Other Amps

Idiot-proof advice needed on tube sound - miniature, real & modelled

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For my tastes, the demo of the BluG made me go BlahG. I wouldn't pay 800.00 to get any of those tones. It doesn't help that the dude used the Tone-Free-Zone that is a solidbody shredder Ibanez, so that the obligatory "clean tone" he couldn't wait to get done with in order to get to the gainy shredding sounded like clank clank with no warmth or resonance.

I buy amps for their clean tones. And when all the demos for a device make quick work of the clean tone in order to get to the shredding, you can be pretty confident that device is optimized for shweddy shweddy gain gain.

Which double-darns the BluG in my ears, because I didn't like any of the crunch tones either. (But what kind of semi-rumped [we're tying not to cuss] demo-dudeman leaves all the knobs straight up [except, of course, the holy GAIN knob] all the way through a demo? Is that really where it sounded best? Or is our engaging young blasé shredder just tone-deef?)

OK, which is to say, with less judgmental vitriol (sorry), this device isn't for me. There's probably nothing wrong it, with that kind of music, or with guitar as a technical sport. I'm just too old and set in my ways to appreciate it. Yeah, that's it. (Except Steve Vai and Steve Morse have delicious tones.)

Sorry for the rant.


ANYway. Yeah. Don't get the BluG. It may actually be a great-sounding guitar processor, with fat juicy characterful clean tones, and the demo was just one-sided. But I wouldn't take the risk without trying it myself with a guitar I know well.

If you really want universal plug-n-play every-kind-of-tone-you-could-want, all sounding like they're being recorded in a Big Boy Studio (and convincingly responsive under hand), just go all the way to a Line 6 Helix or Kemper Profiler - and get DOZENS of amps and HUNDREDS of effects all in one, through phones or into any amp or mixer or computer.

They're more money than the BluG...but they're far more capable, entertaining and satisfying. (And I think that, extensive and powerful as Roland's technology is, both sound "realer" than the VG-99.)

But you don't want to spend like that (and probably don't want the menu-and-knob complication).


So, yeah, what they're saying.

The Fender Mustang digital amp should be a strong contender, and the little Yamaha Bax mentions is worth consideration (though it's not as extensive in tonal variety).

And Ric12 speaks truth (as would Frank Giffen if he stopped in): the Quilters are pretty magisterial in the domain of not-modeled but simply GREAT-sounding light, compact amps. (Though pricier than the Fender or the Yammer.) Do they sound like tubes?

BZ says tubes don't have a sound, and I guess that's true, but Guitarist Lore is that guitar amps employing tubes have some identifiable tonal character or response that Knowledgable and Experienced guitarists can always tell from mere solid state or modeled or profiled pretenders. (And I think BZ only builds tube amps - incredible ones, in fact - so there may be something to this tube bidnis.)

So...do the Quilters (or the somewhat similar, very good, but not quite as magical Tech21 Trademark series amps) SOUND like tube amps? I don't know. They sound wonderful, though. They respond like good amps. You play them and you don't "miss tubes." You just think "man, nice amp!"

(Also, in blind PLAYing (not just listening) tests, actual Knowledgable and Experienced guitarists have been fooled by modeled and profiled amps, so unable to tell the difference from the "real" thing that they've either preferred the "wrong" one or psyched themselves into guessing wrong because they thought the better-sounding one must be one or the other and therefore the real tubes must be the OTHER one.)

So. Maybe you're not necessarily looking for a tube amp - or even tube amp emulation; maybe instead you're looking for an amp that sounds and feels and responds to you and your electric guitar like a good amp.


Also...at the risk of hurting your feelings I can't not mention that a ...

Godin Multiac connected to a Roland VG-99 which goes through a Kustom solid-state practice amp

... doesn't immediately strike me as a formula likely to yield a satisfying electric guitar tone. The nylon-string Multiac would be harder than the steel-string to coax to modestly convincing electritude, but (if I can go by Godin's current website) none of the Multiacs have magnetic pickups.

And the soul (or maybe the heart, but some vital organ) of an electric guitar is in the magnetic pickups. The piezo-electric impact/compression technology of the pickups in the Multiacs does most of a good job of imitating an acoustic guitar sound through an amp (though, you're right, not the same amp that best amplifies an electric) - but even with the modeling of the VG-99, it can't produce the same fundamental dynamic characteristics or frequency spectrum of strings disturbing a magnetic field.

