Put guitar volume up without making track/master signal clip

Hi there, another “Mixing Newbie” question I guess.

When I connect my guitar to Ardour (maybe adding some effects using Guitarix first) I get the problem of hearing the guitar signal at a very low volume, while the track meter is already almost in the yellow zone. Of course, if I start turning up the volume, the signal just clips at some point… Making me hear that awful, distort sound I definitely don’t want.
I’ve addressed the issue adding Steve Harrissimple amplifier in my track, just after the “naked” signal. This way I’m able to get volume up avoinding clipping in my instrument signal.
Thing is, I often get clipping in the master. Since - obviously - the signal arrives amplified at the master level…
Also I wonder if this is the correct way to deal with these kind problems. As a real noob of mixing, I feel I’m missing a “simple” and well known way to handle this stuff… Is that right? Maybe it has something to do with monitoring management?

Thank you all in advance

Hello, lowering the gain on the other tracks is not an option?

What audio interface are you using ? How do you det the levela of the guitar input for maximum gain before clipping ?

Is there a mic / line / instrument switch on the input of the audio device ? Or are you using the onboard PC audio ?

Hi there! Actually I’m still experimenting without other tracks, so basically there’s just the guitar track in my session

Hi! this is my M-AUDIO M-TRACK PLUS II Audio interface. It has a LCD meter on the front side. I’m setting the knob as loud as possible, but so that the meter remains in its “green side”, just to avoid having an input signal which is too loud and would get me clip indeed.
There is a line/instrument switch and it’s set to instrument

You should make sure your master out level is correct firstly. If the signal is in the yellow but doesn’t sound loud, your audio output level is almost certainly too low.

This may be as simple as turning up your sound system volume.

How are you listening to the output? What is your setup? Speakers connected to your audio interface?

What OS and audio system are you using? If it’s ALSA, are you sure the device output is fully up in alsamixer?

After that, there’s a bunch of techniques to increase the audibility of something like a guitar sound, depending on context: for instance solo guitar recording versus in a band mix or against a backing track.

Some of these techniques include normalisation, compression and equalisation (EQ).

But which to use and when is not something that can be covered usefully in an answer on a forum like this.

This sort of audio engineering and mixing is the sort of thing you need to study and understand if you are looking at band mixes, for instance. People spend years learning this stuff. There’s no quick fix.

But if you are looking at just recording some solo guitar for your own purposes, you can get away with some basic knowledge.

The main thing is to understand your audio setup, including the inputs, recording levels and “gain staging” plus the audio routing with a DAW like Ardour, and how it connects to your audio interface outputs, how to set the output volume levels, etc.



On my interface, if I select the wrong input in ardour, i get a very low level signal from the input that is being used. There is some kind of crosstalk that happens in the hardware, and it sounds ditorted at low levels.

Is Ardour using the correct input for the track?

Are you using ALSA, Jack, or Pipewire?

I’m using JACK and I think I’m using the correct input as I connected the input in my interface to Ardour’s track using JACK graph in QJackCTL

Ardour can manage its own connections. Therre is no need to manually connect with QJackCTL. They can all be changed within ardour, and the graph will change.

I would suggest trying ALSA and see what happens. Let Ardour manage the connections. Unless you need Jack for interconnections with other software.

I assume you are using a mono channel. The inputs can be changed at the top of the mixer channel for the track. Remeber that the In button should be engaged as well.

So, at some point in your track you do have signal at good level. Especially since you don’t have other tracks that mix into your master, I do not believe Ardour would change anything, your master would be exactly your audio track.

Do you have any other plugins in your processor box? You mentioned guitarix. Many plugins, even equalizers, can also change the gain of the sound. In that case, they may provide input gain (trimming) and output gain as well exactly for this purpose. You can trim the input so that the output can stay at controlled levels.

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Thanks for the reply!

