• How to use volume and gain to create killer guitar tones

    Volume

    Volume is a crucial part of a good tone but it’s perhaps a bit elusive and easy to overlook. In this feature we’ll discuss different types of amps, how to set them up and how to use the volume controls on your guitar and pedals to create great sounding tones.

    A lot of guitar players consider the volume controls as something you use if you either want things louder or more quiet but it really is a lot more to it than that and bad tone is often a result of not knowing how to use volume as an active part of the tone.

    I don’t want to go too much into detail and get all technical. There are lots of great articles out there that will provide all kinds of minutiae if you want to dig a little deeper. I also urge everyone to use the comments field below and share your experience and tips.

    Amplifiers

    A typical tube amplifier consists of two stages. The pre-amp, which takes your guitar signal and distorts it, and the output section, which amplifies the signal coming from the pre-amp and makes it louder.

    Most tube amps has controls for gain (channel volume/volume) and master (output/volume). The gain control controls the amount of clipping or distortion that goes into the signal. The master controls the output of the amp.

    A single channel amp often has one single control for volume/gain. This controls both the pre and output stage of the amp.

    Volume Laney Lionheart

    A two channel amp, like the Laney Lionheart, often has one output control for the clean channel, controlling both stages, and two controls for the gain channel, one controlling the pre-amp and the other controlling the output.

    A Hiwatt has four inputs, which can be a bit confusing. Each channel, normal and bright, has a dedicated gain control (labelled “volume”) and the output for both is controlled by the master control. The additional two inputs are attenuated inputs for each channel for different pickups and instruments.

    So, with all this in mind it’s clear that understanding how to set the balance between the pre and output stages, or the gain and master, on your amp is crucial for getting the tones you want.

    David Gilmour’s amp setup

    Let’s use David Gilmour’s typical Hiwatt settings as an example to understand how this all works.

    David has his Hiwatts set clean and he’s using pedals to get the amount of drive or gain he needs for the different sounds. However, much of the secret behind David’s cutting and punchy tone, lies in the balance between the pre and output stages.

    My Reeves Custom 50 set up with the same settings as David Gilmour's Hiwatts used on the 2006 On an Island tour.

    The pre-amp, which in his case is a link between the normal and bright channels, is set just at the very edge of breakup. It’s set to match his guitars and pickups and a different guitar with hotter pickups would make the amps distort even more. The tubes are pushed just enough to add a bit of compression, making the amp sound fatter and more balanced.

    The master, or output volume, is set to match the venue/studio/rehearsal space but also high enough to push the speakers, which again will create more compression and bring out more of the speakers sound qualities.

    Setting up your amp

    So how does all this apply to your amp? Well, each brand and model is different but the first rule is to know how the controls on your amp works and how they interact with the rest of the circuit. Manufacturers often use different labels on the controls, which can be confusing but there’s always a gain and master – either separately or combined in one control.

    A clean amp isn’t just about making an undistorted tone louder. Cranking the master control, often makes the amp sound thin and flat. A good clean tone that will cut through a band mix and create a powerful platform for your pedals, needs a bit of that pushed pre-amp and tube saturation, which in turn will make your guitar sound (and feel) much more dynamic and respond much better to your playing. 



    This can be hard to achieve on a typical bedroom setup but as discussed in detailed in “How to get killer tones on your bedroom setup”, choosing the right amp for each application is crucial for being able to utilise its full potential. I guarantee you that although a large Hiwatt always looks great, a small 5w will always sound better in a small room.

    Guitar volume or volume pedal?


    Using the guitar’s volume control to control the tone and volume seems to be a lost art among the modern guitarists. We have all kinds of pedals that can do all kinds of things but back in the early days of pedals, and even before then, guitarists would use the volume control to produce subtle changes in their tone.

    Volume guitar

    Like Hendrix, David Gilmour used fuzz pedals in the early days of Floyd. Just by adjusting the guitar volume, a single pedal would produce boost for the cleans, overdrive for rhythms and screaming armageddon for the heavier stuff. Likewise, plugging the guitar into a cranked amp and using the guitar volume to control or attenuate the amount of gain, would produce a large palette of tones.

    I always roll back the volume to around 8.5-9 for my clean tones. It takes care of the sometimes harsh overtones and makes everything sound smoother and more dynamic. How much you should roll back, either for gain or cleans, depends on how hot your pickups are and what sort of pots you have on your guitar.

    As an exercise, plug your guitar straight into a distorted amp (or use one high gain pedal) and just by using the guitar volume, see if you can create convincing tones (doesn’t have to be perfect and never mind modulation and delays for now) for the clean intro solo on Shine On, the slightly overdriven intro on Have a Cigar and the fully distorted solo on Comfortably Numb!

    A volume pedal is often used as a master volume controller on a clean amp setup. Lowering the volume doesn’t colour the tone, it only lower the overall volume. A volume pedal can also be placed in front of gain pedals or a cranked amp. Lowering the volume pedal will attenuate the amount of gain just like rolling off the guitar volume control. Personally, and since I always run a clean amp, I have my volume pedal last in the chain as a master controller.

    What about the volume control on your pedals?

    As we’ve discussed above, an amp with the right balance between the pre-amp and output stage will provide a powerful platform for your pedals. Be sure to always set up the amp with the guitar plugged straight into it. Only then will you be able to hear the subtle nuances created by the combination of your amp and guitar. 



    All gain pedals, including compressors, has a volume (level, output) control and as with your amp, knowing how to use this will make it easier to get the tones you want. Again, we tend to overlook the qualities of the volume control and focus on how much gain we need. Still, we’ve all experienced tones with too much gain, noise issues and sustain that just chokes up the minute you hit the string.

