Sound Like Pearl Jam: Amp Settings And Gear Guide

Pearl Jam is one of the most important and iconic bands from the 1990 grunge scene. They consist of two guitarists with a very large alternative sound.

It’s very influential to today’s guitar players. Getting the same sound from your gear requires the right Pearl jam amp settings.

This Killer Rig guide will look at the gear and settings Stone Gossard and Mike McCready use to get their sound. They are settings that will work great when you are just starting out with Pearl jam tones.

What Is The Pearl Jam Sound?

The Pearl Jam sound is a very full, alternative rock concept. It has two guitarists who play off of each other very well and have a lot of technicality in their playing.

Eddie Vedder’s voice is also a huge part of their sound, as it’s unique and adds to the passion of the music.

Albums such as “Ten” brought them to the mainstream and made them one of the biggest bands in the world.

Some guitar amp settings that you can use to sound like Pearl Jam are:

  • Gain: 6-7
  • Treble: 6
  • Mids: 6
  • Bass: 5
  • Presence: 6

An amplifier like a Marshall JCM 800 or Fender Bassman would be perfect. But any mid-gain model will work well here.

Pearl Jam Amp Settings

Pearl Jam Amp Settings

Guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready have used Marshall amps. This is their primary method to get their sound.

They are both known for using the JCM800 2203 100-watt head. This is a great amp for getting a very full sound with a good mid-gain tone.

A few things to consider when trying to recreate their sound are:

  1. Their sound was not as aggressive normally. A high-gain amp will need to be set lower than our starter suggestions. You can also use your volume control on the guitar to dial it back for clean and crunch parts.
  2. Your guitar can use both single-coil and humbuckers for the Pearl Jam amp settings. If your guitar has both, that is even better, as you can switch between them for different tones.

After that, you just need to know how the controls on your amp work. This is very important if you are going for a Pearl Jam sound.

Pearl Jam Setting Infographic

Gain Setting

The gain control on your amp will have the greatest impact on your tone. You will want to set it low enough to where the amp is not heavily overdriven for some songs, and then more so for others.

Keeping it up higher and then using your guitar’s volume control to back it down is also a great technique. It can help you find the right tone.

Just be careful not to add too much gain, as this will increase the amount of bass content in your tone. Pearl Jam’s sound was brighter than heavy and thick.

Equalization Settings

Your EQ is best set to halfway when you are beginning to dial in an amplifier. This will provide you with a somewhat flat response that can help you decide on what to change.

Use your EQ in the following manner:

  1. The treble knob should be set higher for Pearl Jam sounds. Use this control to set the right amount of high frequencies without being too harsh. Not every guitar puts out the same levels of treble, this will need to be accounted for.
  2. Pearl Jam’s sound is also a result of a higher middle control setting. Mids are used for thickness and cut, so setting it to 7 on an amp can be just what you need. Great crunch tones require the right mid-control setting.
  3. The bass knob will need to be set to keep good clarity without becoming too boomy. On most Marshall-style amps, this will be around 4 or 5. However, your guitar choice will also play a large role.

Check out our Nirvana amp settings for more 90s rock.

Popular Pearl Jam Songs And Their Settings

Pearl jam’s music is very complex, with many clean and distorted sounds. But the trick to their tone is having the right settings. Because they are not heavily distorted, many amps can obtain them.

Over time, their sound has changed, as well as the gear they use. Let’s take a look at some popular songs and see how we can set our amps to get their tone.


The opening riff to Alive is one of the most recognizable in all of rock music. It’s played on a Les Paul with the pickups set to the treble position.

The amp settings are very important here. They need to provide enough gain to obtain full, impressionable chords. But not so much that they sound too dirty.

The following settings should get you close:

  • Gain: 8
  • Treble: 6-7
  • Mids: 6-7
  • Bass: 3-4
  • Presence: 6

These are just a starting point, and you will need to make adjustments based on your own gear. But these should help, especially if you have a Marshall-style amplifier like an 800.


“Black” is a much darker and more subdued song than “Alive”. It uses a lot of dynamics to keep the listener engaged. The opening riff is very quiet and then gets louder as it goes.

Play this song with a Stratocaster or Telecaster style guitar for the closest match. The amp settings are as follows:

  • Gain: 5-6
  • Treble: 6
  • Mids: 5
  • Bass: 4
  • Presence: 5

Again, start here and then adjust to taste. This is a great song to test out different settings on your amp. See how each knob reacts and affects the overall tone.

Check out our Van Halen Settings here!


“Jeremy” is one of the most popular songs by Pearl Jam, and for good reason. It’s catchy, yet has a very dark message. The main riff is played on a Les Paul with the bridge pickup selected.

The following settings should get you in the ballpark for the dirty tone:

  • Gain: 8
  • Treble: 6
  • Mids: 5-6
  • Bass: 4
  • Presence: 6

These are great settings for a thick, but not overly aggressive sound. You will want to back off on the gain a bit if you are having issues with bass or feedback.

Popular Effects Used by Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam uses a variety of effects pedals to achieve their sound. Some of the pedals they use are:

  • Tube Screamer: This overdrive pedal has been recommended for achieving the sound of the guitar in the song “Alive”.
  • Delay pedals: Both the Line 6 DL-4 and the Boss DM-2 and DM-3 have possibly been used by Pearl Jam.
  • Modulation pedals: The Electro-Harmonix XO Micro POG, XTC AC Booster pedal, and MXR CAE Boost/Line Driver have all potentially been used by Pearl Jam.
  • 1991 pedal: This is a dirt pedal that has been specifically designed to capture the sound of Pearl Jam’s album “Ten”.
  • Wah: The MXR CAE MC404 has been used by Mike McCready.

More Helpful Tips

If you seem to be having issues even getting close to Pearl jam’s sound, here are a few other things you can try.

  • If you have a guitar with dark pickups, you will need to increase your brightness. This can be done by using not only the treble control, but the mids as well. This will provide some thickness, so only add a bit more mids to make it cut.
  • Conversely, if your sound is too bright, use the tone control on your guitar to make it warmer. This will be more apparent on single-coil pickups, which a great deal of these songs have been used to make.
  • If you find the sound is too saturated or muddy, turn the gain down a little at a time. This would be more apparent on guitars with high output humbuckers.
  • Add effects to the songs in order to get as close as possible. Pearl Jam used effects like chorus and reverb. When you do so, it will also help to add fullness and depth to your sound.
  • Experiment with distortion and boost pedals when the amp alone just isn’t getting it done. This can be a great way to add more versatility to your tone. The TS808 is the best boost to go after for this tone.

Check out our guide on rock amp settings for more!


Pearl Jam is one of the most popular rock bands of all time. They have many great songs. They are perfect for testing out different amplifier settings.

If all else fails, try adding effects and try different guitars. Part of finding the right tone is also in the gear we use as players. So make sure to have the equipment that best matches your music style.


What amps does Pearl Jam use?

Eddie Vedder uses a Fender custom deluxe and twin models. Stone Gossard uses Matchless combo amplifiers.

Mike McCready uses 65 Amps Empire London pro and a Fender Vibrolux Reverb.

What guitars does Pearl Jam use?

Eddie Vedder uses Fender Telecasters. Stone Gossard uses the Gibson Les Paul, and Fender Stratocasters. Mike McCready uses a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard. Plus a Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!