Tone issues

Tone issues

Postby Stevo123 » Tue Aug 18, 2009 2:54 pm

I need some advice badly.

What I'm going for is a nice, crispy rhythm tone, with enough drive to give a little depth and bite to the tone (not for lead-type drive, I'm a rhythm player) but not so much that it limits my options with chords (in other words, allows me to play any 3 note chord I want with clarity and separation to the sound

What I'm getting is a LOT of muddy tone without ever getting the crisp "bite" that I want.

My setup is an Ibanez Artstar Hollow Body, run through a Boss CS-3 Compression Pedal, into a 7-Band EQ, into my imput on my amp (a Fender Blues Jr.) After two long nights of tweaking settings, the best I've gotten is when I almost bottom out my lowest two bars on the 7-band, with the third one very low, the next 3 making a sad face slightly above +0, and the top bar mostly cut. It gets a lot of the muddiness out of the tone. The EQ on the amp has bass at 2 or 3 (out of 12), mids at 6 and treble at 8. Volume at 2 and Master at 10. I don't drive the preamp very hard because it just getts really muddy no matter how much bass I cut. (Maybe I just don't ever run my amp hard enough to get to the sweet spot where the power tubes and speakers start to distort?) I wish I had an effects loop so I could run another EQ through it, I'm sure that would help a lot.

So I can get rid of a lot of the "muddiness" by cutting a lot of the bass, but I think at the same time that takes away the depth I want and the high notes tend to sound shrill. Is there a secret to getting a good solid rhythm tone that is not muddy but at the same time has richness? Does it have to do with the fact that I'm not running my amp hard enough to fully get to the sweet spot?

Any helpful advice is appreciated, I need it! Thanks
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Re: Tone issues

Postby caspersvapors » Tue Aug 18, 2009 4:27 pm

different pickup and volume combinations maybe? I find that sometimes I can get a good tone by rolling off the volume on the guitar and turning up the volume on the amp or pedal, depending on what I want...

but I could be talking out of my ass cause I dont know anything about that guitar of yours nor using EQs
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Re: Tone issues

Postby Crazy 9.5 Fingers » Tue Aug 18, 2009 4:52 pm

I would say a good start would be to remove the Boss Compressor. IMO it isn't a great sounding pedal, especially if you are playing rhythm. Muddy is exactly what I would say about that pedal. I could be wrong, but I think getting it out of your rig would be beneficial to cutting your sound through the mix.

So much of good rhythm playing for me comes from your picking, your touch, maybe a little flesh on the strings as well. That was something Bob did as well or better than anyone, still does I guess. The compressor removes a lot of the natural dynamics, basically making a processed version of the way you attack and pick.

Do you use a thick pick? If so, you may want to go to a 1 mm for crispier, high end sounding strumming. Thick picks won't offer the snap and clarity of the strings if you are playing rhythm. That being said, a lot of people including myself use 1.5s or greater and play crispy rhythm, it's just easier accomplished with a 1 mm pick or so.

The fat button on that amp will drive the amp a little I think and definitely boost the mids. Keep it off if you want to clean things up. Too much mids can muddify your sound.

If the budget permits another pedal, I can't say enough how much I love the Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive which will offer you a very sonically pleasing clean boost.

Good luck.
Last edited by Crazy 9.5 Fingers on Tue Aug 18, 2009 5:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Tone issues

Postby tigerstrat » Tue Aug 18, 2009 4:59 pm

Haven't played through a Blues Jr ever, but every tube amp I've ever used has wanted to have it 's "Gain" or "Vol" set at least 3 or above and the "Master Vol" can be set according to how loud you actually want it.
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Re: Tone issues

Postby Crazy 9.5 Fingers » Tue Aug 18, 2009 5:15 pm

Also, I'm not sure if there are different versions of the amp but if your amp is 15 watts, you won't have the clean headroom you want. 15 watts doesn't go too far unless you are playing at super low volumes.
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Re: Tone issues

Postby FretfulDave » Tue Aug 18, 2009 6:06 pm

Crazy 9.5 Fingers wrote:Also, I'm not sure if there are different versions of the amp but if your amp is 15 watts, you won't have the clean headroom you want. 15 watts doesn't go too far unless you are playing at super low volumes.


