Sep 28th, 2010
Sometimes, new guitarists can get confused by the volume and gain knobs on their amp because when you turn them, they seem to be almost doing the same thing - just making the amp louder. However, if you pay more attention, you will notice a great deal of difference between the two controls. It doesn't matter if you are playing through a brand new Fender Mustang amp or an old vintage boutique amp.
As a rock guitar player myself, I could probably take the easy route and tell you that your guitar amp's sweet spot is found simply by setting everything on ten! However, we all know that doing this can sometimes induce ear aches and noise complaints. Let's take a bit more of a scientific approach instead.
The first thing you absolutely need to know is the difference between volume and gain.
Volume -- What you are basically doing when you turn that volume knob is control your amp's power section signal or the loudness of the amp. This know is going to let you control how loud or quiet your guitar will be.
Gain -- Even though you are hearing your volume increase as you turn up the gain, what you are really doing is adjusting the input sensitivity level. This is used to break up your tone and give you the distorted rock sound.
There are many different approaches to finding the best mix of volume and gain settings. When I am dialing in a tone on an amp, I like to begin with my volume knob and first set the desired output level. Next, begin adding gain by slowly turning your gain knob up. Take the gain up a notch or two and play your guitar for a while. Listen carefully to the tone and make a mental note on the quality of the tone. Keep doing this until you have found your desired tone.
You may find that a setting that you love today, sounds horrible the next day because of various factors like possible ear fatigue. This approach is something that you might have to do a number of times before you finally settle on the right mix between your gain and volume settings. However, taking the time to hone in on this will surely result in the perfect guitar tone.