What is a sweepspot? The term is often used by musicians and engineers but what does it really mean? Is it just a hype? In this feature weâ€™ll examine the myth and look at different ways to locate and achieve the sweetspot in different situations and environments.
The sweetspot is very real. However, itâ€™s not something physical and concrete that resides within your rig. Simply put, the sweetspot is achieved when you think your guitar, pedals and amp, either alone or combined, sound their best. Itâ€™s subjective and it means different things to different musicians. Ultimately, only your ears can be the judge.
I can give you a valuable tip on how to get the most out of your tube amp or any other piece of your rig. To make the tubes sing a bit more and to really get that fat attack that will define your tone. Itâ€™s the fine nuances when you tweak the amp. However, plug your guitar into the amp with a faulty cable and old rusty strings and the tip you got wonâ€™t make much of a difference. The sweetspot can be isolated to â€œshould the treble be set to 5 or 4.7?â€ but for that tiny little tweak to have any impact at all, you need to consider each part of your rig.
Again itâ€™s the quest and search for a great tone. Focusing on just one part of your rig, wonâ€™t get you there. Knowing a bit about different wood, lacquer, hardware, pickups, tubes, strings, cables, pedals etc and how these interact with each other, will make it a lot easier to get an overall better tone and to locate possible problem areas. It will also help you find the sweetspot regardless of what gear you use, which is crucial if youâ€™re for whatever reason forced to borrow an amp or guitar.
Manufacturers will deliver guitars, amps and pedals with a recommended setup and sometimes even setting suggestions. This is what they think is the best setup for that particular piece of gear. Call it the suggested sweetspot. But again, the sweetspot is subjective and by modifying the setup, like adjusting string and pickup height, or swapping out a few parts you can manipulate the instrument to get closer to the tones you have in mind and ultimately be able to find the sweetspot that matches your playing and the rest of your rig.
On a stage, I often refer to the sweetspot as to where Iâ€™m positioned and how well Iâ€™m able to both hear my guitar and use the high volume as a part of my tone. Once the pedals and amps are set up (and sweetspots achieved) I start to wander around the stage to get an impression of how the guitar resonates. A large and open stage can make the amp sound smaller and less focused while a smaller or deeper stage can make an amp sound bigger but also boomier.
My sweetspot is when I get just the right amount of volume from the front monitor and amp combined. The monitor canâ€™t be too loud or Iâ€™ll get a lot of uncontrollable feedback from the guitar when I sing. The amp canâ€™t be too loud either or the sound engineer will have a problem positioning it in the PA mix. Still, I need to be able to hear it well. I want to be able to take a few steps back from the mic stand and feel a slight feedback sneaking in when I take my picking hand off the guitar or sustain a note. When this happen and when Iâ€™m able to control it and use it as a part of my tones, Iâ€™ve reached the sweetspot. This is a common trick used by many guitarists, including Gilmour. You may have a different approach to your live tones depending on your gear and what tones you want.
Recording in a studio require a slightly different approach than playing live on a stage. I can still create a setup where Iâ€™m able to get that hint of feedback in my tones but I need to have a very clear idea of what I want to record and how this translates through the mic and onto the recorded track. Throwing a mic in front of the amp and just cranking everything up to 11 may work for some but itâ€™s not quite what I need or want.
Iâ€™ve had studio engineers come up to me and start tweaking my amp without asking. Apparently, they know better than I what tones I want. The term sweetspot is notoriously misused by engineers who have a certain way of approaching a recording session. How can they know how my amp behaves in that specific room and how can they know where to place the mic when theyâ€™ve never heard how the amp sound? Again, knowing your gear well will give you the experience and confidence to take charge and get the tones you want. Letâ€™s look at a few common conceptions:
1. A tube amp has its sweetspot when the tubes start to break into overdrive.
– Trueâ€¦ if thatâ€™s the tone you want. A tube amp can sound a bit dull and flat if the volume is too low. Pushing the tubes and speakers, will make the tone sound more dynamic and organic. However, where the actual sweetspot for that particular amp is depends very much on what tones you want, your playing and how the pickups and pedals interact with the amp. Personally, and based on these criteria, I prefer my tube amp right at the edge of break up when the tone sound fat and punchy. Not overdriven or distorted.
