Q: I have heard that using a master volume control on a tube amplifier is not as good as really overdriving the entire amp – that is, both the preamp and power amp. If this is true, how can I possibly choose an amp that will sound great in the studio, but also be loud enough for live gigs in clubs and halls?
A: It’s true that pushing the power amp hard results in a different sound than overdriving the preamp, as would be the case with an amp that has a master volume control to give you an overdrive sound at tolerable levels in a small room. Is it better? Only you can make that call. In a perfect world, you would own two amps. For example, a Fender 5-watt Champion 600 for the studio (a bargain at $199.99 by the way) and maybe a 45-watt ’65 Super Reverb 4×10 for stage work. However, there are other options. Some amps have a half-power switch (for example, the Vox AC30H2). Some newer boutique amps actually let you switch between a low powered setting (e.g., 5 watts) for the studio and a high power setting (e.g., 75 watts) for live work, however, these are few and far between, not to mention typically quite expensive. A third option is to go all-out and get that Marshall stack you’ve always wanted, then use a power attenuator between the amp and speakers in the studio to tame that 100-watt beast down to, say, 10 watts, without sacrificing your overall tone. One final option is available! Today’s distortion/overdrive boxes are the best ever. Remember that Jimi Hendrix got his wildly distorted sound courtesy of a Fuzz Face. Fulltone, Visual Sound, BOSS, Radial, Digitech, MXR, Ibanez, Vox, and others make excellent stomp boxes that will take you from clean to scream at the touch of a footswitch. We recently saw Eric Johnson in concert and his overdriven Strat sound clearly came from a stompbox. Our best advice? Trust in your Sweetwater Sales Engineer. They have had to deal with exactly this situation themselves. They have the real world experience to give you dependable tips on how you can have the best of both worlds.