Every guitarist wants to know how to thicken the tone of their guitar and you can’t blame them for this fondness to “beef up” their sound, since the resulting creativity can be a mind blowing one.
Most of the popular songs that have successfully affected society always had some kind of catchy riff or a memorable hook in them. However, it is the subtle impact of guitar tone that is responsible for adding depth and emotional connectivity to an already-intriguing musical piece. This is why the world is so obsessed with tone, that even the most casual music fan would invest in a good set of speakers to be able to hear a better version of their favorite songs.
It is not surprising that we all desire to dance to something bigger sounding and the same thing goes for guitars. When a rhythm guitarist is wildly strumming away at some massive chords and the thick, juicy tone is blaring on the speakers, you can’t help but get on your feet and bounce to the music.
How to Get a Thicker Guitar Tone
Guitars with humbuckers, such as Gibson SGs, Les Pauls and various semi-hollow body guitars, are expected to be loud and proud, the perfect instrument if you are aiming for the fattest tone possible.
This is not to say that other guitar models, especially those with single coils, cannot win in the “souped up” tone race as there are a variety of ways to thicken the tone of whatever guitar you have, regardless of brand and specs.
Here are some sure-fire ways to make your guitar tone sound thicker:
- Choose the right pickup configuration
One of the first things you can do to make your sound bigger is to utilize the neck pickups, either alone, or in combination with the bridge (or middle pickup if you are using a Stratocaster).
The bridge pickups are usually favored by fast hybrid-picking country musicians who love that twangy flavor. Using the neck pickups will make your sound more full-bodied with that added low end punch.
- Find the sweet spot
The saying “tone is in your hands” has always been true, since we have depended on acoustic instruments for a much longer period of time compared to their electric counterparts.
Slowly strum your guitar while positioning your picking hand in various spots. You will notice that picking near the bridge area can create brighter tones, while the area close to the neck sounds more bass-heavy.
If you are looking to add more body to your tone without compromising brilliance, the spot in between the neck and bridge pickups would be a safe place to strum or pluck.
- Use thicker nylon picks
A thicker guitar pick can help you achieve a bigger sound as well. You might want to experiment with nylon picks that are within the 1.0 mm – 3.0 mm gauge range and see if you can get acclimated to them. If you prefer to stick with thinner picks, then you’ll have to compensate by using other ways such as tweaking your amps and pedals.
- Proper amplifier settings
Before thinking about selling your guitar amp for not giving you the fat tone that you desire, try to study it more, as there is a possibility that you haven’t unlocked some of its capabilities yet. Not all amplifiers sound alike and some specific amps often require a different mixing approach compared to other brands and models.
Play around with your amp and try out other EQ combinations that might work with specific pickup configurations, finding ways to thicken your guitar tone with just the basic features of your amp can oftentimes yield surprising outcomes.
- Utilize effects properly
Too many effects, especially stereo and reverb, can make your sound thin or too spread out. This can result in an airy, ethereal tone which can dampen what was supposed to be a muscular, in-your-face sound.
Also keep in mind that dialing the distortion on your amp or your pedals all the way up is not the best way to make your sound bigger. It is a common misconception among guitar novices that more gain equals heavier tone. This is not at all true since too much gain can only muddy your sound.
- Use chorus or delay
Although the chorus and the delay are more well-known for producing psychedelic, trippy effects, they also have a lot of practical uses.
When used in a more subtle manner, the chorus can recreate the sound of two guitars playing together. The delay can also double your guitar sound, just set the feedback and time at minimal levels until you find that short, reverb-like effect.
Exercise restrain when applying the chorus, as too much can make your sound wobbly. As for the delay, use sparingly if you aren’t ready to go full David Gilmore yet.
- Recording tricks (double tracking)
One of the secret tricks employed by studio engineers and record producers before the advent of digital audio workstations (DAWs), is to double track the guitars. This process requires the guitarist to record parts twice to create a thick layer of sound.
Even with the presence of various emulating softwares, this technique is still preferred by a lot of musicians and studio professionals due to their more natural-sounding texture. However, a lot of takes might be needed to nail the guitar parts, so patience and preparedness is a requisite in attempting this method.
- Fix it in post-editing
Having already recorded the parts perfectly, only to sound subpar upon playback is such a massive headache to deal with. Thanks to today’s advanced digital recording technology, we can still fix and improve whatever sound we have recorded in the post-editing stage.
A vast array of VST simulators and emulators can give you an almost limitless option in shaping your tone. There are countless softwares and applications dedicated to copying model and brand-specific characteristics of amplifier, guitar and effects pedals.
With the help of programs such as Guitar Rig and Amplitube, you can easily imitate the thick guitar tone of a humbucker-equipped Les Paul, plugged into the beefiest full stack amplifier of your dreams.
You may also thicken your guitar tone without using VST simulators and going for more basic mixing techniques instead. Duplicating the recorded guitar track and tweaking the equalizer on the cloned file, can compensate for the missing frequencies in the original recording. Proper use of compressors and limiters can help beef up the guitar track as well.