Tone (noun \ˈtōn\): vocal or musical sound of a specific quality; especially : musical sound with respect to timbre and manner of expression
Tone can make or break a show. Venues get a bad rap if someone thinks a guitarist’s sound was sub-par when, in reality, it was the artist’s fault. Blown tubes, over-saturated distortions, too much bass/ treble and cheap cables may all be grounds for putting on a bad show.
If you’re an artist, the question becomes: if you go all out on your gear spending thousands while lugging hundreds of pounds worth of gear (think amp heads, pedalboards, amp cabinets, combo amps, etc.), will the audience care?
It’s said tone comes from the hands. If I were to plug in to the Edge‘s gear, I wouldn’t sound like U2. John Mayer would still sound like John Mayer if plugged into Angus Young‘s rig. To think with all guitarists in the world today we all have our own unique set-up is amazing.
From the guitarist’s hands comes the rest of the deciding factors: guitars (inclusive of string choice), pick choice (thickness, material, shape, etc.), cabling, pedals (inclusive of FX Loop and and how they’re routed) and amplifier/ DI options. Should two guitarists share the same set-up, will their pedal/ amp settings be identical? Probably not. But will the audience care?
With technology rapidly advancing, we may not be far from an amp modeler emulating a boutique amp with undeniable precision – we may be there already with such devices as the Axe FX II and the Kemper Profiler. In 2004, when Inside The Unsaid was being mastered, engineer Larry DeVivo was able to recite back exactly the amps, effects and guitars (including their model numbers) I used on the CD within seconds of listening.
But, again, will the audience care? Of course, there will always be gearheads and tone chasers looking for the next big thing while nitpicking the sounds of others. One of the first things I do at a show is checkout everyone’s set-up. Especially in the instrumental genre where the guitar is our voice, we better be comfortable with the sounds we’re putting out there.
That being said, yes, the audience will care about how you sound if you’re not satisfied with your sound. The audience will care if you clearly don’t. The goal of the artist is to put forward their best show with the most important part of that show being what you’re playing for them.
Of course, you can always pretend like you’re playing through certain gear when you’re actually not. It sure doesn’t seem like this audience cares those amps are fake: