What Is Gain On An Amp?

Have you found yourself wondering what gain on an amp is? Perhaps this is your first amplifier and you want to be sure you understand all the functions, including gain?

Or maybe you have never adjusted it and have decided now is the right time? Whatever reason brought you here today, we have the answer for you! 

What Is Gain On An Amp

When it comes to amplifiers, we know how tricky they can be to master. These days they have so many different settings and dials it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

Before you know it, you can find yourself lost in a sea of user manuals and dead-end searches, never finding the answer to the question: what is gain on an amp?

Well, no more! Today we are here with the answers you need.

Just keep reading to find out what gain is on an amp and everything else you need to know about it! Prepare to become a gain expert today!

How Does An Amplifier Work?

Before we can get into what gain is and what it does, we first need to take a step back and take a look at amplifiers and how they work.

Trust us, this will help you understand gain better! Amps, especially guitar ampsOpens in a new tab., have two stages. 

The first stage, or preamp stage, is where a weak signal is sent from your instrument to the amp for it to be processed.

Next, it is passed to the second stage where the signal is boosted to create the strong sound that comes out of your speakers. 

What Is Gain On An Amp?

Now that we have covered how amps work, let’s move on and get to why you came here today!

As we mentioned earlier, amps have two stages that help them amplify sound from your instrument.

During the preamp stage, some amps allow you to control the strength or level of the signal sent to the amp. 

We call this function the drive or gain. By adjusting the gain on your amp, you provide your preamp with more pressure, which can impact the tone of your music.

It will also set the level of distortion in your tone, regardless of the volume on your amp. 

This means that gain helps determine how clean or dirty your sound will be. For those with tube-driven amps, adjusting your gain means you can create warm distortion when you turn your volume up too.

Gain has become more complex these days thanks to digital devices, but it does tend to work the same way it does in analog devices, so you can expect the gain on your amp to control the distortion of your music. 

Now that we have established what gain is, let’s look at it in closer detail and answer more of your burning questions! 

Is Gain A Distortion?

Although gain can adjust the distortion on your amp, gain isn’t technically distortion. When you add more gain to the input of your amp, the distortion is considered more of a side effect.

As you increase the gain on your amp, it can reach its limit and clip your signal. For those with electric guitars, this is desired and helps to achieve guitar distortion. 

Now, there is a way to increase your gain without distortion. Your guitar pickups will feel more sensitive and if you have a clean channel you shouldn’t get any clipping unless the gain is set very high.

If your amp also has a distorted channel, then it will deliberately clip your tone, working in the same way a distortion pedal does. 

What Is Gain On An Amp (1)

Does Gain Increase Volume?

While you aren’t technically adjusting the volume on your amp, the gain control does increase your volume overall.

By turning the gain up, you are giving your amp a stronger signal that will leave you with a louder sound leaving your amp. 

Now, adjusting the gain does not impact volume in the same way your volume setting will.

In most cases, the gain controls are on individual channels and as you increase the signal strength (when you turn up the gain) the volume of your sound will increase.

However, when you adjust your amp’s volume, you will do so on separate channels.

Volume operates on the channel volume and master controls, with your microphone becoming more sensitive to picking up signals as the gain gets higher. 

The volume knob on your amp will adjust the overall volume of your sound without impacting your tone, while the gain knob will impact the input level, adding distortion to your sound before it enters your amp.

What Happens If My Gain Is Too High?

High gain is when you turn the gain up so that your sound becomes distorted, but is there such a thing as the gain being too high?

If you push your distortion too high, then you can end up with mushy sounds, or your music can just sound overwhelmed with distortion. 

This doesn’t end well for your amp either. You can end up with screeching noises or unwanted feedback, which won’t make your music sound good!

This happens if you turn your gain all the way up, causing you to lose control of your tone. 

While this can work for some genres, it is not ideal for everyone. It’s worth remembering that you can also control the tone of your music by adjusting your equalizer and volume settings.

Be sure that you spend some time familiarizing yourself with these settings to help you get the most out of your amp! 

Final Thoughts 

And there you have it! Gain adjusts the level of signal that is transmitted from your guitar to your amp.

The stronger the gain is, the more distortion and volume you can get from your instrument, helping you to create the tone you want.

If you are looking to create some muddy tones or clip your music, it’s worth spending some time to find your gain knob and make some adjustments today! 


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