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Little Amps, Big Sound
Old 19th May 2006
  #1
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deaddeaddead's Avatar
 

Little Amps, Big Sound

i keep hearing things about recording with small amps sounding bigger than if you were to play through, say, two 4x12"s... is this true? is everyone in agreement on this, or it just a rumour? what did i miss? whats the science behind that?
Old 19th May 2006
  #2
Gear Maniac
 

I love little amps. I also have a small room. So a little SPL can go a long way. Too much SPL can take the fun out of getting a good sound. It is different in a bigger room. Plus little amps can open up more (gain wise) than you will with bigger amps.

Jason
Old 19th May 2006
  #3
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vernier's Avatar
Sometimes a small amp will fit better in a mix with its more focused midrange, but not nessesarliy sound bigger.
Old 19th May 2006
  #4
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I don't personally believe in the small amps sound bigger myth. You can make any amp sound as big as you want depending on where you put the microphone and how you control your gain staging all the way from the guitar to the recorder. And most importantly--is there BIG tone coming out of the player's fingers?

What I'm starting to find though is that the relationship of the room size to the size of the amp seems to play a large role in the "size" of the guitar sound being recorded. In other words, small amps tend to sound big in small rooms, and conversely sound small in big rooms. Does anyone else find this to be true? It almost seems that guitar amps like to be played in smaller spaces. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

thanks,
Brad
Old 20th May 2006
  #5
Gear Nut
 

Brad,

I tend to be a close mic'er on amps, so I rarely find that be the case.

HOWEVER, I do certainly find that having an amp on clearly to loud do find that this can inhibit the player quite a bit (usually me!). I tend to back right off when the amp is howling at me, whereas when its quiet (like when DI'ing sometimes) I can play to hard. So for me atleast, getting the right volume for the player is paramount.

As for small amps sounding great... hmmm, Iv never put this to the test. I know someone who swears by his Peavey 5150 combo for massive super gain sounds, not sure if you'd class that as a small amp or not. Maybe not in hindsight, as those fellas can be LOUD!

Tell you what though, I have a couple of tiny practice amps lying around, and may well give them a try. Will be interesting to hear just how they on disc.

TB
Old 20th May 2006
  #6
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I was suprised to hear that some of my favorite earlier recordings were done with smaller amps. Led Zeppelin 1 was mainly a Supro combo. The solo to 'Ramble On' LZ2 was an Ampeg Jet combo. Some of the early Foreigner records were combos. Whoops.........starting to show my age!
Old 20th May 2006
  #7
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I think even if you close mic the room affects the way the amp sounds, especially in the low end. Where you put the amp in the room and how high off the floor seems to be key. When I use an R121, which I often do on guitars, then the tone of the room finds its way into the back of the mic. I still contest that the best guitar recordings I've made have been in the living room of my apartment as opposed to my much bigger and livelier sounding studio even when all other variables have been the same (mic, guitar, amp, player).

I once did a series of tests at my studio where all I did was vary the location of the amp in the room and then change the material that was on the floor (bare concrete, carpet, wood). I found that having the amp face the short direction as opposed to the long one was better and that changing the material on the floor had as much effect on the sound as moving the mic an inch or two.

Brad
Old 20th May 2006
  #8
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Pohaku's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by beechstudio
I was suprised to hear that some of my favorite earlier recordings were done with smaller amps. Led Zeppelin 1 was mainly a Supro combo. The solo to 'Ramble On' LZ2 was an Ampeg Jet combo. Some of the early Foreigner records were combos. Whoops.........starting to show my age!
And Derek and the Dominos with Fender Champs.
Old 20th May 2006
  #9
Gear Addict
 

In my experience, a really loud amp needs a really big room. Too much SPL in a room = tone suckage.

It's a tradeoff: more wattage gives you more headroom within the amp; less wattage is easier to record.

