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Recording Is a Battlefield, Part 3

Be prepared for your next session by getting your arsenal of amps down

This month’s installment of Tone Tips continues my focus on a phrase I like to use (and which sounds an awful lot like the Boy Scouts of America motto): “Always be prepared.” When it comes to session work, being prepared is tricky because of the fact that no studio is the same—and that you can record anywhere these days. So, your guitar essentials have to cover a wider range of situations. You never truly know what you’re getting yourself into until you show up.

I’m sure all of you have read some session ace’s article in one of the many guitar magazines out there (including the best one, right here). They always talk about some gig where the guy brings three amp heads, two combos, a couple of pedalboards, multiple guitars (acoustic, electric, and other doodads), etc. If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking, “How would I ever be able to afford all that gear, let alone have it wired up perfectly?” It seems like a daunting task.

If you can afford that much gear, that’s great. What producer and artist wouldn’t want you to come in with incredible gear that let’s you get a variety of sounds instantaneously. But that luxury isn’t an option for most guitarists trying to get into session work. I live in New York City and fly to Los Angeles all the time. I don’t have anywhere to put that stuff, and to be honest there really isn’t a crazy session scene in New York. So today I’m going to talk about how I overcome these setbacks, as well as some of the things I like to show up with or do to help out in this scenario. Let’s talk amps, baby!

Find Your Go-To Amp
Amplifiers are one of the most important parts of the recording process. Have you ever tried out a few amps, and no matter which knobs you turn, you just can’t get them to sound the way you want? But then there’s that amp that, no matter what you do to it, it just seems to be perfect. That’s the one you need to find. Find that one amp you really love playing and that gives you your sound. Having one solid, reliable amp is key. This will be the basis for everything you record. There are a few variables involved when picking out this amp. Do you want it to be versatile, a one-trick pony, one that might work well with pedals, etc? All of these scenarios will work. The most important thing is to evaluate your style and needs. If you find that you’re suited best to rock sessions that need amazing distortion tones, find an amp that satisfies that need.

Due to the nature of sessions I like (ranging from singer/songwriter to rock and pop), I have had the best result with amps that live in Fender or Vox AC30 territory. I prefer a good, clean sound at the heart of every session I do. From there, you have a great foundation to build other tones on using pedals and perhaps by pushing the amp harder. I have used this style of amp even in full-on rock sessions. Some of my best successes have involved 65 Amps’ Monterey and London models, as well as a Matchless DC30. These are great examples of amps that handle variety well, sound phenomenal, and take to guitar pedals incredibly well. They start off with full, rich clean tones and break up superbly when pushed. So you really are getting two amps out of these. They don’t produce high-gain tones, of course, but if you need more crunch there are some incredible pedals you can pair with them to yield amazing results. If these amps are out of your price range, take a look at amps like the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. I’ve done a ton of recordings with that, and it takes to pedals really well.

Then Broaden Your Palette

So this is a good base to start. Once you get your clean and overdrive things going and feel like investing some more money, then go for something different. If you already have a 6L6- or 6V6-powered tube amp (like most Fenders and the 65 Monterey), look into something powered by EL34s or EL84s (like Vox, Marshall, and the 65 London)—and vice versa. Another option is amps with even more gain than your standard Vox or Marshall. Just be sure to thoroughly research them—online and in person—so you end up with something that sounds incredible and makes you feel incredible when you play it. You have to be inspired by the sounds you bring. And don’t get trapped into what fancy features the amp has, what brand it is, or what some guitar hero is using. I’ve been in this business professionally for a while now, and I’ve seen the marketing and money come into play in pretty serious ways. For instance, some of your favorite players are using dummy cabs onstage and plugging into other amps behind the stage for their sound. Trust me, it happens all the time. But in the studio, the only thing people care about is if it sounds good.

Tune in next month and we’ll talk about which pedals you should arm yourself with. After all, some people have made their careers off of them.

Good luck out there!

Jared Scharff
Jared Scharff has been the house guitarist for the legendary Saturday Night Live band for the last two years. A Native New Yorker, Jared is also a recording artist, producer, songwriter, and highly sought-after session player, and has shared the stage with Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Kid Rock, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Roger McGuinn, and Debbie Harry. For more information on Jared, go to