So you’re on the quest to get the perfect tone, and you think your amp is holding you back? If that sounds familiar, then don’t worry! Take a look at these top tips to improving your guitar amp’s sound to help you improve your overall tone quality.
How to Make a Guitar Amp Sound Better
- Understand your amp
- Ease off on the gain
- Boost your mids
- Placement is key
- Consider adding pedals
- Care for your cables
- Select the right pickup
Understand your Amp
Understanding your amp may sound obvious, but it’s the most important think you can do if you want to make it sound better, especially if you’re relatively new to electric guitars.
When I was first learning to play, I relied way too much on the amp settings that were recommended by the manufacturer. Although this can be a good place to start, it doesn’t allow you to create a unique tone or help when you want to make adjustments to the settings because the recommended controls just don’t sound spot on.
Every amp is different. So make sure you take the time to consider all it’s features and everything you can alter just by turning the controls up or down.
Most electric guitar amps have the following basic controls built-in:
If you’re not sure where to start, then it can be a good idea to go back to basics and turn all the controls to 12 o’clock. This gives you a good place to start from and make adjustments.
You’ll probably already be pretty comfortable with volume and gain, but here’s what the other controls mean.
- Bass: this refers to the amount of low-frequency sound that your amp will play. Higher bass settings can make your tone thicker, but too high and it can sound muddled and difficult to pick out the notes.
- Mids: this one is pretty obvious, it refers to the mid-frequency sound played through your amp. Low mids can produce a “scooped” sound, whereas a higher mid setting will make your tone more beefy.
- Treble: you’ve probably guessed it, but this controls the amount of high-frequency sound you’ll hear through your amp. The higher the treble, the sharper the sound. This is good for clarity, but if you go too high, it can sound harsh and a bit hard on the ears.
Ease Off on the Gain
Okay, so now you know a bit more about your guitar amp, it’s time to delve into it’s settings a bit more.
One of the biggest causes of a poor sounding amp, is having the gain too high. Even if you think that you need very high gain, the chances are that it won’t need to be as high as you think. Even genres like heavy metal don’t need to go full blast on the gain, and can rely on pedals rather than the amp to give them the extra boost when it’s needed.
Having your gain too high can really damage the clarity of your tone. Too much distortion can make your chords muddled and it can be sometimes hard to hear when you actually change chords if you’ve gone overboard with the gain.
If you’re worried about losing your sound by lowering the gain, then try increasing the volume, or using some pedals to help you out.
You don’t have to lower your gain dramatically to get a good improvement in your tone. Try dialling it back by 1 or 2 and you’ll probably notice that it actually sounds a lot better and you don’t lose that effect you were trying to get.
Boost your Mids
If you’ve been looking into amp settings, then you’ve probably come across the term “scooped sound”. It basically means that your tone is quite hollow. This refers to a low mid setting, and a high treble and bass setting. It was popular in the 80’s and is sometimes used in hard rock or metal.
This kind of tone may not be as bad when you’re practising on your own, but when you throw other instruments into the mix if you’re playing in a band, then you’ll quickly notice that you’re getting drowned out.
To avoid this, try increasing your mids. I can almost guarantee it’ll solve your issue if you’re struggling to hear your guitar when you’re playing to a backing track or in a band.
But if you increase it too much, your tone may become a bit muddled. So have a go at increasing it until you get to that point. And then turn it back down to just before you noticed the muddled tone.
Placement is Key
Like with most professional sound equipment, placement is key. The location you put your guitar amp in, will affect your tone dramatically, and moving it can give you a huge improvement in the way your amp sounds. The great news is that it’s a really quick thing to do!
There are a few main things that you’ll want to consider with your amp placement:
- Distance from other sound equipment
- The angle of your amp
- The surface of the room you’re playing in
The height of your guitar amp from the floor can dramatically affect your tone. Most people simply have their amps resting on the ground. But the tone it produces will vary whether you’re playing on a hard floor or carpet. Having your amp resting on a stand can really improve the tone you’re getting by improving the low-end sound output. You don’t need to elevate it very high in most cases. Just a few inches of the ground can make a big difference.
If you are moving your amp around, then be careful when you’re lifting it not to injure yourself and ensure that you position it on something stable that can support the weight properly. The Gator Combo Amp Stand is a great choice if you’re looking to elevate your amp safely.
