Even before the internet, electric guitar myths were passed down through word of mouth. Today, we look at these myths. We study how they began and where they came from, so we can find the truth!
The Top Electric Guitar Myths: The Anatomy Of A Myth…
If you have played guitar for a while, I am sure you have come across some strange sounding superstitions and myths. Some of them may even sound plausible at first, until you get down to the science of how guitars work. It may be easy to blame the internet on some of these myths, but it actually goes back further than that.
When I started to play guitar, there was no internet at all. We either learned songs by ear, or we bought the sheet music notation from the music store. There was no YouTube or free tab sheets. Now I’m not some old guy “talking about the old days” here. I’m not THAT old. But even back then we heard all kinds of electric guitar myths.
Where does a myth come from though? Myths have traditionally been passed down by word of mouth, or written down as soon as humans figured out written language. This is how we got Nordic stories of gods and monsters. local legends, and fables that have been around for centuries.
Electric guitar myths are very much the same when it comes to the etymology of myths. People passed these ideas down for years, and by word of mouth, they became a game of “telephone”. One person says something, states it as fact, and then it gets passed around.
The problem with these “facts” is that the more they get passed down, the more inaccurate they get. Just like a game of “telephone”. So some electric guitar myths have a little bit of truth sprinkled in, because the idea itself came from somewhere.
Today we are going to look at the top 10 electric guitar myths that have been repeated over and over in forums and by word of mouth. We will also look at the possible truths that propagated the myth in the first place, and find the facts. We can be a sort of “guitar myth detective” today!
So let’s dive into the top 7 electric guitar myths, separate the truth from the BS, and talk about where these may have came from!
7. Does Music Theory Destroy Your Creativity?
This is a big one, and as a teacher it absolutely appalls me when I hear this uttered by a guitarist. Music theory is a valuable tool that helps you understand how the guitar fretboard works. It shows you how notes harmonize, how octaves work, and building chords from root notes. These interlaced ideas try to make sense out of sound and notes, and organize the ideas.
I have talked about how this makes the fretboard much easier to understand, and demystifies scales and patterns. Guitar theory will help you learn songs faster, and definitely make writing songs yourself much less frustrating. Music theory is a tool, and it can make things !
So why do guitarists think it destroys creativity?
I suppose that some guitarists think that creativity is synonymous with spontaneity, or improvising. That is not at all how creativity works. People like Kurt Cobain didn’t study music theory, but he created very complex melodies and intricate songs. Clearly you don’t need music theory to create something timeless.
This is where the myth comes from. So many genius guitarists play by feel. People like Kurt Cobain had a great ear for melody, and most of his work was done by trial and error. This method works for people that have that kind of talent, but it can also be tedious.
But understanding how music works doesn’t “enslave your mid” or “destroy the creative process”! Knowing theory may even help you write better songs, since you know what notes and chords work together. But that doesn’t mean that you’re limited at all. In fact, I feel like I play and write better now, than when I was just winging it.
A good example is Ben Weinman from Dillinger Escape Plan. Ben knows a lot of Jazz theory, and he puts this to use when making some of the most confusing and chaotic music on the planet! Steve Vai knows theory too, yet he makes some really odd music that is not just technically impressive, but also soulful and beautiful. Tosin Abasi, John Petrucci, the list goes on and on…
Knowing and understanding music theory doesn’t kill your creativity. It will however, teach you how the fretboard works. It will make you a better player, with a better ear. You will have a whole new perspective on music, and how your favorite songs work. Learning theory is the polar opposite of losing creativity.
6. Do Thicker Strings Make Your Tone Heavier?
I have heard this one for years, and it still gets repeated all the time. If you put thicker strings on your guitar, your tone will be thicker and heavier. If you look at this from a common sense perspective, it actually makes a lot of sense.
Clearly a bass guitar sounds heavier than a regular guitar, right? It has thicker strings and it is tuned down, so that is the obvious pathway to heaviness. The heavier string + tuning down will make a thicker sound, therefore your tone will be heavier overall.
Not exactly, and this one has a lot of possible origins.
I have heard this electric guitar myth since I started playing, and I even tried it myself. I read the rumors about having heavier tone, so I beefed up my string gauge to 12s. What I got was sore, tired fingers from trying to do full step bends. My tone, however… did not change at all.
Stevie Ray Vaughan famously used heavy gauge strings, and listen to his tone! Black Sabbath tuned down and played heavy strings too right? Then we have 7 string guitars that use a thick bottom string that sounds heavy. Tuning down, and throwing thick strings on the guitar MUST be the answer.
