Tip of the week (15) – Tone (part 2), Guitars

June 11th 2012 | Posted in Tip of the Week | 45 Comments

In this 4-part feature I’m going to look at the grandest and most difficult topic of them all – tone. Just what is tone? What is a good tone and how do you achieve it? I’m sure there are as many answers to this as there are guitarists. In this second part of the feature, we’ll look at the importance of choosing the right guitar for the tones you want.

In the first part of this Tone feature, I talked about how we perceive tone and that tone is a very subjective experience. Tone isn’t just the pedal you stomp or the string you bend but countless factors from the smallest screw to the loudest amp – not to mention the difference between the places you play, whether it’s at home or in a stadium. Read Tone part 1 here.

Guitars
A guitar, or any instrument for that matter, is an extension of you. It’s the tool that allows you to express your music, playing and feelings. Without it, you’d probably be pretty lost as a musician but the right guitar can make you play things you never though would emerge from your fingers. That’s pure inspiration – an experience that really can’t be described in words.

What’s the perfect guitar?
The perfect guitar is the one that feels right just then and there and I don’t really care whether it’s considered crap, made in China or if the electronics are barely working. If that guitar is what it takes to nail the tones I want, then the choice is simple. The perfect guitar is the one that makes you evolve your style or perhaps, slightly change your style every time you pick it up. If I’m not satisfied with a part that I’ve just recorded, I play it again with a different guitar and it always sound different because the particular guitar makes me play different.

The perfect guitar is also the one that’s been with you for years. The one that has matured along side you as you’ve grown as a musician and every time you pick it up you feel this special connection. It’s a very personal experience and for some, almost like a love story. Quality and reputation doesn’t matter, only your connection with the instrument. Mine is my very first Strat – a 1996 Japanese Fender (MIJ) Collectable 50s, the forerunner to the Mexican Classic series. Only the body (well, parts of it) is left of the original guitar after nearly two decades of countless neck, pickups and hardware changes. Not to mention all the adjustments and overhauls. Actually, it wasn’t until I owned several guitars that I realized how much this Strat meant to me and my playing.

What makes up a guitar tone?
That might be up for debate. Some would argue that a piece of wood with some electronics would do the job as long as you have pedals and a decent amp. That’s true but then you’ve also decided that that’s the guitar that works for you – perhaps without realizing that the piece of wood is a part of the tone. Every component of the guitar, down to the very last detail, is important for the tone. Tone is the subtle nuances between different types of wood, the contour and shape, thickness, radius, density, humidity and ultimately the assembly. It is the type of lacquer, the blend and number of coatings. It’s the shape, size and quality of the frets and tuning machines. Tone is the design of the bridge system and whether the strings are allowed to sustain without obstruction. The string type and gauge. Perhaps most important, and often overlooked, are the pickups. The pickups are what captures the subtle nuances in your playing, the resonance from all the components and feeding this to the pedals and amp.

Tone is also all your personal preferences. The way you’ve strung the guitar, subtle changes in the string and pickup height, whether the bridge is flush or floating, how many tremolo springs you’re using, that old volume pot that has a tendency to live its own life, the way you slightly tilt your pick for more attack, your way of altering between using the tremolo arm and bends and all those little things that only you know how to do to get the sustain you want. I could go on for ages… It is important to realize that all of this matters for your overall tone and for your pedals and amp to sound the way you want.

Buying a new guitar
There’s only one rule when it comes to buying a new or your very first guitar: patience! How wasted it is to spend a fortune on a hasty decision. The first step is to consider how you’ll be using the guitar. Is it your first? Are you about to enter the studio and need something different for that slightly heavier tone? Do you need something for your mantelpiece or one that can stand the abuse of the road?

Whatever you do, never take what neither I nor anyone else says, as the true gospel. No matter how persuasive and convincing we may sound, we’re all just biased by our own experience (some, even by financial motives). Check out user reviews and YouTube clips and ask around for recommendations and tips but ultimately, the decision is yours alone. A guitar is a musical instrument allowing you to play and write music. It’s all about inspiration and for this to happen you’ll need a guitar that you’re 100% comfortable with.

Allow yourself to be surprised and admit when you’re wrong. Try several models within different price ranges. Not because you need to buy something expensive but to broaden your mind and experience a little. Even if you’ve set on a Strat, you should try a Les Paul, Tele or even an Ibanez Steve Vai signature (or perhaps not…) just to get an idea what the differences are. And people, let us all put the US VS Japanese and Mexico issue to rest, once and for all. A stamp on the headstock doesn’t say anything about the guitar it self.

Tone is in the details
Look out for any visible signs of poor assembly and faults. Gaps, loose parts, cracks etc aren’t worth your money. A good first impression is important but it is too early to dismiss a guitar because of a bad setup. Neck curvage, string height, bridge flow etc can easily be adjusted later on and you can even ask the store to do this while you try the instrument. The more you are aware of your own preferences the more you’re able to see the potential of the guitar.

Next step is to try the guitar acoustically. This requires some experience but by comparing different guitars and models you’ll learn to recognise a rich tone from a dead. No pedal or amp will be able to enhance a guitar that doesn’t sound good acoustically.

Don’t worry too much about the pickups. It’s rare to find a guitar that scores high on all your preferences so concentrate on the overall feel and playability and replace the pickups later on with something that suits your style and tone of choice.

Sadly, some can go on for years thinking their guitar is just crap while a proper setup would have done the job. This doesn’t mean that you have to be a certified luthier but some basic knowledge and experience will at least enable you to detect any issues and describe them to your local tech. A good tip is to check YouTube for tutorials on truss-rod adjustment, string height/action, stringing and intonation, if only to be aware that these things matter for the playability and ultimately the tone.

No electric guitar will sound right without a proper companion. In Part 3 of this feature, we’ll look at how to choose the right amp for your guitar and the environment you’re playing in, whether it’s your bedroom, a studio or large concert venues. Please feel free to share your tone tips in the comments field below.

45 comments so far

  1. Richard says:

    “from the smallest screw” – well, not really! The screws that hold my pickguard in are not affecting my tone any more than the colour of the power lead to my amp.

    [My initial answer was short but allow me to comment this properly, like others below. The smallest screw does indeed matter. Like Stephen Ford says in another comment here, it depends on how sensitive your ear is and how transparent your rig is. You will notice that the less clutter you include in your rig and the better the components are the more you'll get to hear those small nuances. But of course, you have to have an interest in these things. People like Gilmour. Johnson, Bonamassa, Beck, Gibbons etc certainly do and they're very aware of the smallest changes in their rig. - Bjorn]

  2. Bo says:

    Well Richard,

    I don’t think Eric Johnson would agree lol..

  3. Alan says:

    Haha, You are correct Bo. You can’t forget about the aerosol can on the amplifier either XD.
    Great Article Bjorn! I am actually building my own guitar from scratch so I hope this will feel better than my strat that I’m using right now. Have you heard of the SuperVee Bladerunner tremolo? I’m using it on my build and it seems sturdily built (guitar isn’t playable yet but ill let you know how it plays :P). Anyways, I’m eagerly awaiting the 3rd and I guess now 4th part of this series!

    [Never tried them my self but I see they get a lot of praise. Feel free to keep us posted on your guitar project :) - Bjorn]

  4. Paul says:

    Everything matters; from body wood, strings, pickups all the way down to the smallest screws holding your pickguard on. If its attached to the guitar, it matters. Like Richard pointed out, Eric Johnson is meticulous to nth degree and he picked all the components that go into his signature guitars to the point of them not including a cover on the tremolo cavity. Not every body has the ear that Mr. Johnson does to hear these things, but in the grand scheme, it does matter.

  5. David McDade says:

    I agree that a guitar that is dead acousticly is absolutly the worst investment into gear. Its just going to cause a total blow to insperation for a guitarist, I know its happened to me, once again Bjorn awesome article! Cheers

    [Thanks David! - Bjorn]

  6. Terje Rypdal says:

    “… let us all put the US VS Japanese and Mexico issue to rest, once and for all. A stamp on the headstock doesn’t say anything about the guitar it self.”

    This can’t be stressed enough. I’m so sick of people looking at instruments through money goggles. The fact that Gilmour will still sound like Gilmour even through a $300 Squier Classic Series puts such branding snobbery into perspective.

    [+1! - Bjorn]

  7. JAIME says:

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH BJORN

    FOR TIME, EFFORT, DEDICATION AND GOODWILL.

    [Thanks for your kind words Jamie! Glad you enjoy the site :) - Bjorn]

  8. Andre says:

    Read this text makes me see how much I love my 1989 57 reissue red strat! It sounds amazing with the fat 50′s!!!

    [I'm sure it sounds awesome! Cheers! - Bjorn]

  9. Pablo says:

    Speaking of Eric Johnson . . .

    I picked up an Eric Johnson strat a few years back because it looked good on paper. Got a real low serial number (730). Was happy for a while. It was never me, though. The pickups were kinda wonky and didn’t feel right to me. The lacquer was real sticky (never had that problem before). Just never worked. Sold it.

    Have a ’74 tele that really didn’t sound very good when I bought it. (Didn’t know enough at the time to know that.) Gradually swapped out most things – electronics, bridge, saddles, frets, tuners (they were bent) (back to original), nut (to bone), just about everything but the body and neck. Setup for heavy strings – tune low.

    So, now it’s not worth anything but sounds awesome!! It’s ironic because it’s a much better guitar now than it was.

    Setup is huuuuuuge!! Get the guitar set up properly! Night and day difference!

    Awesome article as always Bjorn!!

    [Couldn't agree more! Thanks for sharing! - Bjorn]

  10. bruno sallès says:

    hi there
    dear Richard i’ve got my strat for 23 years now and for some times in the beginning the original screws used to make noise when i was stummin’ the low E and it used to damage my tone very deeply.i was a young player at this time and very disappointed to that point because i couldn’t find what this f…. sound was.
    so as Bjorn says it’s not only a figure of speech.just as the same for the power lead to your amp.try to play with a power that is not correct and you will discover the meaning of “hum”.all the people who have been “on the road” know what i mean i guess…i’ve understood this when i bought an evidence audio plug.that’s not money wasted.it’s professionnal mean state.
    thank you once more for work Bjorn.Gilmourish is exceptional.
    and take care my friend.
    bruno /France

    [Thank you, Bruno :) - Bjorn]

  11. Nathan says:

    @Bo:
    Love the Eric Johnson comment! Now there’s a tone junkie! I saw him play recently as a guest performer, he had a scaled-down rig for this show, rather than a traditional stack or combo amp he had small rack mount with an Alembic F-2B and a Mesa-Boogie power amp. Great show.

  12. Matt P says:

    Great article as always. I’ve had a MIJ Srat for a number of years now and have grown to appreciate it more and more. It’s heavy to carry and sounds great even when not plugged in. I read somewhere that even replacing the wiring and soldering in the guitar makes a big difference to reducing buzz, as well as putting shielding around the pickups.
    I love David’s tone on the official release of You’ve Gotta Be Crazy. Problem is, I know it’s an arena tone that’d be very difficult to replicate at home.

