Monday 19 December 2016

Information+choices overload indecision

I had to break through another information+choices overload indecision barrier over the weekend. You know the barrier. You need/want something, not exactly sure what type/model/manufacturer you need/want, so you have a look and are overwhelmed with information and choices, and bottom line "I don't want to feel that I made a mistake, or look like I made a mistake" so in your indecision you do nothing. If you don't suffer from this afflication, well done, my hat is off to you.

In this case, it's amplifaction. Not even specifically guitar amplification. Let me explain.

At home I have an electronic drum kit which has never had a dedicated amp, and the kids especially The Boy likes to play on it. I don't like them using my amp for it, because drums are really thumpy and can "blow" a guitar amp. My daughter plays bass guitar through an awful keyboard amp. My gig amp is an old Ashton busker's amp which has an adequate sound, but it doesn't have a lot of punch.

So I happend to walk past a music store, and went in. "I want a cheap amp that I can put an electric drum, a bass guitar, and an acoustic guitar through." (Yes I knew this is impossible, but I wanted to see what he said ;-))

A super-chatty and helpful bloke then spent an hour and a half with me. Here's a quick list about what we talked about in relation to my issue:
  • Electronic drums have a huge thump on the bass drum waveform, which requires a lot of power and speaker size to properly service. Guitars generally don't create anything thumpy like a bass drum so guitar amps aren't designed to do that.

  • Bass guitars are lower frequency but also don't have that thump of a bass drum waveform. They will work on a guitar amp but again, guitar amps aren't designed for that lower frequency.

  • Practise amps and guitar amps aren't just about amplification, they are also about effects and getting a "sound" out of your guitar. Years ago I decided for a classical guitar completely clean is what I like, let the room shape the sound. Some equalisation is nice to overcome room limitations, but the guitar does that at the pre-amp. Perhaps a tiny bit of reverb is nice for some people, like if you were playing outside with no "room feel", but for me, any effects just "muddies" the sound.

  • You can buy speakers - passive speakers, and active speakers. Passive means you need an amp to drive them. Active means they have an amp in them. An active speaker is kinda like a PA (Public Address) system, but PAs generally have a bit more going on - some sort of mixing, multiple inputs, a sub separate from one or more midrange speakers, and built in amps. More like a package. An Active speaker is a speaker, with an effect-free amp built in.

At this stage I hit "I dunno!" <hand goes to head>. All I wanted was something so the kids could play the drums again, but it was versatile for anything else. But the "active speaker" format was starting to look pretty good. You can buy hugely powerful amps built into a plastic box with a 12", even a 15" speaker, just give them a signal and they reproduce it, a truely flat frequency response (what you hear is the same as from the instrument simply louder - no bass increase, no treble increase, it's flat). Sure, We all get twitchy with this Chinese plastic gear "It should be made of plywood, and heavy, and yudda yudda", but when I did a test play through with a shop nylon, it was really, really nice.

Uh oh. Now it was a case of "why don't I buy a new amp for me, and let the kids blow up my existing amp?" And then it came back to something I have been avoiding for a decade - "Okay, if I'm going to buy and amp for me, what should I get?" Because now we were back into the land of guitar amps. Arghh!

"Okay, show me The Best." I played through some good 'ole AER Compacts. "Righto - stop right there, I don't need to see any more. I have researched amps many times over the last decade, and was about to buy an AER years ago, but didn't. If I need an amp for me, it will be an AER Compact. And this one is still a beautiful sound." They are still $1500 amps however and that doesn't fit in my budget.

And that got me through the barrier, w00t! Because see, I already know that I "need" an AER, but currently don't want to afford it. And one of these plastic fantastic active speakers will achieve what I need right now (drums, bass, acoustic, even the piano). (The shop dude reckoned if I had two of them, with a little mixer, that would actually be a really good fit for me - it would "fill" a venue creating stereo sound and it would be great.)

I had been looking at the secondhand market on and off for a year for an amp. I was in the shop. This amp fitted what I needed. It was more than what I wanted to pay, but what I wanted to pay was zero. So I walked out with it, a Behringer Eurolive B112D.

Heh, it says "1000W". I'm an electronics engineer, you aren't fooling me Behringer. In fact a brash statement such as that immediately puts me off. What I had to do was ignore that "specification" and judge it purely on what it could do. And when I put it on the drums, and kicked that bass drum, streuth! The 12" speaker and whatever actual power is driving it is _plenty_ enough. And then I played my nylon through it, and the fatness of the sound was beautiful. It's coming with me to gigs from now on :-)

...but in the back of my mind lurks the AER Compact Classic Pro - the classical guitar version AER amp. I mentally decided that all gig proceeds I get from now on will go into a jar labelled "AER" :-)

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