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http://lamkins-guitar.com/music/article/tone-terms
David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: terminology, @musings info
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Tone Terms

Excerpted (and heavily edited) from http://www.kinman.com/html/toneWorkshop/glossary/sonic.htm

The following started as a glossary on the Kinman web site. I've modified Kinman's glossary to correct some inconsistencies and reduce its Strat-centricity where appropriate. The Kinman site gives permission to use this material for personal use, which is what I'm doing. Over time, this glossary will take on more of my own character. Credit to Kinman, though, for getting things started.

Air
The term applied to a pickup that describes how the response of the pickup feels and sounds to the player. More air means more expression, more lively, more satisfying to play with. See also Attack, Dynamic Range.
Attack
The short-lived instantaneous peak voltage response from a pickup at the precise moment the string is plucked. A direct equivalent of dynamic range and Q. More attack means the note will explode from the speaker with more energy. Excessive attack contributes to hearing loss because of the spike of power delivered by the loudspeakers. See Dynamic range, Air and Presence.
Bark
Combination of midrange dominance and hard attack. Often associated with hot pickups and P-90's. A kind of Twang without bite. Like the bark of a medium sized dog.
Bass
Audio Frequencies below 300Hz.
Bell Tone
Ever really thought what a big church bell really sounds like? Huge, lots of shimmer, ring and presence but not really a lot of treble or bass. Big Bells are midrange dominant.
Bite
The ability of a tone to be noticed by virtue of it's treble edge. One that bites or cuts through with a cutting edge of presence. Like the bite of a small sized dog. See also Presence, Attack.
Chime
The pleasing result of a specific presence factor of a pickup in expressing a group of concordant notes particularly in the upper register on the unwound strings where the notes 'chime' together to capture that quality of a large bell.
Clean sound
Sometimes applied to sound that is unprocessed, undistorted OR devoid of noise. See also Noise.
Clean Tone
Tone that has no distortion content or without excessive midrange and subsequently a high transparency factor. See also Transparency.
Coloration
Usually applied to the presence (or abundance) of midrange frequencies which tend to muddy the tone. See also Transparency.
Compression
The intentional limiting of dynamic range by electronic methods to control large transients of audio power so as not to exceed the limits of devices such as recording equipment; also a characteristic of a guitar pickup when the peak frequency envelope is wide with the result it drives the amp into slight overload.
Creamy distortion
Smooth unvarying (steady) distortion.
Creamy tone
The quality of sound in relation to treble response and attack. If the sound is scratchy and thin or overly dynamic it is not creamy.
Chunky tone
Having the qualities of a P-90 in sound. Big, fat, loud, good attack with resonance below the higher region, lower than a traditional Strat pickup.
Dark tone
Tone that is low in apparent brightness (or attack) but rich in midrange.
Definition
The property of a guitar's sound that enables it to be distinguished from the competing sound of the cymbals. Also the characteristic that separates and distinguishes notes played arpegio style. Balanced presence and dynamic range are key factors in achieving this difficult performance. Not always easy to evaluate unless in the context of a band in full tilt. Also see Presence and Punch.
Distortion
When a signal is intentionally or unintentionally driven beyond the transient limits of the amplifier and results in a square wave-form as distinct to a sine wave-form. See Overdrive.
Dynamic range
The amount of output voltage generated by a pickup upon the instant of attack. See Attack and Presence.
Fat sound
Opposite to a thin weedy sound, a fat sound is more like a wall of sound without the excessive volume. A sound with a big girth. One with a broad range of midrange frequencies.
Feel
The way a pickup responds (or doesn't respond) to various stimulus of the strings. A direct function of dynamic range or attack that imparts desired expression to the player's performance.
Fluid response
A function of abundant dynamic range and attack that allows the player to string a sequence of notes in a seamless progression. Jimi used it to good effect in several more restrained, undistorted pieces. Other notables use distortion to achieve it.
Girth
The overall dimension to a sound. Often used to imply a BIG, fat sound.
Glass
Another term for excessive brightness of single coil pickups especially the Fender genre. The characteristic of Fender sound that imparts a brittle or an Ice-pick quality. The enemy of high sound pressure level definition. See Ice-pick.
Growl
When the amp is turned up and the low (wound) strings are picked close to the bridge twang gives way to growl, especially on the bridge pickup.
Ice-pick
The term applied to the excessive treble edge of a single coil pickup which results in a harsh or brittle quality. Make the ears ring and causes hearing loss with prolonged exposure. Also makes the instrument less intelligible to, and therefore less appreciated by, the audience.
Intelligibility
The ability of a sound to be discerned and understood by the audiences ears. Excess treble brittleness can reduce it in electric guitars. Cymbals sometimes have the same effect by masking the guitar sound in acoustically difficult venues. See Definition and Presence.
Midrange
Any frequency in the audio spectrum between 300Hz and 3kHz. Below 300Hz is considered to be Bass and above 3Khz is treble. Midrange is the most important element of sound since this is where the human ear is most sensitive because human speech is almost all midrange.
Overdrive
When the input of the amplifier is driven beyond it's clean capability into distortion. Happens when a sine wave from a pickup slams into the transient limits of the amplifier and takes on a square wave-form. Pickups do not distort, only an active circuit can do that. The rated power output of an amplifier multiplies under heavy overload (distortion) hence the need for excessive speaker power-rating. See Distortion.
