The quest for the ultimate tone is a constant struggle for guitarists. I've yet to meet a guitarist who is solely satisfied with every aspect of their sound.
Coaxing a great tone out of your guitar and amplifier is certainly a frustrating experience for most of us, even with great equipment. That perfect sound always seems to be just out of our grasp. We'll examine several ways of changing your guitar sound without shelling out loads of cash for a new guitar or amp.
One of the cheapest and easiest ways to tinker with your guitar sound is to experiment with different sizes and gauges of picks. Using a very thin pick produces a sound drastically different than using a heavy one. Many jazz guitarists tend to favor using heavy picks (1.5 or 2 millimeters) because it tends to thicken and darken up their sound somewhat.
Thinner gauged picks tend to give guitarist's a brighter sound, although it tends to produce tone with a shade less depth (I personally can't stand really thin picks, but some people swear by them, as they feel it gives them much more speed). When choosing picks, be sure they are well-made, and the edges of the pick aren't unintentionally rough, as this can interfere with your ability to play notes cleanly. I have found Jim Dunlop picks to be of excellent quality, but there are many excellent brands of guitar picks available.
Another easy way to alter your sound is via experimenting with different string gauges. A guitar strung with extra light gauge strings will sound completely different than the same guitar strung with medium or heavy gauge strings. For links to various string manufacturer's websites, as well as online guitar string retailers, visit our String Files or Audio Manufacturers link under More Resources . (It should be noted that changing string gauges on a guitar generally necessitates an intonation adjustment.
Making little adjustments to your guitar's setup, such as clamping down floating bridges, or adjusting pickup height, can also make a world of difference in the sound your guitar produces. If none of the above procedures offer a tonal solution drastic enough for you, you can always consider replacing a pickup or two. The problem is, there are hundreds of electric guitar pickups on the market, and it's hard to guess what a pickup will sound like in your guitar until you've already bought it and put it in.
Sometimes, the best way to go about finding a sound that is right for you is to emulate someone else's guitar sound, and then, over time, make adjustments to it. This should get you off to a great start in re-examining the sound you're getting out of your guitar. Remember, much of your guitar tone comes not from the guitar itself, but from the fingers in your fretting hand, and in the way you strike the strings with your pick.
Adjusting the amount of pressure you're exerting, the type of vibrato you're using, the part of your finger that comes into contact with the string, etc., can affect your guitar tone almost as much, if not more, than any of the above suggestions.
Good luck, and happy picking!