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Tone is Not A Destination It's a Journey
What really defines good tone? Unfortunately only you can make that call. If we all liked the same thing this would be a pretty boring place. Tone, it's such a subjective thing. But, you have to start somewhere, right? So let's start from where the signal begins and follow the signal all the way to where it ultimately ends, the listener.

Different Guitars, Different Tone
From personal experience I've found almost every guitar has its own personality. Even two guitars made from virtually the same type of parts will sound different. Why? Body wood is the main factor here. The uniqueness of wood makes the difference. That's why it's so important to try several guitars until you find that special instrument that speaks to you. Try to forget all the hype manufacturers put in the guitar rags. Learn to trust the most valuable analyzers God has given you, your ears. For beginners it's often hard because they have no point of reference . My advice is find a player with some experience whos tone you like and ask for some guidance. For a good explanation of how different woods affect your tone go here: http://www.jemsite.com/jem/wood.htm

With so many guitars of every shape and size, how does one go about choosing the right one? Well, first decide what your budget is and then go from there. You'll find two types of pickups. Single coil and humbucker designs. Les Pauls, PRS and even some Fender guitars have humbuckers while Fender Strats and Teles are usually equipped with single coils. What's the difference tone-wise? Single coils are brighter sounding and have a bell-like tone while humbuckers are meatier and darker sounding. Only you can decide which one is best for you. Some humbuckers can be wired so that only one of the two coils is activated at a time. And some single coils use a stacking technique to obtain a hum-free vibe. I personally have a set of Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups in one of my Srats and my Tele. Some like them and some hate them. What's right for you? Only you can make that choice. My advice, go play and decide for yourself.

I would have to say that the pickups and the type of wood a guitars body is made of are two of the most important factors contributing to a guitars tone. The next most contributing factor is the neck. Here again the type of neck wood and construction play a big part in the tone. Most Fenders, except some Fender Custom Shop guitars, have maple necks with either a rosewood slab or plain maple. In my experience, rosewood yields a softer warmer tone than maple. Maple seems to render a sharper attack and slightly brighter tone. My Les Paul has a mahogany neck with a ebony slab fretboard. I find ebony to be similar in tone to rosewood but maybe a little darker and warmer.

Next, tone-wise, I would have to say that the bridge and nut are the next biggest factors in regard to tone. If your guitar comes with a plastic nut you may want to replace it with one made from bone. It won't cost a lot and the benefits, tone-wise, are well worth the cost. A bit of advice, have a competent luthier do the mod. It looks simple enough, but you could ruin a neck fairly easy if you don't know what you're doing. I've seen some guitars that even have nylon or plastic bridge saddles. These do not render good sustain. If staccato attack is what you're after, fine, but if want maximum sustain metal saddles are the ticket. Next time you see a Tele take notice how the bridge pickup is mounted on the metal plate. This is what gives the Tele its uniqueness tone-wise. Most Nashville chicken pickers, such as Brent Mason, get their signature tone from a Tele using the bridge pickup. No guitar sounds quite like a Tele, but a Tele. Some may come close, but there's nothing like the twang a Fender Tele gives you.

Want to make a valuable mod to your Stratocaster? Check out the custom made trem/bridge assembly made by Callaham Guitars: http://www.callahamguitars.com/ This guy has these Vibrato/Tremolo Replacement Blocks and Bridges custom made from vintage specs. He also makes some awesome guitars. Take a look around, I think you'll like what you see. Here's a mp3 made after I installed a complete Trem/Block Bridge Assembly I ordered from Callaham. As they say, the proof is in the pudding.

Callaham Trem.mp3

I might as well mention frets here also. Although I don't feel they have a dramatic affect on your tone I do feel that the medium and jumbo sizes are the most desirable. Some say the jumbos will give you more sustain. I honestly don't know if they do or not. I just know I prefer jumbo fretwire for my playing style. They are easier to grab when bending and just plain feel better to my hands.