I have the Godin LGX-sa, a model with "normal" electric-guitar magnetic pickups, along with the piezo pickup in the bridge and synth access. And it does a dadburned good job of sounding something like an amplified acoustic guitar, as well as driving a guitar synth (or VG-99) with pretty good tracking. But even though it IS an electric guitar - and both feels and plays great - its tone has never really satisfied. I don't know if it's the all-maple solid construction and ebony fingerboard, but it sounds a bit sterile and one-dimensional (though no worse than the Ibanez in the BlahG demo). I jettisoned the original pickups and replaced them with others ten years ago, and just took delivery of a pair of TV Jones Setzer Sigs in an attempt to make it a more satisfying electric - but haven't installed them yet and don't know what the result will be.


But NOW: ignore everything above the line immediately above "But ignore."

If the Godin is really what you're trying to get electric guitar satisfaction from, your quest is doomed to the outer reaches of Ersatzia.

Get an electric guitar with magnetic pickups. It doesn't have to be expensive. I suggest a Gretsch Electromatic 5422. Ignore the VG99 (as you had already determined to do). The solidstate Kustom is probably not going to be entirely satisfying either.

I think the Fender Mustang amp remains a good starting point - lots of tech to satisfyingly and entertainingly (I don't say "authentically") "emulate" a range of amp types, with effects. Amp and speaker all in one package. And it's attractively priced. Who believes the 100-watt claim - but you don't need 100 watts, and it's going to be more than many times louder than I suspect you need.

Importantly (at least for my personal bias, which I'm about to splain), you get a 12" Celestion speaker, so it's not going to sound like a guitar through a transistor radio.

(My bias is that bigger speakers sound better, at the same volume, than smaller speakers. I gravitate to 12s and like 15s - in amps of any wattage from sub-watt to lots. I find it really hard to get happy with 6s, 8s are marginal. I have one adorable amp with 10s, and I've heard amps sound fabulous with more 10s. So the really small digital amps [like the Yamaha] lose me on sheer speaker area.)

And, yes, as an alternative to the Fender Mustang, explore the Boss Katana. Haven't played one myself, but the brief is similar and I haven't heard anything bad about it. The Katana 50 (with a 12), at 200.00, could also be a hot ticket.


Not to muddy the already roiling waters, but there's yet another approach. Several folks make amps about the size of the usual power supply or effect pedal; I like Quilter's MicroBlock 45. It sounds good, is loud enough for small gigs (so more than enough for home), will range from clean to dirty enough, and has simple (1-knob!) but interestingly effective EQ. No reverb, of course.

That through a 1-10 or 1-12 cabinet amplifies cleanly and with satisfying tonal character; it also makes a fine "transparent" platform for pedals and processors like...

Do you have an iPad? There's a handful of amp/effect apps for iOS I find utterly astonishing. They provide much of the functionality of something like the Line6 Helix (so - lots of amp and cab models, with a giggling cornucopia of effects) - at prices like 10.00 - 50.00. All very easily configured onscreen. My favorites: Agile AmpKit, Bias FX with Bias Amp 2 (which lets you build you own amp from modeled components), and Yonac's Tone Stack. (Another very simple one which sounds great is called Flying Haggis.)

To use any of these, you need to get your guitar signal into and out of the iPad. There are numerous interfaces that accomplish this from as little as 39.00 to several hundred dollars. (Random list here: https://www.makeuseof.com/t...) (I use one with the unwieldy name of iConnectAudio4+MIDI, which also serves as a 4-channel universal input/output recording interface to my Mac or iPad - or both simultaneously.)

So. Guitar into interface of choice, which is connected to iPad with the above apps. Out of the interface into: headphones, home stereo, or something like the Quilter Microblock-1-12 cabinet setup mentioned above. (I've spent untold hours blissing away with just guitar, iPad, and interface in hotel rooms and through the little JBL monitors in my studioffice.)

If you have the iPad, you'll spend from 50.00 - x00.00 on apps (not buying them all at once till you see how you like the notion, and including in-app purchases). A good interface for 150.00. The Quilter for 150.00. About the same for a cabinet. (And of course you can start the guitar-iPad adventure [if you haven't already] with just the low-end interface and a few bucks in apps.)

You'd be entertained for years, and never get to the end of it.

While playing (almost) any electric guitar through (almost) any amp has been one of the principle organizing principals (and joys) of my life for 50 years, I feel like the ever-expanding audio horizons digital tech has made accessible (at a modest cost) is a gift the universe held in store for my old age. I'm as much enamored of science fiction as I was at 14, and gratefully recognize that I'm living in a future which that guitar-besotted kid could not possibly have imagined.

