Do you ever stare at your amp wondering why you bought a 120-watt amplifier that’s never been past 3 on the knob?

Power is important, but tube amps LOVE to be driven hard, they really bloom and shine when they are cranked up much higher than bedroom volumes. This is the sound that tubes are truly known for, what started all the fuss about their tone.

But hey, you’ve got neighbors. You live in a small house, or maybe even an apartment, you can’t do that with a 15-watt amp, let alone a 50, 100, or 120.

… but what if you could?

Introducing Attenuation

An amp attenuator is, in short, a volume knob that happens between your amp and your cab.

This is valuable as it lets you crank up the volume on your amp, pushing the tubes into saturation and overdrive naturally, while being able to bring the volume down before it hits your cab, making the actual volume output come out at a much more neighbor-friendly level.

It’s another volume knob in your signal chain that is placed at just the right location for you to get the tone of loud volumes without the… well, loud volumes.

What’s the Point?

As we mentioned earlier, tube amps love being pushed into saturation and drive, it opens up the sound and provides a fuller, crisper, and just better sound, no matter what tone you’re using.

This means you can get that tone in your bedroom or apartment, but it also means that you can get it at gigs too, even if the setup doesn’t justify cranking your amp to 10. You can still play a DIY venue or medium-sized theater with an incredible cranked tone!

But it’s not just for live use, it shines even more in the studio.

The studio is all about perfecting those guitar tones, which means if we can crank an amp and get it to the perfect volume level then you’re damn right we’re going to do it!

You can record at a lower volume while maintaining the tonal benefits in a DIY home studio, but it can be equally beneficial in larger studios when trying to manage the bleed of an amp in a live-off-the-floor session or to compensate for a 120-watt amp inside an isolation box that wasn’t quite perfectly made.

Still hearing too much low end in the control room while mixing? Turn the amp down to make sure you’re only hearing the sound from your monitors, preventing you from being thrown off your mixing game.

What’s the Catch?

By running your tubes hotter you may end up shortening their life a little bit. You won’t be buying new ones every week, but it’ll still be noticeable.

On top of that, you do, of course, have to buy an attenuator of some kind. These can cost anywhere from $200-500 USD, so they’re not a convincing investment if you’re not looking to use it somewhat frequently.

If tone is important to you, if you’re recording, or you’re gigging a lot and always want to be at your best, it’s a worthwhile investment.

Closing Thoughts

There’s a whole world out there for guitarists thanks to the invention of attenuators, and while it may not be perfect for everyone, it’s certainly the holy grail for some.

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