The Elegance Of Tube Amplification.

László

Too Many Notes
Joined
Apr 26, 2012
Messages
35,159
Location
Michigan
I'd like to make a few more observations about tube gear and why I love using it.

1. Benchmark Musicality.

Tubes amplifiers are so inherently musical that other technologies merely try to replicate their sound. Modelers and solid state amps don't even try to get into new sonic realms or possibilities. Why? They're certainly able to. I've got synthesizers that do all kinds of new things with transistor and modeling technologies.

I think the answer is that the sound of the electric guitar became a mature artistic sound 50-60 years ago. And the technology used to attain a big part of that sound - tube amplifiers - became the benchmark of what good guitar tone is all about. That benchmark is so fully associated with the guitar music we listen to that we're no more likely to depart from it than an orchestra is likely to use electric oboes.

The body of work that makes up the guitar music catalog was achieved with a certain technology, and to date, the type of sound used in creating it hasn't been replaced. Maybe that changes down the road, but we haven't seen it yet. If all a modeler does is replicate an existing sound, while it might be a cool gizmo, it's not creating a new musical result.

2. Authenticity.

The tube amplifier is not only the best sounding way to achieve that benchmark musicality, it is the most authentic way to achieve it.

Why do people still buy wooden acoustic guitars (or electric, for that matter) when there are plenty of lovely alternatives to wood? It isn't just the way the instrument looks. You can buy a solid color wooden guitar, just as you can buy a solid color carbon fiber or fiberglass composite acoustic guitar, like a Rainsong, or an Ovation Adamas.

Like tube gear, wooden gear has plenty of drawbacks. For one thing, it cracks easily. It absorbs and releases moisture. It's not as stable as a composite. You have to baby it with humidifiers, or dehumidifiers; you have to make seasonal adjustments. So why do we not only tolerate, but desire it?

The answer, of course, is that it's the sound we want, the sound we're used to over centuries of listening, the most authentic way to achieve that certain musical expression on the instrument that we enjoy so much.

Authenticity matters in the creation of music.

3. Simplicity.

Why deploy solid state or modeling gear when the simplest and most effective path to getting good tube tone is to use a tube amp? Why be forced to settle for 'it's almost as good'? However convenient modelers and such can be, they can't be said to sound better, or be better at making music with, than what they're merely modeling.

And have you noticed that the simpler an amp's design is, the more responsive it can be, and the more transparent?

I believe that the simplest solution is, in this case, the most elegant solution.

4. Appreciation of Vintage Tech.

This may be a personal thing, but I'll tell you what, I get a certain pleasure out of using this vintage technology. I love that I can tweak the tone not only with different tubes that I can install myself, but simply by altering the controls on my guitar, or with my picking hand.

What a beautiful, glorious technology tube amps embody...an older technlogy that can be used to create art, and appreciated for the sake of its musicality and elegance.
 
Nicely written! And I concur...
The only thing I like about SS and modeling amps is the convenience (as you said...). In certain recording and live group situations, where much of the subtleties of tube magic is 'lost in the mix', the new tech will get the job done.
But, nothing matches the feel, tonality, and breathing of a nice, simple tube amp.
 
Nicely written! And I concur...
The only thing I like about SS and modeling amps is the convenience (as you said...). In certain recording and live group situations, where much of the subtleties of tube magic is 'lost in the mix', the new tech will get the job done.
But, nothing matches the feel, tonality, and breathing of a nice, simple tube amp.
Glad you concur!

In recording, I only use tube amps, and here's why:

1. I want to start with the best sounding signal I can capture. A well recorded amp, particularly using high quality mics as both close and room mics, through a good mic preamp, creates a better sounding track (in my opinion). Tracks are the basic building blocks of a good recording, and of a good mix. As with gourmet cooking, you may want to use the best ingredients.

2. As you stack tracks in a mix - for example, you might layer two or more guitars and pan them various ways - you're either adding more goodness, or stacking up something less good. So rather than being hidden in a good mix, even stacked tube amp tracks will create a more pleasing, dynamic, three-dimensional sound. The modeling alternatives add up, too; you get even more meh.

3. The subtle things a tube amp allows me to do with guitar controls and picking dynamics encourage my playing. What I have to put up with in a modeler is something I find a bit frustrating. Admittedly this is personal experience, and YMMV.

4. I've only used tube amps live. The last cover band I was in was in 1969. Back then, you took one amp to a gig, because very few players had more than one amp.

By 1970, bands I've been in were original music bands, where I didn't try to re-create some other player's sound. There's been no incentive to use anything else. However, I'm not getting any younger, and today I'd probably take a, light weight, 112 tube combo to a gig, where before I'd have dragged along a high wattage amp with at least a 212 cab.

Since a modeler doesn't give me the sound and feel I prefer, I doubt I'd use one live. I wouldn't want to give a performance anything less than a 'best effort'. But that's just me. I'm sure plenty of players do just fine on other choices.
 
As always, I love reading Les’s musings. I used to be 100% in this camp. But, I really don’t care any more whether what I think are great tones come from a tube amp, or from one of the many pedals that I’ve built. There’s so many ways to get great tones. IMO, no one is more “authentic” than the next.
 
