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.
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location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: amplifiers, opinion, performance, preferences, technology, @musings info

Complexity and tone

Does complexity compromise tone?

My opinion has changed over the past five years. I started out thinking that features are great. Mesa/Boogie had it all. I gradually learned (the hard way, of course) that I don't really want all those features.

Amp features don't necessarily affect tone (actually, there's no way to tell since full-featured amps aren't available in basic, no-frills versions), but they do get in the way of performance. Think about it. You go to switch channels, and the lead volume doesn't quite fit the band mix - it's too soft or too loud or not enough mids or too much bass or whatever. And you can't really fix it from your guitar since there's so much compression and voicing going on in your lead channel. Well, you have all those controls, they'll let you fix it. But now you're doing two things at once - you're trying to be creative and analytical at the same time. And the amp controls aren't especially convenient in the middle of a song. So you can tough it out with a sound that isn't working and make a guess at control changes between songs, or pull some lame stunt like sustaining a note for a couple of bars while you adjust the amp. Or you could pile on more complexity like putting a volume pedal in the loop, or a programmable EQ on the floor, or more channels with more settings, or a MIDI-controlled rig. Yes, I've done most of those things and no, they didn't get me any closer to being able to create the sound I wanted.

So I started moving away from complexity. I tried running my channel-switchers on just one channel. I learned to improve my picking technique to get more control over dynamics. I found that the channel-switchers - at least the Boogies - would only take me so far when it came to touch-sensitivity. There were compromises in either touch sensitivity or voicing, depending upon which channel I used. I heard lots of recommendations for "good" channel switchers, virtually all of them unavailable in my local market. And then I discovered Fender designs that harkened back to the pre-Blackface era. Simple, with plenty of great touch response and no compromises in voicing.

I'm now convinced that simpler is better for the way I play. It's nice to have an amp that sounds good no matter how you set the controls, and to have it respond to every nuance I can pull out of the guitar. My main "effect" now is a Hot Plate that I use to bring the amp's volume into the right range for the band mix. And a bit of reverb to complement my playing style. Everything else comes from my guitar and hands.

I eventually did get to play a master-volume channel-switcher that had outstanding touch sensitivity with no tonal compromises: a Dumble ODS 100 clone. Nice amp. But then, it has a bunch of features that I just don't need...

April 30 2004 23:27:16 GMT