    [Well, both yes and no... That tone is very basic actually with just a Tele > Colorsound Powerboost > MXR Phase 90 > Binson Echo > Hiwatt/Leslie. You can easily replicate it with similar equipment. Still though, what you hear is a mix between the cabinets and the audience/PA mix and there's some studio compression, limiting etc there are well but the essence should be possible to replicate even at home. - Bjorn]

  13. Nihar says:

    Hey Bjorn,

    I’m so glad you mentioned the Mexican/Japan/American thing. I used to play a MIC Squier “beginner” guitar, and everyone told me to buy a real guitar as soon as they saw it. True, the electronics would not always work, and I had to not plug the guiar cable in all the way to get any sound out of it, but the tone of that guitar was amazing. It was the best guitar I had ever heard. Sadly I had to get rid of it, as the pickups died and the cost of a new set would have been more than the cost of the guitar itself. Therefore, I went to the guitar store and (surprisingly) bought a MIM Fender Lonestar strat. I was planning on buying another Squier, but none sounded like my old one. I started trying other guitars, and I found that my HSS Lonestar with a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates (modeled after Billy Gibbons’s 1959 “Pearly Gates” Les Paul) in the bridge and 2 Tex-Mex pickups in the middle and bridge positions gave me the best sounding guitar. Hardly a gilmourish guitar! It nails most Gilmour tones on my very meager setup (guitar>Danelectro Daddy-O overdrive>Danelectro Chicken Salad vibe>Bugera V5) and sounds a lot like my old Squier. Anyways, I just felt like sharing my experience.

    Great site!
    Nihar

    [Thanks for sharing, Nihar! - Bjorn]

  14. Stephen Ford says:

    Yeah, Richard…it is a simple property of Physics…and as a builder I can tell you that everything matters. The question is not whether it makes a difference but whether your ears and fingers are sensitive enough to notice the small amount that the change has made.

    Certainly one less little pickguard screw will not be noticed by most, it still does effect Mass in the instrument. The more mass the more energy it takes to move the mass and the longer it takes for that mass to come to rest once it has been excited. Attack and Sustain!!! Tonal qualities are also effected by differing densities as well as mass. From using Mahogany or Ash to How many metal components are on the instrument and their position need to be considered.

    It may sound outlandish to speak of one little screw but it should come as no surprise once you think of it in this way.

    Nice going Bjorn…as always

    [Thanks Stephen! - Bjorn]

  15. Rich Stubbings says:

    Thanks Björn for your fascinating info and helpful tips. I have been playing guitar for 49 years, played Beatles and Shadows covers in a band at age 9. I was turned on to the guitar by Hank Marvin who probably played one of the first Fender Strats in the UK. That bell-like tone that everyone talks about grabbed me and never let me go, and the Hollies and Jerry and the Pacemakers etc. disappeared entirely for me. I have been a Pink Floyd fan since the Syd Barret days and will never forget seeing them for the firtst time in my home town Bournemouth in ’72 when they toured Dark Side. I think what is not being adressed here is how important your phrasing is, and putting lots of room into your solos. It’s a bit like painting a picture – what you leave out is just as important as what you put in, and ultimately this has a huge influence on how your tone is perceived by yourself and your audience. I think the statement that Gilmour would sound like Gilmour through a cheap instrument is not strictly true. If he had to battle with poor workmanship and quality he wouldn’t feel free enough to fully express himself. Keep up the good work!

    [Thanks for sharing Rich! I agree with your last point there... I don't think Gilmour, or any guitarist for that matter, would be comfortable on a rig that didn't quite meet their standards. You would probably recognize his playing but that's beside the point. The question is whether you're able to express your self the way you want or not. David changes his stuff all the time but only after hours and hours of testing. Tone is all about inspiration and although I'm sure I could find my way around a ukulele, I wouldn't feel comfortable enough to express what I want. - Bjorn]

  16. Howard forton says:

    Excellent article. Info like this was non existent in 1972 when I got my first electric guitar. After a succession of 12 strays including 1974 USA, Strat plus, jeff beck, squire, us standard 2006, USA 57 reissue and hot rod 57. 2 emg dg20 sets. My favourite and current is a nitro refinished cij basswood body with a slim neck with jumbo frets off eBay, cts pots and quality electrics, us scratch plate and term topped off with locking sperjels. Ironstone pickups. The best all round and strattiest Strat I’ve owned. Parts cost less tha 350 Gbp. At last. A Strat that suits me !

    [Mmm... must sound great, Howard! Those CIJ basswoods are amazing! Thanks for sharing! - Bjorn]

  17. David McDade says:

    A tip: never let your eyes off your rig if your family especially nephews (2 to 6 years old) arround you rig bcause then what happened to me will happen to you…. Your guitar is in 6 peices, your amp is now a concocsion of soda and f**k knows what else, and all your stomp boxes are covered in who knows what and thrashed like they played caych with then with a mallet……… F**K MY LIFE……..

    [Ouch... - Bjorn]

  18. David McDade says:

    Their mom is a massive who fan so I can.only guess where they got the idea…, it wouldnt.be so bad of they destroyed my ibanez, but my fsr strat I went 4 months eating top ramen to afford to buy from a friend….., ive been up 29 hours trying tp clean the soda and whatever else out of my amp but its fried.., I was going to upload upload to the gear gallery but no sence now. They used my byoc triangle like a baseball then when it wouldnt break they just smashed it and my phase90 and my new 10band eq with a bat or mallet or a robot I donk f**king know… Im gear less now and all the gear they smashed is the stuff I scrounged n saved for years to buy….im not mad at em their.kids but their mom n dad wont reimburse me… Wtf do I do now…

    [Sad to hear this, David. Too bad the parents won't reimburse you. I understand the kids... for them it must have been like heaven to see all that stuff but it's extremely frustrating, I know. Hope it turns out good eventually. - Bjorn]

  19. Steve says:

    Hey Bjorn,

    You mentioned in the article that your Black Strat has gone through neck changes (only the body is original), but based on your “My Gear” section it sounds like it’s still got it’s original neck.

    Can you elaborate on the neck history of your Black Strat, and what motivated the changes at each stage?

    [The My Gear section isn't quite up to date... I do changes all the time. I've swapped around necks several times but the guitar has mostly featured the original MIJ '54 reissue maple V-shape. Sometime last year I used a super thin C-shaped Warmoth '57 maple for awhile but this is now on a MIM '62 Road Worn body. For the last 6 months or so, I've swapped the necks on my two main strats - the MIJ 50s now feature the CIJ '65 rosewood with binding, while the CIJ '65 body with EMG DG20 feature the MIJ '54 maple. I've always loved the rosewood and its warmtone fits my Airbag tones better than the maple. Otherwise I think the My Gear feature covers most of the mods... The guitar currently feature Dave Allen Voodoo 69 neck and mid and a Duncan SSL5 pickups. - Bjorn]

  20. David McDade says:

    How much would it cost to strip out all the internal electronics and replace it with a good 50w tube amp and preamp with lots of headroom and swap it into my 2×12 combo cab? Any sugestions on where to get a pre built or kit, or.other sigestions, I would really appriciate any imput. Thanks bjorn any all the other Gilmour fans here on Gilmoirish!

    [I don't have much experience with this but check out some of the amp kits available from Build Your Own Clone and Ceriatone. Both make high quality clones. - Bjorn]

  21. Carlos says:

    Hey Bjorn, love the site! Excellent for reviewing every single era! I’m thinking of “building” my own black strat, actually more like buying a black strat and changing the pickups, getting the DG GHS string set (Even the guitar strap! hehe) but I’m not sure which strat to pick, mostly on the research I’ve done I’m thinking on getting the 57 reissue (that would be the most I’d be willing to spend, around $1600 usd) I haven´t been able to try one out and I’m a little bit nervous about the soft-v neck (I do intend to try it before I buy it) but in your opinion, which strat would be the best for the core of a “black strat”? (if I don’t like how the 57 RI feels and sounds, even if its the best for this purpose, I’d be more interested in trying out other guitars)
    Thanks for the best site for Gilmour fans!

    PS. I own an 08 Telecaster and a Gibson Explorer, just for reference.

    [Thanks for your kind words, Carlos! Glad you enjoy the site :) It's always a matter of taste but I think the US '57 reissue is an excellent choice. I don't like the pickups though but these can easily be replaced by something more authentic like the TTS Crazy Diamond set. The soft V neck is very similar to a C. Very comfortable and easy to play. Other options would perhaps be the US '62 reissue, if you care for a more 70s Black Strat look. The rosewood neck is awesome. It's also well worth checking out some Japanese Fenders, which are just as good as the US. The Japanese 57 is about half the price. If you want something a bit more customized you could design your own Strat over at Warmoth. They make some amazing stuff. - Bjorn]

  22. Sean says:

    Excellent segment to your tone series. Thanks for pointing out the “relationship” aspect between player and instrument. I kind of like how Jack White would point out that every instrument has its own story to tell and songs to be heard. On “It Might Get Loud” he describes his relationships with his many instruments as sort of a “fight” to see what it is good at. I like to take elements from that philosophy. I put it to practice when I picked up a MIM 1970s bullet truss strat for really cheap ($300). I’d been playing an 88′ US tele faithfully for many years, but felt I needed a change. I had a Les Paul studio as well at the time that just wasn’t jiving with me (which I sold). I tried this strat out I found on the local classifieds. It didn’t exactly play all that hot, but when playing acoustically, I could feel the tone vibrations through the body. I knew the wood was good, and took a chance.

    After doing some reading on your site and checking out some pickup demos on YouTube, I decided to switch out the bridge to the Callaham bridge (note for readers that even though this guitar was MIM, it actually uses the USA spacing for the bridge and NOT the standard MIM spacing so the Callaham option is excellent). I swapped out the pickups with some cheap GFS pickups I thought would fit the bill for the tone I was chasing after and rewired the grounds. The guitar has turned out to be one of my favorite guitars I have ever played. The end of the line is that it now has many songs to sing with its reborn personality. Looking forward to your next segment. Keep up the superb work!

    [Thanks for sharing! Jack White has indeed some interesting thoughts on instruments and although I don't really care much for his style I always find it inspiring to read interviews with him. Likewise with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. He has a HUGE collection of several hundreds guitars but he knows each and every one by heart and he appreciates the instrument for what it is and not where or who made it. - Bjorn]

  23. Keith Clarke says:

    Terje is absolutely correct, I have ownd at least 50-75 “Top Grade” expensive guitars, maybe more since my first real guitar, a early ’70′s Ampeg Super Stud SG look alike. It cost $200.00 new in 1977, and I wish I still had it. It’s probably worth a fortune. I have owed an original, American Rich Bich, neck thru body, curley Koa, $ street price in ’83 was $1700.00, never could gig it, because it was too complicated, and while beautiful, I lost it in the pawn shop for $200.00, the fate of all of my expensive guitars. The Rich is valued at close to $10,000.00 now, and my 25th Anniversary Strat, Cany Apple red Ash body, with matching head stock, and 18 Kt. gold DIPPED hardware, that was $1100.00 in 1980, which the pawn shop got for $200.00 was also kind of a non player. I played a used $100.00 Kramer Focus 3000 w/ a cheap, unfinished neck, headstock broken and held together by a steel L bracket, and a JB1 neck pup, and one of Fralin’s first rewraps on the stock neck pup, in the most popular band I’ve ever played in, and it sounded better, and played better than any high dollar production guitar I’ve ever owend. The only exception being a mint condition ’71 ES-335 I picked up for $900.00. I know this is long, but the point is, I’ve had more success with a $100.00 guitar than all but one expensive, name brand, American made guitar, with only one exception, the ES, which sold for $2400.00 in ’97, and is worth 2-3 times that now. I have a guitar with exactly $400.00 into it now, a Squire Tele Thinline, $250.00 new, with only minor fret work, and new pots, switch,wire, and jack,($135.00 installed) You’d have to give me $1000.00 to wrench it away from me. So, moral of the story. The only perfect guitar, is the one you mate well with, you design, or modify it to the way you play, or a handcrafted, completely to your specs model is the only way to assure an expensive guiitar is worth the price a new DG Strat brings. The guitar I’m having built by Rodriguez guitars, I personally picked the block of Alder for the body, The maple blank for the neck, and insist that every aspect of the guitar is made with exact components, down to the rare Rhinocerous Ivory nut. Don’t buy a label, If DG would have bought a label, he wouldn’t have chosen what at the time, was a lowly CBS made copy of a REAL Fender. when you’re in the store, play the Squires, the Mexi’s, the Epiphones, the Ibanez. Eventually, one of those $299.00 specials may grab hold of your soul, and you will have a love affair, without mortgaging your house.
    Sorry for the length, but this is possibly the most import aspect of obtaing “YOUR SOUND & TONE”
    Thanks for putting up with a opinionated old man,Peace to all, KC

    [Thanks a lot for sharing, Keith! - Bjorn]

  24. David McDade says:

    Hey Bjorn im looking arround on ceriatones website but I cant figure out a good gilmourish amp, I really want a DR103 clone and I think I found one called the Hey What? 103 but im not sure if it is a dr103 clone because some of it isnt exactly the same, could someone help me out with this, is it a DR103 clone or not, and is there a better gilmourish amp clone?
    Thanks a ton Bjorn for your help, and thanks to the gilmourish community for any imput!

    [I haven't tried it my self but I think the Hey What is a safe choice. It's also worth checking out their fantastic 1987 Marshall JCM 800 clone. Be sure to get one with a master volume and you'll have a great, versatile gilmourish amp. Send them an e-mail and ask for some advice. They're very helpful. - Bjorn]

  25. greg says:

    Howdy Bjorn, have enjoyed your site for a while, first time commenting.

    I think the best thing to do is try lots of different guitars to find what you like. As you say, it is a matter of taste, and the right guitar for someone doesn’t need to be expensive. A good setup on a cheap guitar is worth more than a bad one on an expensive guitar. It’s also about the right tool for the job; you don’t practice sculpting in marble, you learn in clay and get better until you know how to get what you want from more expensive materials.

    I think your suggestion of testing the guitar without an amp is very wise (they always plug it into some awesome amp at the shop after all) if you can’t test it with your own amp first. While pickups and electronics are important, the material and quality of bridge saddles is one of the most important overlooked parts in the tone chain imo. Good tuning keys are enormously helpful. The thing I found most frustrating while I was learning on cheaper guitars, was how often they would fall out of tune.

    In guitars as with most things, you don’t have to spend a fortune but crappy ones are… crappy. But I agree with you that Japan/Mexico/USA doesn’t matter- I’ve seen junk and gems from all three. It’s about each individual instrument.

    looking forward to more articles. :)

    [Thanks for your comment, Greg. Totally agree with you and I probably should have stressed the importance of good quality tuning keys and saddles more than I did. I always replace these my self. - Bjorn]

  26. Bender Rodriguez says:

    Thanks for your site Bjorn! Ever waiting for the next article! (i´m not english speaking, sorry for mistakes)

    I´m agree that all things count, and none count in relationship between guitar and player in order to get the tone. Since it´s almost imposible to take under control all the factors that builds the tone of a guitar, the best choice (i think the only choice) its Trial and Error. We must be openmind to test best known and unknown brands, cheap and expensive…you name it “patience”, i think it´s a wise definition.
    Most people (I included), wanted a particular model of guitar because it´s played by their idols, and finally do invest in a colour, a shape or a brand, not a Guitar. There´s a lot of “Black strats”, “Red strats”, “SRVS”, “vintage series”, etc,etc, and a lot of people not satisfied with his purchase. If I go to a store, with a maple neck black strat in mind, and test a modern rosewood neck white or blue strat (or LP type, or Tele…), and i feel good with it, this is the better election, i think.
    Finally, i´d like to mark that gratest players have ever played stock guitars, modifying it along the years, because of weathering, improvement, or others: Gilmour, Clapton, Hendrix, SRV, Young, Gallaguer… Most great musicians (still alive of course ;-)) could pay for a custom-made perfect guitar, but the fact it´s that they paid tecnicians who improve and mantain his preferred stock (the most) guitars.
    I,ve got a type-strat Tokai that I chose between a lot of Fenders because its construction and playability. I had came into the store, with the hard purpose of buying FenderStratocaster… then I chose the candy apple red colour with maple neck! HAHAHA!
    By the by, i´m thinking on install on it a CS69,s ..are they as good as all people says?

    Cheers!

