When it comes to getting a great metal tone, it looks a lot easier than it actually is. It’s like you want to cook something great and you have all the awesome ingredients.
But where does the secret lie?
It’s the optimum combination and quantity of these ingredients. In this article we’ll talk about how we can apply this concept to your tone and get that in-your-face, huge brick wall sound.
When I look back I can’t help but wonder how many of you face the same problem. Well, too many knobs just confused me.
Achieving a great metal tone is in its literal sense, the way of the smiths. For your tone to sound good, you need to start with the source, then hammer it into shape using different tools in succession. And then, when you’re pretty close to what you really want, you just need to polish it. A few finishing touches here and there and you’ve got yourself the sound you’ve wanted.
Here in this article, we’ll go through these steps and help you achieve the metal tone you’ve always wanted out of your amp.
STEP 1: REFINE THE SOURCE
A good guitar tone always depends substantially on the guitar and most importantly, the pickups. Your guitar pickups regulate the gain that makes or breaks your tone. It is generally easier to achieve the required amount of gain with humbucker pickups (dual coil) than with a single coil pickup. It is also very common to use active pickups (like EMGs) to increase your gain or signal-to-noise ratio at the source.
The higher your signal-to-noise ratio, the easier shaping your tone is going to be.
STEP 2: WHIPPING IT INTO SHAPE
A lot of us underestimate the importance of EQ-ing our tones. Metal tones are supposed to be aggressively expressive. On one hand, they need to sound huge with a lot of sustain and on the other hand, they need to be fleeting enough for that slappy attack. You just can’t afford to sound sloppy.
Generally, for achieving this, you need your tone to sound hollow (for the size) and a little sharp too (for the attack). Now the trick is to relate this to your amp EQ or any external EQ you might be using.
To suggest a few things you could keep in mind:
1. For huge sounding and boomy metal tones
• Boost the LOWS.
• Chop the MIDS.
• Boost the HIGHS.
2. For punchy/djenty tones
• Chop some LOWS.
• Boost the MIDS.
• Attenuate the HIGHS to taste.
You don’t need to go berserk on all three knobs at a time.
Start with all 3 of them in a flat position and start tweaking the LOWS little by little till your chugs start booming. Then move on to the HIGHS and start boosting them or cutting them to a level where they don’t pinch your ears or don’t make your tone wash out in the boom either.
THEN, come to the MIDS. Scoop/boost your MIDS to a level where the tone just smoothens out. After you’ve done this, you can do a final tweaking to taste.
If you think this doesn’t get you to it, you could possibly use an additional EQ pedal to control different frequencies. It’s the best way to cut any unwanted frequencies and get your tone to hit where you want it to.
While EQ-ing your tone, you need to know that there is no specific way to do it. Different guitars and pickups pick up different frequencies and respond differently. All you need is to have an idea of the sort of shape you want your tone to take and how it reacts to the changes in the EQ so that you can mould it to taste.
STEP 3: BRING IN ADDITIONAL TOOLS / HEAT
If you’ve tried everything mentioned in this article and still can’t get the desired tone out of your amp, you should consider adding some pedals to your FX chain. A distortion pedal can do the trick if you can’t achieve that pinching gain (check out BOSS MT-2 or Digitech Death Metal).
If you think that your guitar tone sounds weak or thin, you could always go for a compressor pedal.
(Check out our guide on how to choose and use a compressor pedal)
STEP 4: UNDERSTANDING TONE REFERENCE AND DESTINATION
The most important factor that comes into play while tweaking your tone is the reference on which you’re listening and the destination it is intended for. If you’re going through your rig into an amp, you can probably get a constant sound every time you use the same chain.
But if you’re taking your signal directly through the desk into your DAW, it might sound a lot different when you plug in on a PA, at a different venue or when you use an amp.
It is very important to cross reference your tone on different mediums. When you dial in a tone, just go to a friend’s studio and check it on a pair of flat monitors. Tweak a little. Do the same on a pair of colored monitors, a PA and as many amps you can get your hands on. Don’t tweak too much or drastically change your tone. The more references you get, the better your tone will sound over time.
STEP 5: CHOOSING YOUR AMPS
You need to understand that you will not sound the same on every amp. Amps have character and you need to choose what character compliments your sound. Some amps are bright in character whereas some are warm. So make sure you do your research before buying yours. There are a lot of them on the market and you can choose from an array of solid state or tube amps. You should also check out reviews and try out different amps before purchasing one.
Here’s a list of the most sought after budget metal amps:
Remember, it’s not a day’s process. Your tone will evolve over time and it takes a while before you actually achieve your dream tone.
If you keep these steps in mind, you’ll be able to get that huge wall of guitar sound very soon. Always remember, you know your tone sounds good when it feels good in your hands.
It’s a lot like your personal light saber. It’s an extension of your arm. Chug the way!