How Does a Guitar Tone Knob Work? A Beginner Guide

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Written By Tanya

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Nothing is more exciting than diving headfirst into a new instrument. Although we are all familiar with every instrument, once we start to study one, it becomes obvious how little we take for granted. It’s not always easy to see what seems obvious. The author of today’s question is here: What does the tone knob do?

These questions are great because they show us the gaps in our content that go beyond the ones we have yet to cover. This question is not an exception. Often, reader questions lead to more extensive investigations. If you don’t feel satisfied by this quick answer, you can continue reading our article titled’What Is Guitar Tone?.

What is the Work of a Guitar Tone Knob?

QUESTION:

After years of tinkering and interest in every other’s instruments, I finally bought my first guitar. Everybody, including me, has always discussed which famous guitarist had the best tone.

I now have an electric guitar in my hand and I am left wondering what the tone knob does. Although I can clearly hear the difference, I don’t know how to explain it. This magic is possible only if you can explain it.

Thanks for your time,
Nate

ANSWER:

Hi, Nate. It’s a great question. Let’s first take a look at the context before we get back to it. There are many switches and knobs to your electric guitarist. All of these are related to your overall gain and the pickups. Gain refers to the ratio between the input and output voltages. This is another way of saying “volume”.

BLADE SWITCHES

Blade switches come in a variety of configurations, from 3-way to 5-way. This means that they can be set up with 3 or 5 settings. You don’t need one of these switches if you only have one pickup guitar.

You can choose to use one or both of your pickups together with a 3-way switch. You can mix and match three pickups with a 5-way blade switch. A Fender Stratocaster with a Neck, Middle, and Bridge Pickup

All of this was done to show that the characteristics of the pickups’ output are affected by your tone knob or tone buttons. A single pickup guitar will have one tone knob, but depending on how many pickups you have, you may have several. Each can be controlled separately.

WHAT IS A TONE KNOB? A TONE KNOB IS AN EQUALIZER…

We are now back at the original question. It can be paraphrased to read “What sound characteristics does the tone knob affect?” Tone knobs control a potentiometer, also known casually as a “pot”, which acts as a low-pass filter for your pickup’s output.

Low pass filters are types of equalizer which are very simple to use and comprehend. When you turn the knob, you are moving a threshold value in the frequency range. Let’s assume that this threshold is at the 6 kHz frequency. A low pass filter allows frequencies below the threshold to pass through. This means that it cuts out higher frequencies.

This is the main message: You’re not adding warmth. Higher frequencies are what you need to remove in order to achieve warmth. Warmth is referred to as the higher-lows or lower-mids of the frequency spectrum.

You can leave the tone knob at 10 and it will go into bypass mode, allowing all frequencies to pass unabated. As you turn it down, you gradually slide that threshold towards the bottom of the frequency spectrum. Higher frequencies will quickly “roll-off” in volume, making them far less visible.

A jazz band may produce a crisp tone, even though they might have the tone knob set at 8-10. To get a more mellow tone, a metal player might dial it down to a 7 or 9. A southern rock player might go down to a 5, while a metal player may dial it down to a 9 to 9.

GOOD TONE CHANGES CONTEXT

This question is usually followed by the need to find the right tone. While you will develop your preferences over time there is no perfect tone.

It can vary from song to song. Some players set their volume accurately with a tone knob that is aimed at a 7. They can adjust their tone easily without having to change their volume.

This technique reveals the fact that you can also reduce frequencies by lowering the volume. Some players spend hours trying to find the tone they used last time they played. It can be difficult until you quit trying to find it and finally master all the tones.

Before you hit your pedals or amp effects, you should turn the tone knob to a 10, and adjust your volume. Start by setting the saturation and distortion to your liking, and then turn the tone down until it sounds warmer.

You may notice that your playing has lost some articulation due to the reduction of high frequencies. To compensate, you can add a little tonal back to your playing and increase the volume. You can then repeat the process in smaller steps until you get the sound you want.

These knob values can be written down and given a name so you can easily refer to them. This should help you to understand the concept of tone and how to use it on your guitar.

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