2. A speakerâ€™s sweetspot is at the edge of the centre cone.
– True. Placing a mic right on the edge of the cone will often produce the most balanced tone. Still, it depends on the mic, how itâ€™s positioned and ultimately what tones you want. Perhaps you need something dark sounding and need the mic at the edge of the whole speaker. Perhaps you need something bright and the mic should go right at the centre. How does the speaker respond to the amp, your playing, the guitar and the pedals? Should the mic be angled or pointing straight at the speaker? Limiting yourself to only one position for the mic will only make it harder to achieve the tones you want.
3. Always play as loud as you possibly can.
– Not true. Some guitarists, including Gilmour, often play very loud in the studio. But, they do so to achieve a certain tone for that specific recording. In this case, we can define the sweetspot as in â€œeach tone has its sweetspotâ€, meaning: when does fuzz sound like fuzz (and not a fizzy fart)?
A common mistake is to crank the living shit out the amp when recording heavily distorted tones. What often happen is that the tones will get muddy and bleed all over the place. Distortion and fuzz has such a rich tone, with lots of harmonics and this will often get lost if you play too loud. Cleaner tones and mild overdrives will often sound too bright and harsh because the mic will mainly pickup the high transients. Each tone has its sweetspot and to get there you need to have some knowledge about how to record it.
Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with using a huge stack but in most cases youâ€™ll have much more control of your tones and the recording if you use a smaller amp at lower volume and use effects like reverb and delay to create an impression of it being a bigger tone.
I often get the question â€œwhat are the sweetspot settings for this pedal?â€ Thereâ€™s really no simple answer to this. A pedal or a pedal design will have a sweetspot about when the pedal sounds closest to how it was intended. If itâ€™s a ramâ€™s head Big Muff, the maker can suggest a setting thatâ€™s as close to the ramâ€™s head tone he had in mind when designing the pedal. However, this only translates if you use the same gear and have the same perception of how a ramâ€™s head sound like. A good tip is to set the pedal as suggested (if it comes with a suggestion) and tweak the controls until you get the tone that sounds best on your rig.
Modulation and delay pedals will change less and have a more static tone on different guitars and amps. Moderate gain pedals, with a linear gain stage, like a RAT and TS9, will change to some extent but they will still be fairly static on different gear. Gain pedals with a less linear circuit, like vintage style boosters, fuzz and Muffs, will often change dramatically when used with different guitars and amps. This means that their sweetspot will vary a great deal depending on the setup.
A pedalâ€™s sweetspot lies in the fine nuances. Combined with the right amp and guitar, you can spend hours just fiddling with the knobs and then, just a hair more on the tone knob makes all the difference. Suddenly, the tone gets warmer, fatter, more balanced and dynamic and the sustain rings on. Experiment and try all sorts of things. Not only to discover the sweetspot of the pedal but also how it interacts with the rest of your gear and maybe it enables you to go further and achieve tones and nuances in your tones you didnâ€™t think was there.
I guess my best tip is not to overcomplicate things. This is not rocket science and certainly nothing worth ruining the fun of playing guitar with. I think most guitarists got a pretty good idea of what a good tone is and how to get there but the thing thatâ€™s going to inspire and make your tone unique, lies in the fine nuances and subtle details. Donâ€™t be afraid to go beyond your comfort zone. Spend a few more minutes and donâ€™t give up until you know youâ€™re right on the spot. To me, the sweetspot is when I hit a not and get an overwhelming feeling of â€œoh yeahâ€¦ thatâ€™s the tone!â€