Up to eleven

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The original "up to eleven" knobs in 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 film This Is Spinal Tap, where guitarist Nigel Tufnel demonstrates an amplifier whose volume knobs are marked from zero to eleven, instead of the usual zero to ten.

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 not simply make the 10 setting louder, Nigel hesitates before responding: "These go to eleven."[2][3]

Prior examples[edit]

C&O's No. 500 first went "up to 11" in 1947.

The use of "11" as a maximum pre-dates This Is Spinal Tap by almost 40 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 (113 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" that went up to 11.[5]

Subsequent 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, Amazon Alexa, 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] The "Drive" knob of the Elektron Syntakt drum computer and synthesizer goes from 0 to 11 with 1 in the middle, using 0—1 for normal clean audio levels followed by 10 additional steps of distorted range.[13]

On its primary page for This Is Spinal Tap, the IMDb displays the user rating for the film out of 11 stars (e.g. 7.9/11) instead of the standard scale of one to ten.[14][15][16] Ten rating stars are actually shown on the page, and users can only use ten. Other IMDb pages display the rating out of 10.[15]

The influence of the phrase "up to eleven" is such that it has been used outside of music; in 2016, for example, astronomer Krzysztof Stanek described the then brightest-known object in the universe, ASASSN-15lh, as being "as if nature took everything we know about magnetars and turned it up to 11".[17]

See also[edit]

  • 1000 percent – Informal idiom marking enthusiastic support. Similar expressions include "110%"
  • Loudest band (list)
  • Loudness war – Increasing levels in recorded music
  • Plaid Speed – In the film Spaceballs, the consequence of exceeding the red line of Ludicrous Speed
  • Red line (phrase) – Figurative phrase meaning a limit, "a limit past which safety can no longer be guaranteed"


  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. ^ "Syntakt User Manual" (PDF). Elektron.se. 24 November 2022.
  14. ^ Lussier, Germain (December 2, 2010). "Trivia: 'This Is Spinal Tap' IMDb Rating Goes to Eleven". /Film. Retrieved October 10, 2016.
  15. ^ a b "This Is Spinal Tap (1984)". IMDb. Archived from the original on 7 December 2010. Retrieved October 10, 2016.
  16. ^ "Trivia for 'This Is Spinal Tap'". IMDb. Retrieved October 10, 2016. The only movie on IMDb that is rated out of 11 stars.
  17. ^ Kennell, Joanne (19 January 2016). "Mysterious Object is 570 Billion Times Brighter than the Sun". The Science Explorer. Retrieved 25 January 2016.