Miscellaneous Rumbles

Amp up, guitar down (volume).

1

I resently watched a YouTube video entitled "Ed King teaches the right way to play Sweet Home Alabama Link. In it Ed talks about getting good tone, and he uses the technique" Amp up, Guitar down". He was talking about the volume controls. It's an old school technique that I was fortunate to have learned from my first real guitar mentor in 1979. Hearing Ed King discus it, brought to mind a GDP thread a few months past, that touched upon this old school technique. I was troubled to read that some of us have had difficulty getting this technique down, because it is the fundamentals of the electric guitar. What follows is a back to basics reminder for how to get more tone options out of your electric guitar. It takes a degree of commitment and practice to make full use of it, but it may be worth the effort.

I've noticed over the years, that many guitar players have come to rely on foot pedals to control their volume levels between rhythm and lead playing, and the tone of their guitar. The guys I've played with dime out all the knobs on the guitar, and rely nearly completely on their foot pedals to get their sound. This is all well and fine, but I believe that it is limiting, and removes so many more tonal options that are available simply by using the guitars control features. When I was teaching the electric guitar, I always encouraged people to learn how to use the guitar controls first, then add a pedal board. You'll be surprised by how many pedal effects can be eliminated by using the Amp up Guitar down technique. I rarely use more than three pedal effects. (YMMV)

I start by setting up my lead volume and overdrive first. I put the guitar volume on about #9, and set the volume on the amp to the maximum volume that I will need to play a solo. I also set my overdrive to the maximum level of overdrive that I will need for a solo.

I then dial back the volume on the guitar, to the level where I want my rhythm playing to be. This will automatically reduce the level of the overdrive, and I make note of the sweet spot on the volume knob, that has the perfect balance of volume and overdrive. If it helps to remember the spot, mark the spot on the volume knob with a dot of White Out. I roll the volume up for solos, and back down for rhythm playing.

I then set the guitar tone controls to maximum treble, and set the tone knobs on the amp, for the maximum amount of brightness that I will need. I then tone down brightness with the guitars tone knobs as needed. I then use any other effects in the normal way.

This technique puts you in the driver's seat of your guitar, and opens up a huge amount of tonal variety. Backing off my guitar volume gives me better dynamic control of the instrument, and allows me to inject emotion into the music better. I almost never play at full volume, not even for lead guitar.

This is something that you have to play around with, and discover how you can best work it in to your own playing style and material. But the more you use it, the more it will become second nature, and it will just start happening without much thought.

As I mentioned, I was fortunate to have learned how to play this way from the start of my electric guitar life. I've taught it to many people over the years, with much success. All that's required is the desire to try something different, and the commitment to practice it. Your guitar is capable of a tremendous amount of tonal variation all on its own, and it's right at your fingertips.

Good luck and happy picking!

2

When I was a Tele guy I watched all Tele hotshots riding the volume control ... really just toggling between chord volume and solo volume levels

Some old skool Gibson players have one volume control pretty far down for chords and the other open for an instant volume change. I don't think volume pedal really caught on w/ guitar players, except for steel. Well George Harrison had one for some the songs in Help! era.

Not sure what to say about pedal-heads -- it's a new generation. This was brought home to me when on one YouTube vid of this 1970 Eric Clapton instrumental, Slunky, now 1/2 century old

One guy asks what pedal did he use to get that sound.... well in 1970 there was fuzz and wah... and that was about it. I don't recall seeing the first phase shifter until 1971. So it wasn't some Modern World pedal to get that sound.

These days I just set the amp as loud as I know it will have to be, and just use master volume and tone on the guitar for everything below that

3

There's definitely a learning curve to that style. I'm so used to my 2 channel amp, I doubt I'll change but it is an interesting and very informative explanation. I've always wondered how this style of playing physically works. I may give it a bit of a try at practice but this old dog likes his same old tricks.

5

For me, the pedals came in right where you start. Dial up that overdrive sound you like and the bartender/owner/manager comes running over to tell you to turn it down before you even play the first tune. Sometimes even my '56 Deluxe is too loud. I try to have an amp for most situations, but sometimes I have to keep it so low, I'm stuck with pedals. Or just play clean. I can get such a fat, juicy sound out of my 4x10 Bassman and some verb or delay, I don't miss the overdrive.

6

I've always been a big fan of using the guitar volume control to clean things up, and to also turn down nice and quiet - it's one of the reasons why I have no problem with having single channel amps (as long as the amp has a master volume, so I don't blow away the rest of the band, or get evicted from my apartment for being too loud). I set my overdrive on the amp, and dial down the guitar volume knob as needed for lower volume, and less dirt.

An earlier post mentioned old school Gibson players often setting one pickup's volume really low, to clean up, and turn down - I used to do it all the time with my Gibbys (typically the neck pickup was turned down). I've even used that technique pretty often with my Gretsches, and any other electric guitars I've had, that have had volume controls for each pickup. It's a pretty useful trick.

7

I always used to be a dime-it guy. I think I saw/read an interview with Eric Clapton once where he said that he felt keeping the guitar's controls (or maybe just volume?) at 10 gets the most juice out of them. I think he was referring to Strats.

But lately, especially since I got my first Les Paul, I've been adjusting the guitar's volume controls to see what it gives me.

8

This was a good practice before master volume was invented - when was it? late '70s? About the same time pedals are getting more attention than ever before. Like most beginners, I started with a guitar (Hondo) and an amp (Gorilla, God forbid!) with a built in overdrive. Learned instinctively to rely on picking soft on rhythm, lowering the guitar volume then max everything on solo (depends).

Not until I got myself a Gretsch with a good tube amp (Fender BJ) that I noticed how horrible my technique is—It's a fun learning experience, getting the dynamics RIGHT without losing rhythm (while riding the volume every now and then).

SRV, BS, Hendrix, Gatton etc, the greats, I learned a lot from them.

9

Not adjusting the volume/tone controls is like jumping into a car and not bothering to adjust the seats and mirrors. Should be second nature. One thing I've taken from playing Gretsch's all these years is the master volume,which I've added to all my electrics.

10

In my experiences, some amps, and some guitars, do it better than others. I really only play that way (amp up- like cranked), and guitar volume down: when I'm playing old-school stuff like T-Bone Walker or Charlie Christian. That was much more normal back in those days, when amps has little volume and headroom; the only way to be loud (as loud as possible) while staying clean (as clean as possible) was to can the amp and turn the guitar way down. To like 1/4.

I do not do this with any guitar or amp or style I play EXCEPT my Gretsch on the neck pickup, Harmony 8418 Octal amp, and when I'm playing T-Bone type or jazz. Otherwise, I come from more of the "rock/blues" school: which is guitar on 10, set the amp for what you're "normal" sound is, then turn down for cleaner tones. I know it's common, but I learned the idea from David Grissom about 10 years ago or so; however, for TRULY clean, I still need either a clean amp or a channel-switcher.

When I want to play clean (think Guthrie Trapp), it's the PRRI. Any other time, it's the Bad Cat.

11

Not adjusting the volume/tone controls is like jumping into a car and not bothering to adjust the seats and mirrors. Should be second nature. One thing I've taken from playing Gretsch's all these years is the master volume,which I've added to all my electrics.

– Opie

I agree. Some players can't stand the Gretsch master volume control, but I've found it to be very useful over the years for quick cleaning up the sound/turning down the volume.

12

I love the master volume for rolling off and fading out but when I grab my guitar and wish to play, the volume on the guitar is 10 and every tone and volume knob are, as well. Amp volumes adjusted to optimum ROCK and the Fender amp channel foot-switch becomes my best friend. I would likely get better clean tones using Wade's suggested styling but I'm okay with being "In your Face" as our band usually is. My pedal board is modest but I'm not in a cover band so I only color my own songs and want to sound like me.

13

I have to say I am a late adaptor of this style. I started playing in the days of Solid State and pedals. But I never had enough money for the amps. I would always borrow amps to play through. But for the last 10 years, I’ve just about eliminated any interest in pedals of any sort. I do use a clean boost and a tuning pedal now and then. But using the volume knob on a tele, makes it one of the most varied sounded guitars I’ve ever played. I sometimes play a game with the amps, and crank them to as dirty as they can get, then back off the volume on the guitar to see how clean I can play it. Then adjust the tone to help with eq balancing. This has really accelerated the learning of guitar controls for me. Especially through my Deluxe and Plexi amps...

14

Thanks for all of the comments, many of us have been using this technique already, and that's fantastic. I love hearing about how others are using their guitars volume and tone controls. Those of us who use these techniques, taylor them to our own needs. It's great to read about some of the individual utilizations of the guitar controls, it's very informative and expands on the basic technique that I laid out.

I have also used the three way switch setup, on my Gibson guitars. It's another technique that has similar results, and is definitely worth knowing about.

I posted this explanation because of the responses to a couple of past threads, where this technique brought up. While many people were already familiar with it, some reported struggling with incorporating in to their playing. It is for those people, I attempting to better explain how and why it may be beneficial to learn.

15

What if you need to play loud clean and loud with dirt?

16

I notice I achieve the best and fullest tone from a guitar with the volume knobs all the way up. I theoretically understand what you are explaining but choose to accomplish it more with pickup adjustment. I like to adjust the bridge pickup as close to the strings as possible without distorting and then adjust the neck pickup pretty low. If there is a middle pickup like on a Strat I also adjust that one pretty low too. On some of my guitars where it's possible I also adjust the bass side of the neck pickup even lower than the treble side so it will produce a clearer, cleaner tone. I use the middle position a lot for rhythm inside of a track and then when I move to the bridge pickup there is a bit of extra juice to play with if needed. The pickups are still balanced but with just a bit more in the bridge.

17

What if you need to play loud clean and loud with dirt?

– Mark G

Mark, one of the few effects that I use is overdrive, I like a good blues driver for my style of playing. I'm using a Boss Katana 100 watt 2x12 amplifier, and the effects are downloaded into the amp, and effects are addressable via a six button (dual function) foot switch. There is a learning curve, but for the most part, it's fairly straight forward.

I should have clarified better, that I do use pedal effects, and overdrive (plus just a touch of delay or reverb) is the main effect that I will use. It's for instances just like you brought up, Mark, that I prefer to use a switchable overdrive effect. Many of my effects just happen to be downloaded into my amp, instead of being stand alone foot pedals.

My lifetime collection of foot pedals was stolen in a burglary a number of years ago, and I was faced with spending several thousand dollars to replace them, or several hundred dollars just for to replace the basics. Modern technology came to my rescue, and for the price of a few pedal effects, I bought a Boss Katana 100 watt amplifier. I have access to 63 downloadable Boss effects, 15 can be in the amp simultaneously. But something happened as I emerged with my own playing style over the years. I began to rely less on effects, and more on the amp and instruments native abilities. Most of the pedal effects that I had collected, had gone untouched for a couple of decades, so while I mourned their loss, it didn't hurt me as bad as it could have.

So... in the instance you bring up, Mark, I would do two setups. First I would turn off the overdrive, and set up the amplifier for a loud and clean sound, when the guitar volume is up near maximum. Then turn on the overdrive and set it up for the desired amount of overdrive for the loud and dirty parts.

If I need some dirt on the rhythm parts, I can just roll the guitar volume down, with the overdrive on. Then when loud and clean is needed, I just switch the overdrive off, and roll the guitar volume up.

18

"I notice I achieve the best and fullest tone from a guitar with the volume knobs all the way up."

As a general rule, I agree. However, for the sake of the thread, let me illustrate how that doesn't always yield the "best" results.

