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How to Get a Cranked Amp Sound in a Studio Apartment

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Studios used to be soundproofed rooms that let you blast out to your heart’s content. Now, recording environments have changed with the advent of the home studio.

You have to worry about waking babies up or interrupting your neighbor’s Game of Thrones marathon.

We trade one freedom for another. So while we get to record in the comfort of our own homes, we have to manage the way we record acoustic and electric instruments.

This can be a little problematic for obtaining certain sounds. Drums come to mind as well as horn sections (trumpets are LOUD!!), and of course guitar amps.

Into the Great Wide Open

Guitar amps don’t open up until they’re on at least 3. If you have a big amp and only put it on 1.5, you’re choking it. It’s not really the same amp it is at 4.

Some people don’t realize this when trying to dial in great tone. The first most obvious choice is to choose a low wattage amp. Simply for the reason, you can open up the amp. Not necessarily to get overdrive, but so it doesn’t choke and sound thin.

This is where a Princeton reverb is a great match. At 12 watts you can put the volume on 3 and not have the strong arm of the law come down on you. Nobody wants the fuzz at their door… Unless it’s a JMI MKII. Which brings up a point… The holidays are coming. I wouldn’t mind an MKII in my stocking.

Back to Princeton’s, I might recommend a model with a 12″ speaker. I prefer these to a 10″. Sounds a little bigger to my ears. Headstrong Amps makes a lovely Princeton called the Lil King.

12 watts is still a lot of volume to get power tube saturation in your living room.  Sure, you can use some pedals if you’re into that sort of thing… But there will still be something missing.

Strange Overtones

One of the things I like about turning up a Princeton reverb is the way the whole signal gets overdriven. This means the reverb tank get overdriven too. Some people don’t even realize this is part of the sound they love when they turn them up.

It’s a special sound. The verb has all kind of rich overtones to it. It has a lot of character. It adds just the right amount of “Royale with Cheese” to your surf sound.

Mission Impossible

Recreating this sound at low volumes is nearly impossible. At least from the source. Sure you can saturate the mic signal in post, but it doesn’t sound the same.


To deal with this issue I have a solution that will allow you to record at pretty low volumes and nail that sound.


Inside the Keeper’s Pantry

Things you will need:

  • Overdrive pedal
  • Reverb pedal
  • Coffee
  • Low wattage amp

Your amp may have some really nice reverb on it, but it’s not going to work for this technique.

Pop Quiz

Have you figured out what I’m going to do yet? No?

Ok, ok… You’re edgy, I’ll tell ya. I should have specified just one cup of coffee. Geez!!

The secret is we’re going to place the reverb pedal BEFORE the overdrive. Oh no, you didn’t!!! Yup. I know, I know, I’m breaking the rules.

Check it out. The overdrive pedal is only going to add very slight amounts of drive. Just enough to simulate power tube saturation. Tip: if your gain knob is at 11 o’clock or later, it’s too much gain on most pedals.

I ain’t trying to hold ya back though. If you wanna be a 1 pm kinda person, go right ahead.

Gnarly Surf

With this effects order, you’ll notice the reverb will change. It gets more compressed and has some gnarly overtones to it. A little more gritty.

I don’t even have to turn the amp up that much to get great results.

Boring Parental Disclaimer

Pedals: not all pedals will work the same. Some overdrive pedals at a bit too aggressive. Some pedals I like for this duty are an OCD (one a very low setting). RC Booster and my personal fav the Effectrode Tube Drive.


As for reverbs, you can try anything you want. My two favorites are the Van Amps Solemate and the Valve Train Spring Thing.


Both of those verbs have actual real analog springs (like the ones in the museums for you youngsters).

There are plenty of pedal companies that make spring simulations these days though.

Happy Together

Once you find a happy combo, you get pretty authentic fender cranked tone at a volume that will save your marriage… Who am I kidding, it will save your parents from yelling down into the basement for you to quiet down. Don’t feel bad, plenty of engineers live with their parents in their 40’s. Errrrr…..

Here are some examples:

Example 1: Stratocaster into a Valvetrain Spring Thing into a Victoria 35115.


Example 2: Stratocaster into a Effectrode Tube Drive into Valvetrain Spring Thing  into a Victoria 35115


Example 3: Stratocaster into a Valvetrain Spring Thing into a Effectrode Tube Drive into a Victoria 35115


On Example 3 you can really hear the trail of the reverb has a cool lo-fi snarl to it.

Remember, any time of day is a good time for pie … and gnarly reverb!!

Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC. More at