Posts Tagged ‘Tone’

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:

  1. Set your rig up to your sweet spot; that is, where you think it just sings to you, no matter what you play.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.


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I love my Strat. It’s a cheapo MIM version, but it has a great sound. But ever since I started using it with the KASHA Overdrive pedal, it sounds even more like a Strat to me! I know, that sounds a little cuckoo, but that Classic channel on the KASHA Overdrive really brings out that jangly tone that defines the Strat tone; that’s to my ears, at least…

The other day, I was messing around with a dominant seventh ditty in A as I was trying to pick up some improv techniques from Chuck D’Aloia’s Blues with Brains video. I originally just recorded my Strat running through a reverb, then into my amp. It sounded pretty good, but I wanted to get a bit more top-end bite, but not a lot of drive. So I switched my KASHA Overdrive on and my jaw dropped! Here’s what I came up with…

That pedal just brings out the best in a Strat. I swear, now that I’ve been using it with my Strat for the last couple of days, I think it’ll always be on when I perform with my Strat. It really sounds great!

BTW, both rhythm and lead parts were played with the Kasha overdrive pedal. For the rhythm part, I was in the Classic channel to get that jangly Strat sound from position 2, while I was in the Hot channel for the lead in the neck pickup. So sweet sounding!

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Aracom Amps PRX150-Pro AttenuatorAs many know, I’m a big fan of attenuators. In the past I’ve owned a couple and have tried out several. And with the addition of the Aracom PRX150-Pro to my rig, I’ve finally got a device that is helping me realize all the tonal goodness my amps have to offer. But this entry isn’t about the Aracom attenuator. There are a few attenuators that have entered the market in the recent past including the Faustine Phantom and others that are having the same effect on axe slingers and how they approach their tone.

So what’s the big deal? Most folks know how an attenuator operates. It sits between your amp and your speaker(s), and squelches the output signal from your amp which results in a lower output volume, so you can drive your amp to high gain levels and not shatter your eardrums. That’s the basic premise behind attenuators in general. But up until recently, attenuation came at a price, and that is the loss of tone and dynamics, or completely changed tone at higher attenuation levels; to put it simply, loss of tonal quality. I’m willing to bet that this very thing has kept lots of people from using an attenuator.

But with the new breed of attenuators hitting the market, loss of tonal quality is much less of an issue, if it’s an issue at all. Now you can bring your output volume WAY down, and be assured that the tonal quality you’ve worked so hard to achieve is still there.

So how will this change the way we approach our tone? I would venture to guess that many guitarists have really never known what their amp sounds like fully cranked up – at least for extended periods of time. Sure, if you’re a pro and regularly play huge venues, you know what it sounds like. But for us mere mortals who rarely play in more than a dance club, we’ve never been able to fully experience the cranked up tone of our amps, and that’s where a great attenuator comes into play.

When I hooked up my PRX150-Pro, the first thing I did was to set it on load mode and turn the variable to full attenuation, then dimed the master and volume on my amp to see what it would sound like. I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of new tones that were suddenly available to me: rich harmonics, tons of sustain, and incredible touch sensitivity. It was as if a whole new world was opened up to me.

With my old attenuator, I rarely went to real high levels of attenuation because it made my tone sound weak and lifeless.  Plus, I didn’t want to burn out my tubes – which I learned the hard way when I cranked my amp while hooked up to the attenuator. But with the Aracom attenuator, I knew I could crank it as high as I wanted to and still be safe. What this means is that I now have access to a wider landscape of tones and dynamics that I can also safely reach. And that’s another feature of the new breed of attenuators: They appear to be much safer to use than the older designs out there.

Here’s an interesting question I got from a buddy of mine: Will I get rid of my overdrive pedals as a result now being able to get the fully cranked tone of my amp? Not on your life! 🙂 I love how they add color to my tone. But I will tell you this: Now that I can crank up my amp to high gain levels without the concomitant high volume levels, I’m actually not using my overdrive pedals as much. Oh, I still use them because they add certain characteristics that aren’t possible with my natural overdrive tone; just not as much as I used to because when I want just straight amp overdrive, I just crank my amp. But when I want to use them, I run them through the clean channel of my amp that has lots of clean headroom, so I can take advantage of the tone that they offer.

So is it a significant change to how we approach our tone? Possibly. I know of some folks who’ve completely stopped using overdrive pedals altogether as a result of using an attenuator, and use a clean boost or even just their volume knob on their guitar to get the lead volume they want. Me? I like to have a few different “brushes” that I can use to create different textures, but in either case, getting that cranked up tone naturally without shattering eardrums is pretty huge.

