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http://lamkins-guitar.com/music/article/channel-switching
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, technology, comparison, preferences, @musings info
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On channels... to switch or not?

If you need sudden jumps in gain - clean, crunch, saturated - during a song, then you kind of have to go with a channel switcher. Especially if your tones are dictated by a recording, as they are when you're in a cover band that's trying to be authentic... There's no limitations on what the artists can do in the studio - many times when you think there's a channel switcher involved in a recording it's actually a change of (possibly) amp, guitar, effects, mic positions, even the guitarist.

My opinion regarding channel switchers has gradually changed over the past few years. At first, I really wanted the "flexibility" of a three-channel amp. Then - as my ear became better educated - I realized that there are compromises in the sounds of a multi-channel amp. And problems balancing levels among channels so all the sounds fit the mix (particularly tough when the band plays with a lot of dynamics). Let's not forget the joy of trying to sing and play guitar and hit the proper footswitch(es).

Eventually I started using the channels less and less. At first, I'd just use one channel for an entire song, varying tones with the guitar's controls. Later, I started settling on one channel for everything, still using the guitar's controls and playing dynamics to change the sound. My playing style evolved along with the change in amp use - leads became cleaner, and I relied more on volume for sustain. (That had the added benefit of being able to do controlled feedback and bring out harmonic overtones.)

At this point, my first single-channel amp was a revelation. These tend to be set up so everything starts to distort at more or less the same time: preamp, PI, power tubes and speaker. That typically brings in a lot more character than in a channel-switcher where the power amp and speaker tend to be set up for clean playing, leaving most of the distortion generation to the preamp tubes.

I also started using a volume pedal between guitar and amp, because I found that my single channel amp cleaned up well (much better than any single channel of a channel-switcher) as I backed off the volume.

For the few cases where I want a really intense distortion, I'll use a fuzzbox.

I've reached the point where I'm about to buy one more single-channel amp (my second). I'm seriously considering selling all of my channel switchers... partly because I don't use them as they're intended, partly because the single-channel amps sound better, and partly because I need to replenish my bank account to cover the cost of the new amp.

Anyhow, that's my take on the single-channel vs. channel switcher argument. Obviously, it helps that I'm playing my own material and I get to choose the sound. If you're playing authentic covers, you've got a lot more constraints - a channel switcher (or better, perhaps, a digital amp) is probably going match your needs better.

July 13 2003 07:39:00 GMT