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VOL. 3
Build your own rotary speaker, replace your output
transformer, must-know shopping advice on bass-amp
power sections from Ashdown’s Mark Gooday, and more.

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DIY: ROTARY SPEAKER!
Dig those head-spinning tones?
Here’s a step-by-step guide for making
your own Leslie-inspired cabinet.
BY YOEL KREISLER

T
he Leslie speaker was originally “Max’s Tune” by the Jeff Beck Group, and
designed and voiced for the “Any Colour You Like” (Wembley 1974)
Hammond organ, and almost no by Pink Floyd for some excellent examples
Hammond organist worth his salt will of rotary-speaker guitar tones.
be seen traveling or playing without one. Leslie speakers operate on a principal
We associate the sound of the Leslie called the Doppler effect. This is a physical
with the Hammond so much that when phenomenon that describes the change in
plugging a guitar into a Leslie, a listening frequency as an object changes position
layman would most likely say, “Wow! relative to a sound source. As a sound
Your guitar kinda sounds like an organ!” source gets closer to you, it will increase
The frequencies of the speakers and the in pitch and volume, and the opposite
design of the cabinet were geared for will happen as it moves further away. The
the Hammond organ, so while plugging Leslie speaker operates on this principal on
a guitar into it sounds really beautiful, a relatively small scale, making the effect
it makes the guitar take on organ-like more subtle then a moving ambulance
characteristics. This has been used to great siren, but all the more beautiful. I always
effect by many guitarists throughout the wondered if the Doppler effect could be
years. The Leslie appears on classic tracks applied specifically to the guitar. What
by Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Stevie would happen if a rotating speaker device
Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, George Harrison, was designed from the ground up for
and countless others who used the our 6-string weapon of choice? Could it
seductive sounds of spinning speakers to maintain and embellish the frequencies of
add a unique touch to their tracks. Check our instrument while giving that beautiful,
out “Cold Shot” by Stevie Ray Vaughan, room-filling, three-dimensional effect?

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Fig. 1
Other than the vintage Fender Vibratone
and scant offerings from Hammond-Suzuki
and Motion Sound—some guitarists
might also recall the elusive Mesa Boogie
Revolver—nothing really scratched my
itch. So, ever a believer in the DIY spirit, I
decided to build one.
In approaching this project, my
philosophy was to lighten and simplify
the original Leslie design as much as
possible, fine-tuning it to the guitar
while maintaining a tight budget and not
compromising on tone or function in any
way. This was a tall order, and I had to that’s suspended above the speaker. As the
rethink the Leslie design from square one. I cylinder spins, its cutaway pushes sound
came up with a simple 12” standard guitar through “windows” cut into the three walls
speaker firing upward, with a rotating and rear panel. As the sound passes from
Styrofoam baffle mounted to a motor one window to another, we hear the shifting
above it. The Styrofoam would have a tones created by the Doppler effect.
sizeable chunk cut out of one of the sides, Okay—now that you have all your
so the sound could only travel through the materials listed and collected, let’s get
open part. The open part spins, therefore started! For this project, I enlisted the
shooting the sound around and around to assistance of a professional woodworker to
create the Doppler effect. To keep things help build the cabinet while I directed him.
simple, I decided to make this speaker (Special thanks to Robert and Monique
cabinet passive, except for the power at Woodworking Specialists in Tucson,
required to run the motor. So it operates Arizona, for helping me out and putting
like a basic 2x12 or 4x12 cab, and you can up with my incessant photography.)
use your favorite guitar amp to power this Note: The wood I used for this cabinet
little beast. is pre-finished furniture-grade 9-ply
Fig. 1 shows a CAD drawing of the Baltic birch, so I did not need to finish
cabinet. In this view, the removable the cabinet. If you are using non-finished
rear panel is detached and we’re looking wood, apply your favorite stain or finish
through the back of the cabinet. You can before mounting any of the electronic
see the upward-firing speaker mounted components. Follow the instructions on
on a board that’s permanently attached to the can to get the best results.
three walls. The motor, which is fastened Before you start cutting any wood, study
to the roof, rotates the Styrofoam cylinder the following three drawings to get a visual

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2 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
Fig. 3

Fig. 2 Fig. 4

Fig. 5
sense of where we’re headed. Fig. 2 shows Part 1: Assembling the Cabinet
the cabinet dimensions, and Fig. 3 shows Step 1. Start by measuring and cutting
the measurement for the four window out the first three 24”x18” Baltic birch
cutouts. Fig. 4 shows the speaker mount pieces—the cab’s front and sides—using a
and its cutout; I’ll explain how I arrived table saw or jigsaw. Make sure you follow
at the speaker cutout measurements in a the old woodworker’s creed: “Measure
moment—its precise diameter depends on twice, cut once.”
the speaker you’ve selected for this project. Step 2. Now measure and cut out

Here’s a list of the materials you’ll need:

Cabinet Miscellaneous
• Three 24"x18" pieces of 9-ply Baltic birch • 7' of red/black 16 AWG zip cord hook-up wire
(the main walls) • 3'x3' sheet of grille cloth of your choice
• One 24"x17" piece of 9-ply Baltic birch (the • One IEC panel-mount power jack
removable rear panel) • Four lipped metal cabinet corners
• One 18"x18" piece of 9-ply Baltic birch (the • Four 3-leg metal cabinet corners
roof) • Pack of wood screws that fit your speaker-
• One 17.5"x15.5" piece of 9-ply Baltic birch mounting bracket holes
(the speaker mount) • Pack of 1 1/4" round-head wood screws (for
• Three 12 1/2" wooden slats (front and side removable rear panel)
supports for under • Bolts and screws that match your motor
the speaker mount) mount
• Two 15" slats (to attach removable door) • Handle (optional)
• Rubber amp feet (optional)
Motor Assembly
• One brushless DC motor with mounting You’ll also need the following tools:
hardware • Drill with full set of bits of all sizes
• One 13"x13"x9" round Styrofoam cake • Jigsaw with wood-cutting saw blades
dummy • Palm or orbital sander
• One DC Power adapter (rated for motor • Wood compass
voltage) • Soldering iron and rosin core electrical solder
• One 3' or 6' extension cord • Hot knife (or razor blade or fine-tooth
• One Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) DC motor hacksaw)
speed controller unit • Multiple sheets of 180 and 220 grit
• One piece of scrap wood (can be flat block or sandpaper
disc) • Leveling tool
• Hammer
• Staple gun with 3/8" staples
Speaker Assembly • Wood glue (I recommend Elmer’s or Titebond)
• One 12" guitar speaker of your choice • Wood clamps
• One panel-mount mono 1/4" jack • Aluminum straight edge ruler
• Measuring tape
• Wood putty and putty knife
• Optional access to a table saw

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4 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
the 24”x17” Baltic birch piece (the rear board and find its center. Before you
panel), followed by the 18”x18” roof and begin cutting, measure the flange of your
17.5”x15.5” speaker mount. 12” speaker and then subtract the flange
When you’re done, you’ll have six pieces measurement from 12. (In my case, the
of wood that form the cabinet (Fig. 5). flange was 3/4”, so I was left with 11 1/4”
Step 3. Now we need to cut matching or 11.25” for the speaker cutout.)
windows into the front, sides, and Divide that number in half (5.625”
removable rear panel. Use your table saw or 5 5/8” for my speaker) and you have
or jigsaw, and make sure to follow the your radius. Using a compass, measure
measurements shown in Fig. 3. out that radius from the midpoint of the
Note: The 13”x9.5” window cutout is 17.5”x15.5” speaker mount, and then
illustrated on one of our three 24”x18” carefully draw a circle.
pieces, and on these, the cutout is inset Step 6. Using a router or drill bit, drill a
2.5” from the top and sides. We want the pilot hole near the edge of the circle. Then
identical 13” width for the window on the from that hole, carefully cut the circle with
24”x17” rear panel; this requires a 2” inset your jigsaw (Fig. 7). After that, sand the
from the sides of that narrower rear panel. cutout edges smooth.
(The top inset remains 2.5”.) Step 7. Now we’re going to attach the
Fig. 6 shows the three matching front
and side panels, and the rear panel (far
left)—all with identical window cutouts.
Step 4. With your sander, work the edges
of each panel until they are smooth to the
touch. If you over-sawed a little on the
windows, consider filling up the corners
with wood putty so it looks neat.
Step 5. Grab the 17.5”x15.5” speaker

Fig. 6 Fig. 7

slats to support the speaker mount to the


three 24”x18” pieces. Measure 2” down
from the window of one of these pieces
and apply a stripe or two of wood glue on
the wall—not on the slat itself. Next, affix
the slat to the wall (Fig. 8), making sure
the slat is perfectly level.
Do this to all three 24”x18” pieces, and

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while a friend holds the speaker mount and
side piece together (Fig. 10). Let the glue
dry enough that you can carefully lay the
front wall on a flat surface with the speaker
mount pointing up. Then let the glue dry
on this perpendicular construction.
Step 9. Put a stripe of glue on the top

Fig. 8
be sure to measure each slat’s location to
confirm they’re identical. If you want extra
strength, add four staples to each slat.
Step 8. Once the glue has dried, it’s
time to begin installing the speaker mount
to the front and side walls. Take one of
your 24”x18” pieces, place it upright, Fig. 10
and put a stripe of glue on the top of the
support slat (Fig. 9). This becomes the of the speaker board support slat on your
front of the cabinet. second 24”x18” piece. This becomes a side
wall. Repeat this step for the third 24”x18”
piece—the other side wall. While the glue
is still wet on these two support slats, return
to the front wall with its speaker board, and
run a stripe of glue along the interior where
the edge of each side wall will join the

Fig. 9

Then place the 17.5”x15.5” speaker


board on top of the support slat. To make
sure the cabinet walls end up being flush
with each other, take two pieces of scrap
Fig. 11
Baltic birch and place them on the sides

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Fig. 12 Fig. 13

front (Fig. 11). any rough edges (Fig. 14). Do a loose “test
Now clamp the side walls to the main fit” to make sure everything squares up.
wall, so you have three 24”x18” pieces Congrats—we now have a 24” tall box
joined together, as in Fig. 12. The speaker with four sides—the front and sides are
mount is glued to three support slats on the permanently glued together and the rear
front and slides, and the front edge of each panel is currently unattached.
side is glued to the front wall. Wipe away Step 12. This is a good time to drill
any excess glue and let the frame dry. pilot holes for the wood screws that will
Step 10. Now it’s time to install the
support slats for the removable rear panel.
Turn the box on its side, measure 1/2” (or
the thickness of your wood) in from the
edge of the open back, and then glue one
of the 15” rear panel slats onto the side
wall, as shown in Fig. 13. When the glue
is sufficiently dry, turn the box over on its
other side and repeat this process, making
sure both slats are positioned identically.
Let the glue fully dry on these rear panel Fig. 14
support slats.
Step 11. Though we won’t attach the ultimately secure the removable rear panel
removable rear panel or roof quite yet, this to the side walls. The screws will run
is a good time to go over the edges of the vertically along the very back of the side
roof and box corners with sandpaper or walls, passing through them to penetrate
a sander. Stand the box up, press the rear the left and right edges of the rear panel.
panel up against its support slats, position With the box standing up on your
the 18”x18” roof on top, and smooth out workbench, pick a side, and pencil in

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8 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
marks for three screw holes. At 1/4” in
from the side’s back edge (or one half the
thickness of the rear panel), make three
marks at 6” intervals (6”, 12”, and 18”).
Repeat this on the other side.

Part 2: Installing the Speaker


Step 13. After the glue holding your box
together has dried and cured (this can take
anywhere from 24 to 72 hours, depending Fig. 15
on your glue), you can now install the
speaker. Place your speaker in the hole and edge across diagonal corners, draw a line,
screw it into the mount. and then repeat the process with the other
Step 14. Once the speaker is screwed in, two corners.
test it to make sure it works. Using copper Place your motor with the mounting
alligator clips, attach some speaker wire hardware in the middle of the “X,” and
to the speaker terminals and a mono jack. then verify it’s in the precise middle by
Grab a speaker cable, and plug in any old making sure each side of the motor is
guitar amp with a speaker output rated for equidistant from the edge. Finally, mark
your speaker, turn on the amp, and strum a the mounting holes with a pencil.
few chords. If things sound right, it’s time Step 17. Find a drill bit that’s slightly
to move on. smaller than the mounting hardware
screws, drill through the marked holes
Part 3: Building the Motor Assembly
from top to bottom, and then screw in the
Step 15. Now we cut a hole in the
mounting hardware. Once all three screws
Styrofoam baffle (Fig. 15). If you are using
are in, flip the roof over so the threads are
a hot knife, be sure to work in a well-
facing up towards you. Put your motor
ventilated area. If you don’t have a hot
on the screws and make sure each screw
knife, a good utility knife or hacksaw will
goes through each mounting hole. Drop a
work too. The width and depth of the hole
washer, nut, and lock washer (in that order)
will affect how the Doppler effect sounds
that fits your mounting hardware onto each
in your rotary cabinet. To ensure burly
screw (Fig. 16).
shifting tones, I cut a medium-sized hole
Step 18. Now verify that the motor is
that was both deep and high.
level by placing your leveling tool on top
Step 16. Now it’s time to mount the
of it as best you can. After you’ve tightened
motor. On your 18”x18” piece of Baltic
the mounting screws, check again with
birch—the roof— create an “X” using a
your leveler to make sure you didn’t bend
straight edge and pencil. Place the straight

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3 9


Fig. 16 Fig. 17

anything out of shape. Glue the wood piece to the Styrofoam


Step 19. Now comes one of the most (Fig. 17). Using a nail or some other
important steps in the entire assembly— rod-like object that loosely fits in the
making sure you properly mount the wood piece’s hole, probe around very
baffle. If the Styrofoam is not mounted lightly until you find the hole you drilled
exactly in the center, at higher speeds it will in the Styrofoam. Once you locate it, let
wobble all over the place and shake the the nail stay there for a short while to
entire cabinet. Take plenty of time and be prevent the glue from leaking and drying
very calculated in your approach. To find in either hole. Pull the nail out after
the center, use the “chord” method. There’s about 10 minutes and confirm there’s no
an excellent tutorial for this on YouTube, glue inside the holes. Let the glue dry for
under the search term “How to Find the 24 to 48 hours.
Center of a Circle,” by Tomahawk DIY. Step 22. After your baffle has had time to
Step 20. Once you’ve found the baffle’s dry, mount it onto your motor shaft (Fig.
center point, drill the hole for the motor 18). Make sure it’s as straight as possible
shaft. Find a bit that’s a few sizes smaller by using your leveling tool. Remember, the
than the shaft, so when it comes time to amount of clearance or space between your
mount the baffle, it’ll fit snugly. Drill into baffle and speaker will alter the intensity of
the midpoint of the Styrofoam baffle. the effect. I placed my baffle fairly close to
Step 21. Take your scrap wood and find the speaker.
its center. If you can, I recommend using a
circular piece since that’ll help with rotary Part 4: Electronics and Finishing Touches
balance. If it’s a circle, find the midpoint Step 23. In the 24”x17” rear panel, drill a
on the piece of wood by repeating Step 19, hole just large enough for the speaker jack.
and if it’s a square piece, find the midpoint Step 24. Before you attach the jack,
by repeating Step 16. measure out a 3’ length of wire. Solder

