What Does a Warm Tone Even Mean!

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines warm as:

having or giving out heat to a moderate or adequate degree

This doesn’t make much sense when applying it to your guitar tone does it.  In fact here are some more definitions of warm they list.

  • serving to maintain or preserve heat especially to a satisfactory degree 
  • A sweater
  • feeling or causing sensations of heat brought about by strenuous exertion
  • comfortably established 
  • marked by strong feeling 
  • marked by excitement, disagreement, or anger 
  • marked by or readily showing affection, gratitude, cordiality, or sympathy 
  • accompanied or marked by extreme danger or duress
  • having the color or tone of something that imparts heat

None of these definitions really have anything to do with guitar amp tones do they?

I wonder then how this phrase got started about a warm tone.  Could it be because tube amps get pretty hot? And maybe because they get hot, the phrase warm started getting used to describe them.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone describe Solid State amps as warm. Have you ever heard anyone describe Amp modulators as warm? Or guitar amp plugins? Usually you have to find ways to warm them up don’t you? Maybe with a tube plugin of some sort.

So if heat from a tube amp was the initial catalyst for the phrase warm being used to describe an amp’s tone, then what definitions should we apply to warm when used in this manner.

Here are Mine

  • Notes that sag
  • Non-piercing
  • Pleasing to the ear
  • Big and full
  • Notes give in to the amp
  • Sounds like dust surrounds the notes
  • Inspires you
  • Puts big smiles on faces :)
  • Glassy
  • Demands you play the Wind Cries Mary riff at least once
  • Feel the notes through your hand
  • Can’t stop playing
  • Causes you to repeat over and over again how Awesome the sound is

I’m having a little fun with this, but what do you think of when you hear “Warm Tone”?

John W Tuggle
John W Tuggle

I love teaching the blues and have created numerous training courses and lessons to learn how to play like BB King, Clapton, Duane Allman, and more. Get Started Now


  1. Like a vinyl record – dust around the notes is close
    Deep and rich

  2. Great post. I think of John Mayer when he plays slowly and quietly. He has a warm tone for me.

  3. A round sound with no harsh edges. Clean with just enough “huh” like a good chest bump, yet soft enough to caress. Notes that just sort of fade into the sunset. Not… gritty, harsh all mashed up tones, With certain notes that pop you in the face.

  4. The difference between a warm tone and a crisp tone is frequency balance. A warm guitar tone usually has strong frequencies bellow 800hz and around 6-7khz where as a crisp tone would have more frequencies above 800hz and around 7-8 khz. Crisp tones also have a lot of presence above 10khz.

    Yes this is pure frequencies we are talking about but it is good to know when using eq to try and get the warm bits to stand out.

    Tubes give a warm tone because they “bend” the frequency’s towards the frequency range that we have defined as warm. I don’t believe it was designed this way I think they just built amplifiers out of what they could and the market started comparing amp tones and giving labels to the tonal quality of the sounds that they produced.

    Now in the world of computer vsts we can call up any recognised vintages sound and it is recreated digitally. This make things a bit different but also very interesting because literally anyone now has access to literally any sound. This makes things exciting and I am looking forward to watching the digital music industry grow.

  5. Warm tone to me is when each note is played from the soul. The tone you hear is the touch on the string amplified through the vacuum tubes. The note has to be full of heart and soul brothers.

    Peace, Spock, & E.T.

  6. For me switching to the neck pickup produces more of a warm/bluesy sound to me… I would say that I switch to the bridge pickup when I am going for brighter/crispier tones (esp in metal riffing/solos)… but switch to the neck pickup for more of a bluesy/ambiance sound. As an “engineer” I like Victors answer the best, because for me its all about frequency (its surprising how much a difference a lil eq make, if you want to see Victors description in action… try downloading a frequency analyzing plugin like blue cat’s freq analyst… it’s free btw).

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