So, if you're having problems recording amps, turn down...or get a bigger room.
Old 20th May 2006
  #10
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From a metal perspective I think that, ultimately, large and small amps can sound equally loud/big. However I tend to prefer the sound of smaller amps. A great website for info on this is http://www.amptone.com/.

As an example I'd like to mention classic 90's deathmetal records like "Left Hand Path" by Entombed and also Dismember's "Like An Everflowing Stream". Very similar production, as they had the same engineer at Sunlight Studios (Entombed's drummer I believe, whom I think also owned the studio), and this sound went on to influence many of the Scandinavian deathmetal bands.

The sound of the Sunlight recordings was very distinctive, and was called "the sunlight sound", which went on to influence quite a few other records in that genre. I always wondered how these records were made. Then, about 10 years ago, I read an interview with the engineer in a magazine (can't remember which one), where he said the secret of the sunlight sound was to record small combo amps! This really blew me away and the info went into long-term memory.

Another example I can give would be the "War of Words" album by Fight (Halford's first solo album after his initial departure from Judas Priest). I recall another interview where someone explained they put a small combo amp on its back, in the middle of the room, firing up toward the ceiling. That record has such a gnarly distortion tone. A classic high-gain metal recording IMO, and not a bad album either.
Old 20th May 2006
  #11
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Small Amps

I prefer smaller amps for recording. Smalls amps work well in small or large rooms. Sometimes large amps work well in large rooms but seldom or never in small rooms. I have also found that moving the amps around to different locations changes the sound and is great fun to get the various tones.

The best investment I ever made in recording electric guitar was to buy a very long speaker cable and equally long mic cable. I park my speaker cabs out of ear shot in far away bedroom, closets, bath rooms, hallways, etc. I listen to the sound on my monitor speakers so I really get a sense of what is working.
Old 20th May 2006
  #12
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad McGowan
I think even if you close mic the room affects the way the amp sounds, especially in the low end. Where you put the amp in the room and how high off the floor seems to be key. When I use an R121, which I often do on guitars, then the tone of the room finds its way into the back of the mic. I still contest that the best guitar recordings I've made have been in the living room of my apartment as opposed to my much bigger and livelier sounding studio even when all other variables have been the same (mic, guitar, amp, player).

I once did a series of tests at my studio where all I did was vary the location of the amp in the room and then change the material that was on the floor (bare concrete, carpet, wood). I found that having the amp face the short direction as opposed to the long one was better and that changing the material on the floor had as much effect on the sound as moving the mic an inch or two.

Brad

Thats interest, what you say about the HEIGHT of the amp. Iv been getting a nasty bass end spike in some of my guitar recordings that I do at home in a small room. Initially I though it might be because the amp was close to a wall, but this didnt solve the problem.

However, I never considered that it might be because the amp was sitting on the deck! So I shall certainly try mounting the amps above ground level.

TB
Old 20th May 2006
  #13
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The small combo

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad McGowan
I don't personally believe in the small amps sound bigger myth. You can make any amp sound as big as you want depending on where you put the microphone and how you control your gain staging all the way from the guitar to the recorder. And most importantly--is there BIG tone coming out of the player's fingers?

What I'm starting to find though is that the relationship of the room size to the size of the amp seems to play a large role in the "size" of the guitar sound being recorded. In other words, small amps tend to sound big in small rooms, and conversely sound small in big rooms. Does anyone else find this to be true? It almost seems that guitar amps like to be played in smaller spaces. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

thanks,
Brad

My experience with Ribbons for cabs is that they do bring the room more into the picture. Also, there is nothing illegal about using a variable condensor mic on fig 8 or omni for bringing more of the room in-- this can be really good or really bad depending on the room and the goal.

I know I'm wandering a bit but another advangage of a openback combo is that you can close mic from behind the speaker in addition to the front---- of course the phase switch must be flipped.

