Volume and Gain Knobs, What is Different?

Volume and Gain – For guitarists, the terms gain and volume are not foreign terms. Because almost every amplifier there is always a ‘gain’ and ‘volume’ knob. But even though we often use the knob, it turns out that there are still some who don’t really understand the term and the difference between the two.

For those of you who are already used to using guitar amps, of course you already know that the gain knob is used to produce a more distorted sound, and in some situations it can also function as a volume knob. Although this understanding is not wrong, it helps us understand each function of the two knobs. Especially in guitar amps.

Volume and Gain


To understand the function of this knob on an amplifier, we must first understand the two basic structures of a guitar amp.

When the signal from our guitar enters an amp, there will be two phases (stages) that the signal must go through before finally coming out through the speakers, namely:

  1. Preamp stage

  2. Power Amp stage

What most people often miss is this: the GAIN knob only works on the first phase (preamp stages).

Gain is a volume control that amplifies the incoming signal to the pre-amp. And as we can see on the Marshall JCM 900 amp, there is a “PREAMP” label above the Gain knob.

And also this preamp stage is the phase where the signal from our guitar is processed for final output. Which also means that at this phase all the EQ is applied: Bass, mid, treble.


After the preamp, the signal from our guitar will be forwarded to the Power Amp, where after this phase the signal will be directly issued in the form of sound by the speaker cabinet.

In this phase, the VOLUME or MASTER VOLUME knob plays a role in determining how loud the sound will come out.

If we increase the gain level but leave the volume knob in the same position or even lower it, it will produce a distorted sound, and this is what guitarists often call the distorted sound of an amp.

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In simple terms, the bigger the gain we turn, the bigger the signal will be ‘overloaded’ in the first phase (preamp stage), which will result in a distorted sound. And this is also what makes the GAIN knob have several other terms such as:

  1. Drive
  2. Distortion
  3. Channel Volume

Unlike the GAIN knob, the VOLUME knob doesn’t give much color to the incoming signal. For some guitar amps that also use tubes in their Power Amps, coloring or coloring will still occur even though it’s not too significant. Usually just makes the overall sound warmer and bolder.

Hopefully with this article, guitarist friends will know the difference between Gain and Volume, and that will definitely make you understand how to use these two knobs on guitar amps.

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