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How to Control Your Amp's Volume and Still Keep Its Best Tone


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Here at MayosMusic, in addition to offering great guitar, bass, ukulele, banjo and autoharp lessons, plus complete luthier services that include guitar, string instrument and amplifier repair/restorations, we are also a great resource service. Below is an article on controlling your amps volume and still getting a great tone.

In our previous article "Tube vs Solid State Amps" we discussed the general differences in sound, tone, headroom, power, sustain, durability, customizability, weight, cost and more between these two fundamental amplifier designs.

This article will focus on achieving your amp's "sweet spot" of tone and then controlling (adjusting) its overall volume to balace/mix in your particular playing venue or situation (i.e. recording studio, rehearsal studio, club, concert stage, home, apartment, etc).

Here are seven options for controlling your overall volume and still achieving your amp's "sweet spot" of tone:

Note: as most professional guitar amps are of the tube type and as tube amps respond better to many of the following options (such as preamps + power amp saturation = sweet spot of tone), your achieved results can and will vary.


1. Low-Power Amps

5-22 watt amps reach their "Sweet Spot" at a natural overall lower volume. The Fender Deluxe Reverb amp (22 watts) is favored by many players.

More and more guitarists have discovered that a lower-power amp that's cranked to its "Sweet Spot" will sound massive when mic'd through the house PA system.



2. Speakers

  1. More speakers = more air movement
    Fewer speakers = less air movement
    Thus, By using fewer speakers, you will lower stage volume.
  2. Speakers with a higher sensitivity rating (100dB) will play louder than ones with a lower (96dB) rating with equal amp/watt input.

Note: for an increase of +3dB you will need 2x/rms power of the Amp: A 100/watt amp with 96 dB speaker is equal to a 50 watt amp with 99 dB Speaker in overall volume.


3. Master Volume Control

Most Master Volume Controls in an amp Circuit are after the preamp signal but before the power amp section. Using this type of master Volume will reduce the overall volume, but you will sacrifice some tone. This is because much of the "Sweet Spot" tone comes from both preamp and power amp sections.

A different type of master volume is the post-phase-inverter master volume (aka PPIMV) which comes after the phase inverter in the amp circuit (which is part of the power amp section). This type of master volume will improve overall tone.



4. Attenuators

A power attenuator patched between the amplifier outout and the speaker cabinet will absorb/soak up excess cranked-amp volume without diminishing the amps desired tone. (i.e. Jim Kelley and Aracom PRX150-DAG power attenuators). Very effective.



5. Amp Shields and Baffles

These are short wall-like baffles (often Plexiglas) that are placed in front of and around the speaker cabinet. However, they can cut high frequencies. (i.e. AmpPac 32 from ClearSonic).



6. Slaving and Speaker Simulators

A device that reduces the output from the amp to the line level (i.e. PDI-03 speaker simulator/load box). This allows total silence onstage- and gives total volume and tone control to the house sound man.



7. Power Scaling

The basic concept of this technology is that by lowering the voltage to the output stage of a tube amp, you will lower the overall volume while still retaining that "sweet spot" feel and tone. Power Scaling kits need to be installed by a qualified tech.



Experience since 1968
Providing Guitar Lessons and Guitar/Amp Repairs in Southern California, South Bay Cities and Greater Los Angeles Area,
Located in Manhattan Beach, CA 90266 and Torrance, CA 90503

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