Warm Guitar Tone – A How-To Guide For Jazz Guitar

by | Jul 13, 2021 | Articles | 8 comments

It’s crazy really –

You can have…

  • the best ear in the world
  • the most sophisticated ideas in your solo
  • great rhythm and;
  • have a wonderful expressive phrasing

The list goes on.

But:

If you don’t have a good tone (i.e. the quality of the sound your guitar makes), then none of these elements will truly make an impact.

Here’s the good news though:

It’s not that difficult really to get a good sound on your instrument and create a warm jazz guitar tone. Especially these days with so many good quality instruments and amps.

I should let you know though:

You’ll find a whole spectrum of views on the subject of tone.

Some guitarists are ‘gear extremists’, and will proclaim that the quality of your guitar leads has a serious impact on your sound.

Others (and jazz guitarists especially have often been criticized for this) hardly pay attention to tone at all.

Let’s take the ‘middle way’ though – here’s a few tips from a self-proclaimed guitar gear luddite:

 

Tip #1 – Check with what and how (and where) you are striking the string

I play fingerstyle and use fingernails – so I make sure my nails are polished as smooth as

glass and they have a nice even curve – this has the biggest impact on your sound especially on acoustic instruments. This is one sure way to get a warm jazz guitar tone.

If you are using a plectrum, it should be smooth and of good quality. If your playing sounds too ‘slappy’, try a slightly thicker pick. Resin picks can have a great tone.

Also check where you are plucking the strings – I avoid plucking them too close to the bride which can sound a bit tinny. Side note: I use 0.12 gauge D’Addario XL Flatwounds for a nice thick sound.

 

Tip #2 – Quality of your guitar

More expensive does not necessarily equal better tone.

Your guitar needs to be decent – however the make and model isn’t as important as you might think.

Make sure the action is set appropriately so the strings don’t buzz on the frets. Also check the strings aren’t old.

(Reason: old strings will sound out of tune as you go up the neck).

Whichever instrument you play, choose a guitar of which you enjoy the sound and feel.

More expensive does not necessarily equal better tone – when I picked up my first archtop I tried every one in the store, and the Ibanez you see me playing on my videos was a MUCH better tone than guitars at four times the price.

 

Tip #3 – Tone Knob (especially for jazz!)

Regardless of instrument, if you are playing jazz and want the typical jazz tone, roll your tone knob down quite a bit (I do this even on my archtop) and as I mentioned before, play more towards the neck pickup rather than the bridge – you’ll get that warm, ‘sweet as chocolate sound’. Ooooh yeah.

 

Tip #4 – Your amp (if using an electric guitar)

Here’s the thing:

A good quality amp is actually more important than the guitar when it comes to tone. For jazz, a valve amp can definitely give a great sound, however these days I’m using a Boss Katana solid state amp and get a fantastic result.


Tip #5 – Experiment!

There is no universal ‘good tone’. Experiment with the above and come up with a sound YOU are happy with.

There is no universal ‘good tone’. Experiment with the above and come up with a sound YOU are happy with.

Tone is a very subjective thing, and there is no one right way.

My approach:

Experiment with all the above factors until you settle on a sound which best serves to deliver your musical message, and go with your gut.

Then, record yourself and listen back and evaluate your tone. Rinse and repeat a few times until you pin down a suitable tone.

Be careful though:

Embarking on a quest for the ‘perfect tone’ can be quite a rabbit hole to go down. Near enough is usually good enough – spend a bit of time finding your sound but then turn your attention to the most important bit – actually playing music!

Over to you – what did YOU think of this article on getting a good jazz guitar tone? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

 

Greg O’Rourke

Founder, FretDojo
World Leader in Online Guitar Education

jazz guitar instruction
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