There are more important things than tone. I know…the very nature of that seems heretical. But, if we have established that our evoking-of-tears-anti-solo-with-sweet-Johnny-Buckland-ripoff-reverb-decay actually means nothing without the chord structure from the bass, piano, acoustic, rhythm electric, cello, whatever……then if you also cannot hear the chord structure from the bass, piano, acoustic, rhythm electric, cello, whatever……then there comes a point where cranking your amp to get the tubes warm and the the preamp and power amp sections ‘pushed’ for stellar tone, actually succeeds only in making that amazingly sweet tone mean absolutely nothing.
And of course, this is the point where most guitar articles usually go into the ‘next killer amp modeler’, or tube-buffered direct box, or some other gimick that is supposed to emulate a cranked amp. Which it won’t. There is no ’emulation’ of signal actually passing analog through tube-driven amplification, and certainly no emulation for actual sound waves naturally coming through speakers and literally moving air. Now, I can’t tell you what you like and don’t like. (Much as I wish I could…hehe.) So it is possible (though I cannot see how… 😉 ) to like sound from amp modelers and such. But it’s their own sound. Not a live amplifier with real tubes misused and overdriven. Just as you can get string sounds from synthesizers that you can like for what they are; but they’re not an orchestra. There’s a reason actual films still use the London Symphony Orchestra and LA Philharmonic for their scores. Well, most films. ‘Raptor Island’ definitely used keyboard strings. And ‘Rats.’ You know, the one where half-finished computer-animated rats float on top of people as they gnaw their ears off. (And they’re not supposed to be floating…that’s due to the afore-mentioned ‘half-finished’ nature of the animation.) All the while the synthesizer is banging out some unfortunate ‘string’ part that makes me want to hurt myself.
(They never use the gun. I have no idea why. And this movie vaguely reminds me of some other movie…can’t think of it right now…something about ‘Jurassic’? I guess if it works once, may as well rip it off and do it again…and at lower quality. And you don’t even have to rip it off, either. You can have the copyright, and still do a lower quality ripoff. Like Jurassic Park 3. A whole hour of the same rubbish I’ve already seen 4 times. I mean, uh……2 times. I didn’t watch Raptor Island. Or Raptor Island 2. Yep, there’s a ‘2’.)
So I guess what I’m saying is that amp modelers are the ‘Raptor Island’ of tone. (*Barricades himself behind stacks of point-to-point wired tube amps for the onslaught of Lincoln Brewster videos that are sure to come flooding in.*) But seriously, if you use them and are getting tears of sweet tone, more power to you. Make that music, be that person, and rock. But for me, maybe I’m crazy, but it’s gotta be a bit more real. And I’m not talking about killing stage volume altogether, or getting a 1/2 watt ZVex amp or something. You need volume. Tubes need to be hot, every amp has a sweet spot on its gain knob, speakers need to be pushed, and air needs to be moved. A little stage volume is a good thing. Keeps things feeling fluent and live. Too pristine gives off a sterile feel that looks good on paper, but feels awkward live. But you have got to be able to find a way to get this tone and feel at volumes that can still blend with the band, and can still give your sound tech enough control to be able to blend with what he hears at the front of the house. Because like it or not, we cannot face-melt and run sound at the same time. I mean, I guess you could get a wireless system and do it, but knowing us, we’d just end up cranking our gain knob on the actual sound board. Because ‘these go to eleven.’
Enter post phase-inverter master volume. It comes at the end of the preamp circuit, as an overall, well, master volume. And when done right, it allows stacks of tube saturation without any noticeable tone loss, warmth loss, high end less, frequency response loss, feel loss, or weight loss. (This is like an infomercial.) Beautiful. I had this mod put into my Divided by 13 RSA23 by Jerry Blaha in Hollywood. And he does a fantastic job, with some of his own ideas thrown into the mod…such as placing it after the power amp. Which I love the sound of, but does go against the definition of most ‘post-phase inverter’ master volumes. However, he describes it as sounding most like ppimv. But there are many techs and amp builders who can do this. Gives you the tone you want, without having to get an amp-in-a-box, run your amp in a closet, or build a little house for it on stage.
(Speaking of bad movies, my wife took me on a date yesterday…yep, she took me…she’s amazing…to one of our favorite lounges and a show in downtown San Diego. Little did we know it was the first day of Comic Con. And there were so many things I did not understand. Costumes, people who looked like they were in costumes but you could tell they wore that every day, lines that wrapped around 4 downtown blocks of girls waiting to see the guy from Twilight…and for once I don’t know the actor’s name, and I would like to keep it that way…please do not tell me what it is…, and oh ya, storm troopers outside Dussini’s. My wife snapped that picture. Most times, you don’t need comedy films or stand-up clubs. You just need people who are into video games, Twilight, and galaxies far, far away. Because of course we guitarists never get into our stuff at all. 😉 )
Last month, I posted an article on the different ways to get stage volume down. There’s power dampening, attenuators, master voltage, closets, etc. I’ve tried almost all of them, with the exception of master voltage. And thus far, a well-designed post phase-inverter master volume circuit is the best I have tried. I did a quick video on it, complete with playing through the click channel on the RSA23 with the gain dimed. And if you’ve ever had the opportunity to crank gain on a KT88 or EL34 amp, ya…it’s not quiet. But so incredibly saturated. So, with the ppimv mod, you can actually use the cranked gain sound.
So here’s the video, complete with me trying to figure out what exactly you’re supposed to do with a cranked gain Marshall/HiWatt sound. It was awkward. But hopefully you can hear the tones from the amp that the ppimv allows you to achieve:
Yep. Sounds like Jimmy Page without the talent part. But the gain that you can get, as well as clean tones on the verge of breakup, are pretty cool; and at bedroom, club, and church volumes. Obviously, you’re not pushing the speakers as hard…but you are giving them a broad spectrum of sound with the added gain, even at low volumes, which pushes them in a different way. And with a well-done ppimv circuit, you can turn it all the way up, and still get the sound of the amp wide open as if the master volume wasn’t there. With stuff like this available, I simply cannot see why you would ever have need of amp modelers. (Okay, maybe for reliability, tonal constancy regardless of temperature, versatility, etc……but that stuff just ruins my point. So I’m not going to mention it.) But the main thing is that you can still get your tone, feel, dynamics, warmth, and either gain or clean on the verge of gain (whichever your preference is for the given situation) at volumes that will still blend with the music. Because, unfortunately, music is kind of the point…and our guitar and it’s subsequent tone (hopefully) are there to support the music. Which sucks sometimes, because I do like it to be about me. Less tears at night. But I guess if it can’t always be about me, post phase-inverter master volume is the next best thing.
Oh and speaking of storm troopers (haha…such awesomely smooth transitions today), if you’ve never seen this, watch the right side of your screen: