Due to some band logistical issues (aka: Our band practicing space bouncing all over the damn place!), I’ve had the opportunity to play on a few of my amps through different cabinets. I’ve found that mating the amp with the right cabinet is just as important as finding the right woman to mate with……or maybe I’ve learned the value in experimenting with different woman AND cabinets. Whatever. The difference between the right cabinet and the not-so-right cabinet is astronomical whereas pretty much every woman pisses me off on at least some levels.
Celestion G12H30 1×12 Cabinet
I’ve got a little 1×12 monitor wedge that I gutted and tossed a Celestion G12H30 into. It’s ugly…..really ugly! It’s also great most of the time…… but my Rivera Knucklehead sometimes gets a hair boxy (which often tricks me into overcompensating with top end, low end, any non-boxy end I can muster) and I often end up working really hard to get that out (preferably on the amp side of the fence). On the other hand, my 5150 loves the cabinet and has no problems at all. My 1971 Marshall Superlead doesn’t work with the cabinet. It does make sound….if you want to call it that. The boxiness is rough and it just doesn’t work.
Marshall JCM800 4×12 Cabinet
I have an old JCM 800 cabinet that was originally loaded with GT75 Celestions, which I think sounds bad on everything , but the Marshall Superlead sounded the least crappy through it. These 75 watt speakers always emphasize what I’m calling “bad bite”. If they made a plugin and just called it “Sounds worse”, this would be it.
Everything just hurts through the GT75s. The more mellow the amp, the less of a problem this is, but I can’t think of an amp mellow enough to work with these speakers. You can attempt to bypass this bite with mic placement, EQ, etc but then you find the thing actually gets boxy again. It’s clear they just added the bite at the end to make up for a speaker design that went way wrong. It seams that everything good is missing. I think I summed up my views on this speaker here:
75 Watt Celestions vs Kick In Balls
Note: There are guys (who look more like ugly girls with a big, dumb black hat on) who mixed 3 rat tails, a lock of hair from a prince, and a golden torch into a boiling pot. They were given the secret to getting GT75s to work. I skipped sorcery school. I’m clueless.
Carvin Legacy 4×12 w/Greenbacks
I got a chance to play my Rivera through a Carvin Legacy cabinet loaded with Greenbacks and it reminded me of that movie, Four Rooms. (I call it the “get up and dance ending”.) It’s like you could still hear angels singing over all that deafening junk oozing out of the cabinet.
There’s no mistaking that these two gadgets work well immediately together. Not too bright, not too boomy, not too boxy, etc. Goldilocks would have found this one jussssst right. After this, I ordered 4 Greenbacks from Avatar Speakers http://www.avatarspeakers.com/ specifically to use with my Rivera. The two mated perfectly for what I’m up to (I’ll get to that in a minute.)
Mesa Boogie Recto 4×12 w/Vintage 30s
We jammed the next week and I ended up using a Mesa Boogie Recto cab with Celestion Vintage 30s. Oh boy. Not good. My normal tone is your usual not-remotely-unique not-really-Van-Halen-in-the-old-days, but closer to that than anything else kind of tone. It’s good old high-gain rock guitar that’s got more mids in it than any metal kid would want. I guess somewhere between old Van Halen and modern AFI is where I’d toss it.
Through the Recto cab, that wasn’t the sound I got AT ALL. It immediately took on that “Nu Metal” character. It was soooooo “Nu Metal” that I wrinkled my nose. I sounded just like Disturbed and all those other bands. At least it was close enough to make me pull out the ol’ metal riffs I hadn’t played in years.
This was an epiphany. Never before had my Rivera sounded that way. Ever! I’ve heard from various dudes that the Rivera has a Boogie-like design (not sure about that one) but I’d never actually heard it until then.
It immediately occurred to me that if I’m recording a metal band wants that stereotypical Recto sound (I guess all guitar sounds are pretty much stereotypical by now) a person absolutely requires a Recto-type cabinet. This isn’t to say that a person can’t get a little creative and go with a different cab. It just means that I would default to a Recto cab from here on out as my baseline metal cabinet. It’s “the sound”.
My days of playing metal seriously are long gone, but I do record it from time to time. My metal tones (on projects where I’m supposed to kinda-sorta create these tones) generally don’t hit the nail on the head. They sound good, but they are shifted a few notches in the midrangy rock direction. The thing that has always complicated things for me is I hear all kinds of metal productions that have tons of grindy mids (not the boxy kinds of mids), but even when I attempt to add these grandy mids most most my guitar sounds are missing that “grind”. The Boogie cab has it.
