How To Use a Guitar Amp: A Guide for Beginner Guitarists
A guitar amp aims to boost the sounds produced by an electric guitar and deliver them at higher volumes.
Therefore, learning how to use a guitar amp is as important as learning how to play your first electric guitar.
This powerful piece of supporting equipment strengthens the electrical signal produced by your guitar’s pickups at varying frequencies.
Every amp produced has a distinctive tone that can be adjusted and easily modified to match personal preferences.
In this guide, we will go over guitar amp basics, such as essential features, so that you can learn how to use an amp effectively.
How Do You Use a Guitar Amp for Beginners
For a novice electric guitarist, learning how to use an amp is not optional.
Yet, before setting up the system, you must become acquainted with its different features.
From various control and volume knobs to multiple sockets and switches, your guitar amp’s performance depends on your understanding of its functionalities.
What Do the Controls on a Guitar Amp Do?
Every guitar amplifier features a combination of controls and knobs that perform different functions.
While most of these are self-explanatory, for instance, the treble knob is responsible for adjusting high frequencies, others may require additional insight.
Nonetheless, it is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with essential guitar amp basics before firing up your system.
Different Guitar Amp Controls
Before acquainting yourself with the different features of an amplifier, make sure you have the essentials required for running it.
Although an obvious feature, the guitar lead is often overlooked and missed when setting up the amp system.
Since it connects your amplifier to the electric guitar, it often measures 6.3mm long and features a Jack or TRS plug on both ends of the cable.
We recommend that you invest in a high-quality cable because of the critical function it plays in transferring the unbalanced audio to the amp.
Most guitar amplifiers will have some or all of the following features:
The input is the connection between the guitar and the amplifier and is commonly found on the front or top part.
- Mains Input
This is the connection between the power cable and the amplifier. You will find it on the back of the system.
- Power Switch
As the name suggests, a power switch controls when the guitar amp is turned on or off.
Depending on the type and model of the amp, you can find this switch on the top, front, or back.
Some models in the tube amplifier category also have a separate “standby” feature incorporated in the power switch.
This helps keep the amp’s valves warm and ready without utilizing excess power to run the amp’s speakers.
- Volume Control
This knob is responsible for controlling and adjusting the level of the output sound produced.
The gain feature controls the level of input received from the electric guitar.
- Channel Switch
Depending on the type of amp you have, there can be multiple channels you can switch between to achieve the desired sound.
For instance, many models have two primary channels: clean and gain.
The clean channel utilizes a volume control mechanism to produce a clean tone.
The gain channel utilizes a combination of both volume and gains to produce multiple sounds varying between overdrive, distortion, and crunch.
You can adjust the tone of the sound produced by increasing or decreasing the level of different frequencies.
While most amplifiers allow you to pick between low-, mid-, and high-range frequencies, others may include more options, such as low-mid and high-mid.
Additionally, some models have graphic EQs, while others have dials or knobs.
The reverb is an essential feature of every guitar amp.
It increases the level of ambiance in the sound produced to create an echo-y effect.
Most new models today come with built-in digital effects that you can adjust with controls and knobs.
The FX allows users to choose between different effects and adjust their intensity.
- Effects Send/Return
This input allows you to attach external effects pedals to the amp for diversifying the sounds produced.
- Line Out
This feature allows transferring the amplifier’s sound to an external audio device, such as a mixing desk.
A footswitch is necessary if you are planning to plug in an external channel switch pedal to the amplifier system.
While the existing switch on your amp is helpful, it is not as convenient to use during live gigs or studio rehearsals.
We found that the channel switch pedals are more convenient when shifting between clean and distorted sounds on the go.
- Speaker Out
An amplifier system will always have provision for attaching external speakers to the existing speaker cabinet.
This powered output allows room for connecting additional compatible speakers.
This connection is most useful when practicing your skills in private.
How To Use a Guitar Amp
Before learning how to set up a guitar amp, it would help to first understand how does a guitar amp work.
The amplifier is designed to utilize power from the main AC outlets and create a duplicate of the input signal from the guitar.
This replica power signal is sent to the speakers, where it will be transformed into soundwaves.
The way these soundwaves are reproduced and delivered depends on the type of speaker cabinet used.
You will find that although there are many different types of amps and guitars available, they all utilize the same power cable.
Once you become acquainted with the different features of a guitar amp, setting up the system will only take a few minutes.
Here are the steps to mastering how to use your guitar amp:
Step 1: Learn How To Set Up a Guitar Amp
Having a user manual is helpful, but most amps have built-in user-friendly systems that make set up easy.
For instance, the female side of the cable has specific prongs compatible with the outlet present in the amp.
