We’re talking tone!

Whether your go-to is a cranked Marshall or a pawnshop prize piece, every one of us has a desire to play with inspiring tone. Whether that’s a bright, bluesy electric tone or a brilliant, rich acoustic tone, we strive for making it the best it can be. But how do you get there to begin with?

Start with the end in mind

In electric world, I’m talking about the ability to plug into an amp and make it sound like you want it to before you insert anything else in between your guitar and that amp. It should sound inspiring; you should want to play it for hours on end. Then and only then can you really appreciate the full impact of your signal chain on your tone. I recently acquired a PRS Sonzera amp, and I still occasionally run straight into it just to hear the pure amp tone!

For acoustic players, there isn’t typically a long signal chain of effects and processing, but if you use anything in the path, it’s still a good idea to reset every once in a while and hear the signal as cleanly as possible.

It works this way in the digital realm as well. While it’s tempting to start with a preset you like, it doesn’t give you an option to really personalize the tone, and that can be problematic when it comes to playing with a band. We would apply this idea by at least disabling all effects in the signal chain and listening to just the amp model. Dialing that in to be precisely how you want it may give you the option to maximize processing power and delete things in the chain you don’t actually need.

Season to Taste

Once the base tone is clearly defined, now you can begin to add in the flavors that make up your personalized setup. This is experimentation at its best, when you get to just turn knobs and tweak, seeing how each adjustment interacts with the final output. For electric players, this is a necessary exercise, and one that should be approached with fairly regular frequency. It’s a good idea to see that everything is working properly and performing where you expect it to, as well as an opportunity to consider whether or not a particular piece is necessary.

But acoustic players need to do this as well, whether you have a signal chain you run through or not. Again, it’s a good exercise to make sure that everything is performing well, that settings on your instrument are doing what they should, and that your signal path is clear of any unnecessary things. This will also help make sure the instrument is performing as expected when plugged in.

Regardless of your rig – digital, analog, electric, or acoustic – the process of dialing in a tone that’s inspiring to play can be intimidating, and frankly, something that’s easy to put off, especially if everything is working relatively well. Personal ministry challenge: be your best offering to God, even if it comes at the cost of your time and effort to be better. Knowing the ins and outs of your rig and tone will only help you serve your team and ministry better in the long run.


  1. Good article! I would like to add that it is advisable to “tone down” harshness for congregational worship, especially if your congregation spans generations. I know this isn’t generally accepted by the rockers among us, but what is your end goal? Rock concert or worship leading? I have been in great services with great musicians, but right when the Spirit is moving, some dude decides to go wild with the screaming electrics–a real Spirit quencher, right there! Being sensitive to the subjective likes and dislikes of others, keeps us from offending them while still being faithful to the original sound, just a little toned down but well above elevator-music setting.

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