Posts Tagged ‘Guitars’

I recently received an interesting article from the folks over at AmplifiedParts.com entitled, “Describing Tone.” It takes both a scientific (quantitative) look at tone as well as presenting more qualitative ways of describing it. The qualitative section seems geared to describing tone within the context of selling gear, but if you think about it, when we’re talking about tone, we’re doing a selling job. The author, Kurt Prange makes an interesting statement in the article: “If someone told you that a particular speaker sounds ‘rich and creamy with buttery mids and crisp highs,’ they might as well have said, ‘it sounds great, trust me.'” I’ll speak more to that in a little bit. But without further ado, here’s the article:


The Audible Frequency Range and Describing Tone

by Kurt Prange


As guitarists, most of us sooner or later find ourselves in pursuit of tone. A talented guitarist can find a way to make anything sound good, but there should be no doubt that our equipment and the tone it provides can inspire and help fuel our creativity. In pursuit of tonal inspiration, we need to develop a vocabulary to help us find what we’re looking for in our sound.


The Audible Frequency Range

Most guitarists start out by learning the names of the musical notes corresponding to a particular string and fret number, but they are not initially aware that these notes also correspond to the fundamental frequency of the vibrating string. For example, the sixth string played at the 5th fret (low A) in standard tuning has a fundamental frequency of 110 Hz. Any doubling or halving of a frequency is an octave, so the next octave up from 110 Hz would be 220 Hz. In order to develop a vocabulary for tone, we have to think in terms of frequencies as opposed to musical notes.

The audible frequency range for us human beings is about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz (20 kHz). For descriptive purposes, it’s common to divide this range into at least three parts: lows, mids and highs. The specific border frequencies where, for example, lows end and mids begin are not definite. Look at a guitar speaker’s frequency response chart and you’ll see three commonly accepted ranges: lows from 20 to 200 Hz, mids from 200 Hz to 2 kHz and highs from 2 kHz to 20 kHz. With respect to these divisions, the fundamental guitar frequencies are all low to mid range; however, the sound we hear from each note we play also consists of harmonic frequencies in addition to the fundamental. To get an idea of what the fundamental would sound like on its own, just play a note and turn the guitar’s tone control all the way down. You’ve just “rolled-off the highs.”

If you play through an amp with treble, middle and bass controls, you can experiment with the extremes of each control setting to get a feel for how the relative level of each frequency range shapes the overall sound. “Scoop the mids” by turning the middle control down. “Roll-off the lows” and “thin-out” the tone by turning down the bass control. Now, “Fatten-up” the tone by turning the bass control back up.

Describing Tone

Using words to describe how something sounds is not always easy, but in the pursuit of tone it is often necessary. Browse through websites and ads for guitars, pickups, effects, amps, tubes, speakers, etc. and you’ll see a plethora of tonal verbiage that would probably seem like nonsense to the non-musician. When reading through this jargon, you can usually separate the adjectives into at least two groups to get a better perspective of the big picture.

First, there are the basic tonal adjectives that stand on their own. Most guitarists would understand their meaning without the need for much clarification. The words in this group stand on their own because they are closely related to common control settings. Describing tone is simplified considerably when a comparison can be made and most of the adjectives in this group can be paired with a clear opposite. For example, you might compare bright vs. dark for highs, full vs. scooped for mids, fat vs. thin for lows or some other variation to express more or less of a particular attribute. You could say, ‘I’m using Acme brand 12AX7 tubes in my amp and they sound too muddy, I need something that will brighten up the highs and give me more gain.’

Second, there are the ambiguous adjectives that leave you with some doubt as to what they really mean. They serve as a kind of garnish to add personality and make a tonal description sound more appealing or marketable. For example, the highs might be crisp or bell like with sparkle or chime, the mids might be buttery or woody, there might be mid-range honk, the tone could be warm, rich or creamy. This is good stuff if you don’t take it too seriously, but these words don’t really mean much on their own. If someone told you that a particular speaker sounds ‘rich and creamy with buttery mids and crisp highs,’ they might as well have said, ‘it sounds great, trust me.’ Another aspect of this group of adjectives is that they can allow you to identify a target audience that the product was designed to reach. For example, you probably wouldn’t target the death metal crowd with a ‘warm, vintage-voiced pickup with rich fat lows and top-end sparkle to express the subtleties of your playing style in fine detail.’ You’d be more likely to describe ‘fat, thunderous lows with upper mid-range sizzle and crisp highs for brutal rhythm and scorching leads.’

When communicating with other people to get suggestions for which product might get you closer to the sound you’re looking for, it’s usually best to make comparisons, while using mostly adjectives from the first group and going light on those from the second. Of course, the best way to know if something is right for your sound is to play through it yourself and set up an A/B comparison, but that’s just not always possible. So as we journey along in our pursuit of tone, we have to develop a vocabulary to help ourselves and others find the way.

