Guitar Knobs & Switches: Volume Knob

Posted 24 Jun 2008 in Electric Guitar, Musings, Performance, Technique

Most electric guitars come with a variety of knobs and switches. At the bare minimum, there will be a volume knob, and a tone knob. When I first started to play electric guitar, I had no idea how to use these basic controls effectively, and like anyone picking up the electric for the first time, I just left everything on full and played. If I wanted a different sound, I would either use an effects pedal, or experiment with various EQ tweaks on my amp.

It wasn’t after I saw a video of a guitarist called Thomas Blug, that my eyes were open to the sonic possibilities available by just making use of the knobs and switches on my guitar. During this video, Thomas was playing a Strat plugged straight into a Hughes & Kettner amp. A great guitar coupled with a great amp formed the basic foundation of his tone, but as he played, he would constantly switch between pickups and tweak his volume and tone knobs to squeeze every bit of tone out of his guitar and amp. It was such an inspiring revelation to me that I started to play around more on my own guitar.

One of the first things I learned was how to ride the volume knob for more/less drive. To try this out, you’ll need to:

1. Turn up the volume knob on your guitar fully. If you can, select the bridge pickup to start with.

2. Set your amp so that it plays clean-ish when you strum softly and normally but breaks up (ie. gets crunchy/dirty) when you strum hard. You will need to play around with your amp’s volume/gain knob until you find that sweet spot. I find strumming an open A2 chord (ie. a natural A without the C# on the B-string) works well for this.

There are a couple of things you can now experiment with. The first is playing dynamics, which is basically a fancy way of saying ‘playing hard vs playing soft’. If you’ve set things up properly then you can get a clean sound when you strum/pick with light to medium strength, but if you dig into your strings, you should get a crunchy sound. I use this to make my blues solos more expressive. If I want to have a cleaner sound, I play lightly. When I want things to get a little nastier, I dig in. My favourite part about this is that it goes hand in hand with what I feel inside and can truly be one of those times that I can express what I feel through my guitar in a natural way.

The next thing you can experiment with is the guitar’s volume knob. The most obvious thing to do is to roll back on the knob for a cleaner sound and bring it back up when you want some crunch. However, note that you will most likely lose some top end due to the way the knob works. The more you turn down, your sounds will be cleaner, but softer and more dull.

Depending on the knob placement on your guitar, you may be able to control the volume knob with your pinky finger whilst playing. Apart from the obvious advantage of being able to change your sounds on the fly, you can also experiment with volume swells and effects similar to the Boss Slow Gear pedal. This also means you can dispense with your volume pedal (if you use one) and save some space on your pedalboard.

1 Comment

  1. Trevor (29 Apr 2009, 1:26)

    For the best possible sound quality, use 1 Meg pots and keep the number of electronic components to a minimum. More high frequencies wil be your benefit.

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