In this digital age it sometimes seems that there is little reason for going to an external real amp to get the sounds that you need and it is pretty tempting to just stay in the software domain and tweak samples with plugins when recording. In our own studio often for the sake of expediency we use our Eleven Rack and Sans Amp and assorted plugins to achieve quick and realistic results but, no matter how good digital can be, I would venture to say that this is still not quite the same as cranking up a vintage tube amp through different mics.
There is a world of lesser known and not originally popular amps out there that have tremendous tonal characteristics
I have had some pretty nifty opportunities in the last few years in this arena in that I have worked in Randy Bachman’s studio a lot and he has some of the most amazing amps and guitars on the planet and many of them are not what I would have expected. I had the privilege of sorting through a lot of them to choose sounds and the results for me were very surprising. Through no small amount of experimentation I found that there is nothing that delivers a great tone like a cranked up vintage tube amp. That is not news, but here is the kicker – it is not only the classic standbys like Marshall and HiWatt that deliver that killer tone, sustain and harmonic complexity. There is a world of lesser known and not originally popular amps out there that have tremendous tonal characteristics, especially the weird ones that “serious” players used to just ignore, Sears, Silvertone, Takt, Vega, Harmony, Supro and others.
One of the best electric sounds I ever got in my opinion was with a 60s vintage Danelectro with a Silvertone 1485 head and an old Fender Bassman cabinet. The Danelectro is such a quirky guitar with the lipstick pickup, and it exudes such a spectrum of tones depending on where and how you strike the string, weird and wonderful. Super fun to play and at first glance you would not think of playing this guitar instead of an early 60s Les Paul custom or a vintage Strat but I did and it was so musically satisfying.
Find Something That Inspires You
The amp was just delicious and oh so imperfect and beautiful, full of warmth and resonance and depth and so idiosyncratic. These experiences really made me consider what it is to find that tone that inspires and informs a track and recording and I came to a conclusion. The sound starts in your head and resonates as true back to your ears. You can go through all the amps in the universe but if you don’t have an idea of what you want to hear and play you will perpetually jump from amp to amp and guitar to guitar.
For me personally it is not just one sound but whatever sound I feel suits the gig and inspires at the same time, whether recording or playing live.
I can honestly say that my inspiration is a well run dry when I am not getting something satisfying back from the guitar and amp that I have chosen. That combination can be very different as long as they can deliver certain constants like perfect tuning, great sustain and an inspiring tone – but again it all starts in your head and comes back to your ears to inspire your playing. If you find yourself wanting to play and you just don’t want to stop you are likely off to a great start. Some of my happiest musical experiences have been with cheap gear. It is not always about the “right” gear.
Don’t be afraid to try odd inexpensive alternatives and work them out, play them and experiment. Even cheap guitars can do miracles when they are properly set up and intonated and now old catalogue amps are at the vanguard of guitar tone so you never know what’s next. Use your ears and see what speaks to you. Adopt a junker of any variety and see if it makes music for you.
What amp has inspired you?