Does your tone not sound so great or you just don’t know where to start? Maybe you just want the most face melting tone imaginable. Or, just incredible head-turning tone for those less into melting faces…In the following articles, Tone Vault Audio & Media will discuss seven tips for musicians & producers to delivering the best tone possible.
Tip 1: Pick Choice & Strings
Depending on what you’re after – pick thickness & material can affect tone. The right guitar pick will make all the difference to your sound, as well as your technique. It’s understood that some music styles are performed better with the right style of pick and so the choice of thickness, material, size, and shape are all critical factors to consider when selecting a pick.
There are a lot of materials used in making pick, but the most common are:
- Celluloid – One of the first materials used to make a guitar pick, this one is still very popular today. This synthetic material was introduced as a means to replace tortoiseshell and proved to be far more convenient.
- Nylon – Most commonly seen in the Dunlop Max Grip picks, nylon is a heavy-duty material that offers players more durability than other options. This makes it perfect for strumming chords. Since it isn’t slick like celluloid, nylon also allows for more accurate playing and better grip when moving up and down the neck of the guitar quickly. This material is capable of providing a warm or bright sound depending on how it’s struck against the strings.
- Delrin/Tortex – Most commonly seen in the Dunlop Tortex pick line. This heavy-duty plastic offers guitarists a grip that feels firm, allowing for faster playing with less fatigue on top of producing a good, bright tone. It also has a high tolerance for use over time without showing too much wear, which makes it very popular among professional guitarists. There are some Delrin picks made that are not quite as easy to grip, however. While still being made by Dupont, this style of guitar pick, even though made from the same material as Tortex, is smooth. Under the right conditions, losing grip is easier.
- Ultex – Known for being extra hard, making sure that there are no chips or flaking after heavy use. This means that this material will last longer than other options before losing the ability to produce a high-quality performance. Of course, the hard material also means that there is noticeably more resistance when playing with it. This can be very useful for strumming chords on acoustic guitar or adding some articulation to a lead part on an electric. They offer a good grip and bright, balanced sound.
- Carbon Fiber – This polymer option is similar to Ultex in that it produces a bright tone with good articulation, but has the added benefit of being very lightweight. This material is also incredibly strong and very easy to grip, especially if the texturing is right.
- Stone – One of the oldest materials used for making guitar picks. Many stone types are used to make picks today. Agate, Jasper, and Jade are quite popular and when made right, won’t hurt your strings. Because they are so hard, they produce a unique tone and are easy to grip.
- Wood – Made from the same material as guitar bodies, wooden picks are extremely low-maintenance. Since wood is very sturdy, it won’t flex like plastic and can be quite thick. They also tend to break down quickly, but can be sanded if needed to create a custom shape for better grip. There are many types of wood that are used in making guitar picks, like mahogany or rosewood, so the tone can vary from bright to warm. This also depends on the designs, but in some cases, also makes them harder to use.
- Metal – 🤘 Another option that tends to be very rigid, but can produce some cool sounds when used for picking. Metal plectrums are not the most common type of pick out there due to their tone and added string erosion. The sound they produce can vary in tone based on whether they are plated, but tend to be brighter. You will also need to be careful not to scratch your guitar, as metal is more capable of this than plastic. As the metal pick begins to break down, you will also need to watch for any pieces getting attracted to the magnetic pickups, depending on the metal used.
There are 5 common thicknesses:
- Extra light – 0.40 mm thick and under, this option is very useful for strumming chords lightly or playing fast lines on an electric guitar. They tend to produce a plastic sound when strumming, so softer attack & lowest volume projection of all the options available during picking single notes.
- Light – 0.41 mm – 0.63 mm thick, Great for lead work or acoustic guitar. They are sturdy enough to be used for strumming and lifting off the strings while producing a tone that is slightly louder than extra light picks. This option provides slightly more volume projection than extra light picks do, although not as much as a medium gauged pick.
- Medium – 0.64 mm – 0.86 mm thick, This is a great choice for strumming chords and lead work. They are sturdy enough to glide over the strings, but thick enough to produce a tone that stands out from an extra light pick. This means it won’t be as bright or clean as the light thickness.
- Thick or heavy – 0.87 mm – 1.2 mm thick, this type of pick is a good choice for strumming chords and lead work as it produces some rich mid-range sounds. The thickness also adds volume projection compared to a medium pick and provides a solid attack which is great for heavier music. 🤘
- Extra-heavy – 1.21 mm and over thick, this type of guitar pick will produce a fat, warm tone when strumming chords or performing lead work. It’s a good choice for a beginner who wants to sound strong from the start while also being able to play a wide range of music and use different techniques.
