Monday, January 31, 2011

Smooth, Jazz Tone On a Solid Body Guitar

Hollow-body or semi-hollow electric guitars used to sounds more warm and open, than solid-body constructions. It's a big advantage for many blues and jazz players. However, having a solid-body axe is not a problem on the way to get a nice, warm, jazz tone.

I'm the one of those, who play jazz on solid body guitars. It's because I like the tone dynamic and comfort of this kind of constructions. I have really smooth, jazz tone with my SG (yes, I'm using SG to play jazz).

So, how to get that smooth, warm tone on a solid body guitar?

1. Strings

One of the most important things for me.

Thick strings will give you more solid sound with a significant amount of bass. It really helps in making a warm and open sound. It's good to have at least 12-52 set.

You can experiment with flatwound and roundwound strings. A lot of jazz guitarists prefer flatwound, but not all.

2. Use the volume control knob more often

When you're turning down the volume pot, you're also losing some amount of treble. It's a very good thing for reaching the jazz guitar tone. This way of muffling and smoothing the signal is even better than using the tone control knob.

Try to set your optimal volume level not on 10, but around 6 to 8. It will give you two useful ways of using the volume knob. You will be able to make your tone louder and more distinct, or even more quiet and soft.

3. Picking

You can pick the strings in many places. For example, for smooth jazz chords I like the place between fretboard and neck pickup. It gives a mellower tone, than picking closer to the bridge.

Improve your picking technique. You need to be able to play gently/softly and dynamically/aggressively with full control over it.

4. Chose the right pick

I heard somewhere that thick picks are the best for jazz guitar. I can't agree. It's always about your own preferences. Choose the pick, which will be good to play in many moods. Like I said in the 3rd point - „you need to be able to play gently/softly and dynamically/aggressively with full control over it”.

5. Pickups

You can reach a nice jazz tone with single-coil pickups as well as with humbuckers. Of course there are some differences between them, but both pickup types works well for jazz.

Most of jazz guitarists play on the neck pickup. However, by using neck and middle together, you can make a good effect also.

6. Tone control

If you want to keep your tone transparent and full, use the tone control knob only slightly, or just keep it always on 10. Use the ways that I described in points 1-5 as the base. The tone control can be a supplement.

If you like really dark and warm sound, roll-off the tone knob quite much. It works very good with some high value tone cap.

You can mod your tone control circuit by changing the tone capacitor.
Use some high values – like 0,033uF, 0,047uF or 0,05uF – if you want more bass and smoothness. Use some low values – like 4,7nF or 3,3nF – if you want to muffle only some amount of high-end.
(These values are only my proposition for PAF/classic humbuckers. It's good to experiment with many different caps. Classic single-coil pickups need a little bit higher cap value than humbuckers.)