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The Beginner’s Guide To Finding Your Sound & Creating Your Guitar Rig

by Jake Kougioumtzis

I’m often asked by my guitar students “what kind of guitar should I get?” Or “what kind of amp do I need?” With so many options available it can be overwhelming for guitarists who is wanting to start getting into guitar gear and going down that rabbit hole of building their guitar pedal boards. Luckily there is a plethora of resources to narrow down what it is you need to get the sounds you want.

The first question you need to ask yourself is “who has inspired me to play and what about it would I like to replicate?” For some this question can be hard to answer, especially if you’re into many genres and styles of music, but the more you can narrow this question down then the clearer the answer is going to be. I personally started getting serious about guitar in my teen years, and in that time I was listening to a lot of nu-metal and down-tuned riffage, I’d spent hours on YouTube watching live clips and ‘Rig Rundowns’ just to see what equipment the people I was looking up to were using.

One of my guitar heroes early on was Jim Root from Slipknot, and luckily at the time there was a heap of information around on what he liked to use, the core of his tone came from his signature Fender Telecaster, loaded with EMG active pickups, through an Orange Rockerverb Amplifier. With that information I was able to start my research, what made the Rockerverb special? Why was it important to have active pickups and what does that mean? Why a telecaster and why did it need to be his signature model? These questions sharpened my focus for what gear I needed, and what alternatives could do the same job. Keeping in mind this was on the budget of a teenaged KFC cook making about $8 an hour, so finding those alternatives was important. With these questions I took to the internet and decided on what it was I wanted.

About a decade has passed since I started on my journey of discovering what it is I like in a guitar, amp, and pedals, but there are now much more resources to help educate you on what to look for. The first place you should visit when trying to discover new equipment is, this is my all time favourite website because it comprehensively lists the gear of both huge mainstream and obscure guitarists alike. If I discover a new band and find myself in awe of a sound I’m unfamiliar with, equipboard is my first stop for finding what is making that noise and where to find it.

Some guitarists are very consistent with their guitar choices (Angus Young and his SG, David Gilmour and his Stratocaster), and others can have super eclectic collections to serve very niche and specific needs (Josh Homme of QOTSA, Thom Yorke of Radiohead). With this latter example of guitarist who use heaps of equipment, looking at some live clips of your favourite songs can help narrow down the search. Some other great resources for finding those tones are Andertons “Sound like” series, and Reverbs “Potent Pairings” series, both on YouTube; both of these are produced by gear experts who put their time, effort and knowledge into recreating some of your favourite artists guitar sounds, with comprehensive lists of the gear and settings used.

Once you’ve narrowed down a guitar and amplifier, read reviews and watch demo videos, the more of these you can soak in the better you’re going to understand the limits and possibilities of the equipment. Once I’ve found a piece of equipment that piques my interest, I like to see it used from a few perspectives and in different genres, every reviewer and channel will have their own unique take and style with it which will give you a good idea of what you’re getting yourself into. The same can be said and done with guitar pedals, start out specific with a few pedals in mind, and over time you’ll learn enough tricks from your favourite guitarists to assemble a pedal board unique to you. This is a huge part of finding your own sonic identity, if you borrow a small piece of each of your guitar heroes and contemporaries, you’ll eventually assemble a unique enough rig to have found your sound.

So here is an activity that you can do to help you get started with building your dream guitar rig.

  1. write down a list of your top 3-5 all time greatest guitar players
  2. do some research and write down the following for each person
    1. the guitar they use
    2. the amp they use
    3. the pedals they use
    4. any other interesting points about their tone and playing style (eg Brian May from Queen uses a penny instead of a pick, Eric Johnson uses Duracell batteries in his chorus pedals but Energizer batteries in his delay pedals)
  3. Make a dream list of all the gear you want to buy
  4. Number each item on the list in order of importance
  5. Start buying yourself a piece of gear every month and start building your dream gig

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About The Author

Jake is our resident Guitar Pedal Expert and is the go to guy for all things related to tone, pedals and amplifiers. He plays in his band Okay Dane and is one of our most in demand teachers at Melbourne Guitar Academy. If you’re looking to nail your tone and become the best guitarist that you can, get in touch for the best guitar lessons in Melbourne and take your playing to the next level!

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