The case for owning multiple guitar amplifiers

You have many guitars, why is just one amp enough?

The whole idea for this topic came from a conversion Gordon (UpFront Guitars owner) and I had about the Weber vs Celestion speaker as mentioned in a previous blog entry.  Gordon is in a position to play many different guitars and many different amps.  Me not so many choices.  I tend to play a smallish Class A amp and bypass the tone stack.  Speakers are my tone control so I’ve tried a bunch.  I love P90 Les Pauls, Gold top or JR’s.  My speaker tastes differ from Gordon’s because of the guitars I lean towards.  We do agree on the G12H30 and Weber 12F150B however.

As for amps, I really like the sound of the KT66 tube.  I came across a very old 6L6G that kicks that KT66’s butt and sounds more KT66 than the KT66 sounds.  Now I have an advantage in that my amp (an Emory) takes almost any tube you can imagine.  It is kind of like having several amps. So here we go, why NOT have several amps?

Why not have several amps? Well think about it.  You can gig with a 15-25 watt amp today no problem.  And really why wouldn’t you?  They are smaller and easy to carry.  These days most clubs own a good PA and want to mic your gear anyway, or the band brings their own sound, choosing between many of the great lightweight powered speaker systems from JBL, RCF, QSC, etc.  Besides, it’s getter to get the  volume to the front with the PA and not with searing stage volume.  Many years ago I did sound at a club.  Looking back on the gear that arrived onstage, well I’d hate to see that now.  No, I didn’t like having a guy with a Fender Twin in control of his volume.  I had no mics on amps, I had no control.  A good sound guy with control of the house sound is your friend.  The guy with the guitar and his finger on that chicken head volume knob is not.

There are plenty of amps in that 15-25 watt range that in fact cost less than the next guitar you lust after.  I’m talking a nice small tube-filled combo in the flavor or your choice.  Or maybe a small head so you can mix and match those multiple 1×12 cabs with different flavor speakers with different flavor heads.   No pedal can really emulate a Tweed circuit on that edge of breakup.  I’ve tried.  A pedal to make an amp that doesn’t sound like a Black Face sound like a Black Face?  Well maybe.  At least as long as it is run clean because a Black Face break up is a sound all it’s own.  Marshall in a box?  There are those that claim that possibility. And remember, no pedal will ever get you a great clean tone.

Let’s say you have a tone in your head, a favorite player that you want to sound like.  Some of mine are……..A Gibson 335 into a Tweed Deluxe will do wonders toward sounding like Larry Carlton on “Don’t take me Alive”.  A loud clean Strat with great reverb and echo á la David Gilmour.  A Les Paul JR into a wall of Sunn PA amps: Leslie West.  Strat into small Tweed just like Clapton on Layla.   The list goes on.  The point is you need more than the guitar, you need the amp or AN amp that is more like your “head tone”.  No, I’m not denying the fact that tone is in the hands.  But a Guild Starfire into a Line 6 just isn’t going get you into  Zakk Wylde land.  You need some gear help here.

We saw some of this first hand when Upfront Guitars did the All American Guitar show in Valley Forge, PA in 2011.  Let’s for the sake of simplicity use two Valvetrain amps as examples.  The Valvetrain Trenton for the warm smooth Tweed sound and the Bennington for the more cutting bell like clear Black Face tone.  Both amps were on display for sampling.  Both amps fall into the “American” camp in regards to the way they are voiced.  We had 15? guitars on display from G&L, Godin and that nasty little Tele from Angry Angus.

Shoppers would cruise our wares and ask to play axe “X”.  “Sure, great which amp” we’d ask.  They’d point to the Bennington combo.  So off they go playin’ their licks. All is sounding well, but then they ask if they try “that one”, pointing to the Trenton.  BTW, both amps have two 6V6 power tubes, Trenton is s tube rectifier, Bennington SS rectifier.  Both have the same size cabs and the same Eminence Wizard speakers.  The difference being one a Tweed voice the other a Black Face voice.

Plugged into the Trenton things change.  This amp is more their sound, their feel.  It works better for their licks.  It makes them play stuff that the amp’s tones conjure.  I kid you not if you are a SRV fan or like that whole Texas tone thing you’d dig a Bennington and you’d play that kind of lick.  And I can’t tell you how many times people grabbed that Angus Tele, plugged into the warmer tweedish Trenton, and after strumming a few chords they just HAD to play the three instantly recognizable and unmistakable opening chords to Hendrix’s “Wind Cries Mary”.  The guitar and amp combo just hit that nerve.  A guitar with Humbuckers into the larger Rivera heads would have attracted a whole other player.  The gear leads the ear.

One really great young player came by and after trying I think three guitars into two amps started playin’ this mad funk stuff.  People stopped and listened.  Even the “DB “ Police (check noise levels) put down their meters and listened.  His playing and the right guitar and amp combo (Angry Angus “Testy” and Valvetrain Trenton) were just so right.  He soon stopped funking around, paused kind of looking off into space and launched into playing Hendrixs’  ”Wind Cried Mary” chords and riffs before veering off to “Power of Soul” from Hendrix’s Band of Gypsy’s”.  Now he could have been playing those licks on anything and he would have been good.  But he nailed the tone with the right guitar and amp.  Others bonded with the Bennington and left thinking hard about another amp, not another guitar.  The Bennington was their sound almost more than the guitar they brought or we supplied.  They thought they needed another guitar.  Now they want another amp.

Fender Reissue Bassman has found a good home

We saw the same thing occur: The same right melding of player, licks, guitar, amp and pedal over the two days of the show.  I know the stuff I like to play.  I know what tone is in my head.  If it means you pass on another guitar to go with another amp to get there why not?  Maybe it’s time to look towards alternate amps?  Hey, I just got another Tweed  style amp (A reissue Bassman, which means I had to get one too – Gordon). Did more for my tone than another P90 Les Paul ever would.  Just saying………