7 Learning about your amp

Learning about your amplifier

So you're plugged in, making sound pretty neat sounds, but how do you take it to the next level? How do we get that crunchy distortion we've heard a million times? What does 'presence' do? Why does my 'reverb' sound like a horror movie? All these settings will be explained here, so let's jump right in to it!

First, what is an amplifier?

An amplifier (or amp for short) basically makes your electric/electro-acoustic guitar louder. This is useful in band situations, when you're playing something soft but need it to be louder, and it can also be used to change the sound. the majority of amps, there are settings that you can tweak to change the sound of your guitar to what you like. This is how Queen's Brian May got his iconic sound, the same with Jimi Hendrix, George Benson, and many other icons. We'll go through each setting and what it means below.

Here is a picture of your average amplifier. Some amps will have other features such as effects, equalisation, different types of distortion etc. we will go through the most common ones here, but all amps are different, so some may have these options and others may not!

So here is a picture of a generic amp. There are a few settings on there so we'll take it one by one and go through them from left to right.

Gain - This setting creates that gritty, distorted sound that guitars are famous for! When you turn the volume up too high on an amp and the amplifier can't handle it, it starts to 'distort' and sound aggressive. This has been changed in to a feature to give that sound characteristic for guitars in to a handy dial that doesn't cause any damage to the amp! Simply put, the higher the number is on the gain section, the more aggressive the guitar can sound.

EQ - EQ (short for Equalisation) changes the sound of the guitar. If the sound is too sharp and bright you would normally turn the 'Treble' dial down to make it a little more mellow. Equally if you want a more 'punchy' sound from the low end, you can turn up the 'Bass' dial. The mid-range or the 'Mids' are the frequencies we hear the most, this dial is great for shaping your sound or fitting in to a band mix.

  • Treble - High and sharp sounds
  • Mids - The everything in between
  • Bass - The low and chunky side


Reverb - Reverb makes your guitar sound spacious. If you had a lot of reverb, it may sound like you're playing in a hall or in a church as there is a 'spacious' sound during and after you play notes. Around 1-2 is usually enough, but if you would like a spacious airy sound, you can go as high as 10 and get some really cool sounds!

Effects - This section is covered in more detail here. Some amps have different effects sections. The one in the picture has an option for Tremolo or Vibrato. Some amps have delay, some have reverb options and newer amps have started putting in a selection of effects you can choose from many creating a great sound with everything built in to the amp.

Presence - This dial is a boost to the mid-high frequencies. Guitars shine best in a mix in the mid-high range. This option makes the guitar stand out a little bit more without being so much louder an the rest of the band. If you're having trouble standing out in a band, try increasing the presence.

Boost Switch/Channel Switch - Some amps have an option for a different channel or a 'boost' switch. Usually, it will be channel 1 and channel 2. Channel 2 is generally the more aggressive one and is usually used for more aggressive guitar sounds (some amps may have a different settings so check in the manual or test them to see which is which!). A Boost switch will generally make the sound a lot louder and is usually used for solos.

Master - This is the overall volume of the amp. This does not affect any of the other dials, just how loud the amp is.

Input - This is where the guitar plugs in to.

Footswitch - Some amps come with a foot switch to change between the 2 channels or to activate a boost. These change the amp to the channel 1/2 or boost from the press of a button.


The majority of amps will have those settings on there, though some amps may have some extra features that are specific to their brand, i.e Blackstar and their "ISF" dial, which is very similar to EQ. Most of those options are usually adaptations of the essentials in an amplifier. As long as you understand the dials above, you should be able to work with any amplifier you come across and create a sound you love. Lastly, don't be afraid to change the dials and see how they work. You need to know how they sound with your playing, so take 10 minutes out of your practice schedule to go over the settings and really get to know your amplifier!