    [Thanks for sharing, Bender! Those old Tokais are great! In regards to the CS69s, it depends on what amp you're using and what tones you're looking for. They have a fairly low output with a transparent, scooped mids tone. Some might find the bridge to be just a bit too bright and thin. You can replace this with a Duncan SSL1 or SSL5 for a bit more bite. - Bjorn]

  27. David McDade says:

    Hey everybody! I think another very overlooked peice on a guitar, and ill admit its a little hard to spot ar first, is the quality of the imput jack. Having a guitar with a jack that is janky or the bolt comes loose every other time you play is extremly frustrating. My ibanez had this problem and at first I tried quick fixes, loctite ect.. But after swapping it out for a quality one it helped out tone and especially inspiration alot. Oh btw Bjorn I emailed ceriatone and the hey what is a hiwatt clone, DR103 and 504 respectivly. For arround 400 usd to build one without the cabinet for it is pretty good I have to admit, now to get the cash for it and some fanes and ill be set

    [My experience with Ceriatone is superb so I think you'll be very pleased. - Bjorn]

  28. Jon says:

    “And people, let us all put the US VS Japanese and Mexico issue to rest, once and for all. A stamp on the headstock doesn’t say anything about the guitar it self.” –

    Amen to that, both of my favorite guitars were made in mexico. I’m a big fan of my jaguar classic player, and i got a ’04 MIM Strat from a friend for fixing up his Danelectro with new PUs. i loved playing the guitar but it wasn’t really my tone, so i wired it with only a bridge and neck pickup, and the G&L “PTB” system and a 5way superswitch with in series and out of phase positions and i found that perfect mixture of blues bite and soft melody(for me that is). i love my MIM guitars, and when it comes down to it i’ve never fallen in love with and american made strat, and thats just because they didn’t feel right, my strat feels heavy and i like that, i feel like i strapped a piece of wood to myself, its like i’m dancing with it hahahaha.

    [Thanks for sharing, Jon! - Bjorn]

  29. Eric Nyberg says:

    Ah guitars. Love ‘em. My strat is my favorite electric. I have a two tone sunburst classic 50′s with a maple neck, Fender CS69′s in the neck and middle and a Duncan SSL-5 in the bridge, Callaham S bridge. I also have a 52 Reissue butterscotch blonde Telecaster, a brand new 2012 Gibson Les Paul Standard Traditional (57 neck, Burstbucker 3 bridge, Guitar Center special) a Taylor 414ce and a Martin MMV (another Guitar Center special). Love ‘em.

    [Thanks for sharing, Eric! - Bjorn]

  30. Mouloudo says:

    to continue the conversation, I personnaly think that american made guitars are still the best, but older ones… I have a 1985 fullerton era 57 strat and it plays beautifuly, one of my friend brought his black gold hardware custom shop john mayer limited edition signature model, and we swapped guitars just for fun. While I was sure the new custom shop would sound better than my battered almost 30 y.o. guitar, I was amazed to find that the CS sounded dull and that my strat had A LOT more sustain and harmonics… even the CS owner thought the same way…
    And I have a MIM 50′s strat, and it just doesn’t compare, although I love my MIM and play it more often than my US one ( to save the well worned frets on the US); the sustain and that woody strat sound is just something that the MIM doesn’t have. And it shows even more while plugged in my 1972 hiwatt at high volume

    [Well, I don't think comparing two different guitars would qualify as a scientific survey :) You'd have to compare lots more to really be able to tell the differences. Besides, mid 70s Fenders are generally much less quality than current MIMs, so I think it evens out. Generally speaking though, US Fender use overall better hardware and electronics and they also have a better wood selection. You can find awesome MIMs for sure but I think you'd have to try a couple to find one that has the right selected wood. Also, try a mid 80s Fernandez or Tokay too and you'll be amazed of the quality of those :) - Bjorn]

  31. KEITH CLARKE says:

    I hope this post is okay with you Bjorn, if not, I completely understand. I know that there are many Gilmourish readers here in Richmond, Va. I ahve some studio time paid for, and will be recording a full length CD of originals, as I feel PF would have done them, as well as a version of Echoes, that is a cross between Pompeii, and Meddle. I have a tentative drummer, and bassist, but if you are interested in this project, I’m more than willing to consider you as a candidate. The main ingredient I’m missing, is a keyboardist, who can sing harmonies with me. As i said, I’m mainly looking for a keyboardist, but any “VERY interested” drummers, or bassists may apply. You may contact me by friending me on Facebook under the name above, and the profile pic is of course, David. all will be treated as equals, no egos, no bosses, and anything that may result from this project will be equally shared after I recoup the studio costs. Thank you, I hope there are a few interested Richmonderws, and that it’s OK with Bjorn to post this on his site.
    Peace, Love, and Gilmourish, Keith

  32. Eric E says:

    I always am having arguments about the MIM,MIJ,MIA Strat with people. I agree, let’s put it to rest. Take for instance my Black Strat, I have changed everything on it, it started as a MIM, and it was a phenomenal guitar that sounded wonderful with stock parts, but I upgraded it and now it is just as good as the Vintage 57 Reissue FSR MIA Strat I bought last week! Before the upgrades though as I said it was setup nice it played pretty smooth. I like that you mentioned setups. I have the Fender Stratocaster Handbook and Dan Erlewine’s How to Make Your Guitar Play Great and it goes into much detail how having a properly setup guitar (as well as a setup to your personal preference) goes a real long way towards tone, comfort and tone! It is something I suggest to everyone; to learn how to do your own setups. I have seen countless pictures of DG changing out his guitar strings and getting his hands dirty. It’s this relationship with our instrument, that yes, you feel it as soon as your hands touch it, it’s that indescribable and wonderful feeling that the guitar has not just become the “instrument in your hands” but the extension of your body and soul, to properly convey your creative feelings and share them with everyone else! Cheers Bjorn for another great article.