Presence
Leo Fender identified a particular type of brightness that is not strictly a function of resonant frequency alone (trebles) but rather derived from the combination of this plus sharp attack of a guitars pickup. Even low notes can have presence when they possess the right type of harmonic makeup and attack. Up to a point more attack equates to more presence. However when the attack/resonance envelope is such that the sound becomes very thin and brittle then presence actually diminishes. Presence helps carry the note through the shimmer and clatter of Cymbals and other instruments without having to play overly loud. Balanced presence is a valuable commodity.
Punch
Like it sounds, the ability to punch through the rest of the band. It implies more midrange response coupled with abundant dynamic attack. A P-90 is certainly a punchy pickup but a bright Strat pickup has less punch but more bite and presence so it gets noticed in a different way.
P-90
Excellent single coil pickup in the Gibson family. Great tone but terribly noisy. Easily recognized by it's centralized 6 adjustable steel screw pole pieces and rectangle plastic or dog ear cover, often cream in color. Has 2 opposing Alnico bar magnets lying flat underneath the coil.
Quack
To my way of thinking this term implies the dominance of midrange and attack in the tonal texture of a pickups sound. Controversly, some players refer it to positions 2 and 4 on a Strat switch. (see Scooped) where it seems to relate to the sharp peak in the upper midrange that results when 2 similar pickups are combined in-phase.
Response
The reaction of a pickups electrical and sonic performance to pick attack.
Resonant peak
Rz. The frequency at which there is the least resistance (Impedance actually) to the flow of electric currents in a pickup coil. The frequency at which string signal has the most output. Rz is defined in Hz. Typically 3.5KHz (3,500 Hz). It's the quintessential definition of guitar tone. Is meaningful when stated as a specification of a pickup that is loaded with the full compliment of Volume and Tone pots and a typical cable. Is completely meaningless when stated as free air Rz (typically 9KHz).
Scooped
The term applied to switch positions 2 and 4 of a Stratocaster or the middle position on a Telecaster. Also sometimes applied to a single pickup sound. More precisely, used to define scooped or de-accentuated midrange frequencies -or- sound that is somewhat hollow with less substance.
Shimmer
The vibrant characteristic related to the presence factor of an electric guitar. Has the effect of a perceived or imagined 'aural corona' attending the notes something like that of a large Gong or Cymbal.
Shrill
Excessive brightness, sometimes mistakenly interpreted by the player as desired attack and dynamic range. The artificial brightness of such practice is said to be shrill. Not a prized characteristic by any stretch of the imagination.
Spank
Bit hard to define this one, different meaning to different players. My take is it's related to Dynamic Range and Punch. Teles are said to have spank and Teles have a bridge pickup that is fat, loud and punchy with a big fat Twang.
Sparkle
The term to describe the presence of an electric guitars pickups, especially the Fender genre of single coils. See Presence.
Stratitis
Strat-itis is simultaneous multiple discordant frequency syndrome. Dirty or rusty strings can also cause this but many players know this horrible phenomena is caused by excessively strong magnets in the pickups, here's how it works. What happens is the magnets of the pickups pull a section of the string (the part that's over the pickups) into a U shaped vibration path. Normally the strings vibrate in what is essentially a single-plane path or pattern. Lets say that the time taken for a string (not subjected to excessive magnet pull) to complete one cycle or oscillation is X milliseconds. Traveling in a U shaped path it actually takes longer to complete one cycle or oscillation since the distance is greater via a U shaped path, so the time is X + U milliseconds. Now it's getting clear that what you have is a string that has a section of it's length vibrating in a U shaped path and part of the remaining section traveling in a direct single-plane path and yet another section traveling at all frequencies between these two extremes. This means that the three sections are actually vibrating at many different frequencies when the string should be vibrating uniformly at a single frequency. What happens when you mix all these different frequencies together? Uggghhh, dissonant Stratitis that's what! It's bad enough hearing 2 non-harmonious notes coming from a single string, but when you get multiple dissonant frequencies (or notes) being produce simultaneously from a single string the results are absolutely horrendous. A string that's out of tune with itself no less, big time. That's what Strats do when you adjust the pickup magnets close to the strings. But when you adjust them to prevent Strat-itis, output, sensitivity and dynamic range are reduced.
Sweet tone
Sound that is characterized by lack of brittle or ear piercing treble frequencies but which nevertheless sounds bright and alive with sweet harmonics.
Thick tone
Sound that is high in midrange content and low in bass and brightness.
Transient response
The ratio of voltage produced to a given energy of pick attack. Another way of expressing Dynamic range or attack. Lack of transient response equates to a choked or compressed feel. See also Attack.
Transparency
The low concentration of 600-1KHz midrange frequencies (coloration) resulting in a clear tone that is said to be transparent.
Twang
The sound made by the combination of attack and midrange response of a pickup with moderate transparency when picked closer to the bridge. Usually associated with the low mid frequencies of the wound strings. Instrumental guitar players like Duane Eddy and Hank Marvin have used this effect to great advantage over the years. Used skillfully it imparts an element of dignified excitement to the piece.
Warble
See Stratitis
Woody
Predominately middle frequencies (about 500KHz) with a controlled amount of attack and not overly endowed with brightness. Sort of Twang gone wrong. Mainly noticed on the bridge pickup or on other pickups by picking the string near the bridge.
April 04 2004 05:01:00 GMT