For this article a short brief on how to improve the sound of your guitar and amp.
Stringgauge: Let us say you have been playing for a while and have not changed the gauge of the strings you use. In this case it may be an idea to go up a gauge, or even a few gauges in case you are using an 0.8 set.
When you change gauge of strings you will notice the difference in feel and tone: Thin strings will give you more twang on your chords whereas thicker strings will give more body to your chords, single strings and bends. Whatever you do, you will loose something, so if you like to have it all why not set up your guitars differenty: have one where you use a thicker gauge, while you keep another one for thinner strings.
Height of Pick-Ups: Pick ups can be adjusted in height, you can set them further away- or just closer to your strings. The height can be adjusted with the screws, which are on each side of your pick-up. Closer to the string will give you more output, whereas further away will diminish the output. Overal the pick-ups should be balanced: Not too loud and not too quiet. You can test this by playing a chord and while this chord rings switch to a different pick-up setting. Try all the settings, when the pick-ups are balanced the bridge pick-up should be a tad louder than any of the other combinations. Very useful for when you want to play solo’s on the fly while you break out of your chords.
When should you modify your pick-up and upgrade to a different set? This is a personal matter. If you have a quality guitar I would keep the stock pick-up in the guitar, unless you a very unhappy with how they perform. On a cheaper guitar it may be a good alternative to upgrade the pick-ups, as this will improve the overal sound. Talk to various people in the know and see how they feel about the matter before you decide you need to change your pick-ups.
Tremolo-Units: Or Whammy bars as some of us would like to call them! What about them? They should be able to move up or down, regardless of what kind of system you use, either vintage trems or any of the Floyd Rose types. If they can only move downwards (which is often the case with the vintage trem systems) try loosening the two screws where the springs of the tremolounit are attached to the body. This should do the trick, if you are not sure consult any of your local guitartechs.
Fretboard and Strings: Keep your strings clean by wiping them down from time to time with a plain cloth as this will prolong them. Keep the fretboard clean, you can also wipe it down with a cloth, maybe at the same time as when you change your strings. Make sure there is no finger grease left on the fretboard, all should be smooth and clean for an enjoyable playing experience.
Get your guitar set-up by a guitar tech!!: If you have had your guitar for a while and it never has had a set-up get it done by a professional guitar technician. If you live in the Leeds area you could use:
I have know Alex for a long time and he is very knowledgable about guitars and overal is a great guy, I would highly recommand him.
This so far for guitars, now let us have a look what can be done for your amp:
Valves: If you have a valve amp, and have had it for a while, and the amp has never seen any new valves, get them replaced. The difference in sound will be like changing a set of strings for your guitar.
Get your amp set-up: Similar as with your guitar, a valve amp needs service from time to time, even if you do not gig that often. The values of the components do change over time and this will have an effect on the sound of the amp, it can even make amps go faulty, and then you may be in for an expansive job! To avoid high costs, you could get your amp serviced from time to time. How often? Depends, if you are gigging, maybe once a year, under other conditions maybe once every four-to five years, all depending on how you use the amp.
If you live in the Leeds area here is a great place to get your amp serviced: www.astralsonictech.co.uk
I can highy recommand Jas. He is very good at his job and is always willing to explain what is wrong with your amp and how it can be fixed in the best, possible way.
Speakers: In case you are using a amphead and a separate speakercabinet, you could look into changing the speakers. Speakers play a huge part in your sound, it is not only the amp, pick-ups and woods of the guitar, the speaker plays an important part as well. To test this for yourself: Some of your may have various small amps around. Just plug into them by playing the same idea on your guitar and see how your guitar responds to these amps. Changes are the sound will be very different, and this is partly because each of your combo amp uses a different kind of speaker.
Is it all about upgrading and changing parts of your equipment? No, pedals can make a huge difference in your sound as well, and in this case it is only a matter of connecting your guitar to a few boxes before the cable hits the amp.
In future articles I will look into how Grapic-and Parametric EQ’s can sweeten the sound your amp.
Keep on playing and hope to see very soon!