Disturbed Amp Settings – Achieve Their Signature Guitar Tone!

Author: Liam Whelan | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Ooh-wah-ah-ah-ah! I still remember when Disturbed’s rhythmic, instantly recognizable brand of nu-metal leaped out of every car speaker back in the early 2000s.

Although the band has enjoyed many hits (including a stellar cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence”) since, their huge commercial breakthrough with “Down With The Sickness” remains one of the most enduring, and iconic, riffs in 21st-century rock.

Plenty of imitators have come and gone in the decades since, with legions of fans aiming to adopt the groovy, powerful riffage of The Sickness. In this article, I’ll go over the key gear and amp settings you need to sound just like Disturbed from the comfort of your own home, rehearsal room, or stage.

Disturbed Guitars

Like so many of their nu-metal brethren, Disturbed embraced PRS guitars wholeheartedly in the early 2000s. PRS, founded by Paul Reed Smith, aimed to modernize and update the classic American humbucker guitar for a generation of players who demanded more gain and more playability from their instruments.

For all intents and purposes, PRS guitars were hot-rodded Gibsons, and the guitar company handed out PRS endorsements like candy back in the day. It’s no surprise that Disturbed axeman Dan Donegan wielded a single-cut PRS on tour and in videos for years.

Although he played a PRS live, Donegan actually recorded his parts for The Sickness on a Gibson Les Paul Standard. I’m a huge fan of Les Pauls, and I would strongly recommend a Les Paul Standard for any guitar player’s collection. If a full-priced Gibson isn’t in the budget right now, the Epiphone ‘59 Les Paul offers excellent bang for the buck.

Similarly impressive is the Slash Les Paul, which comes with better humbuckers than the standard Epiphone Les Paul.

Alternatively, the PRS singlecut line offers a more modern take on the classic Les Paul setup. Even the affordable SE series features high-powered humbuckers, quality hardware, and, impressively, classic mahogany-and-maple tonewood pairings and a rosewood fingerboard, just like an old-school Les Paul.

Regardless of your choice of guitar, the most important ingredients for the Disturbed tone are humbucking pickups, a solid mahogany body, and a mahogany neck. That’s how you access the thick, warm, resonant base tone of what becomes the classic heavily distorted Disturbed sound.

Disturbed Amps

Even a dimed Marshall wasn’t going to provide enough crushing distortion for nu-metal bands like Disturbed. Accordingly, many of them embraced the high-powered saturation of Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifiers.

These amps tend to be very heavy and very loud. If you’re mostly playing at home, at rehearsal, or in smaller club-sized gigs, you probably don’t need to cart around a full 150-watt Triple Rectifier if you can avoid it. I certainly don’t have roadies to carry my gear in and out of gigs.

With that in mind, I’d recommend the 25-watt Mini Rectifier to most guitar players, which is the pint-sized version of the same Triple Rectifier that Disturbed used to record “Down With The Sickness.”

If you’re more interested in a pedal-style floor amp, the Diezel VH4-2 will definitely get you a viable high-gain tone. It’s worth noting that, at this point, most pedal amps won’t capture the full harmonic response of a cranked tube amplifier, but they can definitely get you in the ballpark.

Disturbed Amp Settings

The “Down With The Sickness” tone is a classic scooped early-2000s sound. There’s plenty of gain and minimal midrange. The sound needs to be heavily saturated, and you want to be able to comfortably chug away in drop tuning to make this tone work.

Use the below settings as a starting point and tweak as needed.

Volume: 6-8

If you’re running a Mesa-style amp, turn up the volume so you can get the tubes to really cook.

Bass: 7-8

You need to turn up your bass response for this sound so your tone doesn’t become too bright or brittle.

Mids: 4

There’s slightly more midrange to this tone than on many other nu-metal songs, but not too much. Just below halfway is the sweet spot here.

Treble: 9

At higher gain levels, you need additional treble to prevent your tone from becoming muddy or indistinct.

Gain: 9

You’re using a lot of distortion here. Crank the gain and enjoy.

Disturbed Effects

“Down With The Sickness” isn’t heavily laden with effects, but if you listen carefully some of the additional guitars feature some mild processing.

Dan Donegan used several effects around the time of recording The Sickness, including the BBE Sonic Maximizer, which is a “tone conditioning” pedal he used to refine his sound.

Donegan also used the classic Dunlop Cry Baby wah, and you can hear some mild Boss phaser on some of his lead lines.

Finally, to help deepen the groove of your playing, I’d recommend using a noise suppressor to create the Pantera-like “holes” of silence in Disturbed riffs. The Decimator is a popular pedal among metal players for this effect. This is very helpful when alternating between the power chords and natural harmonics in the chorus of “Down With The Sickness.”

Disturbed Tuning

Disturbed typically played in dropped tuning. Their preferred tuning used consistently throughout The Sickness, is Drop C# (C# G# C# F# A# D#).

I find it easiest to think of this tuning as E flat with a dropped top string. Simply tune your guitar one-half step down from standard, and tune the low E to the equivalent of Drop D: this is the most common drop tuning for bands who play in E flat tuning.

Final Word & Disturbed Technique

Dan Donegan deployed a range of techniques to craft his distinctive sound. One of these is melding drop-tuning power chords with natural harmonics and on-and-off muting. To mute your strings, “choke” off lingering power chords with the blade of your picking hand.

To make natural harmonics, gently rest a finger of your fretting hand above the seventh, fifth, or twelfth fret, without pressing down, and pick that string as if you would when you are fretting the note.

These techniques take some practice to really get down, so I recommend devoting plenty of practice hours to making them work for you.

Otherwise, all you need for the Disturbed tone is a Les Paul-style guitar and a cranked Mesa amp!

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About Liam Whelan

Liam Whelan was raised in Sydney, Australia, where he went to university for long enough to realize he strongly prefers playing guitar in a rock band to writing essays. Liam spends most of his life sipping strong coffee, playing guitar, and driving from one gig to the next. He still nurses a deep conviction that Eddie Van Halen is the greatest of all time, and that Liverpool FC will reclaim the English Premier League title.

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