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Home > Letter from the Editor's Desk: August 2006

Guitar Center Online

Last month we were all surprised by the launch of Guitar Center’s online retail store (since they own Musician’s Friend) – it just seemed a bit redundant. Many people asked us what the move meant, so we did some investigation.

Musician’s Friend continues to operate independently of the Guitar Center Online store, but does remain part of the overall Guitar Center corporate business. The new website just gives Guitar Center customers an extended shopping experience beyond the confines of the retail store, while Musician’s Friend will continue to pursue its catalog and direct-to-consumer merchandising.

Scott Kahn—Editor in Chief,

Of Tone and Power

This month, I find myself contemplating tone – particularly the question of intricate, detailed, type-A personality tube-connoisseur tone and our ability to hear subtle differences in it.

We work hard to make sure that our reviews of amps are as detailed and description-rich as they possibly can be to help you understand what something sounds like from nothing more than our written word. This can be quite a challenge to undertake in the case of guitar amplifiers, as there is so much interaction between guitar and amp and volume. With regards to volume, the funny thing about tube amps is that much of their revered tonal magic doesn’t appear until you crank them to unwieldy levels.

Take the Mesa/Boogie Road King Version 2 guitar amp that I’m currently reviewing. It features both 6L6 and EL-34 power tubes to provide an unbelievable range of sonic options. Although there are marked audible differences between power tube selections at any volume, much of their touted characteristics have to do with the way that they sound when pushed into overdrive; something that doesn’t happen until higher volumes. Seriously pushing even a single pair of 6L6’s or EL-34’s running in class AB can make for some pretty loud volumes.

Thinking about this more, I find that it really amazes me – why are so many guitar amps rated for such high power levels? The reality of your typical 100W tube amp is that unless you’re playing mid-sized arenas, you can’t push them hard enough to really enjoy all of their tonal beauty to the fullest. When playing with my own rock band, I find that even 50W tube amps are much louder than I can use when pushed into overdrive in the power stage.

The power situation is further complicated playing gigs at the club level. In a smaller venue, the best sound for the band is achieved when stage volume doesn’t compete with front-of-house (FOH) sound from the PA system. So, even with a 50W amp that you get to push in your rehearsal space, for your band to sound its best on stage, you have to run the amp at a lower volume level when miked in order to allow the FOH engineer to actually mix you properly with the band. (If you insist on cranking your amp on small club stages you’re letting your “tone ego” compromise the sound of the band.)

Of course a group of tube fanatics may chime in with this being the perfect opportunity to make use of an attenuator or “hot plate” so that we can hear our tube differences at a more reasonable volume, but then we’re altering our tone in some small way by introducing another device into the audio path. Wouldn’t it just be easier for the big amp companies to start building us a wider variety of lower-wattage power amps?

What do you think about this topic? Share your thoughts on the subject in our Guitar/Amps forum.

Keyboards and Those Voices In Your Head

On another gear-related note, Roland finally shipped the VP-550 vocal synth, and we have it in our labs. To recap my Winter NAMM 2006 experience, this was the coolest product I encountered, and playing with it in my studio has been a blast… it is just plain and simply absolute fun to play with!

We’ll leave the technical merits of this product to Jason Buchwald’s in-depth review, but from the hedonistic perspective, it’s just so cool that you have to check it out. Be your own Enya! Perform Yes’s “Leave It” without any of them in attendance. Sing classic Queen songs! I realize that new guitars and amps give me bouts of intense musical inspiration, but it’s different than the kind of simple fun that this keyboard generates for me. What are some of the odd musical things that you turn to purely for their fun factor? A kazoo? Electronic drum kit? Tell us in our General Discussion forum.

See you next month!

Scott Kahn—Editor in Chief,
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