7 Best Tips for Improving Rhythm Guitar Tone

Are you looking to improve your rhythm guitar tone? Here are 7 simple tips for getting a better sound from your rhythm guitar. 

Tips to Improving Better Rhythm Guitar Tone 
  • Use the right amp settings
  • Select the neck pickup 
  • Check your guitar is correct
  • Use the best strings
  • Utilise pedal boards
  • Nail your technique 
  • Keep the cables in mind 

Use the Right Amp Settings

The first thing you should do when trying to get the perfect rhythm guitar tone, is go back to basics and start from scratch. So get your amp and turn all the controls to 12 o’clock. This gives you a good starting point to work from and sound out any changes.

When you’re making alterations to your amp settings from the neutral position, don’t change more than one thing at a time without listening in between for the effect each alteration has had. Changing a bunch of settings at once won’t help you figure out what the best controls are for your setup. 

Start with the Gain 

Next, you should sort out your gain and volume settings. Now the gain will of course depend on what genre of music you’re playing. You may want super high gain if you’re playing metal, but be careful not to go too high or it can sound muddled. You still want your audience to be able to hear everything clearly. 

Equally, if you want a clean tone, don’t turn your gain down to 0. For some guitar amps, you can’t even do this without losing all the volume. You want to be able to turn the gain up just before you can hear it if you want a cleaner tone. 

Tone Controls 

The next thing you need to make alterations to, is the tone controls. By this, I mean the treble, mids and bass controls. 

  • Treble: this refers to the amount of high-end sound produced by your amp. The higher this is, the sharper your sound will be. Having your treble high can cause the sound to be harsh and hard to listen to. It’s not very good for rhythm guitar. Most will have the treble set on around 4-5 so start from here and then play about with it. 
  • Mids: this of course refers to the mid-range frequency produced. Low mids result in a “scooped” sound, whereas higher mids sound thicker. Most rhythm guitar settings will be around 4-6. 
  • Bass: this refers to the low-end sound that your amp produces. The lower the bass, the thinner the sound will be. Try your bass on around 5-6 to start with and then work from there. You want it to be high enough so it sounds thick but not too high that it overshadows the other instruments. 

Select the Neck Pickup

For most situations the general rule about pickups is:

  • Rhythm guitar: neck pickup
  • Lead guitar: bridge pickup

The bridge pickup is used to produce a sharp sound, whereas the neck pickup will sound heavier and more “bassy”. 

You may want to experiment using the bridge pickup or both pickups combined and see what effect this has on your tone. However, be cautious with the bridge pickup as it can cause your sound to be too prominent and overshadow the lead guitar in some cases. 

Check your Guitar is Correct

One of the main things that can hold back your rhythm guitar tone, is the guitar itself. Now I don’t mean the make or model, but the way it is setup. This can include:

  • Bridge height
  • Saddle height
  • Worn frets 
  • Truss rod position

If you’re not sure how to check the intonation of your guitar, here are some steps you can try.

  • Play a note on the 12th fret
  • Play the 12th fret harmonic of the same note 
  • Compare the pitch of the two sounds.
If this is all new to you, then it’s best to take your guitar to a professional guitar repairer if you think that the way your guitar is set up could be damaging your tone. However, it is possible to make the adjustments yourself, if you know what you’re doing.  Just be very careful though, if you’re inexperienced than you can do a lot more harm than good!

Use the Best Strings

Your guitar strings can massively effect the tone of your rhythm guitar. Worn, old or poor quality strings can really impair your tone and create a “tinny” sound that really isn’t what you want. But how do you know if you need new strings? Here are some things to consider.

  • You should change your guitar strings after around 100 hours of playing.
  • If you don’t play your guitar very often, try and replace them at least every 4-6 months. 
  • If you’re having trouble bending or sliding on your strings, this is a sign that it’s time for a new set. 

You also need to make sure you choose some good quality strings. This will ensure that you don’t have to replace them constantly, and that they are good for your tone.

The thickness of your guitar strings is also something that will impact your tone. Most new players feel more comfortable playing with thinner strings as these are easier to play with. However, thicker strings are usually better for your tone. They sound thicker and more beefy with definitely makes them sound nicer. Try 0.10 gauge strings and persevere with them for a while until you get used to them and it’ll definitely help your tone if you normally play with thinner strings. 

Utilise Pedal Boards

One of the best ways to get a unique rhythm guitar tone, is by using effects pedals. If you’re new to pedals, then be warned, they can get pretty addictive! It’s best to start with one or two pedals and not over complicate things. In most cases, you don’t need a really complex pedal board to create the tone you’re after. Here’s a quick guide on guitar pedals to get you started. There are loads of different types, but these are great for rhythm guitars. 

Distortion Pedals 

This is one of the most popular kinds of effects pedals. They’re used to add crunch, volume and sustain to your tone to produce a better sound. If you want something inexpensive to start with, then go for a Boss DS-1. But if you want a professional option, then you can’t go wrong with an Ibanez Tube Screamer. It’s a favourite of loads of guitar players like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Noel Gallagher and Billie Joe Armstrong. 

Overdrive Pedals

Overdrive pedals are often confused with distortion pedals. The effect is to sound like you’re turning a valve amp as loud as it can go. The harder you play on the strings, the most you’ll hear it. The Boss SD1 Super Overdrive is a great pedal in this category. 

Reverb Pedals 

This is another hugely popular type of pedal that adds an excellent effect. They sound similar to an echo kind of effect. It’s the kind of sound you’d get in a large empty hall. The MRX M300 is a great premium choice.. The Boss SD1 Super Overdrive is a great pedal in this category. 

Keep the Cables in Mind

It’s really important to look after your guitar, amps and pedals, and most people usually do this pretty well. But one thing that most people neglect to look after, is there cables. This can actually be really damaging for your guitar’s tone. Make sure you purchase a good quality cable to start with. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but a knock-off £2 cable that you can find online usually won’t cut it. Store your cables properly and wind them up when they aren’t in use. Any kinks or stretches in your cables can cause all sorts of problems like feedback and impair your guitar’s tone massively. 

Nail your Technique

Everything we’ve spoken about so far is about your equipment, but your technique is also a huge factor that affects your guitar’s tone. Make sure that every time you practice, that you are using proper technique and not being sloppy. Cutting corners and being lazy will cement poor habits which will definitely impair the quality of your rhythm guitar tone. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Make sure you don’t grip your guitar neck too tightly. Imagine that you’re holding a tennis ball loosely in your hand. 
  • Keep everything relaxed. That doesn’t just mean your hands and fingers. Your entire body needs to be loose and relaxed. Tension from any part of your body can spread and lead to poor technique.
  • Don’t hold your finger too close to the fret. This causes a weaker sound. Try and have your finger exactly in between the frets as a beginner.
  • Record your performances. This will allow you to properly asses the tone and help you to make improvements. 

So there you go! Those are the 8 best tips for improving your rhythm guitar tone. Thanks for reading! Here are some other posts you may find useful:


Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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