Amp too Loud? Everything You Need to Know About Attenuators

  • Written By 
  • Michael Waring

Our blog will show you everything you need to know about choosing and using a guitar amp attenuator.  Is your amp too loud? Here’s how to keep using your amp without going digital.

If you’re reading this, then you probably know the tension that comes with using your amp at church. Getting the tone you want means turning up your amp to a volume that instantly has Sister Lorenda breathing down your neck. “That amp is too loud!” Sure you could buy an HX Stomp and be done with it, but it’s not that easy.

Most of us still have an emotional connection to the classic pedalboard and amp setup.

We’ve put in so much time to research the perfect overdrive, the best second delay, that one pedal that is on our board that is awesome but we never use (shoutout to the Montreal Assembly Count to 5). Why would we abandon the amp that sent our chiropractor’s kids to private school and the pedalboard that cost as much to wire up as you paid for your first car? In short, you don’t have to!

*If you want to dip your toe into the digital guitar matrix, this is a perfect place for you to start.*

So the question really is…how can we still use our analog setup without having the amp too loud?

To answer this question we need to look a bit deeper. If your amp is something you are not willing to part with, the best answer would be an attenuator or a load box. What attenuators and load boxes really do is offer you the opportunity to get the ideal sound at an ideal and controllable volume.

While amps are fully capable of working at low volumes, that is generally not where we find the best tone the amp can offer.

At low volumes, amps generally lack character, sound thin, and are too clean. The best tones are typically on the famous “edge-of-breakup” where most people start to say “that amp’s too loud!”. This is the spot of the volume with the most dynamic range. If you play lighter, you can achieve cleaner sounds. If you dig in, you can get a more overdriven sound. This sweet spot, with a few exceptions, is where overdrive and boost pedals thrive.

But here lies the problem, this tone is generally WAY too loud for the settings we are in as worship guitarists.

Most of the amps that we use in the worship community range from 10 to 30 watts. Less than 10 watts and the amp breaks up way too quickly without much volume. More than 30 watts, you end up with hearing damage and back problems.

While 10 to 30 watts is the “goldilocks” range to achieve the edge of breakup without completely sacrificing clean headroom, this is still far too loud to be onstage or backstage within small churches. Most of us end up having to put our amps in some sort of isolated box backstage or in a random room seemingly miles away (have fun adjusting your settings when that is the case).

So… Amp too loud? This is where attenuators come into play!

Your amp is something you need quick & easy access to. Attenuators work to maintain the tone and breakup that you achieve when turning up an amp, but without that unmanageable volume. One specifically cool thing about them is that attenuators still use your speaker. This means that your front of house engineer can still mic the amp how they would like to and you can practice at home at low volumes without having to use headphones if you don’t want to.

Different types of attenuators that’ll solve “the amp’s too loud!” issues

You can get a simple little FX-loop attenuator from companies like JHS and Bugera. Note, these only work on amps with an FX-loop send/return. There are also post-amp attenuators out there like the Dr. Z brake-lite. Which one you go with depends on if your amp’s power tubes involved in shaping the tone or not. If you don’t know, I suggest the classic “trial and error” method to see what you think sounds best. In a lot of cases, the JHS little black amp box is phenomenal!

For more info, here’s an amazing video on load boxes, attenuators, and so much more.

Now many attenuators have progressed beyond being a fancy volume knob. Some attenuators have the option to run a direct line to the soundboard & have different speaker emulation options available. Allowing you to achieve a stereo amp affect with only one amp! These will be a bit more pricey but are worth the cost with the added flexibility. Some of the best options in this category would be from Universal Audio, Two Notes, & Boss.

When it’s right to use an attenuator

If you are someone with a complete rig that you know well and trust, it can be a tough pill to swallow when considering a switch to digital. Why give up what you know how to use only to start over? With an attenuator or load box you don’t have to. It would be an addition to your rig that is really used to best serve others.

Being conscious of our part within the worship team and sound should always be a top priority.

Asking yourself questions like… how can I make it easier for front of house to work with me? Is my amp too loud and interfering with anything else happening on or backstage (we love you Sister Lorenda)?

Much in the same way are thoughtful with specific parts we play, we need to serve and compliment those around us. Just because seemingly everyone is going digital, doesn’t mean you have to. As always the best thing you can do for your tone is learn how to best use what you have for your situation, this is an option that keeps things pretty simple.

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