For the Guitar Geeks in the house *raises hand*
The height of your pickups from the strings is probably the best and most natural tone control you can have. Closer to the strings = brighter and louder, farther from the strings = warmer and softer. Don't naturally assume that maximum output is best. You can always add gain on the way to the amp, or from the amp itself.
Speaking of which, learn how to use the Volume and Tone knobs on your guitar. Some cheaper guitars come with crap pots and electronics, you can easliy replace these with quality CTS pots and capacitors. Heaps of wiring info is available on the values for these, generally go with 250K/0.47uF for single coils and 500K/0.22uF for humbuckers. I usually set my amp and pedals with my volume on 7 or 8, backing it off from 10 sweetens the tone (old Jeff Beck trick).
Which brings me to this simple mod for strat users: Stock, a strat has one volume knob and two tone knobs. Tone1 is for the neck pickup and Tone2 for the middle. The bridge single coil has no tone, and I think that's the one that needs a tone control the most. So if you take off the scratchplate and look at the switch wiring, you simply lift the wire from the Tone2 pot and move it to the next lug – now this will operate on your bridge pickup instead. Run Tone2 around 4 or 5 and step on the gain…..who says strats can't do heavy metal?
If your amp has a gain knob, it's there for a reason. Back it down a bit and turn up the Master Volume. Unfortunately for those of us with neighbours, there is no substitute for an amp with nicely cooking power tubes (They don't have to be distorting completely, just working at a certain capacity). The trick is choosing an amp with the correct wattage. Usually around 30-50 tube watts would be the perfect compromise between playing at home and decent sized gigs. If you're mic'd up with foldback, even 15-20 watts would suffice.
- Having said that, each amp will have its own sound, and sometimes there isn't a substitute for a 100 watt Marshall cranked up. If you're playing the kind of stages where you can get away with that volume, then it makes complete sense. 🙂
[The following article is written by Warren Mendonsa (Blackstratblues) for the Tone Science Facebook page. In this article, he explains few tricks that can experiment and enhance your tone on your axe!]