Amp Tone Part 1.5: the Reason to Use a Tube Amp (And for the Love of Sweet Mercy Please do not Riff Every Chord Even if You Are Really Excited that the song is in a Minor Key so it’s Awesome Because It’s Really Hard to Hit a Wrong Note)

Alright, before we get to Amp Tone part 2, I had to post this example. I hope you all appreciate the sacrifice here. I may very well regret this later.

You see, I want so passionately to save the world from bad tone and overplaying, that I am going to subject myself to shame by posting a song. A very special song. A song that I just found two nights ago while digging through some old cd’s trying to find out what happened to my Outlaws game. (Remember Outlaws? The greatest computer game ever created on universe? 1997 was so the year of the computer game! No other game has yet to hike the precipice that Outlaws built with its own sweat and blood. Pixelated, outdated, you can’t tell the bad guy graphic from the background graphic? I call it mojo.) So I find this cd. And as I’m about to burn it (like, literally…in flames), I realize that it would be a tragedy to deprive the world of such a prime example of bad tone, overplaying, and thinking you’re Michael Landau when you only know one riff. (Hey, I was 19. I also thought that liking ‘The Godfather’ was underground and indie. It’s only as you get older that you realize you’re just not that special.)

BrandoGodfather.jpg picture by rypdal95
(Incredibly awesome film. And two of the best actors to ever grace a film screen right there, too. But you just can’t pretend you’re cool and original for watching it. Maybe in 1972. But not now. Yikes, I was scary at 19. hehe)

So here’s the song. And fair warning, the tones you hear in this song may haunt you for the rest of your life…in a bad way; just like it haunts you to drive past a Banner Mattress store, and you just can’t help that stupid jingle from playing in your head every time you see it.

Song: My Glorious (ah, nothing turns a guitarist into a whirlwind of sub-par, self-indulged, pentatonic riffs quicker than a minor key)
Player: me…at 19…and oh so proud of my skills and tone
Guitar: BC Rich Bronze series Warlock (the most metal $100 could buy at Guitar Center)
Amp: Crate GFX-120 (120 watts of pure solid state sweetness)
Pedals: Boss GT6 (clearly on the Mesa Boogie modeling setting)
Band: the rest of the band members’ names have been withheld to protect the innocent. Although the singer’s not bad. 😉 And no, I’m not singing. Just tearing it up on the BC Rich Warlock, baby.

My Glorious – Life Church Worship Team 2003 

So please…use my shameful past as a reminder, a warning if you will, for yourself. Tubes, people. TUBES. And if you have one pedal that costs 4 times as much as your guitar (as my GT6 did over my BC Rich), just stop and think for a second. And everyone is different…I’m not saying that you can’t get good tone out of the rig on that recording…….wait……yes I am. Lying is ugly. For the money I spent on my BC Rich, Crate, and GT6, I could have bought an ’80’s Squire, a Fender Blues Junior, a Fulltone Fulldrive, and a Line 6 Echo Park and still had money left over…and have had infinitely better tone and feel. And remember that when I first heard that recording five years ago, I was oh so proud of it. So think about how you will view what you play this week, five years from now. And maybe that will cause us all to play just a little bit less. Unless you’re John Mayer. Then just play on, brother. Play on.

outlaws.jpg picture by rypdal95
(The best game ever created. Nope. It is. Mmmm……Outlaws.)

Not even gonna write ‘Splendid’, because that was definitely not.

35 thoughts on “Amp Tone Part 1.5: the Reason to Use a Tube Amp (And for the Love of Sweet Mercy Please do not Riff Every Chord Even if You Are Really Excited that the song is in a Minor Key so it’s Awesome Because It’s Really Hard to Hit a Wrong Note)

  1. So true about the title– part of why I love Spanish Service, 1/2 of it all is in a minor key. No wonder Santana Leads sound so great- any note in a minor key is BEAUTIFUL!

    I remember the day I spent 120 bucks on a digitech “everything under the sun” modeler. Wow, was I something.

    Even then I thought it sounded bad, but wouldn’t admit because it was sooo cool, right?
    I swear, I’ll never get those “gassy” sounds out of my head- sounded like my Les had eaten some pintos and cheese. Wow.
    Things we do for tone… vs… things we do for cool (for rock star)

    You ever feel a worship leader (us) is a wannabe rockstar, or since clearly not a “rock”star, perhaps a wannabe, serious artist- such as “classy blues”, into “jazz” or whatever label you wanna call it?
    Heh… My guys were laughing as we were explaining to a youth group that was visiting on a missions trip “We’re not soo much rock, we’re more of a jazzy fusion that plays salsa. Pretty much anything.” Yeah, we’re musicians, and pwn cool.
    “Like a House band?” said the youth pastor.
    “ummm… yeah.” says i, humbled.

  2. Finally listened to your clip. Wow, you were jamming! At that stage I was hitting notes as fast as I could just to prove I could play “lead”!
    That sounded as good as my digitech did!