With little combos I tend to be faster to experiment with amp and mic placement-- this opens up worlds of tone and effect possibilities. Hardwood vs carpet floor, tilted back or not, even lying face down and mic'd from the back---- I far and away prefer this approach to changing the character of the sound than using digital effects.
Old 20th May 2006
  #14
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BradM's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bolt Thrower
From a metal perspective I think that, ultimately, large and small amps can sound equally loud/big. However I tend to prefer the sound of smaller amps. A great website for info on this is http://www.amptone.com/.
I don't do much metal recording so I'm very curious--what particular small combo amp would be suitable for metal sounds? Do the metal guys consider a 50 watt 1x12 combo to be a "small" amp? When I think of small I think of 15 watt Fenders or Ampeg 1x10's or 1x12's. And I've never been able to get a metal tone out of either without sticking some kind of metal-sounding distortion pedal in front. And even then it's not the same as a 5150 or similar.

Brad
Old 20th May 2006
  #15
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BradM's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by tee boy
Thats interest, what you say about the HEIGHT of the amp. Iv been getting a nasty bass end spike in some of my guitar recordings that I do at home in a small room. Initially I though it might be because the amp was close to a wall, but this didnt solve the problem.

However, I never considered that it might be because the amp was sitting on the deck! So I shall certainly try mounting the amps above ground level.

TB
Even when you are close miking a speaker the mic is still picking up early reflections off of the floor. And they tend to be nastier sounding when the mic is only a foot above the floor rather than 2 or 3 feet. I typically use an unused cab for a riser and then place one of those Auralex GRAMMA isolators on top before setting the cabinet upon it.

Brad
Old 20th May 2006
  #16
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BradM's Avatar
[QUOTE=midnightsun]
I know I'm wandering a bit but another advangage of a openback combo is that you can close mic from behind the speaker in addition to the front---- of course the phase switch must be flipped.
QUOTE]

This comment made me think of something. I've done the front and back miking thing a number of times on open-back cabs with varying degrees of success. Using two figure 8's for this should minimize the room sound since what is coming in the rear lobes is also being phase reversed and cancelled, right?

Brad
Old 20th May 2006
  #17
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vernier's Avatar
Every amp sounds different, no matter what ..even ones of similar size. And for a 4x12 closed-back sound, you need the right rig.
Old 21st May 2006
  #18
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Bolt Thrower's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad McGowan
I don't do much metal recording so I'm very curious--what particular small combo amp would be suitable for metal sounds? Do the metal guys consider a 50 watt 1x12 combo to be a "small" amp? When I think of small I think of 15 watt Fenders or Ampeg 1x10's or 1x12's. And I've never been able to get a metal tone out of either without sticking some kind of metal-sounding distortion pedal in front. And even then it's not the same as a 5150 or similar.
Well, I'm no expert but here's my understanding:

For the Pantera, 90s ultra-gain sound, it would be something like a solid-state Randall. Or a Pod plugged into the amp (with its amp sim disabled, of course). I should think pretty much anything 50W or less.

For 'true' blackmetal or anything else grim, one could get the distortion from cheap pedals through whatever's on hand (I like an old 80s ProCo Rat). Like a Peavey or something. Or even direct guitar recording, mixed in or pretty much as the entire guitar sound. The idea doesn't have to be about getting the distortion from the amp alone.

What I typically use for solid-state distortion is a Marshall Lead 12. It sounds like a mini JCM800. (Since it has 2 cabs, you can use them in a stereo setup as well.)

I also have a Lexicon Signature 284 that is a 3W stereo rack preamp/poweramp (yes, three watts!). It's surprisingly loud, through even a 4x12 cabinet. A really cool piece, with an excellent EQ and tube effects loop, but it generally needs something extra for metal.

My favorite at the moment is a Bedrock 621 25W tube combo. This thing has some of the most fearsome, savage distortion I've ever heard. You can occasionally find them used for $300-400, though here is a 50W version for the equivalent of US$750.

