Cool Amp Settings for your Electric Guitar Playing

This cool beginner guitar lesson on amp settings gets you up to speed with what the basic knobs are. Find out the best settings for your style of electric guitar playing. This lead guitar lesson covers all the basics you need...from getting a great sound from your amp to what to look for in a guitar amp.

Clean or Distortion?

I'm sure you've heard these terms before. Most guitar amps nowadays have 2 channels. One for a clean sound and one for a "dirty" or distortion sound. I demonstrate both in the electric guitar lessons video so that you'll be able to decide what kinds of amp settings appeal to you.

The other question we need to address is what are you using your amp for? if you are mostly practicing in your home, a small practice amp is all you need. If you plan on doing some playing in a band, you'll need something loud enough to play with a drummer. Especially if it's rock or pop.

If you're in the market for an amp, you'll need to consider these questions. If you would like to play in a band down the road? Then it depends on your commitment and your budget. However, practice amps are highly underrated. Make sure, but most towns have a music store where you can rent larger sized amps. That way you don't have to purchase one. Plus, you can find out what qualities you need and don't need in an amp. And, if you're set up to record on your computer you don't need an amp to record with.

The Mighty Practice a wonderful tool. For the purposes of this lesson, I'll assume you have a practice amp. If you upgrade, the same principles of getting a good sound with your amp settings will apply.

It's All In The Hands

That's right! If you aren't getting a good sound at the source no amount of equipment will help you. But hey, that's why you're looking at an online electric guitar lesson like learn and study the instrument. There's plenty of TAB and songs out there on the Internet. Not many people take the time to actually study the instrument.

OK. You've been practicing and you're getting a good sound with your fingers and pick. One of the most common mistakes I've seen over the many years I've been teaching is a "bum" guitar cable. Or a loose jack (where you plug the cable in) or dirty pots. Not the dishes ;-) The knobs on the guitar crackle and fizz. If any of this describes you, fix it now :-)

Alright. Your hands are good. Your guitar and cable are good. You're in tune. We are halfway to getting a, make that great! Guitar sound. let's move on to the amp settings, shall we?

Amp Settings

In the video, I'm demonstrating with a little Roland cube amp. I show you the various knobs and how they affect the sound. This particular amp has some effects built in. That's something else to think about as far as getting a sound. Again, it depends on your needs. If you're in an ensemble (fancy word for group) situation, you'll probably want pedals that you can switch on and off with your feet. Some amps come with foot switches. It's definitely more convenient to be able to switch sounds with the click or stomp of your foot :-)

Tube Amps: Tube amps are back in style. Below is a photo of the knob settings I used on my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. Apparently, Fender used to put out a booklet of suggested knob settings to get you started -- they no longer do so. At least, I didn't get one with my amp :-)

The CHANNEL SELECT button is IN. The MASTER Volume can be set accordingly. For me that means according to my wife and neighbours ;-)

There's an audio example of what this setting sounds like below. It's an excellent example for this amp settings lesson. I used the Amp Models in my recording software for the guitar backing tracks I played -- and I used my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe and the settings in the photo above -- for the lead parts.

I did not use any pedals. It's my Gibson Les Paul plugged straight in to the amp for the lead work. It just so happens to be a new instrumental song release -- but I'm giving it away for free. This is because it's an excellent example for my guitar teaching site. I did "ride" my volume control on my guitar somewhat. Oh! -- and I used a Shure SM57 smack dab in the centre of the speaker about 2" (5cm) back.

Note: If you like it, you may wish to check out some of my other songs. Or take a moment to share it :-)

Important Tip: I generally recommend that students "try before they buy" when it comes to either guitars or amps. However, I live in a large metropolitan area where there are lots of retail music stores and even used gear.

An option for those of you without the luxury of music stores in your town is to order online. One of the most respected online retailers is Musicians Friend.

Here's a Roland Cube amp from Musician's Friend. It's a larger version of the amp I happen to own -- and it comes with an optional footswitch. Click on the link below if you want to find out more. It'll open a new window in your browser.

Roland CUBE-80XL 80W 1x12 Guitar Combo Amp Black 886830112478

Click here if you'd like to go to the general Musician's Friend site and look around at their huge selection of guitar amps.

Another large and reputable online music retail outlet is Zzounds. Click the link below (opens in a new window) to see a mini guitar amp very similar to the one I use in the video. It's made by a different manufacturer. Vox MINI3 Battery-Powered Modeling Guitar Mini Amplifier

Amp Settings cont'd...

The first thing to be aware of is the input. That's where your cable goes. If you use pedals, put them between your guitar and amp. There are lots of opinions about the best ways to daisy chain effects pedals...beyond the scope of this lesson.

Next item. Volume. This is the loudness knob. You possibly have 2 of these if your amp has 2 channels.

This brings us to Gain. Some call it overdrive, some distortion. The more Gain, the more distortion. You'll need to turn the Volume down as you turn the Gain up...unless you want to drive your neighbors crazy. Not recommended :-) Headphones are another option, but they're uncomfortable after long periods. Personally, I prefer hearing music in the open room. Another basic error I see is people just cranking the Gain. That's fine if you know what you're doing with your amp settings. Otherwise, it's usually a very unpleasant sound. This is because the sound of the guitar actually gets smaller. Huh?...

More Distortion equals Smaller's that? It just means that there will be less bass or bottom end, and less treble or high end. On very expensive tube amps this isn't the case. On simple practice amps it is. In the guitar lesson video I demonstrate a few basic amp settings. A good clean sound, a classic rock and also a heavy metal type of sound. Keep in mind there are many more options. As you keep playing and listening you'll make more discoveries.

It's All In the EQ...I know... I said it's all in the hands, and it is! EQ is right up there, though. EQ means equalization. It refers to the blend of bass, mid and treble frequencies just like on...oh, never mind! I was gonna say your stereo. Well, maybe you remember that ;-) Again, I'll show you the best amp settings in the guitar lesson video. Tweaking knobs on your amp will also train you to listen and notice things you may not have noticed about guitar sounds before.

Digital Amps and Pods...can make the whole concept of amp settings "moot". Now it can be as simple as dialing in the sound of your favorite player... and Presto! you've got his or her amp settings! These amps are a little pricier than basic practice amps, but not usually as expensive as a good tube amp. There's a lot more I could say here about technology and guitar amps. I've done my best to keep it to basic practice amp settings as well as give you a basic overview of other possibilities.

In Summary

  • It depends on your goals. Bedroom or rehearsal room?
  • Your budget and commitment.
  • If you're recording at home, you don't even need an amp. It's better to have one for practicing though.
  • Talk to sales staff at music stores. Read brochures. Ask other players. Do your research. Just get a good little practice amp for now. Deal with the rest later. Learn how to really play. Learn how to tweak the knobs a bit. Yeah, now you're talkin' my language :-)

Hope you found this guitar lesson on amp settings helpful. It's been my pleasure to perhaps play a small part in inspiring you to keep dusting off your guitar :-)


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