I love tubes, but by golly it's all good. It's all bloody grand, in fact, and I just hope my health holds out while I explore it.

27

That amount of technical experience and knowledge, some of which I'm acquainted with, deserves an extensive reply that I'm not able to go into until later but I'm grateful for it, as are others, I'm sure, sharing in this wealth of information. It must suffice to say for the moment that I also have the Godin LGX-sa with magnetic pickups and, if price were not an issue, I would go the Line 6 route for amplification, whether for electric or acoustic sound. As for the Roland VG-99 choice, that was dictated by another application specific to a pet project I'd be happy to elaborate on when time permits. The info and opinion expressed above by your good self is of Protean proportions and is much appreciated. Full reply to follow asap.

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Before you purchase any solid-state amplifier, you owe it to yourself to investigate Quilter amps.

– Ric12string

Quilter. Got it. Will familiarise myself with it for sure, Ric.

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Proteus: To take up where I left off in response to your in-depth post above... Firstly, let me dispose of the spectre of the Roland VG-99. I use this, not for the myriad of guitar-modelled, piano and synth sounds together with effects you can get out of it. The pet project I mentioned above is the sole purpose of it to me. I've programmed it to produce alternate tunings at the press of an attached FC-300 foot pedal (one of five) for the purposes of transposing pitch on-the-fly to eliminate awkward barre chords. This allows for fingering simpler chord shapes that don't call for me to be a contortionist. The system works well but can be further improved in terms of speed with some switch modification or onboard guitar interface that I may expand upon in a future post, if there is one. As for the solid-state Kustom practice amp the sound of resulting chords come out of, whether strummed or played finger-style, this barely-adequate amp is of no consequence to me at all and it's for that reason that I'm seeking an authentic-sounding mini-tube or tube-modelling replacement. On reflection and upon some further info-gathering, I would probably lean toward a combo like a Fender Mustang rather than a Quilter-like head feeding into a separate speaker cab and, partly on your and other's advice, I would rule out the BluG as a presettable overdrive and gain-oriented box. I, like you, evaluate an amp in-store by its clean tones so as not to be distracted into the realm of deliberate tone distortion, no matter how tempting it may be. That raunchy and dextrous type of soloing is completely beyond my woefully-limited playing capability anyway. I'm with you on 10-12" speaker size. (Pause to re-read and review other amp/computer suggestions by you and others above for which I'm genuinely grateful.) To be continued...

30

Tubes don't have a sound.

– Billy Zoom

True, tubes do not have sound. When I was in Army tech school, back in 1979, we were heavily trained in tube technology. I learned that audio tubes amplify the positive harmonics of the audio signal, which are pleasing to the ears. Transistors, on the other hand, amplify the negative harmonics, which have a dryer or harsher sound. I believe that the more modern solid state audio sets can compensate for this, and emulate the tubes characteristics. This is probably why very serious audiophiles use a tube amplifier on their stereo systems, tubes generally just sound better.

31

I just noodle around for my own pleasure, strumming a few chords and a little bit of simple finger-picking, Dave. After selling off my two Gretsches and a Steinberger bass, I'm just left with my Godin Multiac connected to a Roland VG-99 which goes through a Kustom solid-state practice amp because I don't need a lot of volume. But, bypassing the VG-99 in this scenario, the plan would be for the Godin to go directly into the amp which hopefully would have some of the characteristics of a tube amp without the need to occasionally replace tubes.

– jeffed

Meanwhile, quoting myself not out of narcissism but expediency... VG-99 out of picture in this scenario. Guitar directly into amp. Question: which amp, with a preference for tube-style responsiveness, without tube/s... Money no object. Strike that last point! Boss Katana I have to rule out because it's a separate head and a combo suits my simple purposes. As I'm not an iPad kind of a guy, it looks like it's coming down to the Yamaha THR. Now to research that.

32

Jeffed, yessir, I get the VG-99 rationale. Tuning. Makes sense.

I have the now-antiquated but still functional Roland GR-30 synth for use with my LGXt-sa - and I have to explain it as well lest others judge me harshly. It's not for keyboard or guitarish sounds at all, and only occasionally for semi-samply orchestral effects. It's mostly for pure "artificial" synth sounds - of the type that seem "authentic" and genuine to me because they're what synthesizers DO. Despite having access plenty to plenty of keyboard and iOS synth resources, sometimes I prefer the articulation and expression of a guitar "interface" when driving them.

