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.
pod

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…..no 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 Band.com 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.

SwapMeet!

With the recession firmly biting in the United Kingdom. The used market for guitar equipment has taken quite a pounding. If you’ve had a spare grand lying around recently, you’ve had your pic of some sweet secondhand private sale deals.

As commodities and fuel prices have risen. The price of new guitars however has leapt up to a point where I cannot see how some dealers will be able to continue.

A good example of this is Fenders new Mexican made Roadworn player series priced with an RRP of around a grand new (although most big dealers sell em for just shy of £800), but when a mid range instrument is selling for nearly £1K, you know the worlds in trouble.

Meanwhile as redundancy and casualisation looms and people try to control their household budgets, a plethora of high dollar guitars are hitting the used market at very very reasonable prices. So the near grand you’d spank on a brand new Mexican…ahem… “relic”… Fender would buy you a lot more used guitar for your money… Im talking American Deluxe Stratocasters, Yamaha SG1000′s, Gibson Les Paul Classics, PRS Standard 24′s etc etc. If you spend another £150 or so then your talking PRS McCartys ( A boxfresh Mk2 McCarty Std went for £1100 on Ebay recently) and even the odd Les Paul Standard as well.

Its a buyers market for sure. However thats not good. Most of us will want to upgrade and make changes to our equipment from time to time. So the idea that everything we own is devalued considerably is not great, especially if you have a larger collection of instruments.

A good alternative however is the Swap Meet. Lots of musicians are now advertising their equipment with not only a price, but the line “Will exchange for XXXXXXXXXXX” sometimes advertisers are even asking ” Will exchange for WHY – What Have You” as a way of seeing how far their unwanted item will take them.

I recently tried out this process. When I went to see Rush recently at Birmingham NEC. My brother started telling me he wanted to offload his rarely played Gibson Les Paul Standard and buy a PRS McCarty, he was thinking of swapping guitars rather than selling one and buying the other.

2002 McCarty

As I had bought a very nice used PRS McCarty some 4 months ago, I guess I was number one for his first refusal. As much as I liked my PRS, I was missing a Les Paul since I sold my LP Classic 1960 in 2007. Id bought the McCarty on a whim thinking it was a bargain, and much as I liked it. I was missing owning something with more low end prescence and grunt.

LP 2001

The following week we spent a day at his house trying out both guitars and seeing how we felt. My brother has a dislike for neck binding which means his Gibson Les Paul Studio is played far more than his Standard.

From my point of view, I knew the complete History of his LP Standard, my brother had bought it from new in 2001 it was the best of 4 we had tried that week and I knew he had played it minimally compared to his main guitars (a hideous flip flop teal LP Studio and his 62 Jap Strat-another guitar I’d once owned), so condition wise it was much cleaner than my already gigged and slightly dinged PRS McCarty. However my brother had fallen in love with the PRS’ playability and construction. He wanted it, more so than I to be honest.

For me the decision was harder. I loved both guitars, while I thought perhaps the Gibson had the edge on tone for hard rock, the PRS was far more articulate on cleaner tones and the coil taps actually worked. Something dawned on me…

As Gibsons Quality Control has always, and will always be….patchy (Charles Sharr Murrays recent column in Guitarist mag about his mates Gibson J 200′s faulty pickup system and Gibsons incompetent aftercare seems to bear this out). I suspect it’ll take me a while to find another Les Paul this well made. Meanwhile as PRS have the consistency of build other makers would kill for. I know that at some point I could always buy another used McCarty and not spend decades looking for one that was put together properly.

So as both instruments were of similar value we just swapped guitars. We put in a gentlemans agreement of 28 days that if one of us wanted to cancel the deal, they could do so without question. But in the end 1 month on both of us are happy.

So far this experience has been a positive one and Im wondering if I’ll be looking to swap rather than sell stuff in the future. I would suggest sometimes these things can be difficult. Most of us have fallen in love with an instrument only to fall out of love sometime later. Plus theres always fakes and charlatans around every corner of both Ebay and the classified ads.

However if you stick to relatives or just your Muso mates or their mates, this is probably a foolproof way of getting new kit without all the stresses of dealing with haggling and accurate descriptions.

I’d reccomend it.

Revamping The Rig

After having not gigged for over 2 years now. Im now relocated, rejuvinated and feeling the itch to play live again. This has also been compounded by moving in with my girlfriend. So with domestic issues of space at the forefront of my mind Ive had a rethink about my gear recently.