Spot on here. No different versions of the amp. Not enough tubes to give headroom. Great amp for low volume jams w/ tube sound, push it and it gets "muddy", breaks up or whatever you want to call it. 15 watts is not enough and not enough to compete with a real drum set, if that is what you are doing...

I even have probs with some bands/drummers w/ a 30 watt tube amp.

FWIW, for rhythm on regular song parts, I don't use pedals aka effects. Clean is clean. I use the "fun stuff" when it is time to be the jam rhythm dude.

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Re: Tone issues

Postby Stevo123 » Tue Aug 18, 2009 8:34 pm

So about two hours of meddling later. I messed around with the pedal EQ some - I took out the drastic top and bottom end cuts and gave it more of an even frown curve, that definitely helped a lot. Realized I hated the CS-3 and took it out. I liked it at first because it could mellow out my really hard strums but I guess it's not worth even using it subtly becauseI realize now it really de-colors the tone. Tone is getting better but I guess I just need to spend more time getting to know all of my controls better. I'm amazed at the amount of god-awful tones I'm able to produce even with a halfway decent guitar and amp. It's tough to find the sweet spot for EQ and tone controls.
Does anyone have a good explanation of how pre-distortion stage EQs afffect tone differently that post-distortion stage EQ (as in pedal EQ vs EQ on the amp)? I tried googling but couldn't find anything about it. I think if I understood that a little better I could make it more of a science in my brain vs. trying random combinations.
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Re: Tone issues

Postby strumminsix » Wed Aug 19, 2009 5:33 am

What is "good rhythm" alone is NEVER good rhythm with the band in my experience.

At home we all like a much fuller sounding guitar but with the band you don't need all that low end.

Seems like you need to start by removing all pedals and get you amp up a decent volume.
Then get your guitar volume and tone pots on 10.

From there crank up your treble to 80%, mids about 40-60 depending on dual or single coils%. Now here is the trick, trust me on this.
Somewhere between about 25% and 30% on the bass you will find a drastic sweep with sterile on one side and muddy on the other. Find that spot in between! That is your goto spot!

For me, what I like to do is set my guitar volume on 9, guitar tone on 9, select my muddiest pickup selection on the guitar, find that spot on the amp and it is then good to go for the gig!

(I'm using % vs numbers on the old Fenders cuz many of the new Fenders goto 12)
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Re: Tone issues

Postby Stevo123 » Wed Aug 19, 2009 5:54 am

Strummin, thanks for the advice. I was starting to notice that threshold point on the bass control myself. On my amp it happens somewhere between 2 and 4. Similar effect with mids, only it happens a little bit higher. Why treble so high? It would seem like I would want to roll the high end down for better blend. Is it better to just use tone controls to accomplish this? The only pedal I'm running now is my EQ pedal, which I see as a bare essential for base tone rather than an "effect".

A big problem I think I solved was in the way the strings were positioned over the pickups. I have a "floating bridge" so it can be repositioned. I found my high strings were positioned more directly over the pickups than the low strings, getting higher output which I think is what made my high end sound a little too harsh.

Why set the guitar controls to the "muddiest setting"? I can get really muddy if I go with only the neck pickup on full volume. But I'm finding I like middle position with the volume rolled down on the neck pickup a little, with tone about 7 on the neck and 4-5ish on the bridge. From there it seems like I can get good control over smaller variations in tone for certain songs.
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Re: Tone issues

Postby strumminsix » Wed Aug 19, 2009 6:22 am

Stevo123 wrote:Strummin, thanks for the advice. I was starting to notice that threshold point on the bass control myself. On my amp it happens somewhere between 2 and 4. Similar effect with mids, only it happens a little bit higher. Why treble so high? It would seem like I would want to roll the high end down for better blend. Is it better to just use tone controls to accomplish this? The only pedal I'm running now is my EQ pedal, which I see as a bare essential for base tone rather than an "effect".

Hey dude! You're welcome. Glad you are hearing that threshold! That's a huge first step! My suggestion for such a high Treb was thinking of the traditional Fender tonestack but I admit of limited experience with the Blues Jr. Usually, on Fenders, when you crank the treb it helps you to dial in just enough bass to not sound thin then really finesse the mids to get that midrange that is needed. You mentioned a "frown curve" on the EQ pedal. Take that dang pedal out til you get it with the amp first. Trust me on this, please. You can get that tone from your amp. But you need time with the tonestack and I know you'll get it!! (assuming from here your knobs go 1-10) Try kicking the bass to just at that thin point and crank up the mids some more! Might even need to up the Treb one. Lots of experimenting.

