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amps that have little gain

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  • amps that have little gain

    I know some amps like the marshall JCM800 and plexi super lead don't really have much gain. but these amps are classic rock amps. what's the point? were those amps made for the use a distortion pedal in front it to get high gain sounds? cuz a normal overdrive pedal will not be enough to push the amp into high gain. u will need a high gain distortion pedal.

  • #2
    Crunch is just fine for a good many fine guitarista.
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    • #3
      There's a difference between gain and saturation. Gain is related to the actual increase or decrease in volume in the form of decibels based on an amplification factor of the components comprising the amp. An amp can amplify driven or clean sounds and still have plenty of gain. Marshalls have loads of gain, in fact more them most amps.

      What you're talking about is saturation in the gain stages where the gain from one stage overdrives the next.
      Back when those amps were designed, distortion was a defect not an attribute. It still is when it comes to the actual musical tones themselves. We are simply conditioned to think otherwise.

      Drive removes dynamic response by flattening the peaks and reducing the size of the waveform. You convert round waves into square waves as you do this and reduce the distance between silence and maximum volume. In the process you flatten the harmonics which give the notes guitar tones and make the instrument sound more like a synth or reed instrument.

      This is why I've said many times before - if you want to sound Bigger you use less drive. You want to sound smaller use more drive. With more drive you reduce dynamics and kill the emotional expression of the notes. If you want to impact people more emotionally you want to increase dynamic response not lessen it. Saturation, fuzz overdrive or compression essentially puts a governor on an engine so no matter how much power you apply to an engine it will only go so fast.

      Acoustic drummers have maximum dynamics. The harder they hit the drums, the louder they get. As a guitarist you want to be able to at least match a drummer's dynamics so when he plays softly, you can play softly and match his loudness. When he plays hard you dig in and can match his dynamic punch. This is what a bass player does when he plays bass.

      The ability to distort a guitar does make the playing easier because there's less difference in the right hand when notes are picked hard or soft. You can even go so far as to say - drive can become a habitual crutch that limits a players growth as a musician because he doesn't have to focus on working his right hand skillfull learning how to maintain his picking dynamics. As you dial back drive you need to use more precision to pick notes and any small errors become obvious.

      In other words - playing through a classic head like a JMC 800 requires you to become a better musician because you don't have crutches to lean on and vails of noise to hide behind. What you play will be heard and if you suck as a player it will be obvious to a listener.

      So the question comes down to this. Do you dirty up a great amp and continue to mask your playing skills or do you stop hiding behind a curtain of noise created by square notes.

      Its not easy to play what you do with driven notes cleanly. Noone ever said playing guitar was supposed to be easy however. Luckily you have many excellent musicians who can do it well. It requires working harder to get cleaner notes and you have to learn to use musical skill and composition to express yourself instead of masking everything with layers of dirt to hide you're actually playing.

      Also keep this in mind. The musicians you think you're impressing with all that drive cannot be deceived by cheap magic tricks. All they have to do is look and listen and they recognize weather you have talent or not. All of them respect a players ability to play well clean. If you're going up on stage and you want to stand out, clean up you sound and simply turn up. People will not only hear you but feel you play. The more drive the more forgettable you become because people's ears are trained from birth to automatically block noise.

      A JMC is clean but it can drive speakers to saturate. That's where your best drive tones in fact come from. Its something you feel more then you hear. There are any number of pedals that can produce similar driven tones and when each are recorded with a mic you may not be able to tell the difference using only your ears.

      When you actually play the difference is night and day. You CANT get the same string dynamic response from most transistor amps like you can get from tubes. This is a matter of science and how the amplification stages work. A SS device runs on low voltage so the dynamic range of each stage is smaller then tubes. To get the signal loud enough to drive speakers you need more gain stages and because there are more stages more of the original signal is stripped away. A single amp stage between its softest and loudest capabilities is smaller then a tube which runs on much higher voltages. Tubes and strings are an ideal match for how loud strings can get when you dig in harder. Transistors tend to max out early so the range between soft and where the notes begin to saturate is much smaller.

      This is very general statement of course. SS amps are getting better all the time, but just look at the amount of gain a transistor can produce, You're talking tenths of volts compared to full volts with tubes. Both may have say a 10 to one gain factor but the range on a transistor may tenths of a volt and a tube may have a range 100 times that amount. You need more gain stages with transistors to achieve the decibel levels as tubes and tubes have less sonic details lost as the signal is replicated in during each stage.

      Early SS amps were known as sounding harsh for good reason. They sterilized (or failed to enhance) parts of the signal, especially the harmonics which sounded good to the ears. Tubes preserve harmonics as the compress the sound so even at higher gain levels the signals still sound like musical notes.

      SS steam rolls the peaks. It acts like a brick wall and flattens the harmonics within a very small range of dynamic change. Tubes have a wider dynamic response and more compression so changes in picking dynamics is much more forgiving (in other words, your right hand is helped by tube compression and larger changes in picking attack goes unnoticed). Again, this is because transistors work with smaller gain ratios compared to tubes so small changes wind up being exaggerated - bad players wind up sounding really bad because between clean and having the harmonics crushed tends to be linear and narrow.

      Lastly and most importantly - Big amps are designed to be used in big halls that have big reverberations.

      Not sure how long its been for you since you've seen a band in a huge place or played in one yourself but the echo and reverb of something like a football stadium completely engulfs the guitar tones. You need those clean tones badly. The big Marshall, Ampeg and Fender amps were designed to be used in big places at high volumes unmiced.

      When you needed to be heard you simply connected more amps and you ran cleaner tones so they audience could hear you cut through the fog and clutter reverb creates as it bounces around.

      You don't need nor want to add allot of additional distortion because the rooms reverb consisting of delayed noised IS distortion and you want the clean amp tone to cut through it - Otherwise you wind up being masked by the massive amounts of reverb that bounce around in the room.

      If you were to play in a small absorbent room, that drive essentially does the same thing reverb clutter does in a big room. It masks the notes being played.

      If and when you play on a big stage you need to realize its the reverb that sustains your notes, not the drive. You pick a note and stop short you hear that note trail off for several seconds. Clearer notes have better attack in that environment compared to driven sounds so you naturally back the drive down to hit the sweet spot, the balance between driven and clean.

      You fire that amp back up in a small place with the exact same setting and it sounds completely dry to you yet in that big hall it sounded like you were using all kinds of drive.

      Its a matter of acoustic space working its magic and few musicians if any ever get to experience those really big sounds when they play.
      I can tell you this, if you ever did play a big place like that is puts an unforgettable imprint in your memory you never forget. You'll shoot for that tone and achieve it from then on no matter what size space you play.

      Best thing you can do is find yourself some big hall or even a warehouse where you can setup for awhile so you can plug in and simply wail away playing on a big stage hearing that sound bounce off the walls and come back to you while you tweak your sound. The document your settings and they will be your golden ruler for any place you play.

      Heck even the Beatles got they're big sounds playing at the Cavern Club for years. That basement was all brick and echoed like hell. They matched they're tone and songs to its echo. I never realized that until I went to see Beatle mania at a local auditorium that seated about 5000 people. The groove or the music did something totally magical to the air in that theater. It was the music synced with the echo coming off the back wall, much like a tap echo does except it was a three dimensional effect coming at you from the front and back. Its like standing in the ocean surf with waves coming in and going out at the same time.

      Again, what important was you cant get those great resonances using highly driven sounds. They simply don't have enough dynamic drive to survive traveling across the room and bounding off a wall and coming back to you in one piece. Allot of sound gets absorbed in walls and its the Vocal frequencies and upper midrange tones that guitars produce that survive the best. Anything above is white noise and below is bass boom. When a band has the right tones dialed up, the guitarists are the pool players bounding tones around the room like pool balls. He must be intelligent enough to work those angles effectively and use that echo/reverb to his advantage. You can do very little with overdriven sounds in those conditions.

      Up until the 70's affordable PA's available consisted of Shure Vocal masters and Kuston Tuck and Roll. They produced 100W when maxed out. Shure made a 200W slave head to drive the extra cabs. That's what the Who used when they toured. The PA was only for vocals. That's a total of 300W and it was for vocals only, no miced instruments. heck the loudest speakers made were either 50 or 100W too.

      Woodstock and other festival events began to change how bands performed. They started using bigger PA's and micing instruments more so they didn't need huge monsters just to be heard by audiences.

      In comparison today many local bands use high powered heads in the thousands of watt ratings and the speakers are designed to take hundreds of times the power of what was produced in the past. With the aid of computers to test and design materials speakers can be made to handle thousands of watts as well. You don't need big instrument amps because low cost PA's can easily handle micing an entire bands.

      The choice of which you might use is purely optional. You know what the results of cranking up a monster will be. The rest is simply a matter of what's right for your audience and right for your playing skills. .
      Last edited by WRGKMC; 03-21-2017, 12:40 PM.


      • #4
        Originally posted by 1001gear View Post
        Crunch is just fine for a good many fine guitarista.

        I like crunch and don't own any high gain amps. The tone is in the power tubes , transformer iron and speakers. Too much pre amp gain and it's just sizzle.

        I have been known to drop and OD in front of and amp, but I tend to choose the right amp for the sounds I want. Could be a 5 watt amps, could be a 100 watt amp, could be a Fender, could be a Marshall or something else.

        I saw Mavis Staples last night in concert, featuring Rick Holmstrom on guitar. Rick used a Vox AC30 last night. I have seen him mostly play Fender black face amps. The AC 30 could have been a rental for all know.

        The last amp I grabbed was a Yamaha THRC

        Great little practice and recording amp if you ask me.
        They make one of metal guitarists too.

        I have been using mine at a rehearsal, and sticking a large condenser in front of it.

        They sound like this

        As much as I appreciate Joe Satriani and guitarist like him, I do not play like him or sound like nor do I want too.
        I probably own at least a dozen amps for different tones and jobs, and 30-40 guitars or stringed instruments. lots of Gibson's, lots of Fenders, a few Rickenbacker's, a couple Gretsch's, one PRS, a couple of Godin 5th Aves, have been my choice for my tones and style.

        Just sayin, different strokes for different folks.

        Bought my Marshall JCM 800 combo new in 1983. It's a killer one trick pony.

        Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.

        Join Date: Aug 2001
        Location: N. Adams, MA USA
        Posts as of Jan 10th 2013: 82,617


        • #5
          different definitions of high gain i guess. I use a 2203 with just a boost and and can go between Master of puppets tone to Conan and Weedeater with no problems. There is no way I could use more gain than that.