No I haven’t. I feel like Ardour’s output is lower than other sources… E.g. I compared Ardour’s output with the output of a youtube video and (leaving master bus’ fader at 0 dB) I feel Ardour’s output significantly quieter than the video… Is there something I’m missing?

I just realized that this last message of mine could result as a totally different problem, so i just thought to add some context in order to clarify.
Since my first message I went ahead with the mixing (adding new tracks and importing stems into them) and just experienced the feeling I stated in my last message, i.e. : I feel like Ardour’s output is lower than other sources.

Yes, that’s normal. The last part of audio production - after mixing - is “mastering”. Mastering involves the use of limiters/compressors on the final result - among other things, and that will reduce the dynamic range and bring the volume up to what you hear in commercial music tracks.

The tracks on YouTube that you compare to are probably already “mastered”.

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Yeah I thought it has something to do with mastering too actually…
Thing is I’d like to ear (and/or perceive) a higher volume while mixing; for example to get a “better picture” of the volumes at all frequencies, get all the dynamics “fully” and mix according to them…
Is this something which should be managed in some specific way? (e.g. bring up master level for the whole mixing phase and then bringing it back down before mastering)

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It also has a lot to do with monitoring.

There’s a few things going on here, probably too much to cover in depth here (plus I am not entirely expert in this and am happy to be corrected, but feel it’s useful to start the conversation).

The important thing is to understand the difference between “level” and “volume”.

A lot of confusion arises with these terms and they are often incorrectly conflated. For instance, the “vol” knob on an electric guitar is actually nothing (directly) to do with volume; it is actually a level control.

“Level” is how high a specific signal is against some standard, which might be how many millivolts the signal level is in a cable or a digital level in a DAW which is a function of how the DAW represents the signal level digitally (there are standards here, such as dBFS and LUFS).

“Volume” really is how loud the sound is in the room, and “volume controls” are ones which directly affect tha output of the amplifier through the speakers. Controls before this are, more correctly “level” or “gain” controls.

Volume can be measured in many ways, but “sound pressure level” or SPL is a common one, with one of the standards being dB SPL.

Getting good monitoring levels is, largely, about controlling the relationship between master level in the DAW, and the actual output volume from your speakers.

In a typical studio environment (which covers everything from traditional analogue studios to bedroom DAW users) you will have something which you listen to whilst you mix or master. This is the monitoring.

The best practice (I believe) is to set this at a sensible, consistent, volume (SPL) for a given reference master output level.

So, for example, you could choose to set -14 LUFS (which is a “level”) so that it gives an output of 84 dB SPL (which is a “volume”).

This is often done with a pink noise generator set to -14 LUFS and using a sound pressure meter to.set the monitor volume.

The volume is usually between 80 and 90 dB SPL to provide the best acoustic dynamic range(due to Fletcher Munson curves) without risking damage to hearing.

On Ardour, you should explore the monitoring section… This allows you to set the monitoring volume independently of the master output level.

You should make sure your audio device output level is maxed in alsamixer.

Them, depending on your setup, you will have level controls on Ardour, the audio interface, and (possibly) your monitor speakers (if you are using powered monitors).

The trick is to come up with settings for all.of these that give you the reference volume at the reference output level.

If you don’t have enough control with the physical controls, the monitoring section in Ardour might help.

For instance, if you have fixed-level monitor speakers, and turning up the audio interface to maximum and settings alsamixer level to max still doesn’t give you the volume you need, you can invoke the Ardour monitor section to boost the signal to give you more volume without impacting the master level.

There’s a lot more to this, but this was a taste.




Ok I think I got your point.
I use AKG K240 semi-open headphones for mixing, my alsamixer level is set to max and the volume knob of the headphones output in my audio interface is very close to the maximum.
However I can’t find in Ardour where to set the desired volume for a reference master’s output level (i.e. as you said, where to set that -14dB LUFS level should give 84 db SPL volume)… I tried to look at the monitoring section in Preferences menu, but I can’t find the option.
Could someonep help me with this?

Having had a quick play in Ardour, I think a useful thing for you would be to enable the Master Bus Loudness Analyser (LAN):


This does two things:

  1. It gives you an easy way to measure the LUFS of your track
  2. It gives a way to adjust your master track to the target LUFS

What I would suggest is to start with something like a pink noise track (you can easily import one from Freesound using the Import menu item on the File menu) and use the LAN on this to measure it’s loudness and then to adjust it to the target level. You can then use this to adjust your output volume to something sensible.

If you adjust the track to something like -14 LUFS and it’s still too quiet even with the audio interface turned right up, that suggests you might need a headphone amplifier.

If you do need a bit more “oomph” to make the -14 LUFS tracks sound louder in your headphones, you can turn on the Monitoring section (Session → Monitoring Section) This, in itself, will not boost the signal, but you can insert a processor onto this independently of the master bus, so you could put some sort of amplifier plugin to boost the signal.


But, first of all, it’s important to understand what your target LUFS sounds like.

When you have done this, whether or not you need a boost for the final “mastered” output, I would say it’s perfectly OK to have an amplifier processor in the monitoring section to boost the output during the mixing stage; mixing is not about getting the final output level, it’s about getting the relative levels.

Getting the final, desired, output loudness level is the mastering stage.

So go ahead and insert an amp processor in the monitor stage for mixing if you need it. Just remember that, when you start mastering, things will probably get a lot louder, and you’ll need to turn it down, or disable it completely.

By the way:

Two things here. The first is there is no such option which just does this. There are options for measuring the LUFS of the track (which is the Loudness Analyser mentioned above), but setting the reference level volume is something you have to do yourself.

If, for instance, you want to set it to 84 dB SPL, then you will need to use a sound pressure level meter, holding the meter against your headphone where your ear would normally be, and then adjusting the volume levels (on the audio interface and/or using the Monitor section) to get the meter reading at 84 dB SPL.

A pink noise generator is good for this as it will give you a pretty constant output level, so you don’t have to worry about the music getting louder and quieter.

Note that you don’t have to do this so precisely if you don’t want. You can just set the level until it sounds loud enough for you, but watch out you don’t make it too loud. Some people set 0dbFS (or 0 LUFS) to around 84-85 dB SPL to avoid the case where an instantaneous peak is much louder, even if the whole track (the “integrated loudness”) is at the level you are aiming for. You don’t want to damage your hearing!

Setting a consistent reference level using a sound pressure meter is recommended if you intend to master a lot of material, as this will then make things a bit more consistent for you.

There are phone apps which can act as an SPL meter. They aren’t terribly accurate, but they are probably good enough.

The second thing is, I made a small mistake in my last post calling it “dB LUFS”. LUFS actually has dB baked into it, so it’s normal to just quote a figure like “-14 LUFS” without the “dB” bit. My Bad!

(I’ve edited my post to correct this).



While you received lot of valuable hints in this thread, what still puzzles me
most it’s the fact that you are unable to achieve decent sound level in Ardour
without some amplifier/monitor bus tricks (if I understand your issue correctly).

It can be software or hardware related - it’s still hard to guess at this
point. To nail it down a little bit, set the monitor knob on the interface to
full direct position and play some guitars again. If the LEDs on the interface
show relatively high input level but the sound is still too quiet (even when
you max headphone output knob), you have more likely some hardware problem like
interface settings/issues, cabling, headphones etc. Judging from your hardware
you should be able to monitor at proper levels and even have some volume to

Just a small suggestion in case you haven’t checked this already.