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10 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
MINUS THE BEAR
“It’s no secret I’m a massive PRS lover. VOIDS was
recorded almost entirely on my McCarty Goldtop and
Custom 24. The S2 series guitars are great weapons
live for me. They’re light but retain all the great tone
of the other models, and I especially love the look
and shape of the Mira”. - Dave Knudson
© 2017 PRS Guitars / photo by Marc Quigley

www.prsguitars.com

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3 11


down to where the power will be. I cut mine
to 5 1/2’, because I like to have a lot of wiggle
room to work with. Strip the wires and
solder them to the motor. Use heat shrink
or electrical tape to prevent the positive and
negative wires from making an unwanted
connection. Then, using your staple gun,
staple the wire taut all the way to the edge of
the roof so your baffle doesn’t hit it when it
spins (Fig. 20).
Fig. 18
Step 26. Once you finish stapling, it’s
the positive to the tip and the negative to time to install the IEC power jack. Measure
the sleeve (Fig. 19). Now mount the jack.
If you position it above the plane of the
speaker board, also drill a 1/4” hole in the
board so the speaker wires can snake up
through it.
Note: If soldering is a challenge,
read “Soldering 101: A Step-by-Step

Fig. 20

its dimensions, then cut a matching hole


in the rear panel using your jigsaw. After
checking that it fits flush onto the door,
mount it to the rear panel.
Step 27. To wire the IEC jack, cut off the
Fig. 19 receptacle side of your 3’ or 6’ extension
cord, and then separate the two wires and
Guide” in the November 2014 issue of strip them. AC current has no polarity, so
Premier Guitar, which can be found at it doesn’t matter which wire you solder to
premierguitar.com. which terminal, as long as it’s the upper
Step 25. Now we need to give the motor two terminals, as shown in Fig. 21. Solder
power. Cut another length of wire, keeping the wires to the terminals.
in mind this will need to run from the top of Step 28. To cut the grille cloth, measure
the enclosure where the motor is all the way the length and width of your windows.

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12 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
Sound Judgment

If you’ve trudged through this wilderness of wood, wires, speakers, and Styrofoam, you’ve come
to the final and most critical question: How does this DIY rotary speaker sound? I recorded two
stereo clips that can be found on the PG website, so I’ll let you be the judge of that.
These are the signal paths for both samples. The clean sample is a Strat loaded with David
Allen Echoes pickups plugged into a Ceriatone OTS Mini 20, and an Origin Effects Cali76
Compact Deluxe compressor into the DIY cab. The dirty sample is the same Strat loaded with
Echoes, the Ceriatone OTS Mini 20, and a Gurus Amps SexyDrive MkII into the DIY cab.

Fig. 21 Fig. 23
Take note of that measurement, and then Step 29. Pull the cloth taut over each
add an inch or so to both numbers, since window and staple the corners (Fig. 23),
you want a bit of overhang. Cut it to size making sure the fabric is tight.
with a utility knife—one piece for each Step 30. Slip the baffle off the motor
wall, four in total (Fig. 22). shaft and put it aside. Place the roof on
top of the box and staple the dangling
motor wires to the nearest side wall. Make
sure they’re far out of the way of the rotor
baffle, and then push the baffle back onto
the motor shaft.
Step 31. Position the rear panel and screw
it to the sides. Screw the four 3-leg metal
corners around the top, as in Fig. 24. These
3-leg corners secure the top to the cabinet
walls. Now screw the four lipped metal
Fig. 22 corners to the bottom of the cabinet, and

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like inside the cab—just keep everything
clear of the rotating baffle.
Step 33. If your PWM controller came
with a speed control pot, test it to make
sure it works, drill a hole in the front of the
cabinet, push the pot through, and mount it.
Step 34. Now find your handle, center
it, and screw it into place. Make sure you
bend it upwards slightly before installing it,
Fig. 24 so your hand will have room to grab it.
Just like that, you have now finished
then add rubber amp feet (optional). your very own rotary speaker cabinet! Plug
Step 32. Now it’s time to hook up it into your favorite amp’s speaker output,
your electronics, following the easy and then plug in the IEC power cable.
wiring diagram in Fig. 25. The red line Turn on the unit, set the speed where you
represents the positive and the black line like it, and fire away!
represents the negative wires of both the
motor and power supply. Once you’ve Author Yoel Kreisler welcomes any questions
wired everything up, you can organize or feedback. You can reach him at
the power supply and wires any way you YKreislerPG@gmail.com.

Fig. 25

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DISCOVER THE LEGEND

After recording eleven studio albums this is the first


non-vintage amplifier I’ve been able to record with.
It has a pure natural sound that is classic.
- Lenny Kravitz
Black Magick Head

Black Magick Combo w/ 1x15 Cab

SuproUSA.com
Photo by Mathieu Bitton
BEEF. IT’S WATT’S
FOR DINNER
Buying a bass amp? Nothing’s more confusing—nor more
critical—than understanding power classes and wattage
specs. Here, we demystify the lingo and gross math to help
you find the right amp for your needs.
BY MARK GOODAY AND DAVE GREEN

T
here are two main types of bass
amplifiers on the market today:
tube (or “valve” for us Britons)
and so-called “solid-state” designs. But
despite the seeming simplicity here, the

Illustration by Laura Kottke.


everyday reality of finding the right bass
amp for your needs is much trickier than
you’d expect. For starters, although tube
circuits have been around for decades,
many bassists still don’t really understand
them. But recent advances in solid-state
technology have even greater potential to
be confusing. In this article we’re going to
demystify one of the most important areas
of amp design that even many experienced
bassists don’t adequately grasp—power-amp
types and their associated power ratings.
The reason we’re focusing on these
is because amplifying beefy bass
frequencies—moving all that air and
thumping listeners’ chests—requires far
more power than a guitarist needs to

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16 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
wail on a 6-string. And once you’ve got a Fig. 1
deeper understanding of how to ascertain
the true power capabilities of an amp, the
better you’ll be able to navigate the sea of
marketing-speak and tech talk surrounding Fig. 2
amps large and small.
In order to dive deep on these two topics,
though, we need to discuss a few aural
and electrical basics first. To some our
conversation might feel pretty complicated
in parts, but I promise that if you stick Fig. 3
with me through the tech talk, I’ll tie
it all together so you’ll walk away with
newfound clarity and practical knowledge
that’ll save you a lot of money, time, and Fig. 4
hassle in the long run. In fact, you might
find yourself asking, “How come no one
ever explained all this before?”

