Whaaaaa? I can’t hear you!

31 03 2009

I’m sorry I’ve been away for a while. Besides gigging my butt off, I’m in the middle of a new project.

It’s a project that every musician dreams about. It’s a project my family and I have always aspired to. And it’s happening as we speak.

We’re finally building our own Recording Studio!

Take two chunky little warehouses, build a box to connect them together, and add about all the money you ever saved (plus all the money that you can borrow), and voila! Instant “land of dreams.”

Well, not exactly “instant.” More like a YEAR from now. Man, these babies take a long time. After I figured out hard it is to build a studio, I finally bit the bullet and placed the call.

wes_lachotYou know the one where get down on your hands and knees and grovel at the feet of the “Sound Box Gods” and beg for attention... I mean, you can play in the forums, but sooner or later, you’ll just start going crazy.

But, the music gawds were smiling, and I got the help I needed! Praise the powers that be! I mean, I don’t want to learn how Steven Hawkin does ‘rithmatic! I just wanna play!  So… I have an acoustical designer on the team, now! Finally, I have  somebody to share those “Excedrin headaches” with! 🙂

Where was? Oh yeah…

I was going to start “teaching lessons” this week, but I have another idea. It came to me on the plane back from Miami, in the form of a little boy who wandered up to my seat, and asked me what kind of guitar and amplifier I was playing. Seems that he and his mom were seated a few rows back, and they overheard me talking to my partner about the next gig, in LA. And that little tyke told me that he’s always wanted to play the guitar, and end up on VH1. He said;

“I’m not a Guitar Zero, man! I’m a Guitar Hero!”

If he’d have said “MTV,” I’d a ignored him. But, since it’s “VH1…” His birthday is coming up, and I know a kid who’s gonna get a guitar in the mail.  I’ve got this Yamaha  APX500 FM Thinline Electric Acoustic in the back of a closet I picked up for free, at NAMM. He’ll have to grow into it, but it should just about do the trick. Whaaa? You thought I’d send him a Taylor Koa? Nope. You wish.

I get asked all the time about which guitar is the best. There really isn’t a “right” answer for that. Guitars are like girls, when you find the right one, you’ll know. Everybody is different, and we all have desires of a different color. I mean, I love Japanese, but  I wouldn’t want to eat it every night…

Now, amplifiers. That’s an entirely different matter. Although there are tons of good amps out there, some just stand out, doing what they do, better than the rest. And, you have to pick them by category. There’s no such thing as a Rock/Jazz/Heavy Metal amp…

For instance, I just got back from Miami, where we spent a few days recording some serious Jazz licks, with a little “Mikosukee” flair. Sounds odd, I know, but it’s a project that will make you sit up and take notice, I promise. Tasty licks, and rich enough to let you close your eyes and feel it wash thru you!

Recording studios make it a point to have just about any amp they need, but no Studio can have everything. So, you call ahead and tell them what you want, and they make sure they have it.

We’ll start this out by talking about Amps for Jazz guitarists, since my favorite 335 is sitting right here.

Guitar amps are really about “tone.” Making your jazz guitar sound “so sweet and tasty” obviously requires more than the right amplifier and guitar.

It requires you to make a choice.  And that first choice is between tubes, or electronics.

tube-ecc83sBefore you go anywhere near that music store to buy your new amp, you need to know the answer to this question;

  • “To tube or not to tube?” That is the question Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of noisy tubes and capacitors, or… … um… never mind… Suffice to say, you’re gonna be forced to choose between an all tube amp, a hybrid tube/solid state amp,  or a solid-state amp.

Here’s the “Pros” of choosing that tube amp:

  • Tubes rule! The sound cannot be equaled by solid-state  amps. Period! That said;

If you’ve attended events like NAMM, you already know that great strides have been taken in incorporating recent technology innovations to make it possible to emulate the sound of a tube amplifier in a solid state amp. (The Roland Cube 60 and its Cosm amp emulation are real good examples).

  • The overdriven sounds are more far more “musical” compared to hybrids, and solid-state amps.
  • Tube amps have that great “High” dynamic range you’re looking for!

tube-holygrailBut, Tube Amps have “Cons” too:

  • Your roadies will hate your guts! Tube Amps are heavy! And you need a spare!
  • And tube amps have “valves” that need to be replaced yearly. Tis a pain in the butt, that is!
  • Tube Amps are noisier than their solid-state amp brothers and sisters.
  • Tube amps are more expensive. Way more. But worth the cash, I tell you now!

Here’s the ABC’s of amp selection (plus or minus a few)…

Combo or head and cabinet? That separate head and amp look and sound great, but combination amps are way easier to haul around. If you’re still gigging out of a van, you choice is made. If you have a tractor-trailer… well… it’s on! Who cares if the roadies howl? 🙂

Are you a control freak? If you’re like me, you like to tweak and shape your sound, so a control panel with a lot of knobs and “dohickey’s” is exactly what you want. If you don’t like fiddling with knobs (you’re not a “real” guitarist :)), go look for a simple control panel.

Digital modeling: Can you believe it? They haveStar Wars Amps,” now.  Some amplifiers can actually switch from say… a Fender to a Marshall type amp with the flick of a knob. And some of these amps are loaded with “goodies!” Some of these boxes have just about every classic and modern guitar amp that you ever heard of, already built in. If that wasn’t enough, they have a ton of  effects, a veritible “who’s who” of speaker cabinets and even a few microphones.

Now, these  amp models don’t sound exactly like the originals, but they come pretty darn close in my opinion. Some guitarists go “ga-ga” over digital modeling, and some like the real thing. I’m kind of a “purist,” so I’m not impressed by ’em. Your mileage may vary.

Headphone connection: Look, if you have roommates or “in-laws” that share a wall, you’ll probably need this. I never did. I actually liked making them mad! It was “sport.”  There’s nothing quite like “Eruption” played full tilt, at 4am! 🙂

Low volume: This is the alternative to “wearing headphones.” Does that amp you’ve been lusting after sound good at low volumes? I think that this is a real important point to consider, as you may end up playing little intimate gigs, where that low volume clarity is a huge plus. Plus, it will double as a practice amp! That’s a “two-fer…”

line-6-spider

Get the right amp the first time, and you don’t need a practice amp like this! That’s more bucks for pedals! 🙂

Portability: Look, unless you’re “the Incredible Hulk,” size and weight becomes an issue if you’re gigging all over town.

Power: Duh! Your amp needs enough volume to be heard during concerts. I don’t touch one that can’t be heard all the way to the International Space Station, but that’s just me…

Reverb: Okay, it’s test time. Do you prefer spring reverb or digital reverb? Spring reverb sounds way more natural, but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. If you’re really a Jazz musician, you can tell. For you rock guys with “buzzing eardrums,” that may pose a challenge! 🙂

Tone: what kind of tone are you looking for? Some guitar amps are more suitable to producing the darker tones sought out in traditional Jazz recording. And if you listen to Pat Metheny (in fact, I’m listening to Pat’s album; “TRIO 99–>00” right now) you want to look for amplifiers that produce brighter tones. Of course, some amps claim that they can double up and do both, but they  rarely deliver. You may find yourself with both “light and dark meat…” , to make sure you get a good vibe when you need it…

XLR connection: Look, if you’re really a pro, you need an XLR connection on your guitar amp to run through the PA. It’s just part of playing “big gigs.”

fenjazzking1

Next time, we’ll look at some of the more popular amps, and pick a winner or two…

Stay tuned!

lexx-sig

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