Why are so many people down on attenuators, but want master volumes?

Discussion in 'Amp Tech Center' started by itsGiusto, Apr 10, 2021.

  1. itsGiusto

    itsGiusto Tele-Holic

    Posts:
    825
    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2017
    Location:
    Massachusetts
    Attenuators may be the hill I'll die on... I'm always advocating people use them to get bedroom-volume amp sounds, even out of totally high-wattage amps. I advocate for this, cause I use attenuators all the time and have always gotten great tone out of them (after I take like the 3 minutes necessary to tweak it to sound good).

    I don't really know why attenuators get such a bad rep, and it often seems like many people who decry attenuators are also advocating for master volumes being installed in their amps. This doesn't really make sense to me - why attenuate the signal before one of the most crucial amplification stages, and take away all of the power tube distortion, instead of attenuating after the power tube AND output transformer, right at the last possible stage before the signal hits the speaker. Seems like if you're trying to keep your amp as close as possible to how it sounds loud, the later is the way to go.

    People tend to say that attenuators cause brightness-loss and suck tone. But:
    1. Most good ones have knobs to make up for the brightness loss a little.
    2. IMO, tone suck is not that bad, if you avoid turning your attenuator down close to 0. You should keep your amp still mildly loud, just not painfully loud.
    3. Master volumes cause brightness-loss too, and for the exact same reason as attenuators!

    IDK, I've A-B tested one of my amps that has an MV on a switch. I tried with an attenuator, getting the amp to a good listening level while the MV was switched out, and then I got to the same level using the MV and with the attenuator switched off. While the MV-tone was ice-picky and harsh, the attenuator tone was smooth and warm.

    Is there something I'm missing to this debate, why MV might be in any way better than an attenuator?
     
  2. Jay Jernigan

    Jay Jernigan Tele-Afflicted

    Posts:
    1,657
    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2013
    Location:
    10-uh-C
    Nope.
    I think you pretty much got it.
    (Said someone in the choir)
     
  3. El Marin

    El Marin Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    2,817
    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2014
    Location:
    Spaniard in Pärnu, Estonia, EU
    In my opinion, in MY amps, Master volume sounds much better than attenuators

    The Master in my Twin Reverb 65RI, not factory installed, is just superb. Prior to make install the Master I tried a bunch of attenuators and Did not liked any... I remember, THD, Marshall, BadCat unleash, Swart (for low watt amps) and Dr Z

    AND... what do you want? to keep the same clean or the same sound at low volumes? Yes, you may use an attenuator

    BUT I want to crank my Twin Reverb and don't get (more) deaf. An attenuator won't let me me do that. With the Master I can get glorious overdrive at band volume. With the attenuator it just doesn't sound good IMO.

    And Master is just a pot in your faceplate, not s brick overr the amp with more cables and that
     
  4. J. Bonkosky

    J. Bonkosky Tele-Holic Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    736
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2014
    Location:
    Seattle Washington
    I like both at the same time. Enough preamp gain to push the power tubes when you roll the master volume up. Hit the attenuator to make the volume comfortable. That is the perfect combo.
     
  5. Masmus

    Masmus Tele-Holic

    Age:
    53
    Posts:
    692
    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2018
    Location:
    San Jose
    There is a lot of music recorded with late seventies MV Marshalls that is certainly not ice picky and the Marshall manual that came with them said to not use attenuators with them and also voided your warranty. That may account for the reluctance of some of us to use one. However if it works for you and you get a better tone them that is what's most important.
     
    beep.click and Cali Dude like this.
  6. Cali Dude

    Cali Dude Tele-Afflicted

    Age:
    58
    Posts:
    1,642
    Joined:
    May 20, 2020
    Location:
    California
    I think there is room for both, depending upon one's preferences. I have used both over the years. I have happily settled into the attenuator camp. Most of my amps are single channel, non MV. So, attenuators have become my friends. I first used the THD hot plate years ago, and now also like the Tone King Ironman 2.
     
  7. timfred

    timfred Tele-Meister

    Posts:
    157
    Joined:
    Mar 14, 2016
    Location:
    Northern CA
    Agree. MVs work great if all your distortion is coming from the preamp. Attenuators are the way to get power tube distortion at lower volumes. And if part of your tone is from speaker distortion then you’re screwed at home (iso box?).

    If you dirt is completely from pedals then you don’t need any of this.
     
  8. 24 track

    24 track Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Posts:
    18,565
    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2014
    Location:
    kamloops bc
    it like all things in the musical realm is in the actual use , any device used properly will give you the desired result , any device that is not in proper use will frustrate the user
    I too am guilty of this

    it takes time to understand how to use adevice properly and instant gratification comes when you figure it out .
     
    hotcoffeenochill likes this.
  9. Jon Snell

    Jon Snell Tele-Holic

    Posts:
    975
    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2015
    Location:
    Jurassic Coast, Dorset. Great Britian.
    Down to four main reasons to use one, in my many years of on stage sound engineering opinion;
    1/ Allows you to play without adjusting the controls on the amplifier. (Sometimes for players that use marker pens to mark the settings a sound engineer has set to get a good sound for stage use).
    2/ The harmonic distortion that is required is produced mainly in the over driven power stage, the same can be acheived with pre amp/driver valves but it is not too easy to get what 'you' want. (Rolling Stones single from the 60's comes instantly to mind).
    3/ Reduces the background his/hum.
    4/ Someone else is paying the elecricity bill.

    One good reason not to use one;
    1/ Don't buy that 'Boogie', they don't need stage microphones when used live!
     
