That perfect tone.... is it an illusion?

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BarnezyBarnezy Frets: 9
You often hear people say that they tried a guitar in a shop and had to buy it because it sounded perfect, and out of the 5 they tried, it was "the one". 

So much can affect tone, that it makes me wonder if this is just an illusion. Production methods now are so consistent, that isn't it fair to say that the age of the strings, the setup and the height of the pups ect, have more to do with it? An example is a guitar I bought. It arrived and sounded very base heavy to me, not the tone I liked. So i changed the strings, did a setup and adjusted the pups until I found the tone I wanted.

I'm surprised by the number of guitarist that can't do basic setups on their guitars, and I'm wondering if it's this lack of knowledge/ability to alter the tone of their guitars, that is creating this belief about perfect guitars. 

If I summarize what I'm trying to get at, it's that there are so many adjustments you can make to a guitar that will alter the tone. Just because a guitar doesn't sound spot on when to pick it off the shelf, doesn't mean it can't sound perfect with some tinkering. 

Am I right, or am I completely missing something?
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  • impmannimpmann Frets: 7017
    Yes, its an illusion.

    Tone chasing is in your head.
    Never Ever Bloody Anything Ever.

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  • sev112sev112 Frets: 351
    It’s all the wood

    or the strings

    or theplektrum/pick

    or the amp

    of the cab

    or the cables

    or the humidity 

    or whether the serial number has been scratched out
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  • RabsRabs Frets: 816
    edited May 16

    No I think you are right..  Good tone can depend on ones mood for instance..  Ive had times when I am playing and dial in a great sound I  am happy with..  A couple of days later I can come back to the same guitar using the same settings and not be so happy with it?

    Its also something that evolves over time.. So what you like now you may not like in a year because you have gotten in to some new music which has changed what you think..

    Theres very little right or wrong about it all..  I say just play and enjoy.

    Like when a lot of players start young and want a distorted sound and in the beginning most of us go as heavy as possible. Its only later down the line you realise that it sounds much better with a more subtle just breaking up type of distortion.

    I still have to believe that a lot of it comes down to technique and practice more than anything. A good player can make any guitar sound good..

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  • prowlaprowla Frets: 861
    I posted a thread a while back about playing a vintage Les Paul in a shop; it certainly had "it" (whatever "it" is!).
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 17426
    edited May 16
    What people are buying is an emotion.
    The problem is it is fleeting.

    The way to deal with it is simply to stop trying to fill a hole in yourself with 'a thing'.
    Throw yourself into your playing and then it doesn't matter about the gear- you can still buy instruments  as you can afford to but it isn't necessary.

    I didn't buy a guitar for about 2 years- I've bought 3 this year- because I had the cash and wanted them, not based on the illusion they would make me a better player.
    I've said (more than once) that if people spent 1/10th the time working on transcription that they spent obsessing over minute differences in tone then they'd be much better musicians.
    I am the juice of four limes.
    Trading Feedback
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  • martmart Frets: 2631
    edited May 16
    octatonic said:
    ... feeling a hole in yourself with 'a thing'.
    ...
    That’s conjuring up a whole bunch of interesting images. Good job you didn’t just write “fill”.
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  • guitars4youguitars4you Frets: 3934
    edited May 17
    I play, sell, set-up and handle 100's of guitars a month - Many of you who have seen my web site and/or showroom know I'm spoilt with having such a fine selection of tasty guitars - Yet regardless of make, model, price, you pick something up and for some reason it means something else - I can often dismiss a guitar I don't like and will never get on with, in 10 seconds of playing it - However, to find out if it will  be the be all and end all, then that can take longer - days, weeks months - I've  played some more affordable budget guitars that have something I like - An old Squier H2 Bullet and a current Supro Westbury both have some character that I like - maybe in a limited way, but nevertheless I like them - Yet equally a nice prestigious guitar grabs me in a way that I want to play it all the time

    If 10 players played 10 nice Strats, LP's or 335's I guarantee there will not be one clear winner - Each can be similar but the finer nuances are different and as such we all gravitate towards something that possesses something we like - call it mojo or whatever you want to - I'm not sure a perfect guitar exists - The best guitar certainly doesn't as  a Tele, a 335 or a LP have their own character and no one guitar does it all

    However, in a store, or indeed any guitar that is offered for sale, I do believe that it should be set-up to try and entice you into buying it - as such a good set-up, in tune and clean strings should be on all guitars, allowing you to evaluate it/them - Fully appreciate the fine tuning of the set-up is a matter of taste, but the principle presentation should be good - So yes a good set-up is paramount - But equally it is good if you can fine tune the basic set-up to suit your own taste, as required as only you know what suits you and your technique