I've been arguing with some people in a boss katana Facebook group about tubes vs solid state. They said that modeling has surpassed tubes and that I only think I prefer tubes and I'd never be able to tell in a bind test.

Ugh. All my tube-based equipment purchases have been because I was disappointed with a solid state counterpart. I have a Kingsley pedal because every solid state pedal I tried for light bluesy breakup into a clean amp sounded bad. The Kingsley sounds perfect.

Even better, they said 'well if your tube amp tone is so much better then why don't you drop a recording of your playing'. I took a phone recording of me playing. In the recording, I think my Archon sounds like my awful squier solid state amp, but then they liked my tone. I can't figure these people out...

Here's the clip, in case anyone is interested https://photos.app.goo.gl/TWaCmPkgkyPXh7Dx9
 
I've been arguing with some people in a boss katana Facebook group about tubes vs solid state. They said that modeling has surpassed tubes and that I only think I prefer tubes and I'd never be able to tell in a bind test.

Ugh. All my tube-based equipment purchases have been because I was disappointed with a solid state counterpart. I have a Kingsley pedal because every solid state pedal I tried for light bluesy breakup into a clean amp sounded bad. The Kingsley sounds perfect.

Even better, they said 'well if your tube amp tone is so much better then why don't you drop a recording of your playing'. I took a phone recording of me playing. In the recording, I think my Archon sounds like my awful squier solid state amp, but then they liked my tone. I can't figure these people out...

Here's the clip, in case anyone is interested https://photos.app.goo.gl/TWaCmPkgkyPXh7Dx9
Those tones ARE excellent!
 
Those tones ARE excellent!

In the room the tones are excellent. The playing needs some work lol. I can hear that I'm self-conscious because it's being recorded, and my beat is all over the place because of it. Also wrong notes, but what's a few wrong notes between friends.
 
I've been arguing with some people in a boss katana Facebook group about tubes vs solid state. They said that modeling has surpassed tubes and that I only think I prefer tubes and I'd never be able to tell in a bind test.

Ugh. All my tube-based equipment purchases have been because I was disappointed with a solid state counterpart. I have a Kingsley pedal because every solid state pedal I tried for light bluesy breakup into a clean amp sounded bad. The Kingsley sounds perfect.

Even better, they said 'well if your tube amp tone is so much better then why don't you drop a recording of your playing'. I took a phone recording of me playing. In the recording, I think my Archon sounds like my awful squier solid state amp, but then they liked my tone. I can't figure these people out...

Here's the clip, in case anyone is interested https://photos.app.goo.gl/TWaCmPkgkyPXh7Dx9
It's hard to record with a phone; it's not exactly a high fidelity device. However, your clip sounds nice to me.
 
Thanks for the feedback, all!

I guess the bottom line is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." I've often thought modelers were a solution in search of a problem.

However...and this is a big however...

If a player needs more than a couple of tones on a gig, and doesn't want to pay cartage on a tour for big tube amps, I completely understand. If people just don't care for the personality of tube amps, I understand.

I'm speaking here as a person who enjoys everything about tube amps, their idiosyncrasies, their old-school technology, and their sound/response.

In my studio I switch between 4 amps and cabs at the press of a switch; I've got a crapload of bases covered with what I have on hand. And sure, of COURSE I still need a Matchless C-30!!

Maybe I'll sell a guitar, get one, and regret my decision later - as I so often do!!!
 
Thanks for the feedback, all!

I guess the bottom line is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." I've often thought modelers were a solution in search of a problem.

However...and this is a big however...

If a player needs more than a couple of tones on a gig, and doesn't want to pay cartage on a tour for big tube amps, I completely understand. If people just don't care for the personality of tube amps, I understand.

I'm speaking here as a person who enjoys everything about tube amps, their idiosyncrasies, their old-school technology, and their sound/response.

In my studio I switch between 4 amps and cabs at the press of a switch; I've got a crapload of bases covered with what I have on hand. And sure, of COURSE I still need a Matchless C-30!!

Maybe I'll sell a guitar, get one, and regret my decision later - as I so often do!!!
I hear ya, and you have a massive advantage!
You get to use all those beauties right in your own home studio.:cool:
I on the other hand have to go to practice and gigs, and after a few weeks of hauling my 65lb Custom 50 to/from practice and gigs my 65 y/o body gave me the... um... finger, so I left it at the studio. I guess I could have bought another one for home, but would still need to haul 65lbs around for a gig. The stairs is what killed it for me.
Anyway, I love that C50, and the H.
 
You know you have good tone when women throw underwear at you.

Edit to clarify: You know you have good tone when women throw their underwear at you. My tone has inspired my wife to throw underwear at me, but it was my underwear. And she hadn’t done laundry yet.
 
Apples and oranges.

A Roland JC-77 does a certain thing.
You cannot "fake" the thing it does.

A Fender DR, Marshall JTM45, Hiwatt DR103 each do a certain thing.
You can't fake those things either.

A Tech21 Trademark 60 and some nice pedals will sound pretty darn good

but...<-----<<<

A cranked DR103 sounds like the amplifier of the Gods.
 
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