Amplifiers and Tone – part two


continuing saga of getting a good tone out of your guitar and amp,
this time we talk about doing it without bleeding eardrums.

Power Amp

Ever played
a vintage amp with no pre-amp gain control (nothing marked gain or
distortion). How did players get overdrive/ distortion out of these
old beasties. Well, the old fashion way, with power amp distortion.
What is it? Its when the power amp part of your amp is overloaded so
much that it starts to clip or distort. How do we achieve it? Simply
by cranking the amp to 10, this usually pushes the power amplifiers
circuit beyond its limits and brings about distortion. Many argue
that this is the sweetest kind of distortion. Unfortunately with a
100w amplifier, this can be a painful experience and unless you’re on
a very big stage, or very well soundproofed studio, your sound
engineer probably won’t appreciate it much. So, what alternatives are

Power Soaks
/ Breaks / Attenuators:

Power Soaks
(they come under a lot of different names) are devices that attach
between your poweramp and your speaker box. These handy tools reduce
the amount of volume coming out of your amp while its running at full
tilt. This way you get that great cranked sound without the hearing

Amp Mods:

There are
various ways that your friendly valve amp repairer can modify your
precious valve amp to be quieter without loosing its tone. Most of
the amps that you hear live or on album have been mod’ed in some way
or another, so its worth talking to someone who knows to see what
they can do for your amp.


This may
sound obvious, but, getting a smaller amp is a great solution. You
can buy vintage style, high quality amplifiers that have very low
output ratings. Some have an output as low as ¼ of a watt, yet still
will drive a 2×12” or 4×12” speaker cabinet. These amps can be
easily cranked without any danger of breaking your ears. I’ve seen it
argued that in a studio situation, these amps can end up sounding a
lot nicer as the mics that your using will be operating at a much
less distressing SPL (sound pressure level), thus allowing the mic to
sound its best.


You can plug
your amp directly into a speaker simulator and then straight into the
mixing console. This way there is no sound coming out of your amp at
all. Volume can be controlled by the engineer and everyone is happy
(as long as you’ve got some foldback to hear what you’re doing).


These solid
state devices (like the line 6 pod for example) do a great job of
emulating (modelling) real amplifiers. They’re incredibly convenient,
inexpensive and the volume is really easy to control. One of the best
live mixes I ever heard was when the band was all D.I’ed via some of
these devices.

As always, if you have any questions, email us on or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.