Up to eleven

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Image showing original "up to eleven" knobs from the 1984 film This Is Spinal Tap

"Up to eleven", also phrased as "these go to eleven", is an idiom from popular culture, coined in the 1984 movie This Is Spinal Tap, where guitarist Nigel Tufnel proudly demonstrates an amplifier whose volume knob is marked from zero to eleven, instead of the usual zero to ten. The primary implication of the reference is one in which things that are essentially the same are seen as different, due to mislabeling or the user's misunderstanding of the underlying operating principles. A secondary reference may be anything being exploited to its utmost limits, or apparently exceeding them. Similarly, the expression "turning it up to eleven" refers to the act of taking something to an extreme. In 2002 the phrase entered the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary with the definition "up to maximum volume".[1]

Original scene from This Is Spinal Tap[edit]

The phrase was coined in a scene from the 1984 mockumentary/rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap by the character Nigel Tufnel, played by Christopher Guest. In this scene Nigel gives the rockumentary's director, Marty DiBergi, played by Rob Reiner, a tour of his stage equipment. While Nigel is showing Marty his Marshall guitar amplifiers, he points out a selection whose control knobs all have a highest setting of eleven, unlike standard amplifiers whose volume settings are typically numbered from 0 to 10. Believing that this numbering increases the highest volume of the amp, he explains "It's one louder, isn't it?" When Marty asks why the ten setting is not simply set to be louder, Nigel hesitates before responding blankly again "These go to eleven."[2][3]

Other instances[edit]

Prior examples[edit]

C&O's No. 500 began going up to 11 in 1947.

The use of "11" as a maximum pre-dates This Is Spinal Tap by almost forty years. In 1947, the Baldwin Locomotive Works and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway introduced the Chesapeake and Ohio class M-1 steam turbine locomotive. The locomotive's throttle included eleven settings, ranging from one (idling) to eleven (full speed). The locomotive's cruising speed was 70 miles per hour (110 km/h), at which point the throttle was on "seven". During a trial run with a reporter from Popular Mechanics aboard, a C&O engineer expressed his dissatisfaction with a local speed limit of 75 miles per hour (121 km/h), noting that he would "Sure like to be able to pull it back to eleven!"[4]:110; 252

Gibson Les Paul guitars with low-impedance pickups were outfitted with special controls designed by Les Paul himself. Controls included a "Decade Switch" which went up to 11.[5]

Cultural examples[edit]

As a consequence of the film, real bands and musicians started buying equipment whose knobs went up to 11, or even higher, with Eddie Van Halen reputedly being the first to do so.[6] Marshall, the company that provided amplifiers for the film that the custom-marked knobs were applied to, now sells amplifiers such as its JCM900 (first sold in 1990) whose knobs are marked from 0 to 20.[6][7] The QSC 3500 and 3800 amplifiers made for the professional sound company Sound Image in the 1990s went to 11, as do amps from Soldano and Friedman.

Other controls with a maximum of 11 include SSL mixing consoles, the BBC's iPlayer on demand video player,[8] the headphone volume control on the PreSonus AudioBox 1818VSL, the volume control on the Apogee Mini-DAC,[9] the IRIX audio panel (when invoked with the undocumented -spinaltap option), and the Tesla Model S's volume control.[10] The tachometer on a Singer Vehicle Design modified Porsche 911 goes up to 11, representing 11,000 RPM.[11][12]

On its primary page for This Is Spinal Tap, the IMDb displays the user rating for the film out of 11 stars (e.g. 8.0/11) instead of the standard scale of one to ten.[13][14][15] However, only 10 rating stars are actually shown on the page, and user ratings can only be submitted up to 10 stars. Other IMDb pages display the rating out of 10.[14]

On The Magnetic Fields' album 69 Love Songs, in the song "Time Enough For Rocking When We're Old", the band sings that there will be "time enough for sex and drugs in heaven / When our pheromones are turned up to eleven..."

In the season one episode of the original Powerpuff Girls series, entitled "Bubblevicious", Bubbles gets tired of being treated as a baby and enters Professor Utonium's fight simulator in which she turns the level up to eleven (its highest level) and fights very strong monsters, which make her more vigorous.

In the Doctor Who episode "The Lazarus Experiment", the Doctor uses his Sonic Screwdriver to increase the volume of the pipe organ in the Southwark Cathedral, saying as he does so "turn this up to eleven", to beat Lazarus.[16]

Series 2 Episode 3 of the BBC series The Thick of It has Ollie Reeder describe the verbal tirade that is about to be unleashed as "Mr. Malcolm Tucker, turning it all the way up to eleven, down in the lobby."

The tenth episode of the eighth season of the long-running webseries Red vs. Blue is titled "This One Goes To Eleven," so-called because of a massively chaotic fight sequence that runs through the entire episode, and even bleeds over into the next, i.e. the eleventh episode.

In the second issue of the comic book crossover JLA/Avengers, while fighting Thor, Superman manages to stop Mjolnir mid-swing, much to Thor's surprise; Superman quips that, in his world, it "looks like the dials go up to eleven", before knocking Thor out.

The influence of the phrase "up to eleven" has gone beyond the limits of rock music and into other realms; in 2016, for example, astronomer Krzysztof Stanek described the brightest-known object in the universe as being "as if nature took everything we know about magnetars and turned it up to 11."[17]

A number of video games feature the phrase in some capacity. The game Game Dev Tycoon features an achievement on the Steam platform named "Turn it up to 11" where the objective is to obtain a note of 11/10 for a game, along with Darkest Dungeon. The phrase is also used in numerous Grand Theft Auto titles, seen in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, where the DJ of the radio station K-DST can be heard saying, "Turn it up to 11". In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, a fictionalized Couzin Ed says "let's turn it up to 12" in his DJ chatter.

Musikhaus Thomann, a German-based retailer of musical instruments, studio, lighting, and pro-audio equipment, has released a mobile app for Android and iOS whose logo is a volume control set to the maximum level of 11.

Swedish rock band Gain Eleven,[18] winners of Emergenza rock festival 2016,[19] was named as a reference to This Is Spinal Tap.

Tennessee power pop band Superdrag's fourth album Last Call For Vitriol begins with the song "Baby Goes to Eleven".

Ethicon, a division of Johnson & Johnson, launched an endoscopic vessel cutting/sealing device in 2010 called the Gen 11; the users, mostly doctors and nurses, can select a maximum power setting of 11 on the touch screen. Further, every one of the accessories for the product also carry "11" in their catalog numbers.

Google Home will accept and fulfill the command "OK Google, set the volume to 11".

In the video game Pokémon Battle Revolution, sometimes when a battle is becoming intense, the narrator will say that "the energy level of the fans has been turned up to eleven".

In the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, when Scott Pilgrim and his band, Sex Bob-omb start their amp battle with the Katayanagi twins, the Japanese twins turn their audio speakers up to 11 before creating another shock wave.

In the webcomic xkcd, Randall Munroe jokes[20] on how a normal people and engineers react to an amplifier that goes to eleven.

The volume control system on the Tesla Model S turns all the way to 11 for maximum volume, one of a series of pop culture references in the car's system. Though Tesla CEO Elon Musk has not publicly commented on the volume knobs, it is generally believed the maximum volume was designed as an homage to Spinal Tap.

The master section of the mixing console Custom Series 75 by Neve has a volume pot that goes up to 11½.

In Celine Dion's music video for "Ashes" from the Deadpool 2 soundtrack, Dion and Deadpool discuss her performance as "up to eleven" when Deadpool only needs it at a "5, 5-and-a-half at most".[21] Furthermore, in Deadpool 2, soldier-from-the-future Cable wields a plasma blaster with a control knob that goes to eleven.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hamilton, Alan (September 26, 2002). "Tardis lands in dictionary of today". Times Online. Archived from the original on January 7, 2006. Retrieved June 7, 2014.
  2. ^ "Memorable Quotes from This Is Spinal Tap". IMDb.com.
  3. ^ "The Script to This is Spinal Tap, v3". Corky.net. 1 March 1995. Archived from the original on 4 September 2011. Retrieved 7 September 2011.
  4. ^ Railton, Arthur R. (March 1948). "Chessie Has That New Look". Popular Mechanics.
  5. ^ Leonard, Michael (20 June 2014). "Les Paul's Favorite Les Paul – The Recording Model". Gibson Lifestyle. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  6. ^ a b French, Karl (22 September 2000). "The A-Z of Spinal Tap". The Guardian.
  7. ^ "Eleven". Spinal Tap A to Zed.
  8. ^ rxdxt (30 April 2010). "Why the BBC's iPlayer volume control go to 11". Tumblr.com. Archived from the original on 25 April 2012.
  9. ^ "Apogee Mini-DAC User's Guide" (PDF). ApogeeDigital.com. June 2003. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  10. ^ Berman, Bradley (28 September 2012). "One Big Step for Tesla, One Giant Leap for E.V.'s". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  11. ^ "Top Gear drives the mighty Singer 911". TopGear.com. 2 February 2012.
  12. ^ Top Gear Series 20 Episode 5
  13. ^ Lussier, Germain (December 2, 2010). "Trivia: 'This Is Spinal Tap' IMDb Rating Goes to Eleven". /Film. Retrieved October 10, 2016.
  14. ^ a b "This Is Spinal Tap (1984)". IMDb. Archived from the original on 7 December 2010. Retrieved October 10, 2016.
  15. ^ "Trivia for 'This Is Spinal Tap'". IMDb. Retrieved October 10, 2016. The only movie on IMDb that is rated out of 11 stars.
  16. ^ "'Doctor Who' blogging: "The Lazarus Experiment"". FlickFilosopher.com. 11 August 2007. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  17. ^ Kennell, Joanne (19 January 2016). "Mysterious Object is 570 Billion Times Brighter than the Sun". The Science Explorer. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  18. ^ "Gain Eleven". Retrieved 24 December 2016.
  19. ^ "Emergenza rock festival". Retrieved 24 December 2016.
  20. ^ "Spinal Tap Amps". xkcd. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  21. ^ Rudin, David (May 3, 2018). "Canada's Avengers: Superheroes Céline Dion, Deadpool team up for 'Ashes' music video". Montreal Gazette. Retrieved May 3, 2018.