Modelling: Not Dead Yet…

Line 6 AX2
A few years ago it seemed as if the whole future of guitar amps would change in a 1950 s science fiction style way with Line 6 s arrival into the marketplace in the late 90 s. Modelling technology offered users the chance to imitate famous amplifiers and effects by digital simulation, some of these simulations were better than others. But the versatility of the technology, coupled with affordable pricing was an exciting new development in a normally conservative landscape of valve based amplifiers.

By 2001 Modelling simulator amps were the buzzword in the industry with quite a few major artists using either the kidney bean shaped recording preamp, the now legendary POD or software processors like Amp Farm on major recordings. The popularity in modelling also coincided with the arrival of Nu Metal and the detuned Mesa Boogie rectifier tone being the guitar sound du jour.

The new modelling products all did a very passible impression of a Boogie Rectifier and so the Line 6 midrange of Spider amplifiers became very popular with young guitarists.

About 10 years ago Line 6 and Fender were releasing mass market amps for the serious gigging guitarst, it seemed that the 2 x 12 combo format was the most obvious format for a modelling amp customer. The most likely market would be guys in cover bands who needed to cover a lot of tonal ground, or the player who simply wanted a lot of sounds in one box. Fenders Cybertwin and Line 6 s Duotone looked like the most promising contenders that would finally tempt away guitarists from their prehistoric valve amps. The versatility of sounds from one box would make channel switching amps redundant and….
Fender Cybertwin

In 2012 the biggest news in guitar amps are now the lightweight “Lunchbox” sized valve heads. Hughes & Kettner, Vox, Orange, Carvin. all make a compact lightweight low wattage valve head from 5-50 watts. As many musicians struggle with new UK legislation on noise and the rise in decibel activated powerbreakers, a generation of guitarists suddenly have realised that the big smoking Massive Marshall Stack in the corner might be too loud for their Sunday night blues set at the Dog & Duck
H&K Tubemeister 36

It appears that the great modelling amp wave never really caught on as far as Giggable amplifiers go. Nowadays many practice amps utilise modelling technology, but for the big 50 watt upwards head or combo?

The Fender Cyber series were actually very credible at sounding like classic Fender clean amps, but other sounds…..?

The Line 6 Duotone was a similar problem, a great clean sound, but the few times Ive seen these amps gigged, players have just used them as a single channel clean amp amd done the rest of the job with pedals. The same evergreen classic pedals people have used forever…

The Fender Cybertwin has had a handful of famous users, Steve Winwood and the Guitarist from Doves. But aside from that big names have generally stayed away. Phil Collen from Def Leppard is rumoured to used the Fender Cybertwin v2 as his impromptu go to small gig amp. But I imagine he s the only guitarist with such an overcompressed FX drenched tone to truly take advantage of the Cybertwins potential.

Cyber Deluxe

I recently bought the Cybertwins little brother the Fender Cyber Deluxe 65 as a house amp I wanted something small lightweight and powerful enough for a small gig or jam session as it was small had a lot of clean headroom and some lovely Fender Twin type clean tones in a compact and lightweight package. The Cyber Deluxe used to sell for £799 new, although its rrp was nearer a grand so I was amazed to pick a box fresh one up for £200 recently. Whole there are some nice Fender Twin and Deluxe Reverb type tones it does do a passible impression of a Vox AC30 warm overdriven tone (Think Peter Buck on REMs ‘Green’).

The Fender Cyber Deluxe has 2 big problems, which from what Ive read on internet forums from unhappy users it shares with big brother The Fender Cybertwin…

1: Its got a crappy user interface and comes with a manual the size of a telephone book. Endless possibilities do not neccesarily make a useable amp. Its a guitar amp, not the Space Shuttle.

2: the power amp stage is simply not credible for serious amateur or pro use, its so impervious to electrical interferance. Ive picked up quite a lot of strange buzzing sounds from my various neighbours washing machines, drills and (possibly) sex toys in a way that my old valve combo and heads never did. I once owned a beat to shit 1970s Marshall that was fond of certain Taxi Radios in Nottingham, but it was falling apart, not a supposed great leap forward in technology.

I dont mind this as I paid peanuts for the amp but if Id splashed a grand on one…….Id be pretty pissed off.

In a way this has been the problem with modelling amps. the manufacturers agenda seems to have been to sell us something that was cheaper and less labour intensive for them to build than a multi channel valve head and yet they wanted to charge us the same money for it? Anyone who spanked £1300 on a new fangled Fender Cybertwin in 2002 would struggle to get £350 for it now, wheras if they d bought a plexi reissue head they d still be able to get at least half its value back used.

