Tone -- What's It All About?

Recently I've seen the word tone used as a description of sound. What exactly do people mean when using this word? From what I can gather tone is a very positive trait.

As a long time, very bad guitarist I know what musicians mean when discussing tone. A particular amp or guitar can be described as having great tone, but only in the context of a talented musician drawing it out of the instrument. It's a combination of harmonic richness, sustain, grit and sensitivity to touch. Great musicians have great tone even with less than stellar equipment. From this perspective I'm really confused about how audiophiles are using the word. For instance, check out this Altmann site which boldly calls itself Mother of Tone. The site relates tone to the characteristic vibration of different materials, but the definition of tone is implied to be "a pleasant sound", which I think is somewhat lacking.

My questions are, can a component have tone? Can parts of a component have tone, for instance a speaker post? Is there good tone and bad tone? What's the opposite of tone? Can you have too much tone? How does tone relate to accuracy, measured or perceived?
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in audio terms, i believe tone refers to the relationship between, bass, treble and midrange frequencies.

as a reviewer, my editor chastised me for using the word tonal balance. i now say "spectral balance", which indicates the degree to which all of the regions within which fundamentals and their harmonics exist are or are not in balance with each other.
I don't think "tone" is a particularly good word for describing an audio system; it is way too fuzzy in meaning as my abridged dictionary lists 10 separate definitions. The closest one simply suggests a good sound quality.

However, people misuse or inaccurately use words all the time on an endless range of subjects. Audio certainly isn't alone in this aspect.

Some other audio examples are the "pace," "rhythm" and "timing" of audio equipment as if the equipment has some learned talent in this area. It almost suggests that the proper system can improve the musical ability of a musician who has no rhythm or turn badly played music in to
a good performance.

But that is just a minor quibble on my part. I usually figure out what most writers meant even if their wording could have been a bit better. It is rarely worth it to get into a raging debate over semantics.
I never really used that word until I got into tubes and then it became the main word I think of when listening to tube equipment. I certainly feel "the sound" when referring to tone has to do with how frequencies are bundled, distributed and reproduced, but to me that's missing the point of "the word". It's really an ethereal description, when you hear it, you know it.

My 6SN7 based Blue Circle BC21 preamp creates a midrange tone that I've never heard in another preamp. If I were to draw an analogy it would be like comparing acoustic guitars. A flamenco guitar uses cypress which imparts a sharper, bolder sound, while mahogany used in many classical guitars emits a mellower, deeper tone.

Here's an excerpt from something written by Kara E. Chaffee the chief engineer of deHavilland:

"The octal tubes we employ give you what in "Tube Lore" is described as "BIG TONE", something you just can't get with nine pin miniature tubes found in most preamps. 12AX7’s or 6922’s just can't get there."

I think this is much more a tube thing that has to do with midrange coloration and resonance, not something very evident in solid state gear.
Another example might be Vladimir Horowitz. Most pianists use their fingertips while playing and the resulting sound is precise, but sometimes dead from a less accompished artist.

Horowitz is famous for his flat finger playing which when heard creates an amazingly rich and complex tone. It sounds like two people are playing the same piece at the same time, because all these tones become layered on top of the base note. Beautiful and incredibly powerful!
While it is true that an expert can get good tone out of a crappy instrument, it is also true that a novice can get good tone out of an instrument that has good tone to begin with.

I certainly think 'tone' is an appopriate word to describe a stereo system, at least if you are discussing this other other musicians.

Though audiophiles have the tendency to dissect and discuss small portions of the musical spectrum separately , a good "tone" would just be an overall pleasing sound. Not too warm, not too bright, not too thin, not too forward... just plain old good tone.
Thanks for the responses. The way I've heard the word used is along the lines of Gunbei's description. It's a tube thing.