The Science of Sonics


A bass note is sounded when a string
anchored at two fixed points, the fret (or in their instrument, and the resulting sine
nut) and the bridge, is plucked. The note wave we hear is a combination of those
produced by the resulting vibrations is harmonics that looks similar to Fig. 4.
called the fundamental frequency (see Fig. AC Meets DC, and Watts Are Born
1). If it were possible to pluck exactly in Now let’s briefly look at some power
the center of the string, the wave produced fundamentals. A battery such as the 9V
would be a sine wave (Fig. 2). Practically units used in effects pedals produces
speaking, it’s virtually impossible to pluck direct current (DC). The electricity from
the string exactly in the middle, and DC sources is under pressure to flow
as a result harmonics—predominantly continuously like water from a tap. The
second, but also fourth and sixth—are also unit of measure for this pressure is volts
produced (Fig. 3). This is a wonderful (V), and the rate of the flow is measured
thing, though, because these harmonics are in amperes (A). When we multiply V x A,
responsible for the rich, unique tones we we get Watts (W)—the unit of measure for
all love. Each instrument and player in a the power being used.
band produces a differing set of tones via However, things aren’t quite so simple
the unique harmonic properties inherent when the current flows back and forth

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 1 17


like the alternating current (AC) from a to a smooth, steady direct current. This
wall socket. The waveform for AC current steady stream of power must then be
should look like that produced by the regulated by an electronic “tap.” In a
vibrating string in Fig. 2. Another equation tube amp, the tubes function as the tap
calculates the power contained within this regulating the flow. In a solid-state amp,
alternating waveform—averaging it over it’s transistors.
time—in order to relate it directly to DC As your bass string vibrates over the
current. The equation involves a bunch of pickup (which is, in fact, a tiny generator),
dual-axis chart graphing and square-root an electrical waveform is produced and
stuff that most players have no interest then fed to the amplifier, where it is made
in. The resulting values from this more larger and used to turn the transistors or
complicated math are designated RMS (for tubes on and off in a matching way so as
“root-mean square”), and with these RMS to produce a larger version of the bass-note
values the same V x A = W equation we waveform. In order to respond quickly to
used for DC current now holds true for notes you might play at any moment, the
AC: V (RMS) x A (RMS) = Watts (Avg). tubes or transistors in your amp are always
Watts (Avg) is often incorrectly referred turned on slightly—like a car engine
to as “RMS power,” “RMS watts,” or idling, ready to take off when you press
“watts RMS.” However, the RMS value of the accelerator. The rate of this idling state
the power waveform is different from the is known as the bias setting in tube amps.
average power value (22 percent higher for Transistor amps also have bias, though it
a sine-wave signal), and therefore should usually isn’t adjustable. We’ll talk more
not be used. The correct term specified about bias later.
by the Federal Trade Commission is You’ll recall that we said amps send DC
continuous average power. Continuous to power the electronic taps. But if the
average power ratings are a staple of stream of current is steady regardless of
performance specifications for audio how much gets used up amplifying a signal
amplifiers and, sometimes, loudspeakers. at any given moment, what happens to
the power not being used? The answer, my
Basic Amp Operation low-end-loving friends, is why moderate-
Now let’s look at how amplifiers work. and high-powered bass amps these days
Amps need the pressure (volts) of the AC have cooling fans and/or heat sinks: The
power from the wall socket adjusted in excess current is turned into heat that must
order to make it suitable for use with your be dissipated in order to prevent damage to
bass and speakers. This is usually done by the circuit. This is how conventional linear
means of a transformer or a switch-mode amplifiers operate, and there are two basic
power supply (SMPS). The transformer types of these: class A and class B. (There
and SMPS also convert alternating current are also sub classes such as class AB.)

premierguitar.com
18 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 1
Class A and B vs. Class D handling the positive half, and the other The weight of
a traditional
Let’s look at linear amps a little closer. In the negative half. This setup makes class-B amplifier, like
the one shown
the sine wave in Fig. 2 we can see that the amps far more efficient, with greater here, comes
wave has a central point, which is known output potential. However, as the wave largely from
its massive
as the X axis. Graphically speaking, this crosses the zero point and the positive half transformer—
corresponds to the position of the string turns off and the negative half turns on, the circular
object on
at rest. The wave goes positive first, then there has to be a slight overlap between the left. The
negative, then returns to rest before the two sides to avoid breaks in the output amp’s discrete
components
beginning its next cycle. To amplify this (sound). This is where the aforementioned on the circuit
we need a central point about which bias setting comes into play, ensuring that boards make it
easy to repair
to cycle the electrical equivalent of this both sets are turned on slightly all the by a qualified
tech. In this
wave. In a pure class-A tube or solid-state time. In a class-AB amp, the bias is set type of amp,
amplifier, this central point is half of the higher than a class-B amp, making the excess current
is turned into
available volts. The tubes or transistors overlap between the two halves larger. heat and then
then turn more on or off to produce the In recent years, a third amplifier type— dissipated
by heat sinks
amplified wave, which means the tubes or class D—has become increasingly popular, (right) or a fan.
transistors process all of the signal, all of thanks to its small size, light weight,
the time—there are no breaks, joints, or extreme efficiency, and affordability. In
delays in the signal. It remains as sonically class-D amps, the transistors turn full
pure as possible. Fig. 2
In a class-B tube or solid-state amp,
the center point is at zero volts, and
two supplies are used—one positive and
one negative. In such a case, two sets of
tubes or transistors are used, with one set

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3 19


Our conversation might feel pretty complicated in parts,
but … you might find yourself asking, “How come no
one ever explained all this before?”

on or full off very fast—up to 500,000 invented or brought back from obscurity.
times per second—positive on then off, To be blunt, the only reason I can see for
negative on then off, and so on. Without some of this is to fool consumers who can’t
getting too deep into electrical stuff, make sense of all the technical terminology
let’s just say that class-D amps are more and to make products sound more
efficient because the sound from the powerful than they actually are. These
instrument is used to control the length other rating types include burst power,
of time transistors in the power section peak music power output (PMPO), and
are on or off. Because of this greater fast pulse power before clipping (FFP).
efficiency, class-D amps generate far less To measure an amplifier’s power, we
heat than class-A and class-B amps. But feed a sine wave (Fig. 2) into the front
they are not without their problems. The of the amp, connect a load of the correct
output must be filtered to get rid of the impedance to the output, and turn it up.
switching noises, and extensive protection Maximum output is reached when the top
mechanisms are needed to prevent or bottom of the waveform starts to flatten
damage to the power supply, speakers, out, a phenomenon known as clipping.
and other parts due to overheating or The output is then measured and noted.
power overload. If a class-D amp does get Now let’s look at how output ratings
overloaded or overheats, power will switch are listed on some products currently for
off for 5–10 seconds and then reset. sale on the market. (We aren’t disclosing
makes or models, because the point here
How to Make Sense of Power Ratings is to make sense of all those numbers,
Okay, folks, we’re getting closer and closer terms, and acronyms.) If an amp is listed
to the crux of our power conversation. as having “continuous power output of
Remember when we talked about 500 watts RMS into 4 ohms at 1% THD,”
continuous power output? For a very long it means that, at the point of clipping, the
time that was the most widely accepted amp can produce 500 watts of electrical
basis for amplifier power ratings, because it power on a sustained, continuous basis.
has a direct correlation to real-world needs. Those two words—“sustained” and
However, over the last few years myriad “continuous”—are key because they
other power-rating formulas have been indicate a stamina that is crucial to certain