As I mentioned previously... a lot of jazzers (and not just the old ones like alter and Christian) do NOT play with their volumes and tones full up on the guitar... because that DOESN'T yield the "fullest" sound available... in the case of CC, if he had his guitar on 10 and his amp on 10 (which it had to be to get it loud enough to play with a big band), it would have sounded like Neil Young's garage lol. Kenny Burrell, a more modern player... would oftentimes play backline amps... which quite often were blackfaces. Nothing wrong with a blackface amp, but a big hollow jazz box on 10 into a BF twin or something.... will not yield the full, mellow, and fat tones of Kenny Burrell. It'll feedback like a coyote with enough bass to rattle fillings!

I guess my point is, it's interesting how some iconic guitar tones were NOT created with the guitar's volume and tone full up.

19

I guess my point is, it's interesting how some iconic guitar tones were NOT created with the guitar's volume and tone full up. ruger9

It's been my impression that the majority of the top players take advantage of their guitar volume and tone controls. Watch any video of Stevie Ray Vaughn, and take notice of how often his right hand flits down to either the guitar volume or tone controls. He's masterful with it, and does it so quickly that if you blink, you'll miss it.

20

Mark, one of the few effects that I use is overdrive, I like a good blues driver for my style of playing. I'm using a Boss Katana 100 watt 2x12 amplifier, and the effects are downloaded into the amp, and effects are addressable via a six button (dual function) foot switch. There is a learning curve, but for the most part, it's fairly straight forward.

I should have clarified better, that I do use pedal effects, and overdrive (plus just a touch of delay or reverb) is the main effect that I will use. It's for instances just like you brought up, Mark, that I prefer to use a switchable overdrive effect. Many of my effects just happen to be downloaded into my amp, instead of being stand alone foot pedals.

My lifetime collection of foot pedals was stolen in a burglary a number of years ago, and I was faced with spending several thousand dollars to replace them, or several hundred dollars just for to replace the basics. Modern technology came to my rescue, and for the price of a few pedal effects, I bought a Boss Katana 100 watt amplifier. I have access to 63 downloadable Boss effects, 15 can be in the amp simultaneously. But something happened as I emerged with my own playing style over the years. I began to rely less on effects, and more on the amp and instruments native abilities. Most of the pedal effects that I had collected, had gone untouched for a couple of decades, so while I mourned their loss, it didn't hurt me as bad as it could have.

So... in the instance you bring up, Mark, I would do two setups. First I would turn off the overdrive, and set up the amplifier for a loud and clean sound, when the guitar volume is up near maximum. Then turn on the overdrive and set it up for the desired amount of overdrive for the loud and dirty parts.

If I need some dirt on the rhythm parts, I can just roll the guitar volume down, with the overdrive on. Then when loud and clean is needed, I just switch the overdrive off, and roll the guitar volume up.

– Wade H

Thanks, Wade. What you suggest is basically what I do.

21

Thanks for all of the comments, many of us have been using this technique already, and that's fantastic. I love hearing about how others are using their guitars volume and tone controls. Those of us who use these techniques, taylor them to our own needs. It's great to read about some of the individual utilizations of the guitar controls, it's very informative and expands on the basic technique that I laid out.

I have also used the three way switch setup, on my Gibson guitars. It's another technique that has similar results, and is definitely worth knowing about.

I posted this explanation because of the responses to a couple of past threads, where this technique brought up. While many people were already familiar with it, some reported struggling with incorporating in to their playing. It is for those people, I attempting to better explain how and why it may be beneficial to learn.

– Wade H

Sorry Wade but I don't buy in to your technique. First reason is I have absolutely no use for "dirt" or distortion of any kind. How I use the controls on guitar and amp is totally the reverse from your style. My setup is based on how Chet did it. He said to put the volumes on the guitars set to 10 and then roll back the bridge pickup just enough to hear the edge reduced. Use the tone control to your liking and have the master tone set near or at flat out. Second reason that works for me is that I don't use any pedals at all. Obviously YMMV.

22

"I notice I achieve the best and fullest tone from a guitar with the volume knobs all the way up."

As a general rule, I agree. However, for the sake of the thread, let me illustrate how that doesn't always yield the "best" results.

