Question regarding gain staging

hey guys,

Having used the plugins, and now the quad cortex, its clear how important gain staging is before hitting the amp models/captures. This is especially evident when switching between humbuckers and single-coil guitars.

What I don’t understand, is how does this work on real amps? do people adjust the input levels somehow before hitting tube amps based on what guitars they’re using? do real amps somehow makeup for different levels? I haven’t had much exposure to tube amps in my life so pls forgive my ignorance.

I guess using an overdrive pedal in front of the amp is the irl equivalent of gain staging (?), but if that’s the case, does that mean i can leave the input level at 0 on my quad cortex, and then use OD pedals to adjust the gain when using a strat?

You can use any number of pedals or other devices to boost or cut the signal before real amps. Guitars have wildly different output levels and that is normal. You don’t need to worry about balancing the levels.

I set my input gain on the QC so that my hottest pickups don’t clip (0 for me) and then never touch it. The amp models react as expected. If you want to adjust the gain, there are so many better ways than messing with the input gain everytime you switch guitars.

And you don’t have to do anything with the strat, unless you actually want to boost it before the amp sim. Amps (real and simulated) have gain knobs and other level controls that allow you to adjust the gain.


Thanks for the reply.

Yea, that makes sense. I don’t know why I was under the impression that I should adjust the input level each time I change guitars. i guess guitar specific presets with required gain added to the signal chain should work.

1 Like

Hi. I can only tell you my experience with the plugins as I don’t have a QC. Unlike analogue, it isn’t advantageous with digital to come in as hot as possible, it’s about coming in with a good signal to noise ratio, while leaving enough headroom. You don’t want to come in too cold though, otherwise you have a weak SNR and you’ll get noise in your sound. You should aim to go into the plugins with a peak of about -12 from your interface by adjusting the gain on your interface, and this will likely be different per instrument (some pickups are hotter than others). Set it once per instrument, then don’t touch it. Then in the plug-in, you can adjust input to taste. I tend to leave it at 0 unless it’s a lead patch where I tend to increase it slightly. You may also find a slight tweak to the input gain helps shape the tone a bit. Rest of the tinkering should be done on the amp/fx itself. You then shut the output on the plug-in to get a desired output level, and this is useful when performing live to get a consistent sound level across your patches.