How To Produce The Best Jazz Guitar Tone

The answer to the question of how to produce the best jazz guitar tone is often elusive to the new guitarists. Many think that it is all about getting the arch top sound, using the Polytone. But all the arch tops are not the same!

So just being able to produce the hollow bodied sound is not going to make you a great jazz player. There are much more to it. A jazz player needs to pay equal attention to the tones and notes of the sound, he should not only play with his fingers but also with his soul.

If you want to get the best jazz guitar tone there is no substitute to practicing and trying to improve your tone. Add to that some adjustments to your equipment settings and pick, you will soon achieve the tone you are looking for.

We will be giving you some advice that might help you get there:

1. Get the right guitar

To produce just the right jazz tone choose a hollow bodied arch top guitar. A semi- acoustic electric guitar could be a good choice. Arch top guitars have a curvaceous surface which allows them to produce a loud and bright penetrating tone.

If you are ready to spend generously, opt to buy the Gibson ES-175. But if you are on a budget go for models like- Yamaha, Guild, Ibanez Artcore.


Gibson ES-175. Source: gibson.com

Arch top models lack in sustain, so if you are aiming to get more sustain out of your tone then do not buy an arch top. You should choose a solid bodied guitar instead. Keep in mind that the playing technique for arch top guitars are very different from the solid bodied ones.

You should read this guide to chooes the right guitar: How to Find the Best Jazz Guitar For You

2. Keep the effects low

Jazz has never been known to be a high effects genre. Still, modern day jazz players often use effects produced by wah, overdrive, distortion, chorus pedals etc. If you use guitar effects pedals, then do not use them too abundantly.

Otherwise, you may lose the natural clarity of the jazz guitar. Jazz guitar mostly produces a clean and mellow sound. So put off the treble. The tone control should also be set low so that you can get a warmer sound.

The lower you set the tone control the darker the sound will be. It can change depending on the venue you are playing in or on the equipment you are using.

You may like this post: Delay and Reverb Effects

3. Control the volume

Do not always keep your guitar’s volume high up. If you are looking for variety in your tone keep adjusting the volume control. This can give you the advantage of producing sounds ranging from soft to dark and dry.

Try to keep your volume knob somewhere between 7 and 9, it will smooth out the edges of the guitar sound. But remember that setting the volume too low will make you lose some tone.

Keep some volume available in the practical settings, because it will allow you use that extra volume without changing the amp.

4. Choose the right amplifier


Source: choiceguitaramplifiers.com

Unlike what most people think, not all amps work in the same way. Different amps work in different ways. But whatever amp you are using, be it heavy tube ones or portable jazz amps, find the EQ setting that gives you the most clarity.

Do not turn the bass up and keep the treble low as the combination will result is less clear sound. Boosting up your mids will help in getting the right jazz set up. Listen to the tone to get the right mid setting.

Amps with more headroom allows you to have higher gain. But turn your gain setting lower if your amp tends to get distorted.

If you prefer to get a traditional clean jazz tone, then choose a solid state amplifier. On the other hand, go for a tube amplifier if you are into distorted sounds.

Read this guide to get your right amplifier: Guitar Amp Buying Guide

5. Picks matter

The kind of pick you are using will contribute to the tone you are producing. Thicker and heaver picks will give a much more fat sound.

Start with a minimum 1 mm pick, not less than that. It is not absolutely necessary that you use the pick, if preferable you can use your fingers and try the hand techniques for playing the guitar.

After getting the right pick try to find the right place to pick. The tone of your guitar will change as you pick on different places.

If you are playing live and with effects try to pick near the bridge. It will give you a woodier and brighter sound. Picking above the guitar’s neck will produce a thick and mellow sound. Try to adjust the picking places as your requirements.

This is the Complete guide about Picks​.

6. Touch and Dynamics

Try to learn about the touch and dynamics of the guitar to get the warm jazz sound. Unlike other genres, jazz sounds are far softer, so do not go for heavy attacks while playing the guitar. Rely more on your amp to do the job and go for gentler touches.

The key to get the right sound keep experimenting the notes with soft plucks until you get your desired one.

7. Get better cables

You may try to cut down your budget while choosing the cable for your guitar, but don’t. Getting a good quality cable will noticeably improve the tone of your guitar. If you add a low quality cable with all the high end guitar and amps you have gathered, it will only result in a mediocre sound.

So get high quality cable and try to keep its length between 10 and 15 feet and you will be surprised by the difference. Also keep in mind that a good quality cable is not equivalent to an overpriced cable. So make sure to explore a little before buying your cable.

Besides trying all these points you MUST listen to the tones of the famous jazz guitarists all around the world. Closely listening to them will help you implement their techniques while you play. Try to find a tone that goes with your personal style.

Also remember that producing a great tone do not solely depend on how much money you spend on your gear. It mostly depends on the time you spend practicing and the dedication you have to achieve the perfect jazz tone.

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Natalie Wilson

I've been an avid guitar fan for as long as I can remember and the day I embarked on my six-string journey at the young age of 5 truly defined the course of my entire life. I work as a professional musician, session guitarist, and guitar teacher, and would like to use this blog as a personal outlet to share my six-string knowledge with the world. Welcome to MusicalAdvisors.com

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 1 comments
Paul - September 7, 2016

I sense a little ‘holier-than-thou’ here, Natalie (if you’re still there!), I’m struggling to find a tonal balance between two humbuckers, especially when soloing, and hoped Boss or someone would make an instant Kenny Burrell pedal. Not because I can’t play like him (!) but because it doesn’t sound like he might sound if he couldn’t play like him.
I had a gorgeous 18″ D’Aquisto (Aria!) archtop, but by the time it was in its carry-case it was like lugging around King Tut’s sarcophagus. So I looked around and found a lovely little 14″ archtop by Eastman, unfortunately the last one in the world had just gone out the store. So I ended up buying a semi-hollow 2015 Gibson LP, that I had to mortgage my house for. What’s in a name? Not a lot, I fear.
You don’t mention strings, I had it fitted with 12-50s to try to get rid of the thin, twangy sound, but I’m regretting roundwounds and have just ordered up some flats. We’ll see. To play thru, I have a DV Mark Jazz 12, that apart from a digital reverb is just a straight one-channel amp, supposedly. Should’ve gone to Polytone… or Henriksen, and remortgaged.
But I still can’t get rid of that brightness you get with too much mahogany in the box. Jazz guitar should sound more like it’s being played thru a sock. You can damp the strings with the heel of your hand on the bridge, but that kills too much sustain.
I Googled ‘Is there a guitar pedal that will give me a jazz tone?’, so far all I’ve got is sermons about purity of intention and soul.
I’m not a Catholic, I just want a Jazz pedal!


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