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Soundcheck: Amps and Tone Modification – A Guitarist’s FAQ

Every performing guitarist, whether new hired gun or old pro will have their way of doing things, but every artist will agree that your gear is paramount when establishing your trademark sounds.

By IndiePulse Music Magazine.

In our publication, we have talked to and worked with many wonderful and talented artists, and in this time we have learned a thing or two about the importance of your rig’s sound and making the most from your gear. Every performing guitarist, whether new hired gun or old pro will have their way of doing things, but every artist will agree that your gear is paramount when establishing your trademark sounds. One such expert is Adrian Belew, a known master of sound innovation with complete musical genres dedicated to his musical creations. So, without any further claptrap, we will share with you the tricks of the trade that we have gleamed from the pros.


There are so many choices when it comes to the god box you use to make your music, whether you play a traditional acoustic guitar that has a fit on or  built in pick up, or your tried and true battle ax of metal mayhem, it is important you know where to start when choosing your rig.

  1. Shop Around

Whether you plan to pick up your gear at your local retailer or plan to buy on the internet, you need to shop around, you can choose from established name brands or find a new manufacturer with a unique take on tone. Retailers, like have great resources and give detailed information on everything, as well as let you know where you can find their gear locally for a drive test.

  1. Bring your own Guitar when testing Amps.

Playing an amp with an instrument you don’t own will not give you an accurate concept of your sound. Bring your main guitar with you, even if you think the store stocks a similar model. An unfamiliar guitar may have a brighter sound than your personal ax, and an amp that sounded sparkly and lively in the store may actually be dull without brilliance.

  1. Tube Vs. Digital

Traditional Tube technology is still considered state-of-the-art in many musician circles, however, due to modern technology and aps, solid-state and digital amps offer excellent tone for a lot fewer bucks, and with fewer maintenance headaches. However, they may require more set up and the more additional tech, more chance of failure in a live show. Best bet, know your limitations and keep it simple.

  1. Too much of a good thing?

A 100-watt stack is overkill if you live in an apartment and need an amp only for home recording. Conversely, a 10-watt combo is woefully inadequate if you play in a band with a drummer nicknamed Thunder Crusher. Choose an amp that’s right for your primary application. You’ll need at least 30 watts for playing live with a rock band, but smaller amps often provide surprisingly huge sounds in the studio—just ask Jimmy Page. Also, as a rule of thumb, if you’re playing out often, you might want to shoot for at least 15 watts of tube tone.

Pedals, Pedal Boards and Accessories

While tone and volume should be your foremost considerations, you should also determine what extra features you really need. Built-in effects are great if you want a no-hassle, all-in-one package, but they may not be as flexible as external effects pedals and processors. An effect loop is useful for effects like digital reverb and delay, but it’s not essential if your effects consists of a few stomp boxes. Line outputs with speaker emulation are helpful for home recording, and external speaker outputs are great for expanding your live rig.

Traditionally, guitar effects pedals are used to produce special effects such as wah-wah, delay, overdrive, and distortion. However, it is also possible to use effects pedals to control volume, equalization, and other basic aspects of your guitar’s tone.

With so many different types of guitar pedals available today, it can feel overwhelming when you decide to get your first guitar pedal. Not knowing the basics of guitar pedals can not only cause you headaches but can give you a bad tone. In addition, don’t limit yourself to the big name brands, many small and boutique companies offer some great sound enhancements as well, and again, with the internet you buy effects pedals online from established retailers that may be out of your reach, saving time and money.

There are three important points to remember with guitar pedals:

  1. The order of your pedals greatly impacts your tone
  2. Always use the correct power source for the pedal
  3. How you use your guitar pedals matters

If you have more than one guitar pedal, you’ll need more cables. For example, if you have two guitar pedals, you’ll need three cables: one to connect the guitar, one to connect the two pedals together, then a third cable to connect to the amp.

When connecting guitar pedals together, you can buy something called ‘patch cables’. Patch cables are very short cables designed to connect pedals together. These short cables keep your pedalboard nice and tidy. The more pedals you buy, the more important it is to keep your pedalboard tidy.

After you plug your pedals into your guitar and your amp, you should think about how you will power your pedals. There are two ways guitar pedals receive power. Almost all guitar pedals accept external power from a power supply. Some pedals use an internal battery to power the pedal. A lot of pedals offer both options. Let’s look at each option so you know what to expect from any pedal you might buy.

For more info on tech, gear and the multitude of toys for sound and stage, check back and look at more of our Great Gear articles and resources in or Education Section.



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About Joseph Timmons (9898 Articles)
I am the Father of 5 and a "Would Be Philosopher of Idiocy" - Author and Writer for several Blogs and Online Magazine. Review Journalist, Musician and Audio Buff. Follow Me and I'm Sure to Entertain.

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