Dumb Q: Difference between "gain" and "tone"?

Is there a functional difference between what the “tone” knob on your bass does and the “gain” function on your amp or DAI?

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Naw, not really dumb at all :slight_smile: The “tone” knob is a passive high frequency rolloff. There is a capacitor wired to the potentiometer (the knob) that dictates where this happens.

Gain is amplification of an audio signal.


So “gain” is “volume”?

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This makes it clear for my small brain.


From Barneys post… Good read tbh.

  • Volume is how loud the OUTPUT of the channel or amp is. It controls loudness, not tone.
  • Gain is how loud the INPUT of the channel or amp is. It controls tone, not loudness.

Not dumb at all. If you have this question, then I’m sure other do also. These are the kind of questions we’re all here to help out with.

Gain adds signal strength on the input which can affect tone, particularly with adding some amount of distortion. How and how much it affects the tone is going to vary from one manufacturer to another.

In general it doesn’t affect tone but there are always exceptions. For example, if you are using an all tube amplifier the higher you push the output gain (aka, volume) the more the power tubes heat up and that will affect your tone.

Gain and Volume work together in determining the output level. You can test this by setting your volume control and start turning the gain up and down.

Part of the problem with all this is the industry choice to use the term ‘volume’. Both knobs are gain controls that are implemented at different points in the circuit.

Whereas volume is about perception, which is affected by angle and distance from the source.

It seems they used the term ‘volume’ to avoid any confusion from an amp having two gain knobs. More accurate names would be something like, Gain IN and Gain OUT.

This. Where the gain knob will give you added distortion and possibly other more subtle effects on tone. The tone knob on your bass is where you want to begin when crafting the sound you want.

If anybody wants more information on what to do with all the knobs, check out this thread…
How To Adjust Your Bass and Amp Sound - Gear - BassBuzz Forum


Yep. Tone is a low pass filter and the knob adjusts the frequency of the cutoff. As such it’s also different than EQ (and complimentary to it.)


Thanks for asking this question and thank you for all the people putting up the excellent info on this topic. I didn’t know what I didn’t know :slight_smile:


My answer has nothing to do with the question, but has everything to do with “dumb question”. My bass friend, I was a teacher for 39 years…….it’s an old adage, but there are no dumb questions. When I was young, I was “that nerd”. Terrible at sports, goofy looking, shy to the girls, but I could play bass. I loved football….couldn’t play it, but I loved it!! I didn’t know what a blitz was and the internet wasn’t invented yet, so I couldn’t anonymously ask about and learn about “blitz”! One of my buddies played football and we used to play “paper triangle football” at lunch. I was being sneaky while playing and asked out loud, “Hey, I wonder if I can blitz in triangle football?” My football friend looked at me and said, “There are no defensive players to rush straight at the quarterback to knock him on his ass!, so how can you blitz???” There! I had my answer! I could have just come out straight and asked him what the hell a blitz was, but I had to be sneaky because I didn’t want to come off as a fool………”Damn! That kid doesn’t know what a blitz is??? What an idiot!”
So please, you will never ask a “dumb” question……if you don’t know the answer, then it is a perfectly legit question to ask! My story was always in my mind anytime any one of my students asked a question.


This can be different on amps compared to DAIs.

Input “Gain” on a DAI is always clean gain, increases the signal level only, makes the meter bounce higher. It’s what you use to get a good solid recording level without it being too hot.

A number of amp and effect manufacturers will use “Gain” to indicate the knob you can turn up to get more overdrive or distortion effect on the signal. Knobs on modern amps labelled “Volume” or “Master” are usually clean gain and don’t engage the overdrive circuit. In this case you can turn up the “Gain” to get the amount of crunch you want and then turn the “master” or “volume” back down to keep the loudness where you want it.

The Aguilar ToneHammer is super confusing this way. The “gain” knob does engage the overdrive, but the “drive” knob doesn’t. The “drive” knob is actually an EQ.

These things are all over the place.