Take it from someone who had to relearn guitar all over again from scratch. My guitar guru and savior, Jamie Andreas, taught me proper placement of fingers, the sense of touch, amount of pressure and more when it comes to getting a note out of the guitar.
Even as of yesterday I was practicing and noticing placement of fingers truly does affect tone. For example I may play a lick and I’m playing the right note, but its not really blooming and adding to the musical phrase like it should. I slow down and look at that finger and its placement is off by just a tiny little bit. After a few minutes of slow practice to correct this, its amazing how suddenly the lick really starts to bloom and come out where it didn’t before. The amp or effects didn’t make this bloom, I DID!
And this makes sense because amplifiers, good or bad ones, don’t have a sound all by themselves. They need an input, that’s you and your guitar. If you haven’t taken the time to understand where your fingers go exactly, the right amount of pressure to get those notes to come out……guess what……the amp will just reveal that. Granted some amps are better at masking crappy playing than others, but there is no getting around the human being making the music.
I should add that tone is also in the heart. This is a bit more out there, but the sounds you make should truly come from the heart and an emotional place. This is good because it forces you to analyze your tone. If in your heart there is a certain sound not coming forth, you do your best to try to get it.
Gear is an important part so I’m not dismissing it, but don’t dismiss crappy playing. The whole thing starts with you!!!!