What is good tone? Well, the dictionary defines it as “The distinctive property of a complex sound.” I define tone as “The sound that brings me the most pleasure to listen to.” As a guitarist, I’m especially tuned in to the tone of my guitar. My guitar’s tone is the result of my guitar, amp and player’s touch working together to create that “distinctive property” that is the most pleasurable for me to listen to.
The quest for good tone is a quest that could last a lifetime as it’s something that you’ll always want to tweak and improve. That being said, there will be times when it all comes together and you get that special tone that just reaches you on the deepest level. One of the most important things to work on as a musician is your ability to control and harness those tones that you love. If you’re playing with your sound all the time and stumbling on a great sound but have no idea how to recreate it, then you’re going about it the wrong way. Keyboards are especially prone to the “I stumbled on it” tone syndrome because of their almost infinite tweakability. Keyboard players are presented with thousands of preset patches to sort through just to find the 3 or 4 that are truly beautiful. It can be incredibly frustrating to nail down good keyboard tones. I’ve spent hours searching for the right keyboard sounds for my recordings but it can also be extremely rewarding when you find a sound you love. All players regardless of their instrument have to open their ears and really listen to their tone and decide if that tone reaches them on a deep level. If it does, you have to be able to know how you got it so you can recreate it at will.
The main reason I’m discussing tone is because I often record people and they ask “How come it doesn’t sound as rich as your recordings?” A big part of that is because their sound isn’t as good going into the recorder. They haven’t spent the time making their combination of instrument, amplifier, effects and touch sound good before we turn on the recorder. It’s almost impossible to make a bad sounding instrument sound good after it’s been recorded. So if you take the time to really create a sound that says something to you, making a song that’s beautiful to listen to is really quite easy.
In my opinion, as the art of tone is very subjective, the Radiohead album OK Computer has some spectacular tones on it. Especially the song Subterranean Homesick Alien. I love the warmth of that track and the way the keyboards interplay with the guitars. They created those sounds with traditional electric pianos and guitars through amplifiers. Another band that has captured some amazing tones is Pink Floyd. I could write all day about the incredible tone selection that Pink Floyd has captured over their career.
I’m going to present a clip of my band Shufflin’ Noah where we achieved a perfect storm of good tones all coming together. The drums, bass, guitar and keyboards have all found their own sound-space and the result is just pleasurable to listen to. We are always striving to get a great set of sounds working together and it’s really magical and fun when it happens.
Shufflin’ Noah – Seven (Good Tone!)
So everyone, keep listening with open ears and an open soul. Because when you achieve good tone, it will speak to both. -Matt-