Tone Talk with Sybil Grace

Photo by Kyle Gaddo

As seen in
Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 22 – Winter 2022

My name is Sybil Grace; I’m a guitar teacher and studio musician. I am currently working towards my MA in Songwriting and Music Production through the University of Chichester. I am on the autism spectrum (diagnosed as ASD II) and have been obsessed with music my whole life. I’m primarily a guitarist, but I own over 30 different instruments and play them all in my studio music. I love making music that is related to my interests. I’m currently creating video game covers (Stardew Valley) and songs about submarines in an original project called Oceaneer. I’ve had a lot of training as a metal guitarist, but my roots are in Classic Rock, Americana, blues, and country. For clients/school, I write dance, pop, country, rock, and metal.

I started playing guitar and writing songs as a kid. Throughout the years, I’ve studied under some great guitar teachers (Zack Uidl, German Schauss, and Nili Brosh, to name a few), taught thousands of lessons, started my own guitar school (Portland Guitar Academy), and have worked on building a small network of artists whom I admire and learn from. At this point, I’ve worked on a few independent releases, but only in the past few years am I getting real commercial music experience. These are formative years for me; lots and lots of work lies ahead.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?

Tone is all about the connection between your heart and the ears. I’m obsessive about texture, dynamics, and getting the amp to break up just right. I love delays, wah pedals, and spring reverbs. Every single phrase can be a gift. Tone is the pursuit of that gift. For this reason, I’m extremely particular about the guitars, amps and effects I use.

I started on a homemade electric guitar and a homemade guitar amp my dad built, then I got a Squier Strat, a little solid-state Epiphone amp, and a couple of Danelectro pedals. It just felt great to play music when I was younger, and I didn’t have a clue about tone. These days I’ve got access to the most amazing gear and am really chasing my sound. I was having fun back then with guitar, and I’m still having fun with it. 🙂

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?

I started playing my first live shows this year. I’m using a Supro, Delta King 10 Amp, and a Pigtronix pedal chain (Philosopher’s Tone -> Gamma Drive -> Gatekeeper -> Echolution 3 with a Crybaby Wah and a D’Addario tuning pedal leading the charge mounted to a Voodoo Lab Dingbat pedalboard. I worked closely with Bond Audio (Supro, Pigtronix, D’Angelico Guitars) to put together a live rig that I could get the classic tone I was going for while still easily loading everything on and off stage myself. Everything is connected with Tsunami Cables. It is a rig that weighs less than 40 lbs. and has a minimalistic yet cute aesthetic.

I’m currently endorsed by B.C. Rich and Ovation Guitars, so I am extremely privileged to play some epic guitars live.

B.C. Rich Shredzilla 8 (Fanned Fret)
B.C. Rich Shredzilla 7 (Fanned Fret)
B.C. Rich Shredzilla 7 (Floyd Rose)
Ovation Viper (Nylon String – Yngwie J. Malmsteen Signature)
Ovation Tornado 1231
Ovation Adamas MD80

What about strings?

In the studio, I play lots of different stringed instruments. I swear by GHS strings because they make strings for everything I play (other than violin). I usually use the light Boomers on my electric guitars and the Bright Contact Core on my acoustic guitars. I became an endorsed GHS artist this year as well. It was a real blessing to finally have access to replacement strings for all my instruments. It was beginning to be a serious financial burden just to keep fresh strings on everything.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?

One of my main “secrets” in the studio is that I use Bog Street picks. They design lots of different shapes and materials. This allows for me to really dial in the picking sound I’m going for.

I’m learning a lot of techniques through my university, peers, and watching YouTube tutorials. Right now, I use a Helix and track DI for my guitar tones in the studio. The Helix Native plugin works pretty well for me because I can dial in whatever tone I’m looking for. Sometimes I use other plugins for reverbs, delays, etc. I have also been starting to mic my actual tube amps — I use Supro, Fender, Marshall, and Peavey Amps in the studio.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?

I only started playing live last year, but what I started doing was using my Supro Delta King 10 as my monitor on stage. The Delta King has an output channel that I was sending to a Line 6 Powercab and then sending that output to the house audio. I also mic the Supro cab on stage. I bought in-ears, but I haven’t been using them because I’m trying to get a feel for the live setting. In 2022, I played five shows. Before that, I’d only done a couple live gigs here and there. In 2023, I’ll be playing live a lot more often! Feel free to ask me again in a year!

What does your practice consist of?

These days my practice is kind of non-stop. I practice with my students, I practice on the couch, watching YouTube, I practice as I watch grad school lectures, I practice for my school projects, and I have serious, dedicated practice times of total focus. I try to have a guitar in my hands six to twelve hours a day. I have a structured six-hour routine that is split between three hours of technical hands-on and three hours of study and application. Then I spend the rest of my time on development of new concepts, techniques, and songs. Wash, rinse, and repeat. I’m hoping within the next five years to really have established my guitar playing.

Favorite guitar riff or lick that inspired you to play guitar?

Early years – “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix

Teenage years – “Emerald Sword” by Rhapsody (of Fire)

These days – Anything by Nili Brosh, Yvette Young, Sarah Longfield, Ando San, Plini, Jess Lewis, or David Maxim Micic.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?

This industry is still behind schedule in the professional conduct department. Last summer at NAMM in LA, I was sexually harassed by multiple men in less than two hours of arriving at the event. A security guard ended up getting himself fired for his actions against me. The situation was stressful and ruined the event for me. I think I was targeted because I was attending the event by myself. Always have witnesses/documentation of your interactions, and avoid going to events alone unless you’re confident that it is a safe space. That being said, my brand partners have been extremely professional and made me feel welcome.

Above all else, this is a long journey and a relatively small world of other working musicians. Pursue your passion and do the work that you are genuinely interested in. I am a relatively slow learner and didn’t feel particularly gifted at guitar/music. After over 20 years of effort, I finally feel like I belong in the industry and have a future in it.