A couple of months ago, I wrote an article entitled, “Where DOES TONE Really Reside?” where I discussed the equipment vs. fingers religious debate that seems to rage on the forums now and again. I meant to follow up on that article much earlier, but well, life happens and it’s easy to get sidetracked, so here’s my follow-up:
Tone is NOTHING without music.
Music gives tone a context. Here’s a good test of this statement:
- Set your rig up to your sweet spot; that is, where you think it just sings to you, no matter what you play.
- Start plucking out random notes, not trying to be musical at all. Could be some dissonant scale of some sort, or just randomly plucked notes. Do some bends and such. Ugly, right?
- Now, without changing your settings, make music with that tone. You could comp some chords, or do some melodic lead.
For example, here’s a clip I quickly recorded that demonstrates the steps. In the clip, I’m playing my Strat through a Hardwire reverb, into a Reason Bambino on the Normal channel, at just the edge of breakup. The tone that this produces is silky smooth, but responds to attack and volume increases with just bit of grind. I’ve been using this setting quite a bit lately. It creates a very three-dimensional sound.
The first part – thankfully – is very short, and is just random plucking of notes. Without touching anything on my guitar or amp, in the second part, I do a little chord comping and create some music.
The point to that little exercise is that in both parts, the tone I’m producing – at least to my ears – is gorgeous. But flat-out tone with no context well… it just plain sucks!
So put everything together, where does tone reside? As I stated in the first article, it’s in both your gear and your fingers, but ultimately, you have to give it context, and that’s applying that tone to music. But keep in mind that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. What is considered “great tone” is a purely subjective thing.