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4 comments / Posted by Bruce Ohms

Transparent Gear: V3 Guitar Amp

Spend some time on any online gear forums, and you'll likely find the word “transparent” gets thrown around a lot, especially in reference to effects pedals and guitar amps. It’s often touted as a good thing for many reasons. While different musicians have varying definitions of what qualifies as a transparent sound, the term generally refers to the way in which a piece of equipment adds minimal, if any, of its own tonal qualities to the original instrument’s sound.

A guitar played through a transparent overdrive pedal, for instance, leaves most of the guitar’s nature and tone intact while adding grit and distortion. Similarly, a transparent guitar amplifier faithfully conveys the nuances of your guitar without adding its own coloration. Of course, the definition of transparent is completely subjective; this article will give a rundown of the different ways musicians may hear different gear.

Amplifiers and “Baked-in” vs. Transparent Tone

Have you ever tried out a new amp with all the EQ controls set at noon and noticed that some frequencies popped out or were more prominent than others, despite the “flat” EQ setting? This may be due to it having a “baked-in” voicing. Every amplifier has its own voicing or tonal characteristics that contribute to its signature sound. Some completely change the nature of your instrument by adding a distinct emphasis on certain frequencies (increased upper mid presence, for example) and adjusting EQ may or may not be able to completely remove it. This is not necessarily a bad thing- if you like the way it makes your guitar sound right out of the box, and it also sounds good with the band, then your job is done. Although they may not be considered to be transparent, many amplifiers with a prominent baked-in tone are designed to be able to get a particular sound quickly, with minimal knob turning, and this can be really helpful in minimizing the time you spend dialing in your sound.

An amp that is more transparent can serve as a clean palette on which to create your tone, since it lacks a prominent baked-in voicing. If you use a lot of effects pedals to shape your sound, a transparent, neutral amplifier can serve as a great platform. Similarly, musicians who prefer that their amplifier faithfully reproduce their instrument, rather than serve as an additional tone shaping source, may find that an uncolored amp works better for them. How can you tell if it is transparent? With your ears, of course! Everyone hears differently and only you know what sound you want.

Consider Equalization and Tone Shaping Options, Too

An amp’s equalization options are perhaps more important than whether or not it is transparent. Even if you’ve dialed in your tone now, it will change over time and even from song to song, and your amplifier needs to be able to roll with those changes. Consider your amp’s EQ and tone shaping capabilities rather than what they sound like at flat settings. Amplifiers with baked-in voicing, for instance, may be able to be made transparent with a few knob turns, or a few changes to your guitar’s tone controls. Amps that seem transparent can be given another distinct flavor by doing the same. Amps with voicing switches like the Carvin Audio V3 go the extra mile and let you switch up your amp’s voicing on the fly, for instances, where you need a particular flavor or just want to change it up.

V3 Guitar Amp with Bright, Mid Cut, and Deep ControlsThe Carvin Audio V3’s bright, mid cut, and deep controls give you a plethora of master tonal options within easy reach.

Tone is Not Just in Your Amp

Your overall sound is a combination of everything from your choice of instrument, amplifier, effects, and of course, your playing style and technique. The way you attack your strings may be just as equally responsible for your tone as your amp. Rather than focusing on whether or not an amp is transparent, try to find one that complements your overall setup and provides the tone shaping options needed to give you a versatile sonic palette.


  • Posted On January 13, 2017 by Daniel

    Do you guys have any preset settings of knobs that you could show of how other bassists on the BX500 might set up? Showing how, say Victor Wooten might set up his tone verses Getty Lee?

  • Posted On January 13, 2017 by Uncle Ralph

    If you want to hear something deadly dull, as in totally uninteresting, plug an electric guitar into a hi-fi stereo system. It’s total crap. Electric guitars need help tonally—-a LOT of help. You might think a Strat plugged into a stock Super Reverb with the volume on 2 is clean. From a high fidelity standpoint, not even close. There is a LOT of tone color built into a guitar amp—-any amp, and the numbers on the tone controls, in most cases, mean nothing. They are there so you can set your tone the same way again if you find a setting you like. For instance, Alembic, the folks who did sound for the Grateful Dead for many years, found that the traditional Fender tone stack was flatest with the controls set: bass = 3, mid = 10, treble = 3. And that wasn’t that flat, just as flat as it got. As you might surmise, the mid control is a cut-only effect. With all tone controls at 5, there is a pronounced bass and treble boost. That’s the sound of a “clean” Fender.

    You can, of course, make your sound with pedals then run that into a hi-fi amp or directly into the PA, but you need to do something. Acoustic guitars get a tremendous amount of tone shaping from the design of the body and top; a solid-body electric needs the electronic equivalent of that—-at least. Don’t forget speakers, too. Most speakers designed for guitar amps are anything but flat. Most of them have a pretty ragged frequency response that helps create your electric guitar sound, but sound very honky if used to play back recorded music.

    Hi-fi audio systems and electric guitar amps serve two different purposes. The hi-fi audio system REPRODUCES sound, and it should do so as faithfully as possible. A guitar amp PRODUCES sound; it is part of your musical instrument. It does more than make it loud—-or at least it should.

  • Posted On January 12, 2017 by J Balmer

    I count on every component, including my fingers, to contribute to my tone. Otherwise I might as well just plug directly into the PA…

  • Posted On January 12, 2017 by Larry D Barr

    When it comes to transparent audio, I’ve always considered Carvin amps to be “a straight wire with gain”. No coloration at all, what you put in is what comes out…just louder. Love ’em.

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