Question about Tone: bright versus dark

I’ve been playing guitar for awhile and played live many times. Often you hear about how a player’s tone is bright or dark or some amp has a bright or dark tone. Can someone provide examples of which amps are dark vs bright? Or an example of players with bright tone vs. players with dark tone? I’m trying to figure out where on the spectrum my tone is.


This sounds basic but it’s actually a very good question!

My understanding is that “bright” has a lot of treble, while “dark” doesn’t have much treble. However, with a quick youtube search I could not find a satisfactory video that explains these things in simple terms. Everyone seems to take these things for granted.

I would also add to the question: does anyone know of good resources that explain a lot of the modern terms that are used to describe guitar tone? I’m thinking of things like “mid scoop, mid bite, grind, presence” etc.

Thank you!


You are actually right, this is a vast topic. Bright can mean thin, and dark can be fat, but not necessarily. Muddy verses tight. Scooped mids vs mid humped. And on and on.

The way I see it, there are two approaches to this, the first is having a reference tone in mind, the other is how it sits in a mix, what it needs to complement, etc.

The first I think is easy, but the struggle is figuring out the incremental changes one needs to evolve ones current gear components, to achieve your reference tone goals. That sounds like a mouthful but it just means making the most out of your gear while managing your expectations. Few can go out and bust a small fortune to mirror their hero’s rig, even then there are no guarantees.

Then there’s the complexity of how one piece of gear performs in a particular setup, maybe it works or doesn’t work currently, but down the road you make a significant change that makes that old piece of gear relevant or obsolete.

For the most part, this is entirely personal, one man’s dark could be another’s bright.

Experimentation is the key, often only the player can determine how far off base ones current rig and settings are from the target tones.

This is a lifelong journey, and for many it becomes more important than the music along the way till it isn’t, what you think as important changes over time.

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who is someone that has a bright tone vs someone who has a dark tone? Or at least commonly perceived as such?

This is a very personal conundrum, it really depends on your experience of material you listen to.

In my case for example the primary question is more nuanced. On the face of it trying to compare apples to oranges can be a challenge, in the sense comparing santana and Malmsteen, to me Malmsteen is bright and Carlos is dark. But to go further, I could look at Malmsteen and appreciate the eras of tones he’s used in the span on his 4 decades or more.

But when it’s comparing say Yngwie to Zakk, it’s say ones tone is fatter or thinner than the other.

Another way is the note definition, has attack and decay for dynamics, one can be more defined the other not as much. Fat but compressed vs tight and compressed.

Gain structure is an important consideration, here are textures with smooth and raspy vs cutting and reedy. The main food groups are fender, Marshall, Vox. Just as there are singles vs humbuckers, neck vs bridge pups, boltons vs setnecks, mahogany vs maple vs rosewood, or a mix.

You need to atleast tell us what your target tones are from your listening experience, like whose music and tone is it that you as a listener really likes.

You’re gettin really deep in the woods here haha but I do appreciate all this. To clarify, Im not trying to paint this as finding my target tone. Im just trying to figure out what is generally a bright tone vs a dark tone. Is Slash’s tone bright or dark? EVH? Robben Ford? CLapton? Etc… Just so im able to know what bright vs dark sounds like

Yes it’s one of the things with me, tone!

I can’t make a blind man see I guess, only you can answer these things, what one’s base line for bright or dark is very subjective, for some any distorted tone could be dark.

In such cases I’d suggest making a survey and running a poll if that will help.

This is not guitar-specific, but it’s a start.


Girth…. Haven’t heard that one yet. Hope I don’t hear it again.

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I’m going to start referring to everything in the 200-500 Hz range as ‘pervy’.


Bright: The Edge. Pride in the Name of Love
Dark: Eddie Van Halen, most tunes
Dark: Petrucci’s lead/rhythm in general
Real Dark: Anything I’ve ever heard by Warren Haynes (leads in particular)
Bright: Brian May. We are the Champions, clean guitars. Lots of his leads are dark though. Good Old Fashioned Loverboy for example has some dark/muffled tones.

This could be not only amps but guitars/pickups/mixing too. I watched Rick Beato interview EJ and he mentioned not wanting to cut certain frequencies on his amp because amp eq isn’t as flexible. You turn the mids down enough to cut mud and you sacrifice a lot of body ( not his exact words but my interpretation). He mentioned getting his core tone with his amp and chain, then adding/removing ranges in the mix to get it sounding just how he wanted.

