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more... Amp DIYGigging AdviceRecording TipsMarch 2009

Quiet Please! Attenuators and Their Many Uses

Creative Cabinet Choices
Ever wonder what a Superlead would sound like through an AC30 cab but were afraid to try for fear of blowing the Celestion AlNiCo Blues? Once again, as long as the impedance is set correctly, and the power is scaled back to accommodate the speakers, who says you have to use the same cab as the head was designed for? Many times I’ve been in the studio and knew that the tone of the amp was dialed in, but wanted a different color. Rather than running the typical, closed-back 4x12, I was able to choose between the many different cabs available by attenuating the signal down enough to allow safe operation. It’s a great way to experiment with tone and to further lessen the volume assault. This is great for live situations as well. Imagine how much easier it will be on your back to carry in a 1x12 cab for the gig. Heck, you usually only mic one speaker anyway. You can still get raging tone, just in a smaller footprint (physically and sonically).

Dummy Load/Line Out/Speaker Simulator
For recording or the ultra-adventurous live guitarist, how about ditching the cab altogether? These days with the myriad amp modeling programs and hardware devices, who says you even need a cab to produce a mic’d speaker tone? Dedicated devices like the Hughes & Kettner Red Box, the Palmer PDI-series of speaker simulators and the fabulous Axe-FX all offer ways of attaining a variety of speaker tones without speakers. As long as you have a dummy load and line out on the attenuator you can accomplish this easily. After setting the attenuator to “load,” take the line out and feed it directly into the hardware unit. The Red Box Classic offers settings for “combo” and “4x12,” while the Palmer offers an 8-ohm dummy load and multiple settings to simulate a variety of speaker configurations. Highly detailed speaker cab emulations as well as microphone models, reverbs and more can be obtained with the Axe-FX by Fractal Audio Systems.

If you’re in a recording scenario and like to use modeling software, consider bypassing the amp models and just use the mic and speaker models. The variety of software amp modelers is vast with, more products entering the market all the time. Each one of them has its own sound and the options are nearly endless. You’d be surprised how good they sound, and with the no-speaker option you can record at 2 a.m. with your favorite amp. Better yet, if you fire up the studio the next day and don’t particularly care for the sound of the mic/cab combination from the night before, you can change it, because the only thing that was recorded was the tone of the amp. For much more detailed information check out the article, “Look Ma, No Speakers!” in the July 2008 issue of Premier Guitar.

These are just a few options you can try out with most current production attenuators. There are certainly many more not covered in this article that would be helpful, but there’s only so much space available. The possibilities are endless. That said, we are in a new era of amps and tone, with more amplifier options than ever before. And while amp builders are certainly conscious of designing new amps with lower wattage and features such as power dampening or power scaling, we do still love our high-powered amps. Most of us won’t have the opportunity to play Madison Square Garden anytime soon, nor do a lot of us have amp rooms where we can crank our rigs up and jam without consequence. That’s why the attenuator is such a great device. Not only does it act as a big volume knob, it serves us in many creative ways… your imagination is really the only limit with what we have available today.
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