Early on in my playing days, tone was all about getting as much distortion as possible for playing Metallica songs. Thinking back, I probably had about as bad a guitar sound as one can get. This was a problem that needed to be resolved.
Follow the stars
As I grew up a bit, I started reading all sorts of articles about how to find “your sound.” Many of them suggested listening to others and trying to emulate that sound. Look to the stars, essentially. I struggled with this for several years, really. I could just never find the right fit. Eric Johnson’s clean sound was something I loved…but I don’t play anything like him and have no desire to do so.
I had the same problem across the board. Overwhelmingly, the tones of the pros that I liked did not fit with what I was playing.
The kitchen sink
So my next idea was, as many folks do, to be as versatile as possible. I looked for an amp that did it all, multi-effects boxes, etc. Every sound for any occasion.
This plan, also failed.
Whether it was digital amps or 4 channel boutique wonders, I couldn’t find something that worked. The digital amps of the day did every sound about 50% as good as I would’ve liked. The big boutique things weren’t a ton better. My old Egnater had an amazing lead channel… but channels 1-3 were pretty dull and lifeless. And at the time I was moving more and more away from trying to do much in the way of guitar acrobatics.
One hit wonder
My latest thing has been to simplify quite a bit. An amp that gets every sound I want with the quality I want does not exist, nor do I really think it should. How heavy/complicated might such an amp be? Instead, I thought about finding an amp that does one sound exceptionally well.
Now, you can’t just find any one sound, as I hinted at with the failure of the Egnater to mesh with my playing. After some soul searching, I decided that a great clean sound was the most important thing possible. I play a lot with some sort of gain, but have never found an amp that broke up easily that I loved. My playing is all about starting with a clean sound and stacking little bits of texture on top.
So that’s exactly what I did and so far it’s been the most comfortable I’ve been with a guitar sound.
Really, it’s what got me back into effects, as for several years I wasn’t big on them. I thought about effects as a way to either hide your playing or define your sound. Now I think of them as toppings on pizza. They are there to accentuate a solid base, not steal the show.
Will this philosophy last? It’s possible I’ll go another crazy direction, but looking unlikely. After years of trying to chase an amp that doesn’t exist or getting wowed by specs over substance… I think I kinda have it figured out. The down side is, it’s one less excuse for being a crummy player, hahaha.