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Most guitar players have a preferred distortion setting and a preferred clean setting.
For each, you need to set a proper volume so you don’t have massive fluctuations in volume when switching channels or effects.
Take distortion pedals for example.
Gear I Used When Writing this Article
Each distortion pedal has its own volume control, which means you could have your effect’s volume set either lower or higher than what your amp is set at.
Most distortion pedals have their own volume setting, which is also sometimes called “level” | Flickr Commons Image via Roadside Guitars
The same issue applies when you have amps with multiple channels.
Volume on each channel can be different, which means you have to make sure to set a volume that’s going to be consistent over all the channels you’re using.
In this article, I’ll show you how to do it.
Guitar Volume Settings: My Own Example
For example, I tend to run four different volume levels over four channels.
For my distorted channels:
- A heavier saturated modern distortion.
- A more thin, classic rock-style overdrive.
Both are good for different songs and situations, plus it’s nice to have a more relaxed distortion option available.
For my clean channels:
- A deeper tone with delay and a little bit of reverb.
- A higher tone with a phaser and a tiny bit of gain.
Now this might not mean much to you right now, but I’m laying these out as loose guidelines for setting up your own sounds.
I’d recommend jotting down your own ideas about what channels you’d like to have.
Two dirty channels and two clean channels with two separate EQs and four different effects levels | View Larger Image
A lot of this depends on the gear you have.
I play through a Line 6 Spider IV modeling amp, so I can dial in as many different presets as I want.
I only ever use these four.
If you don’t have a modeling amp, and are slightly more limited as to the effects you can use, don’t worry about it.
Just make note of your settings for two primary categories:
- Clean Channel
- Distorted Channel
Here I jotted down the settings I use for both my clean and distorted channels before effects are applied | View Larger Image
These are the two most typical types of electric guitar sounds, and you’ll want to lay down some groundwork to “normalize” both these areas for your own rig.
We’ll do this in terms of settings, but of primary importance is how we manage volume.
Volume Between Channels
When we establish our own sound the settings we use are largely a matter of style and preference, so we won’t delve into setting EQs on each individual channel.
In general I’ll assume that you have at least one clean channel and one dirty channel with adequate EQs that are customized to your liking, similar to the note above.
Let’s make sure we’re getting the correct volume between these settings.
There are some unwritten rules that serve to make transitioning between these sounds more smooth and less distracting.
The Clean Channel
In general, your clean channel will have less volume and less gain than your distorted channel.
Let’s try and put it into a formula by saying:
On a scale of 1-10, your clean channel should always be 1.5 lower than your distorted channel.
You’re looking to avoid two things when changing from a distorted sound to a clean sound.
- You want to avoid dropping into a clean sound that’s louder than the distorted sound.
- You want to avoid a clean sound that is strikingly quieter than your distorted sound.
Thus, there is a balance to be attained.
You definitely need the clean sound to be quieter, but not too quiet.
If the drop is too noticeable, than you’ll have an obvious interruption in your playing that will be particularly hard to overcome in a live situation.
If you have a second clean sound…
If you go the route that I’ve gone and have a second clean sound dialed in, that’s where you have some room for creativity.
You can use it for quieter fills, or it can be a little punchier than your original clean setting for solos.
There’s no right or wrong answer here, although I would still try and keep it quieter than your distorted channel.
Here’s what it looks like for me.
On a Scale of 1 to 10
- First Distorted Channel: 7
- First Clean Channel: 6.5
- Second Clean Channel: 5
I like to use that second clean channel for more subtle fills and lead patterns, which again is just my preference.
Typically this channel is also heavier on the effects.
The Distortion Channel
You can discern a lot of what should happen with your distorted channel from reading the clean channel guidelines.
Basically, it should be just a touch louder.
Again though, there are some pitfalls you should be aware of.
- Avoid a significant jump in volume when transitioning to your distorted channel.
- Avoid having a distorted channel with lower volume than your clean channel.
Aim for about 1.5 notches above your clean channel if you’re dealing with a 1 to 10 scale (which most amp and pedal knobs are on).
It will, of course, vary depending on your equipment but, you’ll be able to hear the change, and if it’s too much of a drop or a noticeable change, you can dial it in to be a little more discreet.
If you have a second distorted sound…
If you decide to go with extra distorted sounds like I have, you have a little more flexibility.
Typically, the less saturated the distortion (the less gain) the lower the volume will be. If you want to use a lower gain distortion, you’ll need to up the volume slightly to make up for the loss of presence from a lower gain.
Just remember to always keep it louder than your clean sounds.
Conclusion and Your Thoughts
Volume needs to be accounted for and adjusted with all of the different sounds coming out of your rig.
Even if you just have one clean and distorted channel, some time should be sent adjusting volume between the two.
The exact process varies between rigs but, the concept is consistent.
Could you use more gear help?
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We all own a unique collection of gear that seems to sound different all the time. That’s normal, but still something we need to learn to deal with.
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Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Kmeron