Sunday, September 27, 2015

15-Inch Electric Guitar Speaker Upgrade: The Ultimate Electric Guitar Amp Upgrade?

Even though some guitarists disagree, does using a 15-inch electric guitar speaker instead of the “stock” smaller speaker the ultimate electric guitar amplifier upgrade? 

By: Ringo Bones             
Even though I was born too late and not fortunate enough to have been there when Jimi Hendrix experimented in the recording studio with 15-inch Eminence and Celestion organ speakers and managed to record many of the sweetest tone in the electric guitar playing world, my “conversion” as a big speaker fanatic happened back around the mid 1990s during an electric guitar gear / music recording gear exhibition in Hong Kong got me acquainted with the Marshall JTM 60 – a vacuum tube based combo amp that comes with three 12AX7 preamp tubes and two EL34 output tubes with a 15-inch Eminence made Heritage speaker as standard. With a representative generous enough to let me toy with the combo amp for probably 90 minutes, both of us reached the conclusion that it is quite impossible to squeeze a bad tone out of a 15-inch electric guitar speaker mounted in an open-back cabinet driven by good old fashioned vacuum tubes. But sadly, there are electric guitar players – including some great ones – that dislike big speakers being used in electric guitar playing applications. And I even got confused when the Marshall representative told me that the Marshall JTM 60 comes in variants with two 12-inch speakers and three 10-inch speakers that got me in a quizzical head-scratching mode to ask why. But are there any circumstances in the electric guitar where bigger isn’t actually better? 

Big electric guitar speakers – especially old ones or vintage reissue ones with whizzer cones with diameters of 15 inches or bigger (I’m still searching for organ speakers / electric guitar speakers with whizzer cones bigger than 15-inces by the way)- gain mythical status because celebrity guitar players tend to promote / endorse them in various ads to leading guitar playing magazines. Remember Yngwie Malmsteen’s “tone-testimonial of the Celestion G12T-75 electric guitar speaker that goes: “because of its very fluid tone and it compliments the violin-like tone and feel of my guitar playing. I have used Celestions since the early days of my career in Sweden.”? 

During a Guitar Techniques magazine interview back in February 1996, the late great guitarist Gary Moore had found it strange that the then Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green used Fender speaker cabinets with two JBL 15-inch speakers driven by two Fender Dual Showmans and Moore says “he would never want to play through that”. Was Moore’s criticism born out of his preference of small and older vintage 1950s era Fender Tweed combo amps because those usually come with 10-inch or 12-inch speakers?  

With a more pragmatic outlook, Creedence Clearwater Revival guitarist John Fogerty says there are situations where 15-inch speakers are more suitable than 12-inch speakers and 10-inch speakers and vice versa. In his Audio magazine interview back in January 1998, John Fogerty said that “a Rickenbacker guitar sounds best through two 15-inch speakers if you’re using it for rhythm. The 10-inch or 12-inch speaker is much more focused: that’s why all the lead players like them so much, for playing single-note stuff.” But in my actual live performance use in smallish Jazz/Blues club venues, I tend to get much more applause and interest from the audience while playing through 15-inch speakers hence my current ongoing search for still functional organ or electric guitar speakers bigger than 15-inches mounted in an open baffle. Currently, I’m in love with my open-baffle mounted Eminence Red Coat 15-inch Big Ben guitar speaker.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Yamaha THR10C Physical Modeling Guitar Amp: The Best Physical Modeling Guitar Amp?

Since the commercial proliferation of physical modeling DSP based guitar effects and amps since the early 1990s, does the 21st Century era Yamaha THR10C physical modeling guitar amp the best of them?

