I would like to ask the following question, but I feel it might come off as too subjective and be closed:

We've all heard the descriptions of a guitar's tone as being "rich" or "bright", an amp as being "warm", and a recording mix as being "muddy". Looking through some google results I found this Yahoo! question/answer, and this Jensen tone chart with some vague descriptions, which leads me to this question:

How can I really know what a tone is? I would think this is subjective question as it relates directly to both the quality of the sounds/notes and to how we perceive those sounds/notes, but given the fact that many people use the same descriptions, there must be something more objective to grasp on to.

Are there any references which you can point me to that describes many main-stream descriptors and what they mean?

I'm looking for clarifications on the following: warm, mellow, bright, loose, tight, fat, bright, rich, muddy, crunchy, bite, edge, smooth, full, rigid, dark, crisp, attack

If this is not okay, I was thinking about breaking it up into more objective questions:

We've all heard the descriptions of a guitar/amp as being warm or mellow. Are these the same/interchangeable?


We've all heard the descriptions of a guitar/amp as being bright or crisp. Are these the same/interchangeable?

Etc... This might be the better option, but I would have to add almost 10 questions, which might seem spammy.

How best to ask this type of question, which I think would be unbelievably helpful to many, to keep it constructive, objective, on topic, and not seem like I'm spamming similar questions?

2 Answers 2


Well, questions generally shouldn't seek out a list of references, and I think your second option of multiple questions is actually MORE subjective (the only possible answers are "yes they are" or "no they're not", with no nope of objective verification).

I think you may have the most success by stepping back a level and generalizing a bit. Perhaps something like:

What are the quantitative/qualitative differences between instruments that allow their tones to be described as "bright," "dark," "round," "edgy," etc.?

Are these descriptors entirely subjective, or is there a shared qualitative basis between guitars, amps, pedals, or even different types of instruments?

As a corollary: how do these descriptors get ascribed?

Hmm, I can think of some pretty interesting answers to that, actually!

Simply put, all adjectives that are ascribed to qualitative differences in non-aural senses like tactile feel, sight, smell, and taste are subjective monikers to some degree when used to describe sound, but the basis for coming up with those assignments is something you can investigate in a question.

Lastly, the practical aspect of using these words to describe or pick out a tone is, I think, what you are actually asking about. That's really a language and metaphor question, and the answer is probably about personal experience and literary context.

  • Would you mind if I used most of your proposed question? Commented May 22, 2012 at 19:23
  • Not at all! Feel free.
    – NReilingh
    Commented May 23, 2012 at 2:45
  • 1
    Posted the question here finally! Commented Jun 4, 2012 at 12:19

I really like this idea. I think it might be easier to answer in a synthesizer context. Since the potential answerer would be generating waveforms, it would, presumably, be relatively simple to make nice visuals illustrating each alteration.

I'm imagining an example "neutral" tone which is then (by certain steps) made "warm" and then (by certain steps) made "bright"..."dark", "crisp", whathaveyou.

Generality through specificity, so to speak.

Perhaps I should brew up my own question....

  • That's a good idea--audio examples are nice in a question or answer about tone. This was used to good effect (IMO) in our last tone question on the site.
    – NReilingh
    Commented May 21, 2012 at 17:31

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