I think the folks who will gain the most from these great new attenuators are the home studio musicians. Imagine being able to record a screaming guitar solo, and not have the wife or neighbors yelling at you to turn down your volume! I regularly do my recording into the wee hours of the morning, so having an attenuator has been a godsend. But up until I got my PRX150-Pro, I had to wait to record solos until it was day when I could turn up my amp to a gain level that didn’t get me yelled at, as my other attenuators just didn’t give me the tone I needed at high attenuation levels. Even if I used an overdrive pedal, it doesn’t sound good unless it’s working with your amp and pushing your pre-amp tubes, and that takes juice! With a great, transparent, or non-tone-sucking attenuator, you can push your amp hard, and keep your volume under control!

I know of a lot musicians who poo-poo the use of an attenuator. But an attenuator can do wonders for gigging. Want to make the sound guys happy? Here’s another way to look at it: With an attenuator, you can focus on your tone, and not projecting out to the audience. Get enough volume to hear yourself on stage, then let the sound guys do their thing. PA technology has come a long way since the early days of rock and roll, where amps had to be played loud to get the sound out to the audience. Also, if you think about it, speakers are highly directional. If you want to disperse your sound, use the PA.

There’s been an interesting thread that I’ve been lurking on The Gear Page entitled, “Sound guys think I’m too loud.” Someone suggested early on that the original poster could use an attenuator or a smaller amp to reduce their volume. The suggestion of using an attenuator went largely ignored, but as I followed this thread and read all the various insights, using an attenuator is the perfect solution for this.

I’ve heard a lot of the complaints about attenuators in the past, and I’ve also had my issues with them. But with the new breed of attenuators, tone suck is no longer an issue. And that tonal quality will be sure to change how guitarists approach their performances.

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Honeytone_aqua_lg. Over the years, people have – for better or for worse – tried to talk about where tone comes from. Many players say it comes from your fingers. They are then quickly dispatched by obnoxious gear freaks who say tone comes from your gear. So who’s right?

The answer is… both and neither. How’s that for not taking sides? 🙂

Actually, my opinion is that either of these views together are only a small part of what I call Tone – with a capital “T.” From my perspective, there are two types of “tone:” The first, “tone” with a little “t,” is the natural sound produced by your guitar(s), effect box(es) (if any), and amp(s). In other words, “tone” is the sound of what’s in your rig.

The second, what I call “Tone” with a capital “T” is the sound of your gear, combined with your – for lack of a better word – heart; that is, the emotion and passion that travels from the center of your being to your fingers, onto your strings and fretboard, down through your rig, and out your amp. Tone is the music you express through your gear that is uniquely you.

In that light, I tend to gravitate to the “tone is in your fingers” camp, in that what you “feel” while you’re playing is transmitted to your fingers which in turn manipulate your guitar. And I think that’s where the important distinction must be made from those who say your tone is simply your gear. Of course, the quality of your gear and the purity of the signal are certainly important factors to consider. But music played with no passion and feeling just sounds flat and uninteresting, even through great gear.

On the other hand, even what could be considered cheap or crappy gear played by someone who can truly express themselves will sound great – and they will sound like themselves, no matter what gear they play. I was watching a video recently of a guy down in LA who is session musician that uses a Squire Strat and a Sears Silvertone amp, and he’s on a lot of big-name groups’ albums.

To add to that, around the middle of last year, I was listening to an interview with Ronnie Montrose, and he recounted a story from his early days where he was sitting at a table with Carlos Santana, taking a break from a recording session. Apparently Carlos had a new guitar and amp that he was showing everyone. Ronnie picked up the guitar started playing, and everyone was amazed that even with Carlos’ gear, he sounded like himself!

So to sum up, yes, tone comes from your gear; yes, tone comes from your fingers. But Tone – your sound – comes from your heart.

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PRX-front-543You ever have an itch you can’t scratch? Well, it has been like that keeping my mouth shut about the Power Rox PRX150-Pro. Ever since I played with the early prototypes, I’ve been completely blown away by this attenuator! This is a totally new take on attenuator technology, folks, and I’m hoping it takes the industry by storm. Why? Simply because what we’re talking about with the Power Rox is true transparency in tone when this is in your signal chain; not “almost” transparent, but truly transparent.

Check out the Power Rox PRX150-Pro page at Aracom Amps!

