David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: amplifiers, preferences, evaluation, Fender, Mesa/Boogie, @musings info

Changing tastes

Lately my tastes have been shifting to Fender amps. I'm still not a huge fan of the Blackface sound, preferring instead the voicings of the transitional late-50s to early-60s era. And I'm somewhat amazed to be making a statement like that; four years ago I wouldn't give a Fender amp a second glance.

The Vibro-King (closely followed by my '62 brown Pro) has spoiled me for my once beloved Boogie Mark-series amps. I finally (after having the VK for about six months) put them side-by-side and was simply amazed by the differences.

The Mark-series amps are at the top of the Boogie heap, in my opinion. But side-by-side with a great Fender amp (and the Fenders differ at least as much as the Boogies do), there's just no comparison. The Boogie's bass is weak, the treble sounds dull, and the transition into (and out of) distortion is comparatively grainy.

With the Fenders, I find myself playing with less distortion and enjoying it more. I don't miss the distortion, either - it's there in the upper harmonics, which imparts a nice snarl to the sound without making it mushy.

Also, my technique is improving because the Fenders' articulation makes them harder to play well - differences in picking technique that get compressed or filtered out by the Boogies translate into obvious changes in the sound of the Fenders. I find myself using less gain as I become more used to controlling the sound with the guitar rather than the amp. I'm not a speedy picker, so I tend to rely on nuances that I can only coax out of a lower-gain rig.

So why did I get into Boogies in the first place? Well, when I started playing again (in late 1999) I was impressed by the crunch and sustain that I could get from a Boogie. It just sounded so cool! But I found that I had a really hard time making that sound work for me in a band.

With all the compression that you get in a Boogie lead channel, it plays at just one volume and it's kind of hit-or-miss whether that sound is going to be buried, too far forward, or (when the planets all align) just right. I tried using a volume pedal in the loop, but that's just one more thing to get wrong. When I do take a lead break, it tends to be short - I don't have time to mess with one more pedal.

Some of it is just a shift in my tonal preferences. I've reached the point where it bothers me to kick in a lead channel and have the volume be wrong, or to lose responsiveness to how hard I pick. To me, it just feels more natural to play chords in the background using a very light touch, and then make a single-note run jump and sing by digging in.

Actually, I have a Mark III and a Mark IV. The Mark IV has gone into temporary storage; I may sell it. I'm still using the III, partly because of its extended response (I can get some very nice sounds out of it by pulling the bass shift and deep switches and running all the EQ fairly high) and partly because of its simplicity.

I've pretty much decided that I can live without the III's R2 mode - it's just too much to keep track of with the two footswitches, the odd sense inversion on the LEDs, and the interaction between them (there's a fourth distinct mode that you can only get using the footswitches).

The Mark III lead channel goes well into high-gain territory, but I just don't care for that. Even when playing with Almost Milwaukie, which has some dark metal influences, I find that I like my guitar sound to be on the clean side. With three guitars going at once, a diverse mix of tones works quite nicely. I kind of like the way the Mark III lead channel sounds when dialled down to a lower gain, but at that point I can just as easily goose the clean channel to get some sustain and still back off the guitar volume volume to get a useable clean.

A while back, another player said that Boogies make everyone sound like Carlos Santana. I listened to a rehearsal recording of Almost Milwaukie - we were doing kind of a jazz fusion jam and I was playing through the Mark IV. And there's a section in that where I could swear Carlos was playing. Obviously, part of that has to do with the phrasing, etc. and while I don't consciously mimic Carlos, a lot of my early guitar "education" came from listening to the west coast players of the psychedelic era. But still, that "humbucker through a Boogie Mark" sound is both distinctive and easy to reproduce. And frankly, I'd like to make my listeners work a bit harder to discern my influences...

November 05 2003 06:19:25 GMT