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20 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
musical situations. That’s a good thing, Most class-D bass amps today use small
and here’s why: The waveform we’ve been power modules designed for general
looking at so far depict steady-state waves, music reproduction—not low-frequency-
but when you’re playing bass it’s not just heavy bass—and they are rated using this
one steady note with no dynamics. There’s 1/8th-power system rather than the more
a larger peak at the onset of the note robust continuous average power rating.
when the string is plucked, followed by Here’s part of the power specifications for
the decay as the string ceases vibrating. a bass amp using a typical class-D power
Fig. 5 looks more like the waveforms in module:
composite music reproduction, where
there are peaks due to loud sounds (such Key Specifications:
as drum beats) and lower sounds (like
vocals and backing instruments). • 300W at 1% THD+N, 4Ohm
• Full power bandwidth (20Hz – 20
Fig. 5 kHz)
• 113dBA dynamic range (300W,
4Ohm)
• THD+N = 0.005% (1W, 4Ohm)

An amp with these specs will be marketed


as a 300-watt amplifier. But what the
specs don’t tell you is that this class-D
amp module can only sustain 300 watts of
output for a maximum of 27–60 seconds!
This is more or less the norm for all class-D
modules, and it’s perfectly acceptable for,
In 1959 the British tube manufacturer say, playing MP3s of your favorite band.
Mullard noted in its Circuits for Audio But if we go back to Mullard’s average
Amplifiers guide that the average continuous continuous formula and calculate backward,
output power required for general music we find that only 1/8th of those 300
reproduction (e.g., a recording of a band) watts—about 38 watts—is continuously
was approximately an eighth of continuous available. This rather optimistic math is
power at full volume if the transients (large used as justification for selling what’s really a
peaks in the waveform caused by sudden, 60-watt amp as a 300-watt.
loud signals) were to remain unclipped.
This is a power rating system that has reared Know Your Needs
its ugly head again recently, especially with Despite what I’ve just said, I want to make
regard to lightweight class-D amplifiers. it clear that I’m not saying class-D amps

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3 21


can’t sound good and perform well for The situation changes somewhat for
bass players. But whether they’re right for players who use compressors, because
you does depend on what you play, how compressors remove the large transients
you play, and what other gear you use. For and elevate the decaying note so that the
example, if you’re a slap player who uses resultant wave more closely resembles
the bass as more of a percussive instrument a continuous waveform. The more
(like Mark King of Level 42, for example), compression, the more continuous the
the waveform going from your bass to your waveform gets (Fig. 4). And the higher
amp will be very similar to general music average volumes that compressors and
waveforms. It’ll have a series of large peaks limiters promote require more amplification
(transients) and a lower average power power for a longer period of time. Throw
demand. That means serious output power in some pedals, perhaps a sub-harmonic
is not required for any length of time. This generator or an oscillator, and the problem
is more or less perfect territory for the is compounded even more.
typical class-D amp. Some manufacturers of class-D amps have
started to address this problem by fitting
extra heat sinks and cooling fans to the
power modules in an attempt to push the
continuous power ratings higher, prevent
thermal shutdown, and make the modules
more suitable for musical-instrument
amplification. But there is still some
The weight of
a traditional distance to go in this regard.
amplifier, like Another crucial thing to remember
the one shown
here, comes when buying a bass amp is that frequency
largely from response is intimately connected to power
its massive
transformer— ratings. In a tube amp, the lowest frequency
the circular
object on
that can be reproduced is determined by
the left. The the size of the output transformer and its
amp’s discrete
components
ability to transfer the low frequencies to the
on the circuit speaker. It’s usually around 30 Hz. In solid-
boards make it
easy to repair state linear amps (class A, B, AB, etc.), the
by a qualified low frequency that can be reproduced is
tech. In this
type of amp, approximately 20 Hz—the lowest frequency
excess current humans can hear. But some class-D
is turned into
heat and then amplifier manufacturers limit the lowest
dissipated
by heat sinks
frequencies to around 60 or 70 Hz to use
(right) or a fan. less of the already-low continuous power

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22 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
and make the amp sound louder. The result Worst-Case Scenarios
is usually an amp that sounds boxy and has Bass amps from reputable makers
no real low-end substance. should be reliable if you treat them
Similarly, it’s critical to consider how properly. However power sections do die
an amp will react to being overloaded by, sometimes, and here is where another big
say, stepping on an external boost or fuzz difference between amp types emerges.
pedal, or by cranking the gain and volume Tube amps usually blow tubes, which is
to max. Whether this is a big deal to you no big deal: You buy some more, plug
will depend largely on the genre of music them in, maybe have a tech re-bias them,
you play. Tube amps tend to growl and and enjoy months or years of great tone.
snarl in a way that can be very pleasing. It’s easy, simple, and not too expensive.
For rock bassists, nothing comes close This is why hundreds, maybe thousands,
to the sound of a good tube amp at full of old tube amps are still being used
bore. Traditional linear class-A and class-B onstage and in the studio decades after
transistor bass amplifiers also tolerate they were built.
quite a bit of overloading, although most Traditional class-A or class-B transistor
players don’t find the distortion to be as power amps are also usually very easy
pleasing as tube distortion. to repair. Parts are available from most
Because of this greater efficiency, class-D electronic suppliers, and a good tech can
amps generate far less heat than class-A diagnose and fix the problem at reasonable
and class-B amps. But they are not cost by replacing only the parts that have
without their problems. blown up.
Class-D amps, on the other hand, do The power modules in class-D amps,
not tend to react well to overloading due however, usually cannot be repaired. If
to built-in protection mechanisms. Under the power section fails, paying a tech to
slight overload the amp will limit or replace the power module will cost about
cut the output momentarily, and under half as much as the complete amplifier. In
heavier overload the output gets switched these cases, most players will opt for a new
off completely for a few seconds. The amp instead. This represents a total loss
leading manufacturer of OEM class-D to the customer, and is also bad for the
modules has fitted the latest models with environment because the surface-mount
soft clipping in an attempt to solve this circuit boards in most of these amps are
problem, but there is some distance to go hard to recycle into anything useful. Then
before the problem is solved. However, there is the second-hand value to consider:
if the style of music you play is less A lot of musicians primarily raise funds
likely to result in overload situations (for for new purchases by selling old gear.
instance jazz or fusion), this may be less Tube amps seem to go up in value as they
of a concern. get older. Traditional heavyweight linear

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3 23


amplifiers also do well, largely because
their low repair costs mean if you buy a
duffer it can be fixed without breaking

Now with the bank. Sadly, many modern lightweight


class-D amps with surface-mount modules

3
that cannot be repaired have almost no
residual second-hand value.

Armed and Dangerous

Transcriptions We’ve covered some pretty heady territory


here, but now that you have a better
understanding of power-amp types and
in Every Issue! their power ratings—one of the most
mysterious and significant areas of amp
design—you’ll be able to make your next
Get $10 Off amp purchase much more confidently.
It’s worth noting that almost all the big
Subscriptions with code: bands and pro musicians use old-school,
PG10OFF heavyweight tube or solid-state amps, and
the particulars we’ve discussed here are a
huge reason why. But like I said, class-D
amps can be solid performers. Just be sure
Subscribe Now to pay attention to the fine print. If you’re
interested in a lightweight class-D unit,
be sure to select the right output power. If
a 200-watt tube or traditional solid-state
amp would meet your power needs, double
that and get a 400-watt class-D amp to be
safe—it won’t weigh much more.
There are a lot of very good amplifiers
out there—tried-and-true designs that
are still in production after many years,
as well as modern heavy and lightweight
designs from outfits new and old. So
try as many as you can, don’t rush into
anything, and buy the best that you can
afford. Happy hunting!

premierguitar.com
24 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
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premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR -TECH21NYC.COM
DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3 25
Why and How to Replace Your
Amplifier’s Output Transformer
BY TIM SCHROEDER