    I recall years ago when I worked for a larger company, staff would say they can't sell such n such a guitar - So I look at it, find it covered in finger marks, dirty strings badly set-up etc etc and sitting in the part of the showroom I call the sad corner - I suggest they clean it up, set it up re-string it, re-display it and even re-price it - Low and behold a few days later it is sold - So yes presentation is key
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  • normula1normula1 Frets: 242
    On several occasions I've played multiple guitars of a particular style and one has stood way over the others. An it's not neccessarily the most expensive one that wins out. I once went in to buy a honeyburst Les Paul I'd been drooling over and just for balance picked up the goldtop next to it. The goldtop was by far the better guitar and thats what came home.
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  • p90foolp90fool Frets: 7734
    I obsess over getting a smooth, non-grainy transition from clean to mid-gain on the volume pot, a balance between the two pickups at all gain levels and at the same amp setting, and a balanced output between the strings when the volume is rolled back. 

    I need perfect string separation in chords to allow me to play any combination I like without mushing out, and I need the low strings to be clearly defined with a bit of a twang, even with everything flat out. 

    That all has to happen at one amp setting and be totally controllable from the guitar, so yes, it takes an immense amount of fine tuning which can become an obsession. 

    One thing my obsession does though, is to remove the magic, mythical element a lot of people are chasing. I'm too bogged down in cap values, pot tapers and magnet swapping to be interested in any of that cosmic muso stuff. 

    That anyone believes that on a given day 35 semi skilled workers on a factory line in Korea breathed a bit of special magic into guitar number 384 that morning always makes me smile. 
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 17426
    mart said:
    octatonic said:
    ... feeling a hole in yourself with 'a thing'.
    ...
    That’s conjuring up a whole bunch of interesting images. Good job you didn’t just write “fill”.
    Predictive testicle strikes Agincourt!
    I am the juice of four limes.
    Trading Feedback
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  • dindudedindude Frets: 5195

    I like a bit of tone chasing but I've never understood the "that guitar was the one" thing - especially trying out in a guitar shop which I think is a terrible place to try out a guitar, you're not trying it with your amp/pedals in a comfortable environment. I'd much prefer to take a risk on-line and then return if I don't like. I always think those who try a guitar for 5 minutes and think it's "the one" are the same that probably fall in love after a first date.

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  • flying_pieflying_pie Frets: 372
    This is it summed up perfectly in less than 3 minutes 


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  • lonestarlonestar Frets: 1720
    Barnezy said:
    . So i changed the strings, did a setup and adjusted the pups until I found the tone I wanted.

    ..... there are so many adjustments you can make to a guitar that will alter the tone.

    Am I right, or am I completely missing something?
    Most of what you’re talking about is relating to the feel, not the tone as such. You can change the strings, sure. We all put our favourite brand and gauge on when we buy a new toy. And the pickups will affect the output and volume but a basic setup won’t necessarily alter the tone. To me the setup is more about the feel and tuning stability. Your choice of amp, pickups, pedals and the overall weight of your guitar will affect the tone more than a setup imo.
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  • BridgehouseBridgehouse Frets: 13154
    OP - U R Polite Emp_Fab and ICM free laminate flooring sample
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  • FunkfingersFunkfingers Frets: 2801
    OP - U R Polite Emp_Fab and ICM free laminate flooring sample
    WTF does this codswallop mean?
    I fear the Geeks, even when they bear GIFs.
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  • JerkMoansJerkMoans Frets: 1299
    OP - U R Polite Emp_Fab and ICM free laminate flooring sample
    Uh-oh.  He's been at the Nitrous Oxide, again.

    Self-confessed Blues Lawyer
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  • martmart Frets: 2631
    edited May 16
    JerkMoans said:
    OP - U R Polite Emp_Fab and ICM free laminate flooring sample
    Uh-oh.  He's been at the Nitrous Oxide, again.

    Oh dear. That’s N(2)o laughing matter,
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  • TheMarlinTheMarlin Frets: 1263
    I’m happy with my tone!

    I chased, caught, released, chased, caught, released (continuously for 20 years), finally happy...won’t change!

    though...my friends amp sounds incredible.....hmmm....
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  • FunkfingersFunkfingers Frets: 2801
    Perfect is conceptual and subjective.

    So is "well, it seemed like a good idea at the time."

    Most of the time, the band member fussing over achieving some hypothetically "perfect" tone is the guitarist. Bassists tend to already understand about fitting in with the overall sound of a composition. (Perhaps, this is what @Bridgehouse was attempting to post earlier?)


    I fear the Geeks, even when they bear GIFs.
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  • mr-macmr-mac Frets: 151
    edited May 17
    I'd say no.  It's when a players hands, pick, touch, setup etc... Guitar, any efx and the amplifier all come together to form something special.  

    tbh your more likely to get it by practising and when ready to choose equipment going out and playing and auditioning a pile of kit then you ever would be buying something that sounded good with xyz artist or in a demo video.


