I get a lot of emails about how to get a good blues or slide guitar tone. A lot of the questions are valid and that’s probably what I would ask as well, but these questions don’t have answers that are yes and no.
Sample question – “What do I set the Bass, Treble, and Middle on to get the best blues guitar tone?” The answer to this question could fill up a 500 page book. There are simply too many variables at play to even try to get a decent answer, because there are not any settings that I can give you that will give you the best tone. I usually will answer a question like this with, “Start with everything on 5 and then work from there. You will need to use your ears.”
You see, there are so many cool tones out there, that it takes experimentation, and listening to the greatest tones recorded to know what to listen for when you are adjusting the controls on your amp.
If you’re looking to get an Albert Collins type tone with a strat, then your settings will be different then if your trying to get a Duane Allman type sound. It also depends on how you play as well. Are you using a pick? Do you use thick strings? Are you using pedals? Do you hit the strings hard or soft?
All these things come into play when getting the right kind of tone for you. If I tell you my settings, then it is almost guaranteed that you can play the same amp, same guitar, with the same settings, and you will sound different.
If I tell you my settings, you need to try it, then know where to adjust the settings to get the tone that works for you. I am not just blowing smoke here. No two people will ever strike the guitar the same way, so every component will react differently. That’s why you can immediately recognize some guitarists sound no matter what guitar they’re using. Use this to your benefit and learn what the best tones sound like.
So how do you figure out how to get your favorite artists’ tones?
- Take your favorite artist and pick a solo.
- Use what ever guitar you have and at least a working amp.
- Listen for what pickups are being used. Is the tone bright? Bassy? Clean? Dirty?
- Once you understand the sound and have got it in your head, take your guitar and try to reproduce it.
- Set everything on the amp to 5.
- Try every pickup.
- Now try adjusting the tone.
- Now try adjusting the amp settings by increments of 2. Start with the bass first. How does it sound? Next try the middle. How does it sound?
- Keep experimenting until you have found a tone that is close to the one you hear in your head that is ingrained from where you heard it on.
Now take another artist and repeat. This can take a long time, but in a few years you will have an understanding of how these artists get their sound, and even better, you will have an imprinted memory of that tone in your brain.
This is the key to developing reference points. Recording engineers do this all the time. If you want to make a kick drum or snare sound good, you won’t know how to do this until you’ve heard a good kick drum or snare that has been recorded. You can apply the same technique to getting great blues guitar tones. It requires listening actively. Who would of thought? :)
Just casually listening to a guitar player’s tone does not count. You have to listen intently and imprint that sound in your brain. You’re creating a mental catalog of the greatest tones here. Pay attention!
Hopefully some of this will make sense. I’m sure there are a lot of people who will disagree. That is fine. Everyone has there own opinion of what works.
This is only my opinion, and some people may think the information in this blog post is worth exactly what it cost for you to read it. Absolutely nothing!
Here is a video I made demonstrating a few different sounds you can get with a SG and a 1966 Vibrolux. No effects.
Although It Does Help
I will say, however, that it can be good to know what settings other people use so you can use this as a starting board. Just don’t make the mistake of seeing other people’s settings and not tweaking them to take into consideration your playing style and equipment.
Some Of My Settings
Slide DVD 4
Guitar – Gibson SG 61 reissue
Amp – 1974 Master Volume Fender Twin w/ Vintage 30 Speakers and Groove Tubes
pedal -Ibanez Turbo Tubescreamer set to TS9
Reverb – 3
Bass – 5
Middle – 7
Treble – 5
Bright Switch On
Strings – GHS Boomers
String Height – 1/5″ at the 12th fret
Dunlop Blues Bottle Glass Slide Medium
Tubescreamer Settings – Gain – 12 o’clock, Level – 10 o’clock, Tone – 3 o’clock
Shure 57 into UA LA610 into Pro Tools EQ with URS CSP at 48khz blended with vocal mic for room tone, a SHure SM7
Blues Guitar 1 – 4 Old Version
Guitar – Fender 1979 Strat with Texas Specials
Amp – 1974 Fender Twin Reverb with Vintage speakers and Groove Tubes
Pedal – Ibanez Turbo Tubescreamer or Fulltone OCD
Strings .011s GHS Boomers
Pick Dunlop Jazz III
Amp Settings – Bass 9, Middle 8, Treble 5, Bright Switch On
There is quite a lot of information in this post. Hopefully it is not too overwhelming. If you’re having trouble getting a decent blues guitar tone, try what is in this blog post and I guarantee you will understand how to get a better tone out of your equipment.
What is your opinion on Tone? Do you like your tone? If not, what do you not like about it, and what would you like it to sound like?
Breaking Out of The Pentatonic Box Free Course
I’ll send you my completely Free, Blues Guitar Mini Course and regular subscriber-exclusive content.
