This could be the most asked question on the Internet in the Guitar Area. I know I’ve received this question of “How Do I Set My Guitar Amp for Blues”, quite a few times and every time I do, I cringe a little because the answer really is.
But that’s not what anyone wants to hear, and it doesn’t really help either.
Also, it’s hard to tell someone when I don’t know what their gear sounds like. Even if it’s the same model of amp, it could sound much different depending on guitar used, tubes, speakers, pickups, strings, picks. You get the idea.
Where does that leave someone who wants to learn how to set their guitar amp?
In this post, I want to give you a quick Setting Your Guitar Amp Guide. These are not the be all end all tips, but these suggestions will get you going in the right direction.
Step 1 – Set all dials to 5 except for reverb and vibrato if there is any. This would include Bass, Middle, Treble, and Presence.
Step 2 – Make sure you are plugged into the clean channel of your amp and there is no overdrive button pushed in. We need to first find a very nice sounding clean channel that we can then modify to our taste.
Step 3 – Turn your volume on about 3 or 4. If this is too loud, then you need a lower wattage amp or an attenuator. I find that most guitar amps will sound decent when put at this volume. Yes many of them will probably sound better a little more cranked but remember we are preparing the amp before we, “Build to Suit” so to speak.
Step 4 – Now play an E major Chord and then play a G Barre Chord. Here’s a quick question to ask. When you play these two chords, does the bass overload the amp and make a strange sound? If so, turn the bass down. If not experiment with more bass. Also, does it overload on the E Chord or just the barre chord? You need to make sure that open strings and fretted notes don’t crap out when hitting chords. This is how I determine how much bass I want to some degree.
Step 5 – Play some licks on the higher strings with your guitar on 10. Does it sound thin or distorted? If it sounds thin, turn your amp up a little and turn your volume down on your guitar. This will make your sound fatter.
Step 6 – When you play licks or chords and strike the strings hard, is the tone piercing to your ear? If it is, lower the treble. If it sounds kinda muted, then boost the treble. You’ll also have to take into account what pickups and guitar you’re using as these factors can really change the setting you need.
Step 7 – Do the notes “Give” a little when you play them? I like notes to kind of lose a little clarity when I strike them hard. At lower volumes, this is not possible. By cranking your amp a little, and either using an attenuator or the volume on your guitar you can get this tone. There is no law that says you have to play with your guitar volume on 10. It really depends on YOUR guitar. Get to know it and find out what it sounds like at all points on the volume knob.
Step 8 – Don’t sit directly in front of your amp and play it. This may be the proper way to listen to how it sounds, but who do you ever see playing like this live? No ONE? I would sit beside it or stand up and let the sound go straight through your legs. It will sound much different. I can’t even play if I’m facing the amp directly.
Step 9 – Experiment with all the other knobs on the amp until you find something YOU really like. Don’t be scared to put the midrange on 10 or 1. And maybe dropping the presence to 2 or maybe 8. You never know what will sound good until you try it.
Even if you don’t like it, Guess What?
You found out what you DON’T like, which is just as important as finding out what you DO like.
This is not a comprehensive guide of what EXACTLY to do, it’s a guide to show you how to go about finding what you like.
Now you should have a reasonably clean tone. If you don’t, keep turning those knobs till the inspiration strikes with the tone you get. After you find this clean tone, you can now dirty it up with your favorite pedal if you like. Using a pedal with a great clean tone in front of it will also make the pedal sound much better. You may also have to further tweak your settings depending on what kind of pedal you are using.
Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of how to set your guitar amp for blues. After some trial and error, I’m sure you will find some settings that you really like.
If you want to learn my take on blues guitar, check out my Premium Blues Guitar Lessons.
John W. Tuggle