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The Case of Knowing Your Gear *Warning: Long, Nerdy Post*

August 3, 2016

Over the past couple of days, I’ve had some free time, and so I’ve been putting my gear through its paces. I’ve been testing out guitars through guitar amps, and swapping out different preamps in the process. What I’ve realised is that you can get a vast array of tones just by changing one variable.

For the tests, I just had an SM57 on the centre of the cone, and just wanted to see how much difference in tone I could get from just swapping out one variable at a time. By having the 57 on the centre of the cone, this gave me the brightest tone possible, and was a good starting point to base everything else around. I started out by swapping out mic pres when I had a re-amped signal feeding my Fender Champ. Swapping out the pre alone made a huge difference. I started out with my A-Designs Pacifica, as I’ve found I’ve really been enjoying the sound of this pre on lots of sources recently, but never put it through its paces on guitar. Characteristically, the Champ is chimey, bright and punchy; something you would expect from a Fender amp.

Fender Champ

With a 57 on the centre of the cone through the Pacifica, and the re-amped signal being a Fender Telecaster, this only accentuated the brightness of the amp itself. The Pacifica in itself is quite an open mic pre with a little bit of an extended bottom end. If something’s buried, the Pacifica can really bring things to the top of a mix with ease, and doesn’t particularly get crunchy and gnarly when you push the gain pot a bit. In this case, the Pacifica didn’t work well for an already bright amp. I then moved onto the Great River ME-1NV, somewhat of an opposite direction to the Pacifica. While the Great River gave more bottom end, it still had a clear top. Pushing the mic pre’s input stage and dialling back the output added more lows until it just got crunchy whilst retaining the top end pretty well. The impedance button helped tame the high end a bit, but not overly so. I went to my Hairball Bronze which was quite like the Great River, but not overly heavy on the bottom end, but just extended and somewhat of a shaved top end. Again cranking the input and dialling back the output just got crunchy. Finally, I went for my Warm Audio WA12. By padding the input signal and hitting in the tone button, this added a thick gooey mid range that the other pres didn’t, which really worked well for the chimey Champ and 57 combo.

Amp Maker PP18

I tried a couple of guitars through the Amp Maker. First off, I tried my Les Paul. I think I started off with the Great River, which I found sounded really cool with the input stage dialled back but cranking the output stage. It kind of rounded off the top a bit whilst adding just a little bit of low end presence. Really quite hard to describe, it just sounded really cool. I tried out the Hairball Bronze which didn’t have as much the top end of the Great River, but still a good competitor either way, and sounded really quite similar on this application. The WA12 shaved off the top end a bit too much for the amp and the forward, gooey mid range didn’t really work for an amp that is already accented in that range. Finally, I tried out the Pacifica, which sounded absolutely phenomenal on this setup. The upper mid range presence really brought out the best qualities of the amp and guitar, whilst retaining just enough bottom end to know it’s there. The Amp Maker PP18 is a classic sounding amp, a pretty apparent bottom end with a clear top when you dial in the tone knob. Would definitely work for Rock but would also sound really cool for Punk and Hardcore bands as well.

Jet City JCA22H

Keeping with the Gibson, I thought the Gibson through the Pacifica would be a good starting point. The JCA22H has more of a mid range bark than the Amp Maker PP18, and is definitely more gainy at lower volumes. With the gain on 1.5-2 and the master volume on about a 6-7, the amp had enough gain to rival the Amp Maker. To get the volume, I pushed the master up to a 7-8. Pushing the amp further than this just made the gain overly saturated with no defined string note which was remedied with the presence control on the amp. This amp would definitely be great for modern Rock, Metal, Punk and Pop Punk styles. The Pacifica did pretty well with this amp, although I think the Great River probably would’ve added more of an apparent bottom without sacrificing any of the top end. Turning the bass knob on the amp all the way up didn’t really do what I wanted, and the Pacifica didn’t really add anything to the bottom itself. Playing with my Telecaster through this amp resulted in less gain with more high mid apparent. The 57 through the Pacifica and a Telecaster didn’t really work with this amp, but the Warm Audio WA12 probably would be a good choice to shave off the top slightly whilst thickening up the lower mid range.

Conclusion

I really wanted to get to know my equipment better and what it does. I’ve got a lot of equipment which I’ve never really known what it can and can’t do. It’s incredible how different the tone can be without swapping out a mic, but rather swapping out the mic pre, amp or guitar. By moving the mic a bit too, you’re certainly able to get 80% of the tone you want before reaching for another mic or mixing without the need for more mics. I usually shove a couple of mics on each speaker on a 2×12, aimlessly plug them into my favourite pre at the time and just see what happens. Going through this process has made me more aware of what my gear actually does and will give me a more informed choice when I record stuff in future. Really informative process.

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