Killswitch Engage Amp Settings & Guitar Gear to Nail Their Tone!

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

Killswitch Engage dominated the heavy scene in the 2000s. They nailed the formula for successful heavy music at the time. Their riffs sounded incredible, even on an iPod. Their logo looked great on a t-shirt. Their guitar tones were fantastic: tight, heavy, and articulate.

The classic Killswitch tone works just as well for their early metalcore efforts as it does for their note-perfect rendition of Ronnie James Dio’s “Holy Diver.” If you’re a metal fan looking to capture some of the excellent sounds of classic Killswitch, look no further than this article.

I’ve based the below gear recommendations on the sound from “My Curse,” with its tight, powerful chugs and legato runs.

Killswitch Engage Guitars

The most important thing for Killswitch Engage material is high-output humbuckers. Killswitch Engage’s two guitar players, Joel Stroetzel and Adam Dutkiewicz, have dabbled in a wide range of instruments over the years. Stroetzel boasts a collection of custom guitars from Caparison, but for those of us who don’t have custom signature guitars, we have to look elsewhere.

Killswitch Engage’s approach to tone is a “less is more” mentality. They’ve played a range of guitars, including post-grunge classic PRS models.

You don’t need much more than six strings and a set of high-powered humbuckers, so the lineup of McCarty-influenced PRS guitars, particularly the affordable SE range, are well-suited to the classic Killswitch tone.

In recent years, Adam Dutkiewicz has taken a liking to EVH Wolfgang guitars, a logical choice given his appreciation for classic hard rock and metal. I personally think the EVH Wolfgang range offers some of the best bang for the buck among modern shred guitars, with plenty of high-end specs at even their lower price ranges.

The Wolfgang Special, for example, comes with high-powered EVH pickups and a Floyd Rose tremolo system complete with D-Tuna for quickly switching to a drop tuning.

At the lower end of the Wolfgang range is the EVH Wolfgang Standard, a stripped-back variation of the Wolfgang with almost all the same hardware, but a lower price point.

Any of these six-stringed high-powered guitars would be great for the Killswitch Engage tone, as they have the capacity to really push a tube amp into powerful saturation.

If you’re so inclined, you can add Killswitch Engage’s signature line of Fishman Fluence pickups to your guitar. The Fluence line has long been a favorite among heavy players, and this signature set is tweaked to the specifications of Killswitch Engage itself.

Killswitch Engage Amps

The guitar-wielding gentlemen of Killswitch Engage have often stated that they prefer a simple, no-frills setup when it comes to amplification. There’s no shortage of metalcore players running digital setups, but Killswitch Engage prefers to run classic tube amps nice and loud.

Over the years, Killswitch Engage has used various high-gain amps from Soldano, Marshall, Hughes & Kettner, and Mesa/Boogie. For the most part, however, they prefer the tighter sound of Laney amplification.

Stroetzel and Dutkiewicz both preferred the Laney Ironheart for years before switching to the more modern Tony Iommi signature model.

There’s also a much smaller variation of the Ironheart head available for a much more affordable price, so pretty much any player can get close to Killswitch Engage’s Laney-powered metalcore tone.

Killswitch Amp Settings

Dutkiewicz and Stroetzel both profess to prefer a more vintage-voiced mid-forward tone than a modern “scooped” sound. For this sound to work, you need to run your amplifier like an old-school hard rock player: loud, proud, and with minimal effects.

Volume: 7-8

You want the tubes in your amplifier nice and hot for this tone, so run the volume comfortably past halfway into your amplifier’s poweramp “sweet spot.”

Bass: 4-5

If you’re running a Laney amp, you can run your bass about 4-5 and still get plenty of low-end.

Mids: 6-7

Give yourself a slight midrange spike to get the classic Killswitch Engage definition.

Treble: 5-6

Run the treble just behind the midrange to avoid your distorted tone becoming too brittle or bright.

Gain: 8

Unsurprisingly given Killswitch’s sound, you’re using an awful lot of amplifier gain. You want to really his your preamp hard for this tone, so crank the gain.

Killswitch Engage Effects

Both Killswitch Engage guitar players are proponents of the notion that a good guitar through a good amplifier is the only secret to good tone. However, they do run some basic effects to season and condition their tones.

Chief among these is the Maxon overdrive. Maxon was the company responsible for producing the chips inside the much-lauded original Ibanez Tube Screamer. Supposedly, their products sound closer to the celebrated vintage Tube Screamer sound. However, you can get a similar effect from an Ibanez TS808.

When running your TS808, don’t turn the gain knob up too high. In fact, keep it as low as you can. What the Killswitch players do is run the level knob as high as possible, hitting their amplifier as hard as they can with a massive guitar signal to get more out of their amp’s natural-sounding distorted tone.

This is the secret to getting rid of the “flubbiness” inherent in some high-gain tones.

For clean sounds, you’ll want to run a compressor. My favorite compression pedal is the four-knob Keeley Compressor.

The Killswitch guitarists usually run multiple amplifiers simultaneously, using one amp for clean tones, and another for dirty sounds.

Only use the compressor for clean sounds, as it will produce unpleasant feedback on the dirty channel.

Killswitch Engage Tuning

Killswitch Engage tends to tune down to Drop C. You’ll want to do this to achieve their sounds: standard tuning simply isn’t heavy enough to play Killswitch material.

To accommodate this, you’ll need to string your guitar with heavy-gauge strings. The Killswitch guitarists use D’Addario heavy-gauge strings, so that’s a good place to start.

Final Word

The Killswitch Engage tone, unlike many of their 21st-century contemporaries, is very straightforward. A high-powered down-tuned guitar, a high-gain amp, and a bit of Tube Screamer-style overdrive is all they need to achieve the tight, powerful metalcore tone that influenced a generation of guitarists.

Avatar photo

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.

Leave a Comment