Guitar solos are one of the core aspects of rock and metal music. They are cool, add flavor to songs, and can be the main hook of a song.
Dialing in a great lead guitar tone can be challenging. It’s very different from a rhythm guitar tone and requires a different approach.
And if your guitar solos don’t sound as great as you wanted, this is the right guide for you.
How To Get A Good Lead Guitar Tone
In this post, I listed seven steps you should follow to get a good lead guitar lead tone. Your guitar solos will sound much better and more professional.
1. Use Medium Gain
The first and most important thing for a good lead guitar tone is gain. Too much or too little gain can have a bad impact on the sound so it’s crucial to find the best spot.
Many beginner guitar players think that more gain equals better tone and it concerns rhythm tones also. But in reality, more gain creates harshness and fuzziness. The tone becomes unclear and guitar solos sound bad.
If you listen to your favorite rock or metal guitar solos, you might think that they have heavy tones. But it’s the opposite – a medium overdriven tone is the best for creating good-sounding lead guitar sounds.
The best way to dial in the right amount of gain on your amp is to start from zero. Just cut all the gain and slowly turn it up. After the amp starts breaking, stop there and play some licks to check the guitar tone.
This will give you an idea of how the solos could sound. From here you can add or subtract a little gain. There isn’t a calculated amount of gain a guitar solo should have. Everything depends on the type of amplifier, a particular song, and your taste.
Of course, if your goal is to create a clean lead tone, then you don’t need overdriven sound. But sometimes even clean guitar solos need a little drive to make them more prominent.
The bottom line is that a guitar solo should have a medium gain. Almost crunchy. Start from there and you can tweak it later.
2. Boost Mid Range
After the gain is set, it’s time to take the lead tone to the next level. And this could be done by boosting mid-range from a guitar amplifier. It will help your guitar solo to stand out in the mix.
Mid frequencies are the meat of heavy guitar tones. So, the more mid-range a lead guitar has, the better sounding and easier to mix it will be.
Set the mid-range knob on the twelve-hour position on your amp. Then slowly start to increase it until you find the sound you like.
While you changing the mid settings, you should play some licks to know how it affects the sound. But don’t add too much of it.
In general, about six or seven is a good spot for most tube amps. But because every amp is different, you could go as far as eight or nine.
Like gain, the amount of mid-range depends on the amp and your personal preferences. Continue tweaking until you find the best spot.
3. Dial Back Bass
You should do the opposite for the low frequency. In general, heavy guitar tones don’t need too much low frequency. Especially, lead guitar tones.
There is not an exact amount of bass you should cut, but I like when the bass knob is under five. But some people go as low as three or even two.
Just set it to the center and then slowly dial it back. You don’t need to cut too much low end. It will make the lead tone thinner.
To control the amount of low frequency in guitar solos, try to play palm-muted licks. If you hear some weird low overtones, then you should dial it back slightly.
You have to balance it. A guitar solo shouldn’t be thin but also, shouldn’t have too many low frequencies.
4. Enhance Presence
Now, your guitar solo sounds much better but it lacks something. And these are the high frequencies. They are as important as mid-range.
A guitar amplifier has two knobs to boost high frequencies – treble and presence. If your amplifier doesn’t have a presence knob, you have to use only treble.
For lead tones, I like when a treble knob is between six and eight because I find it the best sounding spot. But every guitar amplifier is different and we all have different tastes. And if your amplifier also has a presence knob, you can use both and find the balance.
To find out which knob sounds better, try them separately. Set both knobs on five and first, boost treble. Hear what impact it has on the lead tone.
Then set a treble on five and boost presence. This way you will hear which one does the better job. You can use only one to enhance high frequencies or use both.
But in general, I never dial treble or presence controls below five. And I like when the treble knob is the main source of high frequency and I use presence as an enhancer.
Tweak your amp controls and find the best spot for you. It might be different in every case. Each amp produces a different sound and every song requires a different approach.
