Misnamed Tone Controls

For guitars of the straight waisted variety (or reverse offset).
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gusgorman
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Misnamed Tone Controls

Post by gusgorman » Tue Jun 30, 2020 6:45 am

When I first started playing guitar I had a mental block that meant I tended to play with all the knobs on the guitar set to 10. Obviously this isn't great on a Jazzmaster so after a while I learnt not to do that - but the thing which really changed the way I looked at it was when I realised that the tone controls were actually setting the frequency cut off for a low pass filter. (I realise its slightly different for the rhythm circuit on the JM but lets leave that to one side for now).

I've used synths alot in the past, so I'm very familiar with how a low pass filter works, and in synth world no-one would dream of building a synth and labeling the Frequency Cut Off as "Tone"... it would be a ridiculous thing to do, and also no-one would dream of always setting it to 10 on a synth because you'd massively miss out on the possible range of sounds.

Just musing really, but why aren't the controls labelled properly on a guitar? I think maybe it would help people get over the "everything set to 10" mental block.. I'm sure I'm not the only guitarist who's had it.

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Re: Misnamed Tone Controls

Post by øøøøøøø » Tue Jun 30, 2020 7:40 am

I think there are a few reasons for the naming convention.

One is the respective traditions of synthesis and electric guitar.

Early synthesizers were highly-specialized devices that required a fair degree of technical knowledge to operate. It wasn't until Moog was convinced to add a piano keyboard that they were even remotely playable by musicians with only conventional music training--and even then, it usually required some technical knowledge or assistance to create a patch that would produce any kind of sound at all.

Electric guitars have different origins--they were designed specifically to be adopted by players of acoustic guitars. There was no expectation that the player would have a technical or electronics background. There was a pressing need to make things intuitive and "user-friendly." Otherwise, widespread adoption of the new technology might not have taken hold.

For the former "audience," identifying the function in a precise manner makes a lot of sense. The technical knowledge to understand basic filter technology (and know terms like "corner frequency" and even "low pass") would've been seen as rather basic for anyone with the training to even get a sound out of something like a modular Moog or Buchla.

For the latter, it's a different matter entirely. Most guitarists in the mid 20th century wouldn't have known (or cared about) the difference between a Chebyshev filter and a Butterworth filter, wouldn't have an intuitive knowledge of what "6dB/octave" meant in practical terms, and may not have even known the definitions of "low-pass" and "high-pass." But "this knob changes the tone" is something they would understand.

Also, "low pass filter corner frequency" is much harder to legibly fit on a small knob.

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Re: Misnamed Tone Controls

Post by gusgorman » Tue Jun 30, 2020 8:14 am

øøøøøøø wrote:
Tue Jun 30, 2020 7:40 am
I think there are a few reasons for the naming convention.

One is the respective traditions of synthesis and electric guitar.

Early synthesizers were highly-specialized devices that required a fair degree of technical knowledge to operate. It wasn't until Moog was convinced to add a piano keyboard that they were even remotely playable by musicians with only conventional music training--and even then, it usually required some technical knowledge or assistance to create a patch that would produce any kind of sound at all.

Electric guitars have different origins--they were designed specifically to be adopted by players of acoustic guitars. There was no expectation that the player would have a technical or electronics background. There was a pressing need to make things intuitive and "user-friendly." Otherwise, widespread adoption of the new technology might not have taken hold.

For the former "audience," identifying the function in a precise manner makes a lot of sense. The technical knowledge to understand basic filter technology (and know terms like "corner frequency" and even "low pass") would've been seen as rather basic for anyone with the training to even get a sound out of something like a modular Moog or Buchla.

For the latter, it's a different matter entirely. Most guitarists in the mid 20th century wouldn't have known (or cared about) the difference between a Chebyshev filter and a Butterworth filter, wouldn't have an intuitive knowledge of what "6dB/octave" meant in practical terms, and may not have even known the definitions of "low-pass" and "high-pass." But "this knob changes the tone" is something they would understand.

