Amp Settings for Different Musical Styles
The ultimate guide to guitar amp settings
March 22, 2023 2:42:11 PM PDT March 22, 2023 2:42:11 PM PDTnd, March 22, 2023 2:42:11 PM PDT
By Shawn Leonhardt for Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer
Whether you play electric guitar or acoustic electric there will be knobs that will need to be tweaked and turned to adjust the sound. While there is plenty of science in the functions of an amplifier, the final shaping of the tone isn’t as clear and obvious. Every guitar, amp, and even your playing style can interact in a variety of ways, so changing texture and vibe is not straightforward. However, there are some basic guidelines to follow for amp settings of different musical styles.
What Do the Different Guitar Amp Knobs Do?
The first place to start in guitar tone sculpting is knowing the guitar knobs, if it is an acoustic it will have sliders, but either way they are used to control the volume and tone. Especially for people just starting to learn how to play guitar, knowing how these knobs affect the sound is important. After plucking the strings a pickup will turn the sound into an electromagnetic signal, this then moves into the amp where it is further processed. The knobs on a guitar could need different settings depending on the amplifier that you use.
We always start with our buttons turned down in music to avoid any feedback or bad sounds. Usually the volume is turned nearly to the top along with the tone, but if you want less treble you can dial the ‘tone’ back. If you have multiple pickups you will need to experiment on the different settings. Once you are familiar with the guitar knobs you can start looking at the amplifier settings.
Some amps are simple while others have many more features, if you have built-in effects keep them turned off during your initial tone shaping. You might also adjust your tone depending on what you play specifically. Whether it’s rhythm guitar practice with barre chords, or if you want to practice your guitar scales with some tonal spice.
This works the same way as on the guitar and we always want to start with it turned at medium or below. It can always be adjusted up, but feedback and ear damage may not be so easily fixed. Sometimes an amp has multiple settings for both clean channels and other effects like distortion. Like many amp settings, rarely do we want to turn these all the way up or down as it will create a nonexistent or nasty tone.
When your signal goes through an amp it passes the preamp stage which drives it onto the power amplifier that boosts it loud enough for a regular speaker. If we turn this preamp part up it causes overdrive and distortion, which is common for most genres, it just depends on how much is needed. Like the volume, rarely do we want to get excessive with the gain, it doesn’t always lead to more grit, it can just be too distorted with a bad tone.
Depending on how many knobs you have there is usually an adjustment for the low, middle, and high end of the signal. Your guitar may have these also, so be sure to adjust them in both spots. The low can also be referred to as the bass and the high the treble. We usually try not to go to the extremes on these knobs also, unless you are looking for an odd or purposely hard sound. Smaller amps may just have one equalizer knob that controls just the amount of treble or bass you may want.
Some amplifiers have other knobs like contour or presence, they are still frequency knobs but with finer tuning. The contour allows you to decrease mids, which can also be known as scooping. And the presence allows you to dial in the highs to get a sharper and livelier tone. Obviously the more expensive your amp, the more options for frequency adjustment you will get.
Channels and Effects
For amps that have different channels for a clean or distorted signal, the genre you are playing will determine which one you choose. There can also be knobs like speed and intensity which will allow vibrato or tremolo, effects that change the volume and pitch of the signal. And there can be time-based effects like reverb that give the signal the feeling of more space. The higher you turn timing effects up the more they turn into delay and echo.
There are no specific amplifiers for each genre, if you dial in the settings right you can play different tones on all of them, however some have a reputation for being used specifically in various styles.
Marshal, Peavey, and Orange can be great for hard rock and heavy metal. Fenders, VOX AC30, and Roland can be suitable for cleaner sounds in rock, jazz, and pop. Mesa and Blackstar are also great for metal, blues, and indie, while Katana are popular for most modern genres. But most any amp can be set to create a variety of tones
Amp Settings for Different Musical Styles
Of course none of these are set in stone and can vary based on your amp circumstances, but here are some basic settings for various genres. The master volume setting can of course be up to you and the situation you are in. If you are playing with other instruments, adjust accordingly! These settings might also change based on what you are playing within a particular style. Are you rocking some guitar chords, or shredding a solo? Your settings might be adjusted for each scenario.
For rockabilly, pop, or even alternative we want a cleaner sound, as we move into classic, hard rock, and grunge we want to turn the distortion up. Classic and progressive rock also benefits from effects depending on the style. If we want to add space or sound effects we can turn up the reverb and any modulation changes.
With the blues we want just the right amount of grit and overdrive to give the electric guitar that notable tone. But if we go too high with gain and bass we will lose that ability to have a nice crunch that cuts through the mix like many blues artists do. A little bit of reverb helps but otherwise keep the effects to a minimum.
Country usually has a clean sound so we don’t want much or maybe even any distortion. If it is a more country rock vibe then we can add in some extra gain, but we still want to hear the notes well. If you can add extra shimmer to the treble and a little bit of reverb that will help get the classic country twang.
The metal genre uses lots of gain and distortion to accompany its detuned strings and heavy riffs. The mids are often scooped out, but the treble needs to be higher as it needs to cut through the distortion. If you have a presence knob this can help the treble stand out.
Funk is like rock with a clean sound, but we turn the gain down a little if using a wah pedal. And since we are often riffing on the higher treble strings we want to accentuate them and cut back a little on the bass.
Obviously none of these are exact and at the end of the day you want to experiment to find the best amp settings for different musical styles. Start by listening to your target music and attempt to copy that sound, it helps in training your ears! You can also experiment by playing some easy guitar songs and messing with your amp settings. This way you will be focused on the sound instead of the guitar itself. Of course you can always use pedals and effects units to further shape the signal and tone. There are so many options and settings for guitar amp tones that it is best to just try different ones out until you find the best sound!