There are numerous guitar players out there who are after a brighter tone. While this can be achieved by choosing specific types of wood for your instrument, buying a new instrument isn’t commonly an option.
Here are some tips you can do to make any guitar sound brighter:
- Use a pick instead of your fingers.
- Play closer to the bridge.
- Change the strings
- Choose lighter gauge strings.
- Opt for single-coil pickups instead of humbuckers.
- Switch to the bridge pickup.
- Use the guitar’s tone and volume controls.
- Adjust the amplifier settings.
Even though the topic might seem complicated at first glance, making your guitar sound brighter isn’t a job that requires a lot of time and effort. Using some simple techniques, tips, and tricks, any guitar player can achieve a brighter sound. Read on to find out more.
How To Make an Acoustic Guitar Sound Brighter
Making an acoustic guitar sound brighter can be a difficult task. This is mostly due to the fact that we can’t do much to affect the instrument’s natural tone.
However, there are some minor improvements that guitar players can make to their play style and habits. Here’s a list of the things you can do to make your acoustic guitar sound brighter:
1. Use a Pick Instead of Your Fingers
Fingerstyle guitar playing has its benefits (Question: how long does it take to learn fingerstyle guitar?). Being able to play the melody, harmony, and bassline is the most prominent one. Most guitar players might argue that playing with your fingers is far superior to using a pick (Interesting Question: How many guitars does the average guitarist own?).
Playing using your fingers produces a warm and rich tone, which sometimes just doesn’t cut it. On some occasions, we simply need a guitar tone that cuts through the air. This is where guitar picks can step in and save the day.
While restricting in some aspects, using a guitar pick instead of your fingers to produce sound is extremely helpful when you need your instrument to sound brighter.
In addition to adding brightness to your acoustic or electric guitar tone, using a guitar pick also comes with other benefits. Here are some of them:
- It’s easier to play fast rhythms and solos with a pick.
- Using a pick allows the player to apply advanced techniques (sweep picking, string skipping, etc.)
- Playing with a guitar pick produces more attack, making it a great option for harder and louder genres such as rock.
If you want to bring some brightness into your guitar’s sound, the first step should be trying to play with a pick. Guitar picks aren’t only easy to use, but they’re also cheap and readily available.
In case you’re already using picks, go for a slightly thicker option (.75 mm or 2.95 in or thicker).
2. Play Closer to the Bridge
All guitars produce sound when the player forces the strings into vibrating. Depending on where we produce an impact on the string, the tone of the guitar will change.
How does playing closer or further away from the bridge affect guitar tone?
The vibration pattern of the string can be altered by string length between the point of impact and the guitar bridge. The instrument’s tone will have more bass and sound thicker the closer to the neck we play.
On the other hand, playing closer to the bridge will accentuate the middle and high tones, making the instrument sound brighter. For this reason, where the player is plucking the strings should be the second thing to pay attention to when trying to add brightness to the guitar tone.
It should be noted that, regardless of whether the guitar is acoustic or electric, this principle remains the same.
3. Change the Strings
There’s one statement that most guitar players in the world can agree with: Nothing sounds better than a fresh set of strings. This is especially true for those who find their guitar’s natural tone too dark and muddy.
Guitar strings that are older than a few months can start sounding dead. Oxidation caused by extended playing and exposure to air and moisture also causes them to be more prone to snapping.
Changing your old strings to a fresh set won’t only bring an improvement in the brightness of the instrument but also to the feel you get when playing the guitar. In addition, you should also be safe from string breaking.
Read the next section to find out what strings you should choose to make your guitar sound brighter.
4. Choose Lighter Gauge Strings
One last thing you can do to alter your acoustic guitar’s tone and make it brighter is change your strings to a lighter gauge. The tone difference between different string gauges is especially noticeable with modern wound strings, experts suggest.
This brings us to the key question: Which strings should you pick for your guitar to sound brighter?
If you’re after the brightest-sounding option for your acoustic guitar, you should take the more old-school approach and go for a light set of 80/20 bronze strings. The most commonly suggested option is the 11-52 gauge set.