Cabling, The Most Over-Looked Factor in Tone
If your tone is only as good as its weakest link then quality cabling/interconnect is a vital part of your tone equation. Unfortunately, most players will spend thousands of dollars on their rig and then ruin it with sub-par cabling. Okay, I use Monster Cables, had them 15 years and they work as good as the day I made them. You don't have to use Monster Cabling. They are too expensive for some. George L or a comparable interconnect will do. The main thing is to not skimp here, after all, this is what carries your tone from point A to point B. Don't even think about true-bypass effects pedals if you're using sorry cabling. I know players that give me a hard time about my Boss pedals while they are using cabling that's sucking their tone right out of their rig.

Effects Pedals and Tone Shaping
Man, one could write a book on this subject. I buy effects pedals like my wife buys shoes. You can never have too many stomp boxes. They defone the character of your tone. Besides your guitar and amp, effects will contribute the most to your signature tone. I currently have thirty two pedals. The order you run your pedals make a big difference in the tone and how each pedal reacts to each other. In my experience it's best to run some effects through the effects loop of your amp. Delay and noise gates should be ran in the effects loop if your amp has one. Other effects like compression and distortion should never be ran into an effects loop. Try it and you'll see why. My old Fender Super Reverbs don't have effects loops. Here is the order I run them:

Dunlop Cry Baby (CMAT Modded)

Boss CS-3 Compressor (Opto Plus Modded)

Boss BD-2 (H2O Plus Modded)

Boss SD-1 (GT Modded)

Boss DS-1 (Rectifer Tri-Gain Plus Modded)

Boss MT-2 (Sustainia Tri-Gain Plus Modded)

Ibanez TS-9 (Tri-Gain Modded)

Boss DD-6 Delay

Boss NS-2 noise gate

Yamaha MagicStomp Version II

Line6 DL4 Delay Modeler

Amplifiers and Tone
Probably the biggest single contributing factor to your tone will be the amp you choose. The best advice I can give you here is to find an artists tone you like and do some research. Be warned, don't expect to sound like Eric Johnson just because you own a 1954 Strat, two Fender Deluxe Reverbs and a vintage 50 Watt Marshall. Don't get me wrong, that would be a good starting point. But great tone comes from the heart, soul and fingers of the person playing. Equipment, in and of itself, is only part of the equation. The remainder, literally, rests in your hands and fingers.

Solid State or Tube? The debate goes on and on and on and on. I've owned both and, IMO, both have their place. For Blues, R&B, C&W, Jazz or Pop you're probably better off with a tube amp. If metal is your chosen genre, Solid State may be the ticket. But let's not forget the Digital Modeling amps. I bought a Line6 Flextone a couple of years back and if variety is important to you as a player, these are worth a look, although I eventually sold it and bought a Fender Cyber Deluxe which, BTW, I still own it 4 years later. I also once owned a POD and for some things they really work well, but I sold it, it was just not my bag. My biggest gripe with most of the modeling technology is their lack of dynamics. They seem to do one thing really well and a lot of things not so well. As the technology progresses and the bit and resolution rates increase from 16 to 24 and above, I think you'll even see some die-hard tube snobs taking a closer look at this technology. It's certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Fender Cyber Deluxe Combo
I purchased this amp in May of 2003. After gigging with it I am very impressed with what this amp offers tonewise. The Cyber Deluxe does not suffer the shortcomings of other modeling amps. The cleans are vintage Fender all the way and the overdrive models are as good as they come on a modeling amp. Very dynamic and responsive. Not a tube in it and you won't care. The tone is that good. I recorded a few sound bites below that I feel demonstrate the strengths of the amp.

BTW, the guitar used on these mp3s was retrofitted with my tuning system, the eNut™. Click here to read more about this system that will break the price barrier at less than $25. Notice how the samples are very in tune all the way up and down the neck. This system beats every system being offered today and will break the price barrier at under $25.

Clean_1.mp3 Clean_2.mp3 Clean_3.mp3 Clean_4.mp3 Clean_5.mp3 Clean_6.mp3 Clean_7.mp3 Model_Examples.mp3 Overdrive_1.mp3 Overdrive_2.mp3 Overdrive_3.mp3 Overdrive_4.mp3 Overdrive_5.mp3

Line6 Flextone II XL
I purchased a Flextone II XL because of its ease of setup and versatility when traveling and gigging on the road. But, after a few months sold it and bought a Fender Cyber Deluxe. I've made some mp3s below that I have created using the SoundDiver app. Since I've only had it a few days I haven't had a lot of time to experiment. I still haven't found a usable clean and crunch setting but the saturated and distortion tones sound pretty good so far. I'll be adding some patches from the SoundDiver utility once I get enough to offer. Here are the mp3s.

Flex1.mp3 Flex2.mp3 Flex3.mp3 Flex4.mp3 Flex5.mp3 Flex6.mp3

Line6 DL4 Delay Modeler
Anyone that knows me knows that delay is a big part of my music. The DL4 is absolutely the best bang for the buck in delay effects on the market.

The DL4 Delay Modeler offers you an incredible array of sounds, from a tube driven, tape loop echo (complete with adjustable wow and flutter), through 24 bit squeaky clean digital echo, to real-time reverse delay. Incredibly simple to use, it's an amazingly powerful tool offering you delay effects never before available in a single box.

The DL4 offers: Digital modeling based on 15 of those vintage delay and echo effects you've always yearned for. Including: EP-1 Tube Echoplex, EP-3 solid state Echoplex, Space Echo, Deluxe Memory Man, Reverse delay , Rhythmic delay, Dynamic delay and many more!

Includes 14 seconds of memory + 800ms of Pre-delay (sort of a delay within a delay), and features half speed and/or reverse overdubbing.

Line6 DL4 Delay Modeler MP3 Samples
Samples were played on a Custom Built Tele with a set of Joe Barden Tele Pickups. The signal path was Tele-> Boss CS-3-> Ibanez TS7-> Line6 DL4-> 1975 Fender Super Reverb-> Shure SM57-> FMR Audio RNC Compressor-> Avalon U5 Preamp-> Apogee AD500E Analog to Digital Converters-> Roland VS880-> Macintosh G3/500-> Cubase VST-> Bias Peak-> MP3.


ZOOM PD-01 OverDrive Pedal
Samples were played on a Custom Built Strat with a set of Fender Vintage Noiseless Pickups. The signal path was Strat-> Boss CS-3-> ZOOM PD-01-> 1975 Fender Super Reverb-> Shure SM57-> Avalon U5 Preamp-> Apogee AD500E Analog to Digital Converters-> Roland VS880-> Macintosh G3/500-> Cubase VST-> Bias Peak-> MP3.

Zoom PD-01.mp3

Boss CS-3 Compressor
I know, it's not true-bypass and the effects snobs hate these pedals. But somehow players like Brent Mason and other pros don't seem to mind.

I love the rubbery, smooth, over-the-top vibe of this compressor. I set the knobs just like the pic, straight up. It's a little noisy if overused but this pedal rocks. Great for all styles. And when modded with my Opto Plus kit the noise is reduced and transparency increased. With the Opto Plus mod this compressor sound as good as compressors selling for 4X the cost of a modded CS-3.

Ibanez TubeScreamer
Possibly the best and most famous overdrive of all time. I own several models of this pedal and love each one. Even the bug shaped TS5 with it's plastic enclosure has great tone. Especially if you put one of the JRC4558D opamp chips in it and replace a couple of resistors.

Do yourself a favor and mod these pedals with one of the mod kits I sell. The kits completely transform these pedals into boutique killers.

Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor
I use one of these as the last device in my live rig. It also has the capability of driving several other pedals when used with an AC Adapter and one of the Boss daisy chain strings. Also features an effect send and return which I use to drive a Boss Tuner. Adjustable release and decay and also has a mute switch.

Dunlop Crybaby
From Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton, you'll find a Crybaby splashed on decades of music. A must have for every guitarists effects arsenal.