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Turning down guitar volume pot for cleans... what am I missing??

Messages
1,353
I’ve heard/read countless testimonies of how certain amps yield great clean tones on the gain channel by just “rolling back the guitar volume”. I have never found this to be the case. I always find, when I do roll down the volume, the tone gets dark and muddy, regardless of which guitar I use. The cleans aren’t really ever “clean”; all have a fair amount of grit. Marshall is supposed to be famous for this. I own a ‘87 JCM800 4210 combo and a Marshall DSL50 and haven’t been able to achieve the results that seem so abundant with everyone else. I don’t use extreme amounts of gain, either. Typically, the gain is set around 1-2 o’clock.

I use quite a few different type of guitars, but lean more towards humbucker bridge guitars. All have audio taper pots. When I use my Tele, I do tend to have better results, which makes sense due to the lesser output of the single coil pup.

I’m not saying it’s not possible to get great clean tones by rolling back the volume; actually, I know it is quite possible. Jeff Beck had amazing clean tones using the same type amp I own, the DSL50. Any tricks or tips I’m missing?
 

Pantone 333

Member
Messages
1,059
I’ve heard/read countless testimonies of how certain amps yield great clean tones on the gain channel by just “rolling back the guitar volume”. I have never found this to be the case. I always find, when I do roll down the volume, the tone gets dark and muddy, regardless of which guitar I use. The cleans aren’t really ever “clean”; all have a fair amount of grit. That’s not always Marshall is supposed to be famous for this. I own a ‘87 JCM800 4210 combo and a Marshall DSL50 and haven’t been able to achieve the results that seem so abundant with everyone else. I don’t use extreme amounts of gain, either. Typically, the gain is set around 1-2 o’clock.

I use quite a few different type of guitars, but lean more towards humbucker bridge guitars. All have audio taper pots. When I use my Tele, I do tend to have better results, which makes sense due to the lesser output of the single coil pup.

I’m not saying it’s not possible to get great clean tones by rolling back the volume; actually, I know it is quite possible. Jeff Beck had amazing clean tones using the same type amp I own, the DSL50. Any tricks or tips I’m missing?
I actually agree with everything you say and this has been my experience as well. I find I get the most out of my guitars when the volume is maxed.
 

classicplayer

Member
Messages
611
I've been puzzled about your topic with respect to my own guitars and amp. If you play with not a lot of gain on your as I do, it helped me to get more volume from my amp, if I push amp volume up; which might mean boosting the gain that much more just to keep gain consistent. Then I'm able to roll back a bit. There are players who claim that they can roll their guitar almost half way and be clean. Not me.
I can get to about +-8 on one of my Les Pauls, but only about 9 on my other Les Paul. A lot depends on the taper of your volume pot and, whether it's working correctly, how much gain and grit is dialed in, and what your definition of clean is. There is an old thread on the My Les Paul forum....it’s been made a sticky. Readers of the thread claim the information has helped them. But, it doesn't mention playing with grit dialed in, but more related to a fairly clean amp.


classicplayer
 
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Funky54

Member
Messages
4,679
My guess is you’ve been and enjoy bedroom style playing for most of your journey? You likely start off with settings that sound good in that scenario.

If you play out a lot and have to be more mid toned, you set your amps tone up differently and you adjust it all to sound good with the volume already rolled back some so you have reserve.

I enjoy this, but you also need a little more overall volume to make this style technique work.. hence playing live with a drummer.

Personally I set amps to clean and use pedals.. but there is magic in just using an amp near break-up.
 

classicplayer

Member
Messages
611
My guess is you’ve been and enjoy bedroom style playing for most of your journey? You likely start off with settings that sound good in that scenario.

If you play out a lot and have to be more mid toned, you set your amps tone up differently and you adjust it all to sound good with the volume already rolled back some so you have reserve.

I enjoy this, but you also need a little more overall volume to make this style technique work.. hence playing live with a drummer.

Personally I set amps to clean and use pedals.. but there is magic in just using an amp near break-up.
Well said. I think (in effect) that playing out in larger rooms allows the amp to get much louder and more within the amp's designed operating range and this allows for more volume adjustments to be made from the guitar? if I were playing out and using a drummer as my reference for volume, I could be rolling my guitar volume a lot further back than 8.


classicplayer
 
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Visual Guy

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,418
There is more to it than just guitar knobs. Pickup output, gain structure, speaker choice, actual volume and other variables go into play. Just a guess - a JCM800 with the gain at 2 O'clock won't be easy to clean up with guitar volume. Setting up your rig with that goal in mind will give better results. Otherwise you will just get what you get. Making sure I get the clean sound I want is a requirement for my pedals, pickups, amps. If it doesn't work, it doesn't stay. If this is really a goal for you, have fun down the rabbit hole. :)
 

classicplayer

Member
Messages
611
IME, it works better with a single channel amp breaking up than a dirt channel on a channel switching amp. YMMV.
It may the reason why some prefer single channel amps over multi-channel ones. I play an Orange Dark Terror, one channel and I agree, I can set this up for crunch and easily get to a “clean” tone. However, it's just as some say, never truly sparkling Fender like clean, bu acceptable....to me. Playing at home volumes, I don't get to roll back too far on the guitar, else the “clean” turns to dullness.


classicplayer
 

Shawnee

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
377
The main issue is compression. It works with a non-master volume amp like a plexi because they didn't have much preamp distortion at all. The distortion comes from a cranked power section. If you are using a master volume amp and dialing in distortion from the preamp it will not clean up very well. (1:00 to 2:00 o'clock is a lot). If you are controlling the gain fairly well but losing highs then a treble bleed will help. I use a single cap (around 300pF depending on the guitar) with single coil guitars to help with that. That way there are no extra resistors to change my volume pot taper. It's pretty subtle but it you put too large a cap it will seem to cut the low end. Humbuckers will cause compression and make it harder to cleanup as well. The ultimate for this technique is a fuzzface with the fuzz maxed into a cranked plexi and a strat. It will clean up like you wouldn't believe until you experience it for yourself. A lower wattage amp helps if you dont want to crank a 100 watt plexi in your bedroom.
 