Also, "low pass filter corner frequency" is much harder to legibly fit on a small knob.
Good answer thanks.

Although I think we could prob come up with something shorted than ""low pass filter cutoff frequency" :) , alot of synths just label it as "Freq" or "Cut"... but then again it is part of the VCF section so a shortened name makes sense.

Maybe someone should custom make some knobs for guitar playing synth geeks.

And whilst we are here, can I have a Resonance control too please? :)

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Re: Misnamed Tone Controls

Post by timtam » Tue Jun 30, 2020 8:24 am

Most people would have known what a tone control was from radios and other audio devices that had them. My father had the annoying habit of tuning the family radio to the 'easy listening' station and then turning the tone control all the way in the bass direction to remove all the treble, resulting in mush.
Image

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Re: Misnamed Tone Controls

Post by somanytoys » Tue Jun 30, 2020 9:05 am

I did that for a long time, play with the tone knob all the way up. But it wasn’t because I didn’t know what it was, it was that I didn’t want to rob the original signal of all of the highs, which I would then dial around with my amp, so that setting would be the point that I would get the highest highs that I wanted to get out of it.
It was more a question of where I tuned the tone.

I still play at full guitar tone to some degree, depending on what I’m playing, but I let the amp cover more ground now, and use the guitar’s tone knob, pickup selector and the settings of different pedals to help sculpt the different sounds as I need to.

It does still seem mentally to me like I’m robbing something by not having the tone knob on 11 and working with that sound further down the line, but I’ve come to appreciate using it much more.
-David

It's a boost booster, to boost your boost - it makes your tone much muchier.

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Re: Misnamed Tone Controls

Post by gusgorman » Tue Jun 30, 2020 12:19 pm

somanytoys wrote:
Tue Jun 30, 2020 9:05 am
I did that for a long time, play with the tone knob all the way up. But it wasn’t because I didn’t know what it was, it was that I didn’t want to rob the original signal of all of the highs, which I would then dial around with my amp, so that setting would be the point that I would get the highest highs that I wanted to get out of it.
It was more a question of where I tuned the tone.

I still play at full guitar tone to some degree, depending on what I’m playing, but I let the amp cover more ground now, and use the guitar’s tone knob, pickup selector and the settings of different pedals to help sculpt the different sounds as I need to.

It does still seem mentally to me like I’m robbing something by not having the tone knob on 11 and working with that sound further down the line, but I’ve come to appreciate using it much more.
You touch on the point I was trying to make (and admittedly probably didn't make very well)

The "Tone" knob on the guitar (ie the low pass filter) does something different to the "Tone" knobs or EQ on an amp, so shouldn't be dismissed for getting the sound you want. Infact, sometimes it can be vital for getting the sound you want.

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Re: Misnamed Tone Controls

Post by somanytoys » Tue Jun 30, 2020 2:26 pm

Yeah, I’ve realized that a lot of good tones can be created that way, that’s hard to try to dial in otherwise.

Part of my thinking was that I didn’t want to take too much of the highs from the front of the signal, because they couldn’t really be made up for with eq later on. But sometimes they just aren’t needed and that’s sometimes the best & easiest way to get specific sounds.

One thing that helped me a lot was getting a bass with active bass & treble knobs. It made me realize that I need to sculpt the sound from the instrument as much as anywhere else, and the knobs on the guitar are the easiest to reach & tweak.

I’ve even started appreciating using the neck pickup a lot more, they used to mostly sound dull & muddy to me, but they have their own tone and characteristics. I just felt robbed of the tones and clarity that I had been getting from the bridge pickup, but it’s just a different world sometimes.

It’s all a continuous learning curve, there’s so much to know.
-David

It's a boost booster, to boost your boost - it makes your tone much muchier.

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Re: Misnamed Tone Controls

Post by jvin248 » Tue Jun 30, 2020 2:57 pm

.

Eddie Van Halen, when building his famous red Frankenstrat, used the tone knob on the volume pot because "it changes the tone when I turn down".

