Parent article: Best guitar amp
In this installment of our how-to series, we're going to be covering how to use a guitar amp with an electric guitar, including the setup, connection, and tweaking processes. While this is a simple, beginner-level tutorial, there are a few things you'll need if you want to follow it to the letter:
- A guitar amp (duh)
- An electric guitar
- At least one instrument cable
Also, it's important to note:
We're assuming that your guitar amp is a combo amp, meaning it includes all three elements of an amplifier, namely the following:
- Power amp
- Speaker cab
Otherwise, we'll start with basic connections.
Step 1: Connect your guitar & amp
The first thing you need to do is use the instrument cable to connect your electric guitar to your amplifier. Run the cable from the output of your electric guitar to the input of your amplifier, plug in the amp's power chord and turn it on. If it's a tube amp, it might take a few minutes to warm up and be audible. Solid state amps should warm up right away.
Step 2: Set volume levels
Most guitar amps will have two volume controls that might be labeled differently. In most cases you'll have at least the following:
- Volume or Gain: Controlling preamp volume
- Volume or Master: Controlling power amp volume
Volume at the preamp level is often called "gain" because it will ultimately increase distortion without necessarily increasing the amp's overall volume. This means you should set your gain level first and then set your output or power amp volume.
Set your gain to a desired spot. If you have multiple channels set the gain/volume for each channel.
Once you're happy with how you have things set at the preamp level, set the overall output with the volume knob.
Read more: Volume in guitar amps
Step 3: Set your three-band EQ
Most amps have three different mechanisms to control your sound or tone. The short way to say this is your "EQ" which is short for equalizer. The three most common EQ controls are bass, midrange, and treble. These control the low, middle, and high frequency ranges of your sound respectively. Take some time to experiment with these controls and get a tone you like. While there's no right/wrong setting for your amp's EQ, there are conventions depending on the style of music you play. Checkout our amp settings guide (linked to below) for some suggestions.
Read more: Amp settings suggestion guide
Step 4: Set reverb and/or additional controls
Amplifiers might have additional controls, even effects like reverb or tremolo. These can be set to your liking or left completely off. Other controls you might notice would be multiple midrange knobs, presence, or channel switching options. These are all going to depend on which amp you have, though none of them are required for what we'd consider the core of your amp's functionality. If your amp has them, experiment with the sounds they create until you get something you like.
Step 5: Add pedals if you have them
If you want to add guitar pedals, you can use additional instrument cables to add them into your signal chain before your amp. You can read more about this process in our piece on how to use a distortion pedal, which covers more of the details with adding effects and stompboxes.
Ready to play guitar
As you play you can tweak volume and EQ settings on your amplifier to your liking.
You can also add effects as you go along and develop your playing style. However, those are long term processes that you don't have to be ironed out right away. For now, the five steps we've covered here show you how to use a guitar amp in the short term, and get you started quickly.
Now that you're connected and you know how to make simple adjustments, you're ready to play guitar.
Questions about your Amp Setup
Do you have questions about using your guitar amp or setting things up? Perhaps you're wondering about something we didn't mention here or you have a unique situation related to the gear you own.
Whatever the case may be, feel free to leave it in the comments section below and we'll do our best to help out.