I am a guitar player, which means I obsess over tone. Like, a lot. I’m constantly trying new gear and tinkering with my existing setup. No matter how good I think tone is, there is always some new toy or recording technique that could make it better. I’m not alone in this- YouTube is full of videos that indulge the obsessive tendencies of the modern guitarist.

Anyway, this obsession means I have my own snobby opinions about what makes great tone. I’m a big believer in the power of a tube amp and a well placed microphone as the foundation for everything else. I want the real thing, not an emulation, so I tend to avoid digital modelling solutions in favor of an actual amp. Part of this has to do with my desire to come up with my own sound; I’d much rather combine various pieces of my own gear and come up with something unique than scroll through presets for a tool meant to give you Jimi Hendrix or Eric Johnson or Angus Young or whatever tone.

I may be softening my stance, though. The downside of relying on analog gear is that you have to have the gear in order to use it, and that gets expensive and impractical. If I need a tone that I don’t use too often, it doesn’t make sense to shell out $1,000 or more on amp when a digital approximation would likely do the trick.

Here’s a recent example. Two of my favorite guitar albums are Joe Satriani’s The Extremist and Van Halen’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. They feature blistering leads by two of the greatest guitarists of all time. I hear a lot of similarities between the guitar tone on both albums. It’s warm and in your face, and seems to just leap out of the stereo speakers. Both albums were a huge influence on me, and a big reason why I started playing the guitar. I don’t really play like these guys – I gave up trying a long time ago – and my tone preferences for my own playing has gone in a different direction. But occasionally I want to sound like those records, and amp modeling can scratch that itch.

For the purposes of this discussion, these albums have two important things in common:

  • They were produced by Andy Johns at around the same time (1991-1992)
  • The Soldano SLO features prominently in both albums

I suspect the first item has more to do with similarities between albums than the amp does, but they don’t make digital producer modelers (yet). So to sound like them, I fired up the Avid Eleven Rack module my neighbor has graciously been letting me borrow these past few months. Within 10 minutes of fiddling with the knobs I came up with this:

I’m playing my Sterling Sub AX4 into model of an SLO into a 4×12 cabinet of Celestion vintage 30s mic’ed with an SM57. The delay and chorus are added before the amp, and everything other than the guitar is done inside the Eleven Rack. I plugged direct into my audio interface, and did no post processing (as evidenced by my careless relationship to the beat in this clip).

I love this sound. I’m not sure where or when I’m going to use it, but I will use it. It might be time to start saving for a Soldano.

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