Sunday, October 19, 2008

Jazz guitarists, Here's Amp-ology 101 for You

by Michael Biller*
Jazz guitarists are an interesting bunch. We pine over exquisite and costly guitars. Wonderful, but so acoustically inefficient that to play in an ensemble with other musicians we often require the assistance of another instrument: an amplifier. What does this mean? That a guitar can sound no better than the voice its amplifier will deliver. So how do we go about selecting the right amp?

Be true to your guitar
Many iconic Jazz guitarists developed their unique musical concept around a particular type of guitar. It's not just a matter of tone, it's that their musical conception and technique are linked to the way their instrument of choice responds and sounds. Understanding the sonic scope of your guitar and the music you chose to play is integral to defining the correct amplifier for your needs. Your guitar already knows what it wants... listen to it…best unplugged.

Any ideas where to start?
Guitarists who prefer playing an acoustic oriented guitar may want to audition full-range systems. Often fitted with multiple drivers, their broad frequency spectrum and inert cabinetry provide a neutral mirror of your instrument's inherent voice.
Should an electric type guitar fit your musical world, you may be more attracted to single speaker systems housed within a voiced resonant cabinet. These have more narrowly focused frequency windows and are tuned to enhance a specific frequency range.
Still, you may wish to experiment and improvise... after all, this is Jazz!

Misconceptions: tube vs. solid state electronics.
The electronic industry has proved it can engineer coveted "warm-yet-clear" sounding amplifiers for the Jazz guitarist in both tube/valve and solid-state formats, from digital and analog technologies, and through speakers with different magnet metallurgies. There is no one simple answer.

Other considerations.
You may have practical needs. If you use several guitars or play and sing, then a two-channel amplifier voiced for Jazz guitar may prove useful. You might prefer amplifiers with multiple controls to modulate sound or value simplicity and only want a volume knob. You know yourself... be honest.

Where can I get more information?
Start with your ears: plug in! Read. Speak with fellow Jazz guitarists. Most importantly, contact a reputable dealer with hands-on knowledge of Jazz guitar amps... luckily there are a few good ones around and several are players too.

*Michael Biller is the owner-guitarist of SOUND ISLAND MUSIC, a Seattle WA USA based retail store representing many of the world's leading amplifiers for Jazz and acoustic string instruments. He can also provide you with more information about jazz guitar amp, acoustic guitar amp or even acoustic bass amp.