Getting A Good Sound
Getting a good sound for jazz on guitar is a combination of your equipment, settings on your electronics, and you as the player.
If you want to sound good playing jazz, you need to listen to great jazz guitar players.
Spend some time figuring out what you can do to match the sound of guitarists like Barney Kessel, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and Jim Hall for starters.
Your equipment also plays a part in the sound you create with it.
Having the right strings and picks, the guitar and amplifier you use, and knowing how to adjust your tone and volume settings can all make a big difference.
Look for medium - heavy strings. The gauge of the first string should be around 0.11mm or 0.12mm.
Flat wound strings can help warm up your sound, and give you a little more of a classic jazz guitar sound.
Lots of players today are using round wound strings - they’re a little brighter. Both types of strings are good options.
Heavier picks will be easier to control and give you a better tone.
Personally, I prefer to use picks that are around 1.5mm thick. I recommend trying out a variety of different picks to find what you like.
Experiment with different shapes, materials, and sizes of pick. As you go. Over time, different picks might work better for your playing as your playing changes.
You can play jazz on any kind of guitar - there is no such thing as a “jazz guitar.”
Having the right strings and picks can help, but you need to know what kind of sound you are going for in the first place.
That being said, arch-top and semi-hollow guitars will be your best bet if you’re looking for a traditional jazz sound, look, and feel.
It’s the style of guitar that most of the original jazz guitar masters played.
Both Epiphone and Ibanez make excellent and affordable options in this category.
Almost any amplifier will work just fine for jazz guitar playing.
A couple of things that I look for are simple controls, a speaker that is 10 inches or bigger across, and enough volume to play a solo with a full jazz ensemble.
If you can properly use your tone and volume controls, just about any amplifier you own will work just fine for jazz.
That being said, I personally like Henriksen JazzAmp. I've had one for years and it has always been a reliable, good sounding amplifier.
The tone knob is mostly underused with players who are just starting out. Like the volume knob, it runs from 1-10. Think of 1 as warmer, and 10 as brighter.
Depending on what kind of guitar you are using, there are a couple of default settings you can use as a starting point.
Nothing is foolproof - you have to listen to what you are playing and adjust your settings as needed.
For big band, I like the guitar volume set at 4 for comping/playing chords. Adjust your amp volume so this is a good balance with the band.
For solos, turn up your guitar to 7 or 8 to have enough volume to be heard.
For small group or solo jazz guitar playing, keep the guitar volume around 8 and set the amp to a quieter level. You'll get more out of the pickups this way.
This guide is designed as a jumping off point to help you get the basic picture of what your jazz guitar equipment and setup should be.
Keep experimenting with your sound and trying to emulate the tone and feel of great jazz guitar players. Regardless of what equipment you use, most of your tone comes from your fingers and your ears.
Keep practicing, and let me know how things are going!