Whether you’re a seasoned guitarist or just starting out, there’s always room to improve the sound of your electric guitar. And let’s be honest – it’s a pain in the axe. Every video or guide I referenced would immediately start talking about how “tone starts with your hands.” Oh will you stop and just tell me the dang amp settings for my strat?!

Achieving that perfect tone involves a combination of technique, gear, and some insider tips. In this guide, we’ll walk you through various ways to enhance the sound of your electric guitar and make it truly shine.

Guide To Improving Your Electric Guitar Sound

1. Choose the Right Strings

Selecting the appropriate strings for your electric guitar can have a significant impact on its sound. Different gauges and materials produce varying tones. Experiment with a few options to find the set that suits your playing style and desired sound.

Check out this great video from Rick Beato that talks about string gauges and why you’re probably using the wrong set!

2. Setup and Maintenance

A well-maintained guitar is crucial for achieving the best sound. Regularly check and adjust the guitar’s action, intonation, and neck relief (or better yet, have it adjusted by a professional). Keep your strings clean and replace them when they start to sound dull. I like to replace mine every 2-3 weeks if I’m playing every day.

A proper setup is critical, especially if your guitar is new. Guitars that are improperly setup buzz and have dead notes and completely take the wind out of your sails in terms of inspiration from the sound of your guitar, so keep yours in tip-top shape.

It’s also important to find a good luthier in your area. You can get lucky sometimes going to Guitar Center for a setup or repair, but it’s hit or miss. In my experience, it’s worth asking for credentials and, if you can, ask some of your musician friends who they trust.

3. Upgrade Your Pickups

Pickups are one of the most influential factors in shaping your guitar’s tone. Consider upgrading to high-quality pickups that match your musical style. This really makes a difference – when I bought my first professional-grade guitar, it had absolutely baller pickups, and my tone upgraded significantly.

It’s an electric guitar, after all, and the pickups of a key failure point.

The two basic kinds of pickups are:

  • Single coil
  • Humbuckers

Single-coil pickups tend to provide bright, clear tones, while humbuckers offer a warmer, thicker sound. In case you’re looking for advice, I’m a strat / tele player, and I prefer single coils. Like I said, the pickups on my American Professional strat and tele sounded astonishingly good. Same player, same strings, too.

4. Use Quality Cables

Don’t underestimate the impact of quality cables on your sound. Cheap or damaged cables can introduce unwanted noise and signal loss. Invest in durable, shielded cables to maintain the integrity of your guitar’s signal.

You don’t have to go completely crazy, but this is another failure point for electric guitars where going the cheap route will just siphon all the juice from the tone that your hands, strings, guitar wood, and pickups are sending through.

5. Amplifier and Effects

Your amplifier and effects pedals play a significant role in sculpting your guitar’s sound. Experiment with various amp settings, EQ adjustments, and effects to find your signature tone. Don’t be afraid to explore different pedal combinations for a more personalized sound.

This primer article from Dummies.com is a good introduction if you’re just learning how to manipulate tone through amps and pedals.

My personal opinion is that a Fender tube amp is the nastiest, most incredible sound I’ve heard when you push it enough to where it’s breaking up just a bit. There is nothing more satisfying! That said, there’s of course a ton of amp choices to go with.

Pedals is another stage where things can go off the rails and you can ruin your tone. Here’s how I deal with electric guitar pedals:

  • Covet the sound you have coming from a quality guitar, the right strings, capable playing, and good pickups.
  • Every time you add a pedal, take note of the impact it is having on that sacred sound. What drops out? What comes forward? Do you like that, is it making your tone better?

Be really careful here because pedals pull you in with fun and interesting sounds, but they can also completely water down your foundational tone. Don’t let that happen! They should be enhancements, and most time they should be slight enhancements. If you’re overcompensating with a pedal, it means your foundational tone isn’t good enough. You’re better off upgrading somewhere else – guitar, pickups, amp – rather than trying to create tone with pedals.

6. Explore Different Playing Techniques

How you play your guitar can also greatly affect its sound. Experiment with techniques like palm muting, bending, vibrato, and alternate picking to add depth and emotion to your playing. Mastering these techniques will give you more control over your guitar’s tonal range.

This is also a great way to put your foundational tone to the test. It should sound good to you and hold up pretty much no matter what you play. Of course, your tone will be better suited to different styles, but a solid, well-rounded sound will sound good no matter what you’re asking it to do.

7. Consider Guitar Mods

Customizing your guitar through modifications can lead to unique and improved tones. Modifying the electronics, such as adding a coil-splitting option to a humbucker pickup, can give you greater tonal versatility. However, be sure to consult a professional if you’re not experienced with guitar modifications.

I also want to add that this is for the more advanced players who are squeezing incremental improvements out of their instrument. For most players, a baseline but high-end electric guitar is going to sound really good as-is.

8. Practice and Ear Training

Improving your playing technique and ear training can also enhance your guitar’s sound. Practice regularly to refine your skills and learn to control nuances like dynamics, articulation, and timing. Developing a discerning ear will help you identify areas for improvement in your tone.

And, let’s count critically listening to guitarists whose sound you love here. For example, if you love Tom Morello’s badass tone on the first RATM album, listen to it on good speakers and take note of the characteristics. When you try out your desired guitar and amp and perhaps some pedals, does it sound similar and does it give you the same inspired feeling?

9. Experiment with String Height

This is revisiting the setup step a bit, but it’s worth mentioning again that adjusting the string height (action) can affect your guitar’s playability and, in turn, sound. Lower action can lead to easier fretting but might sacrifice sustain. Higher action can result in better sustain but might require more finger strength. Strike a balance that suits your playing style.

10. Room Acoustics

Don’t overlook the impact of your playing environment. The room’s acoustics can either enhance or dampen your guitar’s sound. Experiment with playing in different spaces to find the one that complements your guitar’s natural resonance.

I’ve played guitars that I thought were just ok. But when I moved them (and the amp) to another room, it allowed the sound to open up. Heck, I’ll even admit that moving the angle of my amp revealed that my sound was actually better (or worse) than I thought!

Final Thoughts

Making your electric guitar sound better is an exciting journey that combines technique, gear selection, and experimentation. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, as your ideal tone is a personal preference.

By following these tips and exploring various options, you’ll be well on your way to achieving a signature sound that sets you apart as a guitarist. So, plug in, play around, and enjoy the process of uncovering your guitar’s true potential!