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How to play the Amplifier
Two questions we get asked most frequently about guitar amps are:
1. How do I get a high level of sustain or overdrive from my amp without necessarily turning it up too loud and
2. What am I supposed to do with the tone or EQ controls on the amp.
In this lesson we shall address both of these subjects.
First let's look at setting up your amp to get the most sustain at reasonable volume.
Now one difficulty about discussing amplifiers is that, manufacturers differ in their choice of labels for the controls on different makes of amplifier.
One manufacturer will label a control 'Volume' another 'Gain'
We also get 'Boost', 'Level' 'Pre-gain' Post-Gain' 'Overdrive' 'Distortion' 'Input volume' 'Output volume' and 'Master volume' -- all labels on knobs that basically do the same thing -- they allow you to control the amplitude of the signal passing through the circuitry of the amplifier at some given point.
Added to this complication, some amps have multiple channels and some even multiple inputs.
Now, if you have got more than one channel or input choose one that is labelled 'High Gain', 'Overdrive' 'Distortion' or some such label indicating more power.
Avoid channels labelled 'Clean' or 'Low Gain'
Now look at the control panel of your amp and locate the input socket -- this should be where your guitar lead is plugged into the amp.
Whatever labels are used on your amp we'll call the one closest to the input socket GAIN and the farthest one VOLUME.
Whatever the layout, for the purposes of our instructions, in a case like this we will refer to the two controls nearest to the input socket as GAIN and the control furthest from the input socket as VOLUME.
So here's how to apply this to your amp settings.
First, as an important precaution, turn the Volume control (the one furthest from the input socket to zero).
Next make sure that you are feeding the amp as much signal as possible. This means TURN up all controls on the guitar to 10.
That's Volume and tone. Have as many pick-ups selected as possible and if you have any kind of active circuitry (boosters) switch it on .
Then, in the interests of maximising pressure, turn the gain on the amp straight up to 10. Remember if there are three controls affecting sound levels on your amp then this applies to both of the controls nearest the input socket.
Remember you have just created the audio equivalent of a primed and loaded bomb! With this much 'Pressure' in the system, the output volume control is going to be pretty sensitive so TURN IT UP S L O W L Y
So there you are -- you won't get more sustain out of your system than that!
Now here's a good way to set the EQ.
Again amps will differ, but the vast majority will give you some control of Bass Middle and Treble.
Set the volume level on the amp as high as you reasonably can, because the higher the volume the more clearly you will hear the effects of the EQ controls. If you are going to be playing clean then select the cleanest setting, if you are going for sustain then set the gain and volume according to the instructions earlier in this lesson.
Now Shut down the treble and middle controls to zero and set the bass on 10.
Test this setting by playing the lowest sounding strings on the guitar. It will almost certainly sound too boomy..
Turn the bass down until the lowest notes on the guitar sound about right.
Next turn the treble all the way up and test the highest notes you are likely to play. They will sound too tinny...
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Turn the treble down until the highest notes on the guitar sound about right.
Finally, strum a chord across all six strings and feed in the middle to restore a bit of warmth and body to the sound. Too much middle can make things sound a bit thick and muffled -- too little and the sound is a bit brittle or cold sounding.
(Shown on video)