Guitar Amp Settings Explained | TheMusicGig
There are countless dials on your amp and you are left wondering “How the heck am I supposed to find the right tone with so many buttons to turn?” Luckily, it’s not as intimidating as it looks. All that is required that you understand what each button does then experimenting with them to find a tone that you like.
While it may be tempting to look at videos on how to dial the perfect tone, the truth is there is no perfect tone you just need to find out what sounds good to you.
No matter what amplifier you have, the dials that I will discuss are the one that you will find on most amps. Anyhow, here is guitar amp settings explained.
The volume knob:
This one is pretty self-explanatory and works the same way as it does for any other device like a television or a smartphone. Simply turn up the dial so you can turn the sound to your liking. You may notice some amps have 2 volume dials on it, one is for the clean channel and the other is for the dirty channel.
Some amps like the Marshall 8080 have 2 volume controls and you will notice that when you put the amp on the clean channel that the other volume knob does nothing when you turn it. This is because one is strictly for the clean channel and the other is the "master" volume control for both channels.
The Gain Knob:
This one is one of the most exciting knobs when adjusting your guitar amp settings, at least for me. If you are a metal-head or love rock music then this dial is a must. Essentially, the gain knob (also known as drive) in simple terms gives your guitar a heavier / harder sound giving that rock/metal tone depending on how much you put.
If you are playing metal, chances are that you will put the gain knob to at least a 7 to give it that heavy sound. Depending on your amp and your guitar you may find that 10 too much and that it loses its quality.
The Bass Knob:
The bass control gives your guitar a more “boomy” or low-end type of sound making it sound deeper. If the bass on your amplifier is set to 0, you might find that your guitar will sound very flat but it is a popular practice by many metal guitar players. On the other hand, if you have it too high it may feel too muddy.
Like with any control on your amp, you need to experiment to find the right guitar amp setting for you.
The Middle Knob:
The middle knob on your guitar amplifier changes the “middle” section of your sound. What I mean by this is if you look at Bass that configures the low end to give it a boomy end, but the “middle” control gives it a more cantered sound.
Treble which I will discuss in a minute gives a higher sound, you can see the middle knob acts as the balance between the three amplifier controls.
You may have heard of something called “Scooping the mids” a very popular term in heavy metal guitar. Scooping the mids means to turn the “middle” control on the amplifier on the lower end to give a sharper or higher-pitched sound. Bands like Pantera did this and gave them a unique guitar tone.
Usually, it’s recommended that you don’t have the middle dial down all the way. The reason is that if you are the lead guitar, for example, you will want your solos to be heard. The middle dial helps cut through other instruments so you are heard better by other band members and the audience.
Interesting fact! The mids on the guitar is the frequency that the human ear hears the easiest, making it easier to stand out. The guitar itself is also a mid-range instrument and it makes sense when you think about it because you have low sounding strings and high-sounding guitar strings.
The Treble Knob:
As mentioned before the treble knob is the “high” end of the guitar amp. If you turn up the treble on your guitar amp you will find that you will have a higher-pitched sound or higher frequencies. If you will find that having the treble on the low end will make your guitar sound weaker whereas if you have it up it will sound heavier.
Having the treble up is very common in rock and heavy metal as it adds to that heavier sound. As always experiment with this dial and see what works for you.
The Contour Knob:
This is an interesting guitar knob and is usually not used too often but scoops the mids, giving your amp a higher sound. You will notice when you have distortion on that the contour knob will make your guitar sound buzzier, this is a great and quick way to get Pantera-like guitar sound.
Play any high note on the guitar like the 12th fret of the high ‘E’ string and you will notice that your notes sound a lot sharper. The contour knob affects the mids on your sound. If you put the contour higher it will scoop your mids and same vice-versa.
I don’t use this control when playing solos, as it doesn’t sound great, but sounds great on riffs themselves such as “Be demons, be driven” by Pantera.
The Reverb Knob:
This is a very simple control to understand. The reverb knob simply gives your amplifier a more echoey sound like being in a hallway. Think about being in a big empty hallway and shouting something, remember how it echoes? The reverb knob does the same thing.
If you turn the reverb up the echo will be bigger and turning it down does the opposite effect. You can also buy reverb guitar pedals if you want to get a better echoey type of sound, it’s a very popular sound as it adds some flavour to your overall sound.
Some guitar reverb guitar pedals like the Boss RV-5 have the option to adjust the “time” on the pedal, meaning that when you play a string and it “echoes’”, you can hear the echo multiple times. It’s like shouting “HELLO!” and the effect you get is “hello…. hello…. hello….”
The Presence Knob:
The presence dial is also an interesting one, it adds higher frequencies and makes your guitar sound crispier. You can think of it as a higher version of the treble dial or as a treble booster. The presence knob boosts the upper frequencies above the normal treble control for added high-end.
The presence knob is like you turning up your treble to 10 then saying to yourself "I want more treble! Or I want my notes to sound higher!".
Bonus tip! Boosting the presence knob on your amplifier will increase the duration of your notes as well as increasing sustain. For fast/heavy riffs the presence is usually down so the notes fade away faster.
Final Thoughts ...
There is no right or wrong way to configure your guitar amp settings, it is all subjective and required trial and error to figure out what you like. After some experimentation, you will find a tone that you love and you may even consider it your signature sound if you use it on most of the things that you play.
You may want to also buy guitar pedals if you feel like you aren’t getting the sound that you want out of your amp, this is much cheaper than buying another amplifier. If you have a Marshall guitar amplifier that you may want to buy a chorus pedal or a clean booster pedal as you may find that Marshall amps don’t have the best “clean” sound and are better for heavier guitar playing.
The same may work for Fender guitar amps, the clean channel is great but the overdrive is nowhere near as good as Marshall (in my opinion). Anyhow that is it for guitar amp settings explained, I hope you got something out of it!
There are more controls on an amplifier but this should give you a really strong foundation for creating your ultimate guitar sound.