Organisms cope with change by taking advantage of transcriptional regulators. However, when faced with rare environments, the evolution of transcriptional regulators and their promoters may be too slow. Here, we investigate whether the intrinsic instability of gene duplication and amplification provides a generic alternative to canonical gene regulation. Using real-time monitoring of gene-copy-number mutations in Escherichia coli, we show that gene duplications and amplifications enable adaptation to fluctuating environments by rapidly generating copy-number and, therefore, expression-level polymorphisms. This amplification-mediated gene expression tuning (AMGET) occurs on timescales that are similar to canonical gene regulation and can respond to rapid environmental changes. Mathematical modelling shows that amplifications also tune gene expression in stochastic environments in which transcription-factor-based schemes are hard to evolve or maintain. The fleeting nature of gene amplifications gives rise to a generic population-level mechanism that relies on genetic heterogeneity to rapidly tune the expression of any gene, without leaving any genomic signature.