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What's a good, warm tube amp to buy?
May 18, 2006 1:37 AM   Subscribe

What's a good, warm tube amp to go with a Gibson SG?

I'm planning on buying both a guitar, and an amp head-cabinet combo. I'm pretty set on getting a Gibson SG Special (although if someone wants to convince me otherwise, I will try different guitars in the store).

My question is, if I'm looking for a good, very warm amp that has decent spread and dynamic range (meaning, it should sound just as good mic'ed in a recording studio and at a live performance), what should I go for?

I've had recommendations for: the AD-series Orange amp, Mesa-Boogie vintage amps, etc. There's also Marshall (the JCM2000 series), and the relatively new Waller amps.

Also, how important is the cabinet? Would a standard 4x12 Marshall half-stack suffice, or is this a major player in the overall warmth?

Finally, as far as desired sound, I'm going for versatility. I don't plan on playing anything really distorted, but may be doing some mild overdriving. I want a Counterfit sound (on their less overdriven songs), or something like The Weakerthans - Times Arrow (with more spread). The Botticellis are a good example of the types of sounds I'll be aiming for.

Thanks, and sorry for the long post! I'm trying to be thorough. (I also realize this has sort of been addressed, but not quite what I'm looking for).
posted by spiderskull to Shopping (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you only want overdriven sounds at most then the Mesa Boogie is overkill IMO.

I recommend you try out a Hiwatt or a Cornford amp - the sound and build quality are likely to far exceed anything else you'll encounter.

As far as cabs go, I've gigged loads of different Marshall cabs and they've always done the trick sonically, as well as withstanding abuse.

Having said that, I'm one of those people that believes you can get a decent sound out of most gear as long as it's reasonably well built and you spend a bit of time with it.
posted by chrissyboy at 2:36 AM on May 18, 2006


Gibson/Marshall is my favourite choice for warm, overdriven sounds. Any of the JCM/AVT range will do the trick. Something about the Humbuckers and Marshall valves really clicks. The MG range is cheap, and in my opinion, pretty nasty.

I've been gigging Gibson/Marshall for about 3 years now and it sounds great cranked up live, as it does laying down tracks in the studio. My choice was the AVT range, with an extension speaker - here. It sounds amazing, and I highly reccomend this series.

Still, I would also reccomend playing your chosen combination of guitar and amp at live volume - ie) a good way over half volume, before you part with your well earned cash. Choose a showroom that has soundproofed booths and allow you to get dirty. Don't be afraid of pushing your amp before spending money, after all, if you're gigging regularly, this is the kind of volume you'll be doing most of your work.

E.mail is in the profile if you want anything else, and good luck :D
posted by triv at 5:51 AM on May 18, 2006


One thing you really want to consider is what your primary usage for the amp is. One nice thing about a head/speaker combo is that you don't have to make quite as many compromises. The mistake most people make, in my experience, is getting an amp that is too powerful. Most amps sound best at the upper end of their volume range, and for most amps this is LOUD. A 15w amp is about as loud as a trumpet. For recording, 15w or below is great. For *home* recording, a *ONE* watt amp is about perfect. For gigging, it depends on whether or not you'll be mic'ed. If you're mic'ed a small wattage amp is fine, great even. If you're not, you'll need a little more oomph but still not as much as you might think. I've seen a lot of guys with big marshall stacks at shows being told by the sound guys to turn it down. Way down.

I know a guy who swears by the Pignose 40w amp. I like the Fender Blues deVille (do they still make them?) and Blues Jr (something nice about an amp with as few knobs as possible). I took the blues deville apart and made a head unit for it. To record at home I usually put the body in a closet or some other internal room and mic it, or I run it into an isolation cabinet that I built, and I mic that. I wish I had a quieter amp. I use a power brake sometimes which helps.