Amptone advocates a 1/2 watt amp for ideal tube tone at practicing volume. As far as I'm concerned, I'm very happy with the sound of the Bedrock at low volume and have no need to push it. Just for documentation purposes, these other Amptone links talk about guitar recording.
Old 21st May 2006
  #19
Gear Nut
 

I'm not a guitar player but I do have about 12 amps for the studio, from vintage to new, all tube except for 1 and most of them under 50 watts. I think the smaller wattage amps allow the player to push the gain until they obtain that magical balance of sustain, distortion and punch that they like to hear and play to. With a smaller wattage amp this seems to happen well before the room compresses down. Seems to make it easier to mic. I have a Radial JD-7 which will also allow multiple amps played at the same time. Sometimes a combination of a couple amps, say one for the lows and one for the highs, can make a great new sound by the way they are blended. Kind of eq'ing without eq.

I have had some guys come in with large rigs and the volume in the room after they get 'their sound' is extremely loud. There seems to be a point where the amp and the room stop working together and it's harder to mic and harder to please the player. If the band wants that 'bees in a can' sound, well, pull out the pedals. If you are all about tone, ya gotta mic an amp.

This is what I love about real amps. Getting the right combination of player, guitar, amp(s), mic(s), strings!, cables! is a real challenge but the reward is what recording is all about. Amp Farm. Don't need no stinkin'Amp Farm.

David Brown
Old 21st May 2006
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Brown
If the band wants that 'bees in a can' sound, well, pull out the pedals. If you are all about tone, ya gotta mic an amp.

This is what I love about real amps. Getting the right combination of player, guitar, amp(s), mic(s), strings!, cables! is a real challenge but the reward is what recording is all about. Amp Farm. Don't need no stinkin'Amp Farm.

David Brown
"Bees in a can" great expression, never heard it before! Is that origional?
Old 21st May 2006
  #21
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amost's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by deaddeaddead
i keep hearing things about recording with small amps sounding bigger than if you were to play through, say, two 4x12"s... is this true? is everyone in agreement on this, or it just a rumour? what did i miss? whats the science behind that?

Led Zeppelin!
Old 21st May 2006
  #22
One of the things that tweak me out is that a lot of guitar players talk about guitars and amps as though there were only one style of guitar playing.

And -- sure -- if you listen to rock radio, you won't hear much variety, admittedly.


But for those of us who are not trying to jam ourselves into The Big Cookie Cutter, there are actually a wide, almost limitless variety of sounds to be toyed with and explored.


Sometimes, it's a lot easier to get a full, rich, warm sound out of a small amp. Obviously, if you're playing emo, crunch, neodeath metal, etc, that's not really what you're looking for.

But for others, a low-wattage amp can be a valuable tool. It can be driven into saturation at lower acoustic levels (not to mention power consumption/heat dissipation) and, in some low power amp circuits, there is a far wider, continuously variable range of sounds and responsiveness to playing attack than there is with other amps.


It all depends on what you're looking for.
Old 21st May 2006
  #23
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Lexicon Signature 284

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bolt Thrower

I also have a Lexicon Signature 284 that is a 3W stereo rack preamp/poweramp (yes, three watts!). It's surprisingly loud, through even a 4x12 cabinet. A really cool piece, with an excellent EQ and tube effects loop, but it generally needs something extra for metal.
.
This tweaked my intererst and tried to get a price and can't find much. Is it out of production?
Old 21st May 2006
  #24
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Speaker Part of the Formula

I think we all agree that low wattage has many virtues-- also, the choice of speaker is also a huge variable. I love the sound of a speaker just as it crosses over the edge of maximum volume. It seems that they all break up differently and it is here that they really reveal their personalities. Out of my pile off 10" speakers there are two that stand out as my favorites for tone when pushed to the brink-- 10" Jensen that came in my Mini Cat and an old old field coil speaker in some unnamed amp that I think is a Valco.
Old 21st May 2006
  #25
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Walkins Dominator.

www.bluethumbproductions.com
Old 21st May 2006
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by midnightsun
This tweaked my intererst and tried to get a price and can't find much. Is it out of production?
Yes.. They pop up on ebay every so often...I work with a guitar player that has one. IT sounds great. A million tones in that little amp! (It doesn't hurt that he is a really great player!)
Old 21st May 2006
  #27
Quote:
Originally Posted by midnightsun
This tweaked my intererst and tried to get a price and can't find much. Is it out of production?
I have one. They're definitely out of production.

And, yeah, even using only one side to drive a speaker, it's surprisingly loud.


But this gets to the often relatively bogus power ratings on many amps. We're trained to think you need "a lot of watts" to get a given amount of actual loudness by, let's be nice, over-generous output power ratings of some amps.


I pretty much like my Sig 824... it's clean and quiet (of course, there's only so much quiet you can get when you're driving it with a hum-antenna Fender single-coil guitar heh ) and you really can get a very wide range of tones with it. With four tone controls (bass, mid, presence/ treble) you've got quite a bit of variability.

And it's got a usable 'speaker sim' output with a couple options as well.

Couple that with a properly buffered FX loop (some amps don't bother with proper impedance matching) and it's a pretty flexible unit.


That said, I find myself 8 times out of 10 plugging into my pretty noisy Fender Blues Jr 'cause it tends to deliver what I'm looking for, tonewise, a little more on target. But the NOISE from the Fender (particularly the apparently badly impedance mismatched reverb unit which HISSES like all the summer lawns in Joni Mitchell's feverd imagination all at once) is pretty damn bad. It's truly a devil's bargain.


Again -- it ALL depends on the sounds you're trying to get.
Old 22nd May 2006
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by theblue1

That said, I find myself 8 times out of 10 plugging into my pretty noisy Fender Blues Jr 'cause it tends to deliver what I'm looking for, tonewise, a little more on target. But the NOISE from the Fender (particularly the apparently badly impedance mismatched reverb unit which HISSES like all the summer lawns in Joni Mitchell's feverd imagination all at once) is pretty damn bad. It's truly a devil's bargain.


Again -- it ALL depends on the sounds you're trying to get.
Well put. It's all a devils bargain. I have direct options galore that give wonderful, rich tones on a very predicable basis but I find that searching and discovering the "right" tone while mic'ing up a little hot rod amp brings me much more satisfaction and at times frustration. I think that the Blues Jr is a great little amp and had personality. I wish I could justify getting one.
Old 22nd May 2006
  #29
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Quote:
"Bees in a can" great expression, never heard it before! Is that origional?
"Wasp in a jam jar" is an expression i've used for years ...

Most Fender amps are a bitter disappointment for me. We have 240V 50Hz AC in New Zealand, and this seems to bring out the worst of poor, cheap-ass designs such as a stock Blues Junior.

In my view, "small amps" and "small speakers" mean two different things, and can be mixed and matched. You can drive a 4x12 with a 1/2W amp. Or you can drive a 6" speaker with a 100W amp (they sound great just before they catch fire).

I believe there is a reason why small speakers can sound fatter than large speakers. Apparantly the low energy that can't be reproduced by the speaker still has to go somewhere, so it ends up reinforcing the mids. Too much, and the speaker farts out though, which isn't pretty.

Generally - I think you can get a similar tone from a larger speaker by boosting the mids (or cutting highs and lows - same thing). That gets a small speaker sound without using a small speaker that can fart out.

Large wattage amps can mean far too much acoustic and electrical hum. I don't like speaker distortion either, or cabinet rattles. I like to pair a small wattage amp with a high wattage speaker cabinet.

I like feedback assisted sustain, and that seems to be far easier with little amps.

But for clean stuff, it seems you need a high wattage amp for the clean headroom.
Old 22nd May 2006
  #30
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It seems to me that matching the amp size with the room size is important.
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