    Volume pedal

    Let’s take a Big Muff (or a similar high gain pedal). Set the pedal volume to unity with your amp (the same level as when the pedal is off). Set the tone to around 11:00 and the gain/sustain to around 2:00. This is probably not perfect but that’s not the point. Now, lower the volume slightly and hear how the Muff sounds less compressed and perhaps a bit thinner but you will also hear more of those subtle harmonics much like with a fuzz pedal.

    Next, increase the volume to slightly above unity. Hear how the pedal sound a bit fatter, darker and perhaps smoother as well. Increase the volume to around 75% and hear how the harmonics are almost gone and the tone is perhaps a bit too much compressed.

    Now, 75% is obviously too much but it gives you an idea of what happens when you increase the volume on a pedal. Unity gain is usually a good start and often, just a hair is enough to find that sweetspot between a flat and sterile sounding pedal and one that sounds smooth and well balanced.

    This exercise works best on a tube amp set as described above. Increasing the volume on the Big Muff (or whatever gain pedal you use) will drive the front end of your tube amp and create more compression and mid range. Again, using the right wattage for your location, will enable you to get the same result on both a large and a small amp, given that it’s set up with the right balance between the pre-amp and output stage.

    I hope this gave you some insights to the importance of using volume as a part of your tone. Again, please use the comments field below and share your thoughts, experience and tips!

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87 Responsesso far.

  1. Seth Heaster says:

    Hey Bjorn! It’s been a while since I’ve left a comment, but I have another question. What do you think about about the Livewire patch cables, and just Livewire cables in general? Thanks!

  2. Seth Heaster says:

    Greetings Bjorn, I’m asking her another question! I have a 1974 Peavy VT Classic 50 W amp. It is a 2×12 combo and has 2 tubes. I plug into normal input A and keep the pre-amp volume at about 3- 3 1\2, but that means to make it a good enough volume for my basement playing I have to have the master on 8. It is nowhere near loud enough to gig this way. I have the pre-amp volume that low because the amp is too gainy for Gilmour. I am planning on buying a Fender Frontman 212r. It is a 100 W solid state 2×12 combo as well. I plan on doing this because I can make it louder and keep it clean. Then I can have an ABY switch at the end of my board with the Fender acting as the Hiwatts and the Peavy having the Boss RT-20 on it, set much quieter. Do you think this will work and do you think the tube amp will be more or less responsive to volume changes on both my guitar and at the end of the chain (right before the ABY) than the solid state? Thanks for all your help, I appreciate it immensely.

    • Bjorn says:

      As I’m sure you are aware the Frontman is very different to a Hiwatt but you were talking about the purpose of the amp? Wattage is often misleading because volume or output depends on so much more than just the numbering on the back. Solid states often have a lower ouput than tube amps but again, this depends on teh amp and its design. The setup you describe looks fine but I haven’t tried it myself so I can’t tell whether it will be loud enough for gigs or not :)

  3. david says:

    hi, bjorn, its not easy to find a good clean tone, especially you turned a distortion pedal, everything screwed up, could you please give a example of a good clean tone of david gilmoure?

    • Bjorn says:

      David rarely use just a clean tone. Back in the days, for stuff like the intro on Shine On, clean parts on The Wall album etc, he would just plug the guitar straight into the mixing console with a bit of studio compression. Stuff like Coming Back to Life sound very clean but there is some compression going on and, he recorded that with the red Strat and the active EMG pickups, which adds character. Given that your guitar, pickups and amp are capable of producing decent tones, I would spend some time fiddling with the settings and don’t be afraid to use some compression and roll back the guitar volume control just a hair to smooth out those harsh over tones. Again, it all comes down to your gear, its tone and character and how you set it up.

  4. Krip says:

    Hello, not sure if this is the place for this comment, but was my thought after reading it.

    David, as well as many players use a minimum of two amps when playing, one for overdrive/gain and the other for delays/modulation. Playing all your pedals into one amp can be a challenge and can become a mush at high volumes. Brian May uses 4 amps for his playing, using each amp for separate effects.

    Just a tip on what they do to get their sound.

    • Bjorn says:

      Actually, David always run all his effects into his amps but he often use two heads with either two or four cabs. Back in the 70s and 90s, he would also split the sigal after the pedal board, with one line to his main amps and one, again with all the effects, into rotary cabinets.

  5. Craig says:

    Hi Bjorn:

    I am happy to see that in your latest videos such as “Strymon Deco” you are demonstrating the clean tone before getting into the presentation of the pedal. I think this gives an essential reference point for viewers who may be trying to emulate these tones. I have noticed many times that you reference that you add the delay in the mix. What is the extent of mixing that you are generally performing on these demos? Does in the mix mean you are cutting and boosting frequencies and adding delay? or just adding delay to a backing tracking and the recorded guitar track? I wish you would do a “Bjorn Master Class” video where you could demonstrate the entire workflow for producing one of these 90 second demos. Say from dialing in the amp, adjusting the pedals, miccing the amp, recording the performance and finally mixing. I am quite sure that this would be a product that many viewers would gladly pay for. Food for thought.

    • Bjorn says:

      Thanks Craig! I’ll keep that in mind for future videos. The processing I do is some EQ cut below 100hz to take away some of the low frequency rumble. Other than that, it’s all clean with delay and sometimes a hint of reverb.

  6. Michel Giroux says:

    Hello Bjorn,

    Where did D.Gilmour place his volume pedal(s) in is chain(s) of effects?

    You stated that you prefer placing a Univibe before a distortion pedal,(e.g.Big Muff).Was D.Gilmour using both at the same time or did he use the Univibe before he used a Big Muff?
    If he used both at the same time,in what order did he place them?

