“The tone is in the fingers.”


Or the hands. Whatever. It’s a oft-spoke saying, considered common sense. Kurt Ballou gets that monster sound while completely altering his amp configuration every year. You could plug into Dimebag’s Randall but you’d sound like crap. If you’re not picking like Scott Ian you won’t get that chunky tone. And so on. But is this actually the case, especially when we take leads out of the equation? In today’s world of re-amping, digital amplifiers, and ultra-processed rhythm guitar parts, does the truism still apply?

Spector Sound Studios‘ Glenn Fricker, mic cupping aficionado, put this platitude to the test by rounding up three other guitarists and instructing everyone to play the same riffs through identical rigs. And what do you know, it’s very hard to hear the differences between the players, particularly in the context of the mix. I did pick up on some subtleties, for example I think Brandon White might be the hardest picker of the bunch.

I do have one thought though, besides the basic editing critique that I would have preferred the song to have more repeats of each part, because by the time you get to guitarist 3 the riff has already changed (yeah I know it goes through everyone on each part eventually but it made comparisons too much of a chore). And also, ignoring the basic caveat that you’ll hear much more guitarist individuality on a lead/melody line. No, the great leveler here is that all of these guys could play the parts perfectly well. “The tone is in the fingers” really means something when you factor in guitarists who can’t nail the parts. If you’re struggling, then your tone suffers. That is often why you don’t sound like your idols. It’s why I could play Faceless riffs through Wes Hauch’s rig and not sound like Wes Hauch.

If we’re truly doing this for science I’d like to see a return to this idea with more musician variety: lighter non-metal players, heavy handed all-downstroke chugmasters, beginner guitarists barely able to play the parts but technically hitting the notes, and mid-level axe slingers who are pretty much there but could be fingering things better.

That said, awesome video. Give it a watch.

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Chris Alfano has written about music and toured in bands since print magazines and mp3.com were popular. Once in high-school he hacked a friend's QBasic stick figure fighting game to add a chiptune metal soundtrack. Random attractive people still give him high-fives about that.

Latest comments
  • It’s not a huge difference for sure, but it sounds like Mike Amicarelli was the muddiest and Brandon White was the clearest – to my ears at least. Chris Rafinski was a close second.

    • I totally agree. White, then Rafinski, then probably a tie between Amicarelli and Fricker but I have to compare them more. But it’s all VERY subtle.

  • I find the statement to be false in its form. It is possible that two people will play the same thing exactly the same – it’s pointless, but possible. A regular listener can’t tell the difference. The more important thing is nuance, and a statement like that would make much more sense: the nuance is in the fingers. Exact same settings on gear and the only thing that will make a difference is articulation and picking precision. Picking a note flat on the pick vs. a slight angle on the plectrum, that’s a choice that can make a world of difference. The point of the article stands – practice can make you sound exactly like anyone you wish. it’s kinda counter-productive, but hey, whatever rocks your boat.

  • More transparent tone could probably yield wildly different results. The tone *is* in the hands.

  • I preferred Mikes by far!

  • I think the difference would have been more prominent if they used less gain.

  • I wonder if you did the same experiment with a simple lead passage. It might show more articulation and subtleties.

  • Tone is absolutely in the fingers. For example if i want a mesa boogie like tone i use my mesa boogie fingers and for a marshall like tone i switch around to my marshall fingers. The same goes if i want a more scooped tone. Or lets say i want a little reverb in my guitar tone i use my reverb fingers. Lol at all the idiots that are still buying expensive gear!!!

  • It was very subtle, but yes, the hands do make a difference. Doing the test with bassists could also be cool. There is a HUGE difference in how a bass string is struck…closer to the bridge, in the middle, or by the neck. That isn’t even factoring in fingerstyle, slap, or using a pick.

  • Here’s Devin Townsend talking about that. It’s a fairly interesting thing that a lot of younger musicians just don’t understand.

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