I am writing this to help people understand what guitar amps settings do and to help them set up their amp the best way possible. Since there are so many different amps and types of amplifiers, I will keep it at a broad level and not amp specific.
- Amp Settings Overview
- What’s the Best Way to Set Up Your Amp?
- 3. Tips and Tricks for Clean Sounds
- 4. Tips and Tricks for Overdriven Sounds
- 5. Tips and Tricks for Distorted Sounds
- 6. Tips and Tricks for Lead Sounds
- 7. Tips and Tricks for Band Gain/Volume
- 8. Tips and Tricks for Loud Rock/Metal Behaviors
- 9. Tips and Tricks for General Use
- 10. Common Problems With Setting Up Your Amp
Amp Settings Overview
Amp settings are the most important aspect of your live playing, since your amp is a primary tool you use to make those unique sounds that only you can make with your guitar. If you have a good set of amp settings, you will sound great every time you’re at the gig. It is true that a very important part of your guitar tone is your pedals, guitar and pickups, but it all starts with your amp. I highly recommend that you spend some time on finding good amp settings for your guitar before buying any pedals or other gear.
By “finding good settings” I mean to be able to dial in the best possible tone while playing live.
What’s the Best Way to Set Up Your Amp?
The best way to set up your amp is to have it so that it sounds great in all settings. You want to be able to dial in very different tones in your amp, without having to change any settings or use any pedals. An example would be from bluesy overdrive, into crunchy distortion, into heavy metal distortion. If you only use one tone setting for all of these styles, you are seriously limiting your ability as a guitar player.
The easiest way to get your amp to have multiple settings is to turn the gain all the way up, but this can lead to your amp sounding muddy. If you use a distortion pedal, you should have at least some levels going into it if you are playing live. This can be difficult at times if you are on stage without a backing tape or live vocalist, since sometimes you don’t want to turn down your guitar volume when playing overheads and other areas of the mix.
The best way to get your amp settings to sound good at all settings is to combine a few things.
- Have the bass and treble on your amp as low as possible. This gets you the nice thick tone and smooth upper mids that a lot of tube amps are famous for. The lower you can go on these two settings, the better it will be. Experiment with turning both of them down until you get the sound you desire. Turn off your mid control if you have one, since the mids should be controlled by your guitar and not your amp.
- Bring the master volume all the way up (or turn it as high as it will go). This will give you maximum amount of distortion or gain that is available. The lower you can keep this setting while maintaining good tone, the better. To get a more “white knuckle” type of tone at a gig, you will want to turn this up even more.
- Turning down your amp’s preamp gain will give you a more clear and natural tone, since the preamp gain is typically set higher than the master volume. I would suggest to keep this all the way down (if there is a switch) since it can make the high end of your distortion or overdrive sound too weak.
3. Tips and Tricks for Clean Sounds
When you want clean sounds, you have to turn your amp down in volume. In most amps, the clean channel and the gain will interact with each other when turned down. Surprisingly, turning down the gain on your amp is usually a good thing for your clean tone. To get a really nice clean tone with overdrive, you have to maintain a balance between your treble and bass settings (including the presence control). Experiment with the different settings and see which one sounds best for your pickups.
One last thing to try is to turn your master volume control or amp volume control all the way down, and turn your guitar’s tone control all the way up. This will just about give you total treble, mid and bass settings in a mix of overtones and sound variations. Experiment around until you find a good balance of overtones for your amp, and this setting will make a noticeable difference in how it sounds.
4. Tips and Tricks for Overdriven Sounds
When you want to get an overdriven sound, you should turn your amp gain all the way up. Turn the bass and treble as low as possible. This will give you a more compressed and hotter sound than using just the bass and treble controls alone. Try to keep your master volume as low as possible (unless you are playing live). You may need to use a volume pedal to keep your volume down if you are on stage without a backing tape or live vocalist. Try to keep your amp at a lower volume level for playing overheads and other parts of the mix.
To get the best bluesier overdriven tone, you have to adjust your settings between the bass and treble controls. The bass control will bring out more of a low end, while the treble control will be higher in pitch. The lower you can keep these two controls, the better it will sound. Experiment with these two controls to get a perfect tone for your playing style.
5. Tips and Tricks for Distorted Sounds
When you want to get a heavy distorted sound, you have to turn your gain all the way up. This will provide a maximum amount of distortion available in your amp. The bass and treble should be turned down as low as possible, but don’t turn it so low that the treble disappears or is weak when you play chords. To get a more pop or classic rock type tone, you can keep your master volume all the way up.
6. Tips and Tricks for Lead Sounds
Generally, you will want to turn the volume down on your amp for lead sounds. This will give you more control over the sound and can help to make the perfect tone when you are playing solo or featuring a song. You can adjust the treble and bass controls in a similar way as when playing with distortion effects: Adjust your treble for more bite and high end, while adjusting your bass for an overall thicker sound. The lower you can keep these controls, the better it will sound.
7. Tips and Tricks for Band Gain/Volume
If you are in a band and your guitarist is playing a solo, you might have to turn up the amp volume so it doesn’t get drowned out by the other instruments. You can compensate for this additional volume with effects pedals to keep from overdriving your amp. Add an effect pedal or boost pedal in line (like a Boss FV-500H) for cleaner sounds.
If you are in a band and need to keep the overall volume down, you can use an attenuator for clean boosts or distortion effects. Tweak your guitar volume with the tone control and the output level with the attenuator. This method is also useful to keep your amp from distorting too much and killing itself.
8. Tips and Tricks for Loud Rock/Metal Behaviors
Generally speaking, you want the overdrive on your guitar amp to be soft enough that you can play at hard levels without killing it. In other words, a minimum of 30-40 watts of power is often sufficient for playing at high volume levels without damaging your amp.
If you are playing loud rock or metal, you may want to use distortion boosters for greater crunch. You can also use them to adjust the distortion for different tones at lower volumes, either in front of your amp or with a pedal. Boosting the distortion will give you extra gain and power and can cut through the mix.
9. Tips and Tricks for General Use
Use a headphone amp to help you concentrate on your music, so you can get work done without worrying about neighbors. You can find many headphone amps in the world, including solid state and tube options for different budgets.
You can also use a guitar amp in conjunction with a PA system with a set of speaker cabs for bigger performances. If you need extra volume and power, this is a good option. However, if you are using speaker cabs, make sure they are isolated from each other to avoid feedback issues.
10. Common Problems With Setting Up Your Amp
Use your ears to determine the best sound out of your amp. You want it to be full, warm, and dynamic, with a slight edge of brightness that helps you cut through the mix.
Common issues include too much bass for the size of your room or too much gain for the amount of drive you have on your amp. If this happens, turn down your bass and midrange knobs by a few decibels each to clean up the tone. It will still be there, just tighter. Remember: If you are a kid that likes to turn up the distortion and the volume at the same time, you are playing it too loud. Set your level to a point where you can hear yourself play.
This is all helpful information for the beginners who are learning how to set up their amplifiers. If you know what you are doing, it will save your amp from trouble. It will also make your amp sound better. Good luck!