Not that I'm darning VG technology even for its tonal guitaristic applications - and I wish Frank Giffen would pop into this thread with his input, which might be useful to you. I've heard him do marvelous things with his VG (though he's now sidelining it in search of a more direct, less processed pure guitar tone). He's also the GDP's most vocal devotee of All Things Quilter, with experience in most of that gear.


And so OK, you have the LGX with mag pickups. That relieves my anxiety over your trying to get electric guitar sounds out of something other than a regler lectric geetar. It's not the lushest-SOUNDing electric guitar going, but that's a minor cavil. I'll let you know if the TV Jones pickups make mine more sonically pleasing.


I concur that an integrated digital combo amp rather than separate pieces probably best meets your needs.

My reason for the component approach with the mini-Quilter and a separate cabinent is at least two-fold. For one, I was simply curious how good that amp could be (and am quite satisfied, though I understand the more expensive Quilter heads are much more capable) - and I was trying at one time to assemble the lightest possible fully capable amp. Member Powdog built me a beautiful 18-lb single-12 cab (using a neodymium speaker) to pair with the Quilter, my brief being that I wanted to lift my amp with one finger. When I tuck the Quilter in the back of the amp, that brief is filed.

And having the 1-12 cab has also let me play with some other intriguing mini-amps, to wit Hotone's Nano series. For well under 100.00 each, I've bought their British Invasion Voxalike and the goofily named Mojo Diamond "Fender-tweed" thing. The Hotones are 5 watters (and way cuter than buttons, collect the whole set).

I don't know if they're "tubey," but they sound good. The British Invasion sounds better than the Vox AC15 I briefly owned (and convincingly Voxy); the Mojo Diamond has some of the barking characteristics of a Fender tweed amp, but wouldn't fool a dyed-in-the-tweed enthusiast. Still, they produce usable tones across a spectrum from clean to crunchy. Most of the rest of the Nano series (I think there are twelve altogether) emulate modern high-gain shredboxes, but I'm very curious about the "Siva Boogie", which is Hotone's take on the Bogner Shiva boutique amp. Both the actual Shiva and Hotone's mini hang their hats on their clean tone, and I'm curious enough to spend 75.00 to see how much warmth and character a tiny, cute 5-watt amp can deliver.

So in my case, a benefit of the external cab is that I can swap different heads onto it just to experiment.

And, worth noting: NONE of these micro amps have reverb, so there's at least one pedal I have to connect. (And I'm a pedal junkie, so there are always more.) My go-to reverb for this (relatively) minimalist purpose is the Strymon Flint, with its three tweakable stereo reverb types AND (to my ear) three best-in-class tremolos as well. Highly recommended pedal, if you need those things.


I should clarify that my ownership experience with Quilter extends no further than the little MB45 - Quilter also makes stunning combo amps you should at least be aware of. I've heard and played through them numerous times, and wouldn't hesitate to nab one if I had any logistical need for an even lighter, more compact, powerful and great-sounding combo amp. But my stuff is all set up in my studioffice as a home entertainment system, and I gig so seldom that carrying the Powdog cab or one (or more) of my 1-12 combo amps is not a problem.


As for amp-like dirt, the Fender or Boss Katana will offer you many options.

One use (or by-product) of having lots of modeled amps is self-education in the basic character of the modeled equipment. While the model can never quite live up to the reality of having the actual thing in the room with you, the virtual can help you zero in on the kind of gear you'd like in the real.

So if you found yourself preferring one family of amp models over another, but weren't completely satisfied with the digital interpretation, you'd know what to shop for. And it gives guys who are familiar with the whole panoply of amp types reasonable facsimiles of amps they'd like to have on hand, but wouldn't use often enough or "favoritely" enough to justify buying the real thing. (Like a guy who knows mid-power Fender tube amps are his core tone, but occasionally wants to Marshall out, would have his real Fenders and use modeled stacks.)

33

Boss Katana I have to rule out because it's a separate head and a combo suits my simple purposes.

Well no...I find this 50-watt Katana combo, and there's a 100-watt version as well. https://www.sweetwater.com/...

As I'm not an iPad kind of a guy, it looks like it's coming down to the Yamaha THR. Now to research that.

OK, no more iOS talk then. But you're still considering the Fender, right?

34

Yeah, I spotted the Quilter combos. Look good - good and expensive. The iPad options? Well, I'm open-minded...to the point of bankruptcy. Edit: just found out the Boss Katana exists also as a combo - thanks for the link. Will check out its availability and price in Australia. Got a horrible feeling that shipping cost from SW in USA would be prohibitive otherwise.

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If you don't already HAVE the iPad, that becomes an expensive project. If you wouldn't find myriad other uses for it, doubly so.

If you HAVE the iPad, then it seems silly not to take advantage of the iOS guitar apps. There's a whole world in there.

But I'm not encouraging you to spend hundreds on an iPad when you can satisfy the immediate need for 200.00 - 400.00 worth of digital combo amp.

36

True, tubes do not have sound. When I was in Army tech school, back in 1979, we were heavily trained in tube technology. I learned that audio tubes amplify the positive harmonics of the audio signal, which are pleasing to the ears. Transistors, on the other hand, amplify the negative harmonics, which have a dryer or harsher sound. I believe that the more modern solid state audio sets can compensate for this, and emulate the tubes characteristics. This is probably why very serious audiophiles use a tube amplifier on their stereo systems, tubes generally just sound better.

– Wade H

All grist for the mill, Wade. That tech stuff is handy to know. Digital electronics and microprocessors (self-taught) was my thing there for more years than I care to remember, while holding down a day job. So, yeah, I'm taking it all onboard.

37

Boss Katana I have to rule out because it's a separate head and a combo suits my simple purposes.

Well no...I find this 50-watt Katana combo, and there's a 100-watt version as well. https://www.sweetwater.com/...

As I'm not an iPad kind of a guy, it looks like it's coming down to the Yamaha THR. Now to research that.

OK, no more iOS talk then. But you're still considering the Fender, right?

– Proteus

Oh, and still considering the Fender Mustang - correct. Have had my eye on incarnations of it for yonks. There's also the Frontman that NJBob suggested I check out, which I will.

38

Anyone that dismisses software and/or modeling has either had a bad experience or no experience with either. This is where your amp collection will wind up when you find something that suits you - all boxed up and shelved. I need to have a yard sale...

39

Having done preliminary online research into the Quilter MB45, Boss Katana 50, Fender Mustang 100W & Frontman 212R, Yamaha THR, Vox MV50 (& AC15 tube amp), Line 6 Spider V60...and not wanting to end up with one of each...the winner is:

40

Boss Katana solid-state 100W amp available new in Australia for under 500 bucks. Yes, it was always going to be a compromise. No, I won't be using it for high-gain shredding. Chirrup...chirrup...(crickets). So I've managed to alienate everybody?

41

Not me! I think all the issues and variables have been well ventilated here, and the Katana sounds a perfectly reasonable choice for the purpose at hand.

I'll be interested in your review when you get it.

42

That's the least I can do in return for all the expert advice. OK, amp on order. Meanwhile, the following covers it way better than I could - 33-minute, in-depth geek-peek at Boss Katana combo. (I settled for the 50W model.)

43

picked up and un-boxed

44

controls, open back and 12" speaker

45

And?

The sound, man!

46

I’m late to the party, but I have the Katana 50. I found it to be the only solid state amp I’ve heard that sounds tube like. I think you’ll be very happy with it.

Hard to beat it for price, sound, and features, plus it’s pretty light. Looking forward to your review.

47

The only surprise about this amp is that it doesn’t seem to have any surprises. At least not with these settings - full 50W, master full on, set to crunch, zero gain, volume at 12 o’clock, bass right up, mid & treble at 12 o’clock defaults, reverb and boost at 9 o’clock, no delay, no pedals in. So far, I can’t find fault with it in this mild-mannered mode. To my ear, the clean sound was a tad too clean and that's why I set the amp to "crunch", but played dynamically with the guitar tone knob rolled back a bit to take any stridency off the treble at medium volume. The humbuckers have no problem with it and exhibit no feedback until the face of the chambered Godin is held within 150 cm or 6 inches from the front of the amp. All in all, the Katana was/is well worth what I paid for it - $AUD399.00 (under 300 bucks US) at an online supplier’s new retail showroom local to my abode here in the Melbourne burbs where I picked it up myself. First impression: sounds great for my purposes.

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I have 4 x modelling amps (only one is Roland) but for the money, IMO the Katana is unbeatable, and very very versatile..

49

And?

The sound, man!

– Proteus

So, as I said, it sounds great for my purposes on first impressions. Whether it exhibits tube-like characteristics remains to be seen. For now, I'll take Hoot Owl's word for it.

50

Yessir. Sounds like it sounds good so far. If it's good clean, you can be sure it'll be good dirty, since that's what it prides itself on.


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