Line 6 have recently teamed up with boutique valve amp guru Rheinhold Bogner to rectify this and are now making a top end of amps The DT series with a software front end teamed with a Valve power stage, but this combination of technology means the combo s are incredibly heavy, back breakingly so. Once again if your a musician without a crew, do you really want to move a 42 kilo combo amp with a software driven preamp into your old Volvo at the end of a gig? Fender and H&K have all but discontinued their serious gigging modelling amps. Marshall make a software driven Valve amp the JMD-1, but y know Ive never seen one on a stage yet. Ive never seen a big name use one…

Fractal Axe FX

But as that side of modelling technology appears to be dying off another is growing, the all in one modelling pre amp FX system. companies like Fractal audio with the Axe FX2 and Digidesigns ElevenRack have taken off with a younger generation of musicians not so tied to tradition, the ‘Djent’ movement in metal guitar seems to have been internet based and started from young guitarists using PODs and communicating their ideas over the net and forming bands. quite a few big names have started using software pre amp systems like Deftones Steph Carpenter. Australian band Dead letter Circus have had a hit album in the US that was soley tracked using a Fractal Axe FX 2. Their modernist textural approach to guitars seems perfect for this type of rig.

In addition the Kempler Profiling amp offeredd users the chance to store their own rigs and amp collections digitally and modify them to taste, with massive improvements in processors in the last decade, the future looks bright.

But if one glances at the myriad range of equipment on the indie band photoblog “OtherBandsStuff” the most popular peice of equipment across every band and every genre by far is a modelling pedal, the now legendary Line 6 DL4 delay modeller pedal. Launched in 2000 this has remained in constant production and can be found on many pedalboards, including my own, its list of users range from people who play toilet gigs to stadium heroes.
Its secret is not that it sounds exactly like a Roland 301 tape echo, more that it has a wide range of musical useful sounds and is easy to use.

Line 6 DL4 a popular choice

Perhaps this is the magic bullet for all modelling equipment, build something affordable that sounds good with a simple user interface and they will come.

The Lost Art of Rock Guitar in the United Kingdom

Back to the Future?

I saw something very amusing in the WH Smiths at Paddington Station recently. Future Publications has just released a book and DVD in Newsagents called “Play Guitar Now – Metal” which despite its title is actually a very concise look at all the popular Rock guitar techniques of the 1980′s. Tapping, Sweep picking, Alternate picking, Legato Runs, Riffs, Solo’s, Modes and Scales are all included. It was clearly aimed at young guitarists, but featured the work of players who’s heyday was well before they were even born (Im talking the 1970′s and 80′s). Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, Lynch, Vai, hell it even namechecked fusion god Al Di Meola….. I was so shocked at this I almost spat my Costa Coffee over a disgruntled commuter when I saw it.

Having bought the DVD I found it was a concise and very well presented selection of all the popular guitar techniques I aspired to learn as a nipper (and eventually did). But back then there was no internet and most tuition tapes and videos were pretty thin on the ground), I had to listen to my Vinyl over and over again and actually work this stuff out for myself, it took a long time to learn it and even longer to integrate it into my playing style. The idea that someone in 1986 when I was working this stuff out by ear would show all this to me….slowly and concisely would have been like a gift from the gods themselves.

The DVD is presented by Martin Goulding who is an exeptional player and teacher and makes a lot of information approachable and digestable. But I find it amazing there is a demand for this stuff at all. Perhaps we are being lied to.

If you were to only accept the narrow word of our Media Elite, you would think no one had any interest in such music, but clearly they have. As someone who’s playing style essentially fuses Classic Rock melodicism and fire with post punk’s icy texturalism and space I’ve always found myself something of an outsider compared to the players I saw in other bands at gigs both back in the 90′s and even now. I remember a guy coming up to me in a rehearsal room in Nottingham in 2005 and asking me about what guitarists had influenced me. I was really shocked, flattered and even bemused when this young 22 year old started feverishly writing down names like Alex Lifeson, Van Halen, John McGeoch, George Lynch, John Sykes and Neal Schon as I dictated notes and reccomended albums to him.

I blame the UK’s Media for this sorry state of affairs, successive UK Television, Radio and Magazine people have tried to pretend that Rock music with guitar solo’s and riffs does not exist… matter how many albums or concert tickets are sold. For example Journeys “Don’t Stop Believing” was on every best of AOR and American Rock complilation album released in the UK when I was a young lad. But according to the Guardian newspaper, no one in the UK knew the song existed until the TV series Glee. This is an out an out fucking lie.

I find this Stalinist-ist rewriting of history most sinister. Even Allan Yentobs BBC series on the history of the guitar also dismissed Hard Rock and Metal Music as some sort of curious American footnote, when its actually the driver and prime mover that influences the Guitar industry at every level. Something Yentob would have known if he’d actually bothered to look in a guitar shop and talked to some guitarists rather than pursuing his own agenda.

Meanwhile various careerist indie bands have chased the tail of whatever was credible from this month to the next and the result is the most lacklustre period in British Music ever. One only has to scan the musicians classifieds on Gumtree and Join My to see the same boring as fuck influences listed and repeated over and over again. Oasis/Kings of Leon/Coldplay yawn.

Outside of perhaps the Metal scene, the guitar has been reduced to the most uninspiring of voices, now lowered in the mix to such an extend in popular music one can harly hear it above the drums, no wonder the ukelele is popular again ( it is that “pick it up and can’t play but I have a cool haircut so I must be an artist” amateurism that has been a desease feeding on British Music since Punk).

I really hope lots of young guys and girls get into the techniques shown in this magazine, but I also hope they grow beyond them, mix them up with other things and in time find their own voices and that however those voices come out they are not drowned out by the Marxist scumbags of the UK Media who are killing off both art and aspiration in British Life.

Joe Satriani dumps Peavey for Marshall

Lots of OMG shock horror on various guitar forums at the moment. Joe Satriani has apparently decided to dump his longstanding endorsement of Peavey amps and use Marshall JVM410′s on the upcoming tour of the new “Supergroup” Chickenfoot. Despite having the Peavey JSX signature series heads made to his exacting specifications, Satriani has decided to go for the new(ish) 4 channel head from marshall.

Now lots of people are pointing out quite correctly that Satch doesnt actually use the 2 distortion channels on his own amps & instead uses his own signature distortion pedal, made by Vox…. The Satchurator through his Peaveys clean channel and that its unlikely that there will be much difference in tone through the clean channel of a JVM.

Whatever the reason its good news for Marshall, who, thanks to the exchange rate and a much revamped product line, seem to be regaining ground lost in recent years. But all this news has done to my mind is point out the absolute nonsense surrounding Endorsement deals and the “signature” product industry as a whole.

Its quite common knowledge that a guitarist may be endorsing one brand of amplifier or guitar, while actually using another. The biggest culprits for this racket must surely be Laney & Crate, who whenever I see the artists in their adverts onstage its usually with another brand of amplifier. When Oceansize mentioned how good Laney were in a recent issue of Guitarist, it was embarrissing to see in the accompanying pictures of their backline a Marshall JCM2000 head perched atop a Laney 4 x12 in the background. Crate are also comical in the way most of their endorsers either endorse cabinets only and use another brand of amp ( Marcos Curiel from POD with a Mesa dual rectifier) or just practise amps (Lita Ford/Yngwie Malmsteen). In the early 90′s Bon Jovi’s Ritchie Sambora had a wall of Fender Tonemaster heads onstage and hidden behind them 5 rackmounted Marshall JCM800′s . Even Status Quo allegedly have Vox AC30 chassis built into Marshall JCM cabinets.

The biggest pisstakers in all this though are a tie between

1: Metallica – Kirk Hammetts new signature Randall Head isn’t all he uses, he still confesses to using Boogies live, with the bulk of his tone being created by Triaxis preamps and Dual Rectifiers again, and while James Hetfield talked to Guitarist mag about using a Diezel VH4 as the main amp in the woeful “St. Anger “sessions. His producer Bob Rock told Guitar world it was all done with a Marshall DSL100. Not that I imagine they’d be queuing up to admit to that one…..Ahem.

2: Eddie Van Halen – THe 5150 brand is now ubiquitous, with products made by Fender, Dunlop, Peavey, Musicman & Kramer. The big problem here is while Eddie is a legend, do you really want to buy equipment from a man who hasn’t written anything decent for 17+ years & made all his greatest work on a “parts” guitar costing $50 & an old Marshall plexi?

As with guitars it gets even weirder. Despite having longstanding endorsements with PRS & Gibson. The one guitar Rush’s Alex Lifeson has used as his main recording guitar for the last 2 decades is a decidedly non collectable 52 reissue telecaster. Lifeson bought it in 83 and its on pretty much every Rush record since then.

Obviously a musician has the right to use whatever he or she feels does the job best. But in this world of massive advertising campaigns and marketing hyperbole. It’d be nice to see some honesty rather than PR for a change.

All Change….again!

Happy 2009, this is my first post for a while…..(7 months) and see’s my playing and indeed my interest in the guitar going through somewhat of a transitional period. Having stopped gigging and left the band I was in. The idea of playing music live in front of people seems strangely alien right now.

I guess this happens to everyone now and again, you suddenly find yourself at a musical crossroads, unsure what to do next (if anything at all?).

I’m old enough to have been here before though, this feeling last happened to me in 1997 when…through a combination of circumstances and personal choice the guitar just took a back seat for a while.

I’d come out of a hard gigging band several years earlier and moved down South to study. One would assume such a time would mean endless oppertunities for musical alchemy and a greater choice of both musicians and possibilities.

How wrong I was.

As the musical sands shifted I suddenly found no real demand for a player like myself.

My crunchy power chords, textural influences and preference for lush delay lines seemed rather lost in the late 90′s. The very few bands I auditioned for seemed either lost in a post Oasis/post Britpop confection or stuck in a “US underground punk” haze of low fi incompetence.

It seemed rather odd meeting blokes from Camden putting on Mancunian accents and playing along to simplistic sub Gallager/Weller songs
(ever notice that whenever Noel G is on the cover of an English guitar magazine, they have a beginners special article inside….I mean why not go the whole hog & publish a special “underclass lads” edition with all the architypal “ladrock” favourites, articles on ripping off the Beatles Slade & Weller, using simple chords, gigging with an ASBO, organising rehearsals around a curfew order, a guide to shoplifting the best Les Paul copy from Cash Converters and styling your hair like Rick “remember him?” Witter).

On the other hand the “American Underground Punk” influenced crowd I knew seemed all to incompetent for my tastes. Anti Corporate dandys bashing out 3 chords in £100 trainers made by children in the third world?….Nah…it wasn’t really me!

This lack of musical oppertunity kept me away from the guitar for several years. When I eventually returned to the six string, It took me about 3 years to properly re-immerse myself into the instrument. It wasn’t easy, but I think that when I did re-emerge, I was a better musician and more tasteful player than before.

But what goes around comes around, I’ve spent much of the last 5 years of my life in bands and although brimming with musical ideas, my motiviation to do something beyond playing for my own pleasure is simply not there at this moment in time. This is actually more liberating than it sounds, however my biggest fear is reaching a point where I’ve lost ground in both ability and musicality. No one likes to go backwards when they stand still do they?

In light of both wanting to do something different and realising at the same time that I lack motivation to do in the first place. I think its a good strategy to keep myself involved in a more relaxed way. So a small recording project of a friends has allowed me to keep playing and be reasonably creative without the pressures of gigging, audiences, soundchecks, promoters, other bands and all the other annoyances of being a performing musician.

The other issue of this downtime is taking a closer look at my rig. Which in terms of amps & pedals has been largely unchanged since 2002.

I bought a Gibson SG earlier in the year and I have fallen back in love with the thick syrupy sound of humbuckers on a mahogany set neck guitar. In my friends recording project I’m running out of a Sansamp pedal into a Mac, its simple, quick and sounds ok for now.

If I were to gig again I don’t know what I’d use. The amp & pedalboard stand idly in a corner of the room. There are things I’d refine and things I’d change, but thats a set of decisions to be made another time.

3 Gigs: A Summary

Rig at the Bull & Gate

Well its that time again, the smell of the crowds and the roar of a Ginsters pasty on the Motorway services at 3am.

Our first stop was the Lionheart Brothers gig at the Nottingham Bodega Social in January. Overall it was ok, but it didnt help that we had to set up on top of their backline, so I spent 30 minutes with a Marshall stack up my arse. It so close to me that I could feel it rather than hear it.

Overall things went ok, but it was shaky. We ended the set with a new song, which I’m not against, but it did seem a bit risky. The Christmas break had meant we needed to polish up a bit but the audience seemed bigger at the end of the set than at the beginning so that was something.

Next stop was Hoxton Bar & Kitchen to support Nottingham legends Six.By Seven. Unfortunately my amp had recently been faulty & allthough repaired the previos day….. a problem with noisy FX loops appeared in Soundcheck and I was thus forced to use our HoS backup rig consisting of my Sansamp TriAC preamp pedal through our singers old 1978 Marshall JMP head. The Sansamp is great, but it is reactive to the peculiarities of the amp your putting it through. Distortion was Ok, but the clean sounds just seemd too toppy and lifeless. As we’d arrived horribly late due to traffic, our soundcheck was a panic and…

Deprived of my usual tonal comforts I just played the gig as best as I could, but it wasn’t enjoyable for me. The SixbySeven audience was polite enough, but you could tell we werent really their cup of tea. We also decided to play 2 new songs, which was a risk too far. They seemed to love the first song and the last 2, the bit in the middle??

Then our next stop 2 weeks later was the Bull & Gate in Londons Kentish town. This time we were opening for Brazillian shoegazers Wry, who decided to have the longest soundcheck in the history of man. We even went out for dinner & came back and they were only just setting up the other support bands backline. As I sipped my Guinness & black I began to worry.

However my fears were unfounded, the gig went great, we’d been sensible and pulled back to playing our normal set with added discipline and aplomb. The one new song we played went down great and I even enjoyed playing the one song in the set I dont usually enjoy.

Compared to 2007, my 2008 rig remains unchanged, save for the exra delay line, A TC Electronics ND-1 Novadelay is being used for synchronous delays in “Wish It Away” and to add exta atmospherics in our new tunes.

I still havent forgotten about the £500 Stratocaster challenge, I’ll post an update soon.

Peace Out