There are many reasons why an electric guitar might not sound good.
The strings could be too high off the fretboard, or they could have too much tension on them. The pickup selector switch may need to be adjusted, or your amplifier settings may not be set correctly for the type of guitar you are playing.
Whatever the reason is, there are ways to solve it! In this article, I’ll go through a few of the most common reasons.
So without further ado, let’s just get straight into it, shall we?
Why does your electric guitar sound bad
It can be frustrating when you get your electric guitar to sound good at home but are unable to reproduce the same quality of sound in a live performance environment.
So what is really going on here?
The answer lies in understanding how an amplifier works and knowing that there are some fundamental differences between playing through an amp speaker vs being amplified directly by a microphone.
Your best chance for achieving consistent tone will come from having proper equipment matched with adequate knowledge about music production, acoustics, equalization (EQ), and signal processing.
It’s impossible to capture great tones without investing time into learning these skills/concepts which may not come easy or naturally even if you have played guitar for years!
The reward, however – will be well worth the effort because you will be able to hear your guitar sound exactly as it should, every time.
It’s important to understand that the sound of your electric guitar is a result of many factors working together.
Some of these include the make and model of your guitar, the pickups used, your playing technique, effects pedals, amplifier settings, and even the acoustics of the room you are performing in.
It’s also worth noting that not every guitar sounds good through every amp – this is something you will need to experiment with to find what works best for you.
The guitar is not in tune
As briefly mentioned above, the acoustics of the room are important to consider when playing live.
If it is a big open space, chances are that you will not need any additional equipment because your microphone and amp should be able to compensate for this.
The same would be true if you were in a smaller closed environment such as a recording studio or basement/garage where sound can easily become trapped causing an increase in volume which may damage speakers over time.
In contrast, when playing outdoors – at least when there aren’t many walls to reflect sound back onto your guitar – it’s usually best practice to add some reverb (a little echo) so that all frequencies don’t sit too heavily on top of each other.
Otherwise, the tone becomes muddy and indistinguishable.
The strings are old and need to be replaced
Your strings need to be changed every couple of months (or weeks depending on how frequently you play) because they begin losing their elasticity and ability to hold pitch over time.
This means the guitar will not stay in tune for very long, if at all!
The same thing happens when playing with a pick vs fingers so it’s important that your technique is practiced enough to have an even sound across each string while avoiding any dead spots – no matter what instrument you’re using.
If this does happen, chances are that other strings may start buzzing too which can add unwanted frequencies into your mix.
In addition to changing the whole set of strings whenever needed, there should also be some fine-tuning done regularly by checking individual strings for tuning stability.
The amplifier is too loud or not loud enough
This one is pretty self-explanatory!
If the amp is turned up too high, it will distort the sound of your guitar and make it difficult to control feedback.
On the other hand, if the amp isn’t turned up high enough then you may not be able to hear yourself over all of the other instruments on stage.
A good rule of thumb is to have your amp at a comfortable volume where you can still sing and talk over it without having to strain your voice.
There’s too much fret buzz, which means the neck needs to be adjusted
Fret buzz is usually caused by one or more of the following: strings too high off the fretboard, incorrect string height, improper intonation, and worn frets.
All of which can be corrected by a professional guitar technician if it’s something you’re unable to fix on your own.
Otherwise, you may need to purchase new hardware such as saddles, nuts, or screws in order for the instrument to play correctly.
You’re playing with a pick instead of your fingers
This is a personal preference that many guitarists have, but there are some benefits to playing with your fingers that you may not be aware of.
One such benefit is that you have more control over the string and can produce a wider range of tones by varying how much pressure you put on it.
Additionally, using your fingers gives you a softer sound which might be preferable in certain situations – like if you’re accompanying someone singing or playing another instrument.
You’re using cheap gear that doesn’t give you a good tone or volume
This one is a little harder to remedy without spending some money.
If you’re using an inferior instrument or amp, it’s going to be very difficult to achieve a good tone and volume no matter how talented you are as a player.
In most cases, it’s best to save up and invest in some better quality equipment so that you can really hear and appreciate the sound of your own guitar.
There are many other factors that come into play when trying to achieve the perfect electric guitar tone, but these are some of the most common ones.
Your amp or effects pedals are set up incorrectly
The order that you have your effects pedals set up will change the sound of each one.
For example, if you put a delay pedal before overdrive then it won’t be as affected by the latter so there’s no need to tweak any parameters on it or turn down its volume.
On the other hand, putting a reverb after an overdrive will mean that all frequencies are being boosted which may result in unwanted noise and feedback.
It is also important to know when certain effects should be used – like what time signature does this song use? What key are we playing in? Is it loud or soft? Etcetera!
If these questions don’t come into play during live performances then chances are you won’t need that pedal on your board at all.
There are a few other things to consider when trying to troubleshoot why your electric guitar doesn’t sound as good as it could.
By being mindful of the following, you can take steps towards having a more consistent and polished tone:
- Are your strings old and in need of replacement?
- Is your amplifier too loud or not loud enough?
- Do you have too much fret buzz?
- Are you playing with a pick instead of fingers?
- Are your effects pedals set up incorrectly?
By addressing these issues one by one, you’ll be able to make the necessary adjustments needed so that your electric guitar sounds just the way you want it.