If the soul feeds on anything or a few things, music should be at the top of the list. Live music, for instance, can elicit numerous kinds of emotions and reactions from both the player and the listener. If you’re a strumming enthusiast, you definitely know how mind-blowing and satisfying it can be to have your audience get wild at the sound of every pluck and strum you make on stage. Nonetheless, your tone is crucial, whether you are a guitar hobbyist or play in front of crowds.
For anyone who is still climbing the learning curve, guitar-playing requires a substantial effort in practice before you get to pro level. You may have to experiment with different types of guitars, strings, and audio dynamics to finally discover your tone. Once you get a hand on it, you may need to invest your time, money, and energy towards perfecting it. Luckily, here are a few tips you can use to improve your tone and become a better guitarist.
1. Practice and Record More
If you’re struggling to find that perfect tone as a strummer, chances are that you’re doing something wrong. Perhaps you have lazed off lately and you do not practice as much as before, so you have become rusty. It could be that you have not been analyzing and observing your playing. Perhaps you don’t even know the tone you are looking for. Just to name a few, all these are common pitfalls among guitarists and guitar enthusiasts. For a better tone, a few things you could do to improve your strumming include the following:
- Know your ideal tone
- Practice more
- Record your gigs and practice sessions
- Observe and analyze yourself playing
- Listen to your music – beyond surface tones
- Learn to maintain tone consistency
Once you put these into practice, all you may have to do is release tension every time you are about to start plucking. Apart from improving your tone, relieving tension will go a long way in preventing repetitive strain injuries that most guitarists deal with.
As much as you would want your strums to sound intense, the last thing you want is to end up in the ER with intensely aching fingers, or muscle cramps; or take time off the stage for days as you recover. Strive to achieve a balance in your hands and fingers, so they don’t end up sore and fatigued after your session or gig. These injuries could impede your tone the next time you play!
Do not forget to practice the right posture, hand position, and strumming techniques at all times. These will go a long way in making you a better guitar player even if you are just getting started. Be sure to stretch a bit, breathe, and relax before you get things going.
2. Get a Decent Compression Pedal
In the world of recorded music, compression is a key effect in evening out the sound dynamics. In popular styles like electric guitar playing, the soft parts of the performance can be made louder and vice versa. With a compression pedal, you can alter the sound of the instrument to achieve just the tone you are looking for. In a recent review of the best compressor pedals, Damián Furfuro explains how you can alter the dynamics of your guitar performance to suit your needs with just the right device. It is described as a great tool for a guitarist who needs to tame the dynamics at will.
Defining a compressor pedal
Also called a stompbox pedal, the compressor pedal is simply a device that lets you manipulate your guitar tone and performance by leveling the audio dynamics. It sits in the signal chain to do so. It can amplify the quietest sounds from your guitar, or dull the most aggressive plucks from the instrument, creating a smoother sound overall.
It’s all about balance, and it comes in handy when looking to improve your guitar tone without much strain. Better yet, there are a few more things you can achieve with a compression pedal. Some of these include:
- Getting a cleaner guitar tone
- Adding “sustain” to lead guitar output signal
- Boosting high-end sound for a funky or chicken-pickin’ tone
- And a lot more
3. Choose Your Strings Wisely
Different guitars sound differently, and that is for a fact. This means that it is very much possible that your guitar choice is to blame for your imperfect tones. For instance, the sound from an electric guitar will obviously differ from audio from an electric guitar or a bass guitar. Moreover, different guitars have different numbers of strings, which are sometimes different in terms of length and thickness.
If you are looking for a fatter tone, heavier strings come highly recommended. These can add some weight and juice to the overall tone, more so when playing with a higher action. Nonetheless, this doesn’t rule out the importance of your technique and other accessories that help improve your tone.
4. Understand Speakers
In this case, the basic assumption is that you will be using an electric or electro-acoustic guitar. Obviously, the audio you create when playing these guitars will be heard from the speakers. But different speakers sound differently, and this may affect your overall strumming tone.
This means that if you use the wrong speakers during practice, you could end up with an absurd if not off-key tone during a live stage performance. Experimenting with different types of speakers is recommended, but be sure to maintain consistency in your strums. Nonetheless, it pays to understand some of the basic speaker specifications for a better tone, including the following:
- Speaker Magnet Type and Weight: Most speaker magnets are either ceramic or alnico, with ceramic being more popular for modern music tones. A higher magnet weight equates to more power handling, creating room to amplify sounds.
- Speaker Wattage/Power Rating: Speakers with a higher power rating are less likely to distort sound under heavy volumes. If your speakers are not powerful enough, the audio can be a messy joke.
- Speaker Efficiency: Often measured in dB at a 1m-distance, speaker efficiency is the other name for sensitivity or how loud the speaker can be despite its power rating. Some powerful speakers can be less audible than their less powerful counterparts, so the perceived volume can vary widely.
Moreover, you will be better off knowing the importance of proper speaker placement in a venue. For instance, the audio can sound absurd if it’s all coming from a single source at some corner in a big hall. Depending on the size of the room and how packed it is, having the right sound setup will go a long way in improving your tone and audibility. Opinions often differ but the main trick is to ensure the audio is balanced, audible, and just at the right volume, not to blast people’s lungs out.
5. Use Just the Right Amp
When going for a big gig, many guitarists will opt for a big amp and vice versa. This approach may work for obvious reasons, but sometimes you need to think outside the box for a minute. To keep your guitar tone audible and squeaky clean in a small gig where the drummer is probably more audible, you will be better off with an amp of at least 30 watts. On the other hand, a 16-18 watt amp will do for gigs where a loud and clear tone is not much of a priority. All in all, you need to identify the ideal tone for each situation so you can pick just the right amp.
6. Be a Bass Player For A Bit
Here, we’re not talking about getting a bass guitar – perhaps you already own one. Rather, we’re talking about becoming a bassist for a little while. As a guitarist, there is a mountain full of things you can learn from a bass player. During your time as a bass player, almost all your attention will be on the snare and kick drums in a band setup session.
This will, in turn, help improve your timing as a guitarist, and your tone can incredibly improve. The simplest of sounds tend to sound better when played at the right time and in the right way. You will have so much to pat yourself on the back for as you get more gigs, compared to sloppy histrionics. Better yet, it will help advance your skills as a guitarist, including laybacks or pushing against your beat.
To sum it all up, every guitarist has their own specific comfort zones and pressure points. Opinions may vary widely from one pro to the other regarding various factors. This could be caused by many factors, from music genre to guitar types, specialty, performance styles, and everything in between. Nonetheless, this piece should help if you’re interested in improving your guitar tone as a strummer. All the best in your next guitar practice or performance experience!