I
am often asked how upgrading an
amplifier’s transformers will improve
tone. It’s a simple enough question, but
the answer is a little complex. First off, let’s
examine what an output transformer is and
why someone would inquire about replacing
it. Then we’ll get to some things to consider
when replacing your amp’s transformer.
The output transformer in a push-pull
guitar amplifier is the last stage of the audio
path before getting to a speaker—it’s one
of the large blocks of metal mounted to the quality and tone. Because transformers
amp chassis (or speaker, as is sometimes seen are the most expensive component of
in older amps). The transformer’s function an amplifier, it is common for amp
is to convert the high-voltage/low-current manufacturers to cut costs on the size
signal from the amplifier’s power tubes and quality of them. A large transformer
into a low-voltage/high-current signal to simply has more iron, so not only are the
power the speakers at a low impedance. It material costs higher, the weight of heavier
is responsible for how efficiently the audio transformer will affect a manufacturer’s
power of an amp will transfer to the load shipping costs.
of the speakers, and it prevents hundreds of In regards to tone and how an output
volts (DC) from passing to the speakers. transformer affects it, it’s my opinion
There are different reasons why a that an output transformer does not
person would want to change their output change an amp’s character. A new
transformer—the most obvious being a transformer will not change an amp’s
blown or damaged unit. This can happen DNA or make a Marshall sound like a
when an amp is operated without a proper Vox. After all, an amplifier’s tone is the
load, such as not having a speaker plugged sum of all of its parts—tubes, capacitors,
into the amp or driving a different speaker wiring, speakers, etc. If you were to run
impedance than the one the output clean water through an old, dirty water
transformer is looking for. Another reason filter, you would ruin what the water had
to replace a transformer is to upgrade to offer before being filtered. It would

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26 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
still be water, but changed in a way that
detracted from what it could have been.
The output transformer plays a very large
role, but is not everything in shaping
an amp’s tone. Upgrading it takes what
the amp already is, and then enhances
it. Physically larger output transformers
generally sound larger, since they have a
larger window for tone to flow through.
Tone is usually clearer, fuller and truer.
If upgrading or replacing your amp’s
output transformer is in your plans, there
are a few things to consider. First, and
most importantly, the amp should be
unplugged, all tubes should be removed,
and all voltages in the amp should
be fully discharged. There are lethal
voltages inside an amplifier, so do not
service your amp if you don’t know
how to properly discharge all voltage.
Secondly, be aware of the different
mounting styles of transformers.
There are three basic mounting styles:
vertical, horizontal, and flat. Vertically
mounted transformers sit taller than replacing is not an exact replica. In such
they are wide, with the laminates in cases, it will be necessary to carefully
a vertical position and the end bells mark and drill new mounting holes into
positioned perpendicular to the chassis. the amp’s chassis.
Horizontally-mounted transformers are Finally, make sure the replacement
still a vertical mount, but are tipped on transformer will physically fit on the
their sides and are wider than they are chassis and in the cabinet it’s going
tall. Transformers that are mounted flat into. It is easy to forget the size of the
have the laminates facing horizontal, speaker and its affect on the space left
and the bell ends are stacked vertically. in the cabinet. Measure twice to avoid
One should also note if the transformer disappointment!
is a two-hole or four-hole mount, and It is very important to note the wiring
that the mounting holes will not line of the old output transformer. I often
up exactly if the transformer you are clip the old transformer leads and leave a

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3 27


little bit of the old wire so I can see the take care of this issue. It is a good idea to
color and location of the original. Keep use a variac to ramp the amp’s voltage up
in mind that green or black is not always gradually, going easy on the new output
ground, and that manufacturers often use transformer’s maiden voyage. When
different colors for the ground. A new the amp is running at full-voltage, you
replacement transformer should come should then turn the amp off, reinstall the
with a schematic, so pay careful attention tubes, turn it back on, and double-check
to it and note the proper wiring. the power tube bias. The new output
With the new transformer installed transformer will need to break-in over
and all wiring and solder joints double- time, but all that’s left now is enjoying
checked, it’s time to turn on the amp. your amplifier’s improved tone!
Before doing so, be sure to turn all pots Remember that an amplifier’s tone is
all the way down. If the primary leads on the sum of all of its parts. The output
the transformer are reversed—a simple transformer is one very important part
mistake to make—the amp will produce a that easily gets overlooked and often
loud squeal. And if the volume were to be suffers from cost-cutting-minded amp
up with this squeal, it would scare the life builders. So experiment! After all, your
out of anyone. A simple swapping of the amp is your voice, so why not make it
leads going to the power tube plates will the best voice it can be?

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28 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3 29
THE RECORDING GUITARIST

The Recording Guitarist: Mic Makes Right


BY JOE GORE

Mark the
center and 1
edge of your
speaker
with bits of
painter’s tape.

R ecording guitars is an awful lot like playing


them: You can learn the
basics in a ridiculously short time, but still
feel like a dunce after decades of practice.
I’ve worn the studio dunce cap more often
Close-miking is more idiot-
proof, and it permits the
than I care to admit. But I’ve been privileged most options when mixing.
to record with some of the world’s greatest
producers and engineers, and to interview with producer/guitarist/genius guy Daniel
hundreds more. In this new recording Lanois about analog sound vs. digital.
column I’ll be sharing techniques I’ve pilfered At one point he stopped mid-sentence.
from them, plus some I’ve blundered into “Look,” he said, indicating two very rare
on my own. We’ll cover electric and acoustic and expensive microphones hanging nearby.
… analog and digital … guitar-specific “The difference between analog and digital
techniques and general studio skills. is only a fraction of the difference between
But please help make this a conversation, that mic and that one.”
not a lecture. Share your experiences, hurl Yup, mic selection and placement are
comments and questions, request topics, and big deals. There are no “right” answers,
(pretty please!) divulge your secret tricks. no surefire formulas—solutions are always
I like mic. Let’s start with guitar amp contextual. But it’s helpful to learn how
miking techniques. I recall a conversation microphones tend to behave around speakers.

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30 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
THE RECORDING GUITARIST

Photo 2:
2 3 Position 1
yields a bright
sound with
some low-
end thump.
Positions 2
and 3 are
progressively
darker-
sounding.

Photo 3:
If the tone is
a bit too
Placement = EQ. You get the brightest, 2.) Next, move the mic about eight inches “woofy,” back
the mic off
most present sound with the mic aimed from the speaker, and record center, middle, eight inches
directly into the speaker’s dust cap (the little and edge examples (positions 4, 5, and 6, as or so. Again,
dome at the center). The sound gets darker/ seen in Pic 3). closer to the
center means
warmer as you move toward the cone’s edge. (In multi-speaker cabinets, one speaker more treble.
It doesn’t matter whether you move right, left, may sound superior, so listen up close. I don’t
up, or down—further from the center means need to warn you about loud levels and ear
less treble bite. damage, do I? Keep it quiet.)
The distance between grille cloth and mic
also matters. A very close mic provides more
low-end thump. Want more oomph? Move
the mic closer. Too dark and wooly? Back it
off. Beyond eight inches or so you start to
pick up a lot of room sound. That can be a
great thing (and a future topic). But close-
miking is more idiot-proof, and it permits the
most options when mixing. Listen back to your recordings. The
Between “center vs. edge” and “near drastic tone changes from position to
vs. far,” you have a powerful 2-band tone position may astonish you. Small mic
control—and equalization of this type is movements yield dramatic variations.
invariably more organic-sounding than EQ Check out these examples, recorded with
applied after recording. an old Strat, a Magnatone Super Fifty-
Mic check. Try this: Mark the center Seven amp, and an SM57.
and edge of one of your speakers with bits Mic position can sculpt tones to suit
of painters’ tape. (If you can’t discern the the song, or compensate for gear that
dust cap, shine a penlight into the grille.) doesn’t sound quite right as-is. Remember,
Stick one tab dead center and another at the though, that the tone you prefer in
speaker’s edge. [Pic. 1.] isolation might not feel right in a mix.
Record some guitar snippets, keeping the Example: Here are three of the previous
mic very close to the grille. Start with the clips, heard this time in a full track.
mic at the center, then midway between tape Which do you think works best? Bright
marks, then at the speaker’s edge. (Let’s call position 1? Warm position 3? Or brighter,
these positions 1, 2, and 3, as shown in Pic thinner position 4?

