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Amplifier fact or fiction?
Old 30th January 2013
  #1
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Amplifier fact or fiction?

I was setting up some gear for a live concert along with this other older guy. When it came time to set up the amp for the speakers I set the gain dials on the amp to 12oclock (halfway). The older dude came and dialed them all the way up to the max. He claimed when the amp is pumping at its maximum it allows the speakers to give out frequencies that otherwise wouldn't come out at lower amp gain. This resulting effect would be advantageous to the sound in his opinion. Is this true?
Old 30th January 2013
  #2
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 5 years
He's 100% correct to turn them up full. That 'gain' nob isnt a gain nob, its attenuation. What you're doing by turning it down is not limiting or decreasing the signal or anything. This can et you into big problems if, say, someone drops a mic on stage. since you'll be running a hot signs (lets say its a 24db attenuation dial, so 12+ db hotter than it 'needs' to be) you're far more likely to blow something up, by not tripping you amp's built-in clip protection/limiter.


IF the amp is truly analogue, I think he could have a point. You want the least attenuation possible, as that would degrade the signal a little bit, and introduce some distortion/noise. This is the same principle of, on an analogue console, always set your gain so your faders are closets to 0db.

Today, where 95% of amps, and nearly 100% of high power live-soun amps, are digital-based (solid state, A/D, etc) it shouldn't make any difference.
Old 30th January 2013
  #3
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🎧 10 years
Simple answer is no...

Optimal setting is more complex than that, but in typical power amplifiers frequency response does not change with input trim. Unless you overdrive the amp and it then it puts out added distortion too.

JR
Old 30th January 2013
  #4
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There was a thread that had folks chiming in their opinions on whether to turn up all the way or not on PA amps.

I turn 'em up all the way and use system processing for independent element level control.
It doesn't give you more frequencies, but it does enable you to use the full potential of the amp. Obviously if you are running a very small set-up it may be necessary to back off a bit.
Old 30th January 2013
  #5
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For more of gain strategy... Yes, setting input trim too low could cause input path (anywhere upstream of amp) to overload before the amp puts out full power, so you waste any benefit from using a larger amp (like headroom) when trim is set too low.
----
If relying upon the amplifier's internal clip limiter for overload protection, you want the input trim set WFO (wide open) so the electronics before the amp don't clip, even with 10 dB+ of limiting by the amplifier. There is little benefit from clip limiting the amp if you send it an already clipped signal.

-----
For low ambient noise applications (like reinforcement in a church), you can reduce the amplifier and interface related (wiring) noise floor by sending a hot signal to the amps and trimming them back at the amp input.

---
Finally, setting the amps to 12'oclock is not as precise and repeatable as trimmed full up, so when using multiple amps they might not track as well at some mid trim setting.

For R&R WFO is probably a good default trim setting, but not for anything close to the reason the OP was told.

JR
Old 30th January 2013
  #6
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Yeah this is all debatable, but I will say that every amazing PA that I've ever mixed on had one thing in common - Gobs and gobs of clean power. The only time I use the attenuator on a power amp is if I need to adjust levels l/R or H/M/L and I don't have access to the system processor.

Other than that I see no reason why someone would want to turn their amps down. I guess they think that it is because they have too much power for their cabinets and are afraid of blowing them, but IME if you are running a system clean blowing up speakers isn't an issue and I commonly drive each speaker with 2-4 times their rated RMS power.

On the other hand, if someone has tried this and found they get better results doing so, I can see that. All I can say is turning down amps doesn't work for me.
Old 30th January 2013
  #7
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A lot of valuable info here thanks guys.
Old 30th January 2013
  #8
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🎧 15 years

Well opinions are like....

...here's mine: I cut my teeth when lights were noisy. The biggest problem with this is the idle setting on those PCD channels can be pretty loud when the band isn't on stage. So, an attenuator that limits the headroom (lets say 10dB) also cleans up the noise floor on dark stages. We always had boards that would drive well past nominal +4dBu cleanly.