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Tootone

Member
Messages
5,496
I’ve heard/read countless testimonies of how certain amps yield great clean tones on the gain channel by just “rolling back the guitar volume”. I have never found this to be the case. I always find, when I do roll down the volume, the tone gets dark and muddy, regardless of which guitar I use. The cleans aren’t really ever “clean”; all have a fair amount of grit. Marshall is supposed to be famous for this. I own a ‘87 JCM800 4210 combo and a Marshall DSL50 and haven’t been able to achieve the results that seem so abundant with everyone else. I don’t use extreme amounts of gain, either. Typically, the gain is set around 1-2 o’clock.

I use quite a few different type of guitars, but lean more towards humbucker bridge guitars. All have audio taper pots. When I use my Tele, I do tend to have better results, which makes sense due to the lesser output of the single coil pup.

I’m not saying it’s not possible to get great clean tones by rolling back the volume; actually, I know it is quite possible. Jeff Beck had amazing clean tones using the same type amp I own, the DSL50. Any tricks or tips I’m missing?
Here's what's going on... the simplified scientific version.

All amplifiers have "electrical" limits. The limit is where the amplifier stops amplifying the signal, but instead starts to distort the signal (non- linear operation, clipping). In other words... the signal is being compressed.

You get this by:-
a) Overloading the input. The amp stage is "expecting" a certain signal level... and you have gone over it. Imagine stuffing a fat raw sausage into a small keyhole... you will get sausage on the other side, but it will be a lot thinner and mangled

b) Overloading the output. So you've gone ahead and cranked the gain on the amp stage. Now that already loud signal coming in has been amplified to a point where it is louder than the physical limit of the output. You've amplified it to a theoretical 8v, but there's only 5v available at the output... so you get 5v clipped signal... compressed.

c) A combination of a) & b).

So to answer OP... rolling back for cleans only works when the signal is already compressed. In a sense, what you are doing is lowering the amp input signal back down to a "normal" level where the amp can operate linearly/cleanly again.

For direct to amp, this typically means you have the amplifier on full crank to begin with, and left all headroom spinning in the dust. Then when you lower the volume on your guitar, the signal "cleans up" without getting quieter... you are just lowering compression.

The good news is, there are some pedals that behave like this, particularly if you boost into a dirt pedal, rather than turning up the pedals gain control.

A good example is using a TS808 to boost a RAT.
 

Bryan T

guitar owner
Messages
19,953
Plenty of folks have a clean sound that isn’t.

That said, find the point on your amp’s gain control where it is most responsive. You can use Kimock’s tip about listening to the amp’s hiss. That’ll give you a fighting chance for getting this to work, as a lighter touch (or lower guitar volume) will have more impact.
 

LeicaBossNJ

Member
Messages
2,551
I've got my amp set where having the tone and volume on my guitar both all the way up is searingly bright.

Not every amp and not every guitar can do this.

So I roll the tone back a little bit - and there's my crunch sound.

Roll the volume back - there's that mellow clean sound

Roll the volume back and push the tone knob up - there's that sparkling clean.

Turn the volume and the tone all the way to zero - there's that part of the song I don't know how to play but want to pretend I do
 

ahhlou

Member
Messages
778
My experiences dictate that the amp needs to be cranked, maxed out, or what ever adjective you choose.

Also, my guitars have treble bleed RC networks on the volume pots to wash away the mud at lower settings...
 
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ProfRhino

Member
Messages
6,679
yup, compression is key - and this means power tube drive, so :
- high gain amps (mostly preamp distortion) in general don't clean up well.
A cranked Plexi or AC, on the other hand, make it easy as pie.
- you do NOT need a treble bleed (let's call it optional).
vintage guitars did not bleed...
the secret is in fact amazingly simple :
you do NOT dial in your amp with dimed guitar pots !
set up a solid clean / light crunch tone with the neck PU @ 6 / 6 (vol / tone). next dial in the bridge PU (on the guitar) to match the neck (you'll probably end up around 8 / 5 or thereabouts).
THIS will be your home base from now on. :idea
now you'll suddenly have a built-in boost (plus an optional treble boost) on the guitar, for fills, lead etc !
use your pots to fine tune as needed.
just remember to go back to your new homebase for rhythm.
many players like to add a very mild trebly boost / OD in front, for a 2nd, slightly more aggressive gain structure when needed, the workflow with the pots remains identical.

I used a Gibson style guitar with 2x vol / 2x tone as example, but the exact same principle works with any other guitar as well, you might need to use the pots a bit more when switching, that's all.

back in the 60s and 70s everybody worked that way, as pedals, master volumes and other toys had not fallen from the trees yet. :dunno

lol,
Rhino
 




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