  3. nice one karl! we all have been there, haven’t we? i remember my first electric guitar (which i still own) is a $300 Godin w/ white perloids (now ashame to play it outside). I have a VAMP2 (for pre-amp) -> DG-Stomp (FX/Speaker Sim) controlled by an FCBC101. Each one of these cost me more than the guitar. Oh, did I use all the iterations on that baby. Until now, I keep asking myself why on earth did I do it. Oh well, I hope that I learned something from it 😉

  4. I’m totally bummed out you didn’t get the octave dueling solo part going! If I’m right, I remember reading that Stu G was using this insanely aggressive Snarling Dogs pedal for that album (which I still love). If you want to check out some serious nastiness (in a good way), buy Delirious’ Willow Creek DVD and check out the live version of “Investigate”. You will BEG your worship leader to do that song after watching it!

    The first time I played with a worship band I was 16 and had an acoustic guitar… with no pickup. So I played in front of an SM58 in a boom mic. I also did not own a guitar strap. So I pulled one of the chairs from the congregation and sat on that. In my first iteration as an electric guitar player, I confused a volume pedal with a wah pedal. The results were less dynamic than I had hoped they would be.

  5. heh… less dynamic…

    Kinda like when I got my $80 Samick electric for Christmas, took it to youth group and then plugged it straight into the PA and was disappointed (greatly!) that it didn’t distort.

  6. hahahahaha, you are a brave man Karl.
    I recognize that tone completely. One of our other guitarists uses a GT-6. I think he uses the exact same settings as you. To make it even better, we take that sound direct into a PA. No amp. Yup, you would swear it was better than being front row at your favourite gig.
    To add to the awesomeness, we have recently had some collaborative efforts to share some ‘essential skills’
    1. linking pentatonic boxes together, so we don’t go round and round in the same box for the entire song.
    2. slides and bends, so we don’t go round and round in the same box for the entire song.
    3. Playing less, you guessed it, so we don’t go round and round in the same box for the entire song.
    Our guys have done a really great job of learning parts and recreating the song as it is done on the CD but have struggled to know what to do when it comes to ‘free worship’
    I would love for us to all have better tone, which BTW does come from ebay, but there are a few budget restrictions.
    When we opened for Delirious in 2000 in Edmonton I was blown away by Stu’s rig. It was an all-singing-all-dancing-looks-like-what-the-edge-might-use affair and I had serious tone envy with my strat, Boss blues driver, memory man into a 40 watt non-hotrodded fender blues deluxe.
    Thanks for the tone series, there are some really great tips in there. I’ll be using some and sharing others!

  7. Pingback: Electric Guitar Rig Tone

  8. Hey Karl! Great blog you have, have been reading it for months. 😀
    I play in a Hungarian church, and unfortunately, I don’t really have that much money at the moment that I could easily afford expensive gear(but Jesus HAS the money for me, hasn’t he? 😀 ), so when I saw that this music shop here has a sale on VOX amps(unfortunately digital ones, and AC4TV-s), I thought I’d buy either an AC4TV or an AC4TV8. But then I figured out that I was going to buy a BOSS DD-7 earlier, which is almost as expensive as the amp on sale(well, at least now that the sale is on)!! So, I hope that you(or the other kind blog readers) could help me out with:
    a) deciding between either buying the pedal, or the amp
    b) if buying the amp, which one of the two?

    Unfortunately I don’t have a tube amp at the moment, I’m playing out of a VOX Pathfinder 15R… 🙁 And of course using digital effects and a TS-9… Wow. Sounds stupid and cheap.

  9. Of course I forgot something… I know the AC4 is meant as a “bedroom amp” but I was going to use it as my monitor… lol Just so you know, the stage is designed in a way, that my Pathfinder was once asked to be turned down by an unshielded drummer, and was not amplified out in the mix because it was so loud(and our church building is actually pretty big with hundreds of people and big amplifiers!!). So I guess that this small 4 watts MIGHT be enough as a monitor?? Or am I wrong?

    • Hey JB,
      I’m not Karl but maybe i can offer some advice.
      Two questions first, will you be micing your amp? and do you need to be able to play the amp clean? If you’re going to be micing the amp and dont need to be clean then 4 watts will be fine. The biggest limitation of those amps is there isn’t much clean volume, but there is a good amount of volume with distortion (more distortion as you turn up the volume though so that may be an issue) In most churches being loud enough is not the issue, its keeping the stage volume lowthats the issue.

      Definitely get the 10″ speaker over the 8″, in fact if the head is available get that. I know it seems like more money (because you have to get a speaker cab as well) but it gives you alot more options.

      Oh, and i vote for getting the amp first.
      Hope that helps.

  10. JB–great to have you here! I would definitely go for the amp first, for overall tone. The only reason I might think about going for the delay pedal first is if your worship leader has asked you for a specific part on a song that you can only do by using a delay pedal. But for tone alone, I’d go amp first for sure.