There are 6 common shapes:
- Standard – The most common pick shape. One edge is more rounded than pointed, which allows you to play chords with ease while also making it possible to perform lead lines. This shape is typically referred to as the 351 style.
- Jazz III – Easier to produce a brighter tone than a standard pick, which makes it great for strumming. It has quickly become one of the most popular shapes among players that lean towards lead work over strumming, especially in shred metal music styles where fast lines are needed to keep up with the speed of the drums. 🤘
- Sharp – A standard pick with a point that is very close to being sharp. This allows it to glide over the strings while still maintaining a decent grip. Because of this, the sound projection is not as strong as a regular pick, but is used for lead work more so than strumming. The sharp point is great for accuracy and precision.
- Triangle – Able to increase control due to their larger size. Bass players favor these picks because of the extra control and dexterity they offer and are more comfortable.
- Teardrop – This style of the guitar pick is designed for accuracy and speed, but requires more finger strength to use properly. They are thinner to be able to use without dropping frequently, which also makes them pretty versatile when some strumming is also necessary. They are also known as model 358 and are known for a warmer and round tone.
- Finger & Thumb – They each offer something unique, with most of them giving great control and tone, while still allowing you to use your fingers to pluck the strings with ease. Finger and thumb picks are often used in bluegrass & country music because they allow the player an extra grip for that classic sound.
- Smooth – This style has no texture and slides through your fingers easily, especially if you begin to sweat. A majority of the picks made are smooth or polished and are normally easy to hold. But if you are having issues with your grip and continue to drop them, you may want to change the texture you are using.
- Sanded – A sanded or powdery texture is generally easier to hold onto because it has something for your fingers to grip. The difference between this and the smooth pick is easy to notice and will help keep a grip on your pick, especially if sweaty, slippery hands are an issue for you. Tortex picks offer this extra support, which is why they are a more popular typically.
- Raised Ridges – Considered a medium-textured pick and offers the best of both worlds. Your fingers can easily slide and move around on it, so you won’t have to worry about gripping too hard and having it interfere with your technique. But they also offer you the benefit of having ridges to grip onto when things are getting slick. Sometimes it’s simply a raised logo on the pick that makes all the difference.
Tone Considerations & Tone Vault’s Recommendations:
The thickness of your pick also plays a role in what kind of sound you get out of it. When choosing something new, always try playing with it on a guitar before buying it to get a general idea of the tone you might expect. Simply hold down some basic open chords and see how it sounds compared to the picks you are used to using. Then play some picked single notes (preferably as many as quickly as possible) to see the difference. Use your best judgement and stick with what feels most comfortable to you. We’ve seen clients play low gain with heavy picks that have tones that crush heavy gain moderate players for absolutely no reasonable explanation. Make it yours.
Our Choices for types of picks according to style:
- Pop – dependent on what you’re playing to add to pop music, see some of the typical influential genres below with their own recommendations.
- Hip-hop and Rap – Similar to pop, this style typically has guitar as an influence to cross genres – bringing it’s influence and that genre’s pick choice, with. For bass however, anything thick and large is typical, like a thick triangle pick from Dunlop for example.
- Rock – Dependent on influence again, but a good fender medium celluloid or classic dunlop grippy style will do the trick.
- Dance and Electronic music – no idea. Is there badass guitar in this type of music?!?
- Latin music – Light gauged, finger picks or something that can compliment a nylon stringed guitar is assumed….
- Indie and Alternative Rock – refer to the rock category here….
- Classical music – similar to Latin music, it’s influence is classic and fragile…
- K-Pop – not even talking about this category.
- Country – this one varies. Often lighter, and can range from light picks for banjo or even heavy for blues riffs…
- Metal – Our Forté,
- For Death, A Tortex Jazz III XL is a larger version of the Jazz III made from Tortex material (more on that below) for a snappier attack than the Nylon versions.
- Power/Thrash, Jazz III Ultex as it gives the best attack without too much friction.
- Doom/Stoner – A wider, lighter pick will not only let you get the most out of every note, but it will make your pinch harmonics really easy to access. The Ernie Ball Everlast .73mm is a great choice.
- Djent – Maximum attack is necessary. As the only part of your rig which cannot yet be modeled, you’ll actually have to get the real thing –A harder material like acrylic or Ultex, but in a medium gauge – Ultex Sharp .73 is a great choice.
