With over 30 years of guitar playing under my belt, I feel very comfortable working up and down the fret board, but still consider myself technologically "naïve" when it comes to understanding and explaining tone. The trial and error method of changing pickups, string gauges, tunings and adjusting dials of a multitude of stomp boxes has always served me well in developing a tone that I find appealing. But, my lack of fully understanding the dynamics of my amplifiers (solid state vs. tube amplifiers) and even some stomp boxes (overdrive vs. fuzz vs. distortion) is something that has frustrated and even embarrassed me over the years, especially when talking to other guitarists. Mitch Gallagher's GUITAR TONE: PURSUING THE ULTIMATE GUITAR SOUND provided exactly what I've needed (for decades); a simple, but very comprehensive breakdown of virtually everything that makes an electric guitar sound the way it does. I found this book to be an essential "go to" guide that will serve me for years to come and it instantly became a permanent addition to my personal library.
As a musician that prefers to play-by-ear (although I can read music), I have always "felt" my way around developing a guitar tone that suits a particular style of music. While playing notes correctly and in-tune rank high on the list of importance to most players outside Keith Richards, the guitar's tone might just as well be #1 on the list for many guitarists. After all, the tone is arguably the trademark that not only separates the great guitarists, but permanently identifies their iconic status. Many fellow guitarists have spent a great deal of money and time trying to emulate "that sound" of a particular guitar hero (for me, it was the watery twang of Stevie Ray Vaughan or the nasal tone of Jimmy Page's live performances with Zeppelin). While it is easy to assume that simply playing the same equipment (such as Fender Stratocaster for Stevie and a Gibson Les Paul through a Marshall stack for Jimmy) would be the logical first-step, however, this is not always the case. Like snowflakes, no guitar, amp or effect is ever the same (regardless of what the manufactures state) and we all hear things differently. I wonder how many people purchased a Gibson Les Paul or double neck to emulate the tone on the studio version of the "Stairway to Heaven" solo, only to discover Jimmy Page did NOT use a Gibson to record that stellar moment? What Mitch Gallagher does with GUITAR TONE is organize the huge list of factors that affect an electric guitar's tone and explain the how and why aspects of each to better inform the guitarist of what is and isn't important in developing a guitar's tone. From the wood used on the guitar's body to the winding of pickup wire to the shape and material of the guitar pick, Gallagher covers huge ground in a simplified format that I found to be both entertaining and highly educational. GUITAR TONE explains things in great detail, but does not require a degree in electrical engineering to comprehend ... and this is music to my ears.
What separates GUITAR TONE from most everything else I've read is that it serves as a one-stop-shop for all things tone-related ... everything I could think of and much more is covered in this book (Gallagher does not simply cover the obvious). Starting with an introductory definition of guitar tone and why it is important, the book wastes no time before going to the sources of tone, starting with the guitar itself (shape, wood-type, frets, chambers, finish, etc). Subsequent chapters cover everything from strings, cables, speakers, hardware material and a plethora of effects (stomp boxes and multi-effects processors). While the list of material covered is extensive enough to require almost 400 pages, it is very easy to consume. Full of analogies and humor, Gallagher makes the learning process a relatable and enjoyable experience. What is obvious throughout the book is that the author has definitely done the research and knows how to simplify information to a level that most readers will appreciate and understand. Adding to the simplifying process, Gallagher implements at-a-glance boxes throughout GUITAR TONE that summarizes the range of impact the subject matter has on guitar tone, so you guitarists may be a little more knowledgeable before spending an arm and a leg on gold tuners that don't do anything but possibly get your guitar stolen. Additionally, much of the book clarifies myths about things that alter tones ... like the unnecessary decimation of the tortoise population to generate a few guitar picks that are no more functional or cooler-looking than the man-made alternative. Three quarters of the book is dedicated to the items that affect guitar tone and the subject matter is up-to-date (we even get an explanation as to why the feds are hassling the good folks at Gibson guitars the last few months). Good stuff.
The last chapter of the book is dedicated to the tones of various guitar legends themselves. While most all the heavy-hitters are provided, inevitably an issue for some will be those guitarists who weren't highlighted ... the difference being a 400 vs. an 800 page book. The guitar legend section offers rundown of gear and throws in some of the individual idiosyncrasies that make these axe-men so legendary in the first place. Nothing tremendously ground-breaking is revealed, but I found this section of the book both informative and entertaining (like a convenient conglomeration of highlights from guitar magazine articles over the years). If the introduction/explanation of guitar tone and the components of guitar tone serve as the appetizer and entree of this book (respectively), then the section on the artists is the dessert ... a perfect way to complete the meal.
GUITAR TONE is a highly informative book that is presented in a manner that I found to be particularly addictive and fun to read. Mitch Gallagher provides a resource that amplifier or effects pedal manufacturers have continuously failed to provide in their owners' manuals ... useful information. GUITAR TONE has already proven to be a handy tool that allows me to explore my guitar and equipment to hone my tone with more confidence and authority than ever before. Although some graphical content (pictures and/or drawings) would have enhanced the overall presentation, the lack of it does not diminish the book's value. The book fills a niche that has long been needed ... a non-technical explanation of why your guitar sounds the way it does.