    Thanks,your articles are always informative and insightful!!

    • Bjorn says:

      The VPs are placed in front of the delays to allow trails when he mutes the signal. David has always placed his UniVibes and phasers after the gain effects. I prefer them in front. It just sounds more natural to my ears and the gain effects doesn’t get thin and harsh.

  7. Bruce LaVerdiere says:

    Ok Bjorn, Following your sequence above on setting a gain pedal (Big Muff) So what if by setting the Gain at 2:00 the tone at 11 like you say, and the volume to unity, the pedal volume knob is very very low to accomplish unity? Is that ok? Are we still getting the “best” from the pedal with the volume knob so low? Amps sound better like you say, turned up a bit. Is this different? WHy? Thank you

    • Bjorn says:

      Depends on the pedal, circuit and what tones you want. IMO most gain pedals sounds better with teh volume raised for a hint of boost, it adds a bit of compression and smoothness, but too much will also take away some of the characteristics and harmonics of the pedal. Depends very much on the setup and what tones you want.

  8. tuneintoneup says:

    Great article and the pots on the guitar most definitely should be used more by most players. We just released a podcast on this topic:
    https://soundcloud.com/tunein-toneup/guitar-lesson-16a-getting-better-tone-with-only-the-controls-on-the-guitar

  9. Steve Z says:

    Hi Bjorn, great article! I had a question for you (or anyone else) about overdrive pedal volume, which I hope is not off topic. I’m trying to find a way to equalize volume between different guitars with different output pickups, without having to tweak too many knobs. For some reason, after I adjust amp volume/gain, I actually have to INCREASE the overdrive pedal volume for the guitar with a higher output pickup to reach unity gain, which seems counter intuitive.

    Details: I have two guitars, a Gretsch with very low output pickups and a Gibson Les Paul with higher output pickups. Playing through a Vox AC15HW, I find that I need to lower the channel volume/gain for the Les Paul relative to the Gretsch (keeping the master volume the same) to equalize volume/gain levels, but when I do this, I actually have to INCREASE the volume of the overdrive pedals (a Timmy and Hot Cake) for the Les Paul to reach unity gain. Does this make sense? Why would the overdrive pedals need more volume for the guitar with the hotter pickups to reach unity gain? Its almost as if the pedals are acting like attenuators in response to the hotter pickups?

    I thought there may be an issue because I am lowering the amp’s channel volume/gain for the Les Paul. I have tried just lowering the amp’s master volume (instead of the channel volume/gain) for the Les Paul, in which case the Timmy stays pretty constant as far as unity gain between the two guitars — but the Hot Cake still needs a bump in volume level for the Les Paul. However, I can’t get a clean sound out of the Les Paul relative to the Gretsch unless I lower the channel/volume/gain.

    Thanks for any thoughts!

    • Bjorn says:

      Obvously I haven’t tried your specific setup so I just have to answer on general terms. There could be a number of subtle reasons why things appear as they are and I assume that you’ve set the pedals up for the actual unity level and not just the volume control at 12 o’clock. OK, Vox amps are very open sounding. Unless you drive them really hard, they lack some of the mid range and compression that you find in Marshall, Hiwatt etc. A Vox is closer to a Fender in that sense. Adding humbuckers and pedals with a bit of compression and mid range, like the ones you have, actually adds more presence but also rolls off the high transients, which your ear perceives as being louder although they’re not. In your case, I’d consider having either compressor or low gain booster with a bit of compression and mid range, like the Klon or EHX Soul Food, first that’s always on and set clean. That way your clean tone would be more similar to your pickups and ovedrive pedals and the overall volume, or perceived volume, will be better balanced. Hope this helped :)

      • Steve Z says:

        Yes, thank you! I actually had been thinking about a compressor (I think Robert Keeley just came out with a new version of his), so maybe I’ll try that.

      • Steve Z says:

        Just a PS to my reply: using my ears, I have tried to set up the pedals for unity level — so not just setting to “12.” But what my ears are hearing is this: for my low output Gretsch, I have to turn the amp volume up, but I have to turn the pedal volume down to set unity level as my ears are hearing it — for my Les Paul, it’s just the opposite, I have to turn the amp volume down but the pedal volume up. In other words: Gretsch — higher amp volume / lower pedal volume; Les Paul — lower amp volume / higher pedal volume. I guess I’m surprised that I have to adjust the pedal volume for each guitar in that way. Hope that makes sense? 😄

        • Bjorn says:

          It’s just the nature of the two guitars/pickups and how they interact with the pedal and amp. Compressors and boosters will level this.

      • Steve Z says:

        One more PS — wound up getting a TC Mini Spark Booster, placed it in front of my gain pedals and use it “always on” for the Gretsch to bring up its output in comparison to the Les Paul. Works well enough! Thanks again for your comments.

  10. Michel Giroux says:

    Hello Bjorn,a little off topic however,check this out,(if you haven’t already done so),on YouTube,
    “David Gilmour-Wider Horizons BBC documentary”.

  11. KEITH says:

    Where are you, unless there’s something wrong with my browser, you haven’t posted, or replied since May 16th. I hope everything’s okay!
    To the busiest man I know, Peace, from your faithful Padawan, KEITH :)

    • Bjorn says:

      Good to know that you’re always around and keeping an eye Keith! I’m alive and well, with my new album released a couple of weeks ago. Did a few shows here in Norway and haven’t really had time to much else. Hope all is well with you :)

      • KEITH says:

        I’m fine, and doing well! You know I’m like an old mother hen, always worry when any friend goes missing for a time. Glad you’re okay, and sounds like you’ve been doing the most fun thing on Earth, performing​!!
        Peace my Jedi Master, KEITH 🤡

  12. William says:

    Hi Bjorn, hope you are well.

    On the topic of tone, would you be able to throw an estimate as to what guitar and amp combination might have been used for the slide solo on ZZ Top – Tush? I post it here as it sounds like they’re certainly using volume as a device!

    Thanks

    • Bjorn says:

      I haven’t really gone that deep with Billy’s rig but around Fandango, I now he used his Pearly Gates LP a lot and a Flyin V. The amps were most likely Marshall Plexis or something modified and very close sounding. Hard to tell how he actually recorded the solo as you can do pretty much anything to manipulate a recorded track but I would assume that they just recorded the guitar straight into the amps using the dirt from the amps.

    • KEITH says:

      I’m pretty sure, having seen them i ’75, and again in ’77-’78 that Gibbons​ played all LPs, through Plexi’s, or early Master volume Marshall heads. I seem to remember maybe a booster/overdrive, but only one pedal if memory serves. However, that was a very long time ago, but the flying V’s, and .modulations didn’t start until they changed their style for Deguello, which is when I stopped being a huge fan. When they were, ” That Little Band from Texas”, they were the greatest Blues Rock band in the world! I saw the Tres Hombre’s tour in a 3000 seat theatre, with perfect acoustics from tbe front row, still among the greatest shows I’ve ever seen, a d the best of the 4 times I saw them!
      Peace, KEITH

      • Bjorn says:

        Damn! I wish I’d seen that. Tres Hombres is one of my all time favourites :)

        • KEITH says:

          He thinks he’s badder than Shaft, James Bond Superman, and Kung Fu all at the same time! That line is from the live portion of Long distance phone call from Fandango, but I got to hear it pretty much the same during the Tres Hombres show. Tres is the greatest album of a genre that only really has one band, ZZ Top! Fandango a close second, and the rarely mentioned TEJAS is likewise, a showcase of a one of a kind band. Gibbons, Hill, and Beard were meant to play together, and while one could simply call them a blues rock band, they really defy any description, as there is no other, and I doubt there will be another blues oriented power trio that can do as much with three instruments as they did on those 3 albums. Try to say “Got to mellow down 20+ times as fast as Gibbons does live, hah! His playing impeccable, I’ve not heard him miss a note live. As a teen, those 3 albums, but mostly Tres Hombres, stayed on my turntable, and for those who haven’t​ heard Tres on the original vinyl, find it, and listen. When digitally remastered for CD, they destroyed the drum break in the intro to La Grange by adding​ so much reverb, that it’s literally a whole different song, and a perfect example of how the over use of any effect can ruin a performance. During their days as “That Little Band From Texas”, they were the greatest thing I’d ever heard, and I still get gooseflesh when I hear Jesus left Chicago, or Driving while Blind. I know this is Gilmourish, not Gibbonsish, but definitely worth mentioning? when it comes to TONE, and TECHNIQUE!!! I could go on longer than usual, but need I say more? There are few truly amazing​ Power trios that can project as much sound and fury, and when I think power trios, 3 bands jump into my head, The Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and ZZ TOP!!!

          PEACE Y’ALL, KEITH 🎸🤡

          • Bjorn says:

            Yep, I have all the old albums, from the first to the 80s stuff, which I really like. Antenna was OK but after that I think they kind of lost it and repeated themselves too much. Anyway, Billy has always been one of my biggest influences both tonewise and playing. Amazing stuff and I’ve had the pleasure to see them a couple of times here in Norway.

  13. Emmanuel says:

    Hi Bjorn,

    Is it possible to use a volume pedal set low and a clean amp like a deluxe reverb set loud to get a natural overdriven amp tone at a low volume? Kind of like using an attenuator ?

    • Bjorn says:

      Not quite because the volume pedal would attenuate the input gain, which again will affect the gain being produced by the amp.

  14. Joel Donner says:

    I have a 73′ Marshall 50 watt bass JMP. Yet with my vol knob and vol pedal in front of the chain, I can get very nice Gilmour tones. The amp is a very distorted sounding amp where the vol control on a guitar is crucial. I’ll set the vol pedal at a certain spot and leave it to bring the overall volume of the amp down, because with the channels jumped and plugged into the low gain bright input with the volumes at 2-3 the amp is VERY loud. I am still able to use the vol knob on my guitar to achieve different tones. When I put the volume pedal anywhere after the muff it just does not sound right. It’s all about knowing the gear you have and how to properly get the sounds and tones you are trying to achieve. Great article!

  15. On9 says:

    Great article! All the guides I read about fuzzface type pedals say that you have to “crank” the amp and set the pedal to 100% fuzz and 75%-100% volume to get that tone we all have in our heads, but whenever I try that it sounds like overcompression hell and literally sounds like mud. If I just pass the 1 on the gain it starts to overcompress and mud like that. So how is it really done ?

    I have a Laney Cub 12R and the best results I got were by plugging the guitar into the 15W mode (it really helped), volume at 10 and gain just about 1, fuzz at 100% and volume of the fuzz more or less 75%. But still not fully satisfied and I think it can do better.

    Does a “cranked” amp in that context mean just a loud clean tube amp ? because it seems impossible for me to add a boost after the fuzz like Gilmour did or plugging the fuzz into a cranked Marshall like Hendrix. It would be awful.

    I would appreciate it if you can tell me the settings you had on your Laney Cub 12R and what wattage you plugged in to when you demoed the London Fuzz (I have the Ge one) because that really sounded great

    Additional info: I have an American Fender strat with fat 50s and a 1×12 extension cab with a Vintage 30 and a spark booster

    Thanks!