We recommend that you use a surge protector with your guitar amp to protect its components.
These are most useful when you experiment with different external effects pedals to build on the existing tone.
Additionally, as a safety measure, it is always a good idea to make sure the power socket you will be plugging your amp in is grounded.
The best way to identify a grounded socket is by knowing the number of prongs it can house.
A three-prong power socket is always grounded and will protect against any fatal electrocutions.
After connecting the power cable to the amp, you will need to connect the speaker cabinet to the amplifier head.
A speaker cabinet is powered by the amp and consists of one or more speakers housed in a single container.
If you have a combo amp (a speaker and amplifier in one system), you can skip forward to connecting your guitar with the amp.
However, if you are working with separate components, you will need to connect the amp and speaker cabinet with a quarter-inch cable.
Additionally, we recommend having the system turned off when connecting your guitar with the amp, as it can otherwise damage different components.
Similarly, you must avoid turning on your amp unnecessarily when nothing is connected with it.
Once everything is connected, you can go ahead and fire up the amp.
Keep in mind that, unlike solid-state amps, tube amps take longer to start because the tubes need to be warmed up.
This is why most tube amps also have a standby switch, which allows you to keep the system warm even when not you’re playing.
Step 2: Fixing the Tone and Volume
A single knob controls the volume level, but it can also affect the tone produced by the amp.
Focus on the subsequent two knobs labeled “pre and post” or “drive and master.”
The pre or drive knob controls the power signal before it reaches the power amplification stage.
Since the power amplification phase cannot handle higher input signals, the knob produces a distorted tone that creates an overall dramatic effect.
On the other hand, the post or master knob adjusts this signal after the power amplification stage.
This knob will primarily affect the amp’s overall volume and not distort the tone as much as the pre knob.
Therefore, we recommend that you set each knob at an opposite level.
For instance, if the pre knob is set at a higher level, the post knob should also be set at a lower level.
This will help produce a distorted sound at a decent volume.
Similarly, to produce a clear and clean tone, set the pre knob at a lower level and the post knob at a higher one.
In some amps, there is a switch labeled “channel” in place of the pre and post knobs.
This button produces the same effect by allowing you to easily switch between clean and distorted channels.
Another feature that affects the tone of your output signal is the EQ setting.
Most amplifiers have built-in EQ settings, ranging between high and low frequencies, that you can adjust according to personal preference.
You will find that by setting your EQ knob directly in the middle, the output signal produces the most natural tone possible by your amp.
You can also adjust the gain knob to increase the level of distortion in the sound produced by your guitar.
This also increases the amp’s overall volume and must be experimented with to find the right setting.
Gain is a must-have feature for musicians who play rock or blues music.
However, since it is not a common feature in all amplifiers, you can just attach external pedals, such as overdrive, to achieve this effect.
Step 3: Experimenting With Other Effects
The best way to understand how does a guitar amp work is by experimenting with several different amps before settling for one.
Every model and brand produce a unique sound that you can test out in a music store.
Other than the standard fixed controls in an amp, some have additional controls that produce special effects, such as reverb and delay.
Additionally, you will find amps that also have provisions for attaching external pedals to the system for creating these special effects.
Still, the best way to understand the effect produced by these special controls is by experimenting with them.
Does an Amp Make a Guitar Sound Better?
There are different schools of thought when deciding the value added by a guitar amp.
Some believe that investing in a good amp will make the guitar sound better, which is why it is always better to upgrade your amplifier.
Trying out a new amp will also help identify any sound-related issues in a guitar that may be impacting the sound produced.
Similarly, a skilled guitarist can make anything sound beautiful even with a low-cost instrument.
Therefore, many good musicians focus on building their skills rather than investing in expensive guitars early on in their careers.
With that said, you can’t go wrong if you invest in a good amplifier to help build your sound output and tone.
The purpose of an amplifier is to level up the sound produced by your guitar in a big way.
If you are looking to diversify your sound output in terms of tone, then buying an amplifier is a great idea.
The many components of an amplifier help build layers of tone on the original sound output from your guitar, making your music sound good.
On the other hand, some guitarists believe that the quality of the amplifier does not matter if the guitar is not up to par.
If the instrument is difficult to play with, the amplifier will not be able to reproduce a high-quality tone.
Learning how to use a guitar amp is as important as learning how to play the instrument.
While you can easily play electric guitars without a supporting amp, they will not be able to produce a higher level of sound.
Unlike acoustic guitars, electric guitars are all about the added “oomph” factor.
Therefore, no one can deny that buying a high-quality guitar amp is crucial to any electrical guitar setup.