Your Perfect Tone – Does it Matter?

By Will Swanson

As a guitarist we are always searching for ‘tone’. We are trying to get an exact sound out of our instrument that is just ‘us’, that fits our style, our song choices and sounds just right to our ears.

Sometimes that tone is us trying to copy some one else’s such as Rory Gallagher, Gary Moore, Eric Clapton or Johnny Lange. We read about what they use, their entire rig from strings to the power supply for any necessary pedals can be copied…mostly. We know when Gary Moore plays that famous Peter Green Les Paul with the magical our of phase pickups through his Marshall stack it sounds perfect…but when he played a newer Les Paul with regular pickups, guess what, he got that same perfect sound. So it’s in the fingers to a large degree and that also means we will sound like ourselves once we start playing from our soul, from our heart, once we play as us.

So, moving forward from this it doesn’t change that we still want ‘that perfect tone’ for our own music. We want to hear it come out like we hear it in our head so follow me for a minute.

We have a guitar that plays great, fits fine, perfect neck and balance so we start there. We change the pickups for more mid range, sounds better. We change string gauge and brand and we get a bit closer. We add a tube screamer pedal and it has grit, we add a compressor and it cleans up. Our amp is retubed and a warmer speaker added and we get the knobs all perfect. We are almost there, we are so close. We have been playing that same lick with the same instrument in our high tech blues studio and it’s almost there. We change cables to vintage tweeds and we are there, well, a hair off.

We rewire this perfect tele in a 50’s style Les Paul and YES! That’s it!


I hate to bring this up – but how much has your actual sound changed? Its developed and is obviously different, but how much actually changed?

You’ve gotten better at playing it by now, you have changed as a player and the instrument feels dialed in, you are bonded with it, so what is just right, you or the instrument?

The biggest blessing and also the biggest crux of all this is, when you play live you will sound different but you will kill it on that song. Your equipment is the same but the acoustics are different, that huge reverb sound now has to fill a large club through a PA, your perfect tone is now lost. You might play amazingly, that badass riff is still coming out of the instrument but the music that the crowd hears is different, not bad, just different.


The same can be said should you record that album or single and it gets played, even if the studio you recorded it in was perfect for you, the place where you developed your tone, it is all too apparent that the ipod, car stereo or youtube player is going to change it.

So I ask, how important is your tone? Does it matter?

Yes, it’s damn important – because it’s what you want to hear every single time you played that same set of songs trying to get it right and that means you have listened to it far more than anyone else ever will.

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