    • Bjorn says:

      David had is Hiwatts set fairly hot and, from what I can hear on live recordings from the 70s, he must have set the fuzz pedals with teh fuzz all the way up and the volume pretty high. On songs like Time, you can hear on 73-75 live recordings that he kicks in the fuzz ontop of the Colorsound boost, which he’s using for rhythms. Now, how this sounds on your setup, depends on your pickups, amp, speakers, what sort of fuzz pedal you use and how everything is set up. I’m not saying that you need to crank everything to make it sound good but that’s how David and Hendrix did it. Keep in mind that Hendrix used the gain in his Marshalls as the platform for a germanium fuzz, which has less gain, and constantly used the guitar volume to control the sound. David’s Hiwatts has tons of headroom and although they’re set fairly hot they can handle pretty much anything.

  16. Michel Giroux says:

    Excellent article Bjorn!!!
    Did David Gilmour initially link his 2 channels using a Y splitter connector,(before his amp heads were modified by P.Cornish)?
    Did he place his volume pedals in front/before his delays?Where would you place the RT-20 in that chain?

    • Bjorn says:

      It’s hard to tell by the footage we have but there are some reports on him connecting the two channels as early as 1970-71 but again, that can’t be confirmed. The two channels are combined though and the guitar is fed into the upper bright. A splitter cable woould be something different.

  17. KEITH says:

    I’m sure I’ve mentioned this, but while I went mildly pedal crazy in the early ’80’s, I never used them in any of the bands I played in, and because I was strictly a guitar> tube amp guy, I had to learn to use the controls on the guitar to get any variation in tone that I couldn’t get by changing pick attack, and playing technique. So, I would tell anyone who plays to spend a good deal of practice time with no effects other than the controls on the guitar, and playing techniques. Pedals are vest used to enhance a good sound, but I was guilty of thinking the pedals made me a better player. I find that many do this unconsciously, as did I. Now that you’ve turned me into a pedal monster, I have to force myself to get as close to the sound I want without any effects, only then can I add just the right amount, and type of pedals to complete the process.

    Sorry to go on, but I find this possibly the most important lesson to learn when using pedals to achieve your personal tonal desires!

    • Bjorn says:

      Very good point! Pedals doesn’t make you better. It’s just the icing on the cake. If you look at David’s set up for each song, apart from the 80s tours, he’s really not using that much pedals or effects. It’s always the guitar and amp and any effect is used carefully. I guess it’s hard for any guitarist today to remember that even though we’re bombarded with pedals from all places, you don’t really have to buy them all or have them on your pedal board :)

    • Brad Roller says:

      Very good point Keith. I remember in my younger days my board would be packed…I figured out why Gilmour and Hendrix used less. Less is more. My only drive pedal is my powerboost (I set to a high gain, then adjust with the guitar volume) volume pedal, maybe a phase 45 and a delay. Thats it. I found that it made me pay attention to tone more. I had to figure out how to get different sounds with what i had

  18. Arya Boustani says:

    Thanks for the article. One thing to point out is the importance of relating the behaviour of the signal all the way from the guitar to the speakers. If there is no 70s Fane (assuming cabinet design is close enough) down stream of the Hiwatt, there is no point to set the amp variables like David Gilmour’s Hiwatt. If there is pedal downstream of another pedal, changing the volume in the upstream pedal not only opens up the sound of the upstream pedal but it creates more saturation in the input stage of the downstream pedal which defeats the purpose. Therefore setting up a volume profile all the way from the guitar along all the active pedals and the amp is crucial to balance out the expression and dynamics with the amount of overtones created. Sometimes a pedal / guitar volume setting for the best frequencies are not necessary matching the amount of expression and dynamics that we feel is right. If that’s the case, I would prioritize the expression and dynamics and adjust the frequencies with EQ separately, because if we use the pedal / guitar volume to creates the right presented frequencies and we sacrifice the expression and dynamics, then we can’t undo it, e.g. you can’t open up a heavily compressed signal afterwards.

  19. Raphael says:

    I don’t think there is a better read about guitar tone over all internet than your writings. Please keep doing this. Music community owes you so much. And a long time wish of mine, mays I ask it again: that you analyze a Peavey Bandit.

    • Bjorn says:

      Thanks a lot for the kind words, Raphael! Unfortunately, I do not own or got the chance to borrow a bandit at this point.

  20. Santiago says:

    Hello! this is the first time here, very nice article!

    I have a major problem with the volume of my amp, it is a 60W Hot Rod Deville and has too much power for rehearsals and recording might be an issue for me as well. Yesterday I found that setting the amp first and controlling the overall volume with the Boss DS1 (with the volumen knob of the pedal I mean) seemed to work.

    Do you think that this is correct? (sorry for my english, I’m from Uruguay) it sounded great for me but I’m not sure how this affects the real tone of the amp.

    Cheers!

    • Bjorn says:

      Do you have a volume pedal?

    • Steve in NJ says:

      Hi Santiago,

      Using pedals to control the overall volume is certainly acceptable – especially when that approach creates a specific sound or tonal quality you might be seeking. However, I looked at the user manual at Fender.com for the current line of Hot Rod Deville amps and see that the amps have a master volume. With this type of amp, I would think you would set the master to something on the low-side for rehearsal/recording and crank up the Normal and Drive channels to get the overall tone that you’re looking for. Then gently turn up the master just enough but not too loud for rehearsal/recording.

      I learned a lot about gain and volume watching the YouTube channel called “That Pedal Show”. I highly recommend it. Subscribe to their channel and look into their archives for shows about volume and gain. Some shows that might give you some information:
      – Amps: How Many Watts Do You Need?
      – Setting Up Your Amp To Use With Drive Pedals (this episode might be under “Daniel TheGigRig” instead of “That Pedal Show”)

    • Keith Richards (seriously- but not THAT one) says:

      The Hot Rods react well to changing the first preamp tube to a 12AT7. They are much more manageable. That’s the main difference between the Hot Rod Deluxe and the Signature George Benson amps.

