CRANKED UP TONE AT AN
APARTMENT VOLUME LEVEL
By: Ryan Gillis
So i have to admit it, at this point I'm
an apartment warrior. I'm not really in a band, I
mostly just jam on my own and write songs and riffs. I just love to play.
Sometimes I don't even want to play I just want to
hear guitar, so I play anyway acting as both solo performer and lone audience
member. Since I'm not jamming away in clubs and stadiums volume is always a
huge consideration, but just because I don't do this for a living doesn't mean
I'm any less particular or crazy about my tone. I've been playing for 14 years,
have lived in an apartment for the last 5 years, and I play on average 2 hours
a day. So here are some of the nuggets that I have learned a long the way to
getting good tone at a reasonable volume.
1. Buy the amp that you want regardless of wattage. 1 watt is freaking loud, if
you buy a low wattage amp expecting to be able to crank it up without bothering
anyone, prepare to be disappointed. My Princeton reverb is a small clean
machine, but even at low volumes it sounds stiff and sterile. Don't buy
something that "sounds like" or is xxxx
with less wattage because it is not. As soon as you start changing the power
section of an amp to accommodate lower wattages you have changed the tone,
especially when that requires new transformers and every consequence that comes
with it. I have a 100 watt Marshall sitting in my living room and it puts a
grin on my face even before I flip the thing on.
2. Before you set your budget for a new amp, factor in a good attenuator into
the cost. It may seem expensive at first, but it ensures that you get your
money's worth. Save up. Your amp, is not the amp of
your dreams with the volume at .25. You will be frustrated and disappointed and
you won't play as much. Your new expensive amp will sit in the corner and
gather dust and every time you turn it on you will dream about what it could
sound like. There has never been a better time for bedroom guitar players. With
a high end power attenuator it is now possible to get killer cranked guitar
sounds at more reasonable volumes in ways that you just couldn't before these
devices came to market.
3. Speakers that sound great loud, might not sound
that great at quieter volumes. A lot of vintage speakers require a good bit of
wattage before they show their trademark tonal colors. At low volumes they may
sound down right honky and nasty, not to mention harsh and buzzy.
Try to find a speaker that has a more neutral coloration and is more consistent
at different volumes. I like Lead-80's
4. Use a Compressor even if it's subtle. Compression is one of the things that
your ear uses to perceive relative volume. When your ear hears a sound that is
more compressed it tells your brain, hey this is loud! The same goes for
clipping and saturation. At lower volumes a touch of compression is a great way
to get fuller sound without adding any more peak volume. Your ear hears
distortion as being louder, even if it really isn't.
5. Use a ported cab. If you're like me, you like to pace around a lot while you
play guitar. If you have a closed back cab it is going
to sound different with every step that you take and will drive you nuts. For a
while I used a semi-open back cab to fill the room a bit better, then I switched to a front-ported Port City Waves 2x12. What
a difference. The cabinet just sounds huge at all but the lowest of volumes and
it sounds better and better the louder it gets. Plus, it is easier to control
with all of the sound blasting out the front.
6. Use a Delay pedal. Another thing that your brain uses to judge the volume of
something is the way that the sound is reflected around the room. You can mimic
this with a subtle delay. I'm not a big fan of delay, never been a big fan of
the Edge, but if used appropriately it can really fatten up your tone and give
you the "appearance" of a much louder sound. Adjusting Regenerations
and delay times is a great way to mimic different sized rooms.
7. Buy a Gramma acoustic isolator. These things are
great for $50 even though it's probably $2.50 worth of materials. They're not
going to let you crank the fool out of your amp without bothering any one, but
they do a great job of decoupling your amp from the floor. If your amp
generates a lot of sympathetic vibrations in your room, or your neighbor’s
room, this thing can really help calm them down, and hey it may buy you a
couple of more decibels before the guy below you calls the cops. It's not a
miracle worker, but every little bit helps. Get your amp off of the floor.
8. Finally, there is no replacement for actual volume, but that doesn't mean
that something can't be too loud for a room. I have noticed that below a
certain threshold you loose the ability to really distinguish the subtle
nuances of particular guitar tone. There is just a law of diminishing return.
Even with the most transparent of attenuators once you get to what people refer
to as "tv volume" and below it's just all
going to start to sound the same. Something can also be too loud for a given
Ryan Gillis is an ARACOM Amplifier's customer. The ARACOM PRX150-Pro attenuator allows Ryan to play his cranked up Marshall JCM800 amplifier in an apartment environment.
PRX150 vs PRX150-DAG Product Page
The PRX150's Advantages
DRX Attenuator Product Page
UNDERSTANDING POWER ATTENUATORS FOR GUITAR AMPLIFIERS
Copyright © 2010 Ryan Gillis and ARACOM Amplifiers
This article may not be reproduced in any form without written approval from ARACOM Amplifiers.