Jared James Nichols argues tone comes from the fingers – and recalls the time he played through Eddie Van Halen’s own amp as evidence

Jared James Nichols
(Image credit: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Gibson)

Guitar fans are no strangers to debate – the guitar world is packed with divisive topics and hotly contested conversations that split the guitar-playing community right down the middle.

These include the Fender versus Gibson shootout, whether tonewoods actually make a difference to a guitar’s sound, and – perhaps most divisive of them all – if tone comes from a player’s gear or their fingers.

Whether guitarists will ever reach an agreement on the subject remains to be seen, but that hasn’t stopped players throwing their hat into the ring in an effort to put the debate to rest once and for all.

In the new issue of Total Guitar, Jared James Nichols reveals his own allegiances lie firmly within the 'tone is in the fingers' camp, and explains how he confirmed his theories by playing through a particularly coveted piece of gear: one of Eddie Van Halen’s own guitar amps.

“Definitely fingers!” replied Nichols when asked about his view on the debate. “Two weeks ago, we played this festival and the guy who brought the gear had worked for Eddie Van Halen. 

“He brought me one of Eddie’s personal modded Marshalls from 1984,” he continued. “I plugged in and it was incredible, but I sounded like me.”

As far as controlled experiments go, it doesn’t get much better than that, with Nichols’ anecdotal evidence bearing a striking resemblance to John Petrucci’s own experience when he recently played through Joe Satriani’s rig.

Speaking to Guitar World, Petrucci said, “Once I played through his rig, I didn’t sound like Joe at all – I sounded like me.” It was enough to convince Trooch of the tactile nature of the guitar, leading him to conclude, “Every guitarist sounds different, and that’s because every guitarist is different.”

In his Total Guitar interview, Nichols went on to say that every person has their own unique guitar-playing DNA, and that both macro and micro playing techniques – from bending and phrasing to how you actually hold the guitar – help emphasize the differences that ultimately overshadow the importance of gear.

Jared James Nichols

(Image credit: Sergione Infuso /Corbis via Getty Images)

“Having a great foundation of techniques – bending, vibrato, phrasing – is something that’s unique to you,” Nichols reflects. “It comes down to your hands, the way you hold the guitar, the way you strike the strings. 

“Your touch is everything. When I play with my fingers – I don’t use a pick – I want those characteristics to come through.”

It’s not the first time an A-list guitar hero has helped support the ‘tone is in the fingers’ debate. In August 2021, John Mayer swapped his PRS Silver Sky and Dumble for an Epiphone Les Paul and Roland combo rig, though still sounded exactly like himself.

Likewise, Joe Satriani once performed Surfing With The Alien using a Stratocaster copy, and still delivered a classically Satch sound despite the absence of his signature Ibanez guitar.

Head over to Magazines Direct to pick up the latest issue of Total Guitar, which looks back on the best of 2022 in the world of guitar, including gear, riffs, songs, solos and artists.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.

With contributions from