  21. Steve in NJ says:

    Hi Bjorn, I’m an acoustic guitarist who has just been getting into electric guitar and effects pedals in the past 3 years. I recently bought a Mooer Grey Faze Fuzz pedal (germanium transistors) and put it first in my signal chain. Even when I use it standalone, i.e. guitar-fuzz-amp, I notice a huge drop in fuzz when rolling my guitar volume pedal from say 10 to 9. From 9 and below the fuzz cleanup is fairly linear.

    In your experience, is this typical for this basic kind of fuzz effect?

    • Bjorn says:

      Yes, do a quick search for how passive pickups interact with fuzz quircuits. It depends on how the pickups are wound and what pots and capacitors you’ve got for the tone section on the guitar. This can be modified.

  22. David Du says:

    hi, Bjorn, how are you!
    I wonder what the type of David’s volume pedal? Ernie Ball 6167? is it a lo-Z pedal, can be connected with guitar directly?
    Thanks

    • Bjorn says:

      He’s using a standard Ernie Ball pedal but the guts are modified by Pete Cornish and I’m not sure what they’ve done.

  23. thiago carrera dias says:

    That’s my signal chain: Wha cry baby – digitech wammy – boss cs 3- overdrive goldsmith – distortion (patriot or vick audio triangle), booster of overdrive goldsmith, throbak overdrive booster an modulations. I leave the throbak always on, even in clean sounds.

    In my major sound i leave on the overdrive – patriot or vick audio triangle and throbak. With solos i add the booster from goldsmith pedal.

    That booster from goldsmith pedal, and my previous booster (mxr, solded) usually worked with the fender using that combination that i mencioned. But with the hiwatt i have no sucess. So i thought in volume pedal.

  24. thiago carrera dias says:

    Hi Bjorn! First of all gongratulations on your work!! Your website is the paradise of tone!

    Now, i have some trouble here. My amp is a hiwatt tube series combo 40w. When i play in live gigs, sometimes a need to increase volume level for solos. I usually use boosters to increase volume but, with this amp, the volume jus drop, like as if i put a “sock in the mouth of the speaker”. When my amp was a fender deville, i didn’t have this problem, the sound really grew louder. Now, what can i do?

    I have found my tone, i just want increase volume level for solos, without affects the tone. Is the Volume pedal a right choice? Can you give some brands and models? Where, in the pedalborad chain can i set the pedal?

    Thanks a lot!

  25. Trevor says:

    Hi,Bjorn!Have u checked this Mooer leveline volume pedal?(http://www.mooeraudio.com/?product/201512105381.html)If it lose 0 signal then with the “special circuit” it’s a fantastic volume pedal indeed.And it’s so tiny looks so cute.lol

  26. Norm says:

    Hi Bjorn,
    There seems to be many brands of volume pedals out there. When reading up on any of them, there are always many comments on ‘tone suck’ regardless of brand. There are also debates on active vs. passive, use with buffered pedals etc. Do you have any advice you could share. Are there any brands/models that you would recommend…

    [I’m using Ernie Ball Jr. Always have and very happy with that. – Bjorn]

  27. Daniel says:

    What do you mean when you say “I have my volume pedal in front of the delays, which allows me to mute the signal and have the delays sustain”. What is the way for doing that? How do I have to put the pedals and cables?. Thanks

    [If you have a volume pedal, place it in front of your delay pedals. Then, when you lower the volume pedal, the delays will sustain. If you place it after the delays, it will mute everything when you lower it. It’s just different ways of doing it and personal preference. – Bjorn]

  28. jay says:

    hey bjron, i have a question about how to set the volume up on my Peavey Classic 50, it has a master and a clean channel volume as im sure you know, and i was wondering on what a good way to set the volume on the amp, for instance should the master vol be set about 12:00 and the clean channel at about 9?, im new to tube amps and this is my first one and im still getting used to it.

    [How high you want to set them depends of course on how loud you want to play but a good rule of thumb in terms of David’s tones is to set the master at about 1/3 – 1/2 of the channel volume. So if the master is at about 9:00 the channel should be around 12:00 – 1:00. – Bjorn]

  29. Philipe says:

    Hi Bjorn, it’s me again. Your tone from the clip has blown me away! How did you set your RT20? The rat did a good job placed on muff’s place….
    Thanks,
    Philipe

    [Thanks! Mode 1, rise time 12:00, effekt 9:00, direct 12:00, balance 12:00, overdrive off, slow 1:30. – Bjorn]

    • KEITH says:

      It may be that I’m on the mobile site, but what clip is everyone referring to? They’re talking about how the Rat sounds great, I don’t see any clip attached to this article, could you let me know what clip they’re talking about so I can hear it? And my two cents from a guy who’s done five albums, 2 of which sold out 2-3 pressings, and toured extensively. You ARE A PRO!!! You don’t have to be a household name to be a pro, you just have to play like BJORN RIIS, This incredible Norwegian guitarist I listen to a lot!
      Love you brother, KEITH

      • Bjorn says:

        Ha ha, thanks Keith! I’ve rewritten an old feature and some of the comments are old and regarding a Youtube clip that used the be here…

  30. Jean-Francois says:

    Hi Bjorn,
    I’m a little late on that one, but I was watching Pompeii yesterday, and was a bit surprised when seing and hearing the part where David is playing alone Echoes parts in studio on the black strat.
    At first he has a very satured screaming tone, I guess with the fuzz face, playing lead licks from the “funky” part of the song. And then he turned to rhythm part, without switching any effect, and without roll down the guitar volume, but his tone seems to change radically, no more screaming, no more distortion, or at least just a little bit.
    Talking about Volume, do you think it’s just how he picks the strings, or are there some sound scecret here ?
    thanks
    JF

    [I think it’s just the sound mix that’s distorting on the first part. Probably a camera mic or vocal mic that pickups up the guitar. Doesn’t sound like cab is close mic’ed. Sounds very clean but loud and then he kicks in a fuzz and delay. – Bjorn]

  31. Don says:

    Are you running all the pedals into the front of your amp? I run my multi FX in the loop of my amp. Am I losing control by doing it this way. Thx for your help.