I suppose you could use gates at the amp racks, but that seems a luxury in old-school type systems. With remote control crossovers at the rack or digital links, all these reasons disappear.



-tINY

Old 31st January 2013
  #9
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🎧 10 years
Much confusion surrounds power amplifier controls.

First, let's establish that power amplifier "level/volume/gain" controls are input sensitivity controls. (no matter how they are calibrated.) They are not power controls. They have absolutely nothing to do with output power. They are sensitivity controls, i.e., these controls determine exactly what input level will cause the amplifier to produce full power. Or, if you prefer, they determine just how sensitive the amplifier is. For example, they might be set such that an input level of +4 dBu causes full power, or such that an input level of +20 dBu causes full power, or whatever-input-level-your-system-may-require, causes full power.

Amplifier input sensitivity controls do not change the available output power. They only change the input level required to produce full output power. Clearly understanding the above, makes setting these controls elementary. You want the maximum system signal to cause full power at the amplifier.

Many loudspeakers are not designed to reproduce full power sine waves or pink noise test signals for extended, or sometimes even short periods of time. This is especially true of multi-way loudspeaker systems which are designed to handle extended periods of loud music or speech signals which are considerably less demanding than sine or pink noise signals. Paging systems that use 70/100 volt distribution transformers are more likely to be OK when driven with full power sine and pink noise signals for a little while.

To set the amplifier controls to achieve full power with your maximum input signal use the following procedure. If your system uses active crossovers, for the moment, set all the crossover output level controls to maximum.

1. At the amplifier, disconnect the loudspeakers that cannot handle demanding sine and pink noise test signals, or for those confident the test signal will not harm their loudspeaker(s), warn everyone you are about to make a LOT of noise! Can you say "ear plugs?"

2. Turn the amplifier sensitivity controls all the way down (least sensitive; fully CCW; off).

Warning: even at this minimum sensitivity setting, many amplifiers still produce considerable levels. Since all upstream level controls are currently set to deliver the maximum signal, use an upstream level control that is easily and accurately reset to its current position to turn down the test signal. This is most likely the console's main output level.
3. Turn on the first power amplifier.

4. Return the system level to its previous setting at the console's main output to make sure the signal at the device driving the amp is again delivering max (unclipped) signal.

5. Slowly rotate the amplifier sensitivity control until clipping just begins. Stop! This is the maximum possible power output using the maximum system input signal. In general, if there is never a bigger input signal, this setting guarantees the amplifier cannot clip. (Note: if this much power causes the loudspeaker to "bottom out," or distort in any manner, then you have a mismatch between your amp and speaker. Matching speakers and amps is another subject beyond this note.)

6. Repeat the above process for each power amplifier.

7. Turn the test signal off, reconnect the loads to the amplifiers if need be.

Here's the whole tech notes from which the above info was referenced.

http://www.rane.com/note135.html

I set my mixers main output to just below clipping which happens to read about +15. Unplug speakers and turn amp input gain up to clipping then back a couple clicks.

Now I know the amp and mixer will clip at about the same point. So I have the same amount of headroom in both. I use an iPhone app to send pink noise into the mixer or music similar to what I will be playing thru the system.

With a biamp system I set HF/LF crossover gain output at 0 before setting amp gains.
If my top cabs are rated 103db @1watt/1meter and subs are 100db,
Then when I'm done setting amp gains, I back off the HF xover out -3db to compensate for speaker efficiency differences. Usually I end up going even lower on the HF to balance out the HF/LF instead of boosting the LF and reducing headroom.

Now I know I can run the mixer out meter up to +15 if need be. I frequently run levels peaking +6-8 and average RMS at around 0.

If the amps are wide open and clipping with peaks on the mixer just above unity, then you have zero headroom in the amp and +15 avail in the mixer.

If more volume is needed then use limiters on the HF/LF xover outs or compressors on channels for kick, snare, bass, vocals, etc
Old 31st January 2013 | Show parent
  #10
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manfrensengensen ➑️
Much confusion surrounds power amplifier controls.

