Top Five ways to improve your tone

In honor of the movie (and book) High Fidelity here are the top five ways to make your electric guitar or bass sound better.

5.  electronics- 

this Stratocaster pickguard has copper shielding tape, 250k CTS pots, .022 uf orange drop capacitor, 5-way switch, cloth-covered wire, and Schuyler Dean pickups

This includes pots, capacitors, switches, jacks and shielding.  If you’re building a guitar it is a good idea to not skimp on this part and if your doing something like installing new pickups it’s nice to use quality electronics to carry the current.

  • Shielding- it is important to have shielding grounded properly and surrounding the entire control cavity so that outside electrical interference can’t get in.  typically luthiers use shielding paint on the wooden cavity grounded by a lead wire, and shielding tape on the back of the pickguard.  Everything is grounded in this circuit; the pots touching the pickguard shielding, the metal covers on humbuckers, and even the braiding on 2-conductor wire.  A wire is then run from the back of the pots to the bridge grounding the strings.  Ever notice how when you touch the strings the amp stops humming?
  • Potentiometers (pots)- 250K pots are warmer and typically used for single coils and 500K pots are brighter and typically used for humbuckers.  No-load pots are louder and make the guitar sound brighter.  There are endless possibilities.
  • Capacitors (caps)- The higher the number, the more bass at the zero setting on your tone control.  A .100 uf cap will sound warmer than a .001 uf cap.  Again the possibilities are endless.

4.  The Nut-

 a bone nut in a Fender P-Bass

This piece of shaped plastic or bone holds the strings in place at the zero fret for the correct string spacing.  Most are made of inexpensive plastic but you can get a nicer tone from bone or even brass for killer sustain!  You can only hear the difference when the strings are being played open of course.

3.  The Bridge-

the Stratocaster tremolo pivots on six body screws and is tensioned by three 
to five springs mounted on the bottom of the body.

There are many different types from the tremolo to the string-thru-body and they all add a bit of character to your guitar.  Brass saddles will typically sound a little nicer than cheaper steel ones.

2.  Pickups- 

Jazzmaster pickups get their fat tone from short “pancake” style 
bobbins and plenty of winds of copper wire.

All pickups really do is change string vibration into an electrical current, but they have everything to do with your guitar tone and how it behaves through the amp.  Good quality pickups like the ones I make will sound clearer and have more voice and character than cheap ones.  High-output pickups will be louder and produce more lows than brighter low-output pickups.

1.  Strings-

And the number one best way to improve your tone (aside from practicing) is to use new, high-quality strings.  Strings with more nickel will sound warmer, and strings with more steel will sound brighter.  You can also opt for flatwounds for an even warmer tone.  Larger diameter strings like .011’s (on six string guitar) will be louder and warmer because there is more mass moving for the magnetic pickup to detect.  Old, dirty strings will not perform as well and sound dead so it is important to keep your strings clean and change them regularly.