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Month: March 2019

83 of the Best Acoustic Guitar Songs of all Time

83 of the Best Acoustic Guitar Songs of all Time

There are so many incredible acoustic songs it’s literally impossible to say what the “best” ones are. No one has enough time to listen to all of them and judgment is completely subjective. There are of course all the classic ones with melodies that have […]

Compressor Pedals: What You Need To Know

Compressor Pedals: What You Need To Know

Many people are very confused about what compressor pedals do and how they are used. There is also a lot of information floating around that is very confusing and conflicting. Some people them to essential for every rig setup ever put together, while others say […]

Using An Attenuator To Improve Low Volume Tone

Using An Attenuator To Improve Low Volume Tone

Not many of us have the luxury of being able to play at full volume all day every day. Not to mention, we don’t always want to be heard at full volume, especially when practicing something you haven’t fully perfected yet. The problem is, if you’re running a tube amp, chances are turning down your volume comes at the sacrifice of tone. Tubes need volume to drive them and provide genuine tone that the amp is able to produce. This is because the speaker expects the impedance from the speaker, but low volumes don’t allow this normally. This is where an attenuator can provide assistance.

What is an attenuator?

An attenuator is an electronic device that reduces the power of a signal without appreciably distorting its waveform. An attenuator is effectively the opposite of an amplifier, though the two work by different methods. While an amplifier provides gain, an attenuator provides loss, or gain less than 1.

How does an attenuator work with amps?

Attenuators are essentially a middle man between the amplifier and the speaker. They carry a dummy impedance so that the speaker receives the resistance it expects, but the volume does not need to be cranked in order to deliver it. This allows you to push the preamp and power amp to the point that they will achieve optimal tone, but actual volume from the speaker can be kept at reasonable levels.

There are two types of attenuators: passive (resistor-based) and speaker-based.

A passive attenuator reduces the amount of power being delivered to the connected load by either a single fixed amount, a variable amount or in a series of known switchable steps. Attenuators are generally used in radio, communication and transmission line applications to weaken a stronger signal.

The function of all passive attenuators (resistive and reactive types) is to drain off a portion of the amp’s output power and pass the rest along to your speaker. This means that your amp is producing the same wattage at its output that is produced when you achieve your ideal cranked tone, but the speaker is getting less of that wattage.

The second type of attenuator is the speaker-based version. Speaker-based attenuators use an actual speaker coil and motor (without the cone) to react with the tube amp. There is some evidence that speaker-based attenuators offer more dynamic interaction between the load and the output circuit of the amp, which provides more character and texture to the overall tone.

Which Attenuator Should I Get?

A good attenuator will not alter your tone when it’s installed correctly, but just like with any piece of gear, choosing the right model is important to maintaining your overall sound. The most important thing is to look for a model that can handle the power your amp puts out.

If you’ll be using it for multiple amps, get one that can handle the amp with the highest power rating; using a higher-powered attenuator with a lower-powered amp won’t cause any sound distortion, but using an attenuator that can’t handle your amp’s power could cause damage to both pieces of equipment.

There are literally thousands of attenuators to choose from and it all depends on your particular needs and budget. We’ve listed some user favorites below in no particular order.

Palmer MI PDI 06 Power Attenuator 8 Ohm

  • Maximum input power: 120 watts
  • 6-position switch, 5 increments (3 dB each) for volume reduction, equivalent to attenuation of the input power to 70%, 50%, 35%, 25%, 18%.
  • The LOAD BOX position mutes the connected speaker cabinet.
  • The BYPASS/ATTENUATOR switch lets the user toggle quickly between full and reduced output.
  • Input from amplifier: 1 x 6.3 mm jack socket
  • Output for speaker cabinets: 2 x 6.3 mm jack sockets connected in parallel
  • Output impedance: 8 ohms

Fryette Power Station 2

  • Perfectly preserves the tone of the attenuated amplifier at any volume setting  down to whisper level.
  • Preserves the dynamic feel and speaker response at any volume.
  • Allows you to extend the voicing of any amplifier – a vintage amp can sound more modern, a modern amp more vintage, a dull sounding amp more alive, and a “spongy” amp can sound tighter, etc.
  • Provides a post distortion effects loop for any amp whether or not it already has one.
  • Provides an unbalanced line out for any amp whether or not it already has one.
  • Completely safe for any amplifier.
  • Choose 4, 8 and 16 ohms separately for both the amplifier and cabinet matching. No more nerve-wracking impedance mis-matching that could damage your amplifier.

JHS Little Black Amp Box Signal Converter

  • Very budget friendly pedal attenuator
  • Lets you really push the front end of your amp for the natural feel and tone that you can’t get any other way
  • Retain the response and tone of your amp’s sweet spot at lower levels
  • High-grade components keep your tone clear and pure
  • Passive design doesn’t require any power
  • Designed to be compact, sturdy, and simple to integrate into your rig
  • Can easily be mounted underneath your pedalboard