Before you attack me for posing this question, I hope you’ll humor the thought for a bit and really consider what your ideal setup looks like. Gear acquisition syndrome is real, but so is minimalism. Some guitarists will say one amp is all they ever need while others are certain there’s no limit to the tonal options they should be adding to their studio.
For the rest of us, we fall somewhere in the middle.
Today, I want to look at what it truly takes to have sufficient variety in your amp collection to operate as a music producer, engineer, or self-recording guitarist. Here are the main considerations you’ll want to think about:
How Flexible Is Your Main Amp?
Take a good look at your current rig and think about the variety of tones you can get out of it. Some amps do one kind of sound really well while others have a wider range of options. Does your main amp do everything you need it to do?
Amp tone is super subjective, but the chances are high that you’re not going to be getting your favorite clean amp sound from the same one you’re getting face-melting, high-gain tones from. If you are, congratulations – what’s the amp and why aren’t we all using that one?
What’s more common is for guitarists to have a single clean amp that takes pedals extremely well (to mimic the high-gain with overdrive & distortion) or a two amp approach where one is used for cleans while the other is used for overdriven tones. Neither style is necessarily better than the other – it’s a matter of preference.
In either case, the controls on your amp should give you sufficient variety and tonal flexibility. Cheaper amp designs cut corners on things like their onboard EQ, meaning the amount you’re able to cut/boost on any given band is limited. Higher quality amps will noticeably change as you sweep the knobs from one extreme to the other, providing a full spectrum of sounds.
Combine that with more parameters and controls, and you can quickly see how higher end amps with more features start to become a Swiss Army Knife for your studio.
Expanding Your Options
Too many musicians don’t realize how much variety there is beyond the amp itself. From the cabinet you’ve paired the amp with to the microphone and preamp you’re running it through, a ton of post-amp options are available. Most amps take on a whole new life when they’re run into a cabinet with different speakers. The same goes for experimenting with new microphone techniques.
On the flip side, a ton of options are available in front of your amp as well. Simply switching from the neck pickup to the bridge pickup or rolling off your tone knob can drastically change the way your guitar sounds through an amp. Pedals like the classic Tube Screamer or Horizon Devices Precision Drive can be paired with other overdrives to create new types of tone stacks, hitting your amp’s input in completely different ways.
Or if you prefer a simpler setup, virtual options like our Toneforge plugins give everyone an affordable alternative to the endless closet of gear – with little more than a DI box, you’ve got a whole amp room at your disposal.
Putting Multiple Amps In Perspective
For the sake of your productions, a variety of amp tones should be extremely high up on your studio checklist. I’m not saying you need to run out and grab all kinds of different equipment, but you should be thinking about what a few good amps add to your mixes.
By having a few good amp options on tap, you can create layers that create harmonic complexity that your listeners will love. Double tracking rhythm parts with a single amp tone can sound dull and muddy, but that’s not as much of an issue when you can create different tones to stack with each other. The same can be said for any harmony parts being layered in.
Having a variety of tones at your disposal means you can weave in and out of different sounds throughout your mix too. By creating this movement as you go, you can build contrast between songs and sections within them. Check out this example from Todd Golder of Sirens & Sailors showcasing just how much variety you can get with a virtual amp and a good selection of impulse responses:
While the example in the video of changing every few bars is a bit extreme for anything other than a demo, he does a great job of showcasing just how much impact various tones can have on the overall mix of a song!
Guided Tonal Exploration
If you feel like you’ve struggled with finding mix-ready guitar tones in the past – I get it. There are a lot of considerations you have to take into account. But great guitar tone isn’t rocket science and it’s something everyone is capable of recording.
Check out our guide, The Ultimate Tone Bible to get a head start on all things guitar tone related today!