The other thing you must keep in mind is that what sounds good at home usually doesn't sit best in a band mix. Are you playing in a band?

Mastering your amp's tonestack is essential on your path to tone. It took me more years than I am happy to admit that my tone was lack-luster. I set it sounding great at home (medium volume), kept the settings at gigs with cranked volume ignored the fletcher-munson/equal loudness curves, ignored the mix, etc, used EQs, etc and my itself sounded decent but the band mix needed less bass and my signal sounded heavily processed.

Stevo123 wrote:A big problem I think I solved was in the way the strings were positioned over the pickups. I have a "floating bridge" so it can be repositioned. I found my high strings were positioned more directly over the pickups than the low strings, getting higher output which I think is what made my high end sound a little too harsh.

Good catch!!!!

Stevo123 wrote:Why set the guitar controls to the "muddiest setting"? I can get really muddy if I go with only the neck pickup on full volume. But I'm finding I like middle position with the volume rolled down on the neck pickup a little, with tone about 7 on the neck and 4-5ish on the bridge. From there it seems like I can get good control over smaller variations in tone for certain songs.

Muddiest pickup setting with all knobs on 9. This helps me to ensure that when I gig my tone will not ever sound muddy as a I patch in effects, switch pickups, etc. I'm from the school of thought that says send your amp a hot signal. Keep that guitar volume between 8-10 at all times and same with the tone knob and work subtle passages, etc with your hands. Then again I cut over to finger picking alot too...
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Re: Tone issues

Postby Stevo123 » Wed Aug 19, 2009 7:35 am

So the point of experimenting while having the muddiest pickup settings on is just to get the muddiest sound I can possibly make from the guitar to still sound fairly clear? I guess that makes sense, I'll definitely work with that some.

I'll also try doing what you said and work with the sound sans EQ pedal for now. However, I think it's ultimately necessary for my setup, because I'm finding my Mid control on the amp acts more like an upper-end bass control than a true mid, and I need the finer control of the 7-band to really get the finer details of how I want it. I see the point, though, of working with as few variables as possible, at least to start out, to better get to know the true sound of the amp.

One thing that's really helping that I would reccomend for anyone trying to work with their tone. I started sitting on the ground with the amp tilted up at a 45 degree right at my face and leaning in a little bit to hear the little intricacies that happen right in front of the cone.

I'm in the process of starting a band up right now with some friends I've been playing with for a while and a couple randoms from craigslist. I'm pretty excited because we're all getting together tonight to play together for the first time. That's kind of why I've really been digging into tone so heavy. Just trying to figure out how to get the best sound I can for a band situation. I'm going to record everything tonight, so I'm sure I'll gain some insights from how I sound on the recording afterwards.

I really appreciate the advice. I think in the past few days of experimenting I've learned more about controlling tone than I did in total since I started playing.
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Re: Tone issues

Postby RiverRat » Wed Aug 19, 2009 11:08 am

Stevo123 wrote:I'll also try doing what you said and work with the sound sans EQ pedal for now. However, I think it's ultimately necessary for my setup, because I'm finding my Mid control on the amp acts more like an upper-end bass control than a true mid, and I need the finer control of the 7-band to really get the finer details of how I want it. I see the point, though, of working with as few variables as possible, at least to start out, to better get to know the true sound of the amp.

One thing that's really helping that I would reccomend for anyone trying to work with their tone. I started sitting on the ground with the amp tilted up at a 45 degree right at my face and leaning in a little bit to hear the little intricacies that happen right in front of the cone.


For a really good look at what the tone stack of you amp is doing and how that would relate if it were a multiband eq, go on Google and search for Duncan Tone Stack Calculator... You can get a visual depiction of what the tone stack is doing when you change settings and that might help you understand how the Fender Tone Stack really works.

Strummin is right on the money, start out with the most basic rig... Guitar and amp only and work on dialing in the tone you are looking for.