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3 31


A micro-guide to mics. Here’s the expand your collection.
world’s shortest description of mic Things get more complicated when you
properties—don’t blink or you’ll miss it. start blending mics—a topic we’ll take up
Dynamic mics (examples: Shure SM57 next month. One little teaser: The same
and SM58, Sennheiser MD 421, Electro- old clip, tracked through a dynamic 57
Voice RE20) tend to provide crisp sounds and a ribbon 121, with the two tracks
with strong presence and impact, though panned in stereo. Dig how the phasing
they can be brittle at times. Condenser between tracks conspires with the (mono)
mics (examples: most Neumanns, the amp vibrato to generate a head-spinning
various AKG-C414 models) tend to sound stereo field.
smoother and less colored, if sometimes Okay, one last mic story: I got to
less exciting. Ribbon mics usually sound eavesdrop in the studio while the Chili
warm and smooth, with relatively soft Peppers were working on One Hot
highs (though Royer ribbon mics, such Minute. Then-guitarist Dave Navarro
as the R-121, combine the treble snap of was overdubbing guitars, but the engineer
a dynamic with the warmth of a an old- wasn’t satisfied with the sound.
school ribbon). “Throw a 414 on there,” suggested Dave.
Here’s that clip again, heard through an The engineer squinted through the glass
SM57 dynamic, a Neumann TLM 103 into the tracking room. “That is a 414.”
condenser, and an R-121 ribbon. Agree “Wow,” said Dave. “I had no idea there
with my descriptions? actually was such a thing as a 414! I just
The mic you have. Chances are you’ll blurt that out when someone wants to
only have the luxury of agonizing over mic change a sound because engineers always
choice if you’re lucky enough to work in say shit like that. You learn something
studio with a well-stocked mic locker. We every day.”
regular Joes and Josephinas toiling at home Dave’s deadpan humor makes it hard to
just go with what we’ve got. For many know when he’s kidding, though I’m pretty
that’s an SM57, because you can score one sure he was. But the “learn something every
for less than $100. (There’s no shame in day” part? No joke!
the 57—countless classic performances So what are some of your hard-won lessons
were recorded with one.) It’s a fine first about microphones and electric guitars? Send
mic, and one you’ll keep using even if you them to joegore@premierguitar.com.

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32 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
The Recording Guitarist: Two Mics Are
(Sometimes) Better than One
BY JOE GORE

T
his month we’ll see how blending A. Center position, 1” from grille
sound from two mics can add color B. Center position, 45 degree angle,
and distinction to an electric guitar 1” from grille
recording—or ruin it. C. Midway to speaker edge,
But first, a few clips inspired by reader 1” from grille
comments. I recorded last month’s audio D. Midway to speaker edge,
examples with the mic’s element aimed 3” from grille
directly at the grille, just at varying
positions on the near/far and center/edge No surprise that clip B sounds darker than
axes. But several folks mentioned orienting clip A—the element points away from the
the mic at a bias—say, at a 45 degree angle bright speaker center. Now compare clip B
relative to the grille. How does that alter to clip C, where the element is aimed to the
the tone? same spot, but with its barrel perpendicular
Hear for yourself: I recorded an audio to the grille. Clip C has a touch more low-
clip four ways (Pic. 1) through a end warmth. That’s the proximity effect—
Shure SM57. the mic’s tendency to pump up lows when
positioned close. The mic is a couple of
inches further from the grille in clip D,
nixing some of the proximity effect and
producing something quite similar to clip B.
Angling a close mic in relation to the grille
slightly lessens the proximity effect, which
sometimes yields clearer tones.
Key point: Angling the mic reduces
proximity effect. (It probably makes total
Angling a close
mic in relation
to the grille
slightly lessens
the proximity
effect, which
sometimes
yields clearer
tones.

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3 33


geometric sense if, unlike me, you know Positioning a second mic at varying
your ass from your hypotenuse.) The distances from a close mic emphasizes
technique is especially useful for minimizing different frequencies while attenuating others.
leakage on live stages or when tracking Double trouble. Whenever you blend
multiple instruments. mics, phasing comes into play, because
The birth of big. There’s a great illicitly the sound reaches each mic at a slightly
circulated Led Zeppelin studio outtake different time (see Pic. 2). Like a phase
(sadly not on the official Outtakes shifter pedal, which combines your dry
collection). While Jimmy Page plays the signal with a slightly delayed signal, some
“Heartbreaker” solo, we hear an engineer frequencies resonate more strongly while
bringing up two mics. First is a close mic, others are cancelled. The result can add
dry and claustrophobic. Then we hear a cool texture and dimension, or just make
spooky, resonant room mic. Then we hear parts sound thin and diffuse.
the two together, slightly panned in stereo. I recorded a quick clean-toned example
It’s like witnessing the birth of modern rock with the SM57 right on the speaker, with a
guitar tone, but without messy placentas Neumann TLM 103 condenser alongside,
and stuff. and then at increasing distances from
Jimmy Page realized that the emotional the amp. In the audio clips, you hear the
impact of a riff wasn’t merely about the 57 alone for six seconds before the 103
player’s notes and guitar tone—space itself switches on. It’s dramatic!
could impart majesty and mystery. Which sounds best? To my ear, none
Exploitation of ambient space is a big of the blends sound as good as a single
part of Zeppelin’s magic. Jimmy Page close mic. My vintage Strat tone is
realized that the emotional impact of a already “phasy” sounding. The cancelled
riff wasn’t merely about the player’s notes
and guitar tone—space itself could impart
majesty and mystery.
But before you set up 47 mics, consider
this: Each new mic adds something, but
takes something else away.
Positioning
a second mic
at varying
distances from
a close mic
emphasizes
different
frequencies
while
attenuating
others.

