Monday, March 30, 2015

How to Be A Guitarist on the Internet who's not an Asshole: Part 1 of 7

This is you from the future, should you decide not to heed my warning.
It's March. This is important for two reasons. For one, as an Irish-American who lives in New England, nothing makes me check out harder than the way local mongoloids celebrate St. Patrick's Day. You're fucking Polish. Change out of that leprechaun shit and go home before you vomit green vodka shots all over your ugly face. I hope you flip your car.

Secondly, it's tax season. I got married late last year, so this year's cashwad was substantially larger for me than the last. (Thanks Obama, etc.) Seeing as how I'm a giant man baby who can't do anything responsible with a large sum of money, I decided to embark on the quest for a new ax at my local Guitar Center. Guitar Center, of course, being like the Grand Manbaby Congregation.

I knew from the get go that I wanted something way up there on the quality scale -- but only because I could afford it. Not because I have a playing ability worthy of a proper instrument. I don't. A walrus could shred more accurately with his giant dumb ass flippers than I ever could with my chubby, stiff paws at my highest concentration level. And I'm not even talking about some majestic wild beast of a walrus out in his natural arctic environment vying for dominance amongst his herd. I'm talking about some sickly, depressed, piece of shit Walrus who mucks about all alone in a dirty pool at Sea World in a pile of his own fish-laden filth. That's me. I am the shittier Walrus. 

Goo goo g'joob.

So why did I want to make this sudden leap to an expensive guitar? Because I need to practice. A lot. I wanted something that would guilt me into practicing. Something that would catch my eye every time I walked past it in my apartment. Something of such premium quality, that I couldn't cop out by blaming my piss-poor playing on a piss-poor instrument. What proceeded was weeks of tireless research before my tax refund would arrive. I watched countless YouTube videos, read gear reviews, compared prices, and worst of all, lurked on forums.

I eventually ended up with an outstanding second hand instrument in mint condish for a high, but still outstanding price. Something that came completely out of left field as far as what I was considering, but was still exactly what I was looking for. The internet ultimately ended up being zero help to me whatsoever in this purchase decision. Imagine that...

However, what I did pick up from my tireless nights spent trolling the internet for info on different brands, guitar models, pickups, amps and even strings, was quite simply, that everyone who plays guitar on the internet is a fucking asshole. They make themselves especially apparent the more money there is to be spent on any piece of gear. This is coming from a guy that knows all about being an asshole. But seriously, there is no level of smugness, self-importance and blind arrogance that rivals that of any guitarist on an internet message board or comments section. 

Skeletoes knows.

Are you a guitar player who is on the internet right now? If so, chances are you are an asshole. Chances are, you know this and you're comfortable with it. But if for some reason, you want to change your sphincter-esque ways, here's a couple pieces of advice I've accumulated for you, based on my time spent with your kind:

1. Solid State / Cheap Amp Sims are Freaking Fine.

I'm gonna get this out of the way first, because the great amp gear discussion is probably the most fiercely contended among guitar players of the web. Whether someone should get themselves set up with a cheaper solid state guitar amplifier that works with transistors, versus a traditional guitar amplifier that uses glass tube technology, is a furiously debated subject on the realm of YouTube comments and web forums alike. If someone is trying to showcase his LTD guitar with a valveless Randall on YouTube, sure enough there's gonna be one or two Les Paul-plucking daddy-o's in the comment section blowing this guy up with comments like "Eww, listen to that hiss! Sounds like a fucking tin can! Solid states are TRASH."

Tube amplifiers are constantly lauded by the snobbish purists who play them for having a "warmth" to their tonal range. For maintaining cleaner gains at higher volumes and for being overall, louder more powerful amplifiers. In a lot of cases, sure, this can be true. Tube amplifiers have been considered the standard for many decades, and I secede there's a reason for that. It's easy for people to damn an alternate, cheaper, less traditional technology when you know the old school stuff is gonna give you exactly what you want to hear. Even if the "less traditional" has been a thing since the god damn 70's...

But let's talk some numbers:

This is a video of someone demoing a Diezel VH4, a popular high-gain 100W Tube amp head:

And this is a video of someone demoing an Orange CR120h, a popular high-gain 120W solid state head:

You can easily argue that Fluff definitely knows his stuff when it comes to recording, which is why his tone sounds better, if not at least totally comparable to the Diezel demo with the solid state Orange amp. But that's sort of my complete point. The "drawbacks" in sound when it comes to a solid state amp are really so incredibly minor, (if not imagined) especially if you pick up a good one, that nobody-- nobody -- is going to notice the difference in your amp technology in a solid metal mix. Whether you're recording or playing live, this shit doesn't even remotely matter. If you're a good guitar player and you know how to dial in a solid tone with what you got, no one cares or can tell if you're using the amp with glass bulbs that explode and burn down your house and need to be replaced every six months, versus the amp that uses electronics that aren't only built in Russia.

So what are the prices for these two perfectly good amps? The Diezel Vh4 has a street price of  $4,399.00. (It's not even Diezel's most expensive amp.) The Orange CR120? $449.00

That's right. You can almost buy ten, FUCKING TEN, brand new, perfectly decent SS amp heads for the price you would pay to get just one of these top of the line tube amplifiers. Jesus... To better put that into perspective, for the price of the Diezel, you could buy:

  • The Orange head
  • A 4x12 cabinet. 
  • A solid production guitar. 
  • An Ibanez Tube Screamer (which is a solid state distortion everybody's plugging into their tube amp anyway)
  • Anything else you'd want on your pedal board within reason.
  • A guitar strap 
  • All the cables
  • A hard shell guitar case 
  • New Elixer strings
  • A bag of so many picks, your wife will divorce you after finding them everywhere

-- and still you might have some money left over to get yourself set up with an old clunky work van to drive yourself and your goons to the fucking gig no one will buy your t-shirt at.

Or you could buy the Diezel like a wasteful turd who doesn't know what it means to fill up a fuel tank and a stomach every week. Whether you get Diezel or a Line 6 Spyder, at the end of the day, nobody's gonna buy your t-shirt, pal.

I couldn't even imagine -- just the concept of having five G's right in hand, or sitting comfortably in my bank account building interest; only to be burned all at once on something so frivolous and excessive as a single amp head. I mean, do any of you twats know what it's like to pay rent every month? How are you even willing to blow that kind of money without being a trust fund kid, drug dealer, or Mastodon?

And for what? What is REALLY the big god damn difference in features and tone? Sure, most tube amplifiers are more like 1500, or 2000 dollars in price. Let's consider the wildly popular Peavey 6505 or maybe the Blackstar HTMetal 100H. While both of these amps are over 1,000 bucks, they aren't impossible for a kid to save his allowance for. You can even get cheap Bugera tube amps for about the same money as the Orange I had featured if I wanted to be completely fair here. But solid state amps will always, on average, have much smaller price tags for comparable wattage and -- let's be honest -- comparable sound. Smaller price tags that are really only attributed to them being built with a less expensive technology. Sometimes, the Fender Dads of the net have a hard time discerning the fact that "less expensive" doesn't necessarily equate to "less good". The phrase "you get what you pay for" is an all-time fucking favorite saying among Gibbie Gramps, Fender Dads and too-handsy Carvin Uncles. That's what happens when you think advice when buying a new refrigerator applies to everything else in your boring white suburban life.

I can't stress enough that solid state amps and valve amps don't sound really all that different from one another. Especially if the company producing the amp puts effort into making their solid state stuff sound decent, and not just writing it off as a cheap entry level amp due to cost of production. How do any of these Joe Blow Satrianis on YouTube even know the solid state tech is what's causing the hiss in any video they're lambasting? It could be a bad cable, bad pickups, bad pots, bad soldering, bad wiring in the amp. It's probably just the goddamn webcam mic being used to record everything.

This isn't even my final form.
Real talk, bucko: I've heard tube amps hiss. Have I ever heard tube amps fucking hiss. Like a serpent those things can hiss. I've also heard solid states that sang out like horny angels with clean, crisp brilliance at mega high volumes (and that's on their gain channels.) So pure and simple, no guitar tone is worth $5,000. I'm talking the whole signal chain, here. You're not someone who's willing to save up and spend good money for good tone. You're just an asshole.

As recording music and even performing live turns more and more towards the digital age, amp sim software and equipment is soaring in popularity among many guitarists for its simplicity and versatility. Almost to the point where amp modelling is paving the way as the new standard among professional modern artists. On the higher end side of the concept, you have the Kemper Profiling Amplifier and the Fractal Axe-FX II. Both of these pieces of equipment are pretty pricey at $2000+ and then some if you want to download extra amp packs for them. So when dealing with either of these products in particular, it's real easy to wander right back into asshole territory.

And here we are.
Remember kids, the more money that can be spent on a hobby means the more you find people that care too much; and people that care too much are called assholes. If you ever want to get a load of some assholes arguing with other assholes, then go seek out a flamewar between tubeheads and Axe-FX nerds. Chances are you don't have to look too hard.

But regardless of how much Fractal wants to charge everybody for their fancy computer box with lights, you definitely don't have to drop thousands to get a great sounding amp / effects modelling set up. You'd be amazed with the sort of metal tone you can achieve with sim software/gear you can get on the super cheap. Hell, some dudes are accomplishing metal magic by just plugging their guitar directly into an iPad and using download-for-beans apps like Jamup Pro or Amplitude:

Since this is an iOS app, it can work on your iPhone as well. So with your $200 iPhone that you just have anyway for texting girls that never respond back to you, a $20 iRig cable, and a $10-20 Apple Store app, you can easily achieve professional grade guitar tone for a reasonably solid metal mix.

Personally, when I record stuff or just practice in home, I use a Line 6 Pod Studio UX2. I'm not totally in love with it, but it cost me just $200 for the interface itself (which has ports for instrument cable input as well as XLR jacks for micing in if I ever want to record amps the old fashion way) as well as the included Pod Farm software, loaded with more effects and amp models than I would ever care to use. Does it sound like ass compared to the Kemper, Fractal, or a real tube amp half stack? Maybe, it might. But I can't tell over the deafening background noise of the two grand I fucking saved to sound good enough.

Will the amp modelling path make your guitar tone sound "digital" or "inauthentic", as tube snobs love to claim? Maybe, but even if you were to spend $2500+ on an Axe-FX II, it's capable of simulating very many amp tones and effects pedals (really, really well) that you would need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to own and produce "authentically". So in that concept alone, something like it starts to make a lot more sense. You could even go as far as to argue that it's a bargain. A bargain for the budget-minded asshole.

So in conclusion on this subject: if you go trolling for solid state / tube / amp sim shootouts online, at any price point, you're gonna find that the difference in guitar tone between the technologies is extremely minor. So much so, that your personal preference for one or the other is going to fall completely upon your personal opinion as opposed to the money you spend. You might get the very best authentic old school tone out there by blowing thousands, but what does "the best" matter if most of your guitar playing is done in your bedroom with a pair of gym shorts and your three-wolf moon shirt; or at some dive bar gig where no one can make out your amp's tonal quality over the ringing of their permanent tinnitus anyway?

If people aren't willing to spend their whole retirement fund on minor tonal differences, then don't give them a hard time about it. Instead, ask them for financial advice.  

- Brenocide \,,/

Return Tomorrow for Part 2

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