How to Set Your Guitar Amp for Blues

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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.

It depends.

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.

So.

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.

Later,

John W. Tuggle

 

22 thoughts on “How to Set Your Guitar Amp for Blues”

  1. John,
    Just wondering. You’re playing through old Amps with quite some wattage. How do you manage the volume so it doesn’t annoy the neighbours or damage your ears?
    I have two 15watt Fender Amps (Blues jr and Princeton Reverb) and still use an attenuator (same as you).
    I would love to own a vintage Amp with some features and Watts but am worried about volume issues.
    Kind regards,
    Marcel

  2. Wow! I can’t wait to get to my amp now! Some interesting tidbits in this post to try. I particularly like the “sound like this … then try this” pointers. Thanks!

  3. Lets not forget FINGERS! You could have Stevie Ray’s EXACT rig and guitar with all the correct settings and you still aren’t going to capture Stevie’s sound perfectly unless you are a clone. 90% of good tone is in your fingers and hands, how you finesse the strings and work the volume knob as you play, not to mention the energy your heart and soul exude. Perfect, good tone be it clean, bluesy or down right raunchy does depend on your equipment and controls to a certain degree, but it mostly depends on what you are putting in them as a player. Emotion, hand and finger strength, pick attack. pressure…all are factors in our quest for good tone. I can play a $75 practice amp and make it sound decent because the sound is in my fingers and my hands.

    • So True! Jeff Beck can play a toaster oven and sound like the Gods. It is in the feel, the attitude, the magic of tone. And all of us must find what works for us, and like Hendrix said, ” keep playing, you will get there”. Time. Logic of what works for you and does not work for you, emotion , that is the vibe you choose, and equipment? That must have some integrity. Quality micro waves or equipment is tops. Just because I buy the setups Keith has, does not mean I am Keith nor sound like Keith does. I can play a roller skate and sound like Keith. I am Ketih. Be well all, and wear white if your on your bike tonight.

  4. Hi John, thanks for the article man! Which will work better, playing with or without a pick when it comes to Blues? I bought a Les Paul Special II about a week ago, but not sure which amp to use. Do you maybe have any advice for me on this?

  5. Well said for sure on this topic. Thanks for the good words and inspiring opinions. Classic bro.

    • John is correct on settings 5 on Fender amps then working the way to tone. It is called the rule of Fives with Fender amps. Myself though, knowing what I want to hear, I turn volume to four, then dial in anything that sounds good to me. And in spite of public opinion, I still use Ampeg combo’s at home, work or play. K

  6. Good Information! I have a 50watt/all Tube(JJs)1×12 combo that is designed for Alt/Metal/Heavy..do not do that much on the drive channel(bright)..mainly on the normal channel trying to dial in a more Dirty Blues style..the only thing that is on the floor out in front is a Ibenez Tube Screamer! I do not know what I’m doing wrong,but it just is not where I want it to be!(hope you understand my meaning) I was told to try out a EQ pedal..! Whats your opinions….

    • Hi David,

      What kind of amp is this? For dirty blues a low wattage amp of around 20 watts is recommended depending on what you like. For most styles I recommend the Fender Deluxe Reverb silverface.

  7. I used to have a hard time dialing in a good blues tone until I got my Line 6 Spider IV. It has a blues setting built it. It sounds better than any tube amp I’ve heard. Also the only way to get a good blues tone is to use a MIM Fender Strat, the MIA Strats sound too sterile. A lot of people think SRV was the king of blues but honestly he was pretty sloppy if you listen closely, he even admits he doesn’t know any theory and copies a lot of other artists.

    • Oh the misguided. You see, MIM in general means cheap guitar as far as heft, tone woods, and metals used. When Fender Mexico ran out of cheap metal, they did go to Fender U.S.A, metal as a substitute for a period. However, like all wake up issues with Fender were cost related. Take the Jap strats or Korea strats made in 1996-98. Ash bodies on the Korean ones, way outsold American strats and now collectors, and that was the Squire modles! Of course, most sensible people put in after market pups such as Custom shop Fender or what Jeff uses, the Suhr pickups. Still, do know, the Spider amp is crap as the Frontman Fender. No soul to the sound. Pick up a Fender Blues amp or Blues Junior, or a Jet City or a old Univox for tone . Line Six is just a sound effects thing to cover up your mistakes ( not you in particular of course but many). Line 6 Pod thoiugh is a good thing for those in the know. Old tube amps, or new Fender tube low watt overdriven and miked. Beck uses a Fender Pro amp . Studio people had used Fender Champs. Ampeg jets, and your saying Line six is God? Hello Henry the Horse on Trampoline. I do not think so. And King of blues? All players took off on others before them. Sorry, no real Kings anywhere. Jeff Beck can do blues, Freddie and Albert King, Robert cray, even Page, so you see, your opinions are debateable until you grow and can measure up to those whom had played 45 years long. And you do not need theory to play or write, just a good ear and time, and patience. Hope the truth finds you in time, but for now. No.

  8. I have a signal splitter pedal That allows me to attach two combo amps to my guitar. I play a Dark Blue with original WBW picguard with soiled white knobs, 1997 MIM Fat Strat maple neck and fingerboard, 300 warm pots throughout, and a vintage Gibson LP oil & paper cap.
    I play this through my Fender FM 100 2×12 and my Fender Ultimate Chorus 130 2×12 (which I set to stereo mode). I have them 12 feet apart, in the middle of each wall, pointing toward the opposite corners and I sit in the middle. Tuned per the advice above. Last but not least I have my drum machine playing through a Fender Rumble early version 100 1×15 directly behind me (maybe 4 feet).

    With one amp tuned to wet crunch and the other tuned to a “very clean” with a hint of reverb & delay

    Then I blues the night and day away.

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