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Chris George has played through more high-end valve amps than most rock stars, and advising how to get the best fromamps is his daily bread and butter. We asked him for his tips on keeping your valve amp toned...
How often should I change my valves?
“I speak to guys who change their valves meticulously every six months but there are others, including myself, who leave it a bit longer. If you’re playing an amp on a regular basis it’s a good idea to change your output valves once a year.”
What are the tell-tale symptoms of your amp having worn-out valves?
“Anything from strange microphonic whistling, to a lack of output or the amp not responding how it should in terms of volume – you may feel that you’re having to push the volume much higher than usual.”
What else can I do to get reliably good tone from my amp?
“To extend valve life, turn your amp off after a gig and let it sit for a few minutes before moving it. And vice versa: as soon as you’ve got a power cable to your amp turn the juice on and let it warm up for as long as you can. Tone-wise, you can notice the difference between an amp that’s been turned on for only five minutes and an amp that’s been sitting there [switched on] for 45 minutes.”
How can I find the best settings for my amp?
“If you’re using an amp for the first time, set all the dials straight up in the 12 o’clock position so you’re getting equal values of everything. From there, fine-tune the settings. Or try Zakk Wylde’s method – max everything out, then take away the parts you don’t want: but be careful!”
How does presence influence tone?
“The difference between what treble and presence do is a good thing to experiment with – particularly on a Marshall. If you take all the treble down and bring all the presence up you get a more generic, square, in-your-face kind of sound, rather than the very precise sound of what treble can do when it’s maxed out.”
“A valve amp wants to be turned up. If you can get your master volume up to about three quarters then you’re in heaven!”