In general it is a super subjective area :slight_smile:

I haven’t played tons of amps but my Mesa Triple Rectifier I’d class as inherently dark. The VOX AC 30 and Fender Twin are often associated with bright tones…but again, the guitar could matter too. A strat through a Twin will of course be brighter/thinner than a Les Paul through the same amp

Sorry just saw this. To me slash is dark. Robben Ford…sorry I am not familiar. Clapton? Depends. The cream stuff had some dark tones. Sunshine of Your Love for example. I know he was famous in certain periods for using a wah pedal cocked more than half open, which has a more muffled tone The leads on Wonderful Tonight are brighter though.

To chime in: I always understood the terms to describe the balance of high end compared to mids and lows. I don’t think there’s a “textbook” example of this, like @Twangsta said it’s a personal preference. However, when you compare tones (similar to what @Twangsta mentioned with a reference tone), most of us should be able to agree that one tone is brighter / darker when compared to another.

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Eric Johnson is a pretty good example of both imo - his clean tone is quite bright and jangly sounding and his lead tone cuts a lot of the highs out with a relatively dark but still very articulate tone.

I used to think this but now I’m not sure it is necessary. My understanding is that one should always record “dry” (no effects) plus whatever optional “wet” (effect) signals that they want. The “dry” recording is the critical one, as one can “re-amp” and just process this signal with nearly anything and generate arbitrarily many “wet” sounds. I’m sure a good producer can work magic with a good dry track.

What astonishes me now is how stupid guitar “electronics” are. At a minimum a HH wireless should send two dry channels (one per pickup), and a SSS wireless should send out three dry channels (one per pickup). The controls on the guitar should actually do nothing but send messages down to the “wet” devices so they can “turn it down,” or whatever.

The most entertaining thing about guitar electronics is that they have the worst practices in analog design connected to modern ADC and DSP chips! Total insanity! Somebody should at least make the guitar be differential (XLR), what an embarrassment…


Why doesn’t anyone refer to this amazing video? :slight_smile:

Chart are really helpful…they add some level of the objective needed. Does anyone have any other great charts to share?

Also, out gotta put this famous quote here (for some humour only)…sometimes referenced as Frank Zappa quote, however this is debated on the google machine

“Talking about music is like dancing about architecture”

I have to say describing tone has at least one foot in this category even though it’s still worth talking about.

This is subjective as most of these things are. Personally I’d be rather pissed if my takes are reamped or something on my own music, once you have your rig figured out… a bit of post processing with wet time based mods is fine for it to sit in the track is fine. If you’re a hired gun then that’s another situation. Just my personal views.

I wouldn’t got so far as to say that, though in the past I’ve wondered why pickup switching and effects aren’t synchronized with effects switching. In hind sight I’d put it down to personal tastes again, I struggled with balancing neck and bridge pickup, talk about dark & bright, but the right amp/cab fixed that. I guess if you really want it you could use the line 6 hardware and hack their electronics to do your bidding.

I get what your saying, foot switching pickup selection would be awesome, and a fairly simple hack. I’m struggling with my HH guitar, neck is too dark, need to swap the neck pup, got only one tone control, I don’t’ want to wire it to just the bridge, the bridge sounds amazing open. Foot switching pickups with EQ per selection would be amazing too, but more complicated than perhaps just getting a more balanced set.

I think a lot of traditional rigs rely on cable capacitance, the wireless units even have it simulated, as in the amp/cab impedance thread, @induction did mention the guitar amp being an instrument by itself and it’s not HiFi. All that needs to be “modern” is available in the pro audio part; PA systems, mixers, out board etc etc. Though I don’t think there is anything stopping you from making mods. From what I understand so far with guitar, it’s all about cumulative colorations till the speaker, after that the colorations continue with mic type, preamps, eqs etc Choices is the game, there is no one perfect way.

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This approach will work if you are looking for one tone—arguably that is enough, particularly if one wants their own style! But I really don’t care about a particular tone and my hope is to eventually do this:

  • Every song goes into Logic X on my laptop.
  • The laptop records and also switches “amps,” “effects,” “speakers,” etc., as the song advances. (I have an Axe FX3, and presumably this should be “easy.”)

I guess most people don’t care that much to sound like different things; Roland discontinued both the VG8 and VG99, they were very forward looking. A cure searching for a disease, perhaps? :rofl: