How To Get The Best Rock Or Blues Guitar Tone Out Of Your Amp
By Ryan Popovic
Know The Basics Of Your Amplifier
Start off by understanding your amp – what type of tones is it designed get? Is it a high-gain metal amp? Great for clean tones? Blues-style grit? Does it have 2-band (treble and bass) or 3-band (treble, mids, and bass) equalization (EQ)?
Does your amp have 1 channel, 2 channels, or more? These will often be labeled something like Rhythm and Lead, Clean and Crunch, or simply Channel 1 and Channel 2.
How To Add Dirt To Your Sound
Let's get started dialing in that great tone. First, turn down your volume and gain knobs to zero and all of your EQ knobs (bass, treble, mids, tone, presence) to noon.
To dial in the right amount of crunch, if your amp has just one channel you'll need to adjust using the volume and gain knobs. There are two approaches here.
One way is to use the gain knob to get the breakup where you like it and use the volume knob to adjust the level of volume. Or you can turn up the volume knob and use the gain to adjust for volume. Be sure to turn up slowly the knob you are using for volume.
Test both methods to see which texture you like better. Be sure to not use more gain than needed, use the absolute minimum. This is easier if you have a master volume knob, as you can use your gain and volume knobs as tone shapers and use the master for volume.
If you have more than one channel on your amplifier, adjust the volume and gain knobs using the methods above for each so you can use one channel for rhythm and one for lead. If you only have one channel on your amp, adjust the gain higher for a lead tone, then roll back the volume knob on your guitar for a cleaner rhythm tone.
Find The Sweet Spot
You don't want a sound that's too muddy or overly harsh. Here's how to avoid that. With each EQ knob starting at noon, one at a time, turn each knob all the way to the left, then rotate right and left slowly until you find the point where the sound "opens up".
For example, if you're adjusting the treble knob, it may sound dark or muffled when turned to the left. As you turn it to the right there will be point where you hear a small but noticeable jump to a brighter tone.
This is the sweet spot. Do this for each EQ band knob. Once you go through each knob and have settings in the ballpark of where you like them, use "subtractive EQ" - adjusting out the harshness of treble or muddiness of bass for example.
Mids and presence, (if your amp has those controls) can be used to really shape the tone once bass and treble are set close to their final positions. Now that you've dialed in a sound that you like, go back through each step and make adjustments as needed to dial in that perfect guitar and amplifier tone.
There are a lot of variables when it comes to guitar amps. Use your ear in combination with the above steps and you'll find a tone for blues and rock that you love!
About The Author: Ryan Popovic is a professional music instructor providing guitar lessons in Minneapolis - St Paul, MN. He is a member of an elite world-wide music teaching mentorship program, the Music Teachers National Association, and the Minnesota Music Teachers Association. He teaches primarily blues, rock, and metal guitar. Ryan teaches all ages and skill levels.