A lot of guitarists consider the attenuator to be an extremely essential part of their setups, especially if they are using tube or valve amplifiers. The attenuator is a device that goes in between the power and the speaker sections of an amplifier, converting a portion of the energy from your guitar into heat, so the rest can be properly processed into clear, noise-free sound by the amplifier. Turning down the volume and attenuation are not the same thing, since lower volumes can make the guitar sound weak and may even introduce unwanted noises into the mix. Instead what an attenuator does is, let you get every single note and frequency to the speakers un-tampered, without bursting your eardrums every time you play the guitar.
Buying a guitar amp attenuator for first time?
So, that was how this device works. But what if you wish to buy an attenuator for your studio or home practice? Turning down the volume is still good for playing at home, but why not enjoy your guitar’s authentic, untarnished sound without having to lower the volume? In that case you will need a good attenuator, and that’s precisely why you will want to pay attention to certain points. An attenuator is passive if it does not use an active electronic circuit to attenuate the incoming signals. What it means is that the attenuation process does not require external power. However this does not mean that the attenuator as a whole does not require power. AC fans inside the box may need power to cool the circuits. Passive attenuators are easier to maintain, cheaper, and occupy less space than active types. The sound quality is slightly compromised as a result, but today’s passive systems are beginning to match up in sound quality to their active counterparts.
Active amplifiers utilize an active electronic circuit and need external power to operate. They are more expensive and provide better sound quality than their cheaper, passive counterparts. In the end, your attenuators job is to keep the sound clean and original without blowing your ears. Look for a model that delivers consistently, and is not susceptible to external interference or noise. Also, remember to select an attenuator with an equal or higher power rating than your guitar amplifier, unless you want an electrical burnout during practice. If not a burnout, you will still suffer from bad sound quality and hissing if your attenuator cannot meet the requirements of your amplifier. Now, let’s take a look at some of top guitar amp attenuators. Each of these is excellent in its own price range, so choose based on your requirements.
Carl’s Custom Guitars Volume BoxPro: Handmade, extremely durable
Con: Slightly chops away the bass
For something this cheap, you are truly getting a ton of value. Every single one of these custom built machines is assembled by hand in the USA, and it works amazingly well with most amplifiers, especially tube amps. The sounds from your guitar are going to be reproduced correctly, except at ultra high volumes, when some of the bass might get cut off. But that can be resolved by getting a slightly low power amplifier, or by turning down the volume a notch. This attenuator sound amazing between the 25%-70% range, and can really handle the highest volumes as long as it is connected to a tube amp.
Electro Harmonix Nano Signal Pad Passive Attenuator|
Pro: Minimal grain and coloration in sound
Con: Only for single channel amps
The Electro Harmonix is a mix of value performance and solid build quality. It is a passive style attenuator, but you will still need a 9 V supply to keep it cool and running. One nice thing about it is the option to run on external, as well as battery power. The signal pad on this machine can vary the gain from any external input, including all guitars, and the true bypass lets you turn any single channel input into a dual channel setup for your amps. The selling feature of this attenuator is the fact that it rarely messes with the original sound, and the output grain, or coloration is kept at a near zero level.
KLD/PAN AMPS NEW PB-1 100 Watt AttenuatorPro: Up to -30 dB of attenuation
Con: Loses tone with amps 100 W and above
The PB-1 guitar amp attenuator is classified as a true studio-grade machine, and that is because of the insane -30 dB attenuation that it offers. You can choose to change the resistance via a knob in the form of 1.8 dB increments, or you can use the rheostat to from -7.2 dB, all the way up to -30 dB. One problem that some users may face is the fact that this attenuator has a power rating of 100 W. Meaning that it will have trouble providing output to amps rated above 100 W, keep that in mind before you buy one of these. Other than that, everything else about the PB-1 is perfect. It reproduces the sound from your guitar perfectly no matter what volume you play it on- the bass, highs, lows, and mid tone all comes out beautifully in this device.
Weber MicroMass AttenuatorPro: More than -50 dB of attenuation
Con: Hard to find
Weber is a pretty old school electronic component manufacturer, and although this attenuator is not specifically designed for guitars, it does the job better than specialist models. The MicroMass can deliver a whopping -50 dB of attenuation on demand, meaning that no matter how hard you rock your family members and neighbors can still sleep in peace. And, you don’t have to compromise with the sound quality since the attenuator outputs the exact same signal as it received in the input, but with a lower amplitude than before. It is basically like the perfect reverse amplifier- no loss in quality, and every single frequency is preserved. A special alloy box keeps the circuits cool, preventing any unwanted noise due to resistance changes. This is truly the perfect attenuator for this price, and you will be pleased by the dual power level controls. The first one handles low to mid frequencies (bass), while the second one handles the upper-mid to high frequencies or the treble.
Rivera RockCrusher Power AttenuatorPro: Impeccable sound quality, heavy duty construction
Con: Large and bulky
The RockCrusher is extremely versatile- you can use it between the amp and speaker as an attenuator, or you can use it as a load box, sending its balanced XLR or unbalanced 0.25″ line out to a secondary, or slave amp. There is a 8/16 Ohm selector switch that lets you select the perfect impedance level in accordance with the type of amp you are using. Tube amps are going to benefit greatly from this, and you also get a full bypass switch in the front panel that lets you completely remove the load from one channel which can come in really handy on the stage during a live performance, or in a studio recording session. Consistent performance is guaranteed by using industrial grade components in the circuit, while the 16-gauge steel body makes it virtually indestructible.
Two Notes TorpedoPro: Extremely versatile
Con: Hard to find
The Torpedo guitar amp attenuator gives you an entire set of tools that you need while performing live or recording in a studio. It combines a power attenuator, a multi-impedance load box, a DI, and a re-amping box into one compact and well-built package. This not only saves money and size, but also lets you control the impedance, attenuation, amp, and much more from just one single control panel. Not to mention all that wiring hassle that you just saved yourself from. The Tornado is designed with one purpose in mind- to make the speakers produce the exact same sound that came out of the guitar- nothing more, and nothing less. Loss-free industrial grade circuits ensure zero sound degradation and noise, while a high quality ventilation system keeps the heat outside so the circuits always function at maximum potential.