Approximating the Tone of Other Guitarists

Putting aside all the tone is in the fingers bullshit, we all tend to base our own tone on some point of reference we like. At least initially. Therefore, when trying to cop your favorite player's tone(s), note that design concepts are more important than specific brands and models. For guitars you should be asking yourself: does the player use a humbucker sound or a single coil sound? And when talking amps, note that matching the amp's power tube type gets you closer than anything else.

So lets say for example, I want to cop some Tony Iommi tone. Let's say I want to get as close as possible without cutting off my fingertips. Let's stipulate that I don't play like Tony, have his hands, or his personal touch on the strings, and that I'll never sound 100% exactly like Tony. But let's also stipulate that plugging an Gibson Iommi Signature SG, with Iommi signature pups, through an EL34 based Laney 100 watt amp gets me 100% of what I'm after tone-wise.

Now consider the following rather carefully, and note that the percentages here are just experience-based guesstimations to make a point:

  • Again, a Gibson Iommi Signature SG, with Iommi signature pups, through an EL34 based Laney 100 watt amp gets me 100% of what I'm after.
  • An Iommi SG (with Iommi sig pups) through an EL34 based Marshall probably gets me 95% of what I'm after.
  • An Iommi SG (with Iommi sig pups) through an EL34 based Orange amp probably gets me 95% of what I'm after.
  • An Iommi SG (with Iommi sig pups) through an EL34 based whatever probably gets me 90% of what I'm after.
  • A stock Gibson SG (with Iommi sig pups) through an EL34 based Laney 100 watt amp probably gets me 100% of what I'm after.
  • A regular Gibson SG with stock pups through an EL34 based Laney 100 watt amp probably gets me 90% of what I'm after.
  • A regular Gibson LP with stock pups through an EL34 based Laney 100 watt amp probably gets me 90% of what I'm after.
  • Any solid body Gibson with stock pups through an EL34 based Laney 100 watt amp probably gets me 90% of what I'm after.
  • Any good, solid body guitar with humbuckers through an EL34 based Laney 100 watt amp probably gets me 90% of what I'm after.
  • Any solid body Gibson with stock pups through an EL34 based Marshall probably gets me 85% of what I'm after.
  • Any solid body Gibson with stock pups through an EL34 based Orange probably gets me 85% of what I'm after.
  • Any solid body Gibson with stock pups through an EL34 based whatever probably gets me 85% of what I'm after.
  • Any good solid body guitar with humbuckers through an EL34 based whatever probably gets me 75% of what I'm after.
  • If you change the tube type of your amp to 6L6s and your guitar to a Strat with single coils, your percentage is going to drop way off.

I could go on and on, but hopefully you're seeing that a few key concepts are doing most of the work in producing a tone that's close to what you're after. This is precisely why the TONE sections of the Alchemy profiles are written the way they are. The important keys to approximating the tones of those players are in the articles. It is up to you whether you're going for 100% because you're in a Sabbath Tribute band, or 80% because you play one Sabbath song in a set.

So what this means for achieving versatility is making informed choices. If you want or need AUTHENTIC versatility (like the 85%-100% range) you're going to need a lot of gear. If most of your the tones you like are from guys using Marshalls with EL34s, get a Marshall or something with EL34s, rather than a Mesa with 6L6s.

If you like both sounds a lot, and you really have the desire or need to produce both, get both kinds of amps. If all your faves are Neo Classical types, don't get a Gibson. But after you consider all this, go read the article: What you need in a Dino amp - and What you Don't.  It contains pretty universal truths for most players in most situations.