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34 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
frequencies overemphasize this quality,
while the added ones just sound sloppy.
It’s tricky to predict the results of mic
blends—you must experiment. For that
reason, engineers often record via several
mics, but wait till the mix to decide
which sources to use. Yet the technique
can be more than hit-and-miss. For
example, I got to visit Metallica in the
studio when they were tracking the
“Black Album.” Producer Bob Rock
had erected a low tunnel of drop cloths
extending many feet in front of one of
James Hetfield’s amps. He explained
that the tunnel was tuned to emphasize
“one particularly prominent frequency”
in James’s tone. (Bob clammed up real
fast when I asked which frequency, but I
assume he referred to either the 77.8 Hz of
James’s low Eb, or 139 Hz an octave above.)
Rate your room. Evaluate the sound
of your room before laboring to capture
it. Hetfield and Rock were working in a a bright, aggressive edge to rock tracks. A bathroom’s
reflective
fine studio. Pagey recorded in spacious Toilet tone. You may already have a surfaces can
lends a bright,
rooms and spooky old castles. But if you’re great guitar chamber: your bathroom. aggressive
working in a crappy-sounding bedroom or Reflective porcelain and tile can add a edge to
rock tracks.
garage, your best bet may be to close-mic tough, resonant edge, especially to rough-
and add artificial ambience later. hewn rock parts.
But before surrendering to an I recorded another set of two-mic tones,
uninspiring room, search for its hidden close-miking a Marshall 18-watt clone in
sweet spots. Have a friend play your guitar the shower with a Royer R-121 ribbon
(or ReAmp one of your parts) as you mic, adding the 103 condenser at varying
wander around, listening for lively spots.
Get down on all fours. Crawl around.
Bark like a dog. (Well, the barking might
not help.) You may be shocked by how
much better certain spots sound.
A bathroom’s reflective surfaces can lends

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distances (Pic 3). Here I feel the second C, the condenser mic is behind the open-
mic does improve things, adding texture backed amp. (This thumping tone can
and depth to a potentially generic crunch bulk up a track, though you usually need
tone. (The clips feature the close mic, to reverse the phase of one track when mics
then the far mic, and then both.) face each other.)
All clips so far feature roughly equal
mono blends. Adjusting relative levels,
panning positions, and dynamic processing
adds infinitely more wrinkles. I recorded
a few more variations: In clip A, the
panning morphs from mono to maximum
stereo back to a modest spread. (Does one
particular position sound best?) In clip B In short, multiple mics can summon
I apply extreme compression to the room magic or misery. So let’s hear about your
mic, a common technique. And for clip magical/miserable recording experiences!

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36 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
Tube Talk
BY PETER THORN

As an electric guitarist, you likely love


tubes. But you probably hate them too!
PETER THORN’S
The magic bounce, compression, and
“NEW PRODUCTION” TUBE PICKS
grind that tubes produce form the tonal
foundation for almost every great electric EL34: I use and recommend JJ EL34s. They
have good tone and are fairly reliable. I also
guitarist—past and present. Yet with so like the GT-EL34M.
much confusion and misinformation, tubes
6L6: I run TAD 6L6GC-STR tubes in my ’66
can be a daunting subject for even the most Fender Bassman. It’s a very nice tube.
experienced guitarists.
Tubes can and do wear out and fail, which 6V6: I use the JJ 6V6 in my Jim Kelley Reverb
head. They are known as one of the best
can wreak havoc on your gigs and sessions. sounding and most robust 6V6 tubes.
I'll attempt to shed some light on these
EL84: JJ EL84s have good tone, although they
mysterious glass bottles and offer some tips are somewhat spotty when it comes to reli-
on how to keep your amp rocking when you ability. Sovtek EL84s provide decent tone and
are quite reliable.
run into tube-related issues. But remember,
I’m not an amp tech: This advice comes 12AX7: I mainly use 12AX7s made in China,
solely from my experience as a player. though I like the Sovtek 12AX7LPS in the
phase inverter position on some amps. The JJ
Tube types. First, let’s look at some ECC83 is useful for taming overly bright amps.
different types of tubes. Most tube amps
need multiple preamp tubes to perform
various functions. And most use 12AX7 for their signature midrange crunch, while
(aka ECC83) preamp tubes. Other amps the Vox AC30 uses EL84 tubes. EL84s are
use 12AU7 or 12AT7 tubes, which are low-power tubes that quickly compress and
similar to the 12AX7 but have lower gain. distort. That’s part of their tonal signature,
When it comes to power tubes, many and guitarists from Brian May to the Edge
U.S. amp companies (Fender and Mesa/ have created a number of epic tones using
Boogie, for example) use either 6L6s or amps with EL84 tubes.
6V6s. The 6L6 is known for having full, Most of the electronics world moved
round, and clear tone that stays big and from tubes to transistors in the late
clear even when pushed. Though 6V6 tubes 1960s, and the tube market shrank
share some tonal similarities with 6L6s dramatically. The only remaining folks
when run clean, 6V6s will break up sooner who really needed tubes were audiophiles
and tend to grind more when pushed. and musicians. Most aficionados would
Marshall amps are famous for using EL34s probably agree that the best tubes were

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3 37


Having an
extra matched
set of tubes
can be a
gig-saver if
you have an
unexpected
tube failure.
The numbers
on the base
of this JJ EL34
represent
the matching
measurements.

made from the 1950s to the 1980s by a couple of choice NOS preamp tubes to
Mullard, RCA, Siemens, Telefunken, experiment with. My favorites—especially
Sylvainia, Amperex, and others. Tubes from for Marshall-type circuits—are old
these manufacturers can still be found, but 12AX7s from Mullard, Amperex Bugle
in very short supply. Because they were Boy, and RFT.
manufactured years ago, that’s why they are While it’s generally accepted that
referred to as new-old-stock (NOS). Tube they don’t make them like they used to,
manufacturing factories in countries like there’s also a lot of hype surrounding
England, Germany, Holland, and the U.S. the NOS-versus-new tube debate. Many
are long since closed, and almost all tubes new tubes sound just fine, and some
made today are manufactured in Russia, of them are actually very good. Buying
China, or Slovakia. from reputable dealers that match and
NOS vs. new. A few dealers, such as test their tubes is imperative, however,
KCA NOS Tubes, specialize in NOS because inconsistencies from batch to
rarities, but these days outfitting your amp batch occur frequently.
with all NOS tubes could cost as much I often see forum posts saying things
as the amp itself! Most of us working like, “Ruby Tubes are the best!” or
guitarists simply can’t afford to do this. “Groove Tubes are the only way to go.”
However, using a good NOS preamp tube The truth is, companies like Ruby Tubes
in the crucial V1 position of your amp can and Groove Tubes are essentially tube
provide a tonal improvement that won’t dealers, testers, and re-branders—not
break the bank. I recommend picking up manufacturers. In other words, they buy

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38 PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3
large quantities of tubes produced by
companies such as Shuguang in China
or JJ Electronic in Slovakia, and they
test and re-brand them. Re-branders will
sometimes work with tube manufacturers
to produce exclusive designs, but the tubes
are still always manufactured by one of the
overseas tube factories.
When it’s time to re-tube. Some amps are
self-biasing. Also called cathode bias amps,
examples include the Vox AC30, some Bad
Cat and Matchless models, and Suhr Badger
amps. This obviously makes changing out
power tubes much easier—there’s no need
to take the amp to a tech or re-bias. Check
with the manufacturer first to see if your
amp is a cathode bias design. Most amps
will need to be biased by a qualified amp
technician when re-tubing.
When buying a set of power tubes for your
amp, I recommend buying two sets that
are matched to the same spec—if you can
afford it. It can be pricey, but you’ll have an
extra set you can drop in your amp should
you suffer a power-tube failure. When I’m
heading out on tour, the guys at Suhr always
set me up with an extra set of matched
tubes for each of my PT100 amps. They are
perfectly matched to the set in each amp, so
I can re-tube on tour without a re-bias.
One last bit of advice: If you use an
attenuator, remember that running your
amp hard will wear out your power tubes
(and phase inverter tube) much faster. So be
prepared to re-tube more often.
Until next time, enjoy your tube amps and
rock on!

premierguitar.com PREMIER GUITAR - DIGITAL PRESS ALL ABOUT AMPS VOL. 3 39


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