Thursday, September 8, 2011

an elemental understanding of guitar amps

We've been tweaking the rough mixes as of late, and it looks like I might have a finished record by early November. Last session, Tom and I addressed some of the lead guitar sounds I'd made on a couple songs. Something was just a bit off with the guitar tone in the mix, and it needed more Orange and less Fender. Let me explain... I've gotten in the habit of performing with two amplifiers: an Orange AD15 and a Fender Deluxe Reverb. This came about because, when playing with Dogs on Television, I create loops and wanted to isolate them in their own channel. Using one amp only, the samples get kinda squashed when I played over them. It was just one speaker after all. So, the solution was to get a second amp and an A/B switch so that I could have an isolated signal just for the loops.

Over time though, I've really grown to like how the Fender and the Orange sound together...two very different tones. The Orange is an earthy, warm, dark, overdriven sound. Sometimes growly, but always rich and luscious, spilling currents of sweet rumbling energy. I use the Fender as the main lead amp, often over the loops coming from the Orange..and it has a lighter (yet still warm) sound, airborne, even piercing at times. It can cut through a storm of loops with unrelenting perseverance! The Fender can soar and swoop, with a tone that rings like a bell over mountains. Ahem. I'm getting a bit carried away here... So the bottom line is that these amps really work well together, and it led me to an elemental analogy. Orange = Earth. Fender = Air. To complete the analogy, I plug the amps into the wall socket (Fire!) and I plug my guitar in and play them using my body (which is 90% or more, yup, you guessed it: Water!). Ha! So, I've got all the elements (of my sound) in place. Each has their proper place in the universe of music. :-)

Anyway, a lot of the phrasing I was playing in the studio was (to follow the analogy) more earthbound, and my fingers were relying on the Orange tone more than the Fender. So, we dialed back the Fender here and there, and I think the guitar mix is vastly improved now. You can hear a lot of the weird nuance I was going for... In sum, I think 2 amps are better than one. You just need the right balance. And, to pursue another analogy, when mixing, one often needs to put on the Sherlock hat when revisiting the scene of the crime. To (re-)solve the tonal mystery. "It's elemental, my dear Watson."*

(*yes I know the original quote is "elementary"...but that's how i roll)