I guess my main amps for the last decade have been Marshall JCM2000 TSL heads with a 4 x 12 (in both 60watt and 100 watt varieties). The plus side of the TSL has been its ability to give me both an impressive jangly clean and a choice of modern hard rockin crunch type sound. However nothing is ever ideal, while the 60watt version has a brilliant transparent and footswitchable FX loop, channel 2 is on the whole rather undergained.
tsl60

The 100 watt version has seperate EQ’s and master volumes for each channel, also the 100 watt has an awful 2 loop FX design that sucks tone from the amp in a rather blatant way.
tsl 100
The good thing about the TSL 100 is that all 3 channels are very useable, the channel 2 is basically a JCM800 sound, while Channel 3 is a little fizzy, but as I never run my gain beyond 1 o’ clock, its a perfectly usable beast, the mid-boost control on the clean channel has always been impressive, especially with my telecasters vintage style neck single coil.

But in a modern new build apartment space is paramount, so the head and 4 x 12 cab idea is gone for now. Sold to a lovely bloke in a hard rock covers band.

With the cash burning a hole in my back pocket, I made a decision to return to the 2 x 12 combo format.

In some ways the 2 x 12 combo is actually much better for smaller gigs. While a 4 x 12 cab with its air sealed back is very directional in its output, plus you don’t really get the sweet spot tonally unless your about 15 feet from the rig. A 2 x 12 combo on the other hand with its exposed back gives a nice even spread of volume across a much wider area, the sweet spots probably only 8 or 9 feet away from the amp. Theres also a psychological advantage when dealing with sound engineers, with its global master volume a TSL60 must be about the most quietest head Marshall currently make, but the sight of such a huge rig always encouraged the majority of sound engineers to tell me to turn it down. Often before I’d even played a note. I’d say the TSL60 was very much a sheep in wolfs clothing

With the decision made on a combo, there was then the question of which one?

At one point i’d decided to go for a single channel amp and just use pedals to get my sound. This would make for less cables and less time on setting up and breaking down. I’d seen some video footage of the band Fiction Plane (featuring son of Sting Joe Sumner) playing live in a club in Holland, their guitarist Seton Daunt seemed to have a very versatile rig consiting of a Vox AC30 or Two Rock head & Cab being fed from a comprehensive pedalboard made up for various Pete Cornish,Pro Co, Sansamp, Eventide and Dunlop pedals. Stylistically he seemed to go between Edge like textures and Frusciante type clean sounds. With the odd heavy moment thrown in. I could see that his solution was useful. Less cable and less faffing around.

Ampwise I was wary of Vox AC30′s. I did play a gig with one once in 1992 and it sounded heavenly, but I’ve heard so many things over the years about “reliability” that I had my concerns. The AC30 Heroes of Switzerland borrowed to make our album was a 1960′s one that had been extensively rebuilt. So again even with the new chinese made AC30′s coming onto the market at very affordable prices I wasn’t sure.

My next thought was a single channel amp like a JCM800 combo or even a 900, 800′s are becoming stupidly priced and I was unsure about finding a decent one. So I even looked at the Vintage Modern series amps by Marshall. But after trying one out I was underwhelmed. I love the look of the Bluesbreaker combo’s but again I wasn’t sure it’d do what I asked of it.

Blackstar Series One

I then got to try a Blackstar series One 45 watt combo, which I liked, although the control knobs felt a bit cheap, it did sound good, but new they are like a grand. My Budget was £600. no more

I went to see the Cult with a friend of mine last month and during our pre gig pint I reflected over my choices. My friend (who’s a bass player) basically thought I’d gotten a great sound out of Marshalls over the last 10 years so why change. He felt the only time I had a bad sound was when I went down the rackmounted route about 15 years ago, when I was “trying to have a rig that was all things to all men”.

With that in mind I returned to the idea of the Marshall TSL, but this time in combo format. The Marshall TSl 122 is essentially a TSL100 built into a 2 x 12 cab. Theres usually a fair amount of them in the classifieds and Ebay. Prices range from around £450-700 depending on age and condition. I bought a cleanish one on Ebay for £450.00

New Rig with TSL 122

The big problem with this is basically putting such a huge amp chassis into such a small cab. They weigh around 30+ Kilo’s so its not an amp for the faint hearted. In terms of playing round the house even with the master volume on 1, this is screamingly loud dumping its 100 + watts of sheer power into 2 x 8 Ohm Celestions, also the lack of space for the tubes in such a cabinet means it gets very hot, much hotter than the equivalent head as I recall.

My first thoughts on this amp are that I need to go back to using an Overdrive pedal as it doesn’t seem to like the Pro Co RAT 2 I was using for solo’s before, so my immediate thoughts are towards a Boss SD-1 or similar, maybe a Keeley modified one?

I’d also like to add a compressor pedal to the rig and maybe a chorus/flanger of some description. But my immediate thoughts are towards a new pedalboard. My Electro Harmonix Gigbag style has been ok, but in reality offers little protection and the pedals simply do not bond to velcro pads easily.

I’ll update when Im gigging next.