    [Agree. You could always bring your guitar to a tech but no matter how detailed you describe your preferences to him, he'll never be able to tweak the small details. A good setup is all about nuances and only you could do that. This, however, require that you spend some time trying different guitars and experiment with different setups to find the one that suits your style. I think the worst thing that you can do is to copy someone else's setup... Looking at pictures of David's Black Strat will never fully apply to your guitar simply because it's two different guitars and techniques. - Bjorn]

  33. KEITH says:

    Hi Bjorn, having just purchased the Boss RT-20, and reading your review, I was disappointed to find that the univibe sucks, but I bought it as a leslie substitute, and as a tremelo. My question is, since I have the 15 watter, and the 30 watt TSA’S, could this be a good way to utilize both amps on my stage setup? My current last pedal is my DD-20, so I thought maybe I could set up the DD to be used stereo, sending the delayed signal out on one side, and into the RT-20, and then the RT, into the 15. This would allow me to keep the rotating speaker back a little in the mix. Does this sound feasible, or if I’m on somewhat the right track, could you guide me to the best way to utilize the stereo capability, and both amps. I hope you can follow my thinking, and maybe expand on it to best suit at least the idea behind it.
    Thanks, great clips in the review, I would have thought it was Gilmour if I didn’t know it was you!
    Best wishes, Keith

    [Yeah, sadly the UniVibe stinks but the rotary sounds is great, I think. Perhaps not the most authentic Leslie sim on the market but I like the tones nevertheless. Kind of a very deep and dynamic chorus. Anyway, I think your suggestion would work fine. Have all the effects, including the delay in the main signal split to each amp and the RT20 in just one of the splits after the delay. I'd place it in the 15w line as you suggest but the RT20 also has a volume mix, which allows you to dial in the volume you need for the overall mix. Just experiment and listen to which setup that sounds best. Cheers! - Bjorn]

  34. mohammad says:

    hi Bjorn
    i just bought a epiphone les paul custom and i want to know what pickups do you recommend
    tnx

    [Congrats! I prefer the vintage style low output ones like the Gibson Classic 57 or the P90s. These can easily produce anything from Strat-like tones to metal. The P90s are available from Seymour Duncan as the Phat Cats for humbucker sized slots. - Bjorn]

  35. KEITH says:

    Bjorn, if I may, I’d like to suggest Lindy Fralins noiseless p-90′s. They are wound to sound like vintage p-90′s, without the hum inherent in the soapbar pickups. They are very reasonably priced, and he makes the best pickups in the world, according to everyone who uses them. His Vintage hot Strat pups, are hot in name only, and all his vintage pickups are wound to original specs, with the same wire, magnets, and output of the orignals. He can be reached by checking out his website. He even rewound the original pups from the black Strat, and as you may remember, David,through Phil, still owes him $100.00. They would be a great choice for the Epiphone Les Paul, but he should also change the pots, switch, and wiring to real Gibson spec parts.
    Thanks, Keith
    PS, My soon to be finished Strat copy will be loaded with Vintage hots, with a few extra winds on the bridge!

    [Thanks for the tip, Keith! To be honest, I've tried a couple of Lidy models before but wasn't all that impressed. It's a while ago though and I'm sure most of his models are right up there with the very best. It's a matter of taste I guess. Anyway, I'll certainly check out the Vintage Hots :) - Bjorn]

  36. Gaspar says:

    The Deluxe is a guitar for life, like the reissue, but my intention is to try to emulate as much as possible Gilmour, worth the $ 100 difference? required to have to reject the noiseless, the locking tuners and tremolo of 2 points just for something VINTAGE, with significant pedals I have in mind to buy, it would sound almost the same? you say? Deluxe or American Vintage? (I should clarify that I have little hands
    So, gilmour sound. Reject locking tuners and that modern sound? or the HOT ROD 57?

    I’d like to contact and chat with you Bjorn, thanks mate !

    [I don't think I can asnwer this question for your, Gaspar. You really need to try these guitars and decide for your self. After all, comfort and playability is the most important thing when you're buying an instrument. You can replace and change the pickups and electronics but if you don't like how it plays, there's little you can do about it. All three guitars that you mention are fairly similar with minor differences in the contour and shape. Personally I like the US 57 but some find the slightly bigger soft V a bit too much. I also think that the two-point trem gives you less stability and tuning/action options, which speakes for a vintage 6-screw setup. Again, this is my personal opinion. I'm afraid I rarely have time for a chat but please feel free to contact me (post@gilmourish.com) and I'd be happy to help with any questions :) - Bjorn]

  37. mohammad says:

    hi Bjorn
    im going to repaint a strat body black like david’s guitar
    what kind of paint and finish do you recommend and how many coats
    tnx

    [I don't have that much experience with refinishing and what works for that. Contact a luthier and have him look at your guitar. - Bjorn]

  38. Gixer Joe says:

    Hi,

    I’ve found its all about finding a guitar that likes you as much as you like it. I still own my first guitar, bought in the early 80s. Its a Columbus Japanese LP copy, well worn when I bought it and like its owner, old and badly maintained. However I’ve never found another with an action quite like it and on its day it sounds wonderful. I also have a real Les Paul bought new as a mid-life crisis present to myself when I turned 40. I must have gone through every guitar in the shop when I was buying but I kept coming back to this one. It just felt “right”. The sales guy in the in the shop also said that of all the stock it was the one he wanted for himself.

    I recently bought a 2nd hand Squier Strat for $80 when I was on a business trip in the US – just for something to do in the hotel room of an evening. It was the cheapest thing in the shop to my amazement it plays beautifully. Its original owner had done some work (Seymour Duncan front pickup) and it sounds great. I nearly left it behind but its bright red and my son insisted I bring it home because he likes anything red.

    Just goes to show, all the money in the world won’t necessarily buy you the guitar that works for you but like a wife, when you find one you get on with, don’t let it go.

