Tips for understanding Guitar Tone!
There are so many amps with so many little variations and extra goodies, often it can be really tough to know where to start, or even more so, what the end goal is. The first thing we should try to break down is what kind of amp it is, and talk about the characteristics of each. I’ll also drop a few names of each corresponding type of amp, so if you’re looking to buy, you have a better idea of where to start.
Low Gain amps:
These type of amps are great at getting you into a blues, modern rock territory. They sound great clean, and when pushed they break up in a very particular way. Some examples are the Dr. Z amps, Fender champ, fender blues deluxe, Marshall Plexi, Vox AC-30, and the Vox AC-15. Typically tube driven, either by EL34’s, 6L6’s, 12AX7’s or some variant, they also come in solid state (no tubes).
- The most common way these type of amps get their character is to be pushed. Meaning, the volume knob is where it’s at! Not the gain knob. Low gain, high volume, and that will get you where you want to be. These types of amps are rated at a low wattage, so when the volume knob is floored (around 8), yes, it will be loud enough to overpower a heavy handed drummer. At low volume settings your mileage may vary. The amp most likely will not be loud enough if the volume is below 4 or 5. There are exceptions.
High Gain amps:
These amps are suited for more aggressive styles of music. Metal, heavy rock, modern rock, industrial, etc. They are designed for very heavily distorted tones. Think Metallica, Slayer, Lamb of God, Slipknot, etc. Some examples of these types of amps include the Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier, the Marshall JCM900, Peavey 5150, Bogner Ubershall, and the Soldano SLO100.
- The way these amps are structured is basically the opposite of low gain amps. Designed for boatloads of gain, but NOT gain by volume. A typical setup would have the gain knob somewhere past 4 or 5, and the volume somewhere around the same, and that will be plenty loud to fill a room. These types of amps rely less on power amp/tube saturation, so pushing the volume and lowering the gain (like a low gain setting) MAY get you to something, but they really are not designed to be that way. You may get lucky though!
Designed to behave like classic, or well known modern amps. They’re actually a computer in a box that looks like an amp. The designers have digitally recreated the an amp as close as they can get, and the controls you get try to mimic the amp you have selected. Some examples of this are the Fender mustang, the Axe-FX, the Kemper Fractal, the Blackstar amps, all the Line 6 products, and the Boss Katana.
- Extremely popular due to their lower cost, Multi/Digital amps are the Swiss army knife approach. One amp, tons of options. For example, if you’re playing in a cover band, and need lots and lots of different guitar tones, it’s much easier to have one amp that can handle it, as opposed to three or four. Way less expensive as well. The drawback is that usually the digital recreation of the amp doesn’t hold up when placed next to it’s real life counterpart. There are exceptions, but if you choose to go down the digital road, try to keep that in mind.
Dialing in these amps is the exact same approach as above. Choose the amp (low gain, high gain), and the controls should behave exactly as they would if you were using the real deal.