It's a well known fact that the harder a tube amp is driven, the better it sounds. Especially when it comes to tone quality, tube amps produce their best tone when they're cranked (or played at max volume).
But your family or neighbours probably won't appreciate a screaming tube amp. Here's where an attenuator become handy: an attenuator 'bleeds off' some of the volume being sent to your amp, so you get that great cranked sound from your amp without having to play it at max volume.
Guitar amp attenuators essentially give you a way to practice quietly whilst still enjoying the full benefits of a tube amp being played hard
However, there’s a lot of variation in guitar amp attenuators that allow you to do much more than just reduce your volume, so we’ve taken a look at some of the best around and what separates them.
- At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best Guitar Amp Attenuators On The Market
- 5 Best Guitar Amp Attenuators
- So what are the best guitar amp attenuators?
At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best Guitar Amp Attenuators On The Market
- If you are serious about recorded guitar tone, you need to look at the Torpedo Reload by Two Notes Engineering
- It is a brilliantly designed amalgam of four critical components of your recording signal path
- Two Notes culture is steeped in their reputation as a premier manufacturer of cabinemt simulators
- Studio Quality Attenuator.Red Burst Case color ( this offering)
- Positions 4-1 adds 1.8 dB of attenuation per click.Studio Level: A rheostat that will adjust the amp's output from -7.2 dB...
- For all tube amps up to 100 watt max.
- Turn any single channel amp or input into two channels or setups.
- 100% Passive signal path maintains the natural tone with nocoloration.
- Enhance any musical effect by using the Signal Pad to vary the gain.
- The RockCrusher is invaluable & unbeatably versatile because you can place it between your amp & speaker cab as a power...
- In addition to providing superior tone, impedance matching is critical for your tube amp's health & longevity. Rivera gave...
- When low speaker volume is desired, there is a Studio position of the Attenuator Level Selector that enables the Studio Level...
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Buyer's Tips: What to look for when buying the best guitar amp attenuators
- What is the impedance rating of your amp? If your attenuator can only handle up to 8 ohms and you have a 16 ohm piece of kit, you’ll be wasting your money and risking an accident
- Wattage is also important, as you can quickly burn a hole through the floor if you don’t have an attenuator that can handle the necessary amount
- And finally, take a look at the other capabilities of your attenuator. Many of the high end and even some mid range models can do a lot more than just reduce the power going through your rig
Ok let's look at each product in more detail. To make things easier for you, we've added pros and cons for each one, as well as a video demonstration so you can see them in action. So without further ado, let’s take a look...
5 Best Guitar Amp Attenuators
1. Electro-Harmonix Nano Signal Pad Passive Attenuator (Budget Choice)
The Signal Pad is one of the simplest ways to attenuate your guitar’s signal, as you don’t need to worry about impedance settings and the other intricacies of electrical systems. However, it’s mostly just a volume control pedal, and lacks many of the features and uses of more sophisticated attenuator.
- Simple to use, just adjust the level of attenuation from a single dial
- True bypass
- Can be battery or mains powered
- Only useful for producing a clean sound
- Causes the tone of your guitar to change
- Battery can run out quite quickly if being used on large set ups
Let's take a look at this product...
2. Rivera RockCrusher Power Attenuator & Load Box
One of the best guitar amp attenuators, the RockCrusher presents a big step up from the Signal Pad in terms of capabilities.
- Preserves the tone of a full-volume amp, letting you keep the natural breakup without shattering the windows
- Switch between 8 and 16 ohms to provide protection for various cabs
- Has 6 degrees of attenuation which can be selected via dial
- It’s quite large, making it yet another piece of gear that needs lugging around (time to get them groupies methinks)
- Doesn’t have a 4 ohm impedance option
- Beyond 100 - 120 watt it doesn’t perform as well
3. Two Notes Torpedo Reload Reactive-Active Attenuator (Editor's Choice)
A truly high end attenuator that’s capable of providing total control over volume without losing a drop of the tone that comes from cranking the amp up to 11. It’s also an excellent tool for recording as it allows you to silently play and still get the same sound when played back, without having to use mics. It’s one of the most sophisticated and best guitar amp attenuator you can get, especially for studio use.
- Select between 4, 8 and 16 ohm impedance settings
- Basically indestructible without trying to do so on purpose
- Doubles as a re-amper too
- It’s got a hefty price tag
- It’s more suited for studio use than at home practice or gigging
- It’s another fairly heavy bit of gear so you won’t want to be carting it around all the time
Let's take a look at this product...
4. KLD/PAN AMPS PB-1
A good value for money attenuator that’s designed to be able to perform for most amp/speaker set ups.
- Alloy case dissipates heat better than many other attenuators allowing it to work at higher levels for much longer
- Good range of attenuation up to -30 db
- Doesn’t spoil tone
- At studio levels it will get extremely hot and need to be locked down
- Can only handle up to 100 watts safely
- Doesn’t have any tone shaping and can cause high frequencies to be cut
5. Weber MicroMass Attenuator
This is a great attenuator for gigging and other on the road stuff. It’s able to do a lot more than the Signal Pad can, and it’s size and weight make it easier to transport than the Torpedo Reload.
- Handles 4, 8 and 16 ohms
- Up to -50db attenuation
- Affordable even on a tight budget
- Has separate attenuation for high and low frequencies
- Only works up to 15 watts
Let's take a look at this product...
So what are the best guitar amp attenuators?
Straight off the bat it’s easy to see that the Two Notes Torpedo Reload is one of the best guitar amp attenuators you could get.
The problem with it is that it’s just so expensive. If you’re only looking for a bare bones attenuator and don’t need professional level recording capabilities for a studio, then it’s a little bit over kill.
With that in mind, the Ribera RockCrusher offers a similar level of sophistication whilst being nearly half the price.
If you don’t have a massive speaker and amp array, and 100 watts is way more than you need right now, the Weber MicroMass Attenuator is able to provide a great package for up to 15 watt amps and still gives you plenty of control over your tone.
The only one we’d really avoid is the Electro-Harmonix Nano Signal Pad, purely because of how little it can actually do. Still, if you just need something as a quick fix then it’s only a few bucks, so you can’t go far wrong.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.