    Cheers

    Joe

    [Very good point! Don't let the price tag fool you in thinking that a guitar is measured by the price. - Bjorn]

  39. Jamie-Rhys says:

    Hi Bjorn,
    I am going to get a Fender MIM Standard Strat and Gilmourize it. I was wondering if you could tell me, is the MIM strat any good?

    [Yes, they are. Mexican Fenders has gotten a thorough face-lift during the last decade and the quality is top notch. This goes for both the Standard, Classic and Road Worn. I strongly recommend that you check out the Classic and Road Worn as well, for that vintage feel and contour. You might need to try a couple of guitar until you find the one that sounds the best. To keep the production costs down they aren't always that picky when it comes to selecting the wood used for the body and neck so you could end up with a guitar that sounds flat and lifeless but likewise, a guitar that sounds just as good or even better than a US. - Bjorn]

  40. Keith says:

    Hi Bjorn, I don’t know if it is an issue with the MIM’s, but I would also check the neck scale to make sure it’s not the shorter Gibson scale like my Thinline Tele, as it makes the guitar sound less Fenderish. Just saw Jamie-Rhys post, and thought it might be something to look for. I got a great Alder body, and a near perfect neck, but the necks a little short!
    Peace, KC

    [I've never thought about it but I don't think that's the case with neither MIMs or CIJ. - Bjorn]

  41. Keith says:

    Bjorn, I was just searching the archives, and saw a post I wrote you back in July, where I mentioned Lindy’s p-90′s, and I didn’t see the reply before for whatever reason. In the reply you stated you had tried some of Lindy’s pickups, and weren’t “All that impressed.”. I’m curious what models they were, because I can’t imagine anyone not being impressed with his work. I know it’s a matter of taste, but if you have tried any of his Fender stuff, I don’t see how you couldn’t be impressed. I have personally played almost every model of his pickups, and in the 30+ years I’ve been playing, I have never heard a Strat, or P-90 Gibson pup that captures the sound of their vintage 50′s, and 60′s pickups as well. And frankly, I believe his I’m the only one who winds my pickups, by hand approach to make them sound even better than the originals. I’m curious which of his pickups you’ve tried. I can only think of one series I didn’t find top notch, and that was the pickups he built for PRS, but then I don’t think much of PRS. Just curious, as I didn’t realize until this morning you had played any of his pickups.
    Peace, KC :)

    [OK, perhaps I need to moderate my previous comment. It's not that I wasn't impressed. They sounded great but they didn't blow me away. I tried a friend's Tele some years ago that featured some mid 60s alnico 5 pickups and I also had the Blues Specials in one of my Strats at one point. I've always been searching for different pickups and I replace them whenever I feel like getting something new... It's cheaper than buying a new guitar :) Perhaps I wasn't in the mood for those pickups at the time or perhaps they just didn't suit my setup. I appreciate the work and craftsmanship of Lindy so I'd be very happy to give it another shot. - Bjorn]

  42. Jamie-Rhys says:

    Hi Bjorn,
    I will be getting the Standard MIM Strat and changing the stock pups. Neck:Seymour Duncan SSL-1 Vintage Staggered. Middle: Seymour Duncan APS-1 Alnico II Pro Staggered. Bridge: DG SSL-5. Would you recommend?

    [I haven't tried the APS-1 but this should make a fine setup :) - Bjorn]

  43. Julian says:

    Hello Bjorn,

    i’ve seen one of your youtube soundlicps where you play a Road worn Fendr MIM strat.

    What do you think about those guitars? Compared to the Classic series ? Compared to the Us custom shop reliced models (time machine) or the fender Japan models?

    Best regards

    Julian

    [That guitar is a hybrid with a 60s Road Worn body and a Callaham thin contoured 57 neck. The Road Worns are very good. Great work done for the ageing and looks and the sound is warm and well balanced. I didn't like the necks that much because they has a bit too little finish and dries up easily. That's why I just bought the body. I think they stand up pretty well to the other models you mention so it's more about taste and preference and that size of your pocket book :) - Bjorn]

  44. Martin says:

    Hi Bjorn,

    I agree: when buying a guitar, you have to allow yourself to be surprised. Yesterday I went to the music shop and didn’t want to buy a guitar, but something else. But I always take a look at the Teles, and a Squier Classic Vibe 50s in butterscotch blonde caught my attention. I took it off the wall, played it unplugged and was very impressed by its clarity and rich sustain. I took an American Special Tele and was not that impressed, because it didn’t sound as open as the Squier and had much less sustain. Then I took both guitars to the room with the amps, plugged them into a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe – and again, the Squier was the winner. A very good working tool is never wrong, so I bought it.

    I played it at home half the night and decided not to change the pickups. They actually sounded better to me than the stock pickups of my American Vintage 52 Tele that I replaced with Duncans (STR-1 and STL-1). Of course, I’m not writing about Squier guitars in general, but about this particular one. One of the last things I was going to do was to buy a Squier. But this one surprised me, and I allowed it to do so.

    Cheers
    Martin

    [Thanks for sharing, Martin! It's great when that happens, isn't it? Playability and tone doesn't need to have anything to do with price. Let your hands and ears decide. As I'm sure you are aware, different wood and laquer makes a huge difference and in case of the Squiers, the fact that they have a thinner conoured body and poly coating, makes them sound a bit brighter and perhaps a bit more punchy, which can be perceived as better, compared to the slightly darker alder or ash bodies with nitro laquer used in the US guitars. I'm not saying that's the case here but one should be aware of these differences :) I have the same thing with Epiphone. I've never owned a real Gibson, partly because I can't justify the price, but also because I find it much more fun to be surprised by an excellent budget Epi and, if needed, mod it myself. Cheers! - Bjorn]

Leave a comment

Please note that it might take up to 48 hours for your comment to be approved and replied to.

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>