Heaviness comes from a lot of things, but string gauge isn’t one of them. Metallica is a heavy band, and they have used 10-46 Ernie Ball strings for years. Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi uses some of the lightest strings you can buy at just 8-42 for D# tuning!
Heavier strings do affect the tension, and this can be a big factor for guitarists. Heavier strings will be harder to bend, and feel tighter. Some players have a “heavy hand” that causes downstrokes to pull the top strings out of tune when they play hard. Heavier strings can help alleviate that, but also give a different feel that some guitarists enjoy.
But heavy strings making your tone heavier? No, your amp type will have the biggest effect on your “heaviness”. Pickups also play a huge part in your tone, and even the height of your pickups can have an effect as well. Your technique will make the biggest difference though, and how you write your riffs.
Strings actually have a very minimal effect on your tone. In fact, lighter gauge strings might sound better because they can be more defined under high gain. Look up some of your favorite guitarist’s string choice, you might be surprised! “Heavier strings sound heavy” is one of the oldest electric guitar myths, and can be proven wrong with a quick Google search.
But wait, does tuning lower make your tone heavier?
I don’t think so, but tuning down does sometimes help to make an impact due to contrast. The thrash bands on the 80’s were all heavy, but they mostly played in standard tuning, or half a step down. Sometimes I use a lower tuning to change up the way a song sounds. Metallica did this with a few songs, like “Sad But True” where they tuned to D standard. In contrast to the E Standard songs on the album, it does sound heavier!
But you need a higher tuning first, to make a contrast. Constantly being tuned low works for some bands, like Meshuggah. But after that initial feeling of heaviness, it just becomes a part of the band’s sound. Heaviness is subjective, so if you think a tuning sounds heavy, then use it!
But the key to heaviness lies in the riff itself, and how you write music. Heaviness is usually dictated by how the whole band is playing a part. Contrast and comparison is also a good way to make something heavy. Having a song be quiet for a section, then explode into loudness can be heavy.
#5. Do True Bypass Pedals Makes Your Tone Better?
There are guitarists that use analog pedals exclusively, some that use a few here and there, and others that use modeling tech and digital gear. People that use analog pedals exclusively, generally have quite an opinion on the pedals they use. Here lies one of the biggest electric guitar myths, and a common one at that.
“Pedal hype” is a very real thing, and this is what drives the market when it comes to prices. This is why we see pedals sometimes go for thousands of dollars (looking at you, KLON). Half of this is usually rarity, but the other side is definitely the hype surrounding pedals. Maybe an artist uses the pedal, and posts about it on social media. But “true bypass” is also a factor with pedal geeks, though not always for the right reasons.
What Does True Bypass Mean?
True bypass is like a no-load tone circuit, in a way. True bypass means that your guitar signal goes through the pedal without any changes to the tone when the pedal is disengaged. Your guitar tone is completely unaffected until the pedal is turned on. Nothing is boosting or enhancing your signal as it flows through the pedal(s).
So this means true bypass is clearly the best option when it comes to pedals, right? Not always, since the more pedals you have, the more your sound degrades without a buffer. You can run your guitar through 20 true bypass pedals, but this will make your guitar sound degrade, especially when cable length starts getting past 20 feet.
The myth, is that true bypass always sounds better, and buffered pedals are inferior.
This is not true at all, and if you like to have a lot of pedals running at the same time, true bypass may be a BAD thing. The more pedals you have, the more cable length. The longer your cable gets, the more your guitar’s signal degrades and you end up with “high-end roll off”. This can make your tone “muffled” or muddy.
So if you have just a few pedals, and a short guitar cable running into them, true bypass is going to work to your advantage. If you have a lot of pedals, and you need long guitar (20 ft. or more) cables for big stages, then a buffered system will be better for your tone and protect you from muddiness.
Buffered systems amplify your guitar signal, even when the pedal is turned off/disengaged. A buffered setup will be ideal for someone with multiple pedals, running a lot of guitar cable. Your guitar signal will stay the same no matter how many pedals you have running in a buffered system.
So true bypass is NOT the “only” pedals that you can use, or the only pedals that “matter”. There are advantages and disadvantages to true bypass and buffered systems. You have to choose what suits your needs as a guitarist, and not just follow these electric guitar myths.
I’m sure you have seen the meme making fun of electric guitar myths. “Do you think Jimi Hendrix cared about true bypass on stage at Woodstock?”. The answer is no, because he was blitzed out of his mind at Woodstock and could played a set so well we still haven’t recovered from the face melting!
he V847A Wah-Wah pedal is an enhanced version of the most famous guitar effects pedal of all time. Based on the specifications of the original pedal developed by VOX in the '60s, this version offers guitarists the same legendary tone with the addition of AC power capability and a buffered input jack for preserving the unprocessed guitar tone when the pedal is not engaged.
#4 Will Taking All Of The Strings Off At Once Break My Guitar Neck?
This is one that I see on forums often, and the answer is absolutely not. I don’t even know where this myth comes from, and I have heard it for a long time. I mean, you have to take all of your strings off at some point. You need to polish your frets, and oil your fretboard at some point.
There is a slight chance that if you took wire cutters and cut all of your strings off at the same time while tuned to pitch, you could damage the neck. But nobody does this that I know of, and it isn’t as efficient as turning the tuning pegs to loosen the strings. Like a normal person.
Maybe this is one of those electric guitar myths that came from one person doing something rare and stupid.
Some guitarists have also said that changing strings one by one with a Floyd Rose is the best way to change your strings. This sounds silly as well, and you should just learn how to block the trem. And again, you will still need to polish the frets and get the gunk off of the fretboard at some point.
When I am working on guitars, they often sit without strings for days at a time on the work bench. I promise you, no guitar necks are ever harmed in my repair shop! Taking all the strings off at once will not hurt your guitar.
#3 Is Vintage Gear Always Better?
This is one of my favorite electric guitar myths, because I have some experience with this one. Ill make this story short for you. I once bought a 1960’s Fender amplifier thinking it would be the answer to all of my tone problems. It ended up being one of the biggest problems I ever had with guitar gear.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like vintage gear! I think some of the coolest guitars I have ever played were vintage. But a lot of the “cool factor” regarding these instruments came from the fact that they were old, and had history. I once played a 1980 Fender, born on the same date that I was born!
If vintage gear is so cool, then why is it not “better”? And wasn’t all of that classic music made with vintage gear?
Let’s go back to that vintage amplifier that I purchased. It sounded great, when it was actually working. That amplifier had all kinds of problems, and it spent just as much time in my buddy’s shop as it did in my studio. It was a cool amp, but it also needed a lot of upkeep.
Which is the case with most vintage gear, it is old and fragile. This means that vintage gear is not always as reliable, and it needs more maintenance and upkeep. For example, that 1965 Stratocaster pictured above is very nice, but notice where the truss rod is?
That’s right, you have to remove the neck to make any truss rod adjustments. That may be one example, but there are plenty more reasons that vintage gear can be a pain. Not to mention the cost. My first house cost as much as that 1965 Stratocaster…would you play that guitar live?
New gear has had the advantage of technology. Most of the flaws that you find in vintage gear have been ironed out and fixed by now. Most new gear is not only updated, but it is designed to take a little more abuse.
But my best case to drive this point home, is that Fender amp that I had? Compared to the newer reissue model, it sounded almost identical. My friend had the newer “reissue” version, and side-by-side they sounded uncanny. The biggest difference was his actually worked most of the time, while mine was always in the shop.
Vintage gear is awesome, and owning a piece of music history can be cool. But don’t let the electric guitar myths fool you. It does NOT always equal better sound. In fact, some new gear might even sound better than the vintage stuff. Ask anyone into vintage cars, and they will tell you the same story!
#2 Are Tube Amps The Only “Pro” Choice?
Get your pitchforks ready, because I am about to have an angry mob at my doorstep. Luckily, the Electrikjam studio just made a big move, so good luck finding me! So let me just say it up front: Tube Amps are not always better than Solid State.
Out of all of the electric guitar myths we are exploring today, this is the only one that holds some serious weight, Because 20 years ago, I would have probably agreed that tube amps are superior in every way. Solid state amplifiers were rarely seen on stage back in the day, for very good reasons.
Solid state amps used to be great for practice amps, but terrible for the stage. Solid state had a hard time being loud enough on stage, for one. But they also lacked the tone of a tube amp. That natural overdrive was not something that solid state could accomplish.
But that was 20 years ago, and these days we have all kinds of technology at our disposal. We have amp modelers, amp simulators, and even actual solid state amps that kick all kinds of ass. Tube amps are still a good option for the stage, but it would be disingenuous to say that they are the ONLY option.
Many artists are using modeling technology on stage currently, and amps like the BOSS Katana are seen on stages all the time. When it comes to the bigger artists, many either use the Helix, Kemper, or AxeFX these days. They may even have “dummy” amps on stage to make it look like they are playing a real amp.
Many artists have what we call a “silent stage”. This is because everyone in the band is running an amp sim, or some kind of digital rig straight into the mixing board. They wear in-ear monitors to hear themselves and the band mix. There are no cabinets on stage, just the PA system going out to the audience.
“Tube amps are the only PRO option” is one of the electric guitar myths that still gets passed around. But where this used to be the truth in most cases, technology has caught up. There are many pro options now, so use what you think sounds the best.
