Understanding Digital Amp Tones with a Method of Awareness

We spend thousands of dollars on digital guitar amps with the intent of getting that sound we hear in our head. Unfortunately that sound in our head is unique in that all of our perceptions and experiences are our own, so what we seek is our own ideal, not something that can simply be modeled.

As a starting point we need to understand that we all have different guitars and monitoring systems, both of which can drastically change the tone we hear and feel.

So, to understand what we are looking for we have to analyze all parts of the system: our mind, guitar, pickups, digital device and monitoring system.

Our mind is the guide to perception of tone. It is important that our perception is rooted in aural experience, and not simply words we’ve read about tone. I would suggest starting with YouTube videos of some classic amps in action. Even if the style of music they play isn’t in your wheelhouse it can help to understand what is possible with the particular amp and speaker combination. Each guitar amp has a specific way it distorts and balances the tone (EQ) which can be changed drastically by the speaker used. The amp maker often voices the amp for a specific speaker so the fact that certain amps works best with specific speaker types isn’t coincidence.

Here are some amps to get to know:

1. Fender Deluxe (Tweed), Dual Reverb

2. Marshall Super Lead (Plexi), JCM800, JTM45

3. Roland JC-120

4. Mesa Rectifier and Mark series

5. Vox AC30

6. Dumble Overdrive Special

While YouTube videos will not give you the feel of standing in front of the amp you can get an idea of how it can sound recorded. The recorded sound is actually the type of sound you will get from your modeling device. Note that many videos are recorded with a phone microphone rather than with a quality microphone placed close to the speaker cone as is the norm in professional studio environments. These phone-recorded videos can still be useful in understanding the character of the amp as long as we keep in mind the difference between close mic’ing and room mic’ing.

Listening to multiple videos of each amp where the players use different guitars and pickup types can show you how important the actual guitar is to tone. We can not go to the local retail store and buy a First Act guitar and expect it to sound like our favorite albums even through the exact same setup.

Some guitars are amazing instruments straight from the factory, but not every individual guitar of the same make and model are equal in quality. Finding a really great instrument takes time and patience, I personally like to play the guitar acoustically first to get an idea of the build quality. I have played some really great Fender Squier Classic Vibe guitars along with some not so great American made Stratocasters. I can decide if a guitar is for me within the first seconds of playing it. What I do is strum just a few barre chords and open chords listening for the synergistic interaction of the strings with the wood. Of course the guitar needs to be in tune but with the right instrument there is a piano like singing within the ringing of the notes. There are many variables that add up to this quality such as intonation and wood choice. While intonation can be fixed the musicality of the wood can not. and if they are both not present in harmony I will just pass on the instrument. However, if single notes ring loud and true, indicating quality wood selection, and there are other things I love about the instrument I may be willing to have some work done on it to bring out the full potential of the instrument.

So now you have your guitar and amp picked and have an idea of how to get to the tone you are seeking.

Each guitar modeler has its own set of speakers/IRs that can be explored and bent to taste by selecting the proper combination of mic and speaker. And if you are a lucky one to hit your mark at this point all is done!

For others you can try compression, pre and post eq, multiple speaker simulations etc…which is another level of understanding and in many way essential. For a shortcut you can seek out premade patches from those like Dropthesun, Nick Didonato, Worshiptutorials, alex.guitars or Marco Fanton to get a head start by dissecting their work. A great thing about these patches are many include the IR, this takes away the work of sorting through them as they have put in countless hours finding the right IR for the job. Not just with LRS IRs but all of the other sellers out there as well.

The ultimate tone of our famed musicians was developed through a lifetime of playing, and did not become fully realized until expert recording techniques and engineering were applied to capturing that tone. It goes without saying that it shouldn’t be easy to get great tone but with today’s technology things are much easier than they use to be.

Making IRs is an art just as is micing the cabinet for the studio engineer of our favorite albums. Understanding amps and musical styles is very important to creating new and inspiring tones. While one could recreate the exact frequency response of a speaker loaded into a specific speaker cabinet it still may be missing other aspects that are essential to the artist experience in which it took tens of thousands of dollars to create originally. Today we can spend a small amount to capture this experience in our homes. Some may say you don’t need commercial IRs and that may be true for some but others get great joy from new experiences in tone and are only pushed forward by support of the music community.

I started making tones out of my love of the guitar. I originally gave all of my efforts away for free without even considering the financial burden as it was a passion. Some of us are lucky to have an amazing wife! However, after many thousands invested and a continued desire to explore tone, it was only natural to launch a commercial site to aid in the development of what we do, create music.

By supporting Live Ready Sound you are supporting a continued development of tone in which is given back to the customer as free updates to the packs.

Click here for a short tutorial on using IRs.

Keep an eye out for the next topic of understanding the difference of headphone, pc speakers, studio monitors and FRFR.

Thanks for reading!

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