First, let's establish that power amplifier "level/volume/gain" controls are input sensitivity controls. (no matter how they are calibrated.) They are not power controls. They have absolutely nothing to do with output power. They are sensitivity controls, i.e., these controls determine exactly what input level will cause the amplifier to produce full power. Or, if you prefer, they determine just how sensitive the amplifier is. For example, they might be set such that an input level of +4 dBu causes full power, or such that an input level of +20 dBu causes full power, or whatever-input-level-your-system-may-require, causes full power.
I would add the additional distinction that the input trim is a "voltage gain" control, so applying simple math, if the amp puts out X volts max, this gain control will translate to X (output volts)/(amp)gain at the input.

Speaking in terms of power involves the load impedance being driven so more complex, and for severe loads the amp could run out of amps before it runs out of volts.

The simple voltage gain analogy works over most of the gain range, but some topologies, like where a passive attenuator follows a fixed active balanced input, that attenuator could be turned down far enough that the input stage clips before the amplifier output clips. This is not really an amp design shortcoming, since other stages upstream will clip around the same level as the amp's active input stage.
Quote:

Amplifier input sensitivity controls do not change the available output power. They only change the input level required to produce full output power. Clearly understanding the above, makes setting these controls elementary. You want the maximum system signal to cause full power at the amplifier.
Yup.. As previously mentioned it only prevents full power output when turned down so far that the upstream path clips before the amp.
Quote:
Many loudspeakers are not designed to reproduce full power sine waves or pink noise test signals for extended, or sometimes even short periods of time. This is especially true of multi-way loudspeaker systems which are designed to handle extended periods of loud music or speech signals which are considerably less demanding than sine or pink noise signals. Paging systems that use 70/100 volt distribution transformers are more likely to be OK when driven with full power sine and pink noise signals for a little while.
? There are other subtle differences with constant voltage systems, but this is not even remotely related to the OP's question.
Quote:
To set the amplifier controls to achieve full power with your maximum input signal use the following procedure. If your system uses active crossovers, for the moment, set all the crossover output level controls to maximum.

1. At the amplifier, disconnect the loudspeakers that cannot handle demanding sine and pink noise test signals, or for those confident the test signal will not harm their loudspeaker(s), warn everyone you are about to make a LOT of noise! Can you say "ear plugs?"

2. Turn the amplifier sensitivity controls all the way down (least sensitive; fully CCW; off).

Warning: even at this minimum sensitivity setting, many amplifiers still produce considerable levels. Since all upstream level controls are currently set to deliver the maximum signal, use an upstream level control that is easily and accurately reset to its current position to turn down the test signal. This is most likely the console's main output level.
3. Turn on the first power amplifier.

4. Return the system level to its previous setting at the console's main output to make sure the signal at the device driving the amp is again delivering max (unclipped) signal.

5. Slowly rotate the amplifier sensitivity control until clipping just begins. Stop! This is the maximum possible power output using the maximum system input signal. In general, if there is never a bigger input signal, this setting guarantees the amplifier cannot clip. (Note: if this much power causes the loudspeaker to "bottom out," or distort in any manner, then you have a mismatch between your amp and speaker. Matching speakers and amps is another subject beyond this note.)

6. Repeat the above process for each power amplifier.

7. Turn the test signal off, reconnect the loads to the amplifiers if need be.

Here's the whole tech notes from which the above info was referenced.

Setting Sound System Level Controls

I set my mixers main output to just below clipping which happens to read about +15. Unplug speakers and turn amp input gain up to clipping then back a couple clicks.

Now I know the amp and mixer will clip at about the same point. So I have the same amount of headroom in both. I use an iPhone app to send pink noise into the mixer or music similar to what I will be playing thru the system.

With a biamp system I set HF/LF crossover gain output at 0 before setting amp gains.
If my top cabs are rated 103db @1watt/1meter and subs are 100db,
Then when I'm done setting amp gains, I back off the HF xover out -3db to compensate for speaker efficiency differences. Usually I end up going even lower on the HF to balance out the HF/LF instead of boosting the LF and reducing headroom.

