Critical Tone Component: Volume!

April 29, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More

SpinalTap_11_1First I think we can agree on what tone is: gear + touch.

Yes, your favorite guit-slinger will sound like himself (or herself) with a Chinese-made POS guitar through a Chinese-made POS amp, but they will not have their signature TONE and won’t be inspired playing through that crappy gear.

Maybe they’ll be inspired to throw it across the room or play tunes like this:

Since we’re talking classic rock and blues-rock here at WoodyTone (where there’s an open bar – come on down!), signature tones in this space come from loud amps.

What does “loud” mean? If we can tweak the standard definition a bit: Literally “loud” to the human ear, or an amp that’s working hard. So maybe not loud from a db sense – like Billy Gibbons playing through an old Fender combo, or Jimmy Page through a Supro (having never played through one, I’m assuming those aren’t loud) – but cranked.

The amp has to be working hard, and working the speaker(s) hard, to give guitarists that amazing touch that you can only get from a cranked or “loud” amp.

Don’t know about you, but the louder I play, the better I sound (to me), and the more I’m inspired. And some things you can’t do – including sound like this or that famous guitar player – without tons of volume. It’s just a key ingredient.

And live? Forget it – classic rock was and still should be stupid loud. Remember that loud amps were made that way on purpose so folks in the back could hear something – as the guys onstage were going deaf!


But, you may say, that was in the days before massive PAs, and now we have PAs. Great ones. Clubs and even bigger venues want low stage volumes, so the days of cranking 50w or 100w heads through 4x12s are over.

Yes and no.

Yes if you’re happy with your 5w amp tone, but I’d still argue that your touch isn’t going to be as inspiring as with a loud rig. And it’s also a yes if you don’t feel like lugging 200 pounds of amp to gigs.

But also no. Take the vid of Joe Bonamassa below. Yes he’s a famous guy and thus can dictate to the venues what he’s going to do (and I believe he tours with his own PA). But he was also using these things before he was famous:

So he could use anything he wanted, yet he chooses 100w amps through very efficient (higher-watt-rated and thus louder) speakers. Why? Because he gets that inspiring tone, which includes his touch.

So move air, work the amp hard or at least play “loud,” and your tone improves. But there may be limits:

Category: Joe Bonamassa, Tips

Comments (2)

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  1. Guitar5986 says:

    Well said. This is exactly why even the best attenuators will rob you of tone. There are a lot of speakers out there that need to be pushed hard in order to get their true sound (greenbacks). Other speakers (EV’s come to mind) hold up a little better throughout a wider range of volumes. I am a firm believer that a no holds barred amp setup breathes better and is more natural to play on. Almost like your guitar is coming to life at times…

  2. j9fd3s says:

    two parts;

    yes, the amp needs to be in its happy spot. EVH’s amp is dimed, my champII needs to have the master volume and volume add up to around 7.5. preferably the amp is a little louder than you actually need to play, so you can hit it hard and it makes a big difference.

    second. i’ve got a 5150, so i’m fine with 60W, but my brother brought home a Peavy penta amp, and 135W is TON of power, even on like 1-2.

    the penta is a weird amp, its got a 5 way “tone selector” switch, so you can choose like 5 different amp sounds.

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