Getting a basic guitar sound out of your amp

Many of you will have a descent (or not so) decent guitar amp, but I can guarantee that most of you are not happy with how your guitar sounds. This is basically because you are not paying enough attention to your amp set up. No matter what amp you have, you always have to get the best from it… no matter if its a cheap transistors amp, or an expensive tube amp, if you don’t pay close attention to your sound set up, your sound will never be good enough for you.

If you have some experience regarding your amp set up or the sound you are wanting to achieve, congratulations, you have jumped the fence and you are closer to reaching your goal of becoming a great guitarist.

Your sound set up is a must if you are wanting to go pro. You have to be really careful about how you sound and what your levels are… so let’s start with how to get a basic amp set up.

The Amp. The following instructions may vary according to which guitar amp you own, but in most cases this is how it will be. Your two main knobs: Volume and Gain.

To start getting a nice sound out of your amp, you have to start by shutting it down… so turn your volume and gain (sometimes called Drive) all the way down to zero.

Almost every amp nowadays comes with at least 3 EQ knobs. Low, Mid and High (treble). Set your EQ knobs into a flat position which would be to have them all at 12 o’clock. If you have done a few live shows, maybe you have heard the sound engineer saying the word “flat” in regards to EQ or sound. Basically this means to set your EQ up in a way that you get the real or true sound out of your amp… no highs, lows and mids.

When looking for a new sound it’s important to start with a flat EQ, so you get the real sound first and from there you can start tweaking the frequencies.

These knobs are the basic ones, now that everything is where it should be…

Let’s start by bringing the volume knob up a bit to say level 1 or 2, depending on the room where you are playing or until the sound is comfortable for you…. The sound of your guitar should be completely clean at this point.

Getting some bass. We all want a fat sounding guitar, we want body in our sound, this is where the bass comes into play. Turn the bass knob up a bit to increase the bass on your sound. You will notice a thicker-lower end on your guitar sound.

SUGGESTION: bring bass up and down and take note of the difference between a flat EQ and a “bassy” EQ until you find a sweet spot.

The Mid frequency. This frequency is often a headache when working on the sound. The mid range is what will bring your guitar sound up on the mix with other instruments, in other words, it is what will make it “cut-through”. I am not a big fan of mid frequencies, I always tend to go for the minimum of it. Also a good thing to know is that the vocals usually sit in these frequencies and you don’t want to mess with that, so keep that in mind.

The treble or high frequency. This is what will bring the “brightness” into your sound. If you are looking for a warmer sound, you will need to work only with your bass and maybe, just a pinch of treble. However, finding the right balance of bass and treble with only a bit of mid will provide an awesome sounding guitar

Don’t forget about the gain or drive knob. Would you like some distortion on your sound? This is where the gain or drive comes into play. Basically the more gain/drive you have, the more distorted your guitar will sound.

Well that’s a wrap of the basics of guitar amp sound. For the guitar effects lovers out there we’ll take a look at that in a later post because that’s a different story altogether!

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  1. Robert Evans

    Do you have to make any adjustments to the the Amp once you`re happy with the sound, if you’re using foot pedals.

  2. phil

    hi… to second what was posted above thiis is a highly useful article about the basic amp use and not something that is easy to come across, the other thing that would be handy is some info on the use and set up of pick-ups.
    ok now for my Q:
    i have a roland 405 which also has
    1. a selection for Lead or Clear in the form of a switch
    2. Lead section which has Pre and Post knobs
    3. a ‘Presence’ knob
    can you throw any light on these
    cheers and keep up the great work

    1. Mark McKenzie


      I love the simplicity and easy to understand post. I’m going to come from the angle of ‘non-gear guy’ here for a moment. So this may not be so useful to you. But just for the sake of putting my two cents in, I’ll advise you from my angle. Whenever anyone asks me advise on stuff like tone and what to do….I tend to just say “find a tone you like…if you like it, you’ll play more and it’s likely that others will enjoy it too”. A very simplistic view, but we can get really caught up on what knob should be where etc. This blog does a great job at the amp basics, so that’s usually enough to make a great tone…even with everything on your Guitar set to full hehe.

  3. Andy

    I’ve been playing guitar for about 10 years now, and this is the first totally sense-making article I have come across on this essential skill. Thank you, it’s much appreciated.

  4. David S

    How would you change this process for an amp with gain, volume and master volume?

  5. Jean Vilus

    These are very useful advices. I like them. Thank you.

  6. John

    Hi Luis. When you say set the EQ knobs at 12 o’clock in your blog, for a flat sound, does this mean in the middle? My amps (Roland Cube 40 and Street Cube) have from 0 to 10, with 5 being in the 12 o’clock position. So, should I set the treble,mid,bass at 5 or at zero? Thanks for your help. John H

    1. Jon Coursey Post author

      Hi John, that is correct, set your knobs at 5. Let us know how you get on with your sound!

      Remember to explore, test and try everything! There is no right or wrong with sound, there is only what you like and feel comfortable with.

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