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Valve sound without high volumes

APERTURA Valvulas100421

What to do when we want a gritty sound but can't afford to play at high levels? Solutions in simulation and small amplifiers may be the way. Since the advent, or rather evolution, of home recording systems, guitarists who have set up their gear in spaces where generating much noise shouldn't occur face new needs.

We all know that the most appealing amplifier sound for a guitarist is the warm and gritty tone produced by good valves. In many cases, we may already have chosen that amplifier that pleases us perfectly, but find it difficult to play with it at home for practice or recording, as it's likely to make a lot of "noise." Even with not too large amplifiers, we find it impossible to play at certain hours or achieve certain sounds due to the difficulty of playing at the volume we need.

Faced with these circumstances, we can choose between:

a) Setting up our equipment only in the rehearsal space
b) Soundproofing the room or space
c) Exploring worthy options that don't require such volume to achieve a good sound.

Using the rehearsal space
The first option is good considering that there we can record and play to our heart's content. The less attractive part is that we will always have to travel to that place, which can dampen our inspirational mood at times. The ability to play at any time, as you wake up or at any time of the night, has its charm.

Soundproofing the space
The second option seems the most suitable as it eliminates the problems of the first option, travel, and allows us to play with the equipment (amplifiers, processors, speakers, etc.) that we want and when we want. The less attractive part is the cost. Organizing it (professionally, effectively, and truly isolating) can be expensive, and the loss of space that such isolation may provide.

Alternatives to the guitar amplifier
Well, we have the third alternative left. It may not be the most professional or perfect in terms of sound, although the options that different manufacturers are bringing to the market are increasingly comprehensive and satisfying. Many cases involve the use of guitar processors even in professional recordings. Simulation is commonplace nowadays.



Amplifiers, simulators, software

Small amplifiers
What better way than not having to simulate and use a real amplifier. One that doesn't require high volumes. There is a range of small amplifiers with very few watts, designed precisely for this purpose. If we choose this option, we have to choose wisely what we buy, as it must meet two requirements: sound exactly as we like and be able to generate warm or true sounds without requiring high volumes.
As you can imagine, if we play through amplification, we will need a decent microphone to capture the sound of the speaker and record the guitar vibe that the device emits. This option would bring us closer to conventional sounds and traditional recording techniques. Capturing the amplifier through that microphone and therefore generating a sound of a real amplified guitar. It should be considered that depending on the selected amplifier, we will achieve our goal or not. A low-end transistor small amplifier is likely to produce less satisfying sounds than a good high-end simulator.


You can suggest in the forum any options for amplifiers of this type (small valve amps) that you know of and that sound decent.


Software simulation
The newest option. Since many home recording systems are computer-based, this aspect seems "convenient." Initially, I dismissed this possibility because the quality it offered was relative. As time passes and manufacturers and designers wrack their brains, things are improving.

Software amps amplitube

From plugins that easily integrate into our sequencing software and provide warmer sounds than the line, to more complex computer developments that offer abundant options.

We could mention in this regard Guitar Rig, for example. With the release of version 2 of this software, a tool was made available to the guitarist that includes, in its physical pedalboard, a higher quality audio card and a MIDI interface.
Through the software, we can edit and configure different types of sounds with simulations of eight amplifier sections, fifteen guitar cabinets, six bass cabinets, four rotating speakers, nine types of microphones, or thirty-five effects.


This alternative combines the editing flexibility of the computer with the physical hardware (in pedalboard format) that invites us to enjoy a more "real" handling. On the other hand, the cost, as usual in software versus hardware options, is much lower than if we were to buy all the physical gear.


There are other options following this type of developments, such as the Waves GTR 2.0. "guitar tool rack." With ten types of virtual amplification, 23 effects, and the physical interface endorsed by the Paul Red Smith brand. This tool is also supported on TDM systems (Protools TDM 6.7), RTAS & Audio Suite (Pro Tools LE 6.9), VST (Cubase and Nuendo), and Logic Audio for Apple.

Another development in this direction is AmpliTube 2 with its USB A.Stomp IO hardware controller. The advance of this version is the fusion or integration of hardware (pedalboard) with software. Trying to provide a sense of traditional work, benefiting from the editing capabilities of the computer without losing the "feel" of our daily work.

In addition to cost reduction compared to traditional devices, we have a huge number of presets and possibilities. Now it's just a matter of weighing what sounds better and considering what is better, having 4 good effects or 400 bad ones. However, since I haven't physically tried this invention, I cannot make statements about it. Let's wait for reviews.

Rack, pedal, or processing unit simulation

This is the most well-known system, and I can vouch for its good performance. In some cases, more realism and warmth have been achieved than in others, but it seems like a very valid option to me.

Line 6 Rack POD

There is a good portion of guitarists who are reluctant to use simulators, although they are becoming fewer. The truth is that there are various machines that offer powerful results. We have talked about this in other issues. I even had the opportunity to test the Voodú Valve from Rocktron, Vox simulators, Line 6, Zoom, Oberheim, Digitech, or Yamaha's Magic Stomp. I also had the chance to test, at Comusica, the power of the BOSS GT-Pro at the Roland stand, with very appealing and realistic results. I know that for this issue, more reviews of this type of product will arrive, such as the option from M-Audio and its Black Box.

The fundamental advantages of this type of device are:

1. Versatility. You can give your guitar plenty of sounds through different amplifier and cabinet modeling, as well as the appropriate effects that usually come built into these units. It is practical to have very different sounds (by eras, styles, amplifier brands, etc.) when you need a certain flexibility in your studio, or simply when you want to have a wide range of tones and "colors."

2. Compact format. It may seem trivial, but the fact that you can transport all those tools, sounds, amplifier types, and effects in a compact format that takes up little space and weighs almost nothing has its charm.

3. Line recording. The sound (with limited resources) is easier to control. We don't need a microphone (some devices even offer simulated microphones), and therefore, we will have less noise and easier recording.

4. Playing quietly. Yes, yes, I know that the basic essence of a significant percentage of guitarists (especially in their beginnings) is to play with an amplifier bigger than the musician himself, and the sound emitted by its eight speakers waving the performer's hair is legendary. As a cool and guitaristic image, that idea is legendary. When put into practice, when you do exercises, when you try to compose, when you want to play or develop ideas calmly, when you want to record at any time, when you don't want or can't disturb...


It seems clear that the perfect place for the amplifier is the rehearsal space or gigs. Therefore, being able to play in all those circumstances I mentioned a few lines back without disturbing and with a certain warmth of sound is an advantage to consider if there are devices that allow it.


In defense of the amplifier
After all this talk about processing, this article would be lacking in reality if it did not conclude with a defense of the valve amplifier. It is clear that nothing sounds like a good amp, and at least until today, the warmth and power (thickness, strength) of this type of amplification system have not been surpassed. It is obvious that I am not against the valve or the amplifier. It is undoubtedly my preferred system.


In many circumstances, I have been forced to postpone a practice session or a recording because my amp made a lot of noise in the place where I wanted to carry it out. For these reasons, and without losing my loyalty to amplification in those places where I can use it, I feel inclined toward simulation and processors since they have solved some situations for me that I couldn't resolve otherwise.


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