How to Set Up a Guitar Amplifier

By Lars Tramilton

Guitar amplifiers are capable of generating a large variety of different sounds, from beautiful clean tones to aggressive distortion. How you choose to set up the guitar amplifier will depend on your playing style and taste. All guitarists have different preferences. Once you understand how the various knobs and settings on the guitar amplifier affect the outputted sound, you can tailor the amplifier settings in a way that expresses your musical voice.

Set the volume and drive knobs on the guitar amplifier to zero by turning the knobs all the way to the left (counter-clockwise). On some amplifiers, the drive knob may be labeled "gain."

Set the mid, bass and treble knobs to 12 o'clock. Unlike volume and drive, the zero setting for EQ (equalization) knobs like treble and bass are directly in the middle at 12 o'clock. This is also called a "flat" setting. Flat means that the true sound or "coloring" of the amplifier is unchanged. Always begin setting up an amplifier with flat settings before making modifications; this will allow you to learn the true sound of the amp itself.

Slowly turn up the volume on the amplifier and play the guitar. Set the volume to a comfortable listening level. The tone should be completely clean with no distortion.

Decide whether you would like a clean or distorted tone. If you want a clean tone, move on to Step 5. For a distorted tone, slowly turn the drive knob to the right. The higher you turn the drive, the more distorted the guitar sound will become. If your amp has an overdrive button, pushing it will intensify the distorted sound. This will create a heavy-metal style distortion tone.

Adjust the bass. It is time to move on to the EQ knobs. These knobs work the same regardless of whether your tone is clean or distorted. Turn the bass knob to the right to increase the bass. This will give a thicker sound with more low end. For a thinner sound, turn down the bass by moving the knob counter-clockwise.

Adjust the mid knob. Mid, short for mid-range, is the knob that will determine how much the guitar sound will "cut through" a mix of other instruments. Turn the knob clockwise when you want the guitar to be in the forefront. This is a good idea during guitar solos, when you want the guitar to be the focus of the song. Turn the mid knob counterclockwise if you want the guitar to blend in more with the other instruments for a background effect.

Adjust the treble knob. The treble knob adjusts how "bright" your guitar tone is. More treble can add sparkle to a clean guitar tone and a more biting edge to a distorted tone. Turning down the treble knob will give a darker and rounder tone.

Adjust the volume again. Changing the volume, drive and EQ settings may have raised or lowered the overall volume of the guitar sound. Once all of the settings are adjusted to your liking, set the overall volume to the desired performance level.


Try using guitar effects pedals with your amplifier. This can help you achieve new guitar sounds that are not possible using only the amplifier alone.

About the Author

Lars Tramilton has been writing professionally since 2007. His work has appeared in a variety of online publications, including CareerWorkstation. Tramilton received a bachelor's degree with a focus on elementary education from Kean University.