"easy" vs. "unforgiving" tube amps...

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by bluspwr, Sep 16, 2005.


  1. bluspwr

    bluspwr Member

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    I've heard people say some amps are "easy" to play through and others are unforgiving. (all of them good amps, just play differently)
    What does this mean, and what are the better amps that represent each side of the fence?
    Are there pros and cons to each type?
     
  2. rwe333

    rwe333 Supporting Member

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    Hiwatt (Hylight/Biacrown era) = unforgiving, accurate, fast, awesome! ;)

    Some VHTs are similarly fast, as might be the THD BiValve.
     
  3. Ricker

    Ricker Member

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    I think it all comes down to the amount of natural compression each tube amp has.
    Generally I've found the very dynamic, very uncompressed amps are unforgiving..........and the highly compressed mostly higher gain amps are easier .......but then you lose dynamics.
    there's always a trade off..........
    Another thing is the voicing of an amp........if it is bright with strong upper mids it may come across as unforgiving because of the incredible clarity that one hears.

    Those 2 things for me determine an 'easy' or 'unforgiving' amp

    Cheers
    Rick
     
  4. trainwrecker

    trainwrecker Member

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    I actually think this is more important than the tone of the amp, at least for any specific person's use. To me the best "feeling" amp behind me onstage was the 5150 series, just felt like an extension of the guitar,very natural. A close second is a cranked/attenuated plexi, nice sensitivity and touch and sits in the mix perfectly. The amps I found most difficult to have a good tactile response were the dual rectifier and the SLO. All this is only IMHO, others have different experiences I'm sure.
     
  5. SQUAREHEAD

    SQUAREHEAD Supporting Member

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    Wizard Metal 100 watt... Unforgiving
    Bogner Ecstacy ... Forgiving
     
  6. Deaj

    Deaj Silver Supporting Member

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    Agreed Rick.

    The wider dynamic range an amp has the less forgiving it is. The voicing of the amp may serve to enhance the expressive possibilities with an amp that has a wide dynamic range.

    An amp with alot of natural compression will seem more effortless to play because changes in the players technique are evened out to some degree.

    Neither is better than the other IMO - it's all about context and player preference.

    My last amp was a Rivera Jake. I would classify this amp as forgiving and easy. Effortless even - a real joy to play! Even set dead clean it would smooth out some of the rough areas of my technique. Great tone and feel. Fantastic amp for live settings and everything I recorded with it sounded great.

    My current amp is a Fuchs ODS and I would say that this is an unforgiving amp and a bit more of a challenge to play. This amp displays all of the rough areas of my technique and challenges me to improve. As I do I find new expressive possibilities. This amp is very rewarding to play and the tone is wonderful!
     
  7. LaXu

    LaXu Member

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    I totally agree. For example the Peavey JSX and Triple XXX would be in the "easy" category - they have very little dynamics even on the clean channel. Generally very compressed amps tend to be high gain "metal" amps..works fine for that style since subtlety isn't high on the list. Does make those amps somewhat limited though.

    My Stephenson LJ-10 on the other hand is very unforgiving, but personally I'll take a dynamic amp over a very compressed one any day - you can always use a compressor or other methods to compress the tone but getting those dynamics back ain't happening. Getting that balance where the tone feels easy to play but still reacts well to how you pick notes is where you get the best of both worlds.
     
  8. Jackie Treehorn

    Jackie Treehorn Member

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    I disagree. An amp with compression is more revealing because compression makes the quiet sounds/noises louder, so the little subtleties are more apparent.
     
  9. MikeyG

    MikeyG Supporting Member

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    There are no subtleties with a highly compressed amp, everything comes out the same volume?? I don't understand your point?

    If you hit a note of an uncompressed amp too hard, when you'd rather be subtle, look out, that note is going to leap out amongst the others, revealing your error in a big way.
     