5. Add Overdrive For Tightness
After you dial in a lead guitar tone with an amplifier, it’s time to add tightness to it. And you will need an overdrive pedal for that.
There are countless overdrive or distortion effects pedals and you can use whatever you have. But in general, for guitar solos, I prefer overdrive over distortion, because overdrive works better for tightness.
My favorite overdrive pedal for guitar solos are Ibanez TS808 and TS9. They have very simple controls – drive, volume, and tone. And that’s all a lead tone needs.
The goal is to make the guitar solo tighter. I don’t want to add another layer of gain. But sometimes that could be a good thing.
The overdrive settings I like to use are very simple. I start with the tone knob and set it to sixish. Then I dial back the drive tone way back – about two or sometimes to zero. And the volume is set to five.
Then I play some licks and solos and make decisions that way. If a lead tone sounds a little bit dark, I increase the tone. It adds high frequencies and makes it tighter.
You can do anything you like to your lead tone. But if you want to add only tightness, dial back the drive knob and increase the tone a little.
Because overdrive can increase the volume, you can control it with the volume knob. Make sure that the difference between amp sound and overdriven sound is minimal.
6. Compress It Slightly
Compressing a heavy lead guitar tone is optional. But if you want to add a little balance and sustainability to a guitar solo, a compression pedal is the best tool.
But when it comes to clean guitar solos, I love using compression. The guitar solo from Californication by RHCP is one of my favorite clean lead tones ever. And it uses compression very well. John Frusciante is the master of compression.
A compressor does two main things to a guitar tone – it makes the sound even and also adds sustainability. It works with heavy and clean guitar solos.
But don’t use too much compression. It will kill dynamics and make the sound dull. Just add enough to add sustain and cohesiveness to your guitar sound.
Use medium to slow attack, medium sustain, and level and tone could be anything. It depends on the song and your taste.
7. Add Reverb And Delay
And finally, to make guitar solos even better, you should use delay and reverb pedals. You can use only one but most times these two effects work well together.
I love using both together because reverb adds space and air to the sound and delay makes it more pleasing. But only reverb or delay could be enough for some songs.
The settings for reverb and delay could be anything. It’s very personal and you should make the decision. Depending on the song, some lead tones might need too much reverb or vice versa.
For example, if I use both effects on a lead guitar, I use very minimal settings. I don’t want my tone to be artificial.
I just use reverb to add a little air to my solos and delay to create a couple of repeats. It makes solos stand out in the mix and also creates sustain.
And if you use both pedals, start with reverb. Set it to your liking and lastly add a delay. This way the flow will be more natural.
What’s A Good Lead Guitar Tone?
In general, a good tone for guitar solos is when it cuts well in the mix, has a clear sound, and sits well in the whole mix.
Of course, this is a very broad description and there is more to it but the goal is to be prominent in the mix and don’t sound muddy. And it concerns not only recording but lives playing too.
Lead guitar tone depends on the amp, speakers, guitar, and player itself but knowing how to mix all of this and dial a good tone is crucial. Because if you don’t know what are you doing then the best gear in the world will not save you.
Especially, it’s important to record good guitar solo sounds because they will have a great impact on the whole song. Having a juicy, clear-sounding, and prominent lead guitar tone is critical to great rock and metal songs.
So, if you want to dial in great lead guitar tones, this guide will help you to accomplish your goal. And you need to try different tricks yourself to master your skills. Practice and experience are everything when it comes to guitar tones.
This is a general and beginner guide to guitar solos. It will help you to create beautiful lead guitar tones. It can be used for rock, metal, or clean solos. The approach is similar. You need to have a good amp tone, overdrive for tightness, and reverb and delay for air and space. Compression is optional but it is used for sustainability.
If you want to start creating amazing guitar solo sounds, just try these steps. Use your favorite amp and guitar, use real effects, or use VST plugins. Create dirty and clean tones and you will see that your guitar solos sound much better.