I Need a Five Letter Word for Tone

It’s like describing the color red to a blind person. How do you describe something with words that is purely visual.  Well. it’s kind of the same thing when you use words to describe the tone of a guitar. Here’s a list I’ve compiled of words used to describe certain guitar tones: Woody, airy, dark, bright, complex, strident, chewy, quacky, juicy, funky, dirty, bell like, creamy, weedy, reedy, fat, glassy, thick, thin, chunky, transparent, spanky  and a few others. I get some of them. Others are completely meaningless to me. I understand the scientific stuff. If you tell me it is strong in the high frequencies or has scooped mids or dominant bass tones below 89 hz or something, I get it. I sort of get fat-lots of tonal range with a preponderance of low mids and lows. I get quack-sounds like position 2 and 4 of a Strat or positions 5 and 6 of a 345 with a Varitone. I guess I get dirty-distorted. Kind of the opposite of transparent or bell-like. But what do I do when some asks me if the guitar I have for sale is “woody”. Does it give me a woody? Not likely.  Is it red? Like Woody Woodpecker? Well, maybe. Airy? That seems like it should mean having good acoustic qualities-like you get when a guitar moves a lot of air-those J-200s move a lot of air but does that make them airy? I just don’t know. Chewy? Juicy? No idea. Dark has always meant having dominant lows and mids and the opposite of bright. Twangy is sort of like bright. Strident is like bad twangy and spanky is good twangy (and Alfalfa’s pal). I think. Complex is good because it refers directly to things like harmonics which is one of the best aspects of any humbucker equipped guitars. When you get what they call “note bloom” and “double tones”, the tone is necessarily complex and that makes a lot of sense. I can always tell when a guitar has “complex” tones because I play with amps that have no reverb. Every once in a while, I’ll get a guitar that has such complex tonality that it sounds for all the world that there is reverb in the amp. I’ve actually had to dampen the strings because I’m sure I’m hearing reverb. Now that’s complex (and rare). I like the term creamy because it sounds like what it is-thick and smooth. It’s like a Les Paul through a 57 Bassman cranked to tube saturation on the neck pickup. The point here is that, for all the colorful adjectives, it is still extremely difficult to describe tone. I feel like I should be able to say “it sounds like a 335” or it sounds “more like a Les Paul than a 335” or maybe “has Strat like tones in the bridge position but sings like an SG in the neck…” Anyone who has played vintage versions of these guitars knows exactly what I mean. It seems a lot more precise than “chewy”, doesn’t it?  By the way, feel free to describe the terms that I can’t. The world really wants to know what a weedy guitar sounds like. Dandelions? Crabgrass? Joe Pyeweed?

2 Responses to “I Need a Five Letter Word for Tone”

  1. RB says:

    “Resonant”, “full”, “balanced”, “fat”, “rich”, and of course the dreaded “mojo”. But my all-time favorite description of electric guitar tone goes like this … “The tone was thick, complex, and gloriously ragged with a clarity, punch, and trebly character that masked nothing — the perfect burning, churning, flannel and leather rhythm tone … the Junior could easily be coaxed into howling cries of polyphonic feedback.”

    Anybody got a cigarette?

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Yeah, that’s the ticket. I always thought mojo was the code word for “dirt”, “wear” and general crappy appearance in a guitar and not a tonal description. I like ragged but that describes my playing more than the tone. “Flannel and leather” tone. Not to be confused with vinyl and cheap polyester tone.

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