Skip to main content

So. You want to modify the tone you get from your basic rig. You want your guitar and amp to produce the best tone possible. I'd like to offer a list of simple mods that can make a noticeable difference in the tone your rig produces. Understand that simple is a relative term and at times you may want to let a tech do the work for you. If your unfamiliar with tube amps I'd advise not poking around in there. Changing pre amp tubes and changing output tubes in amp designs that don't require biasing, Single output tube for example, are pretty simple. Still, even when unplugged a tube amp is a definite shock hazard. Touch nothing but the tubes and never put two hands in the amp at the same time.

So. You've got a guitar you like the feel of and an amp that fits the type of music you'll be playing. What can you do to alter your rigs tone so that it becomes representative of what you hear in your head when you think of your perfect Dino tone?

Most simple changes for slight tone alteration.

  • Changing string gauge or type, for example...going from 9's to 10's or 10's to 11's or switching from nickel/steel to pure nickel strings.
  • Changing the guitar cable. Some offer a marked improvement in sound.
  • Changing string saddles to a type made from a different material.

If your using a head / speaker cab setup try different cab designs, closed back, open back, ported, 3/4 back, etc. Take your head to a guitar shop and plug it into a few cab examples that have the same speakers but different types of cab construction. Note 1* Mesa has multiple extension cab designs that use the vintage 30 as well as multiple extension cab designs that use the Custom 90. They make for an excellent method of comparison. Note 2* You cannot close off the back of an open back combo. This is not an option for combo owners.

Changes needing a few basic skills and tools, soldering, wire cutters, etc.

  • Changing pickups can result in a huge change in tone.
  • Changing the tone and volume pots to a different value.
  • Adding extra switching options to the guitars circuit.
  • Taking the tone pot out of the circuit.
  • Adding aditional shielding to the guitars electronic cavities. For noise reduction.
  • Swapping out the preamp tube(s) for a different brand. A 12AX7 made by Sovtek or Electro-Harmonix can sound completely different from one made by TAD or JJ or Tung-Sol or Ei or Svetlana or Mullard.

If your rig has so much gain that you believe less gain from the preamp would improve or get you closer to your desired tonality you can swap out the first gain stage preamp tube from the 12AX7 most commonly found in that position for a 5751. It's a direct swap that results in approx. 30% less gain from the preamp with no other modifications needed.

Swapping out your output tubes for a different brand also has a noticeable effect on tonality. You almost always have to stay with the same type, 6L6GC, EL34, EL84, etc., and in most cases the amp will need to be rebiased, but, even if you changed from one set of Mullards to another set of Mullards the amp would still require rebiasing. Changing the brand gives you a change in tonality. Note*Different tube brands do have different construction techniques and do vary in tube life expectancy, etc.

Change to a different brand or model of speaker. Other than staying with the same size and ohm rating your pretty much free to experiment.

Changes requiring a higher degree of skill, I strongly recommend a tech. Note. These changes will definitely alter the original model specs.

  • Changing the nut of the guitar to one made of a different material or type.
  • Changing the bridge, whether solid mount or tremolo, to one made from a different material or attached, making contact with the guitar, in a different way.
  • Changing caps, etc. within a tube amp. In this case a techs skills and advice are of paramount importance. This is normally only considered on older amps that need rejuvenating. For example..... You bought a vintage amp on e-bay and it doesn't sound the way you remember the model sounding when they were newer.

In Conclusion

Other than the very last section, most of the tone changers listed can be done at home, with the proper tools, and will produce different results to different degrees. If you want your basic guitar / amp rig to have a sound you can identify with or think of as your own, any of the options listed can be given a shot. Of all those listed, changing pickups or speakers or tubes will probably have the most noticeable effect, but, all the mods listed will in one way or another effect the tone of your rig.