John Petrucci shares his top 3 tips for better guitar tone

John Petrucci
(Image credit: Roberto Panucci - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

There are all kinds of things that we could seek John Petrucci’s counsel on. What about personal grooming? Hey, why not, the Dream Theater guitarist has his own beard oil line.

If he’s in a good mood, he might share some barbecue tips. He has a reputation for virtuosity over charcoal. But wait: Petrucci has put his name to some of the most imaginatively spec’d – and super playable – electric guitars of all time. He has a backline of Boogies, the best of stuff.

If you attend one of Trooch's shows, he's not only going to play on point, he's going to sound on point, too. So, while he sat down with Guitar World to discuss his first ever solo tour, in support of Terminal Velocity, Joe Bosso asked him for three tips – three tenets of tone – for us to take into account. What he said might just change your tone for good…

1. Keep your signal chain simple

“When I’m recording in the studio, I try to keep my signal chain simple. For me, it’s all about a guitar plugged into the amp that’s plugged into a cabinet. That’s it. If you’re playing with the right gear, what’s coming out of the speaker should be what you’re able to capture on your recording. 

“A lot of guitarists try too hard; they clutter their signal chain with different pedals and things, and they wind up unhappy with the results. If you just get a good sound with your guitar, your amp and your speaker, you’ll be off to a good start. Then you can work on all the other sound variables if you like.”

2.  Find your own voice with the right gear

“I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve been able to develop gear to my taste. Working with companies whose gear I played and loved for years – Ernie Ball Music Man, DiMarzio, Mesa/Boogie, Dunlop and TC Electronic, and of late there’s been Neural DSP – I’ve been able to find my own voice. It’s a real honor to develop musical instruments and equipment with those companies.

Listen to your favorite players, and ask yourself, 'What are they using? How do they get those sounds?'

“I realize, however, that not everybody is in my position, but that doesn’t mean players can’t try to find the gear that speaks to them. Search out guitars and equipment that you connect with and that can deliver the sounds you hear in your head. Listen to your favorite players, and ask yourself, 'What are they using? How do they get those sounds?' 

“A lot of players have sounds in their heads, but they don’t know how to achieve them. They might be using the wrong pickups, or they’re playing through the wrong amps. Look around, play around with things. Eventually, you’ll find the right guitar and gear combination you need. But don’t settle for stuff that doesn’t work for you. You’ll only set yourself up for frustration.”

3. Realize that tone comes from you

“This is a little existential, but I swear by it. The guitar is a tactile instrument. You’re using the flesh of your hands to interact with it, and regardless of everything else you use, the sound you make comes from you. Every guitarist sounds different, and that’s because every guitarist is different. That’s the beautiful thing about playing the instrument. 

“I remember being on a G3 tour with Joe Satriani. I’ve always been so enamored of him – his skill and his tone. One day I asked him, 'Can I play through your rig?' And the funny thing was, once I played through his rig, I didn’t sound like Joe at all – I sounded like me. And I was hit with the realization that, because the guitar is a tactile instrument, so much of the tone came from my touch. 

“That’s something very important to keep in mind. Try to understand how you affect the tone of your guitar. It’s your gift. Embrace it and use it. No matter what else goes into guitar playing, you are the most important thing that you bring to the table.”

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Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar World, Guitar Player, MusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.