By: Ringo Bones 

Unlike the Yamaha THR10X which is geared more towards harder edged foot pedal dependent Texas Blues and heavy metal electric guitar tone, I only acquired the Yamaha THR10C because it was offered recently as a bargain in our local pawn shop and given that it is already out of warranty, my previous familiarity of its internal DSP / physical modeling circuitry allowed me to perform mods that allowed me to fit an external bigger speaker – i.e. a 15-inch electric guitar speaker with whizzer cone either by Celestion, Eminence, or Jensen or any other great old model or to connect it to another solid state guitar amp that has nary a physical modeling DSP preamplifier stage – to fully test out whether physical modeling DSP / digital signal processing based electric guitar amps had really progressed sonically or are still stuck in the post Operation Desert Storm euphoria of the early 1990s and only the ergonomics had evolved. 

Priced at around 450 US dollars when it hit the market during the middle of 2013, the Yamaha THR10C or specifically the amp’s DSP / physical modeling circuit – according to Julian Ward of Yamaha UK – was originally developed from the physical modeling technology used for the 1993 era VL1 Synth, thus explains my familiarity of the amp’s innards given I was repairing and servicing something like it since the end of Operation Desert Storm. Given that the other DSP based physical modeling guitar amp I can compare it side-by-side with is the 1997 era Line 6 AxSys 212, all I can say is makers of physical modeling amps completely missed the boat market-wise of the mid to late 1980s hair metal boom where such devices would have proved a godsend if they where available in their mid to late 1990s incarnations. 

With its 24-bit  A/D D/A converters sampling at 44.1KHz to guarantee 16-bit fidelity Redbook CD ready tone, the Yamaha THR10C’s five settings really proved useful if your preferred genre of music is 1960s era electric Blues and early 1970s era Classic Rock. Sadly, the Yamaha’s built-in small speakers will be found wanting when you crank it up in a beer pub gig setting. With the mod I recently did, every working musician in my neighborhood who use the Yamaha THR10C as their main gig amp in the local beer pubs in our neighborhood are now paying me to have theirs with a switchable option to hook up a 15-inch external electric guitar speaker with whizzer cone like the Eminence Red Coat Big Ben model or similar mounted in an open baffle. Sadly when used in such configuration, such a revealing external speaker as the 15-inch Eminence allows you to hear the “quantization noise (?) / or very low level click-click noise” of the Yamaha THR10C’s physical modeling DSP chip when you crank the amp’s volume to have it roaring at around the 110 dB SPL level. Sadly, to my audiophile trained ears at least, physical modeling DSP guitar amps are indeed really stuck in the time of post Operation Desert Storm euphoria of the early 1990s in terms of sonic performance. Although once you switch back to the built in tiny speakers, it allows you to practice in relative silence without the threat of eviction, divorce or arrests for disturbing the peace. But like all physical modeling DSP based guitar amps produced since then, its recording options will easily allow you to record AC/DC like electric guitar tones without resorting to cranking up your amp to play at AC / DC concert volume levels – i.e. 120 to 130 dB sound pressure levels. 

But if you’re involved in a cover band whose guitar tones are more akin to Avril Lavigne’s first two albums, the Line 6 AxSys 212 with its patent pending Tube Tone physical modeling DSP system is a better choice because such guitar tones can easily be had by twiddling the Line 6 AxSys 212 controls. It took me between 45 minutes to an hour toying with the Line 6 for the first time back in 2004 when I bought one after it was offered as a bargain in our local pawn shop. The 1989 Soldano Super Lead Overdrive setting is a good starting point in the Line 6 by the way. Inexplicably, Line 6’s top of the line products are “conventional” vacuum tube based electric guitar amplifiers equipped with either the EL34, EL84 and 6L6 output tubes – as opposed to solid-state based electric guitar amps with a physical modeling DSP tube emulation based preamplifier stage. Tone wise, it seems that all physical modeling DSP based solid-state electric guitar amps I’ve tested so far is stuck in the early 1990s – only the ergonomics and ease of desktop PC recording connectivity had improved which explains why high fidelity solid state integrated amplifier manufacturers still had never used these physical modeling DSP chips into the preamplifier sections of their amps so far.