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  • robgilmorobgilmo Frets: 977
    edited May 17
    Its the knob that isnt the volume knob, if your guitar doesnt have one , then you need to sell it and buy one that does.
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  • RabsRabs Frets: 816

    Actually ive been keeping this quite..

    This is the REAL secret behind more tone  :p

    https://i.imgur.com/ENxuxAC.jpg

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  • BucketBucket Frets: 7598
    Sometimes I can play and it's almost a transcendental experience, then come back to the exact same sound with the same guitar a day or two later and not be feeling it at all. State of mind definitely comes into it.
    - "I'm going to write a very stiff letter. A VERY stiff letter. On cardboard."
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  • ATB_GuitarsATB_Guitars Frets: 111
    mr-mac said:
    I'd say no.  It's when a players hands, pick, touch, setup etc... Guitar, any efx and the amplifier all come together to form something special.  

    tbh your more likely to get it by practising and when ready to choose equipment going out and playing and auditioning a pile of kit then you ever would be buying something that sounded good with xyz artist or in a demo video.


    I agree. I get a fair few extremely good players in my store trying out the vintage stock and it is interesting to note they will often migrate to their own characteristic 'home' tone whatever guitar they pick up, In so much as players used to Teles who try a 335 or similar, will often use more of their nail when picking to try to emulate the Tele bite they are used to.

    That being said, it is often surprising how particular these guys can be when it comes to the tiniest perceived differences in tone to their own ear... I cannot hear that much difference when I am listening, which I guess does indicate this tone is largely in the ear of the beholder.

    I think there is a lot more variance in the tone of vintage instruments compared to todays CNC machined, modern guitars. I also think Fenders have more diversity of 'tone' than Gibsons do. Maybe it is the combination of body mass and/or the way the ash or alder ages compared to Gibson's mahogany but I guarantee you two 60's Teles or Strats with identical set ups, strings amps etc will sound subtly, but noticeably different in tone. But hey, this is all part of the fun of vintage which for many is a big part of the appeal...
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  • kswilson89kswilson89 Frets: 49
    octatonic said:
    What people are buying is an emotion.
    The problem is it is fleeting.

    The way to deal with it is simply to stop trying to fill a hole in yourself with 'a thing'.
    Throw yourself into your playing and then it doesn't matter about the gear- you can still buy instruments  as you can afford to but it isn't necessary.

    I didn't buy a guitar for about 2 years- I've bought 3 this year- because I had the cash and wanted them, not based on the illusion they would make me a better player.
    I've said (more than once) that if people spent 1/10th the time working on transcription that they spent obsessing over minute differences in tone then they'd be much better musicians.
    This 100%
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  • DrJazzTapDrJazzTap Frets: 810
    edited May 19
    I think a lot of it is subjective. If you're the guitarist you can hear the nuances more than anybody else. That might be a psychosomatic thing. 
    For instance if I play a large open G chord on my SG with a crunch sound and then the same on my DGT. I'll hear more top and bottom on the DGT and a more pronounced mid range honk on the SG. If I played that to a non guitarist they might say one is brighter etc but they won't agree that the price difference between the two guitars is justified. 
    I believe a more expensive amp and guitar will generally sound better. But the price difference is something guitarists justify to themselves (I'm as guilty as anyone else)
    I agree 110% with bucket about it being a mental state of mind thing. If I don't play for a few weeks, I'm far more at ease when I pick a guitar up. And sometimes you just have off days. 
    I would love to change my username, but I fully understand the T&C's (it was an old band nickname). So please feel free to call me Dave.
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  • GrunfeldGrunfeld Frets: 2567
    This is it summed up perfectly in less than 3 minutes 

    Totally.
    It clicked for me years ago when I was doing recording and this was doing the rounds at the time:
    A and B are the same shade but they look so different because of the surrounding contexts.
    Easy leap of imagination to realise that's exactly what happens to tone.


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  • amarok1971amarok1971 Frets: 276
    they look the same to me?

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  • GrunfeldGrunfeld Frets: 2567
    edited May 18
    they look the same to me?

    They don't to most people.  Most people see A and B on backgrounds of two distinctly different shades.
    It's basically a fairly well-known example of Adelson's illusion -- quite detailed explanation here
    You could be an exception.  And there's a phenomenon of participation in psychology experiments, also fairly well-known to researchers, where this is known to happen and affect scoring.
    But for most people the picture is a visual illustration of what happens to your guitar tone depending on what's playing around you (or what isn't!). 

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  • mr-macmr-mac Frets: 151
    @ATB_Guitars ; wonder if the neck wood has more varience or maybe scratchplate material due to size of plate and mounting of pickups it probs can effect things more than a humbucker ring or pickup mounted direct to body.
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