  10. burntfrijoles

    burntfrijoles Poster Extraordinaire

    Posts:
    8,676
    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2010
    Location:
    Somewhere Over The Rainbow
    No. I think you’re right. I no longer have a master volume amp. I have a PRRI FSR 12” and a Tone King Gremlin with built in Attenuator. I like both a lot but the Gremlin can do more because I can push the normal or lead input and use the attenuator to keep it at a comfortable level. I wish I could do that with the Princeton.

    I don’t notice any “tone suck” or squashing at the level of attenuation I typically use.

    Marshall has at least included some “power scaling” on some of their models. It amazes me that Fender hasn’t done “vintage modified” versions of popular reissue amps to include power scaling. Instead they issue different tolex covers or some barely discernible tweaks or gimmicks.
     
    StevesBoogie likes this.
  11. StevesBoogie

    StevesBoogie Tele-Afflicted Ad Free Member

    Posts:
    1,266
    Joined:
    May 11, 2020
    Location:
    North Carolina
    Excellent points. My buddy has a Blackstar tube amp with power scaling and loves it. The Marshall Origin 20 is on my 'possible buy' list, partially because of the power scaling feature. But that idea of a vintage modified (heck they offer vintage modified guitars, why not amps) Fender Princeton sounds good to me!
     
    burntfrijoles likes this.
  12. MrCairo46

    MrCairo46 Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

    Posts:
    3,423
    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2009
    Location:
    Baltimore, Maryland Hon!
    I use them on 2 amps. My 94 Twin and my PRS Sonzera 20 because the master volume knobs on both these amps are difficult to adjust between 1 and 3 ( where the need be ). I can set both masters now around 5 and the range of the attenuators allows a wider range for me to comfortably set sound level.
     
  13. tattypicker

    tattypicker Tele-Meister

    Age:
    49
    Posts:
    292
    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2019
    Location:
    UK
    I’m happy with either. I got a Weber attenuator which works great with my non-MV Pro Junior at home. And opens up the opportunity for other non-MV amps to come home with me. But, I’ve never really thought that cranking the master volume on the amps that have it (Mesa TA and Orange TT) and then using the attenuator yielded a better sound than just turning down the MV on the amp.
     
    hotcoffeenochill likes this.
  14. bgmacaw

    bgmacaw Poster Extraordinaire

    Posts:
    7,456
    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2006
    Location:
    Near Athens GA USA
    Like many gear things, because (a) the internet said so and (b) experiences from decades ago that no longer hold true.
     
    beninma likes this.
  15. bgmacaw

    bgmacaw Poster Extraordinaire

    Posts:
    7,456
    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2006
    Location:
    Near Athens GA USA
    Using an attenuator (a cheap one, the Bugera PS1) is what led me to have my '73 PR refurbished instead of buying a new Tone King Gremlin. I may eventually get a Captor X but, for now, I'm pretty happy with the combination of the Bugera and a Hotone Binary IR Cab
     
  16. burntfrijoles

    burntfrijoles Poster Extraordinaire

    Posts:
    8,676
    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2010
    Location:
    Somewhere Over The Rainbow
    I am actually thinking of buying an attenuator for my PRRI. I don't really care about cab simulation for direct recording. It seems to offer few benefits over mic'ing my amp other than silent recording which I really don't care for anyway.
     
    Maguchi likes this.
  17. Marc Morfei

    Marc Morfei Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    Age:
    56
    Posts:
    2,984
    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2018
    Location:
    Wilmington, DE
    Because an attenuator is an extra $400 thing I would have to buy.
     
    Maguchi, fjblair, Drew617 and 7 others like this.
  18. johnnylaw

    johnnylaw Tele-Afflicted

    Age:
    64
    Posts:
    1,826
    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2007
    Location:
    New England
    I have an attenuator in one amp. I use it for the grab and go scenes where I want to skip pedals and travel light. It works very well.
    I have a few different amps though, none of which are MV equipped.
     
  19. bgmacaw

    bgmacaw Poster Extraordinaire

    Posts:
    7,456
    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2006
    Location:
    Near Athens GA USA
    Silent recording is important to me since my pal in my avatar loves to provide his "vocals" sometimes when I'm playing. Then, if he goes on a long enough jag, the dogs often start singing harmony with him.

    I also like using IR's where I can quickly and easily go from using an original 1x10 Oxford speaker to a 4x12 EVM 12L cabinet with expensive or vintage mics and studios I would never be able to afford.
     
    West44th likes this.
  20. Jimclarke100

    Jimclarke100 Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    2,011
    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2009
    Location:
    Horsham, UK
    My current bedroom setup is my home built PA18 (think in terms of the illegitimate offspring of a tweed deluxe and a Marshall 18w) plugged in to a Two Notes Torpedo Captor with the DI from that in to my Fishman Loudbox, no amp speaker connected. I normally play fairly clean; amp set a little hairy with the guitar backed off.

    The MV directly reduces the signal into the power stage and so affects power amp gain hence impacting the amps tone. An attenuator also impacts tone by way of reducing the drive to the speaker - you lose speaker distortion.

    In other words damned if you do damned if you don’t.

    Personal choice, but to me the Two Notes with its inbuilt IR keeps everything in with the sounds as I like them, and playing through the Loudbox allows me to keep the volume right down (as the wife and family like it). I’m sure though, being it’s the internet, someone will tell me otherwise.
     
IMPORTANT: Treat everyone here with respect, no matter how difficult!
No sex, drug, political, religion or hate discussion permitted here.