Most comparisons between attenuators revolve around what’s the “most transparent” attenuator, indicating that really none of them are transparent, so people pick the best of the lot. And frankly, I’ve tested out several attenuators and ended up with the Dr. Z Airbrake, as I felt it was the most transparent out of the ones I tested. But nothing could have prepared me for the transparency of the Power Rox.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. In fact, I had already written a significant amount of text, but decided to just point you in the right direction. Go to the product page. Read through the product description, but more importantly, read the supplementary documentation behind the links at the bottom of the page. Jeff Aragaki has graciously provided some very in-depth articles on how attenuators work, and also provides a high-level explanation of the technology behind the PRX150-Pro.

Other manufacturers may brag about the safety and transparency of their attenuators, but none is willing to back up their claims with the engineering behind their attenuators (and if you knew what some were doing, believe me, if you care about your tone and the safety of your amp, you’d get worried). If you’re interested in or even use an attenuator, you owe it to yourself – and your tone – to check this unit out!

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perplexed Visit any online forum and you’ll see countless topics in the form of, “How can I get this sound?” or “Tell me what I need to sound just like ______________.” These are quite popular threads as people will chime in with their knowledge; however complete or incomplete, with the gear that a particular guitarist used. The discussions sometimes get quite lively as some personalities collide in an ego-fed frenzy. Okay, I’m exaggerating… 🙂 But they do get quite lively. I read through those threads both for pure amusement, but also to get educated about others’ approaches to achieving a particular kind of tone. It’s amazing the gear that I’ve discovered just because of these kinds of threads.

One of the most amusing topics I’ve run across in the recent past is people asking how they can sound like The Edge from U2. Let’s face it: The Edge’s rig has got to be one of the most complex arrangements of gear around. No one really knows what his complete signal chain is except his techs who set all his gear up, yet so many people chime in (albeit in an effort to assist, and that’s a great thing) with their suggestions. Unfortunately, all they can really produce is a fraction of the picture, and considering The Edge’s rig, probably a minute fraction at best. For instance, I once read he runs something like a 40 foot cable between some devices so there is a built-in lag. Damn!

Mind you, I’m not trying to put anyone down, but to me, discussions about how to faithfully, flawlessly reproduce a particular tone is almost futile; and as much I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, and as much as someone would like to produce a tone exactly as they’ve heard, they may get close – real close – but they’ll never get there 100%. Why? Because there are lots of factors that contribute to tone; not the least of which is the guitarist who originally created the tone in the first place! On top of that, you’d have to have the same guitar, with the same strings, with the same amp, with the same pedals (if applicable), the same pick; not to mention the exact same cables that were used. Then you’d have to try to produce live what was a recorded sound, and you can bet that guitar signal went through quite a bit of audio processing to produce the recorded tone. Get the picture?

Like I said, I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade, and perhaps these questions asked on the boards are purely out of curiosity, but I’m of the mind that if you truly aspire to be a great musician, let alone a great guitarist, you need to find the tone that pleases you. You may end up sounding similar to someone, but I think the best guitarists out there – no matter what their technical level is – are the ones that sound like themselves.

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2

Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2 Overdrive Pedal

Summary: In Japanese, “abunai” means dangerous, and this pedal’s overdrive tones are indeed dangerous – at least to your other overdrive pedals. With three switchable clipping configurations, you can dial in a myriad of overdrive characteristics that’ll suit any situation, be it live or in the studio.

Pros: The magic’s in the three-way clipping configuration switch. Super simple to use, and very easy to dial in the kind of overdrive character you want.

Cons: None

Price: $199 (through dealers – check out the Tone Freak Effect Contact Page)


  • Controls: Drive, Tone, Level
  • 3 clipping configurations
  • True Bypass
  • Neutrik jacks
  • Teflon coated, silver stranded wire
  • Mil-spec PCB
  • Metal film resistors
  • Metal film capacitors
  • Hand assembled

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 – As I shared with Dereck Tabata (maker of Tone Freak pedals), with the amount of gear that I run across, I’m rarely blown away by pedals. But I was completely blown away by the Abunai 2. Step aside Tube Screamer, there’s a new sherriff in town.

One rainy friday night several months ago, I was sitting in an Armadillo Willy’s eating my dinner and surfing the web, while waiting for my son’s hockey practice at the rink across the parking lot to end. I was doing what Internet geeks like myself occasionally do: Search for available domain names, and reserve them, just in case I want to build a site or point them to this blog. In this case, I did a google search on “tone freak.” The first listing was for Tone Freak Effects; an effects manufacturer I had not even heard of at that point.

