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: Fender, Mesa/Boogie, amplifiers, comparison, distortion, evaluation, performance, preferences, technique, @musings info

Losing my Boogie "religion"

I used to play channel-switching amps. Boogies in particular. I've even had brief flirtations with a few "swiss army knife" solid-state and digital modelling amps. But I was first and foremost a Boogie guy. I thought I needed the "flexibility" that came from being able to instantly kick in different levels of gain and EQ. But I got tired of tap-dancing on the channel switches and dealing with the horribly finicky dialing-in to balance the channel volumes properly for the band, only to have one channel get buried in the mix and the other stick out like a sore thumb. I tried a volume pedal in the loop, which allowed me to correct balance problems, but it was far from the seamless transition that I wanted. I tried a compressor, which solved the balance issues but killed the dynamics of the clean channel. I finally stopped switching channels and tried to get a full range of responses out of one channel using the guitar volume, but Boogies aren't really cut out to do that.

My complete transition to the Vibro-King wasn't immediate, although I realized the potential the first time I played that amp. Still, it took me a while to develop my picking dynamics to the point where I could really take advantage of the Vibro-King. Along the way, I had to go through all the permutations of effects, multi-amp setups, etc. before realizing that I was far better off not playing anything but the guitar, with nothing on the floor. Once I settled down gear-wise (most of my gear transactions in the past two years have been sales) with a rig that responds to touch in a way that I can relate to, my playing really started to improve. I stopped depending on boxes for my sound and started learning to get the sounds I want by changing the way I approach the instrument. Actually, I should say that I started relearning because I've come full-circle to the same minimalist gear setup I had when I was originally learning to play, a half a lifetime ago. The difference now is the quality of my gear, availability of instructional materials, and my ability to focus on longer-term goals.

Is there an amp better suited than the Vibro-King to the way I play? I wouldn't be surprised. On the other hand, I'm totally satisfied with my gear and have no desire to look for something better. Any limitations now belong to me, not the gear. The Boogies, with their "bipolar clean/dirty thing" always left me with the feeling that there's an unattainable middle ground in-between the channel settings. I don't feel like that any more. With the Vibro-King, I can reach all the points on a continuum of different sounds just by changing the way I attack the strings, fret the notes, and set the controls on the guitar. It's all there at my fingertips.

Are there things that I can't do with my current rig? Of course. High-gain sounds are totally out, along with the legato violin tones that go with that territory. Likewise, discontinuous tonal changes - at least those that are beyond what I can do with the pickup selector - are out. For what I'm doing in a musical sense, those things are unimportant to me. I'm back to my musical roots, which started growing before Randall Smith started hot-rodding Fender amps.

It took me a while to convince myself that I could live without my Boogies. They're good amps, but in the end the channel-switching amps don't feel as comfortable to me as a single-channel amp. And among single-channel amps the Vibro-King is damned good: responsive like no other amp I've yet encountered and built the way Fender used to build `em when I was just a kid.

January 12 2005 07:08:27 GMT