Kurt Prange (BSEE) is the Sales Engineer for Amplified Parts (www.amplifiedparts.com) in Tempe, Arizona, United States. Kurt began playing guitar at the age of nine in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is a guitar DIY’er and tube amp designer who enjoys helping other musicians along in the endless pursuit of tone.


Addressing the “ambiguous adjectives” paragraph, I tend to agree with what Mr. Prange has to say for the most part, but I do think that ambiguous adjectives play a key role in describing tone; so long as you make the distinction between the unabiguous and ambiguous. I agree that on their own, ambiguous adjectives do very little to inform me, though they are certainly effective at raising hype – something that happens a lot on forums like The Gear Page. So as a bit of a follow-on to Mr. Prange’s words of wisdom, be very wary of those who do nothing but use unambiguous adjectives to describe the tone of their gear; especially if they’re trying to sell it to you.

The problem with unambiguous adjectives is that they are purely subjective. What might seem “muddy” to one person may be perfectly acceptable to another. To me, I find most Fender amps to be muddy, with really booming lows, but those people who dig that tone, would call them “smooth.” Get the picture?

And then of course, I totally agree with Kurt Prange in that the only way to really see if some gear fits you and your style of playing is to play it yourself. Ultimately, you’re the best judge of great tone. Don’t defer that to anyone else.

Read Full Post »

I mentioned the DV Mark Little 40 at the end of my previous post yesterday, which was a review on the DV Mark Galileo 15. That Galileo is a great little amp, but the DV Mark Little 40 is what I’m really taking a serious look at right now. If you want more information and specs on this great little amp, then read the product page on it. But what I’m going to discuss here goes beyond just the plain old facts and talk about why I think this amp deserves such a serious look.

What about the title? Well, it’s something that I brought over from my web engineering background, and that is that the best web sites aren’t the ones that are the prettiest or the most technically robust. They’re the ones that are so obvious to use, you don’t have to think about it. With the Little 40, DV Mark has lived up to “Don’t Make Me Think” in a variety of ways.

First off, while DV Mark offers the amp in L34 and L6 models (for EL34 and 6L6), the amp can take either, and will even do 6V6’s (though I think it may have to be JJ 6V6’s that’ll take a higher plate voltage – but I’d have to confirm that). But here’s the kicker: With the Little 40, you’ll never have to bias tubes again! The Little 40 sports smart circuitry that will auto-bias AND match your power tubes (so long as they’re within 20% of each other). How convenient is that? I don’t have the equipment to bias tubes myself – frankly I’m scared to death of working on electrical stuff – so every time I get new power tubes, I have to have someone bias them for me. With the Little 40, I just need to get reasonably matched tubes, and the amp will bias them to their optimal settings. Damn!

In addition to automagically biasing the tubes, there’s a switch on the rear panel that lets you set Low or High bias settings, which means you have even more tonal capabilities at the flick of a switch. This is a really huge thing in my opinion because again, instead of having to do this by hand, you need only toggle a switch to find the right bias setting for what you’re playing.

Also, the Little 40 is absolutely versatile, with its patent-pending Continuous Power Control that allows you to vary the output power of the tubes – not just for volume, but to break up the power tubes early. Full out to 40 Watts, you’ll get maximum clean headroom. But you can dial down the power to 1 Watt, and get breakup a lot earlier. Plus, you can switch between pentode and triode tube operation to get different tones on top of bringing the power down. Then on top of all that, you have a 0/6dB pad to compensate for passive and active pickups.

Finally, at $799, which is only $200 more than the Galileo, getting this amp is absolute no-brainer! And mind  you, these amps are all hand assembled in Italy. How DV Mark is able to sell them so inexpensively is beyond me, but we players can definitely reap the benefits. This is my next amp!

Here’s a nice demo video of the DV Mark Little 40:

Read Full Post »

As many know who’ve frequented this blog over the past couple of years, they know my love for the Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. It has allowed me to record in my garage till the wee hours of the morning, and not get complaints from my wife or the neighbors about being too loud, as I can get down to conversation levels; but more importantly, I can get down to those levels and still retain my tone and especially my dynamics.

With other attenuators, as you increase attenuation, it’s like putting a blanket over your tone. Not so with the PRX150-Pro. I’ve been using it now both in the studio and at gigs for the last couple of years, and it never ceases to amaze me.

For instance, I shared a song the other day called, “Come Together.” I’ve since changed the name to “God’s Love Will Set Us Free” but what I failed to mention was that the electric guitar parts were recorded, close-miked with the volume level being normal conversation level! Though I was using just a 6 Watt amp, even that cranked up is simply too loud to be playing completely cranked at midnight – at least in my neighborhood.

Here’s the final cut of the demo. The electric guitars haven’t been tweaked except for adding just a touch more highs in the EQ (the original tone was fine, but I wanted the guitars to cut through the mix a bit better because there was lots of overdrive):

What great quality at normal conversation levels!

I know, there are those out there that poo-poo the whole attenuator thing, and that’s fine. But for me, I couldn’t live without it – especially in my studio. It’s saving my ears. 🙂

Read Full Post »

…everything just sounds and feels… BAD?

I just got done with my weekly church gig this afternoon, and I have to admit that I was not in the least bit happy with my tone. It completely affected how I played; which felt choppy and contrived, not smooth and spontaneous.

I suppose we’re all bound to have those kinds of gigs, but I have to tell you, nothing puts me in a worse mood than having bad tone.

To be fair to my gear, my clean tone was fine, but my overdrive tone was absolutely muddy. It had no punch, and even with the volume up, I wasn’t cutting through the mix. Ewwwww…

Oh well, I’ll have to play around with my setup a bit…

Read Full Post »

No, it’s not a Beatles cover… 🙂 This is a song about getting over ourselves and listening to God’s voice and feeling His presence in our lives; putting ourselves together with His help.

I got a little inspirational kick while I was recording with my little VHT Special 6 which I used for the electric guitar parts. I had it totally cranked up, ran it through my Aracom PRX150-Pro and out to my 1 X 12 that has a Jensen Jet Falcon in it. Man! That amp sounds A LOT bigger than it’s diminutive 6 Watts. For the left channel guitar, I used my Strat in the bridge position, then used the neck position for the right channel to get a ballsier sound.

Anyway, here’s the song:

[audio https://guitargear.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/come-together.mp3]


Read Full Post »

Okay, boys and girls… After announcing this guitar over a year ago, Gibson has finally released the Firebird X er… system. Not just a guitar, this baby packs built-in effects, completely on/off switchable and coil-tapped pickups. It also includes a piezo pickup for getting an acoustic sound. But wait! There’s more! The pickups can be switched to run in series and parallel. But we won’t stop there! The on-board effects can be controlled by sliders on the upper bout of the body, and with the included switch pedal, you can activate those effects.

But just to make sure Gibson didn’t forget anything, they also include an expression pedal for the effects. By the way, the effects are all programmable via USB interface to a computer. Oh yeah… There’s also a boatload of software included.

Even the case is revolutionary (Gibson’s words). It’s lightweight, and includes the obligatory straps, but it’s strong enough to withstand a fall from a six-story building (I wonder if that’s with the guitar in it). 🙂 Oh! And let’s not forget the robot tuning system.

So what’ll all this cost? Supposedly, somewhere in the neighborhood of US$5500.

My thoughts? I’m not sure. It’s certainly very cool. All this in a 7 pound guitar! Wait! It’s not a guitar, it’s a system! 🙂

It certainly is a system, and mind you, I only mentioned a fraction of the features of this guit… er… system. The technology that has gone into it is pretty amazing in both breadth and depth. That, I can’t deny. And to have your pedalboard right in your guitar is pretty freakin’ cool – ala Matthew Bellamy of Muse.

There’s a part of me that says this screams of overkill. But on the other hand, it’s not as if this guitar will be a high-production model. It’s a limited edition. But who knows? If demand is high, Gibby may turn it into a sales platform.

Also, for myself, and myself only, I just want to play. I’m not sure that I’d want to spend a lot of time niggling over effects patches. And besides, though the effects may very well be good – perhaps even awesome – I’ve got the effects I like on my board, and for the most part, especially for my modulation effects, I rarely change where they’re set to (well… except for my Deep Blue Delay).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m really not trying to be cynical here, but something like this would take me awhile to dial in. Like I said, I’d rather pick up a guitar and just start playing, knowing what sounds the guitar will make.

For more information, check out Gibson’s Firebird X site!

Read Full Post »

I wrote this song several years ago as a fun, foot-stompin’, rockin’ blues crowd-pleaser to close out church services, and like my previous song, The Way The Truth The Life, finally got around to recording it – actually I attempted to record it a lot over the years, but just couldn’t get a good vibe with it. Most of it had to do with how I was singing it, which was kind of straight up. But last year, I decided to have some fun with it, and do kind of an “Elvis” voice, and that’s when it changed the whole song and got me over the hump. 🙂 Here’s the song:

I just used my Fender American Deluxe Strat in this one for all guitar parts, and ran it through my Roland Cube 30 set to “Classic British Stack” so I could get that mid-rangy Marshall tone. I cheated a little with the lead and added a software overdrive plug-in to give the lead even more bite and sustain. Ahhh! The wonders of software! 🙂

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »