Amp Or Guitar – Which One Influences My Tone More?
This has been a topic of debate for decades in guitar circles across the world. If you're looking to get the most out of your gear and dial in on that tone you've been searching for, this is the article for you.
Lets look at how each piece of equipment changes your tone & experience and then we can decide which one ultimately does more for your tone.
With the guitar, there are several pieces that affect the tone you're going to get. Let's lay them out one by one and discuss how each affects your tone:
- The strings you use – this affects tone most of all on the guitar itself. A good quality set of strings will add so much to your tone. This is why its important to clean your strings after you're done playing/practicing.
- The pick you use – whether you pick your strings with your fingers, a wooden pick, a thick plastic pick, or a chopped up gift-card, each one makes the tone of the strings ring out much differently. If you want a softer feel for a song, use your fingers or a wooden pick.
- What material the body is made out of – since the strings vibrate, that vibration goes through the wood of the body, which also gets picked up by the pickups and turned into an electrical signal. While this difference is only slight in different woods, it is not something to forget about – good mahogany will sound much much better than press-board!
- What material the neck is made out of – Same principle as for the body, though less sound travels through here and back into the pickups so it is less important than the body wood.
- What material the fretboard is made out of – yes, even this matters too! Same as with the neck.
- Quality of steel in your frets – Of course this matters, though it is rarely tested. Since when you press down on the strings it is not your fingers but the frets that the string rings from, this is important as well.
- What pickups you're using – Pickups are a huge factor in tone, as much or more than the strings you use. There are many types of pickups available on the market, so I highly encourage you to research this as it does play a big factor in your tone.
- Even the patch cord you're running from your guitar to your amp – How long it is, quality of metal, insulation all play a factor in the signal getting from your guitar to the amp intact. Don't skimp out on a good patch cord!
Amps play a huge factor in your tone. There are many different kinds of amps, all with their own features, wattages, effects, EQ settings, and the like. If you've ever played on more than one amp, then you've heard just how much an amp can affect your tone.
Practice amps are nice for when you are traveling light or just getting started playing guitar, but no matter how excellent your guitar is, a starter practice amp always has that ability to make any guitar sound like its made out of sheet metal. There ARE good practice amps out there, and those good little amps still lack in speaker size, wattage output, volume, good tone at high volumes, and a lack of EQ settings other than low/mid/high knobs.
Bigger amps, those with 2-4 speakers are great for playing local gigs and even at home. At any volume level they output consistent tone, and generally come with more options to mess with the EQ settings to really dial in the tone you're looking for. If they don't come with those, an amp head has all of those EQ settings for you to take your tone to the next 20 levels and beyond. Plus, the head makes your amp more versatile in terms of how many different scenarios and contexts that you can still achieve great tone.
So even if you have the best guitar on the planet, if you're hooking it up to a tin can, your tone will still sound like garbage. So if you are on a budget for gear or just want to upgrade things slowly one at a time, start with a solid quality amp. Whether it is a model amp or a tube amp is for another article ;)