If you’re new to the world of guitar amps, you’re likely trying to understand all of the knobs on the amp itself — including presence control. The presence control is the one control that still confuses people today, so what is it?
Presence on a guitar amp affects the present frequencies, making the sound more lively and stand out. The presence control can boost the high-frequency range to over 5000 Hz. This control is often compared to the treble control but differs in output distribution.
The rest of this article will cover what the presence control on a guitar amp entails, the difference between presence, treble, and gain controls, and general information on the audio frequency subsets. I’ll also explain the difference between resonance and presence and give some tips on properly using presence on a guitar amp. Let’s get started!
Understanding the Role of Presence on a Guitar Amp
Unlike acoustic guitars with a hollow body to transmit sounds, electric guitars need an amp to produce the full sound, and with that comes the many controls on the amplifier.
However, not every guitar amp will have presence control, so if you bought a new guitar amp and you notice this control for the first time, you’re not alone. Even some of the most experienced electric guitar players might be stumped by this new control on their amp.
To fully understand what the presence control on your amp does, you need to first know how exactly the presence works. Amps consist of two sections: preamp and poweramp.
You’re likely most familiar with the preamp section, as the typical tone controls are in this section, including bass, treble, and mid controls. While these controls are great for controlling the amount of frequency, they don’t necessarily “boost” the sound. That’s where poweramp comes in.
The poweramp section of the amp boosts the high-frequency range, but only the upper-mids and treble frequencies can be boosted. In other words, while the preamp stage shapes the tone, the poweramp stage increases the overall volume of the amplifier.
Therefore, if you want your guitar to be the primary focus, you’ll want to turn the presence up. If not, keep the presence down.
Treble vs Presence: What’s the Difference?
Understanding the difference between treble and presence is dependent on knowing how the amp itself operates. As I’ve already gone over, the two sections of the amp (preamp and poweramp) function differently, and since the treble and presence are in each section, they have different functions.
The difference between treble and presence is their function toward the amp. While they do similar things, the treble changes the tone of the sound, and the presence control changes the volume.
The treble and presence are often confused, which is understandable because they both affect the high-end frequencies of the amp. However, with them being in separate stages (preamp and poweramp), they change the sound in different ways.
Is Presence and Gain the Same Thing?
While now you know that presence and treble, while similar, are not the same, it’s essential that I also explain the differences between presence and gain. Like treble, gain is a function in the amplifier’s preamp section, so it has a different job from presence in the poweramp section.
Presence and gain are not the same thing. Gain is a part of the preamp controls that shape the tone. Presence doesn’t shape the tone but increases the high frequency instead. While they both play a role in the amp’s overall sound, their purpose is very different.
Gain has a significant effect on your amp’s tone. Its primary job in the preamp section is determining the signal strength and getting distortion in or out of your sound, whichever you prefer.
Resonance vs. Presence: What’s the Difference?
Unlike treble or gain, resonance is more similar to presence because they’re both in the poweramp section of the amplifier. However, while they act similarly in the amp, they have different jobs.
As you now know, the presence control controls the treble response in the amp. However, the function of the resonance control is to control the bass response. Therefore, while presence controls the higher frequencies, resonance controls the lower frequencies.
What Frequency is Presence Audio?
Presence audio is high frequency, from 4 to 6 kHz. Presence controls are above the treble frequencies and control or increase the brightness of the sound. Therefore, it assists in making the higher-frequency sounds sound more “present” and less distorted.
Understanding audio frequencies can be challenging if you’re a beginner. So, let’s review some basics about the various audio frequency subsets and dive into how the presence controls contribute to the overall sound.
Audio Frequency Subsets
The various controls might be overwhelming if you’ve never had an amp. However, with some knowledge and practice playing around with them, you’ll be an amp-pro in no time. There are seven audio frequency subsets, which I’ll discuss in order from the lowest to the highest frequency in the sections below.
Sub-bass is a very low musical range, so you’ll often see instruments such as the bass or tuba playing in this range. This frequency range is the lowest — ranging from 16 to 60 Hz. Humans can’t hear frequencies lower than 20 Hz, so you won’t hear any lower frequencies than sub-bass.
The bass frequency subset is one step up from the sub-bass. However, this musical range is typically the vocal speaking range for both men and women, ranging from 60 to 250 Hz. In case you’re wondering, women average around 165 to 255 Hz, and men typically speak at between 85 to 155 Hz.
The lower midrange scale is just below the midrange, with the frequency range being between 250 to 500 Hz. The instruments that typically play in this audio frequency include the guitar, clarinet, and alto saxophone.
The midrange frequency is when the frequency jumps from Hertz (Hz) to Kilohertz (kHz), which is equal to 1000 Hz. This frequency ranges from 500 Hz to 2 kHz. While the guitar is definitely a midrange instrument, you’ll also frequently hear instruments such as the flute, violin, and even piccolo in this range.
The higher midrange sits just below presence, at 2 to 4 kHz frequency. This range is used as harmonics for lower frequencies. However, this high frequency is extremely sensitive to human ears, so be careful when using this frequency at high volumes.
Presence, as I’ve gone over, ranges from 4 to 6 kHz and works to better define the sound at higher frequencies. However, presence isn’t the highest frequency subset, as there’s one slightly higher.
Lastly, we have brilliance, which is the highest musical frequency. Brilliance ranges from 6 to 20 kHz, which helps it sound brighter and clearer. However, you have to be careful with this frequency, as it’s very high-pitched, so you must find that sweet spot between sounding too harsh and too dull or dark when changing the brilliance controls.
Tips on How To Properly Use Presence on a Guitar Amp
Now that you know all there is to know about the primary purpose of presence and what it does to sound, you’re likely curious about how to properly use it on your amp. Like other controls, twisting the presence knob clockwise will increase the output of the high frequencies, and counterclockwise will decrease the output.
Here are some additional basic tips on how to use the presence controls:
- Adjust the controls on the preamp section before the poweramp section of the amplifier. As presence boosts the treble frequencies, having the treble at the position you’d like is ideal.
- The presence control on your amp might differ slightly from others, so it’s essential to be aware of that. However, you can expect most amps to have a presence control that boosts that high-frequency range by 5000 Hz. To know for sure, it’s best to check with the manufacturer of your specific amp.
- You’ll want to lower the presence if you want a sound with a noticeable cut on the top end. The higher the presence, the brighter the sound. However, in some instances, bright isn’t what you want.
- Because the presence control is often routed through the input circuit, any changes to the volume could negatively (or positively) affect the presence sound. This differs from the treble controls, as it doesn’t go through the input circuit, so it’s best to be aware of the sound difference.
Presence on a guitar amp works to control the higher frequencies, making it sound less distorted and more “present.” Not every amplifier has a presence control, so not many people understand its functionality, often confusing it with treble control.
However, while treble controls the tone of the sound, presence makes it louder — by 5000 Hz. Additionally, treble is in the preamp section, and presence is in the poweramp section, so it routes through the input circuitry.
You should look into your specific amp to understand how it works, as the presence control won’t work the exact same on every amp.