Being the gear slut that I am, I just had to mosey on over to the Tone Freak site, and check out what they had to offer. And much to my extreme pleasure, they had a bunch of overdrive pedals, my favorite kind of effect! I immediately reached over to my laptop bag and pulled out my ear buds so I could listen to clips. The first set of clips I listened to were recorded with the Abunai 2. From the very first clip, I felt that this pedal was something special. It wasn’t a Tube Screamer tone – it was something altogether different. It had a much “ballsier” sound than a Tube Screamer, but seemed to clip very similarly – at least in the middle position.

Well I got one in for review just yesterday, and from the moment I hooked it up to my board and started noodling, I was in love!!! And by 2am this morning, I was spent, which accounts for why I’m doing a review of the Abunai 2 the very next day. I just couldn’t stop playing (though after the first hour I did stop to take a break and write a First Impressions article)! So today I’m a bit fuzzy and a little worse for wear, but grinning from ear-to-ear because I just spent the previous evening in absolute overdrive bliss! I know some gear is good when it can consume my attention for hours on end. This is the perfect overdrive pedal!

Features and Ease-of-Use

The features are listed in the summary section above, but the most special feature of this pedal is the three-way mini-toggle set between the drive and volume knobs. This controls the variable clipping section which gives you symmetrical, asymmetrical, and no clipping to open up lots of different overdrive tones. As far as ease-of-use is concerned, this pedal’s easy to use. Select the clipping configuration you want, adjust level, gain, and tone, and you’re off to the races!

Interestingly enough, I wanted to get some background information on the pedal before I received it, so I had a nice conversation with Rob at Tone Merchants about the Abunai 2. He indicated that I’d have to spend a lot of time dialing in just the right overdrive tone I wanted, but once I got it, I’d be totally happy. Call me lucky, but I set everything in the middle position to start with, spent maybe 20 seconds twiddling the knobs, and found a sweet spot. I suppose it also all depends on how discerning or nit-picky you are… I’ll just call it luck for my experience. 🙂

How It Sounds

Many words come to mind with respect to how the Abunai 2 sounds: Killer, Inspirational, Ballsy, F-in’ Incredible! All of the above. To date, this is the best-sounding overdrive pedal I’ve ever played, and I’ve played a lot. You know how taken I was with the OCD, but even that lost out to the Holy Fire, which is yet another killer overdrive/distortion that will never leave my board – actually I shouldn’t say “never” because that’s exactly what I said about my Tube Screamer. It’s not transparent – at least not nearly as transparent as the Holy Fire – but the tone it produces is so damn sweet, who the hell cares about transparency? But that said, the tone of your amp doesn’t really change a lot. It just takes on a slightly different character, and that difference is simply wonderful

No matter what toggle position you go with, the Abunai 2 serves up lots of sustain that gives the resultant tone a very 3-dimensional quality. It’s in your face, but at the same time it’s very spacious – even when it’s simulating tube compression!

In case  you missed the previous article where I described how each position sounds, let me rehash it here. Note that I’m not going to try to identify which position refers to symmetrical, asymmetrical or no-clipping; only what it sounds like to my ears.


The middle position sounds much like a classic overdrive tone. It’s an open type of distortion tone with a nice grind that’s never harsh. This could be the closest you get to a Tube Screamer tone, but it’s significantly different from that tone. This is a great toggle position for playing dirty rhythm parts.


To my ears, this position sounds much like the tone you get as your power tubes start to saturate. You get a bit more voltage sag, resulting in more sustain and compression, but the overdrive tone still remains fairly open. And like an amp whose power tubes are starting to saturate, you get a slight volume drop. So far, this has been my favorite toggle position for leads.


This position simulates fully saturated power tubes adding tons of compression, tons of sustain, and the expected drop in volume as a result -it’s spongy. I compensated for this by adding some clean boost to get the volume back to unity gain. But despite that, notes are clear, and the dynamics are still incredible.

Here’s a sound clip I recorded at around 1am this morning. I played both parts using my Prestige Heritage Elite. For the rhythm part, I set the toggle in the middle position, rolled off the drive to about 10 am, set the gain to unity, and placed the tone dead-center. I had both my ‘buckers engaged for this part. For the lead, I used the left toggle position, upped volume to about 2pm, set the Tone wide open, and set the Drive to about 1pm. The lead was played through my bridge pickup.

I tracked the rhythm part in a single take, and then loop recorded the lead so I could just jam. I’m not sure what iteration the loop was in when I finally stopped. All I know was that it was about 2am, and I took the last “take” and exported the clip to an MP3.

Overall Impressions

As I mentioned above, my head’s fuzzy, I’m a little worse for wear, plus my fingertips hurt from playing so long last night. But what the hell! I was in complete tonal bliss! The Abunai 2 is an absolute dream come true in overdrive tone! This is a pedal that you just have to check out if you’re in the market!

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