#1 “TONE” WOOD On Solid Body Electrics?
If the tube amps portion of my electric guitar myths article didn’t get you riled up, then this might be where you start sending me hate mail. The “wood affects the tone” argument has been done to death at this point, but it still sits at the #1 spot on many lists of electric guitar myths.
I don’t just mean the body wood either, I mean the neck and fretboard as well. I think at the end of the day, tone wood makes such a minute difference that it shouldn’t even factor into your buying decision. The type of wood used is such a small part of the electric guitar as a system.
So many other factors contribute to the “sound” of an electric guitar. The nut material, the bridge, the pickups, the control pots, the strings, your picks, and so many other factors contribute to how your guitar sounds more than the wood that the guitar is made of. The actual wood type is almost at the bottom of the list for me.
Tone wood DOES exist, but not for electric guitars. The type of wood used on acoustic guitars makes a huge difference in how they sound. This is because the wood on an acoustic guitar is what amplifies the guitar. Spruce will sound different than Cedar because the entire body of the guitar is vibrating, and producing the final sound you hear.
I think the tone wood argument in electric guitar myths, comes from acoustic guitar construction.
On electric guitars, the body is just where the pickups are mounted. It vibrates, but not in the same way an acoustic guitar does at all. Most electric guitars have a thick poly finish that kills vibration, like Fender guitars and many other brands.
Flame maple, open pore finishes, and quilted wood are just aesthetic choices. They look beautiful, and enhance the way a guitar looks. But they have no bearing on how the guitar sounds. Nitro finishes are thin, and allow the wood to vibrate a little more, but not enough to make a significant difference in tone.
I do not THINK mahogany sounds “darker” than swamp ash. I KNOW that mahogany is generally heavier than swamp ash. So if I want a lightweight guitar, I will go for swamp ash or basswood over mahogany. But I do not think the body wood affects the sound at all, and if it does, its a small part of the ability to sustain in conjunction with the neck.
Maple is a common wood for guitar necks not for tone, but because it is a strong wood. Your guitar strings are pulling a lot of tension, so you need a strong neck that will stay stable. Any other choice in the neck construction is purely aesthetic in my opinion. But the neck is always a stable wood, with a truss rod to adjust it when it shifts.
The same goes for fretboard material as well. Maple does not sound “snappier”, and rosewood does not make your guitar sound “darker”. It makes the guitar look different, but has no affect on the actual sound. How could fretboard material even have an effect on sound? Where could it affect the sound?
Internet forums are littered with tone wood debates, and almost everyone gets it wrong. Tone is frequently debated, and I think that is a healthy discussion. Finding out what gear an artist uses is a great way to start your own journey. Gear is where we should start when discussing tone.
The most important part of your guitar tone is your AMP. Your amplifier or whatever you plug your guitar up to is what ultimately decides the tone. You can plug a $5000 PRS up to a cheap amp, and it will sound cheap. Likewise, plug a Squier up to a Marshall Silver Jubilee, and you’ll find the reverse is true.
Your pickups are the next important part of your tone. Pickups are magnets that “pick up” the frequency of the oscillating strings when you play your guitar. they are like a microphone for your strings, so they are definitely a vital part of how your guitar sounds. Different pickups have different EQs, and focus on certain frequencies. Active pickups have a built-in preamp that changes your tone.
After your pickups, it could be a myriad of things that have an effect on your sound. Floyd Rose Bridges sound different than a fixed bridge. The nut material can also be a factor, which is why brass nuts were so popular for a while. Your strings also have a place, since older strings sound “dead” compared to new “bright” strings.
But if wood makes any kind of difference on a solid body guitar, then that difference is minute. I think good quality wood should be used, so your guitar is stable and lasts for a long time. It should be sourced, dried, and cured properly to make a good instrument.
But tone wood? As much as I love Paul Reed Smith, I just cant get on the electric guitar myths bandwagon with him. I think wood is very important for a lot of reasons, but tone just isn’t one of them.
Electric Guitar Myths: Facts Versus Fiction
Sometimes we believe one of these electric guitar myths because we have heard them repeated over and over. As we discovered today, some of them even make sense at a base level! But just because they may seem like fact, doesn’t make them true.
The internet is full of electric guitar myths, but you hear just as many from sales people at your local shop. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like guitar myths are going away anytime soon. The people that are most wrong, are often the loudest.
I skipped over quite a few popular electric guitar myths, so I am sure I will come up with a new list and publish it soon. There are so many myths out there, that it can be confusing to get a solid answer. But there is always an answer, you just have to look for it!
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