Pete Thorn Shares 3 Tips for Getting Clean Tones Using Speaker IRs with a Tube Amp

Hi fellow guitar nerds, welcome to my first guest blog for Celestion Impulse Responses!

I’ll be writing these blogs monthly, and I will share suggestions, tips, and tricks aimed at helping you get the most out of impulse response technology.

In this first post I’m going to address getting great clean tones using speaker IRs in conjunction with a tube amp and load box. In some respects, getting good broken up and distorted amp tones can be easier than achieving really nice clean sounds. I find this is true whether I am miking a speaker cab, or using a load box and IRs. Many times, when playing an amp in a room, guitarists will perceive their amp as being “clean”, but when they close mic their cabinet and hear the speaker in a more clinical way, there is audible distortion and clipping present. This is because that slight distortion is masked when hearing a cab from several feet away, off-axis, with the reflection properties of a room present.

Guitarists using load boxes and IRs for the first time, upon hearing this slight break up, might assume there is something wrong with their load box, causing distortion (this is unlikely). Or, they may suspect that they are overloading the input of their recording interface or output of their DAW, and one should always check for and eliminate this possibility. But generally, I find that there is nothing actually wrong – the amp just sounds like that!

To combat this phenomenon, there are a few things you can try.

1) Back down the volume of the amp slightly. If you want a truly crystal clean tone, you may have to set the amp at a lower gain and volume level than you are accustomed to using when jamming in a room. If the amp has a gain control and a master volume, try reducing the gain and raising the master volume to compensate for the lower level. The gain controls signal in the preamp, so raising it will drive the preamp into overload, and lowering it will “clean up” the preamp. Be cognizant of the fact that the master volume drives the output section of the amp, so raising it beyond a certain point will also create distortion, by overloading the power tubes. It’s about achieving a balance.

2) Lower your guitar volume control(s) slightly. If your amp is breaking up slightly and that little bit of “hair” on the tone bothers you, lowering the guitar volume from 10 to 8 will usually clean things up completely. This is especially true if your guitar has humbucking pickups, which are almost always hotter than single coils. I find it difficult with many amps to get a completely clean tone if I’m using a guitar with humbuckers and I have the guitar volume on 10. Lowering the height of the pickups can also help!

3) Try a pedal compressor. If you feel like your amp becomes slightly anemic or loses body and “oomph” when you back down the gain and volume, a good pedal compressor can work wonders! Set in a transparent fashion, a slight bit of compression can lower the peaks that are causing the distortion, and pump up your tone so it feels like you are playing with a bit of overdrive, even when the tone is totally clean. Country players have known this for years! With the help of a good compressor, country guitarists can play blistering lead runs and aggressive chicken picking double stops that stay at the forefront of the mix even when their tone is clean.

Thanks for reading, see you next month for more on the fascinating world of speaker impulse responses!