No matter what type of guitarist you are, there’s a single unifying quality that we’re all chasing: better tone. Some say it’s in the hands, others believe it’s all about the gear. We’re sticking with the theory that it’s a combination of both, but while ability and rational gear choices will more-often-than-not add-up to sounding great, we’ve all encountered the dreaded tone snob.
Don’t recognise them? Well, we’re sorry to inform you that you could well be the looney on the bus. Join us as we count-down 10 of the most common guitarists to get lost down the rabbit hole in the endless pursuit of tone.
1. The Premium User
The quintessential tone snob. Not only does this player have a secure future in middle management, but he rakes it in at the weekends by playing Mr Brightside on a guitar with a finish so shiny, it reflects every shade of his smugness when placed under stage lighting.
In his world, the highest price equates to the absolute best: custom orders built bespoke by the industry heroes he read about in Guitarist, featuring a selection of rare woods and endangered animal pelts so rare they’d have Darwin scratching his chin.
But he can’t stop at the essentials. This cat dropped more on an amp stand he never uses than you did on your whole pedalboard. You’ll meet him when he’s taking a rare night off for his friend’s 40th and can’t wait to quiz you on your gear choices while you’re setting up your far eastern rig. If you’re lucky, he’ll tell you why his Mono ‘guitar locker’ is better than your torn gig bag, before revealing the quickest way to drop the seats on an Audi for load-out.
2. Vicarious Critic
This canny player has craftily set up notifications so they never miss a single post on the Gearjunkietonefreaks Facebook group. They’ve read the reviews, memorised the pertinent spec revisions, and most importantly, can’t wait to let you know about it. In the market for a Klon Klone? What about deciding which high-end modeller to buy? Ask, and our good friend will instruct you on which to buy, priding themselves on a black-and-white, no-holds-barred delivery.
But there’s a problem: these opinions aren’t their own and have been formed purely from YouTube comments. While they’ve got you picturing them sat in a living room that could double as a Guitar Center warehouse, this Oracle is still rocking a POD 2.0 into the headphones that came with their Mini-Disc player.
3. Digital Denier
To the analogue purist, the suggestion of digital gear is akin to having the worst four-letter word tattooed on your forehead. Despite the fact that they own every iteration of Apple mobile device, dream of one day driving a Tesla and have relinquished control of every light switch in their home to Amazon, when it comes to his rig he believes a SHARC chip has the power to sever his limbs from their body.
They dismisses the Axe-FX you saved long and hard for as a ‘guitar computer’ while refusing to replace the now-microphonic EL-34s in their combo. Often displaying brand loyalty via the t-shirt they got for free with a purchase made five years ago, The Digital Denier can be spotted hovering around the counter of your local guitar store, helpfully interjecting whenever staff suggest checking out a multi-FX.
4. Reverse Snob
“Yeah, Fender are ok, but if you really want to see the perfect Strat there’s a guy in Portland who makes fretboards from long-extinct trees and files nuts from unicorn horns.” We’ve all met this person: get them talking about your favourite album and they’ll tell you why the demos are better. Part hipster, part nerd, they’re the Comic Book Guy of guitar.
Contrary to the end and sticking rigidly to the script that established brands with global distribution networks and a robust customer service policy are simply Big Business trying to getting one over on all of us. Their pedalboard consists entirely of long-forgotten 90s Japanese curios and their amp is built by “the guy who taught Dumble to solder”. But boy, they’re really nailing those AC/DC tones.
5. The Component Proponent
In a move that has sapped every last drop of joy from playing the guitar, this player has carefully selected and modded their entire rig down to component level, and they’re’ not letting you leave until you hear why. They laugh at your stock capacitors, stare blankly in disbelief as you confess you don’t know the value of your pots, and can’t wait for you to slip up while talking about pickup resistance.
Unfortunately for you, this bore has approached technique in the same way and can play you under the table, but remains adamant that tone has nothing to do with 10,000 hours and a solid investment in lessons. Nope, it’s the final 5% perfected by the fact that they have connected the whole lot together with highly-leaded solder. Don’t you dare suggest otherwise.
6. The Big Rigger
We’ve all been there – gear-share gigs with a tight turnaround between bands. The headliner has graciously allowed you to plug your head through their cab, but wait! The second band on the bill has arrived for soundcheck and their guitarist makes their arrival known by booming “Are those Vintage 30s?” as they barge you out of the way.
You can do what you want with the drums, bass is either on or off, and we won’t hear the vocals, but are you seriously saying that this guy won’t be able to use their wet/dry rig, pedalboard that could land the Mars Rover and four differently-tuned guitars? After all, how else are they supposed to get through the 30-minute set without ‘their sound’? The only solution is losing 10 minutes from your set, and you’ll thank them later.
7. The Brand Hater
Still smarting from a poorly-judged secondhand purchase made when they were 15 years-old, the Brand Hater reverts to being a teenager at the mere mention of the offending company. Watch them light-up with anger as the chance to yet-again recount the same tale of a poorly-filed nut presents itself.
They’ll make a blanket declaration that ‘Brand X’ are “s**t” despite never playing any other models from said company before or since. As handy additional advice, they’ll point you in the direction of the guitar they have played for the last 10 years as the absolute best and only alternative.
8. The Naive Believer
Like a magpie that treats tone shortcuts as its object-of-desire, this guitarist is playing Pokemon with as many marketing claims and tonal urban legends as they can fit in their beak. They’ve read-up on the physics, they can recite the patented acronym, and they’ve taken them to heart with immovable belief.
Heavy strings for bigger tone: check. Depleted batteries to hit the voltage sweet spot: yes please. Gold-plated output jack: just a bit. You’d listen to the claims, except you’ve just heard them attempt the riff to Sweet Child O' Mine with all the precision of a mittened-hoofed bull, placing the blame on the fact that “it’s not my rig” and testifying that they can play it perfectly while no-one’s watching.
9. The Forward Thinker
Frequently lurking somewhere between a Line 6 Variax, and the manual for their Roland GK guitar synth, this guitarist is impervious to the hyperbole of anything to do with ‘mojo’. Instead, they’re on a quest to make their guitar sound like anything-but the model they bought. To them, versatility is king, even if it does require memorising a complex matrix of switch positions and bespoke connections just to get through the intro of Summer of 69.
You wouldn’t have a problem with that, apart from the fact that any time the discussion of ‘dream guitars’ come up, this guy instantly puts the dampeners on by reminding you that “I’ve got that sound in here” and that relic sunburst finishes are like buying ripped jeans. It’s got so bad that they cancelled your band’s auditions for a keyboard player, squashing the idea as “another mouth to feed” while drowning out your argument with the Oberheim part from Jump.
10. The Vintage Enthusiast
A close ally of the Digital Denier, this tonehound thrives on vibe and simplicity, frequently fooling themselves that old-equals-better and that tone is somehow directly correlated to the way their gear looks. They recoil from your PRS as you hand it to them because “the poly finish will never age well’ and their vintage amp resembles your nan’s TV unit.
In their minds, real guitars can only come from the US circa ’51-’79, the use of a guitar tuner is “cheating and too accurate” and “I’m a valve amp guy!” is their go-to off switch for any discussion.
11. Gain Freak
A mate of your mate who’s “brilliant when you get to know him”, the opinionated gain freak could start an argument in an empty room. He’s got five guitars all fitted with the same EMG/single-volume control configuration; Floyds that he insists are “actually really easy to balance” and has just written-off your JCM800 as “Ok for a blues amp”.
A collector of boutique HM-2 clones, he’s just informed you that your original model will never get you that authentic Swedish death metal tone yet refuses to be pinned-down for his reasoning. Instead, he’s changed the subject and kindly offered to explain why your mid control needs to stay below 2 on the condition that you get the next round in.