Gerry Hundt is a musician and contributing writer for BG Blues and Music News. His blog posts appear on his website,

I like guitar pedals as much as the next guy, but I’m always impressed by players who can dial up a multitude of tones using only the guitar controls and the amp (and their fingers, of course).  Many guitarists turn the guitar controls all the way up, adjust the amp volume to the room, and then rely on stompboxes for any changes beyond that.  Changing this way of thinking to really learn how to use the guitar controls expands your sonic palette, making you, your amp, and your pedals sound better.

Knobs Large

Here’s what I suggest you try: turn your guitar volume to half, and guitar tone control all the way up.  Now, turn your amp volume up to a normal playing volume, without regard for the numbers on the knob.  One of the first things you’ll notice (especially with Fender guitars and amps) is less harsh treble. This is usually a good thing and here’s why it happens: the resistance of the volume pot is acting as a low-pass filter, attenuating high frequencies and smoothing out the sound.  It’s less drastic than the tone pot and keeps the all-important middle frequencies intact.

Now, let’s roll back the tone control back halfway.  The signal will lose highs, mids, and perceived volume.  Not to worry, this is just our starting point.  (At this point, you’ll probably want to just turn up your amp just a touch more.)  Start turning your guitar volume up and your tone control down.  You’ll see that you get a fat sound at normal volume that will usually overdrive the amp, approximating that creamy 50’s archtop honk.  Cool, huh?

[pullquote]your rig has more potential now and with that power comes great responsibility![/pullquote]

Next, let’s go the other way.  As you turn down your guitar volume and turn up the tone knob, you’ll notice the sound cleaning up nicely while still retaining enough volume for crisp rhythm tones.  You can always goose the volume a little for solos, but be considerate of your audience and bandmates – your rig has more potential now and with that power comes great responsibility!

To recap, your guitar’s knobs are much more than window dressing; they’re interactive tone sculpting tools with myriad textures available at your fingertips, especially when combined with multiple pickups and a juicy amplifier.  Don’t be afraid of extreme settings!  Once you know everything your guitar’s capable of, you can adjust to taste and find your sound.  Now go out and have some fun!

Gerry Hundt

Gerry Hundt

Adept on bass, guitar, harmonica, and mandolin, Gerry Hundt is a well-travelled student of Chicago Blues and American Roots music. He performs regularly in taverns, at festivals, and at Buddy Guy's Legends.

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