I'll ask... What is the origin and history of your guitar? Did you acquire it new or used? How many previous owners? Have you had any work done to the electronics?
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Re: Tone issues

Postby strumminsix » Wed Aug 19, 2009 11:40 am

Stevo123 wrote:So the point of experimenting while having the muddiest pickup settings on is just to get the muddiest sound I can possibly make from the guitar to still sound fairly clear? I guess that makes sense, I'll definitely work with that some.

Yup! Find where you are most prone to being muddy and get that clear. From there when you switch to a brighter pickup you can roll off the tone a bit!

Stevo123 wrote:I'll also try doing what you said and work with the sound sans EQ pedal for now. However, I think it's ultimately necessary for my setup, because I'm finding my Mid control on the amp acts more like an upper-end bass control than a true mid, and I need the finer control of the 7-band to really get the finer details of how I want it. I see the point, though, of working with as few variables as possible, at least to start out, to better get to know the true sound of the amp.

Honestly, if you need an EQ for your base tone I think something else is wrong in the chain. Maybe the guitar needs a proper setup, the amp may need a better pre or power or bias, better quality cables, maybe. I have faith that with time you'll figure this out and will help any way I can.

Stevo123 wrote:One thing that's really helping that I would reccomend for anyone trying to work with their tone. I started sitting on the ground with the amp tilted up at a 45 degree right at my face and leaning in a little bit to hear the little intricacies that happen right in front of the cone.

When getting an amp "off all four" (as a older dude I know used to say) you will decrease base response. Many folks use amp stands for that very reason! Another thing to consider is the broadcast of the speaker. At 3' in front it will sound one way but 10-15' out different!

Stevo123 wrote:I'm in the process of starting a band up right now with some friends I've been playing with for a while and a couple randoms from craigslist. I'm pretty excited because we're all getting together tonight to play together for the first time. That's kind of why I've really been digging into tone so heavy. Just trying to figure out how to get the best sound I can for a band situation. I'm going to record everything tonight, so I'm sure I'll gain some insights from how I sound on the recording afterwards.

CONGRATS!!!!

Stevo123 wrote:I really appreciate the advice. I think in the past few days of experimenting I've learned more about controlling tone than I did in total since I started playing.

Always glad to add my help to what others contribute as well!

Right on RiverRat with the tone stack calculator! Waldo pointed me there years back earlier in my pursuit of tone!!!!!!
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Re: Tone issues

Postby Stevo123 » Thu Aug 20, 2009 7:32 am

Wow, it went really freakin well last night! Better than I could have hoped. We had kind of a 60s/70s balls to the wall, unrefined sound lol. Had a blast. I'm gonna have to try and post some samples. If I can get them up I'll post them on a new thread. The audio isn't the best quality, was just from my computer's mic, but you can get the idea. What's my best bet to get sound files online to share?

So yeah, my sound in a group was way different than how I thought it would sound, although it wasn't bad. I sounded MUCH cleaner and much quieter than I thought. A lot of times I get pretty buried in the mix. I guess I tend to err on the side of keeping headroom. I was pretty pleased with most of my playing, though, at least what I can hear. Next time I can probably push my amp harder, maybe even up around 60% or more on the preamp volume (didn't push it past about 35% last night), and get some more grit and overall volume, maybe turn my tone knobs up and try and get a little more presence in the mix.
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Re: Tone issues

Postby Stevo123 » Thu Aug 20, 2009 2:37 pm

Hey strummin, I think I got it figured out now....today while my roommates were at class I had an opportunity to experiment with the EQ more with the amp pushed near it's max (Master all the way up, volume up to 70%). I turned up mid tone substantially more than I have before (since I realized I needed more last night I tried almost maxing it out), treble about where I usually keep it, at 7 or so. Bass at 2. At this point the bassiness got WAY out of control (even with bass set to 2), so I rolled back the lowest two frequencies on my 7-band substantially, and voila, there it was! Almost exactly what I've been going for. Nice, crisp, biting, shimmery, clear tone. Beautiful clean tone still when I play soft, and more grit when I attack the strings harder. Nice natural compression. Turns out I really just needed to push the amp a lot harder than I was. If I back off the master volume I lose it, so it must just be a matter of getting to the threshold where the power tubes and speaker to start to max out and color the tone.

BTW, I made a new thread under tune submissions for last nights recordings, but the files are at www.mediafire.com/sgoeddeke
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