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What do guitarists need for amp rig consulting?

Guitarists are looking for amp rig consulting. They have questions, particular and general, regarding the specific gear they have: how to run it for Tone in the studio and for control when playing live, and which approach to take for improving the system design, including supplementing their existing gear with less-mainstream gear.

The main challenges guitarists now typically face are:

  • How to manipulate distortion voicing.
  • How to obtain power-tube distortion independently of volume (as you can do with Master Volume for preamp distortion).
  • How to switch between multiple optimized sounds.
  • How to eliminate hum/buzz, hiss, squeal, and treble-loss.

To better address those challenges and get manufacturers to make gear that makes more sense, my main task now is creating an online library of dry-guitar files for everyone to reamp through various amp rigs and gear. I need to effectively direct this collective project and get people to create and provide dry-guitar files to a central location, then effectively use the resulting great-sounding reamped files to prompt manufacturers to make gear that makes more sense. Making demo videos of dialing-in and switching between multiple optimized sounds would also help. This approach would break away from being dependent on my own guitar playing and my own amp rig gear; it separates playing ability from gear ownership, in an open collective project.

Gary Brawer http://brawer.com and Dan Ransom at Real Guitars http://realguitars.com in San Francisco offer guitar tech services on guitars. To do amp rig consulting ideally requires hooking up and dialing-in the guitarist's amp rig setup in person. Pete Cornish and Bob Bradshaw do some various kinds of amp rig consulting, though there is likely a need for more such service providers for custom consulting.



Local, hands-on coverage is the only guaranteed approach; the consultant has to dial-in the sound and rearrange the hookup on the spot and demonstrate the result in person. This would amount to an "amp rig tech", in emphasis, rather than a "guitar tech". I've read all the books about amp rigs and recording the guitar, and conclude that even if you read them all and add them all together, they aren't good enough. For example, Van Halen's tech strongly but vaguely urges people to try using an EQ pedal, but he never mentions the key issue of EQ placement in relation to distortion voicing. The verbiage in the explanations is often comically jumbled or hazy, not precise and systematic. It's not uncommon to see excuses like "it's just an introductory level book, and some people found it helpful". You pay $15 for a book which has nothing to say but "try moving the controls around until it sounds good." As if you hadn't thought of that. The people writing the books have only a conventional, average level of understanding processing chains. There's still a need for me to write a book, even after Dave Hunter's books. http://www.amptone.com/booksgettingguitarsounds.htm

My personal ideal is not to make a consulting business for me or anyone, but rather to teach all guitarists the basic principles and to get designers and manufacturers to offer better, more practical feature-packaging, and change the standards and perspectives which gear reviewers use in their gear evaluations. However, even if great books existed and better understanding of amp rig concepts was more widespread, and more relevantly designed gear was widely available, there would still be a substantial need for amp rig consultants, such as Cesar Diaz who helped Stevie Ray Vaughan sound great in studio and live, and Roger Mayer who helped Jimi Hendrix with effects design and amp rig setup in the studio and live (Dave Hunter's book Guitar Effects Pedals, interview pp. 154-156).

I've done a little of such hands-on instant amp-rig consulting, sometimes making simple changes that never occurred to the guitarist, to immediately produce results that amazed the guitarist "I didn't realize this equipment could sound that good!" For example, I quickly determined that the distortion control on the Rat distortion pedal changes the pre-distortion equalization to add bass at the same time as adding volume. This unintended EQ alteration is a common side-effect of controls labelled "Volume", "Level", "Gain", or "Distortion". As a result, we ended up setting the Distortion control lower but compensating by turning up the Volume control on the pedal before the distortion pedal. This unadvertised side-effect of the Distortion Level control has the advantage of enabling you to control the distortion voicing. I think of that control as "Distortion Voicing" rather than "Distortion Amount"; to control the distortion amount, I hit the distortion box with a higher input level.

It would be ideal for me to give some in-person amp rig consulting, and then incorporate that experience into instructional videos and the amp tone book I want to write.


The advertising-driven gear websites and the magazines are so oriented toward getting guitarists to purchase additional equipment, they fall short on helping people run better the gear they have already purchased; gear acquisition syndrome (GAS) is too predominant, instead of mastering the basics of running guitar gear -- people try to purchase a solution because they don't grasp the basics of running the presumed "solutions" they already have purchased. The ad-driven sites and magazines aren't critical effectively of the overall gear feature-packaging attempts put out by the typical companies -- more of an "outside the paradigm" voice is needed to see beyond today's typical gear and its unnecessary limitations due to convention-limited thinking.


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