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Hi there, I think I did my howework…
Here is what I did, following @Majik advice:

  1. I created a new Ardour project to do my headphones/monitor calibration (48 kHz sample rate and 32-bit float resolution… But I don’t know if that’s relevant)
  2. I imported a Pink Noise track from Freesound directly from File>Import dialog window in Ardour (Search Freesound tab).
    I imported a bunch of 3 tracks, but eventually I chose the version lasting 2 minutes, thinking that the track’d be long enough for the overall LUFS calculation
  3. I adjusted the Fader of the Pink Noise track until the analyze function of the LAN gave a value of Integrated Loudness of -14LUFS (a pretty standard value for music streaming).
  4. Then I measured the volume coming out from my headphones with an SPL Meter (C-weighted) following this guide. Doing this, I found a value of about 89.3 dB SPL for the LEFT earphone and of about 88.6 dB SPL for the RIGHT one. It should be enough right? Again, following your advices, I marked - in my audio interface - the position of the volume knob which resulted in a volume coming from my headphone of about 85 db SPL

Finally I repeated the same procedure to calibrate my (so bad that actually I never use them for mixing) PC Speakers. In this case, however, I applied an EQ to my Pink Noise track in order to restrict the output of the track to 500Hz-2kHz band, following the advice for calibrating monitors in an untreated room in this guide.

Did I do it all right? Are my volume levels ok now? (also for my ears obiously…) I’m asking this beacuse - as you can see from the links - other guides suggested different db SPL levels (e.g. 76 db SPL), but maybe that indications are just for monitors and not for headphones?..

Testing it in my project, I feel now the volume is “loud enough” (when LAN measures -14LUFS of Integrated Loudness), but I still somehow was expecting it to be even louder… (Isn’t 85 dB SPL considered a “high volume” after all?..)
Anyway I think I’ll just be able to mix getting all the dynamics etc… at my marked 85 dB SPL volume. It is also going to be ok for my ears? Looking at this table It seems like I can mix at that volume for up to 8 hours at a time without any consequences… Should I take it as good?

Thanks again to all of you

Looks OK to me. Note that I did say:


Setting the reference level to 76 dB SPL is fine if it suits you. The main thing is that you have a sensible reference level that you use when mixing and comparing tracks and, also, that you don’t damage your hearing.

Regarding headphones versus speakers, I would actually consider dropping the level in headphones a little.

The mixed version of the song should almost always sound quieter than the finished track. A primary aim of mixing is to get the balance correct between instruments, including sound-stage (for stereo mixes).

Making it sound louder is, generally, the aim of mastering, which you would do after mixing.

How your track sounds is going to depend on the dynamics of your project: a highly dynamic piece of music will sound quieter than one that has all the dynamics squeezed out of it and, typically, whilst you are mixing, the project will have a higher dynamic range.

When you are happy with the mix, you can then master the project according to your artistic and distribution aims. Part of this is apply compression to reduce the dynamic range and make the track sound louder. How much you do this will depend on what you want the end result to be.

And you can have different masters for different purposes. Historically, it was common to have a vinyl master (which was required to deal with the physical limitations of vinyl) and a separate CD master (which didn’t have the same limitations).

It was also not uncommon to have radio masters which were, typically, much more compressed because they were aimed at people listening to them in less-than-perfect environments, like on car radios whilst driving.

This is where having reference tracks to compare to is a good idea, but make sure the reference track is appropriate to the style of music you are mixing, and to the type of result you want.

If, for instance, you are mixing a recording of a classical quartet, using Oasis’s “What’s the Story…” (famous for being highly compressed, with a dynamic range of around 5dB) would not be appropriate.




Hi there again @Majik , thanks for the help. I thing I got the main point.

I just got a question: suppose I managed to mix my track and adjusted all the faders/volumes such that LAN measures -14LUFS (as I did), just to be able to release it on Spotify ecc…
If I proceed to mastering and applying hard compression to reduce dynamics and then turn up the volume of the whole track, wouldn’t I exceed the -14LUFS threshold? Are you telling me that, since I’m reducing dynamics in the first place, I’m initially also making my track quieter? Being so, after turning up the volume of the whole track, I imagine I can reach the -14LUFS threshold again. Is this it?

Also, how can I evaluate the dynamic range of my track during mastering? Actually I know very little about mastering, maybe you could recommend me some sources to study from?