Strings are another factor. More than just tuning, tension & style come into play when deciding on type of string to use to craft your tone, however. Consider all the following:
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As far as electric guitar & bass are concerned, plain steel strings are a harder material that lend to a brighter sound with greater volume, however steel strings can also tend to wear down a guitar’s frets at a faster rate. In contrast, electric guitar strings made with softer metals such as gold and nickel can produce warmer and more mellow sounding tones, while being a less abrasive on guitar frets. Meanwhile, using cobalt in electric guitar strings helps to produce a higher magnetism to the magnetic pickups resulting in increased output and clarity
The sound output from these electric guitar strings is primarily driven from the magnetic properties of the metals involved in the composition of the strings. The electric guitar string’s interaction with the magnetic pickups on electric guitars/basses converts the string’s vibrations into electrical impulses through electromagnetic induction, and the signal is then amplified to bring it to the desired level of the player, or for the intended audience.
Most commonly the materials you’ll find out in the wild are the following:
- Nickel-Plated Steel – bright but balanced sound
- Pure Nickel – this metal has a warmer sound than most. This is the most typical string for electric guitars.
- Stainless Steel – brightest and sharpest sound ever. They are more typical for styles such as hard rock.
- Chrome – these sound typically a bit more on the dull side. They are often used in jazz.
Steel and nickel aren’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to electric guitar string materials. There are many to experiment with. Some cult classics would be cobalt, zinc-plated steel, and Superalloy. Each set of strings has a unique feel and tonal profile that can set your tone & recordings apart from the rest!
Round core strings are the traditional, or “vintage” style of guitar string construction. As the name suggests, round core guitar strings are constructed using a round core wire underneath the winding.
Round core construction was the standard method of construction for many years—up until hex core strings were developed. Though most manufacturers these days favor hex core strings for a number of reasons that we’ll get into here shortly, round core strings are still made by many manufacturers (GHS, DR, La Bella, etc.)
The primary advantage of round core construction is that more of the surface area of the core wire is in contact with the winding (in theory, nearly 100%) which means a greater density for a string of the same gauge, vs a hex core string. Generally, round core strings are slightly more flexible than their hex core brethren.
Tonally, the biggest different with round core guitar strings is that they tend to have a much boomier bottom end, and less high end clarity than hex core strings.
Though round core guitar strings were the only game in town for many years, in modern years most companies have switched to primarily manufacturing hex core guitar strings. These strings utilize a hexagonal core wire underneath the outer winding layer, which helps to hold the wrap wire stable and in place. Generally speaking, this stability gives hex core strings a slightly stiffer feel, but also enables them to hold tune better and as a result, be less susceptible to premature breakage.
If you have played a modern electric or acoustic guitar, you are probably more familiar with the feel and tone of hex core strings. Hex core strings are generally perceived to have a brighter, less muddy tone than round core strings. Many also perceive hex core strings to have a tighter pick attack and increased clarity. Because of this hex cores are especially necessary for guitarists that make use of extended or drop tunings to retain sonic clarity for a more modern sound.
String Winding Method:
Strings for the guitar can have three different types of windings which means that the string has its own metal core which is then coated with a certain type of winding.
It will be useful to know how to distinguish them to be able to buy a string or a set of strings with knowledge of the facts since these words are expressed on the various packages. When we talk about the covering of a string, we always talk about the 3 largest strings (E, A, and D) and sometimes the G. The B and E sing are always devoid of winding. The three types of windings are the round, half-round, and the flat wound.
Round wound: it is a coating that has a round section and is one of the most common. The type of string it is mounted on makes for a bright sound.
Half-round wound: it is a coating that has a smoother section than the previous one but less than the following one (it is halfway between the two); the sound is also halfway between the two.
Flat wound: it is a flat coating and the sound is darker. They are strings that are perhaps a little more comfortable to play and have a great duration. They are more typical for jazz.
Many types of strings receive a special treatment to increase their durability and prevent oxidation. A layer of synthetic material is applied over the strings in an attempt to prevent sweat, moisture from the environment, etc. from damaging them.
Generally, this type of strings costs a little more than uncoated strings. However, this can be a great option for those students who are too lasy to change the guitar strings frequently.
Our Choices for types of strings according to style:
- Pop – All gauges and brands welcome.
- Hip-hop and Rap – Man. Not sure here, as we’re metalheads and rap to us means Limp Bizkit. However, being some blues, and some rock as well as RnB & classic vibes often hit this genre – we can assume all types are applicable.
- Rock – D’Addario NYXL
- Dance and Electronic music
- Latin music – Ernie Ball Folk Nylon Clear & Gold Ball-End for acoustic stuff or any gauge in the many brands surrounding this genre would suffice!
- Indie and Alternative Rock – Fender 150R
- Classical music – Ernie Ball Folk Nylon Clear & Gold Ball-End or D’Addario’s EJ27N Classical Guitar Strings would do the trick.
- K-Pop – why?
- Country – All gauges and brands welcome.
- Metal –
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Click the following link to continue onto our next tip: Hand Technique