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Many guitarists are spending time attempting to get power tube and speaker sound without using power tubes or without using speakers. *If* you want convincing speaker tone and a tone that sounds like power tubes, the surest approach is to use actual power tubes, directly driving guitar speakers. If you use a speaker simulator, the tone probably won't sound as rocking. This is an important consideration if you are seeking a heavy, physical rock sound. You can get other intense sounds that work for rock, but they won't sound particularly like power tubes driving speakers.

Every guitar tone is legitimate, but guitar generally sounds better through a tube amp than straight into the board. Most studios that produce hit records will continue to use tube amps rather than a straight preamp tone.

A lot of the experiments with amp emulators sound flat, fake, sterile, synthetic. Mid-80s Rush experimented with thin, sterile, clinical guitar tones. That period is considered their nadir by most fans. As we experiment, it works well to keep certain parameters the same, while varying others. The traditional tube amp continues to serve as the reference point: it is the best experiment we've had so far. It's right for some people to continue to try alternatives. But so far, every alternative to an actual cranked tube amp sounds less suited for rock. Guitarists who care about Tone should use an actual power tube directly driving a guitar speaker as their default rig. This is not a significantly limiting restriction. I've described how you can place eq's before and after the amp to get a spectrum of saturation curves and cabinet sounds. I've described how you can place effects both before and after the amp, mastering the muddiness effect of time-fx before a distortion or saturation stage. Certain factors are best left constant (as a default or reference point), while others vary.

As you experiment, you keep track of the successes and failures. You publish the results. I experimented with loads and attenuators and solid-state amps. I concluded, as have some other people, that these produce a less rich and compelling tone than traditional tube amps and cabinets.

I would like to do an objective A/B test of some of these supposedly "convincing" tones versus tube amps. I've been actively listening to lots of electric guitar tones on the classic rock stations, developing my ability to hear the unique qualities of tube amps. I've also been trying combinations of preamp distortion, compression, and equalization, and listening for what makes a preamp tone sound like a preamp tone, and what makes a traditional tube amp sound like a tube amp. I think that I would be able to pick out a Sans Amp easily.

A hard-driven guitar speaker is essential, and power tubes are essential. "Amp emulators" using compression, eq, and distortion can't possibly mimic the tone of a power tube directly driving a guitar speaker.

It's a worthwhile pursuit, trying to get rid of power tubes and speakers. But I'm tired of hoping, spending, investigating, reading, and testing. Until a device comes out that everyone's excited about, I'm sticking with traditional tube amps and speaker isolation cabinets, and I think other guitarists should too. It's necessary that a few guitarists buy emulators, supporting research in that area. But I sure don't want to hear failed emulators on the radio. If someone is going to the trouble to cut a record, there is no reason for them to use an emulator rather than a traditional amp. Studios are built around the concept of high-volume instruments - they have the isolation room, mic's, amps, and mixer board already. There is no reason for professional guitarists to use emulators to cut records. I see more and more signs of acceptance of emulators even in the studio, and I absolutely am against it, because tube amps have vastly richer tone. Tube amps are an essential part of rock guitar tone. Take away the tube amp, and it's ersatz rock -- or at least, it's flat sounding rock.

The 80s were the musically lame period, where bad sound dominated. But the 90s are struggling to do better. It's ironic that while the 50 watt tube amp design industry is at an all-time high, some guitarists are omitting the amplifier and guitar speaker completely, plugging into the board. And getting mediocre, 2nd or 3rd rate tone, when all these awesome tube amps are sitting there waiting to be used. The 90s doesn't quite grasp the tube sound. The tripped-out 60s and 70s really *understood* the tube sound.

The 90s has a strange split between effects processors and tube amps. Both industries thrive, as competing approaches. Half the guitarists emphasize effects-processor tone, and half emphasize pure tube amp tone. The two have not come together effectively in a way that brings out the best of both the effects processor and the pure tube amp tone.

Against Power Attenuators

Adam wrote:
>I love the sound of output tubes at full tilt but I can tell you, these devices such as the Power Brake are not the answer. All the ones I ever tried sounded really fizzy at high attenuation.

The term "fizzy" is *perfect* to described the raw output of an inductive load. It's the fizz problem. Perhaps hard-driven speakers and room reverb are mandatory to lose this fizz. In that case, a speaker isolation cabinet would be necessary.

Why my main interest switched from inductive loads to speaker isolation cabinets

What inspired me to build a speaker double-isolation cabinet was the fizzy tone coming out of my Harry Kolbe Silent Speaker. The Groove Tubes unit had no such fizz, but it had no treble at all. I gave up on emulators and simulators -- to sound like a cranked amp and speaker, I'll *use* a cranked low-power amp, and a speaker in an isolation cabinet". The experiment was a great success. I put this mic'd amp setup in the effects loop of a multieffects processor. The loop happened to be between the distortion stage and the digital effects stage. Frankly, with today's multieffects "preamps" that are designed to put echo before the power tubes (tonal suicide, *this* is the muddiness that straight-into-the-amp approach condemns), you really need to buy and MIDI-link *two* "preamp" units. I hate the term "preamp", because you actually get revolutionary mind-bending tone when you put one "preamp" before the amp, speaker, and mic, and the other "preamp" after the mic. With this approach, though, you really don't want to listen to the guitar speaker -- you want to hear the line-level output of the 2nd effects processor, after echo-type effects have been added.

I don't know if the Ampulator has solved the fizz problem and made the speaker unnecessary.

Certainly, the hardest genuine cranked-amp effect to get at low volume is feedback, so feedback will remain a signature of authenticity.

PREAMPOPHOBIA -- the fear that the guitar track of the rock music you are enjoying was actually recorded without power tubes or guitar speaker, directly into the recording console.

Cure: audible, definite, exagerrated power tube saturation, and feedback.


>Do you think digital modeling will ever equal an overdriven 50 watt power amp + speaker distortion? If yes, any speculation as to how far in the future this might occur?

A black-box transform function analysis should theoretically be able to capture the input/output relation of a cranked tube amp with overdriven speakers, though it's nonlinear. Not through a simple equation or logical algorithm, but rather through sheer numeric modelling or neural net. Teach the machine "for this input signal, send this output signal; for this other input signal, send this other output signal." Sort of a brute-force parrotting approach, rather than building up or "synthesizing" a sound from basic elements. The nonlinearities are probably most problematic and intractable when playing a chord rather than a single pure note.

With reference to those Tones which maximally emphasize the distinctive aspects of cranked-power tubes and overdriven speakers, every form of emulation I've heard has fallen short of carrying the sort of shamefully frightening authority such as heard in Hendrix and Vaughn. I'm skeptical that the goal has been achieved by any existing emulation, and I'm slightly tired of listening to failed attempts. However, I do support research in this area. If the goal is achievable, *some* of the designers and researchers need to continue striving for the goal, *some* of the time. But I am asking that more attention be placed on alternative configurations of traditional components such as:

o power tubes
o output transformers
o guitar speakers
o speaker cabinets and isolation booths
o mixing boards
o effects loops
o final (flat) monitoring amps and speakers

I am especially interested in approaches which preserve the direct interaction of power tube and guitar speaker, with no attenuation in between, just the output transformer. This is the main point of reference for alternative configurations. The first order of business is to build systems including this aspect; only secondarily do we also need to try forms of attenuation before the guitar speaker, or eliminating the guitar speaker.

Here is the repackaging agenda:
1. Approaches which preserve the direct interaction of power tube and guitar speaker, with no attenuation in between, just the output transformer.
2. Also, try forms of attenuation before the guitar speaker.
3. Lastly, try eliminating the guitar speaker.

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