The first stage of setting up is to tune the guitar, you’ll find more info on this in our post about tuning.
Types of Amplifiers
Tube (Valve) or Solid State – this affects the tone only, tube are typically preferred but more expensive.
Combo or Half Stack – combos are simple to set up, whereas half stacks require impedance to be matched.
Before plugging the guitar in, you must always check some basic things:
If the amp is using an external cab, is it connected & the correct load for the amp?
If unsure, ask a sound technician in order to avoid damaging equipment.
Is the volume all the way down? Otherwise you may get a nasty surprise!
If the amp has a standby switch, (a second power switch usually on the front and next to the main switch) this means it is a tube amp and must warm up. Make sure you have allowed the amp to warm up before turning the amp on fully. To do this, turn on the power switch making sure the standby switch is off, then after a minute or two, plug one end of the guitar cable into the “input” and turn on the standby switch, this increases the life of the equipment. Make sure your guitar is plugged into the amp.
If no sound comes out the amp, there are some simple steps to troubleshoot what is wrong:
The first thing to check is whether everything is plugged in, and to the right plug. First disconnect any pedals, now check the power lead from the wall, then the speaker cable to an external cab (if using one), double check the impedance at this point, as if it is wrong you may have already caused some damage and should stop what you are doing. Check the guitar is connected to the amp, and if everything appears to be connected, make sure you haven’t mixed up any cables, e.g plugging the speaker into the footswitch port, these are usually clearly labelled on the amp. Finally ensure the amp is fully turned on not just on standby and check you have indeed plugged the guitar into the amp!
If everything is connected and turned on correctly, the next step is checking volumes are not at 0. There are often multiple volumes on an amp, if there is a gain control on the selected channel, a channel volume and a master volume, make sure none of them are at 0, don’t confuse a “master reverb” control for “master volume” whilst doing this, leave the reverb alone!
Dialing In The Tone
Decide the type of tone you want based on the music:
If it’s hard rock or metal you’ll want a fair bit of gain, if it’s softer you’ll want the gain very low.
Make sure there isn’t reverb enabled on the amp unless it’s desired for the genre or specific tone you want.
Finally, decide the balance or EQ of the tone, and dial in the bass, middle and treble controls, making sure you start with them at 12 or 1 o clock (usually 5 or 6 out of 10). A bassy tone makes the guitar sound thicker, as a rule of thumb the “middle” or “mid” control should never be too low, as it is what gives guitar its clarity and makes up most of the spectrum. Even with the heaviest of metal, when it’s suggested you scoop mids, I don’t recommend scooping the mids out completely, but this partly depends on your equipment and tone you are looking for. Treble can give a guitar sound some sparkle and fidelity but will sound harsh if too high.
PRO TIP: Use an actual speaker cable, not just any old jack cable. Contrary to popular belief: THEY ARE NOT THE SAME!
Speaker cables contain much thicker wires (two wires in fact) to handle the high power signal from the amp. – They are low impedance and don’t get as hot during use. Instrument cables contain a single wire and shielding and are high impedance.
Speaker cables are not shielded as the high power signal is not susceptible to noise, but use a speaker cable for your bass or guitar and it will sound horribly noisy, they are not interchangeable.
If you don’t believe me, or want to find out more, see Fender’s own post on the subject: http://www.fender.com/news/why-instrument-cables-and-speaker-cables-arent-interchangeable/