I've been playing guitar for a couple of years now. I always hear someone in the band mention something like, 'that tone needs to have low-mids', terms like 'gain..feedback'(just saying). I would like visualize(not literally) sound wave/tone just enough to understand and be able to make informed decisions while setting the knobs on my amp or working on my tone instead of having to always experiment to get the 'right' sound. The 'why/how' of it.

A general overview and then a guitarist's perspective perhaps.

  • I don't think you mean literally visualise, but that may suggest a technological approach: an outboard analyser can show you your spectral peaks, then the rest of the band as a whole. If they are saying your tone is getting buried, an analyser might help you pull your tone out of the mud. If they are simply suggesting as a matter of taste, then experimentation & experience may be your best (slow) approach.
    – commonhare
    Dec 31, 2014 at 10:41
  • @commonhare No not visualize visualize. I guess I need to edit that, little misleading. More like 'see'(auditorily I guess) what happens when I change the 'highs' knob on the amp, say. Etc etc,. Dec 31, 2014 at 10:46
  • Nevertheless, it can be instructive. (I'm no professional but) I've been home-recording for years, and sometimes I can't figure out what is happening with a particular tone until I look at its spectrum. Most recording software has this capability...if you route your output to it, bring up an analyser, and sit there and move knobs, you might find it very interesting...
    – commonhare
    Dec 31, 2014 at 10:52

1 Answer 1


Difficult question, but a very worthwhile thing to try to "visualize." I agree with @commonhare 's comments on your question: trial and error using a spectral analyzer would be an effective way to increase your understanding as well as your aural intuition. A similar procedure with your guitar and amp could also be helpful:

Try setting all of your tone knobs to a neutral position, and, for now, use all of your pickups, or at least both the bridge and neck pickups. Strum a few chords, play a few melodic lines. Now turn the low tone way down and the high tone way up. Strum the same chords and play the same melodies, and really intently try to listen to the sound as if it were a landscape spread out before you. Try to "hear" the lack of lower frequencies; try to hear the increased presence of high frequencies. How would you describe the "terrain?" A lot of people would describe the sound as tinny, or at least fairly edgy. If you turn on some distortion in this setting it can have a particularly buzzsaw, grating quality. A lot of the Dead Kennedy's guitar sound involves this sort of high-frequency enhanced distortion.

Now go for the opposite: a lot of low tone, and very little high. Play the same chords and melodies. I wouldn't be surprised if the chords sound like mush in this environment. It's a sound that tends to be very muddy and almost "underwater." This isn't surprising since low frequencies travel through water, but high frequencies don't. Although the chords are probably unusably muddy in this environment, the melodies might have a cool, muted quality that works in low registers. Distortion in this soundworld is a relatively muted effect, because a lot of the sound of distortion lives in the higher frequencies.

You get the idea. Try cutting out only the mids and listen for a "hollow" character. Switch between the neck and bridge pickups; the former should be much mellower, tending to favor mids and lows, while the latter will be substantially more nasal and tinny, favoring the highs. If you have a wah pedal, play around with very slow movements of the pedal. As you open up the wah filter, listen for high frequencies emerging and as you close it, listen to how they're attenuated and your focus shifts to the muddier lows.

Build some strange "soundscapes" with your guitar, and try to predict what they will sound like—at least broadly—before you play any notes. The more you listen three dimensionally, the better you'll get at recognizing what's missing or overabundant in a variety of playing situations.

  • A way of visualising what you're "doing to the sound" would be to use a graphic equaliser, maybe 7-band, where each slider affects a certain frequency range- from bass/low on left to treble/high on right. If you have it set flat (all sliders in the middle) then it's doing nothing; a smiley face shape (up at each end) enhances bass and treble, and sad face diminishes bass and treble. With guitars, a lot of fun can be had around the middle giving different characteristics. This is like 7 bass/middle/treble tone conrols in a row, using sliders instead of rotary knobs but it helps visualise it. Jan 2, 2015 at 14:55
  • The alternative would be a parametric Eq (aka "sweepable middle" range) where you have one knob to determine the frequency range you want to affect (low ->high) and another knob to say what you want to do to it - make louder of quieter. This is quite surprisingly useful, and is almost standard setup on mixers, but quite rare on guitar amps which is a shame. If you can get a chance to play with one, even just for half an hour, on any guitar music (for familiarity) you'll learn a lot about the resulting sounds. Jan 2, 2015 at 14:58

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