However, you should remember that these strings, while being the brightest option available, have their flaws. Their main flaw is the fact that they don’t last very long. This is where modern strings come into play.
Phosphor-bronze strings have become the standard for all types of guitars. Their phosphor coating ensures longevity, but it also makes the strings sound warmer (the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve).
For this reason, those going for the phosphor-protected strings should get an even lighter gauge. If you decide to go with this option, choose a 10-50 gauge string set to achieve a noticeably brighter tone.
How To Make an Electric Guitar Sound Brighter
Adjusting the tone of an electric guitar is a much simpler task. Unlike acoustic guitars, electric ones aren’t as reliant on the wood used to build them when it comes to the final tone of the instrument. There are electronics onboard each instrument that can help with tone adjustments.
While everything mentioned above about acoustic guitars can be applied to their electric counterparts, there are a few more tricks on how to make an electric guitar sound brighter:
1. Opt for Single-Coil Pickups Instead of Humbuckers
When we think about electric guitars, most of us create a mental image of two models. One of them is a Gibson Les Paul, and the other is Fender Stratocaster.
In addition to appearance, these two models have one more distinguishing feature. The first model is a humbucker-equipped guitar, while the second one has single-coil pickups.
While we perceive the Gibson Les Paul as a darker, muddier, and maybe fuller-sounding guitar, the Fender model is commonly described with one word — bright.
This difference in tone between the two models is caused by the difference in pickups. This is why those looking for a brighter tone should be on the lookout for a single-coil guitar.
Keep in mind that most modern humbucker pickups have a splitting option, which means they can be divided into two single coils using a switch found on the guitar. Read more about that below.
2. Switch to the Bridge Pickup
Modern electric guitars come in a wide variety of pickup configurations. Two humbuckers, three single-coils, or a mix and match of the two styles can be found in any guitar store.
Regardless of their pickup configuration, all electric guitar pickups share the following characteristics:
- Guitar pickup closest to the neck always sounds thicker and more rounded.
- Guitar pickup closest to the bridge always sounds sharper and brighter (Note: acoustic guitars sound better with age).
Whether your guitar has a pickup selector with two, three, or five positions, the lowest one will always offer the brightest sound. This is the bridge pickup position and it’s probably the most used electric guitar position.
3. Use the Guitar’s Tone and Volume Controls
The majority of electric guitars come with plenty of onboard electronics that are meant for tone customization. In addition to the already mentioned pickup selectors, all modern guitars come with at least a few potentiometers. Most commonly, these are:
As apparent by its name, the Volume knob is there to control the instrument’s overall output level. However, slight adjustments to it can cause the overall sound of the instrument to change. This is especially true for high-gain sounds.
The Tone control is what we want to take a more detailed look at, as it can help us brighten up the guitar’s tone. When turned all the way up, this knob provides maximum brightness. As it’s rolled back, the sound of the guitar becomes more muddied and bass-intensive.
Some instruments might even come with multiple Tone controls, which is an option that offers even more versatility.
4. Adjust the Amplifier Settings
One of the reasons electric guitars are so popular is their tone versatility. You can have the same instrument for years and never use the same tone, especially if you have a guitar amp.
You can make any guitar sound brighter using some simple EQ adjustments on the amp. Typically, all you need to do is lower the bass level below 12 o’clock and slightly boost the mids and highs (commonly marked as treble).
Older guitar amps such as the Vox AC30, Fender Twin Reverb, and Marshall JCM800 sound very bright when set to flat. Some of these amplifiers even come with an additional Bright switch that boosts the high and mid frequencies.
Modern modeling amps work similarly, except that you might find some out-of-the-box tones that might suit your needs, as they can offer hundreds of options.
Guitar playing is one of the most fun hobbies available. However, being constantly annoyed with your instrument’s tone is far from entertaining, especially if it sounds dark and muddy.
You can make any guitar sound brighter using these simple tricks:
- Play closer to the bridge.
- Replace your strings with a lighter set.
- Fiddle with your guitar’s onboard settings.
- Utilize external sound-shaping electronics (amps, pedals, processors, etc.)