This is such a tough subject, simply because we all have our own idea of what a good tone sounds like, but I think we can agree that you know what you like when you hear it, so here are a few thoughts.
The sound you create starts with the pick on the string, but let’s stop here for a second and steal some ideas from classical guitarists. If you play or have ever tried to play a nylon string guitar, finger style, you may have noticed that getting a good sound is tough.
The first step is to prepare to sound a string by resting your pick on the string and loading it very slightly without sounding it. This is called planting, and it gives you the confidence to know what is going to happen next. If your picks are adjusted or bent so the flat part is right on the string and not attacking it at an angle, you will get a good, clear tone. Then you fire the string and use the tone bar and volume pedal to give the vibrato and sustain that you want. When you are playing fast this all happens almost instantaneously, but when you listen to a great player with tone you admire, this is what’s going on. The two players that come to mind when we talk about this are Jerry Byrd and Buddy Emmons. They both play with such great drive and intent that their tone just jumps out of the instrument. You can emulate this quickly by playing something you know very well at a speed that lets you put as much soul into it as you can. Concentrate on getting the best feeling and tone as possible and listen for all the little things that get in the way and fix them as you go.
Listen to Jerry Byrd backing up Dolly Parton for a great example of his beautiful style, combining palm harmonics and chords.
Here’s Buddy Emmons with another take on soulful tone, playing his arrangement of Night Life, one of his most famous solo pieces.
Both players are using the technique we just discussed, combining it with their unique styles.
The last trick I have for you is an equipment adjustment, and it can really work to fatten your tone. Every amp has wildly different tone controls and adjustments, but the principle here is the same, only the application is different. The way to do it is to create a bell shaped tone boost of anywhere from 2db to 10db with the center of the bell at about 200HZ. You can do this with a simple knob adjustment by finding the knob that adjusts the low mids or a graphic EQ if you have it.See the picture at the head of this post. Find that zone on your amp and experiment by slowly boosting in that range. A little goes a long way, so don’t let it turn to mud with too much boost. If you are playing classic Country and you want a glassy, clear sound, try cutting in that range.