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Book Review: The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook by Bobby Owsinski and Rich Tozzoli

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One of the most overlooked aspects for the beginning guitarist is the tone of the guitar they use. When shopping for a guitar (much like anything else), brand and price are huge factors. But more important than either of those considerations is the one true desire of every guitar player, for their music to sound exactly the way they want it to sound.

The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook, by Bobby Owsinski and Rich Tozzoli, addresses this issue forthrightly. There are so many common-sense elements that factor into what makes a guitar’s tone unique, yet very few of us delve into them to come up with what constitutes the “right” sound for our particular style.

Of course any James Marshall Hendrix acolyte knows to get a Fender Stratocaster if he wants to sound like his hero. By the same token, those who wish to sound like BB King would be looking at the Gibson ES 355 (also known as “Lucille”). But the Handbook breaks things down much further than just brand and model. The type of wood that is used in the construction of the body and neck, the amount of paint used, the way the neck is attached, and many other seemingly innocuous details in the instrument add up to a huge difference in what your guitar will sound like.

The majority of the Handbook concerns electric guitars, and a huge element of an electric guitar’s sound is the amplification used. The authors’ explanations of the many types of amps and how they translate your playing is both thorough and eminently understandable. For example, the discussion of old-school tube amps as compared to modern solid state amps is something I had always wondered about. It is kind of like that conversation one used to hear about the “warmth” of vinyl over the “sterile” sound of CDs or MP3s. Pickups, various effects, and preamps are also closely analyzed.

When it comes to acoustic guitars, there are again a vast number of variables at play. In recording acoustically, things such as the size and shape of the room are important, besides the guitar itself. Another notable chapter is devoted to some of the more esoteric types of guitars available out there. The beautiful sounding (albeit difficult to play) 12-string is featured, as well as the famous National resonating guitar, the pedal steel, dobro, and others.

The third and final portion of the book contains interviews with a number of guitar experts. These range from recording engineers, guitar company executives, Jim D’Addario of D’Addario Strings, and musician Al Dimeola, among others.

In addition of all of this, the Alfred Music Publishing Company has included a special DVD, which illustrates many of the points even more strongly.

All in all The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook perfectly lives up to its subtitle: “A Definitive Guide To Creating And Recording Great Guitar Sounds.” I have never come across anything as exhaustive, yet so plainly written on the topic. For those interested in finding their personal “perfect” sound on guitar, this is an invaluable set of pointers.

I could have saved a lot of money personally over the past 30 years if I had had this Handbook to work from. Trial and error can get expensive with guitars. For anyone in the market, yet not exactly certain what they ultimately want, The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook is an invaluable resource.

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