    And like Dan W said, the AC4 will be fine if you mic it or if you plan to play using a lot of natural amp distortion. But if you need clean headroom and you are not going to be mic’d, I’d look at something a little more high-powered, like the Vox Night Train, or Orange Tiny Terror. But if it’s going to be mic’d, and the sound guy can put it in your monitor, you should be fine. 🙂

    Hope that helps!

    Dan W–couldn’t have said it better myself! Thanks. 🙂

  11. Hey Dan,
    Thanks very much for the help, it was great that you replied. 😀 Yes we always mic the amps, even Mr Van Haelen’s Marshall Valvestate(although turned down in the mix lol), but yes I’m in need of a clean sounding amp, I’m not really into big overdrive. And I think I’ve read somewhere that the AC4TV has a “fuzz-like” drive, that I’d like to avoid.
    About the cab, yes, I was thinking about that issue, but I was hoping that I could use my SS Pathfinder as a cab. I don’t know if that was a good idea.

    Thanks for the advice, I aprreciate it too. The problem is, you see, that all the other instruments have their separate monitors, except the guitars(the funny thing is that the sound tech who is the occasional bass player usually turns his Warwick so loud that it can even be heard on the other end of the stage, and no one dares to anger a soundtech-bassist)… We have to use our amps as monitors, and that means the AC4 would be used for that also. And we all know that you can’t begin Mighty To Save with greasy overdrive(welll, some might try but not me). 🙂 I know both the Night Train and Tiny Terror, and to be honest, I can’t really afford them. Prices are really high in our shops, and I haven’t tried buying from abroad. The best help at the moment to buy used gear was offered yesterday by the sound guy who has a friend that wants to sell his AC15(don’t now if CC or not), and might help me make the deal. He also said that he believes 4 watts won’t be enough on the stage for me.

    I’m definitely in need of cheap gear lol

    Thanks again Dan and Karl!!

  12. I have the AC4 10″ and IMHO if your pathfinder needed to be turned down before (i actually played a 30W pathfinder before too, haha!), then the AC4 should be plenty enough for monitoring. In fact, that’s what I do too. The headroom is actually not as bad as everyone says, and I play an LP too!

  13. JB–oh wow, the guitarists don’t get their own stage monitors? Wow. I would definitely jump on the AC15 then, CC or not! I’ve heard that it can be a really big issue buying gear from abroad, which is why I didn’t suggest to you any boutique gear. Hope it all works out for you, brother, and that AC15 might be an awesome choice for you!

    Matt–really! Awesome, then! Sometimes 4 tube watts can be pretty awesome. Thanks, bro!

  14. Well, that’s my back-up.. I run an AC 15 now =P
    And I’m looking for something at a similar price but better sounding. i know i know blues junior!

  15. haha You forgot ‘with a speaker and tube swap’! lol Actually, Frenzel has been my suggestion of choice lately. Incredible price, and all hand-wired. 😀

  16. Thanks Matt and thanks Karl for your help!
    Hope I can finally lay my hands on that AC15. I know it’s not the best but will be certainly better than the Valvestates and SS amps we usually play.

  17. Here’s an AC4TV8 tip – the 8″ speaker will work fine (once broken in, which will take a solid month of at last an hour a day playing – new speakers need to *work* before they “bloom”).

    Get the amp off the floor/stage; on an amp stand or ANYTHING – I use the bass player’s front rack cover (grin).

    Mic it off-axis at 6″ or so (that will give it some “size”); and most importantly, CHANGE THE TUBES. the stock ones are junk. Cheap Sovteks. A good US NOS or Mullard or even a good condition “pull” EL84 will be a HUGE improvement.

    Then the real trick to smoothing out the sound – use a lower gain preamp tube. I usually use a 5751, but if I want a more buttery distortion sound I’ll use a 12AY7..or even a 12AU7 (don’t use a 12AT7 – it’s not a good audio tube).

    Then crank the amp and “drive” it from your guitar’s volume and tone controls and by using VERY light pick attack except when you want some “bite”.

    I tend to use the smallest amps I can so I can crank them up. A 50 or 100 watt amp turned up to “2” sounds….bad. Worse than bad. The largest amp I use (unless I’m using an attenuator) is a 12 watt tweed Deluxe. But I’ve used a tweed Champ, ’58 Princeton (with 1×8″ Jensen) and mic’d right (plus with good use of right-hand dynamics and guitar controls) you’ll get killer tones AND the sound guy will be happy (well – not always. Mine told me to turn down when my amp was off….).

  18. I’m gonna disagree on the tube thing. I’ve owned tube amps, solid state amps, three Axe-Fx units, pedal setups, rack setups, etc etc.

    Tubes do sound good, but the knowledge of the guitarist is more important. When you made that awful recording, you had no idea what a good guitar tone was. I bet, if you had to, you could take that same rig now and make great sounds. Maybe this time you wouldn’t just dime the distortion and treble controls 🙂

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