5 Easy Tips On How To Improve Your Guitar Tone

By Jason Wilford

Improving your guitar tone doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money – and you certainly don’t need to go out and buy a new instrument to work on this! Here are my top 5 tips on how to improve your guitar tone; focus on these one at a time and I guarantee you’ll notice a difference!

  1. Keep Your Strings Fresh 

Nothing can make a guitar sound more alive than a fresh set of strings. I see many players playing strings that are way past their prime. My general rule is to keep strings on a guitar that I play often no more than 3 months — and often times I change them sooner than this. At one point, I used to change strings every time I gigged! That extreme example can be overkill for most people, but check your strings to see if they need to be changed. Do you see notches or bends in the strings where they meet the frets? Do you see corrosion on the strings (the strings will look dull or have black residue)? Do your strings sounds dead or woody? Do you forget when the last time you changed your strings was? If you answered yes to any of the questions above, change your strings as soon as you can!

  1. Make Sure You’re Using The Right Guitar Pick

Some players never think much about which pick they use — but they could be missing out on a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to guitar tone. There are so many types of picks out there — different materials, different shapes and sizes, and different thicknesses. A guitar pick can be a uniquely individual preference depending on what you like to play. My general rule is this: thinner picks (.60 ) are good for strumming chords on an acoustic guitar;  pick this thin tends to be too flexible for picking lead guitar lines though, so you may want to go to at least    .70 for mixing chords and lead guitar runs. If a pick is too thin, you have to pick harder to get the volume you need, so you’re wasting energy that could be used better elsewhere. If you’re a player that plays mostly power chords and a little bit of lead guitar, using at least .70 is a good idea. If you’re playing mostly lead guitar, then using a heavier gauge is your best choice. I tend to use around a 1.00mm pick for lead guitar playing, but it also depends on the pick material and size. So in short, a thinner pick can be good for strumming chords, while a thicker pick is good for lead guitar. Buy a bunch of different sized picks in different gauges and find out your preference. 

  1. Adjust Your Volume Levels Accordingly 

Many players don’t spend that much time thinking about their volume level, but this is a crucial piece of the puzzle as well. If you’re playing an acoustic guitar and playing too softly, you’ll never cut through other players in a mix, and your playing will sound too mellow (and possibly unconfident). If you’re playing too loud though, you’ll miss the possibilities that come with using good dynamic range throughout a song, and can easily down a singer out. Ideally, you want to be able to play both quietly and loudly, and be able to go between the two extremes at varying degrees depending on what you’re playing. This also goes for electric guitar if you’re playing with an amp; make sure you’re loud enough to be heard, but don’t kill everyone’s ears by trying to be the loudest person in the room!

  1. Maintain an Optimal Guitar Setup 

A good guitar setup is an often overlooked aspect of your guitar tone. Many beginners will buy a cheap guitar, and will skimp out on getting a good guitar setup. A guitar setup includes making sure your action (height of the strings from the fretboard) is at the right height for you, making sure your bridge, saddle, and nut are set at the correct height, and also making sure your truss rod adjustment is set correctly. It may cost a bit of money to get a proper setup done (between $50-$100, depending on where you live and what needs to be done), but this investment more than pays off for itself. Would you rather have a guitar that plays easily, or one that you’re fighting with all the time? It’s possible to do this stuff yourself, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, take your guitar to a professional. Whether you buy a cheap or expensive guitar, a good setup is half of the equation when it comes to playability. 

  1. Relax As Much As Possible When You Play

Believe it or not, but if you’re too tense when you play, it can easily be heard through your guitar playing. The reason why highly skilled players make complicated guitar playing look effortless is that they are very relaxed when they play. Have you ever heard someone say ‘XXX plays the guitar like it’s nothing!’? That’s because the guitar player they are talking about is relaxed and makes it look like it’s nothing to them. When someone is too tense while they are playing, it’s quite obvious and can be heard in whatever they play. On the other hand, if someone is relaxed, that can be heard in their playing as well, and will come across much more smoothly than if they were tense.  Work on relaxing while you’re practicing; doing this in front of a mirror or video recording yourself can help you spot any areas that you tend to hold tension in but would otherwise miss. 

This doesn’t have to be tackled all at once, but if you spend time on each of these 5 areas, you’re certainly going to notice a different in the sound of your guitar playing! 

If you’d like help with how to put these tips into action, Click here to get in touch with me to find out how I can help you.