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Digital Subscriptions > Guitar Magazine > Feb 2016 > All about... Attenuators

All about... Attenuators

All amps have sweet spots where they sound best, but it’s not always possible to crank them up to gig-level volume. That’s where attenuators come in. HUW PRICE explains…

It took electric guitarists a very long time to warm to the idea of attenuation. It’s debatable whether the attitude change can be attributed to engineers continually telling us to turn down, increasing deafness and tinnitus, or the gradual realisation that cranking up 100-watt heads at pub gigs is no longer deemed acceptable by the general public.

Attenuators are generally used to make loud and powerful valve amplifiers quieter. Turning down the volume of a guitar amp achieves the same effect but changes the sound and dynamics too. Some would suggest using lower-power amps instead, but if you prefer the tone of a flat-out JCM800 or tweed Bassman, 18-watt Marshalls and 5E3 Deluxes won’t deliver the goods.

If you always want to hit your amp’s sweet spot but sometimes need to play at lower volume levels for smaller gigs or home practice, you’ll have to place an attenuation device between the amplifier’s output and the speaker. There are various types of external attenuator, but generally speaking they transform excess electrical energy into heat or mechanical energy.

Tone changes

In an ideal world, attenuators would allow you to use any amp at any volume level without any adverse effect on sound quality or reliability. In practice, the use of attenuation does change tone, but blaming the attenuator isn’t always justified.

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About Guitar Magazine

The February issue of Guitar & Bass magazine is available in print and digital forms from Friday 8 January. Join us as we take a trip to Guitar Town, tracing the history of the Nashville music scene and profiling a who’s who of the city’s galaxy of guitar stars. We go guitar shopping in Tennessee's neon-lit state capital and talk to two of the world’s leading fretted instrument experts, George Gruhn and Walter Carter, about the state of the vintage market today and we also stop by at the Gibson Custom Shop to see the company’s True Historic Les Pauls roll off the production line and find out what makes them the company’s best guitars since its golden era. Elsewhere in the mag, our DIY Workshop shows you how to ID a genuine 1950s Stratocaster, we talk guitar with Aerosmith legend Brad Whitford and we review a stack of great new gear from PRS, Dr Z, Orange, TC Electronic, Louis Electric, Fulltone, Hartke, Smorg Pedalboards, Pigtronix and more. If that’s not enough for you, how about the chance to win one of three PRS guitars for a year and become a roving reporter for G&B in the process? Buy the February issue of Guitar & Bass magazine in print and digital forms from Friday 8 January.