No, Your Guitar Tone Doesn’t Suck.

No, Your Guitar Tone Doesn’t Suck.

Is Jimi Hendrix the king of guitar tone?
The true king of guitar tone?

I’m gonna come in hot with this one and piss off a lot of people, but the truth is that there’s no such thing as “good” guitar tone. Hendrix’s tone on “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)?” Yes, of course you love that sound. It’s the perfect intro to Jimi declaring himself the baddest motherfucker who ever lived, sure, but is there some inherent quality to the tone of his guitar that makes it “good?”

If there is, I’ve never heard of anyone able to quantify it. But you love that tone. And it’s understandable, because it’s the guitar tone on a badass song. But it’s the song that makes the guitar tone good. Hendrix made plenty of so-called guitar faux pas in his short career, from long cables that darkened the tone of his guitar to preferring silicon fuzzes over the magic germanium we’re all supposed to covet.

Of course, Jimi Hendrix is just one example. We could also talk about Tony Iommi, who created a genre-defining guitar sound because he sliced off the ends of his fingers and could only play downtuned guitars without it causing him pain. Still, millions of people play downtuned guitars because of Iommi’s playing.

My personal favorite guitarists tend to be more abrasive punk guitarists like Greg Ginn and Steve Albini. I spent years trying to get their tones, but they were subject to so many factors that I could never come close. Still, I learned to develop my own “wall of noise” style without emulating anyone.

Tom Morello of the legendary hip-hop/funk/punk/metal band Rage Against the Machine’s tone came from his realization that his gear was the gear that he had, and that would be part of his sound. He didn’t chase David Gilmour’s tone from “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” He didn’t seek out a Klon Centaur. He tuned his guitar to drop-D and used the mish-mash of gear he had to play some of the wildest and funkiest riffs of his time. Tom Morello’s gear became central to his sound, the way he used his Digitech Whammy, a wah, and an EQ pedal to create guitar sounds never heard before.

You may find yourself wondering, “why are you rambling about this, Lucky?”

The answer is simple: I want you to stop obsessing over gear and develop your sound. By all means, use all the pedals your heart wants, but don’t think that a Klon Centaur or a ProCo RAT or a Boss CE-2 like Robert Smith uses is going to be the key to unlocking your magical, unique tone. Don’t buy pedals because some other guitarist tells you to. Buy the pedals that you like. Do you like the bad digital delay from the 1980s? Then you don’t need a tape echo. Does your guitar feel good in your hands and stay in tune? That’s a good guitar. Is your amp solid state? Guess what? No one listening to your music will ever know or care.

So again, this isn’t a call to stop buying gear; it’s a call to embrace the gear you have, to buy the gear that you like, and to realize that your unique selection of gear in your setup is what makes your guitar sound beautiful and unique.


2 responses to “No, Your Guitar Tone Doesn’t Suck.”

  1. […] gear talk is about going after a certain sound of one’s favorite musician. Like Lucky says in “No, Your Guitar Tone Doesn’t Suck,” “Don’t buy pedals because some other guitarist tells you to. Buy the pedals that you like.” […]

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