A Killer Guitar Sound

Doug Marks

A Killer Guitar Sound
A question from our forum:
“I am on Stage Two and want to find out if I can get the type of sound effects you use and their settings. I want to match your sound. Is it possible to get a listing of the ‘recipe’ for your settings? Thanks for the info.”

My response
“This is one of the most common questions that I’m asked and one of the most frustrating to answer.

To sound like me it’s necessary to duplicate my technique. Another unique aspect of guitar tone is created by the physical characteristics of the guitar pick, unamplified guitar, and guitar electronics.”

POD xt Live
First, I’ll explain about the amp and effects. I use a POD xt Live which plugs directly into a mixing console. If you’re using a POD, you can install the exact patch that I created for The Complete Basic Course. The patch includes the amp, cabinet, effects, and all of the settings.

Pod XT Live

To duplicate my setup in your POD, download the patch here: Patch 1

Forum member Tim Ray adapted this same patch for the Pocket Pod: Patch 2

The POD xt Live emulates various amplifiers, cabinets, and effects. When the patch is installed in a POD xt Live you can open the Live Editor program on your computer and see all of my tone settings.

I’m using a Sure SM57 mic close to the speaker. The overdrive/distortion box is an Ibanez Tube Screamer emulation. You’ll notice a noise gate, digital delay line, and reverb. The amplifier (Line 6 Treadplate) and speaker cabinet are modeled after a Mesa Boogie amp. Here’s the description from the manual: “…modeled after a 1994 Mesa Boogie® Dual Rectifier Tremoverb®. You can use this Amp Model to get that tight, high gain sound used by bands like Dream Theater or Metallica.”

As I mentioned, much of my sound is created from my playing technique. Part of that technique is the method I use to mute strings. This is explained in Stage Four of The Complete Basic Course.

As a side note here, there was a discussion on the forum about why I waited until Stage Four to discuss string muting. I chose to include it as an intermediate technique but it is something that beginners can begin studying. For this reason, I recommend that you quickly view every DVD before seriously studying the course. This will help you to understand the complete layout of the program. You’ll gain insight into playing techniques even before you have the ability to perform these techniques. If you’re working on Stage Two, for example, and having a problem with unwanted strings sounding, you may choose to learn the string muting technique at that point in the course.

Other aspects of playing technique that affect sound are picking style and finger pressure. My finger pressure is very light. Relaxed hands affect tone and speed.

Other Things That Affect Tone

  • String gauge (I use light strings)
  • Pick gauge (I use heavy)
  • Weight of the instrument (My guitars are heavy)
  • Type of bridge
  • Fret size (I use large frets)
  • Pickup (Distortion model Razor is on the Carvin)
  • Tone and volume controls

Speaker Cabinets
When I play live I prefer a closed back speaker cabinet (infinite baffle) as opposed to an open back, combo type of amp (finite baffle). If you’re using a combo amp you can drastically affect your sound by plugging into a closed back 4 X 12 cabinet and disconnecting the open back speaker.

The last thing that separates my sound from your ears occurs in the audio editing process. The final thing that I do when editing the DVDs is to make adjustments to the audio tracks. Normally, I don’t do much to the guitar track but if it doesn’t sound right I’ll adjust the frequency settings (EQ) and possibly compress the track. It’s also possible to add effects during the mix.

Hopefully, you now understand how frustrating it is when people ask for my amplifier tone settings. These settings are meaningless without taking into account all of these other factors.

Copying Your Favorite Guitar Sound
So how can you adjust your sound to be similar to that of your favorite guitarist? The first step is to duplicate their equipment as closely as possible. For example, there’s a big difference between the sound of a Strat and a Les Paul. Humbucking pickups sound considerably different from single coil pickups. There’s a huge difference between a Fender amplifier and a Marshall amplifier. So, you do need to get the equipment right.

