Wednesday, July 25, 2012
An amp is a personal thing
from featured musicteachers911 writer and professional guitarist, Greg Jones.
I recently rejected a friend’s offer for me to play my guitar through his keyboard amp for a gig. Like many people, he thought of a guitar amp as simply being a personal PA or home stereo system. A good stereo system for the most part, is designed to only replicate the sound recorded on the CD, MP3 or cassette (remember those?). However guitar amps are actually designed to color the tone. Different types of amps color the tone differently. In fact, you would probably not like the sound of a guitar going straight into a stereo system or PA.
Just as one might choose mahogany to build a dark sounding piano or maple to brighten up an acoustic guitar, an amp may be chosen based upon the tones the guitarist needs at his disposal. With guitar amps, there are basically three different categories of sound: American, British and Modern metal.
Fender amps represent the classic American clean tones you might hear in traditional blues and country. While these amps do some distortion as well, they typically produce more of a Texas Blues distortion as you might hear out of Stevie Ray Vaughn. On the British side, Vox amps have given us the jangly chime of the Beatles and U2, while Marshall drove the rock sounds that dominated the 70’s and 80’s with Led Zeppelin and Van Halen. Mesa Boogie (an American amp manufacturer) is one of the most popular builders of the modern hard rock/metal sound, although there are some European companies producing amps in this category like Engl and Bogner. These sounds can be found in music from Dream Theater, Korn and Nine Inch Nails among others.
Of note, I should point out the digital technology revolution is making its impact upon guitar amps as well. There are amps called digital modelers that are digitally emulating these amps. Arguably, digital modeling amps (and computers with digital modeling software) sound very close to the real thing in live situations and can fool even the most discriminating ears in the recording studio. The reason they are so convincing for recording is that the software they are using is modeling a real amp as recorded in a studio. The computer is modeling what the amp sounds like to the microphone. It is NOT modeling what the amp sounds like to our ears. These amps are very versatile, being able to produce virtually all of these sounds in one box (or computer).
So the bottom line is that an amplifier is more of an extension of the guitar as an instrument as opposed to merely something to make the instrument louder. The ‘coloring’ that an amp provides actually contributes to the overall sound of the guitar.