Hello my name is Ramiro Blanco. I am a guitar player from Argentina. I’ve playing guitar for over 16 and I have released my first solo record on February 2015 name ‘Corners where we are mad’. I’d like to share my thoughts on the current use of guitar amplifiers and guitar tone. I am going to share my personal point of view. This means that what I’ll say is not necessarily the right way to do it, but rather that there is no one right except the one that sounds good to your ears.
100 watts heads and why they are useless
We’ve all seen the wall of Marshall of Yngwie Malmsteen or many other players with many many stacks behind them. Yes, they look awesome and powerful but reality is that either only a few of those heads/cabinets are producing any sound (or all of them are just props) or they are just a waste of power.
Every electric guitar player has heard a phrase similar to this: “Tube amplifiers sound better.” I happen to agree with this, but that doesn’t mean that every guitar player will sound good through a tube amp. The reason is actually simple, it is very likely that most players will never get the most out of their amplifiers because they’ll never drive the tubes into saturation and there’s where the real juice is. But to do that… You need to crank the volume up. This is rather impossible to do with a 100 or 50 watt heads if don’t want to pierce your ear drums, nor to get the neighbors to call the police, nor get the sound guy to kill you.
I’ve been playing through 15 watts tube heads for a couple of years and let me tell you, 15 watts is a lot (A LOT). Yet I am able to crank it up much more easily. What must be understood is that 100 watts amplifiers come from a time when there was no P.A.(Power amplification). Back then the actual amplifiers would feed the audience. In such situation it would make sense that amount of power, but today, with PAs and monitors, the sole purpose of the guitar amp should be to get me the tone that I want and the volume knob should be considered a gain control for the power tubes.
Concerned about volume? No problem. A good way to control volume is to add or remove speakers. (WARNING: respect the ohms values of the head and speakers. You could damage your amp or speakers/cabinets). For example: use 2×12 cabinets instead of 4×12, less speakers means less air moving meaning less volume, plus the speakers are actually another stage where you can add some compression and get some interesting sounds.
You can look into the rig of John Petrucci or the guys from spliknot, just to name a few. They use on the side of the stage an isobox or isolation cabinet. An excellent way to get the tone you want and just worry about proper monitoring. If you don’t know what an isocab is, look it up. Specially if you like to record at home.
And finally what comes after the speakers. I get shocked when I see how most guitar players are always working on their tone, what amp, what pedals, strings gauges, pickups, etc; but then they get to go and play live and they would let the random sound guy place whatever microphone, wherever he feels like it on the amp. This is a flaw many musicians have. It’s ridiculous how sound changes by moving the microphone half an inch closer to the speaker’s cone or moving it away. Get involved, try a few microphones, a shure sm57 is an excellent choice to start. Record yourself at home, place the mic in different positions to see how it affects the sound, get a mic you like and take it to the gig and use it, take some good quality headsets (with isolation would be better) and hook them up to the return on stage and use them during soundcheck. We are talking about how the audience is going to actually hear you. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.
Wrapping it up. When you think of your rig… think of tone not volume. And when you think of tone, think of the whole chain, from the guitar to the audience’s ears.