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How Guitar Amps Are Voiced

What is tube guitar amp voicing?

The following discussion will dive into the guts of amp design.  However, I’ll embark on this voyage with a promise that you won’t need to open your calculus textbooks to understand what’s going on (you do have calculus textbooks, right?).

First some background.  Amps are filled with various components ... transformers, potentiometers, resistors, capacitors, etc.  In this article we’ll focus on how selecting specific values of resistors and capacitors at specific points in an amp’s circuit change its tone.

Resistor Capacitor 3We don’t need to delve into the details of resistors and capacitors.  All we need to know is that they are individual components that, when connected in various configurations, alter the sound of the electrical signal from your guitar as it passes through them ... basically they can roll off highs or lows or enhance or diminish mids.

Even in a simple tube amp there are multiple points in the circuit where a designer has to make a decision as to exactly what value of resistor and capacitor to use so that the signal passing through the amp will be altered to meet that particular amp’s tone objective.

Read an article about how guitar amps are voiced


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Pedal Friendly Guitar Amps - Myth or Magic?

The term Pedal Friendly is very trendy at the moment. What does it mean? Are certain amps more palatable with pedals? Stay tuned and we'll find out!

Before we dive into this topic, here's a disclaimer: I certainly am not a pedal expert. The following discussion is based solely on my on knowledge of tube amp design and the pedals I personally have shoved in front of them. My plan is to analyze the technical aspects of the ‘pedal friendly' - or PF - phenomenon and see what we can learn. Here goes!

Read an article about what makes a guitar amp effects pedal friendly

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A Biased Look At Power Amps - Find Out What Guitar Amp Fixed and Cathode Bias Really is!

The power amp section of a guitar amp is comprised of the amp's ‘big' tubes and the output transformer. By big tubes I mean those that are typically referred to when describing an amp such as EL84s, 6V6s, EL34s and so on.

Let's look at how they are typically configured, how they are "biased" and, most importantly, how those characteristics affect an amp's tone and feel.

Read an article that explains guitar amp fixed and cathode tube bias

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Why That Amp? Why Do Guitar Players Choose A Particular Guitar Amp?

I watched Clapton's Crossroads Festival 2007 DVD last night. Great players. Great performances. Great sound and video. Great guitar tones.

As I watched each player take the stage and do their thing I began to wonder what it was that caused each of them to choose the particular amp that they were relying on to present their sound to the audience.

We've all heard about players using myriad amps in the studio to craft certain tones for certain parts of certain songs in an effort to satisfy their creative goal. However, in a live setting your rig is it. While some players utilize multiple amps on stage, most plug in and play through one - certainly the players at the Crossroads festival fall into the latter category.

So, what is it about an amp that causes a player to declare "this is it"?

Here are my Top 10 attributes and influences that I believe are key aspects of the decision making process every player goes through on the search for THEIR ultimate amp.

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Effects Loops - What Are They and How Do They Work?


Effects loops are often added to a tube amp.  Almost as often they are either unused or misunderstood.  We'll take a look at how effects loop work, the two different types of effects loops and the pros and cons of each.

Read an article about how effects loops work in a guitar amp

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Cable Wars! Are Boutique Guitar Cables Worth It?


I've always wondered if high-end guitar cables actually improve tone over 'regular' cables.  Cable companies promote the capacitance of their cables as being the key factor in tone quality - the lower the capacitance the better the tone they say.

We'll run some calculations and find out how much of an impact cable capacitance REALLY makes on your tone!

Read an article comparing boutique guitar cables with regular guitar cables

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Tube Tone Crystal Ball: Guitar Amp Trends and Future Predictions!


The accompanying article was first published in the Mack Amps newsletter in December 2008. 

The end of the year is almost upon us and it's time to take stock of what's happening in the tube amp market. Here are my analyses of the most important current trends and what to expect in the future.

Read an article about tube guitar amp trends

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Leo Fender Wins A Grammy - Reflections On Tube Guitar Amp Design


On February 4th, 2009, Vintage Guitar reported that "the Recording Academy will honour Clarence "Leo" Fender with a Technical Grammy Award during a special invitation-only ceremony to be held during Grammy Week on Saturday, February 7th".

I thought that was good news and fair recognition for a man who in many respects revolutionized the guitar industry. It caused me to reflect on Leo's amp design legacy and how, I believe, the tube amp industry hasn't created anything truly new since he and few other early amp designers gave us guitar players what remains to this day the blueprint for desirable tube amp tone.

Read an article about the history of Fender and Marshall amps and how current amp designs compare

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What Do Tubes Sound Like?


Can you tell the difference between EL84s and EL34s?  6V6s vs. 6L6s?

I'm sure you can think of distinctive sounding amps that are synonomous with each tube type.

But, do these amps sound different because of the tubes or the way the amp is designed?

Curious?  Read an article about what tubes sound like and amp design.

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