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By: Ryan Gillis



So i have to admit it, at this point I'm an apartment warrior. I'm not really in a band, I mostly just jam on my own and write songs and riffs. I just love to play. Sometimes I don't even want to play I just want to hear guitar, so I play anyway acting as both solo performer and lone audience member. Since I'm not jamming away in clubs and stadiums volume is always a huge consideration, but just because I don't do this for a living doesn't mean I'm any less particular or crazy about my tone. I've been playing for 14 years, have lived in an apartment for the last 5 years, and I play on average 2 hours a day. So here are some of the nuggets that I have learned a long the way to getting good tone at a reasonable volume.

1. Buy the amp that you want regardless of wattage. 1 watt is freaking loud, if you buy a low wattage amp expecting to be able to crank it up without bothering anyone, prepare to be disappointed. My Princeton reverb is a small clean machine, but even at low volumes it sounds stiff and sterile. Don't buy something that "sounds like" or is xxxx with less wattage because it is not. As soon as you start changing the power section of an amp to accommodate lower wattages you have changed the tone, especially when that requires new transformers and every consequence that comes with it. I have a 100 watt Marshall sitting in my living room and it puts a grin on my face even before I flip the thing on.

2. Before you set your budget for a new amp, factor in a good attenuator into the cost. It may seem expensive at first, but it ensures that you get your money's worth. Save up. Your amp, is not the amp of your dreams with the volume at .25. You will be frustrated and disappointed and you won't play as much. Your new expensive amp will sit in the corner and gather dust and every time you turn it on you will dream about what it could sound like. There has never been a better time for bedroom guitar players. With a high end power attenuator it is now possible to get killer cranked guitar sounds at more reasonable volumes in ways that you just couldn't before these devices came to market.

3. Speakers that sound great loud, might not sound that great at quieter volumes. A lot of vintage speakers require a good bit of wattage before they show their trademark tonal colors. At low volumes they may sound down right honky and nasty, not to mention harsh and buzzy. Try to find a speaker that has a more neutral coloration and is more consistent at different volumes. I like Lead-80's

4. Use a Compressor even if it's subtle. Compression is one of the things that your ear uses to perceive relative volume. When your ear hears a sound that is more compressed it tells your brain, hey this is loud! The same goes for clipping and saturation. At lower volumes a touch of compression is a great way to get fuller sound without adding any more peak volume. Your ear hears distortion as being louder, even if it really isn't.

5. Use a ported cab. If you're like me, you like to pace around a lot while you play guitar. If you have a closed back cab it is going to sound different with every step that you take and will drive you nuts. For a while I used a semi-open back cab to fill the room a bit better, then I switched to a front-ported Port City Waves 2x12. What a difference. The cabinet just sounds huge at all but the lowest of volumes and it sounds better and better the louder it gets. Plus, it is easier to control with all of the sound blasting out the front.

6. Use a Delay pedal. Another thing that your brain uses to judge the volume of something is the way that the sound is reflected around the room. You can mimic this with a subtle delay. I'm not a big fan of delay, never been a big fan of the Edge, but if used appropriately it can really fatten up your tone and give you the "appearance" of a much louder sound. Adjusting Regenerations and delay times is a great way to mimic different sized rooms.

7. Buy a Gramma acoustic isolator. These things are great for $50 even though it's probably $2.50 worth of materials. They're not going to let you crank the fool out of your amp without bothering any one, but they do a great job of decoupling your amp from the floor. If your amp generates a lot of sympathetic vibrations in your room, or your neighbor’s room, this thing can really help calm them down, and hey it may buy you a couple of more decibels before the guy below you calls the cops. It's not a miracle worker, but every little bit helps. Get your amp off of the floor.

8. Finally, there is no replacement for actual volume, but that doesn't mean that something can't be too loud for a room. I have noticed that below a certain threshold you loose the ability to really distinguish the subtle nuances of particular guitar tone. There is just a law of diminishing return. Even with the most transparent of attenuators once you get to what people refer to as "tv volume" and below it's just all going to start to sound the same. Something can also be too loud for a given room.


Ryan Gillis is an ARACOM Amplifier's customer. The ARACOM PRX150-Pro attenuator allows Ryan to play his cranked up Marshall JCM800 amplifier in an apartment environment.



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Related Pages:

PRX150 vs PRX150-DAG Product Page

The PRX150's Advantages

DRX Attenuator Product Page





Copyright © 2010 Ryan Gillis and ARACOM Amplifiers
This article may not be reproduced in any form without written approval from ARACOM Amplifiers.



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