Headroom question

Lesplexi

Member
Messages
5
Hi,
First post ever here for me.

Does low headroom mean the the amp will clean up less when I lower the guitars volume pot compared to a higher headroom amp? Will it be more difficult to go from dirty to clean with volume pot or playing softer?

Or does low headroom only mean the amp will break up at lower decibels, making it more difficult to play clean with a loud band?

confused...
 

IM4Tone

Member
Messages
3,770
....Or does low headroom only mean the amp will break up at lower decibels, making it more difficult to play clean with a loud band?
^ This, but this
Does low headroom mean the the amp will clean up less when I lower the guitars volume pot compared to a higher headroom amp? Will it be more difficult to go from dirty to clean with volume pot or playing softer?
follows as well. If there is little head room (breakup at low volume), you can turn the guitar volume to near zero and it won't 'undo' the breakup. The two go hand-in-hand, if I understand the question.
 

Papanate

Member
Messages
19,854
Low headroom means that you have very little
space between clean and breakup/compressed/distorted
tone.

For example a Fender Princeton has practically zero headroom;
While a Fender Showman has clean tones out the yin yang.
 

eigentone

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
7,562
Hi,
First post ever here for me.

Does low headroom mean the the amp will clean up less when I lower the guitars volume pot compared to a higher headroom amp? Will it be more difficult to go from dirty to clean with volume pot or playing softer?

Or does low headroom only mean the amp will break up at lower decibels, making it more difficult to play clean with a loud band?

confused...
Welcome.

High headroom: Imagine a theoretically perfect amplifier with zero audible distortion, regardless of your volume setting -- like a clean solid state amp.

Low headroom: At one or multiple points in your signal path, something is causing compression, distortion, and/or clipping.

Most amps and even many effects don't have high headroom. Distortion and compression is used by maaaany players and there are many ways to achieve and combine it for various (musical) effects.

That said, distortion and compression happens at many stages. Preamp sections have several gain stages. Power sections operate largely independently. You can easily achieve low headroom in the preamp section then use the master volume and play at a quiet level -- and you will have miles of clean headroom in the power section. In fact, simply plugging in a humbucker equipped guitar can leave you with a very compressed sound at the input because there is little/no headroom at the input stage.

"Or does low headroom only mean the amp will break up at lower decibels, making it more difficult to play clean with a loud band?"

No. Omit "only" and the answer would be "That's another example". That's an operating amp's clean headroom, and is relative to its settings and signal. Therefore, one can say "I'll buy a bigger amp with more output to keep up with the drummer because I'm running out of clean headroom often". But it's not exactly the amp itself because even tubes have varying amounts of "headroom" -- they distort/compress earlier than others.

So low headroom really implies your signal is hitting one or multiple ceilings frequently, by clipping/distorting/compressing. Its use is not limited to the power section. Rather, it is your entire signal path because in most signal paths, the ceiling is being hit in multiple points.
 

Geeze

Member
Messages
2,423
Welcome to the wild and woolly world of TGP!

There are some constants with tube amps but not many hard and fast rules. I see that you are concerned about playing 'clean' in a loud band. If you are looking for amp / power recommendations it will help us to guide you if we know what 'clean' means to you. Song references really aid this if this is what you need.

Russ
 

Fusionshred

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,110
Welcome!

Great answers here. To me, clean means SQUEAKY clean. Think Fender Twin clean or Roland JC-120 clean. With those requirements, there can be powerful amps with little to no clean headroom and much "weaker" amps that have more clean headroom. In other words, I've played through really big powerful amps that break up quickly (because they're designed to) and are ear-splittingly loud but through which playing anything clean at any volume is just about impossible. Conversely, I've played through much smaller, lower-wattage amps that have much more clean headroom and can play cleaner louder than the other one. Power does not equal headroom.

One of my big pet peeves is players (particularly those demoing gear) who's clean is not clean. They are, for example, demoing an overdrive and, inevitably, say "now here's my clean signal with the pedal off" and it's overdrive. That's not clean. Any kind of overdrive, clipping, hair, etc. is not clean. Clean is clean.

Imaging going into a restaurant and picking up the fork and seeing a little old food stuck to it. You tell the waiter and he replies, "No; it's clean. That's clean to me. Clean enough. Just a little dirt. It's basically clean" Um, no. It's either CLEAN or it isn't.

/rant.

Your query regarding the relationship between an amp's headroom and the ability to clean it up with the guitar volume is an interesting one but there are other variables in the experiment like the guitar itself. I recently was getting frustrated by a lack of clean headroom in a particular amp until I realized that it was actually the guitar (hot output humbuckers) causing the amp to overdrive. As soon as I plugged in a Strat or a Tele I could crank the amp more and actually get louder cleans with the guitar wide open.
 

IM4Tone

Member
Messages
3,770
......One of my big pet peeves is players (particularly those demoing gear) who's clean is not clean....
......Any kind of overdrive, clipping, hair, etc. is not clean. Clean is clean.....
Other than Jazz players, to most, it's not quite that black and white. Absolutely, perfectly clean does not sound so good. Plug into a near zero distortion, high wattage, multi-dimensional EQ PA system and it sounds poor IMO, contrasted to what is considered the epitome of clean tube amps...the Fender Twin.

It really is 'shades of grey'.
 




Trending Topics

Top