    [See this post for info. Let me know if you need more help. – Bjorn]

  32. Rick says:

    Would love to hear some feedback if my theories hold any water. As Bjorn said, running amp sims through a amp is like putting distortion on distortion. So, this is my way around it. I have a cub and a ME-70. I want to use the amp sims in my me-70 not only for Floyd but other things. I want versatility. So, since ME-70 does not have a four cable set up. I do not plug my guitar into the amp at all, just the return. I bypass almost everything but the last tubes. The EQ and gain knobs become useless. I EQ and run my amps from the ME-70. This also puts my mods at the end of the signal chain and the next piece is the power tube and then out the speaker. Does this make sense?

    [The dull answer is yes – if it sounds right to you. I need to try this my self to have an opinion but the theory seems right. Perhaps some one else can answer this better than me. – Bjorn]

  33. Eric Nyberg says:

    that is, without giving away any trade secrets ;)

  34. Eric Nyberg says:

    Bjorn, Airbag related questions, is there a theremin on Safe Like You? And did you have to use much studio compression/limiting to get your guitar sound? I’m thinking of getting a Waves CLA2a plugin for Pro Tools. My 27th birthday was 3/9 so I’m thinking of getting a little present. :)

    [Happy birthday :) I’m using an EBow on the guitar. Same thing with Feeling Less. I didn’t mix the album but you always have to use some compression and limiting in the mix to make the signal more balanced and to be able to cut through the mix. A guitar signal easily gets all over the place with nasty transients etc so you have to tame it to some degree. – Bjorn]

  35. Daniel Krause says:

    Hi Bjorn,

    Great article again…and a very usefull one too.
    I’ve learned to use the volume knob on the guitar very quickly, when I started playing almost 15 years ago and it is one of the most usefull things when you’re on stage. I use a volumepedal too, which I really started to “need” I like to have it just a notch off full volume…just to have a little more when I need it.

    About the comment above, about the treble-bleed mod…
    I never really liked the mod, simply because I like to get a little less high’s when rolling of the volume a bit. It can tame distotions/drives a lot. And I thought…when I tried a guitar with the mod, that it made the sound thinner when rolling of the volume. But…to each there own ;-)

    Bjorn…really…don’t stop with these articles. They’re very informative and usefull for any guitarist!

    Cheers,

    Daniel
    Holland

    [Thank you Daniel! – Bjorn]

  36. Vergil says:

    Another brick in the wall of wisdom… good tips again…

    I would mention that if you are going to use your volume on your guitar to affect to gain and tone (which you REALLY should), and especially with Strats, you may want to get a small mod done to your controls called a “treble bleed”, which I believe is just adding a capacitor to your pot, so that when you roll back your volume, your signal doesn’t get muddy and bass heavy… I have it on my Strat, but barely know how it works, I just like that it does work.

    Also Bjorn… on that solo… you played it with really, and I mean REALLY good feel man… you didn’t just play the notes of that song…. you really massaged and squeezed the notes, and made them sing… Very well done… as your reward, you can have your pudding, and don’t have to eat your meat.

    [LOL! Thanks! – Bjorn]

  37. Giorgio says:

    Bjorn, what a great solo and what a great execution. I forgot about this song, or better still, I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to that solo until I saw this clip…. and now I realize what a masterpiece it is.
    Anyway, yes I did notice as well that the guitar volume knob can do wonders with the RAT, the BD-2 and the Big Muff. I just ordered a Fuzz pedal (MXR M-173 Classic Fuzz, I am intrigued by the buffer switch) and can’t wait to try it. One of my favourite gilmour-fuzz moment is the funky solo of Atom Heart Mother. I suppose that tone is achieved by controlling the volume knob, is that so?

    [Thanks! Atom Heart is a great example of how David controls the gain using the guitar volume. He used a germanium fuzz at the time, which has a warm mild tone that responds very well to the guitar volume. A silicon fuzz however usually gets quite thin when you roll off the guitar volume. – Bjorn]

  38. Eric Nyberg says:

    Bjorn do you have a preference between the Keeley BD-2 and The Fulltone OCD for a Gilmourish tone?

    [I don’t think you can compare the two. Although I guess you could use either for any period the BD-2 has a classic transparent Colorsound Powerboost-ish tone while the OCD is basically a hot wired TS9 with a mid rangy saturated tone, lots of gain and lower end. Personally I think the OCD works better for David’s 80s and 90s tones and perhaps the present TD tones. It’s not that suitable for those transparent tones. I’m a big fan of both but if I had to choose I’d go for the Keeley. On the other hand, the OCD is perhaps an overall more versatile pedal for other styles as well :) – Bjorn]

  39. Lorenzo Schiavetti says:

    Thanks for the article. I play at home too and it’s not that easy to find the right volume, having to pick up a muff would you suggest the Red Muck or the Musket fuzz? Also, in your opinion, what is the cheapest way to boost them? Maybe a BD-2 or TS9?