If you really want to learn how to use the volume and tone knobs on settings other than 10 ... get a Junior or Esquire single pickup guitar. Those guitar models teach more about dialing in tone than any other guitar type.

.

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Re: Misnamed Tone Controls

Post by øøøøøøø » Wed Jul 01, 2020 3:36 am

My guitar tone knobs stay fully up up most times. That's usually just down to what I'm asking the guitar to do in context. Occasionally I'll roll it off for some specific purpose.

Magnetic guitar pickups have no "real" top end on their own. They've got a low-pass filter sort of built in, inherent to the design.

That's because they have substantial amounts of inductance, resistance, and capacitance (due to coils, wire gauge, and wire proximity respectively). The shielded cable has capacitance, as well, which also can impact this parasitic low-pass characteristic.

A typical vintage humbucker will have a corner frequency of about 2kHz; a vintage Strat pickup at about 5kHz, in typical circuit. Other pickup types tend to fall somewhere in this range (a very hot humbucker can start to roll off even sooner).

Mostly for this reason, when we're dealing with a guitar pickup, we're mostly dealing in midrange... and if we roll off the tone control to the point where its function is audible, we're removing "presence" at best, and more likely, just lots of midrange.

While this is occasionally useful, the very thing it begins to remove is the very thing I'm often looking to accentuate. I usually like to leave it wide open, and control the timbre foremost with touch.

Electric guitar can make top end if using accessories like fuzz... but the fuzz will be, of course, generated after the low-pass filter on your guitar. More often, I'd use the low-pass that's almost always built into the fuzz itself if I want to rein in the upper harmonics.

---

A note about the misleading nature of the name--when i was very young (like, 8 or 9) and first getting interested in guitars, it was right at the tail end of the Floyd Rose phase. The "pinch harmonic and dive bomb" thing was in full vogue, and I thought this was done by manipulating the "tone" knob. Because to me, a "tone" was a note, and a tone knob should bend the note! When I got my first guitar at 12, I was pretty disappointed when it only made the sound all dark and muddy.

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Re: Misnamed Tone Controls

Post by SAVEStheDAY » Wed Jul 01, 2020 4:37 am

I usually remove the tone knob from the circuit and use my amp for shaping sounds.

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Re: Misnamed Tone Controls

Post by gusgorman » Wed Jul 01, 2020 4:41 am

somanytoys wrote:
Tue Jun 30, 2020 2:26 pm
Yeah, I’ve realized that a lot of good tones can be created that way, that’s hard to try to dial in otherwise.

Part of my thinking was that I didn’t want to take too much of the highs from the front of the signal, because they couldn’t really be made up for with eq later on. But sometimes they just aren’t needed and that’s sometimes the best & easiest way to get specific sounds.

One thing that helped me a lot was getting a bass with active bass & treble knobs. It made me realize that I need to sculpt the sound from the instrument as much as anywhere else, and the knobs on the guitar are the easiest to reach & tweak.

I’ve even started appreciating using the neck pickup a lot more, they used to mostly sound dull & muddy to me, but they have their own tone and characteristics. I just felt robbed of the tones and clarity that I had been getting from the bridge pickup, but it’s just a different world sometimes.

It’s all a continuous learning curve, there’s so much to know.
It interesting once you start playing around isn't it? Once I got over the mental block i realised that some really cool lead sounds I liked were made with the bridge pickup and the Tone on zero with a bit of overdrive.

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Re: Misnamed Tone Controls

Post by gusgorman » Wed Jul 01, 2020 4:42 am

øøøøøøø wrote:
Wed Jul 01, 2020 3:36 am

A note about the misleading nature of the name--when i was very young (like, 8 or 9) and first getting interested in guitars, it was right at the tail end of the Floyd Rose phase. The "pinch harmonic and dive bomb" thing was in full vogue, and I thought this was done by manipulating the "tone" knob. Because to me, a "tone" was a note, and a tone knob should bend the note! When I got my first guitar at 12, I was pretty disappointed when it only made the sound all dark and muddy.
haha! ;D

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