The distance from other sound equipment, especially microphones, can also affect the amount of feedback you get. Having your microphone as far away from the amp as possible will help to reduce feedback. You can also try having your amp at the front of the stage.
Think About Adding Pedals
No matter what amp you’re working with, whether it costs $50 or $5000, it will have some limitations. One of the main limitations of a lot of amplifiers, is the number of controls it comes built-in with.
Like I said earlier, most amps come with volume, gain, bass, mids and treble controls, some even come with more like delay, reverb or contouring. However, the majority of amps won’t give you enough customisation options for you to be able to create the perfect tone that you’re after.
That’s why effects pedals are great.
They allow you to create a unique sound that pairs with your amp. This means that you can rely on your amplifier for the basics and the foundation of your tone, but you can use effects pedals to add another layer of depth.
If you’re new to guitar pedals, here’s a quick guide to give you some more information so you can get started.
these are pretty straight-forward, they’ll add the classic distortion and sustain that you’d expect. They’re great for improving the sound of your guitar because they give you a gain boost that your amp may not be able to produce without sounding really muddled.. If you want a distortion pedal option, then the Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion Compact pedal is a great one to go for.
These are often confused with distortion pedals, but they are quite different. They imitate the sound you’d get if you turned a valve amp up as high as it can go. They give you a boost without overdoing the gain so they suit blues, country and lighter rock really well. The Ibanez Tubescreamer TS9 is one of the most popular overdrive pedals and is used by famous guitarists like Alex Turner and Noel Gallagher.
These produce a fizzy and noisy tone that is very unique. They were made famous by guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Billy Corgan and Keith Richards and produce a characteristic tone without causing muddling that would occur if you tried it with an amp on it’s own. The Electro-Harmonix Op Amp Big Muff is a popular choice in this category.
There are loads of other pedals that can help you to create a unique tone to help compliment your amp, here are a few special mentions:
- Reverb pedals: these give an echo effect.
- Delay pedals: these take a note or chord and play it back repeatedly.
- Boost pedals: these allow you to increase volume without using distortion.
- EQ pedals: these control your bass, mids and treble.
- Tremelo pedals: give an effect of increasing and decreasing volume very quickly.
- Chorus pedals: these sound like multiple guitars are playing at once.
- Phaser pedals: these add a kind of “whoosh” noise.
Care for your Cables
Now this might not sound the most important thing on this list, but looking after your cables goes a long way in making your guitar amp sound better.
For starters, make sure you purchase a high quality cable, something like this Mogami guitar cable is a great option. Then make sure that you store it properly and avoid damaging it whilst it’s in use.
Stretching your cable, or causing kinks and bends can cause all sorts of problems like feedback and unwanted distortion. So one of the best ways to prevent this, is by looking after them! This is one of the easiest ways to improve the way your guitar amp sounds without investing any extra time or money!
Select the Right Pickup
A lot of guitarists think that the amp is what is causing their tone to sound a bit rubbish, but in a lot of cases, this isn’t the problem. Your pickups can actually be the culprit.
On most guitars there are three settings. One that allows you to use the bridge pickup in isolation, one that allows you to use the neck pickup in isolation, and a middle setting that uses both the neck and bridge pickups together. Here’s the difference:
- Bridge pickup: lead guitar. This sounds sharper and more crisp.
- Neck pickup: rhythm guitar. This is usually more bassy and smooth.
There are also different types of pickups. The main two, are single-coil and humbucker. Single coils are found on Fender Stratocasters, whilst humbuckers are found on Gibson Les Paul guitars. Both produce quite different tones. The main difference is that single-coils produce a brighter and more crisp sound, whilst humbuckers typically produce a deeper and smoother tone.
Try experimenting using the different pickup selectors on your guitar to figure out what tone you want.
It could be that the actual pickups you are using aren’t capable of producing the tone that you’re after. For example, you may want a twangy sound that you won’t be able to achieve as well using humbuckers instead of single-coil pickups. Or you may need a beefier tone that your single-coils aren’t as capable of.
Changing your pickups doesn’t require a new guitar though. You can do this yourself or take your guitar to a specialist to make the change.