Choosing the best amp settings for electric guitar could be rather challenging, since it must depend on your creative vision and the particular sound you are aiming for, after all the exploration is a part of the journey.
But in short, in simply requires you to do the following: choose your gain depending on the amount of distortion you want to achieve and don’t forget to adjust the volume accordingly. If you want a meaty and fat sound, start somewhere around 2 o’clock or leave it as is. Place the mid knob at 11 o’clock and start from there according to your own preference. Leave treble as is, if your guitar already sounds bright, or place it at 2 o’clock if it doesn’t sound bright enough.
Let’s now dig a bit deeper.
Where the sound starts
When it comes to electric guitars, the sound that they are capable of producing is combined with different interconnected factors. So, speaking about guitar amps exclusively wouldn’t be exactly right since it’s not where the sound starts. You can have the most exquisite and boutique amplifier, but if your guitar isn’t up to the challenge, it would be rather hard to achieve great results. It in no way means that your guitar has to be expensive, in fact, we believe that the price range of the instrument doesn’t necessarily affect the sound quality.
The guitar that you are using should be comfortable to you personally and its sound should correspond with your general idea of what guitar should sound like. Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to own multiple instruments for different purposes.
First and foremost, your guitar should speak to your heart and everything else is secondary to that. However, there’re a few things to consider especially if you choose to settle yourself only on one particular style of music. If, for example, you choose to dedicate your life to metal exclusively, then using a guitar with single coil pickups might not be such a good idea and you achieve better results with humbuckers. But if, on the other hand, you can’t imagine your life without chicken-picking country chops, you may consider getting your hands on some old-fashioned single coil Telecaster to meet the standard. But luckily enough, nothing is set in stone, so you most definitely should experiment, but make sure that your guitar is properly maintained.
We can’t stress it enough, but you should always use a fresh set of strings or, at least, change them when the occasion demands you to be on the top of your game. Strings that you’ve been using for quite some time tend to worsen the sound drastically and this is the last thing that you want to happen. Although strings action and the straightness of the neck don’t necessarily correlate to the sound quality, if not adjusted, they still may result in some unwanted buzzing and squeaks. Strings’ action should be adjusted only once, or if you change the gauge of the strings, and since guitar necks are highly susceptible to humidity and temperature changes, you should check it every once in a while.
The choice of the amplifier will also somewhat correlate with the music style of your choosing. For country or blues, a tube amplifier with some vintage flavor might be just it. We encourage you to take your time and search thoroughly for your perfect amp since nowadays there’re options available to any taste and budget.
If, on the other hand, you’re more interested in exploding metal riffs and screaming solos, you may think about an amp head connected to a large two-speaker cabinet. Luckily enough, there’re plenty of very competitive options to choose from. But no matter what style you prefer and what amp you’d eventually choose all of those amps operate on the same basic principle when it comes to setting it up.
Best amp settings for electric guitar
No matter what amp you may encounter, it most likely will have an EQ module of sorts, gain and volume controls and occasionally some built-in FX. Hybrid and fully digital amplifiers usually have more complicated and thorough settings, but for logistical reasons, will stick to the basics in this article. EQ module is what gives us the most opportunity in terms of shaping the tone of our sound. Think of it as a 3-band parametric EQ where you can control low, middle, and high frequencies separately. When it comes to gain, solid state and tube amps tend to behave slightly differently, but it’s nothing to be worried about since most of the modern solid state amps usually have a separate channel for overdriven sound.
The main and at this point the only setting that controls the amount of distortion you would get from the amplifier is the gain knob. Turning it clockwise increases the amount of distortion and turning it counterclockwise will obviously decrease it. How to set the gain knob directly depends on what type of sound you’re aiming for. The less gain you dial in, the cleaner and more transparent sound you’ll get.
And if you push the gain knob all the way to the right, you’ll get the most distortion your amp is capable of. In this case, you should turn the volume all the way to the left before you increase the gain. This way, you’ll have the opportunity to dial the right level of sound safely.
The next setting that we should address is the bass knob which controls the low end of your guitar sound. It operates within the same clock-based principle as the gain knob, so turning it to the right will increase the amount of low frequencies, and turning it to the left will decrease it. If you’re aiming for a very meaty and fat sound, you should be aiming for approximately 2 o’clock or 7, if your amp has numerical markings. If you desire a more bright sound, place it somewhere around 10-11 o’clock. If your goal is to achieve a more conservative and universal tone, you may consider leaving it exactly at 12 o’clock or 5 with numerical markings.
Mids, as you probably guessed, control the middle frequencies and it’s a very tricky subject to discuss. Some guitar players prefer to drastically scoop out the mids to get a very flat tone, some prefer to turn it up a bit to get an even fatter sound. A good place to start would be to put it somewhere around 11 o’clock and leave it there if it works for you. If you aren’t satisfied with the result, try to figure out if something is missing or if the mids are excessive and adjust the knob accordingly. One thing to remember is that if you’re using a Marshal amp, it may have a “Contour” knob that also controls the middle frequencies but the knob actually operates in reverse compared to the other amps.
The high-frequency response of your amp is controlled by the treble knob. You should be very careful with it since those frequencies are already reserved for the vocal and cymbals. And if you get over the top with this knob, the overall performance of your band wouldn’t be that efficient or, at least, can be very uncomfortable for your bandmates. The safest bet would be, of course, to leave it at 12 o’clock, especially if you’re using an already bright-sounding single coil guitar. But if you feel that your guitar doesn’t sound bright enough, put the treble knob somewhere around 2 o’clock or in some cases slightly higher than that.
Some amps have additional built-in effects that don’t directly change the tone of your sound but can help you with achieving a certain feel. More often than not, this ends up being a spring reverb that can give you some noticeable vintage vibes and additional volume. Quite a few Rolland amplifiers have a built-in chorus which, if used in moderation, could also add some flavor and sense of depth to your sound. Generally speaking, when it comes to built-in effects or any effects for that matter, the important thing is to not overdo it and be sure that it suits your artistic goal and a general feel of a particular composition. So you may even consider changing the settings from song to song if you feel that it would be beneficial.
The guitar sound is a very tender and extremely personal thing individual to every guitarist. And in order to find your personal sound, you have to experiment a lot until you find something that suits your creative ideas and personality the most. That being said, there’re a few ideas that you might find useful to help you avoid some common beginner mistakes and get a more general idea of guitar sound.