Like many guitarists, you’re probably always searching for ways to refine, tweak or improve your tone. Yeah, a brand new guitar or amplifier will definitely do the trick but most of us out there don’t have the cash to drop hundreds of dollars on a whim. Luckily, you don’t have to spend that kind of money in order to better guitar tone. With that in mind, we take a look at a few pieces of affordable guitar gear that can make a noticeable impact on your current tone.
This might sound like a no-brainer but you’ll be surprised at how many times I bump into players that stick to the same set of strings year after year. Maybe it’s the price, maybe it’s because it’s just what they are used to, but with so many different varieties of strings out there, there’s no reason why you shouldn't experiment from time to time. Better yet, strings have a drastic impact on tone and playability. As for which strings you should get, it all depends on what you are looking for. If you want thicker tone, try a heavier gauge. Or maybe you want a set of strings that bend a bit easier, in which case, a lighter set would do. Check out my D'Addario Strings Brand Spotlight for a few more suggestions, or just check out our entire selection of guitar strings right here.
Preamps tend to be a huge source of confusion for many players, and understandably so -- a lot of what a preamp means depends on the context. It can mean the stage before the power amplifier in an amp, it can mean a device that amplifies a mic signal before hitting a console. In this case, we’re referring to a pedal preamp, an external device that usually consists of tone, gain, volume and other EQ shaping settings. What differentiates the good ones from your standard effects pedals that offer similar settings is that they are complete sound solutions that players can build their tone around. Another huge benefit of owning a preamp is consistency.
Electric guitarists should definitely check out the various preamps from AMT while acoustic players will find a lot to like with the Fishman Platinum Stage. Bass players actually have plenty of preamps to choose from, although I find the Xotic BB Bass Preamp a great and affordable choice. Whether you need to borrow a buddy’s amplifier, are forced to use the house rig for a show, or need to plug in directly into a PA system or into a recording console, a good quality preamp offers consistent and powerful tone shaping tools that you can count on.
Unless you own a pretty nice tube amp, chances are your overdrive tone could use some beefing up. Even then, a dedicated overdrive or distortion pedal can add a lot of versatility to your current setup, tube amp or not. The same can be said with any other effect that is commonly built into amps, such as reverb or delay. Best of all, there are tons of great effects pedals out there that can be had at a great price. Check out our Great Overdrive Pedals For Less Than $100 from some of my personal affordable recommendations.
Aside from the body type, pickups are what give a guitar a major part of their tone so it stands to reason that the best way to upgrade or simply get a different sound is by installing a new set of pickups. There's no shortage of manufacturers out there cranking out plenty of pickups at a wide range of prices, with many solid choices going for less than $100 or sets for about $200-$250. While that might be creeping past the affordable territory, it's well worth the investment as few things can drastically upgrade your tone as much as a new set of pickups. Whether you use single coil or humbuckers, we have plenty of great choices at a great price.
Love your Fender Stratocaster but want to upgrade the stock tone with the best replacement Strat pickups on the market? Not a problem! As one of the most influential guitars ever made, the Fender Stratocaster has a huge aftermarket pickup scene that offers nearly any Strat tone imaginable. Whether you're looking for something as close to vintage as possible, a set that's hotter than stock or maybe just single-coil pickups that can cancel the hum, we've ranked the very best Stratocaster pickups around.
Sure, a tuner isn’t going to technically improve your tone, but you can’t argue that a guitar in tune sounds much better than one that is off. If you find yourself constantly stopping between songs to tune your instrument or taking too long doing one string at a time, do yourself a favor and invest in a dedicated tuner pedal. Personally, I go for the PolyTune 2 (there’s also the smaller PolyTune 2 Mini if you don’t mind the smaller display). Not only is it among the most popular and precise tuners in the world, it allows you to tune all six strings at once. Just strum and the PolyTune 2 will show you what string or strings need fixing. There’s also a Drop-D and Capo mode just in case you dabble in alternative tunings. For about $100, it’s definitely a tool that every pedalboard should feature.
Searching for the perfect tone is like mastering a skill -- you're never really ever done. It's can also get pretty expensive. But by checking out the affordable gear above, you don't have to break the bank to improve your tone! If you have any questions regarding the purchase of one of the items above or any other piece of gear we carry, don't hesitate to chat with one of our friendly PAL pros by using the live chat feature below or by calling us toll-free at 1 877-671-2200!
What are some other affordable pieces of guitar gear that can make a noticeable impact on tone?