Vintage Guitar Amps Versus Modern Guitar Amps

Whilst it's an accepted fact among the guitar playing populace of the world that tube amps sound better than solid state, this generalisation can be dissected into various strands. The first and most prominent is age, those who started playing when there wasn't an alternative to the tube guitar amps, and there are many of the current day guitar gods who fall into this category.

They developed their sound on a tube amp and therefore their preference for this technology is well founded. As the technology developed and alternatives to tubes have emerged; first it was solid state electronics and nowadays we have the modeling capability of the micro-processors, which can reproduce those warm sustaining tube sounds, the choice is phenomenal.

The younger developing guitarists have readily accessible guitar amps, which can help to produce the sounds that they want at a fraction of the cost of the guitar amp that originally was used to develop the sound. However I think that as they develop their skill and possibly their resource pool (money) there is generally a migration to the real thing (no not the band). Others are happy to work with the many hybrids about, I've just got a Vox valvetronix 30 watt for my son. It's a tube amp and a modeling amp with 22 preset sounds. It suits his needs for now (just completed first practice sessions with their band, at the local recording/ practice studio [I don't have a garage]). The drummers jacked as well, what is it with "artistes"!

vintage guitar amps versus modern guitar amps

But having an all tube guitar amp isn't necessarily the epitome of ultimate tone. Modern amps even the all tube variety are busting at the seams with all sorts of bells and whistles, yes aimed at give greater control of the final sound but also at the expense of depth and quality. The rich warm sound generated by the guitar and it's amp is a result of the harmonics produced, and every interface between the stages that the currents pass through, filters out harmonics, and hence richness of sound.

The original vintage guitar amps were very simple, the interfaces minimal and the loss of harmonics low, giving rich warm sounds. Another aspect with the vintage guitar amp was the wiring. Even the all tube amps of today use circuit boards, and the co-planer configuration of the printed circuit creates a capacitance, which again leaks harmonics and hence quality of sound.

Even the cabinet adds to the sound. Would you have a guitar made from plywood, if not why not? Your first answer would probably be, it would sound crap and you'd be right. Most modern amps are housed in plywood cabinets. All the dynamics, the operating voltages, the wiring, the interfaces and construction combine to give optimum harmonic rich sounds, and it's all based in sound (pardon the pun) technology. In an earlier article I asked the question, is the preference for tube guitar amps just sentiment or is there real basis for it. Certainly in the case of vintage guitar amps, the science stands up to scrutiny. Another question was how did they get it so right first time? It was the only technology available in the late 50s, does that mean it was and is divine? Certainly sounds that way (can't help myself).

Unfortunately for mere mortals like myself the cost of owning a boutique guitar amp made to the spec of a good vintage amp is prohibitive, but then I'd never use its potential fully, but it saddens me to see good guitarists setting up with arrays of pedals and interfaces. If you can afford to have that rich sound appreciate it! As Richie Blackmore once said of Jeff Beck, "with Jeff it's all in the hands" is that not the case with all guitar players.

Tom McCool is writing a blog about guitar sounds with a particular emphasis on guitar amps and effects at http://www.reverbguitaramps.com. The blog provides latest news views and reviews of upcoming events in the guitar music field, as well as links to some interesting artists. So why not pay a visit and comment on the published articles.

by Tom McCool; Tuesday, May 3, 2011 @ 10:30 AM [2971]

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