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How can I learn to dial in the sounds I want on my amp? I like blues and rock, and I like the sounds used by the bands Muse and Skillet, for example. My amp has two level knobs, a gain knob, a master volume knob, low, mid, and high EQ knobs, and a reverb knob. Its a cheap amp - a signature tm 30 G.

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You will find that a lot of guitarists actually use amp settings that are mostly clean, and get their sounds from their pedals. For instance, Matt Bellamy from Muse uses a lot of effects, including the ZVex Fuzz Factory. He has at least one custom guitar with a Fuzz Factory built into the guitar (he used it for Plug-in Baby).

Here are some points to consider when working on your sound:

  • Trying to replicate another artist's sound is very educational. At the same time, don't go too far trying to make a perfect recreation of any sound, since that will drive you crazy, cost you money, and you'll never quite get there anyway.
  • Related to the above, a lot of an artist's sound is in their fingers and their playing style. I remember reading a column in a guitar magazine of a guitarist who was excited to play Eddie Van Halen's actual setup during a sound check for a Van Halen show. The columnist was disappointed that he still didn't sound much like Eddie Van Halen, even when using his exact rig.
  • With those two items in mind, you should probably spend only half your time chasing other artist's tones, and the other half finding your sound. Find settings that make your equipment sound its best, and also find settings and effects that just make you feel good about playing. Before you know it, you'll have a sound that you like that doesn't sound quite like anyone else. Even if you're playing covers, this is the only way to sound your best - by sounding like you.
  • For gain and distortion settings, always try less. Most of the thick, meaty distortion tones you hear on recordings are actually made with surprisingly low gain settings. Some artists and songs do have a lot of gain on them, but the thicker and chunkier sounds usually have less gain, while the smooth, liquid, almost "nice" sounds are more likely the high gain ones.
  • You can spend a lifetime learning to dial in a tone stack (treble, mid, and bass knobs), and then have to start almost from scratch when you get a new amp. One way to get a handle on your tone controls is to turn them all the way down, then listen with them all down, each one all the way up (one at a time), and all of them all the way up. That will give you a sense of the range of each control. You may find that switching guitars, changing pedals, changing rooms, etc., all make a difference in the ideal tone control settings. Frankly, I almost always turn all the tone controls all the way up and shape my sound in other ways (different guitars, pedals, etc), because I just go insane trying to make micro adjustments to tone stacks.
  • Reverb is totally situational. I tend to turn around during a gig and set my reverb differently for different songs. With enough practice, I know what reverb setting I want. For recording, I leave reverb off and do studio reverb effects and/or plugins. For playing for fun, I do it like a gig - adjust it between songs. Sometimes I like to just crank the reverb all the way up and play a sleepy blues solo that sounds really sad and far away because of the reverb.
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    Great answer! I especially like that you linked to the effects that Matt Bellamy uses and mentioned finding your own sound. I think many folks fail to realize how much of a particular guitarist "sound" comes from the nuances of their individual playing style vs. the guitar, the amp and the effects they use. – Rockin Cowboy Nov 10 '15 at 18:32
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Basically, there is no 'best setting'. Everyone likes other settings. Basically, for rock songs you might want higher gain. But that really depends on your amp. Just try, as there are not that much knobs on your amp, you don't have much options.

Personally, on my amp I go for 2 or 3 o'clock for the gain, 10 for the bass, 3 for the mid and also 3 for the high and volume of course like it's needed. But your amp will sound different than mine, so it's not really useful for you.

I guess it's not an expensive amp you have there (which generally doesn't matter) so get used to the idea that you won't sound like the guys on your favorite records, that will not happen. You can achieve a good sound with some of the cheaper amps, but there is a reason people pay >2k for a Marshall/ Rectifier or whatever.

Try to google what the knobs mean on your amp, what does bass, what dows treble/ high and what does gain to your sound. This understanding is quite important when trying to achieve a good sound (from my point of view) And maybe you will find a sound which you like. Other people will maybe not like it, but that is sometimes the case with really expensive amps. Try to find a sound which suites you.

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