Plugging in your electric guitar for the first time can leave you feeling a bit confused and disappointed. Unlike the sounds you’ve come to associate with the instrument, why is your tone sounding so clean?
The reality is that getting your guitar ready to play your favorite style of music takes a little bit of preparation and possibly some extra gear.
An electric guitar plugged directly into an amplifier without built-in sound effects can sound a little like an acoustic. This is because the amplifier is just making the natural sound of the vibrating strings much louder without changing the characteristics of the sound.
Today we’re going to run through why your electric guitar might not be sounding like you expected, and run you through some ways to nail a variety of killer guitar tones.
What Sound Are You Really Hearing from Your Guitar Amp?
Most people associate the sound of an electric guitar with the tones found in rock and metal music. This can be a bit confusing when you crank your guitar and it comes out sounding more like an acoustic than the rocking tones you were expecting.
The problem is that you’re hearing your guitar’s clean tone!
To get that distorted tone you’ve come to expect from an electric guitar, there are a few extra steps required to get there.
Your clean electric guitar tone is meant to sound similar to an acoustic guitar, only amplified to a louder level. To get your guitar sounding the way you’ve come to expect you’ll have to incorporate guitar pedals into your setup or dial your tone in properly on your guitar and amp settings.
Can You Get Good Electric Guitar Sound Without Pedals?
You can still get a great tone without pedals just by changing your guitar and amp settings. Some amps even have built-in effects modelling.
To start off get to know the way your guitar is designed. Electric guitars will typically have 2 or 3 pickup settings that can alter your tone to suit different styles and sounds.
The pickup switch will move you between the neck and bridge pickups or a combination of both.
Using just the neck pickup will give you more of an acoustic sound, while the bridge pickup will sound rockier and is perfect for guitar solos. Using both will give you a good balance of both!
On your amp make sure your treble is at least 12 o’clock to give your sound a bit of bite. Rolling it off too much will mute the more aggressive rock tones coming from your guitar.
How to Get 5 Different Sounds From Your Electric Guitar
Different sounds require different setups so let’s break down 5 different tones and how to achieve them using guitar and amps settings as well as some pedal recommendations.
1. How to Get Rock Style Guitar Sound
The first thing you want to get your hands on is a distortion pedal. These pedals are almost solely responsible for the sound of rock by taking your tone and boosting the gain into the dirty sound we all love.
The most popular distortion pedal is the Boss DS-1. While other pedals nail specific tones better it’s the most straightforward and versatile distortion pedal for such a portable stomp box.
When it comes to pickup settings you want to utilize the bridge pickup and the mid pickup position.
Rock requires switching between blistering leads and powerful chords. The bridge pickup will help boost your tone when playing solos while the middle pickup setting is perfect for rock chords and rhythm sections.
If you want to get your play style more in line with the rock sound then try using power chords in place of open chords.
Power chords are made by playing a bass note and a harmonic note on the next string two frets higher. Playing chords like this makes them sound… powerful, and the simpler chord structures sound better when using distortion.
2. How to Get Blues Style Guitar Sound
Blues guitar is similar to rock guitar but requires more sensitivity when it comes to the amount of gain in your sound.
Because blues involves lots of scales and lead guitar playing, you want to use the bridge pickup to get that clean driven blues sound. This is the best setting to push the mids and trebles in your tone.
The main effect used for blues style guitar is an overdrive pedal. It’s similar to a distortion pedal but gives you more sensitivity allowing you to go from smooth rhythms to crunchy blues licks just by playing harder and softer.
The classic blue overdrive pedal is the Boss Blues Driver. If the name doesn’t give it away this pedal was made to replicate old-school blues tones inside a single pedal.
As for your amp settings you want to keep your bass relatively low while keeping your mids and highs in the medium to high range. This helps make your licks sound prominent within your sound.
Another useful effect to use in blues is reverb. While blues doesn’t require a lot of reverb a little bit does go a long way in adding a bit of personality to your riffs when used with your overdrive.
3. How to Get Country Style Guitar Sound
The perfect effects recipe to create that country twang is a little bit of compression, a little bit of overdrive, and a touch of slap-back delay.
Country style guitar can be hard to nail because while it’s not a distorted sound it does sound vastly different from the clean acoustic sound you’re trying to get rid of.
When playing country you should use the neck and bridge pick up at the same time. This will give you a rounded sound that works great for most country tracks. Keep your tone knob just above halfway so that your guitar gets twangy but not too sharp.
- A compressor pedal will help you create that thick sustained country tone. By increasing sustain and smoothing out the high ends you can get away with plucking hard without worrying about your volume getting sporadic.
- A touch of overdrive will help create a bit of grit to your sound without going over the top. Just make sure to use it with restraint!
- As for the delay, make sure to set the delay time to under 200ms this will create that slap-back sound without it getting psychedelic.
When setting up your amp you’ll want to boost your highs to around the 6-7 mark, scoop your mids down to about 4-5 and keep your bass just under halfway up.
4. How to Get Metal Style Guitar Sound
Metal guitar playing is all about cranking the gain and boosting your highs. A general rule to follow is to turn the gain up as high as you can before your tone starts to sound muddy or muffed.
Metal style guitar is about finding a balance between distortion and definition.
You should keep your pickup selection to the bridge pickup, this will give you the most drive from your pickups while keeping your playing in focus. It’s also a huge bonus if you have active pickups on your guitar they boost the output gain of your signal.
While your guitar should be focused on treble tones your amp setting on the other hand should be high in bass.
Set your bass almost all the way up while scooping your mids way down to about 3-5 and treble to about 5-7. The deep lows are essential for creating that lots of sustain and beefing up your tone.
Getting a distortion pedal is essential for metal. If you looking for an all in one pedal for metal then the Boss MT-2 Metal Zone should satisfy. But any distortion is better than none when it comes to this style of music.
5. How to Get R&B Style Guitar Sound
To dial into some R&B tones you want to get your guitar sounding warm while maintaining clear chord voicing.
On your guitar avoid the bridge pickup and by setting your pickup selector anywhere from the middle to the neck pickup (depending on how many settings your guitar offers).
- A problem you can run into while using the neck pickup is your tone sounding muddy, this can be offset by adjusting your amp settings. To balance out the bassier sounds of the neck pickup reduce the bass on your amp to about 3 while keeping your mids and trebles around halfway up.
- You should also keep your guitar’s volume knob all the way up. This keeps your pickups running hot which will help make your playing clear with remaining warm.
The best pedals for the R&B sound are compressors and reverbs.
Reverbs will add that neo-soul shimmer that is very popular in modern R&B, while a compressor will balance out your sound and thicken it up; adding even more warmth to your tone.
A classic spring reverb with great shimmer is the Boss RV-6 Reverb. If there’s one pedal to get for R&B make it this one! As for compressors, something straightforward like the Xotic SP compressor will give you that warm soulful sound.