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Discussion Starter #1
Hey everyone,

Here's a link to an article I wrote for this month's My Rare Guitars newsletter. It's about whether amps might be better without tone controls. Bizarre idea I know, but check it out. I'm curious what you think.

http://www.myrareguitars.com/macktonecontrols.mht

Cheers!
 

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amphead said:
Hey everyone,

Here's a link to an article I wrote for this month's My Rare Guitars newsletter. It's about whether amps might be better without tone controls. Bizarre idea I know, but check it out. I'm curious what you think.

http://www.myrareguitars.com/macktonecontrols.mht

Cheers!
I'm of the camp, simpler is better. That said, i have a champ and I really had to tweek the circuit to get it to be brighter.

1 Tone control is good enough for me.

:food-smiley-004:
 

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I think its a good idea. It would be easy enough to build up a 2 EL84 amp with just a volume and see how it sounds. I've had a Carmen Ghia for about three years, and the tone knob has never moved. Trouble is, tone is subjective, especially in terms of the brightness of the amp. I think it would work for custom builds.
 

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"I got my Mojo workin'..."

amphead said:
Hey everyone,

Here's a link to an article I wrote for this month's My Rare Guitars newsletter. It's about whether amps might be better without tone controls. Bizarre idea I know, but check it out. I'm curious what you think.

http://www.myrareguitars.com/macktonecontrols.mht

Cheers!
This is an old, old debate! We're not really talking any improved sound, only something different to the taste.

Do tone controls cut tone? Of course! That's how they've worked since tone controls were invented. So what? Have amps all sounded like crap until the idea of an amp with no tone controls came along?

It's easy to get confused when "tone" can have more than one meaning. Tone can refer to simply having a good sound. It also can refer to the shaping of the frequency response in an amplifying circuit. The first definition is totally a matter of taste. The second is a technical definition.

We usually hear the idea of no tone controls from the audiophile world of high fidelity. These guys are often very anal retentive about getting the absolute clearest sound with minimum distortion. Any time you add complexity like tone controls to a circuit you add measurable amounts of distortion. By measurable amount I DON't mean enough for anyone to actually hear! I simply mean that if your lab equipment is good enough you will be able to measure it. Good equipment may let you detect a moth fart at a hundred paces but there's not a human nose on the planet that could smell it!:eek: Again, it's important to keep perspective.

Take the tone controls out of the typical amp and yessir, the sound will change. In the immortal words of Jim Nabors:"Surprise, surprise, surprise!" Is this a good or a bad thing? How can one give an answer? It's totally a matter of personal taste!

Who in the world wants an unshaped electric guitar sound? It's SUPPOSED to be shaped! How you do it determines the distinctive sound of an amp! It's what makes a Fender sound different than a Vox, or a Soldano.

Do you really want to run an amp that has no tone controls? What an audiophile would do is run that amp and if he has something in his listening room that sucks out a portion of the treble frequencies or whatever he changes the room! He'll put time and money into different speaker enclosures, the length of the room walls and maybe even hang a drape across one wall to prevent a reflection or absorption.

That's if he actually knows what he's doing. More likely, he doesn't know enough about such stuff and doesn't want to make the effort to learn. So he goes to the hifi store and spends great gobs of money on stuff with lots of chrome and great reviews in the trade mags. Then he can impress his friends by constantly mentioning how expensive is his system! :rolleyes:

Suppose you get someone to take the tone stack out of circuit in your amp. Immediately you get a dramatic difference in the sound. Odds are you'll love it for its novelty but what happens next month? A simple in/out switch might be a better idea but more likely a bit more gain on the boost pedal would have done as much.

By now I guess it's obvious that I find this idea a bit misplaced and over-rated. Especially when with the typical Fender/Marshall stack if you put all the knobs at 10 you essentially have dialed them out of the circuit anyway.

Not meaning to be totally negative. I just have always found this idea to be more about yet another way of making an electric guitar sound different. All these ways may work but it still is just personal taste.

The exact same debate has raged for years about guitar amps that don't use a negative feedback loop. To me it's quite simple. If you like the sound of a Vox with no nfb better than the typical Fender or Marshall then buy the Vox! You can't say one circuit trick is always better! It's just another option to shape your sound.

All that rant behind us, there's one application where having no or just a very simple tone control has merit. Vintage blues! That's why so many guys like those old Ampegs and such with only a single treble cut tone control. That sound was always just the raw sound of the guitar. If you want to nail that "tone" then build yourself (or get someone qualified) a single 6L6 class A (really class A and not just cathode biased!) amp with only a volume control. If you're lucky enough to have an old alnico speaker around then even better!

So let the flames begin! :2guns:
 

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Personally, I'd rather have the tone controls. Unless the amp is voiced exactly like you want to hear.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Bill, wow, thanks for the thoughtful feedback!

Your comments about tone being subjective are, of course, right on the money. If you think about it, tone controls and the absence of them are two sides of the same coin: each scheme produces different tonalities. Both ways are just different means to achieve changes in tone. Which one is 'better' or more useful is a matter of personal taste for sure.

I've had a few people respond to my article regarding the concept of 'flat' response. I've concluded that my article wasn't very well written in that regard! I didn't intend to suggest that removing the stack would cause the amp to produce a flat response. Removing the stack only removes the stack's affect on response. Of course, the stages before and after that point will still exert their tone shaping influences on the signal as it wends its way through the amp. Lifting the stack doesn't produce a flat response.

One thing to note is that by putting a typical tone stack's controls on 10 they are not dialed out of the circuit. On the contrary, as you can see from one of the article's graphs, the stack still exerts a significant amount of tone shaping with controls on 10. They are passive devices afterall and even when on 10 still influence the impedance that the previous gain stage sees therefore modifying the frequency response.

But, hey, that contributes to characteristic tone of amps we love! No question.

So, again, I really appreciate getting a chance to understand your views on this topic. The intent of my article was to open a discussion on how to achieve different, often very desireable, tones that many players have never heard (I do differ with you that the tone resulting from lifting a stack is a temporary novelty!). IMO an amp doesn't have to have a dual or triple level stack to sound good!

Cheers!
 

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Wild Bill Nails it!!!

It might have something to do with the fact the He's an expert in this field...:bow:

I constantly run into players that have magic marker lines on their amps to mark 'settings'. This is fine, and it will work if you are always playing in the same room and the temperature and humidity are held constant.

Yes, the EQ (tone controls) on an amp can be used to dial in the sound that you want, but those setting won't work in all rooms. You have to listen to your amp and adjust for the environment that you are in. If you want a consistent tone, you will have to change your eq from room to room and probably from set to set or night to night- conditions can change at any time.

I've often seen players baffled by what happened with their amp when they walk into a room to change their strings durring the day after a busy night in the bar. I usuually hear things like "it sounded way better last night" or "maybe my new strings are bad" after being woken up at noon to turn the PA on for them. This happens with some players at all levels, regardless of how good they play or how nice their gear is.

My theory, developed over years of having my face ripped off from guys who insist that the presence should be cranked and the mids rolled right off, is that there are two skill sets involved in making music. Like in high school, most people were either better at math or in english - then there were some that did well in both. With music, there are people who can distinguish pitch, and others that can distinguish frequency - there are a select few that are good with both.

I am from the second category, (I hear frequency).
 

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Jeff Flowerday said:
I'm of the camp, simpler is better. That said, i have a champ and I really had to tweek the circuit to get it to be brighter.

1 Tone control is good enough for me.

:food-smiley-004:
That is my thinking as well. All other issues about the actual sound aside, I just really like a simple knob layout on my amps. I personally have never noticed much of a difference between having 3 T/M/B knobs on my amp or one 'Tone' knob when it comes to finding the sound I want in the amp. And one knob is less to play with :).
 