After that, record the sound that you want to emulate then record your sound. Make notes about the exact settings that you used to attain that sound. Experiment. Try different settings and effects. Always record the original sound you’re copying then your sound. Keep track of all changes and review the recordings. You’ll hear when you’re getting close and when you’re moving away from the tone.

Review all of the recordings, choose the best sound, dial that sound back in by reviewing your notes, and continue to experiment. You must record the settings even though it’s a hassle or you’ll never be able to “dial up” that sound again.

All of this experimentation assumes that your playing technique is similar to the guitarist that you’re trying to emulate. You’ll never sound like Eddie unless you have mastered his playing technique.

A Question from the Forum
Tim Ray asked this question pertaining to sound:
“I’ve heard multiple explanations for common terms such as bottom end, fat sound, high end, mids, and dB. Effect terms include descriptions like time, speed, depth, and presence. Could you explain some of this terminology?”

Here’s a chart of the audio frequency spectrum
Frequency Chart

Audio Terminology
Bottom end – lower third of the audio spectrum (see chart). Think bass.

Mid or mid range – the middle third of the audio spectrum. Think human voice. It’s also the nasal part of the guitar’s frequency range. Some guitarists like a little boost here. I prefer to cut the mid range.

High end – the top third part of the frequency spectrum. Think treble, cymbals, and flute.

Fatten a sound – to make a sound full or thick. Chorus, reverb, and digital delay all contribute to a full, thick, fat sound. A Telecaster through a clean amplifier is a “thin” sound. A distorted Les Paul through a Marshall stack is a “thick” or fat sound.

Reverb, digital delay, and chorus add thickness by repeating the sound. A snare drum with reverb sounds fat; without reverb it sounds thin.

Dry signal – the sound with no effects

dB – is an abrevation for decibel which is a volume level measurment. A more accurate but complex definition is “the primary unit of sound measurement; used to quantify both sound pressure level and sound power level. In acoustics, it’s equal to ten times the logarithm of the ratio of one sound and a lower-intensity reference sound.” You got that?

Effect Settings
Time – delays the sound of the dry signal. Usually measured in milliseconds. A millisecond is 1,000th of a second.

Speed – often used to duplicate the sound of a rotating speaker. The speed controls the tempo of the rotating sound.

Depth – amount of the effect added to the dry signal

Presence -controls the brightness (certain high end frequencies) of an amp. A Les Paul might need the presence increased for sound clarity. A Telecaster, which has a very bright sound would need the presence reduced

How to Adjust EQ in a Recording Situation
A graphic or parametric equalizer is a sophisticated tone control that allows you to zero in on very specific frequency ranges.

First, I set the device to flat which means none of the frequencies are cut or boosted. Then I boost each individual frequency band to hear what is affected. After I listen to each band I move it back to flat before moving on to the next band of frequencies.

I primarily listen for nasal, unpleasant midrange sounds. Once the sound is identified I cut that particular band and boost the overal volume to compensate for the change in volume level. Notice when you cut the mids and increase the overall volume level it actually boosts the high and low end tones.

Most people tend to boost frequencies instead of cutting them. The problem is, if everything is boosted that’s no different than simply turning up the volume knob. This may sound a little complex but bear with me here. If you cut 900 Hz by 10 dB, then boost the master volume by 10 dB that actually brings 900 Hz back up to flat and all other frequencies are now boosted by 10 db.

Diagram A – 900 Hz is cut by 10 dB
Graphic EQ

Diagram B – When the master volume is raised 10 dB it will sound like this
Graphic EQ

Diagram C – But since you’re adjusting the master volume (far right) the settings will continue to look like diagram A but sound like diagram B
Graphic EQ

You should be able to see that a combination of cutting and boosting frequencies gives you more flexability. If I only boosted frequencies, like diagram B, I would run out of room for the faders to add additional boost if necessary.

Diagram D – It could get ugly
Graphic EQ

In Closing
Good luck with your search for the perfect guitar sound. Hopefully, the tips that I’ve just listed will bring you closer to that killer tone that you’re seeking.