    Respect

    [Depends on what tones you want. The Red Muck is warm and mild while the Musket is brighter with much more gain. I think both goes very well on smaller amps and low volume. Personally I prefer the BD2 of the two. – Bjorn]

  40. ruodi says:

    Mr. Riis has that one single thing in common with Mr. Dave G.: He can play on whatever he want – it´ll always sound like David Gilmour!

    What looks like a gift at first sight could also become a handicap, because this talent makes him fairly useless for uncommitted pedal or amplifier demonstrations! ;-)

  41. Rob says:

    Bjorn, you have incredible timing! I have just been experimenting with getting more variety out of my rig by using the volume knob and your article has helped reinforce what I have learned recently as well as taught me a few more things.

    I am constantly struggling with two opposing ideals with regard to effects. One side of me wants to have everything and anything that will give me the tones I want while the other side is a minimalist and wants to have as simple a rig as possible to avoid degradation of tone, cut back on possible gear failures, etc. Learning to better use the controls that I already have (volume and tone knobs) has taught me that with only a handful of pedals, I can actually achieve a whole palette of tones (and can easily switch between them). I have 3 OD/Distortion pedals on my rig right now, and even that feels like one too many to me sometimes, but they do provide me with different tone flavors/levels of gain (RAT, Tube Screamer clone, and Blues Driver), so I am living with it for now. :-)

    Love the weekly articles. Keep ‘em coming. More on David style (i.e., theory, use of scales/chords, not necessarily physical technique) would be greatly appreciated as well. I’m learning a lot by studying his work, but sometimes it takes a pro to point out certain things to us amateurs!

    Cheers!

    Rob

    [I’m not so sure I’m a pro Rob but I’m glad you enjoy the weekly updates :) I think there’s a fine line between being a minimalist and compromising the tone. I started out years and years ago with just a Boss GT3 unit and a Muff and slowly expanded into total chaos with near 30 units on my board. Then I scaled it down to a point where I was struggling with achieving the tones I wanted. Now I have one distortion and three overdrives and a handful of modulations and delays and each pedal is carefully tested and selected based on tone and its noise level. I think it’s important to have some idea how you want to use a pedal rather than just keeping stuff out of affection. I also like to maintain a large collection of different pedals for different occasions. – Bjorn]

  42. Robert Farrer says:

    Brilliant article and volume is my worst nightmare at present my 15w Laney valve amp is loud and by time you add a big muff and tube driver to that it’s not remotely neighbour friendly. What key do you play the track in Bjorn outstanding effort.

    [The best way is to set the amp first to a desired volume and then match the Muff. Just roll off the volume on the Muff ’til it’s something you can live with. – Bjorn]

  43. Peter Schepens says:

    Hi Bjorn,

    First of all, nice choosing of song, that’s one of my favorites from david, and really nice played.

    This is a great tip, manny people struggle with the settings.

    Thanks Bjorn.

    [Thanks! – Bjorn]

  44. Alan says:

    This article has saved my tone! Before this I had to use my dynacomp to keep my tone smooth but now that I have adjusted my volume and put it right before it broke up, my big muff sounds beautiful without a compressor. Thanks for this article!

    [Glad to help! Cheers! – Bjorn]

  45. Nic says:

    Bjorn,

    FANTASTIC as usual! I couldn’t tell you how much I needed this article and didn’t even know it!

    I think a lot of us have a tendency to just roll the guitar’s volume up to 10 and leave it be unless something is super noticeable. I have recently, in just this past year, really began to discover the wonders of the tone knobs on the guitar and how they can turn a horrible tone into one I can’t live without (and vice versa) with just a nudge.

    I was watching Remember That Night earlier last week and my girlfriend commented on how much David was “touching those knob things,” referring to his tone, volume and pickup selectors. I don’t think I’ve ever really noticed just how much he is truly all over those knobs, it’s amazing the man can focus on that and the next note!

    I’m rambling, but thank you Bjorn for this article!

    PS: It’s a shame many of us have to learn the hard way that keeping the volume at 10 on clean tones does provide many unwanted overtones. The best fixes are usually the simplest!

    [David’s an old school guitarist who learner to use the guitar in any way possible. He had to because in the late 60s you only had 2-3 effects/pedals to choose from so you had to experiment and discover every trick in the book to get the tones you want. I discovered that learning how to use the guitar volume and how to control volume in general ended up saving me space on my pedal board, which again means less noise and a cleaner signal. Cheers! – Bjorn]

  46. Tyler Branham says:

    It says that was a rat in the song description which is very easy to tame with the volume knob as compared to a muff. From my experience, a muff can’t be tamed haha. Overall a great tip and a good read. I’ve found the fuzz face to be fun to control with the volume knob.

    [Thanks for noticing. It’s an old clip. Anyway, I think the Muff works very similar and it’s more a matter of choosing the right Muff for your setup. The triangle and ram’s head are easier to tame than the Sovteks. – Bjorn]

  47. Eric Nyberg says:

    Great timing on the article Bjorn. I just replaced my germanium London Fuzz with a Skreddy Lunar Module and I was very surprised at how loud that little guy is. I think my intonation is a bit off because it’s shaking the notes when I’m doing bends. It’s a great pedal though. Just for reference sake, I have the volume on my amp at 1.5 and the volume on the skreddy around 40%. I have to keep it relatively quiet in my apartment. Can you offer any advice?

    [Some pedals are loud and although unity level is usually around 50% or 12 o’clock it varies from pedal to pedal and not least how you set the gain. The lower the gain setting the more you usually need to boost the volume and vice versa. I think the best tip is to set the amp and then balance the pedals to unity level, whatever that may be, and then adjust the volume on each pedal for the desired tone. – Bjorn]

  48. Kamil Poland says:

    Your tips are very helpfully :)

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