
  • Amps: The cleaner the amp the better, period. A Twin Reverb comes to mind immediately as well the solid state high wattage steel guitar offerings from Peavey like the Nashville and Session 400. Amps with at least a 12-inch speaker will help you get that twang. If you are the only guitar player in the band consider using an amp with a 15-inch speaker. You can also use a smaller amp at a lower volume with a mike on it.

Gritty Country Sound:
Same guitars choice as above, just crank your amp up. 10 inch speakers are okay for this application. The Marshall TSL Series, Fender Deluxe. Vibrolux, and Super Reverb will make you smile.

Heavy Rock Sound:
Again I remind you I am an old school guy so I say….

  • Guitars: Gibson SG w/ humbuckers is my choice for ultimate heavy rock guitar. It cuts and yet is still as fat as your fifth grade Home Ec. teacher. Tony Iommi, Angus Young, and Glen Buxton (the most underrated heavy rock guitar player) are shining examples of what an SG in the hands of a capable axe murderer can do. Gibson Les Paul Customs like Steve Jones and Mick Ronson used to play also kill.
  • Those pointy guitars from the 80’s, Jackson, Charvel, Ibanex JEM and ESP’s are all a bit more edgy and hotter then a stock SG or Les Paul.
  • I also love the sound of P90 equipped solid body axes for a great crunch sound, maybe a more punky sound is a better explanation. Les Paul Jr.’s ala Johnny Thunders and Leslie West are prime examples of this guitars sound when cranked. I am sure these guys influenced Billy Joe Armstrong in his choice de axe. Again, Eastwood offers some great single coil guitars of this ilk, the P90 Special, Stormbird and JR Elite just to name a few.
    1962 Fender Telecaster Guitar – Sunburst
  • Amps: Marshall, Marshall and more Marshall. The JTM 800 is numero uno in my book, as well as the JCM 900 for a more modern shred vibe. I was also impressed with the Carvin stack offerings back in the day. THD, Randall, and Peavey also have really good sounding shred generators in many configurations.
Marshall Guitar Amps

Marshall Guitar Amps

Rock and Alternative Sound:
This is a potpourri of suggestions, please take one and pass the rest back.

  • Guitars: Well take your pick, I am just gonna rattle em off….first the off the wall ones. These are the “next big things.” Maybe? Remember Cobain’s JagStang? Gretsch solid bodies from the 70’s and 80’s ugly as your neighbors AMC Gremlin. Silvertone’s and Danelectro’s from the 60’s. Link Wray, Jimmy Page, duh! Kramer’s from the 80’s, Eddie something or other played one of these. Carvin solidbodies from the 80’s. Still a great deal on Ebay. Ovation guitars form the late 60’s and 70’s (the Deacon, the Breadwinner, and Tornado.) The pickups were nasty sounding, but oh so cool. Legit ones. Fender Telecaster, Rickenbacker solid and semi-solid guitars, Gretsch arch tops, Mosrite solidbodies, and Gibson solidbodies guitars w/ P90’s.
  • Amps: The Vox AC-30 is a seriously important amp in the history of rock and roll, for a very good reason, it’s an original. History tells us that early Marshall’s are in essence copies of a Fender Tweed Bassman. So the Vox is the only original amp design of the “Big Three”. Best news about that is that it sounds great! The Vox AC-15 is also a slammin’ amp. Portable, strong and ballsy just like my first wife.
  • Fender Deluxe Reverb, crank it up and feel the magic. The singularly most versatile amplifier in the history of guitardom. This little dynamo is IMHO the best sounding amp ever made (Blackface models produced from 1964 to 1967).
  • The Silvertone/Danelectro Twin Twelve. What a great/cheap amplifier should be. Two twelve inch speakers (usually Jensen’s) a killer tremolo and reverb. Most models I have seen run four 6L6’s in the output section. Although I own an early Danelectro Twin Twelve which runs a duet of 6L6’s that is a great amp. Also any of the Valco made amps will do the trick (Supro, National, Airline, Montgomery Ward).
  • There are so many great boutique amps out there that are really well built and versatile. They are expensive, usually very expensive. Also they are tough to try out as many of these amps are not in music stores. Making it hard to test drive them . And if they do have one, that’s the problem they only have one, so you can’t a/b them with your favorite guitar plugged into them. Some of the ones I have either owned or played are Victoria (a tweed Fender vibe), Matchless (some Vox like models). I also really liked the early Bedrock amps that were basically JTM 45 clones.

