Jazz is a fairly experimental music genre. It has an array of sounds linked with it, which makes it difficult to identify it with a particular sound. And with the constantly changing, evolving technology and the subsequent production of fresh guitar tones, the term ‘jazz guitar tone’ has become quite ambiguous. If you have recently purchased a jazz guitar and would like to know how to get a jazz guitar tone right, keep reading.
To achieve a solid jazz guitar sound, you need not buy expensive equipment. The solution could lie in something as simple as changing the pick or adjusting certain guitar settings. The following tricks may not necessarily help gypsy jazz players but would certainly come to the rescue of players who use the Tele’s, Les Pauls, Strat’s, and 335’s of the guitar world.
The focus of this article is to help you achieve a solid jazz guitar tone on pretty much any electric guitar.
Using the Volume Controls and Tone
Guitarists who are quite familiar with various styles would invariably play with a full tone and volume. Adjusting the two can significantly assist with increased tonal variety. Many guitarists do not fancy rolling back the volume knob very far as that leads to a loss of tone. However, rolling things back into the 7 and 9 range can take off a bit of the guitar’s top end.
A bit more volume at your disposal can also come in handy when you need to increase the volume of your guitar without touching the amp. Decreasing the tone control helps cut some highs and leads to gains in a warmer sound.
Meticulously listen to the tone to ascertain how much of it you must take off since it would most likely vary with different amps, guitars, and when playing in different settings and venues.
Amps are Unique
Amps come in different types, ranging from compact and portable dedicated amps for a jazz guitar to heavy-tube, hand-wired amps. Not to mention, each amp works in its unique way. There isn’t any “perfect EQ”. However, a common mistake many amateur jazz guitarists make is they turn the treble down and crank up the bass, causing a discernible loss in clarity.
This approach may work for some beginners. But if you were to ask seasoned jazz guitarists, they would confidently state that a solid jazz guitar sound typically means an increased mid-range and less bass. Therefore, instead of upping the bass, try to boost the mid-tones first. Use your ears and judgment to ascertain the level of mid you would need.
Take Your Pick
A thick pick provides a fatter sound compared to a thinner one. It’s recommended you use a pick that’s at least one millimeter thick. If you could use a thicker pick, the better. A two-millimeter thick pick is fairly standard.
Of course, you can ditch the pick entirely and give other right-hand jazz guitar techniques a try – for instance, using your thumb or fingers to produce the ultimate jazz tone. In addition to using the correct pick, it’s equally important to consider the picking location, as that also modifies your sound.
If you play using your right hand over the neck pickup, you will get a fairly mellow sound. Picking close to the bridge churns out a more woody, brighter sound that is usually identified with players such as John Scofield and Mike Stern.
Picking close to the bridge cuts a live mix pretty well and functions decently with effects. However, you tend to lose some amount of thickness that you get upon picking close to the neck. Therefore, most guitarists modify pick locations based on the sounds they want.
Touch and Dynamics
Working on the guitar’s touch and dynamics plays a critical role in ascertaining the guitar’s jazz sound signature. A heavy attack, for instance, is good for blues but it may not work out for jazz too well. For warmer sounds, jazz guitarists usually touch their instrument with softer fingers and then let the amp do the remainder of the work.
To get the softer touch right, continually pluck a note. And every time you do so, do it softer than before until you hear the sound of your liking.
A Few Other Points
The aforementioned tips and tricks are some quick and easy fixes to get the jazz guitar tone right. However, there are some other factors that many jazz guitarists typically identify with a good tone, such as string gauge.
If you think larger strings translate to a bigger tone, you cannot be more wrong. Generally, there is not much of a difference in tone with the change in the size of the strings. Strings usually lend more to the feel of the guitar than its sound. Therefore, it’s recommended you use relatively heavier strings on your acoustic guitars and archtops. Your solid guitar bodies should be using light strings.
Also, some guitarists fancy using flat-wound strings in place of round-wound strings, which are not necessarily needed for getting the desired sound. However, they are certainly worth giving a shot once at least. With flats, you would be able to get rid of pretty much any fretboard squeak.
Most jazz guitar players also tend to strum archtop guitars. These guitars sound pretty great, but they aren’t as practical compared to the solid bodies when it comes to playing them in different scenarios. Within small quiet combos, playing archtops can be fun. But, as soon as you crank them up, they tend to lose a significant amount of tone. At times, they could even sound muddy.
As aforementioned, you need not spend big money on expensive equipment to get the tone of your jazz guitar right. However, that doesn’t mean you should completely forbid every piece of equipment that may complement your guitar. There are some guitars and amps that sound good only to a certain extent.
If you are considering upgrading equipment, make sure it’s your amp. At least, begin with an amp because the majority of the guitar sound is courtesy the amp. If the sound situation doesn’t get better still, you may contemplate other equipment upgrades.