I am obsessive about tone and I think good tone is not *easily* acheivable by a guitar and amp out of the box without tweaking. In particular, I skip the preamp on my amp and use a good dedicated preamp. I use EQ before the amp, along with compression, wah, etc, and then I mic and use EQ *after* the amp stage as well, and all time based effects are post-amp also (phaser, flanger, reverb). This, to me, is really, really important. Pre and post-amp EQ are so crucial and it's pretty much impossible without micing. amptone.com is a great resource but it's very jumbled and takes time to sort through.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:43 AM on May 18, 2006


Can't give you any advice about amps - I am also currently swimming in that mire of choice. However, if you want warm, I'd definitely suggest checking out a Gibson Les Paul. The Special version (really just the normal one without binding on the neck) is generally around £750 and I would say is much warmer than the crunchy SG.
posted by pollystark at 6:50 AM on May 18, 2006


I don't know guitar tone well enough say, but I have received positive comments from SG fans who've heard my L6-S, and I sure like how it sounds.
posted by cortex at 7:08 AM on May 18, 2006


I am obsessive about tone and I think good tone is not *easily* acheivable by a guitar and amp out of the box without tweaking. In particular, I skip the preamp on my amp and use a good dedicated preamp. I use EQ before the amp, along with compression, wah, etc, and then I mic and use EQ *after* the amp stage as well, and all time based effects are post-amp also (phaser, flanger, reverb). This, to me, is really, really important. Pre and post-amp EQ are so crucial and it's pretty much impossible without micing. amptone.com is a great resource but it's very jumbled and takes time to sort through.

This sounds like an awful lot of shit-polishing. Have you considered trying out a few different guitar amps or guitars? You should be able to get the tone you want right there without multiple eq stages. If you can't, it's probably a matter of mic placement. You can do more moving a mic around than you could with eq, in my opinion.

Anyway, to get back on track. Have you considered a MusicMan? My band and I are in love with ours. Also, consider getting a 2x12 cabinet. Easier to get it around, and the other speakers are quite unnecessary. Any club that isn't micing your guitar is probably small enough to use a 2x12.
posted by jon_kill at 7:32 AM on May 18, 2006


I'm also a nut about guitar tone. The following is just my opinion.

For the tones you want, the right amp is the Mesa Maverick, which they've recently rebadged under the name "Lone Star Special." Fabulous warmth on the rhythm channel with the ability to do some light drive on the lead channel. (This has nothing to do with the typical amp people think of when they think Mesa/Boogie, which is why someone above made a dismissive comment.)

The cabinet doesn't matter, but the speaker cones in the cab matter a lot. If warmth means crisp, clear high end to you, you want Celestion Vintage 30's; if you would rather have a deep midrange that enveloped you in velvet tone, you want Celestion Alnico Blues. (My Maverick had one of each. It was perfect.)

The Gibson SG Special is a nice guitar, but Gibson's anti-compete antics and price-jacking have alienated a lot of players over the last few years. You wind up paying quite a bit of money - like maybe an extra $1000 - for the Gibson name on the headstock and for the privilege of buying from a Gibson-authorized outlet.

If *I* were dropping that kind of cash on a fixed-tailpiece two-humbucker guitar, I'd buy a PRS McCarty instead - and, in fact, I did. Better pickups, better craftsmanship, better tone, overall a better instrument.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:51 AM on May 18, 2006


1) You don't need a 4X12. Period. If you get one, you'll likely never get the amp to sound the way you want, unless you get a tiny 15w amp or similar to run through it.

2) Dr. Z amps win. Best tone I've ever heard, hands down. Orange are nice, but overpriced and overrated. Mesa are good, but the older ones are better and you have to be careful not to get one that sounds thin. Marshall's legendary amps are the ones that they haven't made in decades. The new ones are ok, I guess, but you're not likely to find a pro with good tone who uses a new Marshall -- it's all old ones.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:03 AM on May 18, 2006


Take a look at ToneKing.

Disclosure: The owner/designer is a friend of mine.

He takes his amps very seriously. He is a perfectionist. His customers appear quite pleased with their amps.
posted by gearspring at 9:07 AM on May 18, 2006


If budget is an issue, you might look at Carvin amps. I've been very happy with my Carvin MTS-3212 combo (with an extra 2x12 cab), but that might be more distortion than you're looking for in the lead channel. The clean channel is beautiful though-- very clear and powerful. They make some "vintage" amps that may be more up your alley at a very good price.

I'd also second looking at a 15-30 watt combo instead of a 4x12 half stack-- I'm in a very loud punk band, and even I don't always need all the volume I get out of my amp. It doesn't sound like you need those kind of decibels, and you'll get a better sound driving a smaller amp harder.
posted by InfidelZombie at 9:33 AM on May 18, 2006


EQ before and after distortion is extremely key to getting the distortion voicing you want. Even though the original poster wants mostly clean sounds, everything that goes through a tube amp is distorted somewhat. EQ before the tube amp stage selects which frequencies will be most affected and how much. Post eq is mostly to compensate. You'll often see post-eqs that are near the oppose of pre-amp eqs.

When people shop around for amps and guitars I think they are actually often shopping around for items that have built in equalization that is close to what they like. Every guitar and every amp have an inherent bias towards some frequencies and away from others, and cabinets doubly so. Personally I think it makes more sense to get decent equipment that is less expensive, stick with it, and use cheap/easy tools (EQ and power attenuators) to get what I want.

I have a very hard time describing to people what I mean. The folks at amptone.com do a better job, but it's still something some people have to try to get a feel for. I think amptone probably has some mp3s.

Mic placement, by the way, is a type of crude EQ in and of itself, due to the proximity effect that many types of microphones have (the closer a sound source is to the microphone, the more low frequencies are emphasized. It's how radio announcers get nice deep warm voices)
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:48 AM on May 18, 2006


Mic placement, by the way, is a type of crude EQ in and of itself, due to the proximity effect that many types of microphones have...

That's the case for condenser mics but not for solonoid dynamic mics, though, yes? As often as not, I see folks recording guitar with a SM57 or some such as with a condenser mic, in which case the proximity effect is not really an issue.
posted by cortex at 10:01 AM on May 18, 2006


I'll be honest and say I don't remember which kind of mics for sure that you get proximity effect with, but I thought it was all or most directional mics. The SM57 is a dynamic mic, but it's also cardiod (uni-directional). So, I don't know. I'll look when I get home.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:23 AM on May 18, 2006


Mic placement, by the way, is a type of crude EQ in and of itself

Less crude than two outboard equalizers. It's not just proximity effect, otherwise there would be just two placements that would make any difference. Sharper tones occur near the center of the cone, mellower tones near the rim of the cone. Off-axis and on-axis also makes a difference. Combinations of mics also make a difference, as long as you check your phasing.

I'd rather spend two minutes futzing with a microphone than subject my signal to the attenuation and phasing problems that any outboard equalizer would introduce, not to mention signal loss.

Spiderskull, I'm glad you're buying an amp depending on the music you want to play with it. Keep this in mind, as well: I find that you can only have one "good" tone per song. All the other tones have to sound "bad". If that effects your choice any...
posted by jon_kill at 10:46 AM on May 18, 2006


Mic placement, by the way, is a type of crude EQ in and of itself, due to the proximity effect that many types of microphones have (the closer a sound source is to the microphone, the more low frequencies are emphasized. It's how radio announcers get nice deep warm voices)

dividing the speed of sound by the distance between the mic and the sound source gives you the frequency that will be boosted, and half that number is the frequency that will be cut. through phasing, with multiple mics you can do rather extensive subtractive and additive EQing with just a couple extra mics on the amp.

and radio announcers get that deep velvety voice by using an Electro Voice RE20 Mic, which was originally intended for kick drums and has a natural low-end boost, and gives the voice plenty of time and room to wrap around and hit the back of the diaphram giving it some natural delay time.
posted by gally99 at 12:05 PM on May 18, 2006


I play a Gibson LP standard through a Marshall JCM2000 DSL 401, and it gets a really great Jimmy Pagey distorted sound, although I think the common wisdom is that Marshalls have nicer distorted sounds than clean ones. I like the 401 though. It's 40 Watts, gets good tones at reasonable volumes, and is easy to transport.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:40 PM on May 18, 2006


This is great -- exactly what I was looking for. I really want to try out new gear, rather than the typical Gibson/Marshall combination. Thanks everyone!
posted by spiderskull at 4:08 PM on May 18, 2006


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