Who has the best guitar tone

5 Error setting up amplifiers

Tips and tricks for setting up your guitar amp

Set the amplifier correctly for stage and studio

(Image: © Shutterstock / Boris Bulychev)

The long-cherished wish has finally come true, the dream amp is ready with the ideal pedal combination and the dream guitar hangs on your shoulder. But no matter how you do it: The sound you were hoping for will not come out. And if it does, it might sound halfway good at home, but nothing more can be heard in the rehearsal room or on stage at the latest.

Many of us know this situation and the reasons for it can have various causes. But mostly it is the settings on the amplifier that can usually be corrected relatively easily with the answers to the questions below:

Guitar Amps - Quick Facts

  • Which guitar amps are there?
    Tube amplifiers still play a major role because their sound has shaped the characteristic guitar tone from rock to metal to jazz and country. But transistor amplifiers and so-called modeling amps are also gaining more and more friends

  • What is the difference between tube amplifiers, transistor amplifiers and modeling amps?
    Tube amplifiers generate their sound with classic electron tubes, while transistor amplifiers work with semiconductors and modeling amps reproduce the characteristics of any amp in a digital way. A fourth variant are hybrid amps, which usually combine a tube preamp with a transistor output stage.

  • Which amplifier has the best guitar sound?
    If you are looking for the ideal guitar sound, you will find basically the same requirements and setting options for all amplifiers, more or less extensive and often also storable. This is why our tips are not limited to a specific type of amplifier, but apply to all of them.

1. Adjust the amplifier - alone or with a tape?

People like to make the mistake of sitting in front of their amplifier in the living room and then turning the knobs until one is satisfied with the sound on its own. But you forget one thing: you can hear sound depending on the context! An important point is always assertiveness in a musical context. Therefore my tip: Make sound settings in the rehearsal room and ask your band members to play a groove so that you can find the settings on your amp that fit well into the band structure, because sound settings are also part of the rehearsal of every band!

Can't adjust your sounds together with the band?

Then at least play a backing track at home and adjust your guitar sound there. You may be shocked or at least unfamiliar when you hear your sound alone and that is perfectly normal. Make the effort to listen to the "isolated tracks" of some guitarists on YouTube. You will be amazed how different a guitar sounds on its own than in the mix of the song!

2. How do I find the ideal EQ setting for my guitar sound?

Why are the center frequencies so important?

The center frequencies, which are between 400 Hz and 4 kHz, can be perceived as uncomfortable and very direct, especially in the high-mid range, if they are disproportionately represented. Unfortunately, the two terms "assertiveness" and "uncomfortable" are not necessarily on the same side of the coin. If you set the mids too low, you get a pleasant feel-good sound, which can also hide various weaknesses in playing, but you are at the bottom of the mix because you don't prevail. The guitar is a "middle" instrument, has its strongest frequencies there and bites its way through the context the most. This means that too many basses get in the way of the bassist and the highs and high mids are often reserved for keys or vocals.

What is the best way to set the center control?

Since the center control is designed differently on each amp and of course the box and guitar also have a say, it is not possible to specify an exact guideline here. However, if you feel like the guitar isn't really coming through, just give it a try! Incidentally, which frequencies are emphasized and how, also has a lot to do with the location in which you are playing. So try to stay flexible and don't stick to a certain controller setting! Here you can see an example of the function of the middle pot of a Marshall Plexis. The left image is centered at minimum and the right center is at maximum. As you can see, the frequency is increased significantly between 700 Hz and 2.5 kHz - which can of course also look different with other sounds and amplifier models.

Function of the middle potentiometer of a Marshall Plexis

3. How much reverb for my guitar sound?

The reverb is often used in the mix to create depth gradations, that is, the more reverb, the further back in the mix. This also applies to the guitar amp, of course, and you should therefore exercise caution when handling the reverb.

Of course it feels great when a decent room sound sounds on the guitar signal and here too the reverb can colorize and cover up some weaknesses in playing. But firstly, the reverb is the job of the mixer on the desk or on the DAW and secondly it harbors the risk of making your guitar signal opaque.

The situation is different, of course, if you are on the move in special styles of music that really use the reverb as a stylistic effect, such as surf, rockabilly or atmosounds. Your mixer will then know that and adjust the overall setting. Otherwise: Only use reverb in a nuanced way and if it becomes blurred, just turn it down.

4. What does the gain control do?

The Gain knob is often used to sound heavier and more aggressive. However, the opposite often happens. A lot of gain compresses your tone, the attacks are washed out and the transients are softened. Of course it is understandable that you want a singing tone especially for lead sounds, and a lot of gain also makes playing a lot easier. Hence my tip: Choose a rhythm sound that is rather moderate in terms of gain and a lead sound that can have a little more distortion. Here, too, the motto applies: Make your setting in the band context and check whether the sound comes through in the overall mix and is defined.

5. How do I adjust the channel volume?

Do you have a two-channel amplifier or do you work with pedals?

Often the problem arises that clean and rhythm sounds are differently loud. Of course, you can halfway read from the controller setting whether the potentiometers are set similarly. The problem is, however, that different sounds in the overall context also have a different volume, depending on which frequencies are particularly relevant.

How do the pickups affect the amplifier sound?

It also sometimes happens that, for example, the clean channel is often used with the pickups in between and the rhythm channel with the bridge humbucker, which is a bit louder per se. These settings should also be configured carefully in the tape / playback context. Plays to a backing and switches back and forth between the two channels and also asks the bandmates if the result sounds homogeneous,

I hope this list could be a little help when setting up your sound. Perhaps a few final remarks:

When you have a hard time parting with sounds

Sounds that feel good in the practice room don't have to be on stage or in the band. Try to be open to the fact that certain changes are good for things in themselves and that these changes are very easy to get used to. The mixer and the bandmates will thank you with respect.

So you can easily remember your amp setting

Cell phones can be a great help when it comes to documenting settings! So my tip: Set up the amp in the rehearsal room the way it should sound and take a photo of it immediately, then it stays the same at the gig and in the next rehearsal!

I wish you success!