Not as long as you’d think! We sat down with professional musicians Brady Novotny and Sylvain Streiff, who taught us everything you need to know to play the guitar and improve your guitar tone.
So you’ve learned the chords, the fingering and the rock-star faces, what’s next?
The issue that most beginner and intermediate musicians face is improving the quality of their guitar tone. It doesn’t matter if you can play all the notes perfectly, if your instrument doesn’t sound good, you’ll never advance as a musician.
Here are some simple tips to help improve your guitar tone!
1. Practice frequently
There’s really nothing else to it, I’m afraid.
They say tone is in the fingers, but that requires you to be fluent on your instrument.
If your fingers are not working well, this will, of course, compromise your tone. The more time you dedicate to practice, the more confident your fingers will be, thus creating a consistent sound the whole time you’re playing.
Daily practice is ideal, but if this isn’t an option, try or 5-6 days a week for 20 to 30 minutes. After a few weeks, practice will become a habit!
By practicing, you should be able to “clean up” the way you play.
Hint – a useful game to play is the 6 note game. You pick 6 random notes on the guitar and play them 6 times, trying to play them with a different pitch each time. Perhaps you’ll pluck the notes, or strum them at a different angle. Get creative! You’ll be able to hear a slight change in pitch each time, which will help your understanding of note pitch!
2. Strengthen your fingers with special finger exercises
This is a great thing to do if you find yourself unable to play your instrument one day as you can do these exercises anywhere.
Try making a fist, then hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute. Next, release your hand and spread your fingers out widely. Try this for four reps.
You could also improve your finger strength by squeezing a stress ball.
3. Use heavier strings on your guitar
The string gauge refers to the thickness of the guitar string. It is very important when it comes to tone.
Most electric guitars come with .009 gauge strings. This gauge is pretty standard and gives you a pretty good sound and tone. Some people get a thicker gauge string to beef up their tone (i.e. .010 or .011 or even 0.12).
If you want a fuller tone, try .010 or .011. That said, the thicker the gauge of string, the harder it is to play so you should work hard to strengthen your fingers with the exercises listed above.
4. Use a different guitar pick
There are many different elements of a pick that will shape the way you sound, from the material, to the angle of the pick relative to the string, to the size etc.
Thin picks are often used for strumming acoustic rhythm parts and medium to heavy picks are often used for lead or solo parts on the guitar, however, a desired pick thickness is often a personal preference.
Try a medium thickness pick to give you a well-rounded tone; it also offers the flexibility to play solos and rhythm guitar parts. Try to strive for a medium to relaxed grip when holding and playing with a pick. Squeezing it too tight will affect your tone as well.
Bear in mind that whatever works for you will be completely different to another player. So don’t be put off if the first pick you try doesn’t yield the best results. Keep trying a variety and see which works best for you!
If you’re worried that you’re not holding your pick correctly, read the following tips on how to hold a guitar pick:
Grasp the pick in your strumming hand (this will usually be your dominant hand) between your thumb and index finger. Your fingers should cover roughly half of the pick. Hold the pick firmly, so as to make sure it won’t slip from your hand while you play. Be careful not to hold the pick too firmly; it should still be able to bend slightly when necessary.
5. Invest in a good guitar cable
Cables are a necessity when playing an electric guitar and hooking up pedals. While it is tempting to buy cheaper cables, don’t! If you spent the time practicing, a nice cable will deliver all your hard work to the amp. So spend a little more money on some good cables. You will be happy for your investment in the long run.
6. Use a quality guitar pedal
In today’s world, there are thousands of different guitar foot pedals on the market. Pedals are supposed to enhance your playing, not cover up mistakes. Delay, reverb, chorus, wah, etc are useful and necessary guitar effects, but not much of any effect can drown out your guitar tone.
Also, avoid using effects when they are unnecessary. Try practicing using no effects and playing the song or riff as cleanly as possible before adding any effects. This will help teach the musician to not rely on effects to make the tone.
7. Clean the guitar fretboard
Not the most interesting option on the list, but it definitely helps.
Many guitarists neglect the fretboard of the guitar. Consequently, it builds up with gunk and grime, which in turn means that the notes may not sound as clear.
By cleaning the guitar, you should improve the tone and extend the life of the strings.
Remember to clean the fretboard often, using special guitar cleaning products which can be bought from your local music shop. Also check out these cleaning wipes specifically for the fretboard.
8. Change the old guitar strings
Rusty strings will detract from the quality of your guitar tone. We recommend changing your strings every 3 months (roughly 100 hours of play).
This is because, as you strings accumulate dirt and grime, they oxidize, and, in turn, lose their tone.
You could also consider playing coated strings as they don’t oxidize as quickly and will, consequently, last a longer time without affecting your guitar tone. They’ll also end up saving you a lot of money!
HINT – After playing make sure you wipe the strings down to get rid of the acidic residue left by your hands.
9. Take time to set up your guitar properly
Proper setup includes a proper pickup height. You’re sure to get a better tone if you adjust the pickup height. Just as with the pick choice, this is subjective so you will need to experiment to find the tone from your pickups that sounds best.
Read the following tips on how to hold a guitar:
Sit in a hardback chair, with no arm rests. Sit forward in the seat, with your legs firmly planted on the floor. Rest the guitar on your knees, with the biggest string closest to the ceiling. The neck of the guitar should be angled upwards slightly. Rest your elbow on top of the guitar to hold it in place.
All our tips were given to us by musicians Brady Novotny and Sylvain Streiff.
Brady is a U.S. melodic rock guitar Artist/instrumentalist with a flamenco and world twist. Brady just released his debut album Passions Collide. Citing Randy Rhoads as his muse, Brady began playing guitar at age 10. An attendee of Berklee College of Music, he has taught summer guitar workshops at renowned Duquesne School of Music. His experience ranges from the Pittsburgh PA. rock scene to national tours. He has opened up for many guitar greats such as, Paul Gilbert, Ron Bumblefoot Thai, and Uli Jon Roth. He has worked as a Pittsburgh session guitarist, Worship leader, and guitarist at several mega-churches. Check out his new album Passions Collide at www.bradynovotny.com or on Spotify.
You can find him on Instagram (@bradynovotnyofficial), Facebook (Brady Novotny Music) and YouTube (Brady Novotny).
Sylvain is daddy goals. Over his long career, his most impressive achievement is being William’s boss.
The Jellynote Team x