Let's start with the basics and try to get a clean sound worthy of its name, without any additional effects. If you missed the first episode on how to set the knobs on your guitar, here you go.
With a bit of luck, your amp has separate gain and master controls. If that's not the case you won't be able to shape your sound much.
To understand what's that all about, you should know that gain refers to the input level (of the signal going into the amp) while master refers to the output volume (of the amp itself).
The idea is to set the gain low enough to not generate any distortion while still having some character. The master serves to control the final volume.
This is where we will eventually be able to correct the defects of the instrument.
Start by turning all these knobs half way. Contrary to what certain guitarists might have you believe, the actual zero is right at the middle.
- Mid: let's begin with the most crucial frequencies, the mids. A great deal of the character and feel of a sound has to do with these frequencies. Boosting them adds presence and cutting them creates a hollow or contoured sound that gives space to other instruments in the same frequency range.
On certain amps these frequencies are split into low and high mids. If this is the case, you can control at will the low mids, which are the real essence of your sound. You will also be able to control more subtly the attack with the high-mids knob.
- Bass: they help you give some roundness to your sound. However, if you play with a bassist or, worse, with a pianist, don't wait for any miracles to happen because they'll eat you alive every chance they get. Don't cut too much out otherwise your guitar will sound more like a ukulele.
- Treble: without a doubt the most delicate setting. Increasing them leads to more strident attacks and a lot of noise. If you take out too much you risk not being able to recognize your instrument anymore. So go easy on it and systematically check the results with your bandmates/partners, if applicable.
If you've followed these steps and all the knobs are turned the same way it means you haven't set the gain correctly. In which case you need to bring all of them to the middle again and start over!
Sometimes you will have some other settings at your disposal. Here, I will only discuss the most common:
- Contour: sometimes replaces the mids control and deals with the sound coloration
- Presence: usually concerns the high mids and, as its name implies, makes the guitar more "present"
- Bright: as it name also implies, it adds brilliance. Contrary to the other knobs, its "natural" position is "0." An alternative to adding highs
Finally, bear in mind that the ideal settings, patiently cooked up by you alone with your guitar, will need some major readjustments when you join other musicians. Moreover, every change of location will force you to recheck your EQ since the acoustic conditions of a space have a significant impact on your amp's final sound.