Now I know I can run the mixer out meter up to +15 if need be. I frequently run levels peaking +6-8 and average RMS at around 0.

If the amps are wide open and clipping with peaks on the mixer just above unity, then you have zero headroom in the amp and +15 avail in the mixer.

If more volume is needed then use limiters on the HF/LF xover outs or compressors on channels for kick, snare, bass, vocals, etc
I think we are making this more complicated than it really is. Precise amplifier voltage gain is only important when using active crossovers before the amps to insure proper frequency balance.

Other than that, especially if using the clip limiting capability built into most SR amps, KISS, or do no harm. So don't trim them down so far you prevent the amp for making it's full available power. IF you don't have a noise floor problem, or multi-way system, WFO is OK.

JR

PS: The RANE notes are quite good.
Old 31st January 2013 | Show parent
  #11
S21
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🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manfrensengensen ➑️
Amplifier input sensitivity controls do not change the available output power. They only change the input level required to produce full output power. Clearly understanding the above, makes setting these controls elementary. You want the maximum system signal to cause full power at the amplifier.
+1

Very well stated.
Old 31st January 2013 | Show parent
  #12
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by S21 ➑️
Quote:
You want the maximum system signal to cause full power at the amplifier.
+1
Very well stated.
Unless, like I posted earlier, you are using an amplifier with clip limiting enabled. Then you want to be able to drive the amplifier past output stage overload, or the clip limiter delivers absolutely no benefit from turning down the amp gain.

If the amp is lined up to clip simultaneously with the mixer, the clip limiter function is pointless, as the path before the amp still clips, even with amp gain turned down.

I have seen as much as 15-20 dB of gain reduction available inside clip limiter circuits, while I do not suggest you ever need or want to use that full amount of gain reduction. Something more than 0dB seems practical....

or not, if you never clip your system.

JR
Old 31st January 2013
  #13
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🎧 5 years
Remembering that the clip limiter in the amplifier prevents the amp from clipping ... which may not be the same thing as protecting the speakers from excessive power.
Old 31st January 2013 | Show parent
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dboomer ➑️
Remembering that the clip limiter in the amplifier prevents the amp from clipping ... which may not be the same thing as protecting the speakers from excessive power.
There is a great deal of misinformation surrounding amp clipping and I am reluctant to re-open that can of worms.

Without internal DSP and smart algorithms (or direct sensing), the only thing that will protect loudspeakers completely is good operator judgement.

While amplifier clip limiters are mainly to insure a degree of sound quality when the operator turns up too far, it does at the same time reduce the power that the loudspeakers would see, and the amp must output without clip limiting.

While clip limiters generally use fast attack and fast release time constants, they do reduce the gain dynamically during the duration of loud transient events that would otherwise clip the amplifiers and play a few dB louder. This reduces the entire signal -X dB during those loud passages, not just the peaks. So clip limiting does reduce the average power output.

It does make a difference in strain on loudspeaker drivers and amp stages when routinely over driven. Many a heavy handed operator has been helped (if not saved) by clip limiting, while nothing can completely idiot-proof sound systems against operator abuse because dynamic presentation of music needs peak power well in excess of continuous power the speakers can tolerate.

JR
Old 1st February 2013 | Show parent
  #15
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Andy Hamm's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manfrensengensen ➑️
Much confusion surrounds power amplifier controls.

First, let's establish that power amplifier "level/volume/gain" controls are input sensitivity controls. (no matter how they are calibrated.) They are not power controls. They have absolutely nothing to do with output power. They are sensitivity controls, i.e., these controls determine exactly what input level will cause the amplifier to produce full power. Or, if you prefer, they determine just how sensitive the amplifier is. For example, they might be set such that an input level of +4 dBu causes full power, or such that an input level of +20 dBu causes full power, or whatever-input-level-your-system-may-require, causes full power.

Amplifier input sensitivity controls do not change the available output power. They only change the input level required to produce full output power. Clearly understanding the above, makes setting these controls elementary. You want the maximum system signal to cause full power at the amplifier.
....
Here in Canada we skip the long explanations and just call them attenuators because they reduce the input signal

You guys that are running with the attenuators turned down don't worry about someone walking by and cranking them back up in the middle of a set? It seems so much easier to reduce the output of the crossover/processor.

