Setup and Guitar Tone

The quest for the perfect guitar tone is where we as guitarists seem to spend most of our time. With all the social media platforms, forums, and advertising available these days, it seems that we spend more time surfing and less time playing. Usually this is centered around the latest stomp box or some seemingly revolutionary rehashing of some basic component like strings or cables. The new hotness is usually touted to be THE THING that is going to take your playing to the next level. Granted, all this stuff is cool, and the new hotness may be pretty hot…. We are missing something that makes the single biggest impact on our tone…… our guitar setup.

The First Thing In The Chain

When we pick up the guitar and play, the whole point is to get the sound in our heads to come out of the guitar. Whether our hands do what our brain says is another story, but let’s say we execute a riff perfectly and it still doesn’t quite sound how we like. Could the tone problem be in our hands?

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, your tone is in your hands, we GET IT!!!!! We all get sick of hearing it because it makes us feel like it’s our fault that we can’t get the tone we want. It’s ok, we can still blame our tone on the guitar, more specifically … The Setup.

This is why I like to think of the setup as the first thing in the signal chain. Attack, clarity, sustain, and many other nuances of tone can be gained or lost depending on the quality of the setup. If the action isn’t right, if the intonation is off, if the break angles are wrong, if the neck joint is loose, if the frets are bad etc, we could fight and fight to get the sound we want and never really get it. We see so many players adding gimmicky things to their guitars to “fix” problems and it’s really just in the setup. We see players add pedals to fix tone problems that could be strictly from a bad setup.

It’s Not Just about tone

Have you ever picked up a custom shop guitar that was supposed to be amazing and it was just “OK”? Conversely have you ever picked up a “cheap” import that really surprised you? Chances are, it was setup. The bottom line is, you won’t be inspired by a guitar that is just “eh” to play. This applies to guitars of any brand, cost, or quality. Over the next few columns, we will focus on the different aspects of a good guitar setup and how it can affect your tone…… Stay tuned

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