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Metal music is perhaps best known for its heavy, distorted guitar sounds that are characteristic of the genre. As a guitarist, getting the right metal amp settings can be challenging, especially if you are not sure what to look for. It takes a bit of finesse and lots of practice to create a solid metal tone, but there are some general guidelines that will help you get most of the way there. In this article, we will provide you with comprehensive and detailed information on metal amp settings and how to use them to achieve the best tone possible. Regardless of your setup, this guide will give you a proper foundation to start chugging your way into any metal riff.
It’s important to mention that different subgenres of metal have key differences in their amp settings. Furthermore, every artist has a distinct sound which has taken years to develop by testing different gear and techniques. The amp settings we suggest are merely a starting point for you to experiment and dial in the perfect metal tone. They will provide an excellent foundation, but a combination of technique, quality gear, and constant trial and error is essential to finding your ideal sound.
So, let’s go over the general breakdown of metal amp settings. Below, we have listed each amp setting level (out of ten) for creating a fairly basic metal tone. If you don't have EQ settings on your amp, the following guidance will still apply to your EQ pedal settings for metal.
The gain setting controls the amount of distortion in your sound. For metal music, it is essential to have a high gain setting to achieve the heavy, distorted sound that is characteristic of the genre. However, too much gain can result in a fuzzy, muddy sound, making it important to find the right balance. Typically, a good metal guitar tone retains some definition between notes. I like to think of notes as ingredients in a recipe.
The goal is to mix the ingredients together, but not to put them in a blender and turn them into mush. And under no circumstances, should high gain be used to cover sloppy playing. That is why it is always critical to use a clean tone for most of your practice and slowly crank up the gain only when you have a good handle on the riff you’re playing. If you can make a riff sound cool clean, then it will sound absolutely killer with gain.
Equalization (EQ) settings are used to shape the tone of your guitar sound by controlling the volume of certain ranges of frequencies. Similar to the gain settings, different styles of metal are known for the specific variations in EQ settings, which we cover below in further detail for both classic and modern metal genres.
Typically, classic metal tones are straight high-gain and scooped mids. For those unfamiliar with the term, scooped implies just what you imagine. No, not ice cream. What it really means is simply lowering the mids. If we think of an EQ display, with frequencies ranging from the lowest bass on the left to the highest treble on the right, scooping the mids means lowering the volume of the midrange frequencies. This creates a “U” shaped frequency output on the EQ display. These settings are also ideal for a thrash metal tone.
Amp Settings for Classic Metal:
Check out this video from Charlie Parra del Riego
for a great example of classic metal tones:
All trends die eventually, and modern metal guitarists have decided that they do, in fact, enjoy their mids, and they happily boost them to the near limit when crafting their djent and prog-metal tones. According to these artists, there are two critical steps in carving out the perfect modern metal tone.
First, turn down the bass, not to zero, but dang close. And second, boost mids to the moon. Personally, I aim for around level 2-3 for the bass and 7-9 for the mids. All of our favorite djent lords use these simple tweaks to create their ultimate modern metal tones. It’s also worth considering lowering the gain a touch in comparison to classic metal tones, as a proper djent tone is a bit more crisp and clean than a high-gain, low definition, classic metal tone.
Amp Settings for Modern Metal:
Here's an example of a modern metal tone from Periphery's very own modern guitar legend, Mark Halcomb:
Although this guide is primarily about amp settings, it wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the role that pedals play in creating a mean metal tone. After all, not all of us have a budget for a decent metal amp and pedals can be a much more versatile and affordable way to get a great metal tone.
The first, and possibly most important pedal to consider is a noise gate. A noise gate silences any noises created below a certain volume threshold.
This helps to control unwanted sounds created by picking, moving your fingers over the strings, or changing chord shapes. These sounds, which are typically inaudible with a clean tone, become amplified under high gain, and a noise gate is very effective at cleaning these details and keeping them out of your amp. This is especially important when aiming for a tight and defined modern metal tone.
Delay and reverb pedals are also noteworthy effects for dialing in a great metal tone. In very small amounts, they can be used to thicken up your tone and create a sense of depth. Adding too much delay or reverb is a good way to lose all of your guitar’s definition and create a blurry, muddy mess of a tone. A general tip is to always use these effects sparingly in combination with high gain.
If you want to play metal, but don’t have an amp with a proper high gain setting, a distortion pedal will be an essential part of your rig. There are many distortion pedals on the market for guitarists of all skill levels, budgets, and genres. As huge metal fans ourselves, we offer a nice variety of distortion pedals in our shop. Consider the Demonfx BE-ODX if you are a dedicated metal head. For those who want a bit more versatility with the addition of a clean boost, we recommend the famed Karma MTN-10 overdrive pedal.
Karma MTN-10 Overdrive Pedal
Getting the right amp settings is crucial for achieving your ideal metal tone, but so is the rest of your signal chain, as well as your playing technique. That complexity is what makes the guitar such an incredible instrument. No one ever listened to a clarinet and said, “Wow, what an incredible tone”. Only the guitar has the ability to produce such a variety of sounds and it is the sole reason we have metal music as it exists today. So, get back to it, grab your guitar, and start chugging away.
Please remember that this guide is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to getting the best possible metal amp settings. Experimentation and practice are key to finding the sound that works best for you. Good luck!
Thanks for the kind words Christopher! I hope you are able to win your battle with cancer. Wishing you all the best my friend 🤘
Just wanted to say thank you for the tips and for not sounding like douche in doing so I’m 50 yes old I love heavy metal and hard rock I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the music that I so dearly love but never seemed to find the time I was recently diagnosed with basil cell carcinoma a type of. Skin cancer well I have now found the time lol I have a cheap no name guitar and a crate gfx 30 amp I’m going to look into getting a demonfx distortion pedal thanks again
Brett, the owner and founder of Ploutone, is a modern guitarist on a mission to create a sustainable future and build a thriving community through the power of music. Brett founded Ploutone to celebrate independent artists and foster connections among guitarists worldwide. With a vision of spreading positivity and promoting sustainability, Brett hopes to inspire others to push the boundaries of their instruments and contribute to a better world.MEET THE OWNER