I often use the same amps for my highs, mids and lows. I can see bringing my subs up to clip, but if I did that with my horns I'd be sending shrapnel across the room !
Old 1st February 2013 | Show parent
  #16
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🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Hamm ➑️

You guys that are running with the attenuators turned down don't worry about someone walking by and cranking them back up in the middle of a set? It seems so much easier to reduce the output of the crossover/processor.
Yes ... if you can't control your equipment then that would be a good idea. However if you can control your equipment there is a noise penalty in turning down the processor's outputs.
Old 1st February 2013
  #17
Gear Addict
 
🎧 5 years
I think it depends on the amplifier design. Lots of new amps have so many preamp gain stages I just can't imagine turning the whole amp up to 10 gives you any more harmonics.

That being said, when you look at say an old plexi that had 1 (user controllable) gain stage, going to 10 was probably key to the sound depending on point of view. You look at Eddie's setup from 78 - 1980 (variac aside) he cranked the amp to ten but used an additional power amp to attenuate and control the output of the amp to the cabs. He got all the harmonics possible from the amp and used the power amp to control what is essentially now a master volume. Essentially Eddie inspired the master volume multiple gain stage thing found in today's amps. Like his sound or not it is the basis of all modern heavy harmonic rich guitar tones and how they are achieved as far as gain staging of the pre and power combination designs.

It depends on the amp you are using. I use JCM 800s they have 2 controllable preamp gain stages (gain and volume) and master volume. From my experiments cranking the master actually kills harmonics with this amp. With a plexi turning everything up and using a crossover jumped inputs patch, enriches harmonics.

Amps are apples oranges and kiwi fruit. No one can claim turning all amps' gains up will increase harmonics or frequency range, response whatever. All amps are designed and built different. You can turn a solid state amp up all the way it will not increase harmonics, it will just produce an irritating sound. You can turn certain tube amps up to 10 like say the Hughes and Kettner Pure tone, and it will not overdrive or produce additional harmonics than it does on setting 1.

So the OP question here is, it is both fact and fiction, it depends on what amp you are running your guitar through.
Old 1st February 2013 | Show parent
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Hamm ➑️
Here in Canada we skip the long explanations and just call them attenuators because they reduce the input signal

You guys that are running with the attenuators turned down don't worry about someone walking by and cranking them back up in the middle of a set? It seems so much easier to reduce the output of the crossover/processor.
Good point... I recall when I was a power amp product manager pondering the feature set for future models. I questioned why do low cost amps need input trims at all? In my judgement they really don't. We can safely ASSume the typical max input voltage level they will get from line level gear, etc.

After my review the overwhelming feedback was that customers think they need input trims, and the customer is always right.

JR
Old 1st February 2013
  #19
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I have been pushing faders and twisting Knobs with traveling Bluegrass bands since 1968 and have had to deal with more than a few poorly set up systems at festival venues that did not have savy folks making decisions. I think the trend is for much improvement in technical electronic applications of almost everything in sound re-enforcement. With that said this whole discussion gives me a headache and for this and many other reasons when we evolved into much more self contained concert work I bought a KV2 ES system eight years ago that does all the processing internally. All I have to do is place a four box stack with a companion power/processing module on each side - Plug in the 100 amp breaker for a (20 amp x 4) power distro - Run Smaart and then----do sound check. I push faders and twist knobs-- I am not a "recording electrical engineer".
Hugh
Old 1st February 2013 | Show parent
  #20
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🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnRoberts ➑️
Good point... I recall when I was a power amp product manager pondering the feature set for future models. I questioned why do low cost amps need input trims at all? In my judgement they really don't. We can safely ASSume the typical max input voltage level they will get from line level gear, etc.