As I mentioned previously... a lot of jazzers (and not just the old ones like alter and Christian) do NOT play with their volumes and tones full up on the guitar... because that DOESN'T yield the "fullest" sound available... in the case of CC, if he had his guitar on 10 and his amp on 10 (which it had to be to get it loud enough to play with a big band), it would have sounded like Neil Young's garage lol. Kenny Burrell, a more modern player... would oftentimes play backline amps... which quite often were blackfaces. Nothing wrong with a blackface amp, but a big hollow jazz box on 10 into a BF twin or something.... will not yield the full, mellow, and fat tones of Kenny Burrell. It'll feedback like a coyote with enough bass to rattle fillings!

I guess my point is, it's interesting how some iconic guitar tones were NOT created with the guitar's volume and tone full up.

– ruger9

Before I read Ruger's 1st post, I was thinking what he wrote. I picked his 2nd post as it rounds it out and "seals the narrative".

I've always used a solid state (other people's amps during gigs) but home is where the solid state is. So that leaves me to state that, especially as a Strat player, all guitars knobs turned to 10 and adjusted the amp for volume control. The exception was always playing "lighter" clean material.....especially T-Bone Walker. This is when I really was tone reaching, turned the amp up more but dialed down the master volume.....pickup controls always still at max.

I'm still solid state with my 60 W Tech 21 and even at the amp at 30%, you bet the bank the neighbors are hearing "Heartbreaker", "Comfortably Numb", Pride and Joy", "Back In Black" and countless others. During serious practicing sessions however, I want to hear the mistakes, I want every flawed nook and cranny to haunt me in the present and not hide behind a distorted volume boom.

Now? I have Gretches, LPs and their Japanese clones, Firebirds with mini-hums..........for me? All hell broke loose on the GAS front and my will easily gave way. So did the approach. Regardless of what I play, the amp is dialed up way more and my guitar's (regardless of which one I am playing) master volume rarely ever sees 10. 75% of my playing is solo work....on the neck only pickup, and I bow to the tone. T-Bone Walker is the standard for all material I play that needs the "special touch" for the right tone at low volumes. Pickup knobs still at 10 but master volume is the key. For the jazz, older blues, and swing material, I find I'm using different pickup combinations frequently vs. the throat only blast of just the neck pickup.

I have to watch the video Wade posted but love this thread 2020 has been the year of volume control to grab the tone. So, I'll always be messing around.....especially since the acquisition of 2 new pedals which has opened a new world. Yeah, I've used effects before BUT with other peoples' equipment until I now take many approaches to my practice sessions.

Yes, I still want the Mesa Boogie Lonestar and will acclimate when the day comes, But for now, my Tech 21 is doing just fine and getting the tones I want.

23

"Yes, I still want the Mesa Boogie Lonestar "

Me too... (no surprise!), but that would be my "rock" amp (right now it's a Hot Cat). Not sure how well these MV amps work with the whole theory of "rolling back the volume", it's always worked far better for me on amps withOUT a MV... like all the little single ended amps I've owned over the years (Epiphone one, Champion 600, Excelsior, now I have the new Harmony 8418).... these clean up GREAT. I have a PRRI, but I only use it for clean tones, with pedals for dirt, so the guitar stays on 10. My Hot Cat lead channel does not react as well as I'd like for "cleaning up" by turning back the guitar volume. BUT.... 1) it's my ROCK amp, and 2) it has a clean channel, which also does clean-ISH very well... so I'm covered either way.

But yes- a Lonestar. Ans a Swart AST MkII. Someday....someday.....

And someday I want to play your Tokai !!!!

24

This post will be a total waste of my time to write it and your time to read it, but here it is.

I max the guitar and leave the amp where it was when I shut it off yesterday.

Since I play in the bedroom only and just for me, I turn the vol down to where I can just hear the amp over the sound of the strings, and, there ya go.

25

Well, F107plus5, that makes sense if that's your only platform for playing.

At home I have a G5222 5w and I turn the volume all the way up and use the volume controls on the guitar but that's only because it makes me smile when I turn it to ten for some fuzzy goodness. So I guess I kind of use Wade's suggested style for that application.


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