Cranking your amp loud for Tube Distortion or an Overdrive Pedal?
People say the holy grail for getting great tone is to have your clean channel up as loud as possible to get “tube distortion” that only occurs when the tubes are clipping. In this video test I compare running a Fender Blues Deluxe reissue amplifier on half volume against having the amp at a lower volume with an off-clean overdrive pedal. The pedal in this video is called a VS Audio Royal Flush Overdrive Pedal.
There’s really only one suggestion for getting great tone out of a Tube or Valve Guitar Amplifier and that is to turn it up loud. Tube amps really shine when they are running just beyond their ability to maintain a clean tone and this is the best place to try and hit when playing live or recording. One mistake a lot of people make is buying a high wattage tube amp and expecting great tones like you hear on many albums or live concerts. One downside to a Fender Bassman for example is the fact it’s SO LOUD that turning it up to the sweet spot is overkill for a lot of venues and it would be way too uncomfortable for the audience unless it’s a big gig. If you’re not playing in Stadiums or you’re not using a lot of pedals the best tone you can get is from an amp getting down and dirty with lots of Power Tube distortion.
If you play in a venue where you’re using a microphone to put your guitar through a mixer a smaller amp will do the job if the band has some separation on stage. Anything under 30 watts in a Tube/Valve amplifier will be plenty loud for most gigs.
These videos below shows what happens when you turn tube amplifiers up to get natural overdrive. It’s a sound that a lot of pedals try to emulate but there’s nothing quite like a Tube amplifier breaking up in this fashion.
The Deluxe Reverb is a 22 Watt amplifier by Fender which is known for it’s really nice break-up tones at higher volume.
The Fender Super-Sonic 60 is a 60 watt (loud!) tube amplifier that has a versatile clean and drive channel selection. Both sound better when they are loud.
If you’re struggling to get a good tone from a Tube amplifier and you have a decent guitar, I would suggest putting all the EQ in the middle and turning it up to 6-7 for starters to see how it sounds. Compare the tone to your favorite pedal then try running the amp on 9-10 (Maximum) to see how much more it breaks up. Tube amplifiers sound better the louder they go in general. Some smaller amps like the Fender Blues Jr sound better in their “sweet spot” which can be around 7 on the master volume – it can vary for different amplifiers so have experiment around and see how you go. Just remember it’s never going to sound “great” at low volumes unless you’re using a lower powered amp (5-12 watts).
If you have any questions or comments please leave them below.
Here’s a video tutorial I put together on how to change tubes in a Peavey Amplifier. I hope this how to guide is useful to those who need to either change their 12AX7 tubes or EL84 tubes.
Changing tubes in a Peavey amp is very easy and if you are changing one or a set, the amp will not need to be biased for these new tubes. If you’re replacing one, keep the same brand, just to make sure. Tubes can make a big difference to the output and sound of a Peavey Amplifier. They come stock with JJ Tubes now and they sound really good.