Getting the perfect amp settings to give you that distinctive rock tone can be pretty tough. It all depends on what amp you own, what guitar you’re using and if you’re using any pedals as well. That’s why it can be hard to get a clear cut answer to the question, what should my amp settings be for rock music?
But to make things a bit easier, I’ve created this ultimate guide to help you figure out what settings you should have on your amp. I’ll go through the main controls like gain, treble, bass and mids, plus I’ll talk about extra effects and the more specific tones like classic rock, hard rock, and cleaner tones. So let’s get started!
The Quick Answer
I think that amp settings for rock music are fairly complex, that’s why I’ve created an in-depth guide to explain everything fully so you know what to do with your rig. But if you’re here for a quick answer, then here’s a diagram to show you the best place to start!
Rock Music Amp Settings
- Gain: 6-7
- Bass: 5
- Treble: 4
- Mids: 7
First, we’ll talk about gain. It’s what most people think is most crucial when it comes to dialling in the perfect rock tone.
Most beginners think that high gain = rock tone. However, generally, a lot of people have the gain too high. The main issue with this is that you lose the clarity of the tone, as it becomes more muffled. You also increase the likelihood of hearing feedback. This is particularly true when you’re using single coil pickups, or if your amp is mainly designed for clean tones.
Unless you’re playing heavy metal you don’t need to have the gain super high. Especially if you’re going for a crunchier tone, rather than pure distortion.
So try dialling back your gain a bit more than you normally would have it. You can always use a distortion or overdrive pedal to give your tone a bit more punch, but without impacting the quality. In most cases, having your gain setting on around 6-7 is usually perfect. So start from here and adjust up or down if you need to.
Treble, Mids and Bass
Next we’ll move onto the EQ settings. This refers to the kind of frequency sound that’s played through the amp. There are three main kinds of controls that affect these frequencies:
- 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.
The treble is best kept on around 6 or lower, or it can become a bit too sharp. You may want to increase the treble a bit more if you’re using high gain, to try and give your tone a bit more clarity.
The pickup you’re playing through also impacts the kind of tone you’ll get, and whether it suits rock music. Although it’s not directly related to the amp settings, it’s still really important.
Most guitars allow you to switch between using only the neck pickup, only the bridge pickup, and both in combination. Here’s what each selection does to your tone.
- Bridge pickup: lead guitar. This sounds sharper and more crisp.
- Neck pickup: rhythm guitar. This is usually more bassy and smooth.
I spoke briefly before about adding some pedals into your rig to create the ultimate rock tone. This is really useful if your amp and guitar are not giving you enough punch, and increasing the gain too much negatively affects the quality of the tone.
Here are some pedals to consider if you’re after a great rock tone.
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 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.
Now we’ve been through some general settings, I’ll talk more in depth about some more specific rock tones.
With classic rock, you’ll want to have the gain high enough to give you some grit, but not too high so that it becomes too heavy for this style. Try having your gain on around 5 to begin with. For a more unique crunchy tone, have your gain a bit lower and throw an Ibanez Tubescreamer TS9 pedal into your rig.
With regards to your EQ, try having your bass on around 4, your treble on around 5 and your mids on about 7. This is a good place to start, but it could use some tweaking depending on your particular amp and guitar.
Now we’ll move onto hard rock. It should come as no surprise that you should crank up the gain a bit more for this. You’ll probably want to have your gain setting on around 7 for a hard rock song. It’s also good to think about adding a pedal to give you a high quality distorted tone. An overdrive pedal like the Ibanez Tubescreamer TS9 may be enough, but you should also consider distortion pedals like the Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion Compact pedal.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to lower the mids to compensate for the higher gain. Try having your mids on around 5 to begin with. Generally you’ll want your treble and bass a bit higher than with classic rock, so go for around 6 and work from there.
Now most of you are probably here to find out more about distorted rock tones, but I’ve put in this section for those that want a cleaner sound that’s still well suited to rock music.
You’ll obviously want to have the gain lower, but don’t dial it back completely. Try having it on around 2 and see how this works with your setup. Then go for around 5 for your bass, and 6 for your mids and treble.
To give your tone a bit more definition and presence, consider adding a reverb pedal if your amp doesn’t have this setting. Reverb pedals give an echo effect which sounds great on lead guitars. The MRX M300 is an excellent choice in this pedal category.
So there you go! That was the ultimate guide to guitar amp settings for rock music! I hope you’ve found this article helpful, thanks for reading. Here are some other posts you might find useful: