Many guitarists face the specific problem of getting good tone. They are frustrated with mediocre tone and would like to compare notes.
People are free to use whatever gear they want. A systematization of tone and gear principles does not restrict anyone, but gives them more tools. Lack of clear principles restricts guitarists to groping in the dark and wasting money. It's usually frustrating trying to get power tube and loud speaker tone using simulators. I've tried to get authentic-sounding tube amp tone using simulators, and I've spoken with others on the Net. This site shares our experimental results.
There are many guitarists out there dissatisfied with their tone, and almost no books explaining this black art. There are very few postings that really address the subject of how to select and run gear to get the best tone. "Anything goes" is not helpful at all. Many guitarists are seeking a particular arena of tone -- the classic loud tube amp spectrum of sound. They don't want to hear "anything goes". They want to know heuristics for tone knobs and equipment selection and setup that will help them get into the arena they are seeking. They're not looking for just any tone that will do for rock. They are seeking the tone of saturated power tubes and loud guitar speakers, run with an understanding of eq curves and their interaction with saturation.
Rock guitar tone is about experimentation, finding new soundscapes, and pushing the envelope. Principles or guidelines are not restrictive, but rather, are helpful for this exploration.
It is worthwhile to catalog and analyze the varieties of amp tone. Tone is not just in the hands and heart, but also in the gear. Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray and other Tone greats took amps very seriously.
Great playing cannot completely cover mediocre equipment Tone.
Cesar Diaz, SRV's amp tech, claims:
SRV sounded kind of ratty back then. I went up to him and told him that he was a great player, but he sounded like shit! He was really receptive, and that's one thing I will always appreciate about him. He didn't cop an attitude; he just said, "Really? Can you help me out?"
-- Guitar Shop, Oct 1996, Page 38.
>Just do what works. Guitarists shouldn't waste time micromanaging and theoreticizing their gear choices.
Many of the greatest players obsess about tone and gear. Hendrix and Stevie, for example.
Many people are very interested in Tone principles and gear categorizations, and are having a great time and looking forward to new configurations of preamp clipping and power amp clipping. Amp designers are hard at work making new types of amp gear such as speaker isolation cabinets and inductive loads.
"Just do what works" is cruel, given that many guitarists are forced to struggle in vain for a tone that they are satisfied with. Your response leaves the question, "But what works?" This is often not clear at all.
These Tone articles will save time, money, and frustration. This site is for amp designers and to guitarists who want authentic cranked amp sound at low room noise levels. These articles can inspire you to try new combinations of approaches in the search for controllable, awesome tone.
Direct into the board, with no power tubes involved, is legitimate, as far as it goes, but generally, tones generated this way sound mediocre -- something is missing. You can record "good" tone this way, but I don't think it can be called *great* tone, as in the greatest possible tone.
Gear heads unite; you have nothing to lose but mediocre tone. Saying that power tubes are part of great tone, and analyzing combinations of processing stages, is not micromanaging and overly theoreticizing guitar gear. Everything that I have posted is about *basic* principles of guitar distortion. I try to emphasize what's really important, and downplay secondary, minor factors, such as which brand of battery sounds best. For example, choosing between solid-state and preamp tube clipping is less important than including a power tube and speaker, and less important than the eq used before and after clipping. Identifying the more important and less important factors in great tone is basic analysis, not micromanagement.
Many good guitarists pay little attention to their gear, and their distortion tone is hit-or-miss. To them, amps are monolithic black boxes -- some are good, some are bad, who knows why. Other guitarists strive to master guitar amp setups so that they can get superior tone out of any combination of equipment. I especially admire the way Stevie used a great variety of amps. He became a master of *amp setup* and was not overly dependent upon particulars. Oddly, he was more particular about his solid-state Tube Driver pedals than about amps!
I have spent too much time experimenting with alternatives to power tubes and guitar speakers. These alternatives promise to sound like power tubes and speakers, and they fail. The guitar world should be done, finally, with this frustration. Enough false hopes and false promises. Most guitarists are struggling to get the sound of a power tube and guitar speaker, run in an optimal setup that gives great control, but many guitarists continue to spend time hoping that faking this sound will sound satisfactory. Simulators have their place but we should not kid ourselves -- they do *not* sound close enough to a traditional cranked tube amp.
My goal, like that of many guitarists, is to have a basic sound like that of saturated power tubes and hard-driven speakers. Many listeners also prefer this physical, rich, honest sound. For one thing, I, as a listener, am promoting the continued use of this real approach in the studio, because it sounds better than the alternative ways of getting a basic, default guitar tone. For another thing, I, as a guitarist, want more products that use power tubes. We can have such products by building up the awareness of the importance of power tubes. There are many promising alternative configurations of components besides today's standard "preamps" and "amps". The least the amp companies could do is put a power attenuator in the amp. The least the effects companies could do is put a power tube and load in their processors. The least the cabinet companies could do is offer a variety of speaker isolation cabinets. These products will appear in great variety when the guitarist community asks for them.
>Michael's list of tone principles contains some
>good basic principles, and if you knew nothing about amps you could do
>worse than follow his advice. Tube amps do sound good, and many times
>they do sound better than a lot of solid state amps. There are good
>tubes and good solid state amps, you just have to look around.
>I think in the future though we are all going to be playing through
>solid state amps, because sooner or later Eastern Europe is going to
>catch up to the 21st century and stop making vacuum tubes.
Even if you use solid-state amps, most of the stated principles apply, such as the difference between eq->saturation and saturation->eq.
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