I think that "tone" comes from the picking hand

I was thinking about how people say “tone comes from the hands,” but I was wondering, can one be more specific? I think that tone doesn’t come from the left hand, because once the string is pressed against a fret, the finger pressing it down doesn’t matter. Now, there might be a little bit of left-hand influence with “legato” playing (perhaps based on the finger speed) involving HO/PO. I don’t think that it’s an issue at all for bending given the string/fret contact.

I think that the right hand is the source of “tone,” and I believe that it comes from the transient moment where the pick smashes into the string and starts it vibrating. After the pick decides where and how hard to pluck the string, the string’s motion is deterministic, e.g., it doesn’t depend on the hand any more. So, it’s that one moment, I think, that defines a player’s “tone.”

So, I wondered, “which player has the most extreme impact that I can think of?” I think it’s MAB, where his impact is unmistakable, and perhaps Al Di Meola as well. Then I thought, “which player has the most subtle impact that I can think of?” One example is EVH, I almost can’t hear him hit the string, and I vastly prefer his tone to MAB’s or Al’s. (Indeed, while I am a huge MAB fan, I really don’t like his tone in the least.) Somebody like YJM seems to be in the middle.

Does this seem right? I’ve convinced myself that it I’m right, hence it must obviously be true! :rofl:

This also suggests that the pick material is probably really important, and perhaps it makes sense that EVH was using those soft nylon picks, he probably liked to suppress the sounds of the pick impact.

1 Like

If we’re talking about electric guitar with gain, effects, etc., in my opinion you can’t ignore the gear.

So I’d say “the last few details about tone are in the picking hand assuming that the gear, signal chain etc. is exactly the same”

1 Like

It’s in your hands, or rather how you play. I can plugin to a Peavey rage with a Glary guitar or Friedman stack with a Gibson custom shop Les Paul and sound like me. The cheap stuff won’t be as satisfying, but it’s mostly there.

1 Like

Agreed, but I also convinced myself that the “dry” recording is the “actual” tone of a guitarist, and given that, a producer can apply nearly any signal processing (even measure-by-measure, if needed) to make the steady-state tone, e.g., what a power chord will sound like after a few seconds.

You mean the direct electrical signal coming from the pickups? I partially agree but there still is a lot of dependence on the pickup type.

(I know you already know this): the problem with electric guitar it’s that it has no “real” sound, it’s just an electrical signal that reinterprets the vibration of the strings. But that interpretation is heavily dependent on the used pickup.

Just as a thought experiment, maybe one can design a pickup that captures pick attack a lot, and another one that cuts out all the frequencies of pick attack.

Agreed, the pickup location and “width” (of sampling the string) is important. Apparently with six mini hum-buckers very close to the bridge one can mathematically model any pickup location with good accuracy (I recall looking at a Roland patent on this topic, perhaps for a VG-99?). A standard recording is a good idea to remove variation.

1 Like

I think hand sync really helps. Also…musical phrases…I think a good player responds the touch sensitive equipment and just plays what will sound good…on any particular set-up.

1 Like

Setup (neck relief/string height) and pick choice are likely contributors to tone.
Additionally, I don’t buy the tonewood is a marketing ploy. I’ve personally had two like guitars with the only difference being the body wood, and the tone from both was night and day. Pickup magnets, speakers. So many variables.

1 Like

I think too many people confuse tone with voice/style. The way you play is your “voice”
Someone could have your exact toneprint but won’t ever have your “Voice” so they’ll sound different. The hands make all the noises you want, the “Tone” just determines how the speaker replicates that.
Of course it’s all relative and all relevant. But you can make, so far, and infinite amount of sounds with just your hands, through all these techniques that have been, and still are being, invented.
But having said that I agree that the motor hand determines the majority of how things sound, but I wouldn’t discount the left hand, harmonics left hand mutes, slides, legato, stiff pulloffs, microtonal bends, they all create the sounds your after, It’s all part of the same picture.
Sorry for the semi-philosophical rant haha

1 Like

It sounds crazy… but the part of the finger you fret with can absolutely impact the tone of your legato playing. The very tip if the finger hs a much harder surface, and in turn gives you a sharper, brighter attack on hit ons and pull offs than fretting witht he softer, fleshier pad does. I had a fairly OCD/manic guy (who happens to be a killer guitarist in his own right) swear that tone is 100% in gear and the “tone is in the hands” thing was a myth, and anyone who said otherwise had to prove him wrong. To his credit, when I posted audio clips of me trilling with different parts of my fingers (as well as to your point picking at different parts of the string, and at different angles tot he string) he admitted that yes, how you fret could absolutely make your tone audibly brighter or darker, nd where you pick by defalt impacted some color too.

The simply truth is, ALL of this stuff matters, and gain only rteally starts to obscure it at stupendous gain levels. My legato only really got into shape when I started practicing it unplugged to ensure - with apologies to Marshall Harrison - I was getting a clear and defined and harmonically rich attack on every note, rather than a dark muddy mess where it was mostly the fundamental since everything else was muted.

I think you’re taking the terminology a bit too literal. When we say tone comes from the “hands” we don’t literally mean someone’s hands.

It’s an interpretation that the artist does. The way they see and hear guitar. We say “hands” but we really mean feel. Or more specifically how we hear it as a listener. No one’s hands or are more or less specifically geared towards sonic superiority.

I think it’s 100% literal. No one’s hands are geared towards sonic superiority, sure… but sonic difference, absolutely. Where I fret, where I pick, how hard my “neutral” picking attack is, all these little biomechanical differences… they’re definitely one factor in how I “sound” when I pick up a guitar. How these things interact with my choice o picks, choice of strings, choice of guitars and pickups, choice of amps, amp settings, etc etc etc, is the rest of the equation, and if all of THOSE choices work with the sort of tone i generate when I pick up a guitar, that’s a path towards “sonic superiority.”

Touch has a great deal to with your tone, with both hands. As I said how you play has a ton to do with your tone, no one is a robot with a set technique. Learning how to make your gear work for you is a skill, plugging into a rig that’s not yours and getting your sound is also a skill. Learning how to use gear to get sounds is also a skill. There are many facets to it. Tone Chasing is something most guitar players do, experiment, play with sounds, see how they inspire you or if you can use a sound to do something you may not be comfortable with. A fun exercise is grabbing a guitar that doesn’t have the same pickup configuration you normally use and see if you can get the same tones. You’d be surprised about the little nuances you do to get “your sound”.

@Drew I think we might be saying the same thing in a different way. You’re saying tone comes from what a player does and so am I. It’s not literally your hands. It’s what you do with your hands.

1 Like

I think @kgk is on to something, picking dynamics is 50% of our input on the count, I’d assume the picking hand is also a lot more tonally active than the fretting hand.

But the problem with that thinking was an experience I had years ago. One show over two consecutive evenings. Same piano and drum kit, same auditorium, no amplification, two players, but the sounds coming off the instruments from one night to the other were night and day.

One player sounded three dimensional and lush, the other not so! This is definitely more complex than what’s on the surface.