Every guitar player yearns to have his own distinct sound. Musicians practice day and night to be good at their craft. They want to capture that elusive goal but few reach a high level of satisfaction with what they can do. If you are in a rut, then perhaps you just need to try different approaches to get to your target. Maybe you have the skills but you simply haven’t found the right tone. Don’t let countless hours of practice go to waste by quitting now. In this article, we discuss some ideas on getting a metal guitar tone that matches your style:
Listen: Who Do You Want to Sound Like?
Before you can achieve a goal, you must first know what it is that you are aiming for. Make it as concrete and specific as possible. You need to toss out what you don’t need and leave only the essentials. One of the best ways to do this is to listen to as many metal bands as you can and figure out what you like about their music. List your favorite groups and note their strengths. Describe their tones in your own words. Your personal preferences can change over time so you might have to revise this list periodically.
You will need to listen very closely in a quiet room with the best headphones that you have. If you are listening to digital versions, then get ones in lossless file formats. If you are listening to streams, then use the highest electric guitar amp settings. Dissect the tone qualities and take note of the subtleties. How are their highs, lows, and mids? You need to train yourself to distinguish them from each other. Take a break when you are feeling fatigued so that you can return refreshed with a better focus. You might be surprised as even albums you’ve heard numerous times still hold surprises when you try to listen closely.
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Investigate: What Gear Did Others Use?
Now that you have your reference points, you can start to investigate how they were able to achieve their distinct tones. Look into their gear and compare them with your own. What did they use at their gigs? Were they taking special guitars, pedals, or amps (check out these best metal amp recommendations)? Explore music boards as these should be a goldmine for information about every known band on the planet. Even obscure ones have their dedicated fans who are aware of what they brought to the stage. Some might even be familiar with how each of these were configured.
Study: Each Style Has Its Own Settings
Heavy metal is actually a broad genre that encompasses plenty of different styles. There’s Classic Metal that was popularized in the 1970s. This doesn’t have as much distortion as other metal styles because the focus was on increasing the impact of each note through their guitar rig. The high gain distortion pedal is usually kept at moderate levels rather than going on overdrive. The guitar strings are also jack up by a few millimeters to add a bottom end to the guitar metal tone – and don’t forget string choice like these best guitar strings for metal. Chorus is a good effect for metal. The sound is allowed to breathe with preamps and pedals staying subtle. This should be a pleasing sound for those who are aiming for a crushing yet natural metal tone.
Thrash, on the other hand, came into prominence in the late 80s. It is famous for a scooped mid and highly compressed tone. The best example would be the Master of Puppets album by Metallica. A lot of people want to achieve the same sound but it is not always easy. It requires a specific configuration that involves an active pickup (check out these awesome guitar pickups for metal) that runs into a guitar amplifier with reduced mids. The sound should come out of excellent speakers with high wattage to reduce the risk of distortion. In this case, the distortion should come from the pedals (like these good distortion pedal options) or amps to keep the bass and treble intact.
Hair metal, also sometimes called glam metal also came around in the 80’s which featured bands like Poison, Warrant, etc.
Dimebag Darell, Pantera’s guitarist, developed a unique tone that many try to copy today. He combined several elements thanks to his expertise which may seem complex. However, the basics of his style can be approached with the right gear and a good amount of persistence. He liked Seymour Duncan and Bill Lawrence pickups so try to get your hands on these. The specially-designed Dimebucker pickup from SD would be the best option. Another alternative is to find a high output pickup of any brand. Just like in Thrash, you need to scoop the midrange through a graphic equalizer in the FX loop. Go for a V-setting. Run this EQ or equalizer to a noise gate and use efficient speakers.
Lastly, Hardcore Metal is also similar to Thrash as both styles utilize ultra output pickups, crazy amp distortion, and excellent speakers. This calls for an aggressive tone with a surplus of upper midrange helped along by an overdrive pedal or something like it. Getting this right is tricky since you have to make sure that the notes maintain their impact while pushing full bass. You will need to be a skilled guitar player and a master of your gear in order to pull it off.
Experiment: It’s All About Trial and Error
Now that you have a good idea of what it takes to get various tones, the next step is to put theory into practice. Do not be afraid to experiment on gear and approach. This is more of an art than a science so there is no need to be bogged down by extreme precision. However, it would help if you took notes along the way so that you can remember what worked and what didn’t. This should make it easier to go back to a particular setting in the future. After all, it’s hard to trust our faulty memories.
Don’t get frustrated if you don’t quite get the tone you want to achieve right away. A lot of musicians take years to perfect copying the tones of legendary guitarists, and an even longer time to develop their own distinct sound. You would be lucky to join their ranks eventually. That would be an amazing achievement, indeed. In the meantime, do not be afraid to make mistakes. Just collect the equipment that you need based on your studies and get familiar with how they behave in different situations. In time, it will all come together. Getting a metal guitar tone will feel easy and natural.