Blues Amp Settings: Guide to Getting a Good Blues Tone


The blues tone is an awesome one to nail down, and is used in a variety of classic songs. In this article, I’ll go through exactly what makes a good blues tone, the most important amp settings, how to set your amplifier up, and some presets for popular blues songs.

The Quick Answer

To get a good blues tone, start with the following amp settings: low-moderate gain (2-4), low-moderate bass (2-4), medium to high mids (6-8) and medium to high treble (6-8). A blues tone will also usually benefit from some light reverb, so turn this on 2-4 if your amp has it built-in.

What Makes a Good Blues Tone?

Let’s start off with the key characteristics of a good blues tone:

  • Low-level gain to create saturation and crunch
  • Boosted mids and treble
  • Low bass
  • Some low-mid level reverb

A blues tone should be overdrive and full, but not too distorted. The EQ should favour middle and treble frequencies to provide it with some brightness and clarity.

Most amplifiers have gain, bass, mids, treble and reverb controls built-in. Some amplifiers have a “tone” control or “EQ” control, instead of separate bass, mids and treble controls.

Here’s a quick rundown of each control and how to set it for blues guitar.

  • Gain: this should usually be on around 2-4 and may also be called “drive” or “distortion”. It needs to be high enough to drive the tone and add some saturation and crunch, but not too high so that it verges on rock/ metal styles.
  • Treble: this controls the high-range frequencies, giving the tone more clarity, bite and brightness. The treble control for blues should be moderate-high, giving the tone crispness and helping give it a more crunchy quality.
  • Mids: this controls the mid-range frequencies which help to give the tone depth. For blues, the mids, or “middle” control should be moderate-high to give the tone plenty of depth.
  • Bass: this controls the low-end frequencies. The bass setting for blues should be medium-low, as this prevents it from becoming too “boomy”.
  • Reverb: this simulates an echo sound which adds life and colour to the tone. For blues, the reverb should be on around 2-4 to begin with. This prevents the tone from becoming flat and helps give it more character.

Depending on the amplifier you own, you may have slightly different controls. Here are some more popular settings and how to adjusts them for blues:

  • Presence: this adjusts the high-end frequencies but also influences the treble control by acting as a cap.
  • Contour: this works in opposition to the mids control. Lowering it will have the same effect as increasing the mids so have the contour on low for blues.
  • Tilt: this allows you to switch to treble-favoured frequencies, which can be useful if you are struggling too add brightness and clarity.
  • EQ or tone: adjust this so that it favours a mids-boosted or treble-boosted tone.

What about channels/ modes?

Most amplifiers have at least two channels that may be called clean and overdrive (or distorted etc). For blues, it’s best to use the overdrive channel and have the gain medium-low so that you get some crunchiness and saturation, but nothing too heavy. If you have multiple distorted channels for example overdrive and distortion, then choose the overdrive mode.

The exception, is if you are using an overdrive pedal. If so, then select the clean channel on your amplifier.

How to Set Up Any Amp for Blues

As well as understanding what makes a good blues tone, it’s useful to know how to set up your amplifier to dial in the best settings based on your rig. Here’s my step-by-step guide to getting a good blues tone.

  1. Make sure your guitar’s volume and tone controls are on maximum. Use the bridge pickup.
  2. Set the volume to a comfortable level.
  3. Select the overdriven channel (unless you are using a pedal).
  4. Set the gain to 3, the treble and mids to 7, and the bass to 3.
  5. Turn off reverb and any other effects.
  6. Begin by adjusting the gain, if you require more saturation then increase it, or decrease it if it sounds too distorted.
  7. Increase or decrease the mids depending on if the tone sounds too thin or too full, respectively. Play some chords and single string riffs to identify this.
  8. Increase or decrease the treble depending on if the tone sounds too harsh or too mellow, respectively. Play some chords and single string riffs to identify this.
  9. Adjust the bass control to add more or less low-end. Play some chords to identify if this is necessary.
  10. Add some light reverb and any other effects you wish to.

The key to dialling in the best blues tone on any amp, is to make adjustments one at a time and listen carefully for the differences. This way, you’ll be able to understand your amp much more, and be as precise as possible with your tone. It may take a little bit of time at first, but it’s a very efficient method because you can pinpoint any issues you’re having.

Common Problems

It’s pretty inevitable for you to run into some minor issues when setting up your amp for the first time with a different tone. Here are some of the most popular issues when setting up an amp for blues, and some adjustments to try anf fix it. Remember to make each change one at a time!

Thin and Weak Tone

  • Increase the mids
  • Increase the gain
  • Increase the bass

Dull and Lifeless Tone

  • Add some reverb
  • Increase the treble
  • Increase the mids

High Feedback

  • Decrease the gain
  • Decrease the volume
  • Position the amp in front of the guitar and as far away from it as you can

Sounds too Much Like Rock and Metal

  • Lower the gain
  • Lower the bass
  • Increase the mids if it starts to sound thin due to the changes above

Amp Settings for Popular Blues Songs

Here are some of the most popular blues guitar songs and some example amp settings to start with. Remember that the best way to set up your amp is using the steps above and starting from scratch, but feel free to use these as a rough starting point. Just make sure that you take them with a pinch of salt and be prepared to make some adjustments as they may sound a little off depending on what guitar and amp you’re using.

Amp Settings for Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix

  • Gain: 4
  • Bass: 5
  • Mids: 7
  • Treble: 7
  • Reverb: 4

Amp Settings for Pride and Joy by Stevie Ray Vaughan

  • Gain: 3
  • Bass: 3
  • Mids: 6
  • Treble: 7
  • Reverb: 3

Amp Settings for The Thrill is Gone by B.B. King

  • Gain: 2
  • Bass: 4
  • Mids: 6
  • Treble: 8
  • Reverb: 3

Amp Settings for I’m Tore Down by Freddie King

  • Gain: 3
  • Bass: 3
  • Mids: 6
  • Treble: 9
  • Reverb: 3

Amp Settings for Sunshine of Your Love by Cream

  • Gain: 3
  • Bass: 5
  • Mids: 6
  • Treble: 6
  • Reverb: 2

Amp Settings for La Grange by ZZ Top

  • Gain: 5
  • Bass: 4
  • Mids: 5
  • Treble: 5
  • Reverb: 2

Amp Settings for All Your Love by Otis Rush

  • Gain: 4
  • Bass: 4
  • Mids: 6
  • Treble: 6
  • Reverb: 3

Amp Settings for Same Old Song and Dance by Aerosmith

  • Gain: 4
  • Bass: 4
  • Mids: 7
  • Treble: 7
  • Reverb: 3

I’ve also made an article with example amp settings for over 40 popular guitar songs here to help you sound more like your favourite players.

Useful Effects Pedals

Pedal effects can be useful when trying to emulate the perfect blues tone. Here are some of the most popular pedals that you can pair with your amplifier.

  • Overdrive
  • Fuzz
  • Reverb
  • Delay

I’ve also written an article on the essential pedals for playing blues guitar, so check them out if you want to upgrade your rig.

Head over to my recommended gear page to find out my favourite effects pedals.

I have loads more amp settings guides for different styles of music and even for different bands. Check out more amp settings guides.

Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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