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Using a Home Stereo as a Guitar Amp,
and Other Advice for New Electric Guitarists

>Hi Michael,


>I've just found your site and it is a wealth of information! The only

>problem is that the information is above my level of understanding on the

>subject, but that's my problem as I'm a beginner trying to learn more!


>Well, I've just started out on guitar, learning from an acoustic. I am

>wanting to move onto an electric, but have not got the money to buy an amp

>yet. I am wanting to know if it is possible to run an electric guitar into

>my stereo system. If so, can you let me know how? Are there any risks?

>I'm trying to search the internet on this topic, but am not having much luck

>at the moment.


>Thanks for you time and help.






It is a great opportunity for me to advise a beginner about gear. It is time for me to summarize my most important conclusions at the amptone site.


First you should read http://www.chariot.net.au/~gmarts/guitar.htm - a polished, relevant intro to electric guitar gear. Then read Amptone.com -- I've read all the amp tone books and watched the gear videos, but my site is far ahead of them. I've been re-reading wonderful books about recording the guitar and getting guitar sounds. See list at bottom.


There are no risks for plugging a guitar into a home stereo, just look for these issues:


Level mismatch. If your guitar produces a quiet signal, there will be more background hiss than there should be.


Blowing a speaker. I think I did this, perhaps from playing guitar directly into the stereo too aggressively without compression or distortion -- it's all one narrow frequency band, which, when clipping, can blow a tweeter of your high-fi speaker. The POD, a miked guitar amp, or a compressor, would protect the speaker.


If your guitar produces a loud signal, when you hit a chord with a humbucker pickup, a nasty clipping will result.


A stereo has the wrong input impedance. Your guitar will likely lose some high treble. A guitar pedal that does not have true bypass will be good as a buffer to preserve the high treble.


A BOSS EQ pedal is good for this, and after buying a guitar amp that has good preamp distortion, you should buy an EQ pedal to put before that distortion, to control its character. An EQ pedal also enables you to boost or cut the volume, to better match what the stereo expects, to get maximum signal/noise ratio without clipping. You can also use the EQ to deliberately clip the stereo, controlling which bands dominate the clipping.


If your stereo has multi-band EQ, cut the high-treble band, but boost the mid-treble band -- to simulate a guitar speaker.


Test for loss of treble; connect your guitar to the stereo several ways and see whether you get more treble.


A very large part of guitar sound is the guitar speaker, which does not produce high treble. Another large part is power-tube saturation. The classic chain for a real guitar sound is:


eq ("secret" of the pros)

distortion pedal or amp's preamp distortion

tone stack (the guitar amp's tone controls)

power tubes saturating (clipping) 5-20%

power attenuator (Hot Plate has best features for tv-level playing)

guitar speaker, driven to at least 1 watt (like banging on a big piano)


If you fake any step, it will sound fake. You could buy a POD and connect that to the stereo -- that's what it was designed for. However, you will get a more authentic sound by buying a tube amp (guitar amp with power tubes, not just preamp tubes) and a power attenuator.


I think beginning guitarists should not buy "beginner amps". A great setup for very authoritative sounds at home volumes is:


EQ pedal ($60 DOD or $85 BOSS)

Good tube amp (not necessarily expensive)

Hot Plate


A good, practical, flexible tube amp has these features, in my opinion:

o Well-voiced preamp distortion

o 4 tone controls, not just 3. (bass, mid, treble, presence)

o Effects loop - enables putting an EQ to fine-tune the distortion and get the best Tone, or use time fx such as echo while still using the amp's built-in distortion, without getting garbled distortion.

o 30-50 watts (loud enough to compete against drums)

o Reverb

o Speaker (separate cab has some pros/cons)


A high-power tube power amp combined with the Hot Plate will enable you to produce power-tube saturation at any volume in the room, from just louder than the unplugged guitar all the way up to the amp's full power -- very flexible and cost-effective. It's a waste to buy these inflexible systems:


o 15 watt solid-state guitar amp (not loud enough for drums, and can't produce power-tube saturation)

o 15 watt tube amp (not loud enough for drums)

o 60 watt solid-state amp (can't produce power-tube saturation)

o 50 watt tube amp without also having a power attenuator (such a system wouldn't be able to produce power-tube saturation at home or cafe levels).


That's why the most traditional and flexible system is a full-power tube amp combined with a power attenuator, especially the Hot Plate.


The Hot Plate, unlike the Marshall Power Brake, has volume fine-tuning and treble/bass boost for home levels of playing, and a convenient Line Out jack so you can form a "power-tube saturation pedal" like an ultimate Overdrive pedal to drive a second tube amp.


With your stereo, use an adapter to change from 1/4" to RCA connectors. Your stereo might not have a Mono mode. Get the latest Radio Shack catalog and study all varieties of connectors, cables, adapters. You probably will want a Y connector. It's a good idea to lean towards 1/4" connectors and cables rather than buying cables with mostly RCA connectors.


Don't buy some gear and devote all your time to it. Buy some gear, then ignore it and visit all the music stores regularly, plug into everything in sight. Play all the guitars into all the fx and amps. Get to know all the employees at all the stores, get familiar with trying out all the gear.