After my review the overwhelming feedback was that customers think they need input trims, and the customer is always right.
For installed systems it is not uncommon to want to have good gain structure but also control the typical output levels. Thus for years it was fairly common practice in those situations to determine the attenuation required to get the desired SPL levels from the system and then install fixed pads right before the amp(s), allowing you to get the desired result with the amp run wide open. This is also why many installation oriented amplifiers had the input level controls on the rear panel or able to be covered with security covers in order to allow the amp inputs to be trimmed to provide the desired output levels while also limiting access to those controls.

In many modern systems that variable attenuation may be possible at the outputs of devices before the amps, however that is not always a practical or available option, for example some devices apply output attenuation before the D/A conversion rather than in analog domain after it.
Old 1st February 2013 | Show parent
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by museAV ➑️
For installed systems it is not uncommon to want to have good gain structure but also control the typical output levels. Thus for years it was fairly common practice in those situations to determine the attenuation required to get the desired SPL levels from the system and then install fixed pads right before the amp(s), allowing you to get the desired result with the amp run wide open. This is also why many installation oriented amplifiers had the input level controls on the rear panel or able to be covered with security covers in order to allow the amp inputs to be trimmed to provide the desired output levels while also limiting access to those controls.
For install systems, service calls are profit killers, so there is motivation to "customer proof" the systems. I have also seen rear panel screw driver trim adjustments in value amps (because it's cheaper). In my experience install product buyers are pretty price conscious so eliminating front panels controls is doubly attractive. An amp without a gain knob is cheaper to use, than adding a security cover to keep the customer out.
Quote:
In many modern systems that variable attenuation may be possible at the outputs of devices before the amps, however that is not always a practical or available option, for example some devices apply output attenuation before the D/A conversion rather than in analog domain after it.
This is still an ongoing evolution... before long it will be cheaper to just stay in the digital domain up to and into the amp (or powered speaker). In big dog large installs there is value in the amp being able to communicate it's status (and it's load's status) back to the system controller. But what does this have to do with the OP's question? Not much.

JR
Old 1st February 2013 | Show parent
  #22
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🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnRoberts ➑️
For install systems, service calls are profit killers, so there is motivation to "customer proof" the systems. I have also seen rear panel screw driver trim adjustments in value amps (because it's cheaper). In my experience install product buyers are pretty price conscious so eliminating front panels controls is doubly attractive.
If you are as old as me you can remember that Crown amps used to come with a kit that replaces the knob with a screwdriver adjust kit
Old 1st February 2013 | Show parent
  #23
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by emitsweet ➑️
I think it depends on the amplifier design. Lots of new amps have so many preamp gain stages I just can't imagine turning the whole amp up to 10 gives you any more harmonics.

That being said, when you look at say an old plexi that had 1 (user controllable) gain stage, going to 10 was probably key to the sound depending on point of view. You look at Eddie's setup from 78 - 1980 (variac aside) he cranked the amp to ten but used an additional power amp to attenuate and control the output of the amp to the cabs. He got all the harmonics possible from the amp and used the power amp to control what is essentially now a master volume. Essentially Eddie inspired the master volume multiple gain stage thing found in today's amps. Like his sound or not it is the basis of all modern heavy harmonic rich guitar tones and how they are achieved as far as gain staging of the pre and power combination designs.

It depends on the amp you are using. I use JCM 800s they have 2 controllable preamp gain stages (gain and volume) and master volume. From my experiments cranking the master actually kills harmonics with this amp. With a plexi turning everything up and using a crossover jumped inputs patch, enriches harmonics.

Amps are apples oranges and kiwi fruit. No one can claim turning all amps' gains up will increase harmonics or frequency range, response whatever. All amps are designed and built different. You can turn a solid state amp up all the way it will not increase harmonics, it will just produce an irritating sound. You can turn certain tube amps up to 10 like say the Hughes and Kettner Pure tone, and it will not overdrive or produce additional harmonics than it does on setting 1.

So the OP question here is, it is both fact and fiction, it depends on what amp you are running your guitar through.
OP was talking about power amps for PA's, not guitars, but some valid points. Guitar amps and gain staging is a whole other discussion thread that would spawn multiple opinions on similar amps, styles, etc.
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