Tone Tips For Playing Electric Guitar In A Band
Many guitar player spend countless hours perfecting their tone at home and then when they get in a band setting their tone seems weak or their guitar is hard to hear when the band is playing. This is the hard reality of guitar tone. A great solo guitar tone is not always a great band guitar tone. It’s really all about tonal balance and interaction with the other instruments in the band.
Here are some general tips to help you improve your “band” tone. They are not genre specific (like scooped mids for metal), just simple tips to improve your overall tone in a band setting. To make it simple I will gear the tips to common controls on a typical guitar amp.
And of course, tone is subjective. So tweak to taste.
Guitar is a midrange instrument. Cranking the bass knob on your amp all the way up will not give you lower frequencies. It generally just makes you amp sound muddy or undefined. You simply want to find the setting that will bring out the natural amount of bass your guitar produces. Set your treble and mid knobs to 12 o’clock (halfway or 5) and your bass control to 0. Now start turning the bass knob up until the tone starts sounding a little muddy, boomy, or less defined. Then back it off a little. It is alright if you are only at 2 or 3 on the knob setting. That’s why bands have bass players. Any more will just add mud to your sound. Leave the low end to the bass player.
Here is where your real tone shaping begins. Every guitar is different but they all live in the midrange. You should try to find the midrange setting that makes your guitar sound full but not “woofy” or boomy. Every amp is different but I tend to find setting in the higher range work best. Try around 7 or 8 and see if your tone improves or gets thicker. If it starts sounding woofy or “boxy” then you need to back it off.
Treble is the knife that cuts through a mix. Too much and it will sound like an ice pick to the ear. But if you are having trouble hearing yourself in a band mix try adding a little more treble instead of cranking volume. Think of treble as brightness and bass as darkness. If you want to stand in the light, turn the treble up.
Guitar players love soaring, high gain guitar tones that sustain forever. They hide a multitude of mistakes and make even simple things sound amazing. But they also make your guitar sound smaller. Many player think adding gain will make their guitar sound bigger when it actually has the opposite effect. Sure each note sounds thicker but the more gain you add to your signal the more compressed it becomes. Compression squeezes the high and low end of your signal and “smooths” it out. It also makes your guitar sound quieter and less “lively” in a band setting. It won’t cut through as well as a tone with less gain. Backing off the gain will actually make your guitar sound fatter because it will be more present or defined in the band mix. The style of music you are playing may require a lot of gain, but even backing the gain off a little can make your tone fatter and more defined. Try it some time.
Interaction With Other Instruments
Sometimes a guitar tone that sounds a little ragged or thin on its own becomes magical when played with a full band. The interaction with other instruments hides the bad and brings out the good. The goal is find a guitar tone that doesn’t compete too much with the frequencies of the other instruments in the band. When that happens it becomes hard to hear individual instruments clearly. So listen during the first song with the whole band playing and tweak your tone to fit. The room you are playing in can also affect your tone. Listen then tweak.
Think of the band instruments as puzzle pieces. They all need to fit together if you want to see the whole picture. If you find your tonal sweet spot in your band (typical somewhere in the midrange and treble ranges) then your guitar, and the whole band will sound better.