In the early days of rock, high power and huge volumes pushed equipment to the limit.
Mr. Shoe came flying into our rehearsal space, shouting and waving his arms as if he were flagging down a taxi. “Your amplifiers are distorting," he shouted above our Yardbirds-style rave up. Obviously upset, he continued, “Your amps—they're making square waves."
It was 1969, and I'd only just joined up with my friend Gary's band to practice in the basement of a storefront in Deerfield, Illinois. Mr. Shoe was the landlord, and his son Al had built the basement into the fledgling recording studio where our little rock combo practiced a few times a month. As a ham-radio enthusiast and something of an audiophile, Mr. Shoe recognized the Skilsaw-esque buzz of our power chords as a problem to be solved as opposed to a desired condition. It may have been the first time I'd heard the term "square wave," but instinctively, I knew what he meant.
"That's what we want," we told him, but our explanations fell on deaf ears. Defeated, the old man left the building shaking his head muttering something about harmonic distortion, leaving us to our "bad" sound. Obviously, we were beyond help.
That day certainly wasn't the first time someone had turned up a guitar amp and thought it sounded cool as it tried to destroy itself. We were only mimicking the sounds we'd heard on recordings and in concerts. But our encounter with Mr. Shoe underlined a radical schism that had occurred in the audio universe: Instead of merely accurately reproducing the sound of the guitar, the amplifier had become part of the instrument, and there was no turning back.
Suddenly, guitar and amp builders were faced with an entirely different and louder playing environment. As music became more aggressive, the amps got bigger with "piggyback" amp/speaker setups displacing the lowly combo style. And then came the Vox AC100. Built to roar over the screams of Beatles fans, it towered above the competition and was lusted after by teenage boys around the world. Not satisfied with his Vox, however, Pete Townshend urged music-store owner Jim Marshall and engineer Ken Bran to develop the iconic "stack" topped with 100, or even 200 watts of punishment. Fender, SUNN, Acoustic, and many others followed suit, building larger and more potent gear as rock's arms race heated up.
There was resistance to the trend, of course. Many of the amp and guitar manufacturers felt betrayed by the onslaught of high-decibel levels and escalating distortion in rock music's vernacular. As legend goes, Ampeg's founder, Everett Hull, disliked distortion so much that he wrote a warning into his company's literature and demanded that his engineers design extra headroom into their amps to keep things tidy and clean. Clearly, Mr. Shoe would have liked this guy. Back in my high school days, the early '60s Ampeg B-15 bass amp was a coveted piece of gear, but it just couldn't keep up with the latest guitar amps from Fender when things got cranked. In a twist of ironic fate, Ampeg would roll out their mighty SVT less than a decade later. And in 1969, the company outfitted the Rolling Stones with a backline befitting for the kings of rock and their massive stage show. Just the same, the big blue boxes sported the warning "This amp is capable of delivering sound pressure levels that may cause permanent hearing damage." If you've ever tried one of the original SVT amps, you know this wasn't an idle threat.
In retrospect, a lot of the escalation may have been created by the lack of sound-system and monitor technology of the time. Most recordings were still made using small amplifiers—Jimmy Page's Supro, Clapton's Bluesbreaker and Joe Walsh's Fender Harvard come to mind—but concert amps were all about filling the venue, or at least the stage. Of course, there was the visual aspect. Giant walls of amplifiers became the backdrop for any well-heeled rock band. The intimidation and grandeur of six Marshall stacks was a middle finger to the older generation and their unhip music, as the sheer power of a concert became a full-body tribal ritual for both performers and audience. Rock 'n' roll was finally delivering on its dangerous promise.
High power and huge volumes pushed equipment to the limit. Pickups squealed and guitars began to feedback uncontrollably. As a defense, guitarists developed new skills like palm muting to compensate. Playing technique began to be about holding the power back until needed, as opposed to struggling to stand out—the exact opposite of an acoustic guitar, or even early electrics. On the manufacturing side, there were other considerations. The aftermarket for guitar parts and all manner of effects pedals began to bloom. Wax potting of pickups to eliminate microphonic squeal became common—any small degradation in sound being considered an acceptable tradeoff. One company marketed foam to be stuffed inside guitars to dampen the howling effect at high volume.
Over time, the sound-system industry developed usable monitoring and provided enough mic coverage so that stage levels could be reduced to allow proper mixing of a band's entire sound. A 1970s performer might barely recognize the gear used to deliver sound to a stadium show today. Computer-controlled sound arrays that can efficiently amplify vocals, drums, and small, low-watt guitar amps have reduced stage volumes to 1950s levels.
In-ear monitors changed the game even further. I recall visiting some friends on a major tour and was surprised to learn that there was zero stage volume involved. The immense wall of amps was a facade and all the guitars were amped into speaker emulators, which in turn were fed to the house and in-ear monitors. During the monitor check, the only sound on stage was drums. Even the guitar techs had to wear ears in order to do their job! When the house kicked in, that's when it actually sounded like a rock show. Today, I meet plenty of pros that have never stood onstage in front of a full stack, so seems as though we have come full circle. I wonder if Mr. Shoe would still disapprove.
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Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more!
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.
Dunable announce new Minotaur model featuring Grover Rotomatic Keystone tuners.
The Minotaur's DNA is rooted in their classic Moonflower model, which Dunable discontinued in 2017. However, they have long since wanted to create a fresh take on a carved top guitar design, and various attempts to rework the Moonflower led them to a brand new concept with the Minotuar.
Dunable's goal is to give the player a guitar that plays fast and smooth, sounds amazing, and gives maximum physical ergonomic comfort. The Minotaur's soft and meticulous contours, simple and effective control layout, and 25.5" scale length are designed to easily meet this criteria.
- 25.5" scale length
- Dual Humbucker
- one volume, one tone, push pull for coil splitting
- Grover Rotomatic Keystone tuners
- Grover Tune O Matic bridge with brass Kluson top-mount tailpiece
- jumbo nickel frets
- 12" fretboard radius
This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
Adding to the company’s line of premium-quality effects pedals, Missing Link Audio has unleashed the new AC/Overdrive pedal. This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal – the only Angus & Malcom all-in-one stompbox on the market – brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
The AC/OD layout has three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone. That user-friendly format is perfect for quickly getting your ideal tone, and it also offers a ton of versatility. MLA’s new AC/OD absolutely nails the Angus tone from the days of “High Voltage” to "Back in Black”. You can also easily dial inMalcom with the turn of a knob. The pedal covers a broad range of sonic terrain, from boost to hot overdrive to complete tube-like saturation. The pedal is designed to leave on all the time and is very touch responsive. You can get everything from fat rhythm tones to a perfect lead tone just by using your guitar’s volume knob and your right-hand attack.
- Three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone
- Die-cast aluminum cases for gig-worthy durability
- Limited lifetime warranty
- True bypass on/off switch
- 9-volt DC input
- Made in the USA