  10. LaXu

    LaXu Member

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    But you lose the effect of pick attack, you'll mostly hear all the little noises more. Try picking softly on a very compressed amp and you'll see it doesn't really clean up with a distorted tone. Then do the same with a very dynamic amp and you can do fade in/out type effects and get clean tones simply by varying pick attack.
     
  11. Jackie Treehorn

    Jackie Treehorn Member

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    That is my point - the compressed amp is more "revealing" because it amplifies the quiet sounds to a higher level than a less compressed amp. If you're playing in a group context, those quiet sounds are more likely to be heard whether intentional or not.

    If you hit a note of an uncompressed amp too hard, when you'd rather be subtle, look out, that note is going to leap out amongst the others, revealing your error in a big way. [/QUOTE]

    That's true, I guess what one considers "revealing" would depend upon what you're trying to hide.:p
     
  12. Jackie Treehorn

    Jackie Treehorn Member

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    Well, I disagree on that, too. I don't think compression and quick attack are mutually exclusive. An amp can have compression and "clean up," it just does it at a more constant volume which can be advantageous.
     
  13. LaXu

    LaXu Member

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    But in my experience a compressed amp doesn't clean up to the degree of a dynamic one. Take the Orange Rockerverbs for example. I have a distortion tone set on the RV50, nice singing leads and crunchy rhythms. Then I want to play a passage with a clean tone - if I just pick softer the sound is still distorted. I have to either switch channels or turn down the volume control on my guitar.

    By comparison if I do the same with the more dynamic Rocker 30, I can get those cleaner tones by picking lightly, without touching any controls at all. The slightly lower volume that results can also be used as an effect, sort of like going from a big distorted chorus down to a more intimate clean tone.
     
  14. Roe

    Roe Member

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    Definition and string separation can also make an amp unforgiving IMHO
     
  15. Gerry

    Gerry Guest

    Of course, it has to do with your gain settings and therefore sustain. The less sustain, more 'unforgiving' ie you have to be a more inventive guitarist.
    Similar to how some excellent electric guitarists can't play acoustic guitar very well.
     
  16. Dr Rico

    Dr Rico Member

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    I think there may be a couple different conversations going on here.

    I would like to distiguish TRANSIENT RESPONSE (i.e., quickness) from COMPRESSION (related to but not equal to headroom) from SAG (i.e. available power on demand).

    I find in amps I've built, modded or studied, that transient reponse is related to the dynamic range of the preamp and especially sensitive to the plate voltage on preamp tubes up to the PI. It is secondarily affected by time constants introduced by capacitance in the signal path (NOT SO MUCH IN THE POWER SUPPLY, THOUGH SEE SAG). I'd describe transient response in terms such as sharp, quick, explosive, lagging, smeared, rounded, soft...

    The effects of compression are felt/heard when the limits of the tube are being hit. This is set at each gain stage by the bias of that stage relative to the plate voltage. This is somewhat interconnected with transient response, but mostly related to how wide the dynamic range is before the notes round off and stop getting louder. Its possible to run an amp under design parameters that make it quick, but also make it compressed. I find this is rare in most commercial amps, though seen in some of the boooteeeeks. But most amp designs seem to gravitate toward clustered aesthetic aims (see below). Compression is experienced in terms of the "singing" quality of sustain, versus the articulate expression of more dynamic circuits. Like opera or violin lines versus rap or bluegrass.

    The power supply is the last great frontier of tube amp design, IMO (well...except for hybrid circuits or interdigitated effects chains with dynamic parameters like ducking verb). Sag affects response to power on demand and is related to how quickly an amp provides the juice to a circuit that asks for it. In amps with alot of capicitance and a stiff supply and an ideal rectifier (electronically speaking...like FREDS or suchlike...) the amp provides the juice on demand right up to the limits of the supply. This can make the amp feel faster and very punchy, but also hard. The corners are sharp (though they can be tailored by compression and by slowing transient response via loading down the plates in the preamp using higher series resistance from the supply...). In amps with non-negligible series resistance in the rectification (like with many tube rectifiers...less so with GZ34/5AR4...also possible in diode rectifiers with series resistance built in), the response to demand for juice can lag a bit behind the request before coming full on...this leads to the sag response. So sag can affect the quickness of the feel, though not really the transient response. Its most obvious when the circuit is hit with a high demand relative to its capacity...like in bass amps...less an issue with guitar amps but still a design parameter worth monkeying with. This comes across in terms of "lung capacity" of the amp. Does it wheeze and slowly come on or is there alot of force behind the notes, especially shortly after hitting the circuit with a sharp signal with a lot of draw required.

    Whew.

    Sorry.

    I LIKE that sorta thing...durn science geek gearhead tweakers...

    So, wrt the original post, "difficult" amps tend to be high on the transient response, low on compression and low on sag. They are said to be "player's" amps because they are so revealing. A typical example would be a BF Twin Reverb in the normal channel (less smeary than the reverb channel...fewer phase shifts and stuff...). In contrast, "easy" amps are the opposite...low transient response, high compression and high sag. Examples of this are common in modern "gain" amps with lower plate voltages in the preamp, lots of series resistance in the supply to the preamp, tubes biased to compress early...though power supplies are pretty beefy...hmm. Well, not alot of sag, I guess...I certainly see alot of sag in early tweeds! But then their preamps have fast transients...Oh! I know! Mid-70s aluminum panel JMP50s are easy. IMO.

    However...

    For my playing style, "easy" amps are "harder" to play because they can't keep up with me. So from that perspective, I agree with Jackie (who I recall is another amp tweaker type guy, eh?). But for other players, the revealing nature of the the "player" amps puts technique under the microscope. Ultimately, I find that successful amp designs FOR MY TASTES mix these elements in different degrees for different uses.

    I like em all and variations in between...like cooking with a full spice rack, eh?

    Ok, gotta go fire up the barbie and slap some wild Alaskan coho salmon on the grill along with the poblanos and some chipotle-smeared corn on the cob (in the husk)...get the wine to a-breathing...make the salad...holler for Thing One, Thing Two and my beautiful and talented wife...and settle in for a quiet evening in paradise.

    Cheers.
     
  17. rorschah

    rorschah Member

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    For those of us with less experience, could you wise-heads give us some points of reference?

    How would you rate various standard amps on the easy/unforgiving compressed/dynamic scale:

    Fender Super Reverb
    Fender Deluxe Reverb
    Fender Twin Reverb
    Fender Blues Jr.
    Mesa-Boogie triple whatevers
    Orange Rocker
    Dr. Z Carmen Ghia, etc.
    Rivera thingies
    Marshall thingies
    Peavey Classic 30
    Bruno Cowtipper
     
  18. MikeyG

    MikeyG Supporting Member

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    I can tell you the easy ones : anything Mesa, and the Orange. The the the Classic 30 dirt channel, the Riveras next, the Marshalls next, .... all the remaining ones are what I'd call not highly compressed, but I haven't played them all ....
     
  19. LesPaulMan

    LesPaulMan Member

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    As others have mentioned, I think a Hiwatt if very unforgiving. Killer tone, but you better be on your game.

    Almost any master volume amp with the preamp set higher should be forgiving, at least when compared to amps like a Hiwatt, Soundcity, or an Orange OR 120.
     
  20. LaXu

    LaXu Member

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    I'd put the Orange in the same crowd as the Marshall etc. The Rockerverbs lean more towards the "easy" category but the Rocker 30 head is less compressed and is closer to the "unforgiving" side. The Mesa Lonestar is also fairly dynamic, which came to me as a nice surprise. Now I want one. :eek:

    I think part of the reason why I like a good Marshall a lot is the right dose of touch sensitivity - still easy to play but also reacts to your playing touch.
     

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