Guitar Amps & Effects For Dummies book cover

Guitar Amps & Effects For Dummies

By: Dave Hunter Published: 09-02-2014

Learn the secrets to achieving your ultimate sound

Whether amateur or pro, guitarists live for the ultimate sound. Guitar Amps & Effects For Dummies provides the information and instruction you need to discover that sound and make it your own! Written in the characteristically easy-to-read Dummies style, this book is ideal for beginners and experienced musicians alike, and can help all players expand their skill set with effects. Guitarists tend to be gearheads when it comes to sound, and this book provides guidance on topics ranging from the guitar itself to amps, pedals, and other sound technology.

Amps and effects are the unsung heroes of guitar music. While most people recognize the more psychedelic effects, many don't realize that effects are often responsible for the unique quality of tone that can become a musician's trademark. Certain effects work on the volume or signal level, others work on the environment, and still others work on the bass and treble content. Guitar Amps & Effects For Dummies covers them all, and shows how effects can not only add something extra, but also "fix" problematic areas. Topics include:

  • Gain-based effects, like distortion, compression, volume pedals, and gates
  • Tone-based effects, including graphic and parametric EQ, and the wah-wah pedal
  • Modulation effects, like the flanger, phase shifter, and tremolo
  • Ambience effects, including reverb and delay

The journey to incredible guitar music never ends. No matter how experienced you are with a guitar, there is always room for improvement to your tone and sound. Whether you're looking for the sound of angels or thunder, Guitar Amps & Effects For Dummies will help you achieve the music you hear in your dreams.

Articles From Guitar Amps & Effects For Dummies

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57 results
57 results
Guitar Amps and Effects For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-10-2022

Every guitarist seeks to produce an expressive and distinctive tone, but trying to figure out what kind of gear you need to create your sound can be baffling. This Cheat Sheet explains the three main equipment categories that comprise your music-making rig: your electric guitar, guitar amps, and effects pedals and units. These components all work together to create your sound. And because you can swap out equipment and change settings, the creative possibilities are virtually limitless.

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The Building Blocks of the Guitar Signal Chain

Step by Step / Updated 03-27-2016

The signal chain that works to create any electric guitar sound is made up of several major building blocks, each of which has lots of smaller building blocks within it. These main ingredients that influence your sound include your guitar, any effects pedals you use, and your amp.

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Classic Guitar Tones from 4 Classic Body Woods

Step by Step / Updated 03-27-2016

Several woods have been used to construct electric guitar bodies over the decades. The four described in the following discussions are by far the most classic, appearing in the seminal designs of the 1950s and ’60s and continuing to be used today.

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Guitar Neck and Fingerboard Woods

Step by Step / Updated 03-27-2016

Every guitar’s neck plays partner in anchoring the strings, so the wood it is made from plays a part in the instrument’s sound, in tandem with the wood and construction of the body. Many of the woods used for guitar necks are also, unsurprisingly, those used in their bodies.

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5 Newer and Alternative Guitar Tonewoods

Step by Step / Updated 03-27-2016

Occasionally dwindling supplies of some of the more traditional guitar tonewoods — a situation that has affected guitar makers for decades, although more dramatically in recent years — has sent many manufacturers in search of alternatives. Others have turned to different woods simply to yield the different looks and sounds they afford.

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Standard Guitar Control Layouts

Step by Step / Updated 03-27-2016

As with so many things in the guitar world, the vast majority of control and switching layouts used today follow what was employed by one or another classic make and model dating back to the ’50s and ’60s. For that reason, a quick perusal of these templates familiarizes you with the majority of what you find on guitars hanging on the store walls today.

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Humbucking Guitar Pickups

Step by Step / Updated 03-27-2016

Humbucking pickups take their colloquial name from the fact that they’re designed to reject hum that can be induced from electrical sources. They can also be called double-coil pickups (as opposed to single-coil pickups), because they achieve this noise reduction by pairing together two coils wound in opposite directions. When the + and – of these two coils’ signals are combined, the hum is canceled out, but the guitar sound remains. Humbucking pickups hit the ground running in the mid-’50s, when first Gibson and then Gretsch released their renditions of the design. The width of the two coils paired side-by-side in most traditional humbuckers also influences their sound, because it presents a wider magnetic window, as it were, which senses a broader sample of the strings’ vibrations. This, plus the combining of the signals from two coils, tends to lead many humbuckers to translating a fatter, warmer sound from your guitar, although most better examples also have more than enough brightness. Following are a couple of the classic humbucker designs according to the manufacturer that originated them (which tend to have less variety, outwardly, than single-coil pickups, as so many makers have followed the Gibson template in the years since). Be aware, too, that countless renditions of each type are available today from other replacement-pickup makers, in styles that range from precise vintage re-creations to modified and hot-rodded units.

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Glued-in Versus Bolt-On Guitar Necks

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Talk to plenty of guitarists who think they know a thing or two about the instrument and you'll come away with the implied truism that a bolt-on neck is inferior to one that is permanently glued in place. Such "accepted wisdom," however, simply isn't correct. The two types of neck construction contribute to guitars that are different, sure, but this isn't a "better or worse" relationship. Part of the misconception comes, no doubt, from the two major brands that display these different types of neck construction: Gibson and Fender. When compared to Fender's basic, slab-bodied guitars with simple finishes, no binding, and necks attached with wood screws, Gibson's higher-end models like the Les Paul often look fairly elaborate, formal, and traditional. Not only do they have glued-in necks (also known as set necks), but they have binding around the body and fingerboard, carved tops, multi-wood body construction, more deluxe inlays, and other elaborate features. In the face of all that, though, the different ways in which these guitar's necks are attached play little part in any qualitative assessment of the instruments as a whole. Today, high-end guitar makers build extremely good — and very expensive — guitars made with both types of necks. If they are building a "Fender-style" guitar, they'll usually use a bolt-on neck; for a "Gibson-style" guitar, a glued-in neck is the standard. Plenty of others also make entirely original designs using their neck format of choice, according to what they hope to achieve sonically from the instruments. Aside from the mere fact of how they are made, glued-in and bolt-on necks enhance slightly different sounds in the guitars on which they appear. A glued-in neck transfers the resonance between neck and body more freely and immediately than does a screwed-on neck, which enhances the warm, round, thick tone that many such guitars are already predisposed towards (think Gibson Les Paul or ES-335). A bolt-on neck, by comparison, generally contributes to sounds in the attack and tone that are referred to as "pop," "snap," or "twang" — characteristics that are already part of the classic bolt-neck tonal palette (think Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster). On top of any sonic contributions, the bolt-on neck is often easier and less costly to adjust, repair, or replace, and it can be less prone to damage if a guitar is dropped. Otherwise, there's no better or best to debate. The two approaches are just different.

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Tips on Vintage Effects for Guitars

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Many vintage effects pedals and stand-alone units have sacred names out there in guitarland. Major artists will name-check them reverentially in magazine interviews; players will discuss them in hallowed tones on discussion sites; and vintage dealers will charge you enormous sums to get your hands on the more prized examples. It will cost you a small fortune to acquire anything like a Maestro Echoplex, Dallas Rangemaster Treble Booster, or a Sola Sound Tone Bender in good original condition. But the magical properties assigned to such units and others might lead you to believe you really need some vintage effects in your signal chain if you hope to sound half decent. Before diving in out of some implied necessity, however, you should weigh up the vintage-effects issue thoroughly. As stellar as some vintage effects units sound, they are often of inconsistent tone and/or quality, and some have aged better than others, too. If your expensive fuzz box is working now, what are the chances it will stop working halfway through a song at an important gig? It's often hard to tell. And consider this for some perspective: Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and other legendary artists who helped forge the rep that many of these old effects now have were playing those things because that's all that was available. If they had been playing newer 21st-century effects sent back to the 1960s in a time machine, you can bet they'd sound just as good. Further, skilled modern-day effects makers can re-create most of the more highly sought-after vintage circuits, and often do so in units that are more consistent and more rugged, have less background noise, are more flexible, and sell for a far lower cost. If you feel you must have a particular vintage unit but are worried about your budget or the dependability of the piece, search the web for re-creations and reissues of the thing. In most instances, you'll find several to choose from. Many of the undeniably great vintage effects can be a lot of fun to play with, for sure, and plenty of them have earned their reputations for good reason. There are alternatives, though, which in most cases will save you money. Explore before you buy, and consider whether you want to be a collector or a player.

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What's the Deal with Class-A Amps?

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Hang out in amp or guitar chat rooms or check out lots of manufacturers' promotional write-ups and you'll notice that that term "Class A" gets slung around more than hash off the griddle at a greasy spoon in Memphis. Call a thing "Class A" and it automatically sounds superior, right? As it applies to tube amps, though, Class A isn't necessarily on a par with Grade-A beef or First-Class mail. The designation might be significant if you're looking for a certain sound from an amp, but it doesn't make that amp better in and of itself. Class A and Class AB are technical terms used to define the way a tube amp's output stage works, not qualitative assessments of their build quality or performance. Note, too, that this Class can only be defined through strict measurements on the work bench, and under such conditions many amps billed as "Class A" actually are not so — they are merely cathode-biased amps with no negative feedback, characteristics that have fallen under the "Class A" moniker for many players and manufacturers. Never mind, it's a slang term of sorts, but it still helps to designate the type of amp that carries the label. So-called Class A amps include the legendary Vox AC15 and AC30, Marshall 18 watter, Fender's tweed Deluxe and some others, and several contemporary models, including many high-end amps inspired by the Vox and tweed Fender templates. Several of these are great amps, beloved for their chiming clean tones and high harmonic overtone content when pushed into distortion. If those are sounds you're looking for, the Class A label might be worth seeking out. Many, many great amps, on the other hand, also carry the Class AB designation. This term applies to amps with two or more output tubes in a push-pull configuration, with either set or adjustable fixed biasing, and usually a negative feedback loop at the output stage. (Sorry for all the technical jargon.) Great Class AB amps include Fender's tweed Bassman, blackface Deluxe Reverb and Twin Reverb, Marshall's plexi and metal-panel heads, all the big HiWatts, the Mesa/Boogie Mark I and others, Soldano's SLO, Bogner's Shiva, and so many excellent amps they're difficult to tally. Characteristics of the Class AB amp can include a firmer, punchier tone, excellent articulation in clean sounds, and an aggressive distortion when pushed hard. That said, both types of amps will crossover to many of the typical traits of the other species, so none of these descriptions are hard and fast. If you're searching for a new amp, or just wanting to learn more about what makes them tick, these Class designations might be of interest, but they should never be taken as the be-all and end-all factor of your amp-buying decision.

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