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David's Tip of the Day: Amp Settup and Defualt Playing Volume

David Barrett Admin's picture

Yesterday I was communicating with an experienced player that recently began studying at He sent in a study song submission and one of my suggestions was to play softer. He sounded good, but I could tell he was pushing the harp louder than he needed to. He replied that he's been playing with a band for a while, which is what I expected. Here was my response. These points are important for amplified players to keep in mind.


Yes, playing with a band tends to bring your “default” volume up. Here’s how Little Walter did it...

Crank your amp up to as loud as it will go, and then play at 40% of your capable volume as your normal volume. It will take time to get used to playing softly, but your dynamic range will benefit greatly from this. When it comes time to solo, go into 60% and people will have no problem hearing you. Jump into 80% volume to kick ass every now and again, but make sure to drop down again soon… you don’t want to stay at that loud volume… it’s only to be used for dynamic effect.

If you have a sound check, when they ask for you to play, play at that 40% volume. Don’t play at your “solo” volume (60%), otherwise they'll mix your solo volume as your "balanced" volume (matching the other instruments for an even level) and will thus take away your ability to be heard when you solo.

Lastly, get your amp off the floor (one to two milk crates high) so that the sound is going to your ears, not your legs. Also get away from your amp, the further forward the better for a larger amp. This makes a huge difference in hearing yourself on the bandstand.