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Every time I read a WildBill post, I think I learn something. Thanks for posting the stuff you do, you probably dont realise how much your knowledge helps educate people like myself.

Thanks!
AJC

PS I especially love my simpler amps with minimal controls, but I appreciate having some minimal tone control to shape my sound, especially when going from guitar to guitar or playing in different places where you sometimes need to tweak the highs or lows.
 

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ajcoholic said:
I especially love my simpler amps with minimal controls, but I appreciate having some minimal tone control to shape my sound, especially when going from guitar to guitar or playing in different places where you sometimes need to tweak the highs or lows.
Ah yes, rooms have tone, too!
 

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Thanks, Mr. AJC!

ajcoholic said:
Every time I read a WildBill post, I think I learn something. Thanks for posting the stuff you do, you probably dont realise how much your knowledge helps educate people like myself.

Thanks!
AJC
Actually, that's my goal! It's good to hear that once in a while I succeed.:banana:

When I was younger I had to sit through many training sessions where the instructor seemed to have little or no clue of how to get ideas across to those just starting out. Some of it was ego, where they spent more time bragging about their accomplishments than explaining how we could make our own. Mostly it was just a lack of empathy - of putting yourself in the other guy's shoes.

After shooting my mouth off I got shanghaid into running some training sessions myself. To keep from embarassing myself further I spent some long hours thinking about how things should be done.

The biggest problem would seem to be using too many buzz words or specialized jargon. When you begin to learn a new language you have to keep the vocabulary as short and simple as possible. Once you get the basics it's much easier to add new and more complicated words.

Electronics is just the same! You don't start off by throwing out formulae and terms like inductive reactance at someone who's just beginning to learn that you need two wires to complete a circuit. You give them analogies like water pipes where the pressure is the voltage, a smaller diameter pipe is a resistance and the amount of water per measure of time is the current.

I grew up in the country and had no mentors for electronics so I had to make every bleeding mistake myself that you could imagine!:mad: Perhaps that's why I never laugh at someone else making a mistake while learning. I remember being there.

Being in sales for years taught me that sharing information was the best way to make sure there were no misunderstandings after the deal was signed. Now I find that the better I can help educate my customer the better he can understand what I'm doing with his amp and the more reason he has to trust me! Plus it sure makes it easier to zero in on his goals for his sound when we both talk the same language.

There's a great forum down south called Ampage where lots of "gurus" hang out to share guitar amp electronics. Everyone pitches in to help the "newbies" as much as they can. I spent some years as a regular on that board but months ago someone (I think it was Jeff Flowerday) made a post with a link to THIS board!

I clicked on the link right away and was tickled pink to find a board such as this that was based in Canada. Lots of great forums for players with gear, buy and sell and whatnot. Not much in technicals, 'though. So when somebody popped in with a problem I made a point to volunteer some help. Other techies were doing the same and soon the administrators gave us our own area.

If we can help as many players as possible then we can keep the flame alive. Otherwise we doom future generations to nothing but corporate rock crap sung by Spears clones!:eek:
 

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great post Bill as usual.....I like a simple amp like my classic 30, not much tone shaping there with it's 3 band eq, not versatile however. With my mesa mk2b it's a love/hate relationship, the darn thing can do so much tone shaping, I end up tired of tweeking knobs.

If I had to choose only one, it would be the mesa and just take 5 or 10 years to learn to use all that diversity:tongue:
 

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If you can find a Two Rock or Fuchs or a certain amp that those were influenced byDrool the "solo" setting is ..... no EQ, which means the only tone control left is the fingers and the pick When one finds the zone, it's amazing!!!

Andy
 

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I love tweeking and flexability so I'm for tone controls but I do not hate amps that have one or no tone controls... not at all.

I own two amps that are 6V6 platforms from the 60's with single tone controls and thay are spectacular at what they do just not that flexable.

Craig
 
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