Take guitar lessons, if you want to learn 1000 times faster than you could on your own. If you are lazy and in a hurry, lessons are the fast-track shortcut secret.


Leaping to the Advanced Rig-Design Concepts

To conclude, let me list this advanced Blues chain (series of stages). If you have seen this, you have seen every key principle of basic amp Tone. I am currently experimenting with this chain which uses multiple stages of slight power-tube saturation to produce ultra tubey sound. A Boogie-type preamp uses 4 stages of slight preamp-tube clipping; the below approach is similar but uses 2 stages of slight power-tube saturation. I have never heard of anyone using a series of power-tube saturation stages before. Imagine a series of 3 UniValve amps, the first 2 using their built-in Hot Plate (as full dummy load) and Line Out jack. http://www.amptone.com/thdunivalve.htm



Guitar with single-coil neck pickup selected


eq pedal 1 with moderate smile curve (Van Halen would use double-coil bridge pickup, a frown curve here, and eliminate 1 eq/tube poweramp/dummyload stage below)

overdrive or distortion pedal, clipping 7%


eq pedal 2 with moderate smile curve

tube power amp 1, clipping 7%

power attenuator used as a dummy load


eq pedal 3 with moderate smile curve

tube power amp 2, clipping 7%

power attenuator used as a dummy load


eq pedal 4 with moderate smile curve

echo & reverb

solid-state high-power amp

guitar speaker pushed to at least 1 watt


2 different microphones, placed near speaker, between middle of speaker and edge of speaker cone


hard disk






Getting Great Guitar Sounds, Second Edition. Michael Ross. 1998. 80 pages. $14.95. Available at Music Books Plus. Developing, controlling and shaping your own personal guitar sound. Various principles of sound in acoustic and electric guitars. Multieffects units, amp simulators, and advanced effects rigs. Many artists are included in the "How Did They Get That Sound?" section, such as Robben Ford, Eric Johnson and David Torn. Ross lists his favorite effects units and tells why they will provide most of the sounds guitarists will need. I have this. It's good.


Recording the Guitar. John Harris. $23.50. 1998. 156 pages.Available at Music Books Plus. Avoid spending ages getting that great guitar sound, then after putting it on tape, having it sound like a wet string flapping limply in the breeze. The author is a guitarist and recording engineer. A collection of valuable tips to help you get stunning results from your recordings. Setting up, strings, intonation and playing techniques. When to mic up, when to DI, and when to do both. Diagrams illustrate a range of different mic positions to coax the sweetest sounds from your acoustic. How different pre-amps -- valve, transistor, digital -- can be used for different sorts of music. How to put your masterpieces with effects -- compression, reverb, delay, gating, flange, chorus, harmonizers and more. setting up your guitar; electric and acoustic guitars; mic'ing for acoustic guitars; DI and speaker simulators; using preamps; improving your sound with effects; MIDI for guitarists; production tips and tricks. I have this. It's very good.


The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio. Hal Leonard publisher. Jon Chappell. Mentions the idea of cabinet isolation boxes/rooms/hoods (and speaker emulators, load boxes) several times. It's a good book. $20 list. 8 1/2 x 11". 1999. 200 pages. I have this. It's very good.



The Getting the Sounds video series is excellent -- fast-paced, polished, relevant. Highly recommended:


Getting the Sounds: Classic Rock Guitar (video) - Learn how to get all the great classic rock guitar sounds from the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, The Police, and many more. This video will provide you with a complete tonal "menu" from which to select your favorite sounds. 1999 -- $19.95


Getting the Sounds Classic Blues Guitar (video) - by Warner Brothers. Keith Wyatt, master Blues guitarist and educator, demonstrates how to create the soulful sounds of all the great legends of the Blues guitar. From classic hollow-body sounds to the sustain of modern solid-body guitar, the colorful history of Blues sounds and techniques are covered by Keith in detail. Includes tips on how to choose and then "dial in" amplifiers and guitars for maximum effect. Keith also demonstrates several classic Blues licks and rhythm patterns as performed by the masters. It's all about "Getting the Sounds! Get the Sounds of: B.B. King, Robben Ford, Albert King, T. Bone Walker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Muddy Waters ... and many more. 1998. VHS -- $19.95


Effects and Settings - A Complete Guide to Getting the Best Sounds from Your Equipment - By: Ryan Claiborne - I have this. [to do: add description]


The Guitar Shop Series: Getting Your Sound (book and CD) - by Tobias Hurwitz. How do your favorite guitarists get their sounds? Learn the setup secrets of the masters and find your own great sound with this 56-page manual for serious guitarists. Read about guitars, amplifiers and effects units and how to make your own gear work its best. Each effect is covered in depth, and a special section details the setups of the masters, suggesting ways to recreate their sounds with basic effects available anywhere. A special section on the physics of sound is included. This is a must for every electric guitarist. The included CD demonstrates all the guitars, amps, effects and master guitarists' setups. 1998, 56 pges. Book & CD. -- $15.95. I have this.


Guitar Gear. John Brosh, ed. Quill /Guitar Player, New York. 1985.


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