The secret that country guitar players use for clean tone
Country guitar players have known this secret forever, but most blues, rock and metal players don't.
A word that guitarists use to value a guitar's tonal worth is sustain. Gotta have that sustain. Sustain for days. Sustain forever.
The old school way of getting the sustain-for-days sound out of an electric guitar is using a tube type guitar amplifier head cranked up to 11 and a set of speakers in an enclosure that sound right when pushed. The amp when cranked up and its tubes hot creates a natural compression. The loudspeakers when pushed in a big box (usually a 4x12) vibrates in such a way that "carries" the audio "further". The end result is, you guessed it, longer sustained notes and chords - even when playing completely clean with no overdrive or distortion at all.
There's a problem, however. You can't just crank an amp to 11 and blast out a 4x12 cabinet whenever you want. This will annoy neighbors, or worse yet destroy your guitar amplifier head. This can get rather expensive very quickly. Can't have that.
Something country players have known for many years is that the secret of clean electric guitar tone is...
When the old school way of getting that compression proves to be too impractical (and it usually is), that's when you run out and buy a BOSS CS-3 pedal or the newer BOSS CP-1X. Or if you want to go the cheap route, there are plenty of others available.
Compression makes any electric guitar sound better when played clean
Yes, I said any electric guitar.
Whether you have a $150 Squier or a $3,500 Gibson, run that guitar through a compressor and you'll finally get that clean tone you were looking for.
Where should you place the compressor in your effects chain? First. You want the sustained note to be as clean as possible before any other effects are applied, and that's why you put a compressor as the first effect in the chain.
Will a compressor increase noise? Yes, but when played clean you should barely notice it. If the noise does bother you for whatever reason, there is a solution. Use a noise gate as the last pedal in your chain and that will allow you to keep your guitar's volume to 10 while at the same time shutting it up when you stop playing.
In the end, sure, we'd all like to crank a tube-type to 11 through a 4x12. But again, impractical. Get a compressor instead and your clean electric guitar tones will sing the way you want them to. It'll even sound great when playing direct, using guitar modeling and listening through ear buds!
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