45 Minute Video Guitar Course
8 MP3 Backing Track Downloads
7 Practice Tips VideoGet the Free Course
J, thanx, i learnt something.So volume is just a big a part as all the rest when it comes to tone.
I have always turned my amp up to as loud as the venue could take.i play a supersonic so it’s at about 3 max all the time and my guitar is on 10.Looks like i need to crank up my amp to say 7 or so and control my volume at the guitar as i play.looks like turn down for cleaner sound and up for dirty.Am i on the right track?
That’s right. At 60 watts or even 30, it will be too loud for most small clubs. The power of an amp turned up like that will be way too much. An attenuator can help. Read more about it here. http://www.tedweber.com/atten.htm
That’s why a lot of people use the Deluxe Reverb, but even so depending on where you’re playing can be too loud. Thanks for the comment!
I prefer a shall tube amp that i can turn up a bit and I do cahnge my settings a bit when switching between a single coil or a humbucker but most of it still comes from your fingers as funny as that sounds even when i sit in on someones elses eq there is still the me factor.
Excellent lesson, thank you John.
I recently bought a Pro Jr. and I want to replace the actual speaker.
My tech recommended me a Weber 10A125-O and I read great reviews of this speaker but you are the slide expert. In your opinion this speaker would be a good alternative to Eminence Copperhead for slide playing? I mean the 10A125-O is an alnico 30W speaker and Copperhead is Ferrite 75W, which one would be better for slide playing and an early breakup?
Thanks! Well the reason I got a higher wattage is because I wanted some headroom. It you want any chance of getting a clean tone, I don’t think the 30watt speaker will do it. If you’re playing with a band and only want a dirty tone, then the 30 watt speaker will be great. Just don’t plan on getting anything real clean. Even the 75watt breaks up at low volumes. It depends on what you want really.
Dear Mr. Tuggle,
First of all, many thanks for the lessons on blues guitar. You teach much better than any other instructor i have ever watched on the web and i play so much better now then I did before i found you on YouTube.com I use a Gibson SG special faded which has 490 R Alnico pickups. Do you know if these pickups will sound good with a Pro Junior? I will be purchasing one very soon. I dont know a whole lot about amps and tecnology but i know i want a good, clean blues tone and my Hartke amp isn’t really doing it for me. If you could enlighten me with some advice, I would be very grateful. Thanks.
With that Pro Junior you’ll get too much breakup to get a real clean sound. I would recommend using something like a Fender Deluxe Reverb for clean. It’s just hard to get a real clean sound out of a Fender Pro Junior with Humbuckers. Single Coils will be a little cleaner though.
OK … as an admitted “crank-everything-to-10” guy, this lesson absolutely revolutionized my approach. I always was messing with the knobs on my amp … which is much mmore difficult than messing with the knobs on the guitar. I found the elusive tones I’ve been looking for for (too many) years for both my Les Paul and my Strat … Thanks, John.
Your Welcome! Thanks for reading.
Sounds awesome man!
Great tone! Really enjoyed the licks. Don’t have a significant question or whatever to add here bit did want to express my appreciation for the effort. Thanks for sharing. Rock on! Rip it up!
Hey John, your free lesson have been invaluable, thank you. Did I miss something, or did you not mention the “guitar” tone knobs? Lots of great volume knob advice, but no tone knob advice?
No I don’t talk tone knobs in this article but yes you should be experimenting with them. Lots of great tone options there.
your play like clapton lessons put me in the right path for blues guitar playing, im really thankfull for those lessons, i love your style of teaching! i got a fender blues jr.3 and i play a clean tone with a little grith from the fat switch but it really is clean and i use a ts-9 pedal which i dont know how to dial it to get a convincing eric clapton latest tones, do you recommend any other pedal that works best? or do you have any settings in mind?
Thanks Fabrizio. Did you watch the tone lessons in the videos? Other than the TS-9 I like the Maxon OD 808
I love your videos and absolutely love that tone you get from that guitar and amp combo. It’s like the holy grail of tone and some day I’d love to replicate that set up. I try to play my current ampa as loud as tolerable and use the volume and tone controls on my guitar to achieve a nice fat tone like you have suggested but can’t get there. I have a humbuckers equipped guitar and hope to get an actual SG soon but do you have any suggestions for people that aren’t able to play their amps on volume 7+? I would love get that killer tone and sustain when playing slide but I typically can’t play my amps loud enough to to hit that natural crunch point. I have a ’69 fender bassman 50 and a Fender Rampart 9w. Perhaps some pedal suggestes? I’ve read everything from EQ pedals to boost mids, Transparent OD pedals as well as compressor pedals. Any thought on those or other ideas? Thanks a bunch! Really appreciate it!
Comments are closed.