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Tone is in the Fingers

Oh please! I really hate this whole tone is in the hands/fingers mantra you hear from guitarists — particularly on web forums. It's invariably a cop-out answer to some gear-related question that spawned it. Enough already! 99.99999% of the time when someone is asking a question about tone, they are talking about what the gear produces. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that duplicating a player's gear won't give us that player's skill, touch, or the other subtle nuances. But if you like a player's tone and you get very similar gear, you can get a similar tone — at least by the dictionary definition — a book us guitarists seem largely unfamiliar with.

The word tone has been used incorrectly by guitarists for ages (including me). Nowhere in the dictionary definition of the word is there a distinction made between the sound the gear makes and the additional individuality the player adds to that sound. What I see most frequently are these definitions:

Tone: The quality or character of sound. The characteristic quality or timbre of a particular instrument or voice.

Hmmmm. That suggests that tone isn't in the fingers after all.

Contrast that with the dictionary definition of

Sound: Music. A distinctive style, as of an orchestra or a singer.

So if we go by those dictionary definitions and extrapolate for guitarists:

Tone = sound produced by the gear

Sound = sound produced by the artist (hands/fingers) + the instrument (gear)

I've frequently heard guitarists make this very distinction exactly ass-backwards. i.e. sound is what the gear produces.

Personally, I believe that the hands and fingers bring the individuality to the equation. The tone already exists. Don't believe me? Try creating your tone with your hands and no gear.

Jeff Beck will still play like Jeff Beck through a Hondo Strat through a Pignose. You'll hear his individuality, his touch, and he can play brilliantly and distinctively. But his tone will be crap.

Or put another way: I own Wolf Hoffmann's guitar and amp. I certainly don't play as well as Hoffmann, but I play well enough so that if I play an Accept song with that rig, you can bet your ass I have Hoffmann's tone. If he plays an open A chord with that rig, and then I play an open A chord with the same rig, any difference in tone will be infinitesimal.


Watch this and tell me tone is in the fingers: