Dear Rocking Friends,
Every one of us has a dream. A gear-related dream, to be precise. A Marshall Super Lead maybe? I think I just said something magical there. But you know, you don’t have to have that kind of equipment to achieve (or at least approximate) the tone you’ve always been dreaming about, as I shall demonstrate with this post. Now to be clear, the aim of this writing is not to say that expensive gear can be replaced, but rather to show you that you can squeeze out a somewhat decent tone – something you didn’t quite expect – even from cheaper gear. To sum this up in a sentence:You don’t know
So let’s jump straight into the setup I have for this demo:
- Vintage VS6 SG – This is a $300-ish SG copy, which I highly recommend if you’re looking for a decent guitar in this price range!
- Marshall MS-4 – You probably know this little pocket amplifier already.
- Shure SM57
Nothing quite special as you can see, it’s a very straight-forward setup. The only thing I did to the recording you’re about to hear, is that I applied some reverb via software. Other than that, this recording is raw, and has not been enhanced in any way. Have a good listen:
One thing to keep in mind while listening to this, is that the MS-4 has very tiny 3″ speakers inside of a plastic cabinet that barely has any air in it. This is the reason for the boxy sound, and the lack of bass. But once you get over that, it sounds very decent, especially the Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution part! That one sounds frighteningly close to the original in my opinion.
Now let’s take this experiment a little further – in case you’re not impressed already. I added the following items to the rig:
- Boss GE-7 – Used as as clean boost in front of the amp (via the output volume slider), no EQ pattern was set.
- 1960A replica cabinet with original 1973 Rola Celestion G12M greeenbacks – I admit that this is a bit of an overkill, but I really wanted to make sure that nothing is holding back the little Marshall from unleashing it’s glory.
In order to plug the MS-4 into the external cabinet, a modification is required to the amp. This consists of bypassing a resistor inside the amp that limits the output signal to headphone levels. After that is done, the headphone jack now becomes a speaker output jack – but make sure you don’t plug any headphone into it anymore! If you need exact instructions on how to do this, please let me know in the comments.
So after the amp was prepared, I hooked up everything, and I was very impressed by the results. The amp sounded surprisingly dynamic, lively, rich in harmonics, and enjoyable. I even managed to get a nice sustained feedback! I mic’d up the cab to make a second recording, here it is:
Now let me ask you something at this point. Could you possibly tell (without reading the article) that the amp used in the recording is a $50 1W solid-state pocket amp? If this was a blindfold test, I guess you would bet for something way more expensive, wouldn’t you? That’s fine though, I would do the same
Before ending this article, let me address one more thing… The whole point of this article is to give you an idea on how to get a better tone from your existing gear. The answer is very simple: take your time! When you’re setting up your amp, miking your cab, or even just setting the knobs on your stomp boxes, remember this: if you think you’re done after a couple of minutes, you’re not!
Let’s say you’re miking up your cab. What you shouldn’t do is to try out a few major mic positions, and pick what sounds the best for you, or either use a position that you used earlier. In many cases, tiny adjustments (I’m talking about millimeters here) can make a world of difference. When I mic up my guitar cab, I usually spend at least about 30 minutes setting up the mic position every time. Even if I marked a previously used mic position with duct tape on the cabinet, I only use that as a starting point. You should always absolutely geek out every possibility before recording. I find that spending extra time on the setup after you think it’s perfect is almost always beneficial. Of course the same rules apply to all the setup that’s required for playing, and not just miking.
Another very important thing is that you should always think of your whole rig (from your hands all the way to the speakers) as one big instrument! I cannot emphasize this enough. You’re not only playing the guitar, and having an amp that only makes it louder. The whole rig is one big instrument, but most importantly an instrument that has soul (not literally of course). Every piece in the rig is equally important. You have to spend time with your gear getting to know it, thus being able to use what is has to your advantage. A good rig is not just something you play on; it’s something that helps you expressing yourself, and also makes you feel good doing it!
I hope you find my thoughts useful, and will benefit greatly from them, just as I did. As the title says: never underrate your equipment!
Finally, here are a few pictures I took during the recording session:
Have a good day!