23 January 2009

More about tube amps

I figure I’m going to be sticking with my digital processor → clean solid-state amp setup for a long time. It’s flexible and reliable. I’m thinking that I want to get another 15W, 1×12 combo so that I can run the two amps in stereo off my Digitech RP350. This one little 15W that I have—Crate GTD15R—has seemed plenty powerful enough for every gig. (Heck, I was worried that it was going to be underpowered, but instead I’ve been told a few times to turn it down. ^_^) In the bigger venues, it’s either gotten mic’d or they plugged the (balanced) direct out of the RP350 into the house PA.

It’s also quiet enough for practice, since the tone is coming from the RP350’s digital magic rather than a cranked power section. Although, it’s the tiniest twist of the volume knob between loud-enough and too-loud for practice.

But I’m hearing the siren call of the tube amp. The elegant simplicity of guitar → amp. Perhaps with just analog reverb and tremolo. With nothing to mask the character of the individual guitar. Or any weaknesses in my technique.

I may have mentioned this here before, but—oddly enough—one of the things making me interested in tube amps are the RP350’s digital recreations of them. Playing with the ’59 Bassman, ’65 Twin Reverb, and Vox AC30 simulations really make me want to have the real things.

Other culprits include...

Some of the things they’ve told me...

  • To get half the volume of a 50W amp, you’d need a 5W amp.
  • 100W amps are overkill. A 30W amp can handle small and medium venues. In a large venue, you should just mic the amp. Bigger amps just mean more dangerous sound pressure levels and more people complaining that you need to turn it down.
  • There’s little point in a separate, low-power practice amp. Even 5W is overkill for a practice amp anyway. Better to use a power attenuator to bring down the volume of your cranked regular amp.
  • BTW, the reason for using the power attenuator instead of a master volume is that you get “better” distortion when you overdrive the power amp rather than just the pre-amp.
  • When an amp starts to distort, the signal gets compressed. That is, when you get to a certain point on the volume knob you’re no longer increasing volume as much as increasing distortion. So you can change the tone on a cranked amp from clean to distorted through picking dynamics and the guitar’s volume knob rather than channel-switching. And since the volume knob isn’t giving you volume control anymore, that’s why they sell power attenuators.
  • The first thing to do if you want to improve your amp’s tone is to bracket the distortion stages with EQ.

So, I expect before I know it I’ll have picked out one of these beasties to wrestle with alongside my digital toys.

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