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Everyone has choices and I want to alert them to even more choices,
including combinations of gear that are underutilized. I like to pick a
variety of solutions: in addition to developing the fx>speaker isolation
cab>fx approach, I will continue to plug straight into my 15 watt vintage
amps, and I would also like a Fender 4x10 Hot Rod DeVille, and a 50 watt
plexi reissue Marshall full stack, and a Carvin tweed amp.
You can use traditional 5 watt tube amps *and* traditional 50 watt tube
amps *and* the Tone Engine approach (fx>tubeamp>speaker isolation
cabinet>fx), if you spend enough money. You should have a 5 watt amp
for playing straight-into-the-amp at home, and a dual-channel good 50
watt tube amp to play at gigs and in the studio, and a Tone Engine setup
to play anywhere.
If you can only afford one setup, you have to make the choice, based on
your needs and the tradeoffs involved. The Tone Engine approach is
more expensive than a single effects unit and tube amp, but quiet even
when cranked, and unusually full-featured. Because of the strategic
placement of the two effects units on either side of the
power-tube-and-speaker, my system can outperform many of the
complex multi-amp, multi-cabinet, multi-processor systems shown in
Guitar Shop magazine, without costing nearly as much.
Expense tip: don't buy unless you are able to pay cash. Credit debt is a
bad entanglement. I took a hit in my enthusiastic research but was
forced to stop short of buying the final power amp and monitor. In fact I
ended up selling all my experimental gear at a loss, to buy a car (but also
to think completely freely, unencumbered by the limitations of the
equipment I happened to have). You don't have to experiment: I can tell
you that the Tone Engine approach works (as you would expect), and
with the help of others online, I can tell you the limitations of all the ways of faking a tube amp by tossing out the speaker and/or power tubes. So
you can build up your system or rigs at a more conservative pace.
For those who want to use an old 5 watt Fender Champ amp, or a new
Kendrick 5 watt amp to get "quiet" cranked amp tone, realized that 5
watts is still about as loud as a trumpet -- Which is still about a hundred
times louder than I and my neighbors can stand. To get power tube
saturation and speaker response at low levels, you can use a power
attenuator such as the Marshall Power Brake or THD Hot Plate.
You should plug straight into a 5 watt tube amp such as Kendrick's model
or an old Fender Champ, and crank it up to trumpet level. And you
haven't lived until you have played AC/DC riffs on a cranked 100 watt
Marshall stack directly driving two 4x12 cabinets in front of you. But you
should also be aware of alternatives to playing so loud, and the pros and
cons and tradeoffs of these alternatives. Some of these alternatives
produce top-notch cranked-tube-amp tone remarkably conveniently.
These systems would be even more convenient if many more companies
put out such products. Companies will produce these new power-tube
oriented products when many guitarists ask for them and point out the
limitations of just using *preamp* tubes.
I can accept buying more equipment, but I cannot accept loud noise most
of the time, and I can never accept the 2nd- or 3rd-rate tone produced by
simulators. Attenuators and inductive loads are promising, as the
Marshall Power Brake and ADA Ampulator have shown. Certainly,
power tubes are a great step above running a raw preamp signal into
the mixer. But real speakers contribute complex dynamics, tone, and
roundness to the signal, thus a speaker isolation cabinet is less of a
compromise than an inductive load.
For those who want the unmistakable tone that only a power tube linked
directly to a speaker can produce, a speaker isolation cabinet is the only
sure way of getting cranked tube amp tone with almost no room noise. If
you use a speaker isolation cabinet, it's a natural step to place an effects
unit before the power tubes and after the speaker to add control of the
eq curves, as well as flexible effects placement.
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