Everyone likes to try new things when a new year comes around, and we at the Blog of Tone are no different! Today, then, we present five little guitar and amp-based tips for you to give your music a fresh new start. Read on, give them a try, and share your own New Year’s guitar tips in the comments below…
Learn what all the knobs on your amp do
It’s amazing how much time we guitarists put into learning the ins and outs of our guitars, pedals and accessories.
We’re all too happy to be reading up – often extensively – on which body wood will provide the best twangy tones, which Les Paul neck profile is ‘the one’, which plectrum gauge and shape provides the most picking dexterity, or which boutique overdrive pedal is No. 1 for recreating those classic rock tones authentically.
So why don’t lots of us do the same with our amps?
Because, as we very well know, amplifiers are a key part of our sound, and learning how to tweak them as needed can really help take your tone to another level.
Don’t think you need to just have everything set to 12 o’ clock, or all the way up if you’re playing metal. Give those knobs a twist to somewhere else on the dial – especially the ones you wouldn’t normally touch!
For example, we recently wrote about the benefits of the Presence and Resonance controls on amps (read that post here).
When the feedback came in, we were amazed to find out how many readers had amps with said knobs but hadn’t used them because they didn’t know what they actually did. That’s just crazy talk!
But it’s not just the niche knobs that can be manipulated to your advantage. Simple, standard things like EQs, gains and reverbs can all be used in hugely varied and productive ways, so do yourself a favor and get twiddling those controls this year. You’ll thank us later, honest…
Turn down the gain
Some people called us names for suggesting this recently, but who are we to argue with Angus Young and the mighty AC/DC?
After all, the Young brothers have conjured up some of rock’s biggest riffs of all time – and they did it all with their amps’ gain controls set way lower than you might think – as we revealed here.
Now, turning down the distortion might seem like a tough ask, but it could do wonders for your tone.
The initial downside, of course, is that you’ll have to tighten up your technique somewhat – cleaner tones means hearing all those mistakes loud and clear! – but ultimately, who doesn’t want to sound as punchy as Malcolm and Angus in their prime?
Which leads us on to…
Pushing the boat out a bit
Getting yourself out of your guitar comfort zone is not only a great way to widen your repertoire – it’s also a great creative tool in terms of coming up with new material and ideas if you write your own songs.
So, how can you go about doing that?
Well, there are many ways. One could be to buy some awesome new gear (the perils and pitfalls of which we dealt with here) – if you’re a conservative guitarist, consider getting a baritone axe maybe, or even a different instrument entirely (ukuleles are incredibly popular second instruments for guitarists at the moment, for example).
Failing that, upgrade your amp, or get that FX pedal you’ve always wanted but never had the guts to splash out on.
If money’s tight – or if you’re just happy with your current setup – try listening to some new musical styles and emulating them.
If you’re a metal fan, give country a go. Seriously. Or, if you’re a jazz player, djent it up a bit. You never know what cool new licks ort techniques you’ll stumble across.
Make some mods
The tinkerers among you will know that there’s no better feeling than rocking out onstage with some gear you made yourself in your garden shed.
Well, while this might be out of the question for most of us, there’s definitely little changes we can make to our kit that can open up new sonic avenues.
For instance, you could ask a tech to pop a new pair of pickups in your guitar, or to rewire your tone pot, or to upgrade your tuners, or to scallop your fretboard…
There’s little things you can do to your amp, too, that can make a colossal difference to your tone.
We wrote all about some of these right here, including swapping out speakers and tubes, and there’s always aesthetic oddities you can use to change the mood – if not the sound – like custom knobs and grille cloths.
All this said, though…
Don’t make resolutions you’re not going to keep!
This might not be strictly tone-related advice, but the point stands.
There’s nothing more depressing than starting off the year with a bunch of unrealistic resolutions you know you’ve got no hope of achieving from the outset.
So, keep it realistic – and, above all, fun. There’s no point in saying that you’re going to practice for an hour a day, every day. There will be a day you don’t manage it, and then others, and before you know it you’ll be back to no practice at all.
Set some attainable targets, though, and you’ll make progress – and have a good time doing it.
OK, that’s it for today. We hope these points have given you some ideas about how you can take your guitar-based fun in new directions over the next year, but do get in touch if you think there’s anything we’ve missed: we’re always looking for new inspiration from the fine folks who read this blog, so let us know your plans…
First published: January 09 2015. Most recent update: December 22 2016.