Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A few quick words about guitar amplifiers....

Guitar Amps-some practical advice.
I’ve pretty much always owned one of these since I’ve been a musician. Actually, I sound like Napoleon Dynamite there. They sound great on stage but not so great in the studio unless it’s metal/grunge youre playing. As soon as you stand in front of one the words “rock rock rock” start going through your head like some modern day Manchurian Candidate who has been hypnotised by Motley Crue. The main thing about them is you can drop them, throw them in a van, use them as a table for sawing wood, use it as a door stop, and then you can use it to hammer some nails in. After that you take it to a gig, plug it in, and shazam- it sounds great. Made in the UK as well.
These are made in China and look like minature Marshall JCM 900s. They sound like a bee stuck inside a sealed diet coke can. If you ever walk into studio/rehearsal studio and they have these , instantly ask for your money back and go home and do some stretches.
These cost upwards of £2000 and are made in Mesa, California. Obviously you don’t see many of them as most musicians would get rejected on the spot for that kind of credit.The giant panda of amplifiers. Ronnie, our old guitarist, bought one a few years ago, after saving up from his job in Tesco (that’s a lot of shifts). He turned up to the van one morning with a towel over it. One of the band said it looked like he had a budgie in a cage. From then on it was called “the budgie”. We never got to hear it recorded before he left the band so I’m guessing at a price tag of buying a small motorbike that it sounds amazing. Even with the towel over it.
My current amplifier of choice and the size of a big packet of Cornflakes.  Valve driven. Put a SM57 microphone in front of it and it sounds like a guitar on a proper record. It’s actually quiet enough to record in the same room as your wife /girlfriend. In fact it wont wake her up at 1am. I read somewhere that all the great 70’s guitarists used these tiny amps in the studio and then had a huge stack of 16  HI Watt /Marshalls behind them when they went on tour.  You could probably take this to a gig on the rack of your bicycle.
These are fabulous sounding amplifiers. Loads of the Beatles records were made with these from Love Me Do to Abbey Road. From personal experience they are totally unreliable- the secret junkie of amplifiers. Kind of like the £20M soccer star who plays 2 pre season friendlies a year and then spends the rest of the time in a clinic in Switzerland getting fixed. There’s guy called Tam in Maryhill(for non Glaswegians where Partick Thistle come from) and he spends every day of his life fixing valves on old AC30s. You get it fixed, plug it in and then after 10 minutes it breaks down and you get back on to the phone to Tam, whose number you now know off by heart . There’s a company called JMI (Jennings Musical instruments) that’s started making these in Yorkshire using the original designs and apparently they are the business-if you’ve got a spare £2500 and you want to buy my friendship just e mail me and I’ll send you my address.
As  good as the Fender Champ and as small.  Unfortunately they stopped making these in 1976 or something.  Huge chunks of Super Pro and Japanese Graffiti were recorded on one of these little men. I personally get quite excited when I’m watching an old documentary on say Dr Feelgood from 1976 and one of these appears. “That’s a WEM! That’s a WEM!” I’ll shout at the TV and look round to the empty room.
If you see one of these in either a music shop or a rehearsal room leave immediately. Nothing to do with Limmy and a "Priesthill Bandit".

Kind of like a Champ but much bigger and made in the US. They sound fantastic. They have a spring reverb which if you kick the amplifier sounds like the sci fi effects from a monster/horror film and is genuinely scary.  If youre in a band with two guitarists and the other guy/girl has one of these you will spend most of your time asking them to turn down or alternatively having fist fights. Even the drummer will ask them to turn down.  Even the audience and the chip shop next door will ask them to turn down.  People from Google earth in the continent nearby will ask them to turn down.
These are quite rare little amps from the 1980’s. They have one speaker and a picture of a Badger on the front.  They sound quite good but tiny. The main reason for owning one of these is so that someone can say in the studio “I think it’s time we got the badger out”. Everyone laughs even though they’ve heard the joke before. Of course you can only get the badger out at night as it’s a nocturnal amplifier.
I’m surprised that with the whole 80’s revival music shops around the UK aren’t trying to push these. I’m sure it’ll happen but probably once the 1990s revival is underway. As soon as you plug it in you instantly have a quiff and start singing in a mid Atlantic accent (kind of like Hurts) and millions of A & R from London appear in the room asking if you’re the new Hue and Cry and do you want to come outside and see their new  Peugot 205 Turbo?

Great sounding.  If you think of the Marshall as a Tiger then this its rarer cousin the cheetah.  Amplifier of choice for the Who. After two years of using one of these you’ll  be so deaf that you’ll be playing gigs inside one of those plexiglass things Pete Townsend has. If you cant afford that a shower cabinet from a skip will do just as well.

I used to have one of these. It sounded like the guitars on a bad Herman’s Hermit’s outtake (I’m a Hermits fan btw). The second thing I didn’t like about it was the funny crest that looked like a coat of arms from the War of the Roses. But mainly it was because it didn’t have wheels that it was like trying to move a patient around who’s had a stroke. I sold it to a guy in a Christian rock band. That gave me lots of satisfaction.

Maybe the smallest but loudest amplifier ever made? Japanese scientists thought this one up in the Roland/Boss factory as part of the solve the volume/space equation thought up by The Tornadoes in 1962. To make it that loud they put some heavy duty components in it. It’s like one of those joke scenes where you go to pick it up and it’s so heavy it’s like it’s nailed to the floor.  Only people in wedding bands seem to own these. If you see a car on the motorway with its exhaust scraping the tarmac chances are it’s a guy on his way to a wedding gig.

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