Comments

  1. sluggo says

    Not much info here on amp /guitar configuration. you say..just crank your amp up..that doesn’t reveal much..all those amps you mentioned alone have as much or more to do with sound shape than the guitars you mentioned..There will be folks here wondering about what to do with the “presence” knob..the middle, the eq, reverb, gain , master channel switchers..and just saying crank your amp up after promising “getting your sound with guitars and amps” is a cop out.

  2. Rick Bitner says

    I agree … cranking it doesn’t always work. First ask your self what sound you’re looking for. Me, if you’re a Fender guy, get a Fender amp. If you’re looking for something different shop around. Personally I am a chimey VOX guy and it doesn’t matter what guitar I use through my VOX amps … they all sound great with a little focus and tweaking. I have a ’66 Guild Starfire and with very little tweaking it’s great!

    Also use Eastwood Breadwinner, Michael Kelly Patriot Custom, Rickenbacker 360/12 and a Gretsch Country Gentleman.

    Take the time, tweak and listen.

  3. Jay says

    The order in which wah and distortion pedals should go seems to be a matter of personal preference. A lot of people swear wah should go before distortion, others (me included) think it works better after distortion. I do see a bit of a contradiction between “always have the wah wah before the fuzz box” and “Getting Your Own Sound” (i.e., “follow the rules to express yourself in a unique manner”).
    Now, I usually have two different distortion pedals hooked up, even though rarely on at the same time — “overdrive” and “fuzz” if you will, in this order — and perhaps putting the wah in between them would provide the most flexible setup.

  4. Frank Mill says

    In response to Sluggo –

    1. Read the first paragraph.

    2. Telling someone how to set the knobs on their amp to get their own sound would seem to defeat the purpose of finding one’s own sound entirely.

    3. Many classic low-wattage tube amps naturally compress when cranked. Hot output tubes clip harmonically. Speakers also react differently to fully cranked amps. This speficic effect is impossible to model or emulate with a pedal, and using volume knob adjustments and your hands and picking attack allows a player’s individuality to emerge in a way that playing through a Line 6 or high-gain, high wattage rig will not.

    4. Write a constructive response addressing your solutions to the concerns you have with the article. Example:

    “You may want to start developing your own sound by trying to emulate the sound of some players you respect or have influenced you, and go from there”

    “Try radical tone knob adjustments. Turn your midrange or presence knobs all the way up, or down, and see what you think. Experiment with metal picks or compressor pedals.”

    Or you could just be crabby and critical.

  5. Gerry says

    “When using a wah wah and a distortion always have the wah wah before the fuzz box (how’s that for old school?)”

    Unless, of course, you’re Mark Farner. For primo filtery/sweepy wah-after-fuzz sounds, give a listen to Grand Funk Railroad’s “Live Album.”

    Glad to hear others appreciate unison-bend king Glen Buxton.

  6. says

    You mention the JagStang, but fail to mention the holy trinity of alt-rock, the Jaguar, Jazzmaster and Mustang?

    If you want an alternative sound (and really, an incredibly versatile guitar) you can’t go wrong with a Jazzmaster or Jag. The Mustang is a fun one to mess with, because it’s not quite like anything. I like the out-of-phase pickup position for a Smiths-esque twang and jangle (with a slapback and some reverb? so good!).

  7. zedthewizard says

    i have not really explored all the possibilities, and i’m not a great player; but i picked up a wilshire and one with a tremotone. i think the mini humbuckers have something to offer including versatility. i think alot of those necks will get cracked somehow.

    a big guy might not like the small guitar body.

    i feel it is easy to dial in the beatles and the woman tone with the wilshire and if you get those two, you are likely to get all in between. i don’t play them, but sixties psychedelic poppop (peppermint) i believe would be easy.

    i chose the wilshire’s to have something different; plus i think the one guy had mini humbuckers on his guitar during the concert for bangledesh.

    i have also been moving toward guyatone micro pedals . . . for a hobbyist they are simple so you can dial in a great tone. the sustain is quiet. the over drive is fairly transparent. the harmonic overdrive is glam rock nailed playing intervals with a les paul w/burstbuckers. i also have the noise supressor.

    recently, i bought their reverb just because it is so rare, and i read raves on it. i don’t own a reverb . . . i won’t buy their delay because i do have one, and i want everything analog . . . currently i use a vox pathfinder and a marshall 15r . . . i can’t get rid of the marshall 15r because it has an actual spring reverb. i’ve been playing mostly out of the pathfinder.

    as far as a tube amp . . . there is a lot i’d like, but i’m an apt. dweller therefore, solid state . . . but the black star h-5 is interesting; i may even have to go for the h-1.

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