Just yesterday I listened to a Killswitch Engaged record. It definitely was NOT a super scooped recording where the mids were on zero and the lows and highs were 10. It has plenty of grindy mids. It just has the right kind. My experiences with the Boogie cabinet now tell me that the Boogie cabinets are a secret to this “grind”. There’s no way around it. I now know that a person can take a Van Halen-ish rock sound, run it through a Vintage 30 equipped Recto cab and get shifted 4 notches towards that modern metal thing instantly.
This particular sound isn’t what I was personally going for, but I just got a good deal on a Recto cab for my metal recording work.
The Recording Gear Disappoints Again
I want to point out that I’ve hand picked my recording gear to get monstrous mega guitar sounds. I’ve got all the go-to mics used for the metal guitar gig. (See Royer R121 vs World ) I’ve used numerous Neve-style preamps, own a few, and I’ve got a Distressor. These toys don’t hurt, but they don’t turn a “rock” guitar sound into a “metal” guitar sound. As I always say, it’s the source, the source, the source. So if you aren’t quite getting the sounds you are looking for, investing in guitar cabinets would be much more effective than investing in the high end recording gadgets.
Note: I want to address a MAJOR point here. In some musical genres/circles, mostly jazz and other music you play with a tie on, there is this emphasis on fidelity. The “good” recordings best capture the instrument in it’s natural setting. A ringing snare is part of the sound, for example. They want that in there. For guys doing pop music (pop, dance, country, metal, modern rock, etc) it works a bit differently. Maybe there is an increased fidelity with a Royer and a Neve on a rock guitar cab when compared to something cheaper. However, soooooooo much effort is placed in the subjective arena that the fancy recording setup is icing on the cake. In short, it’s more important to get that amp exciting you in the room (whether this is a father-approved guitar sound or not) than it is to beautifully capture an unideal sound.
Another perspective: Rob Zombie may use samples on the kick drum even though they’ve got a world class kick drum, world class drummer, world class room, engineer, and everything else you can think of because he’s got his not-quite-industrial sound happening. He wants the kick drum to sound fake. So in a situation where you don’t want a real sound, the idea of perfectly capturing reality becomes secondary, if not irrelevant.
Yet another perspective: The fancy gear will improve your ability to “capture”, but try taking a good picture of your brother’s testicles. Enough said.
Recto Cab Round #2
The following week I knew I would be playing through the Recto cabinet again and I wasn’t in the mood to sound like Nu Metal this time. So I took my old Marshall Superlead. I had a suspicion that the added aggression of the Boogie cabinet would work well with the slightly too smooth character of the Marshall. Man, was I right! The Marshall mated perfectly with the Boogie cabinet. It didn’t sound like Nu Metal. It didn’t sound like Thin Lizzy (as this head often can). It just sounded good. It nailed the tone I was going for quite well, actually.
So, in this case, all it took to take a “creamy”, “vintage” sounding amp and make it modern was using a modern sounding cabinet. Again, I was quite surprised by the impact of this whole cabinet thing.
Back To The 1×12
A few weeks ago I recorded a band where a dude wanted that kinda-sorta Dr. Feelgood tone. He brought in some newer solid state Marshall. A lot of people don’t care for many of these lower-end Marshall amps. My experience has shown me time and time again that the included cabinets are almost always dismal sounding, at best. However, the good ol’ G12H30-equipped 1×12 cab of mine has saved my ass dozens of times with cheapo amps. For whatever reason, it mates extremely well with these solid state amps that sound horrible with other setups.
I guess the G12H30 tames the fizz and gives the tone some beef and aggression in the right spots. This tone ended up being one of the coolest tones I’ve ever recorded. (Interestingly, the dude had used an old Fender Roc-Pro through my G12H30 in the past and it too worked very, very well. I’ve played the Fender Roc-Pro amps and used to think they were a combination of old garbage and rotten elephant sperm.) Again, It’s clear the cabinet is a huge deal.
I had a reamping session a few weeks ago where I used my Rivera through the 1×12 G12H30. What do you know? The Rivera sounded boxy again. After listening to my quick and dirty trials yesterday, I’m officially never using the Rivera with that cabinet again. From here on out, I’ll be calling on the Greenbacks for their tighter low mids and less tendency to sound boxy. The fact that a Fender Roc Pro or the latest budget Marshall can sound great through the 1×12 cab, but my Rivera Knucklehead does not illustrates a few things.
One, it tells us that budget amps tend to be voiced similarly. (Scooped all to hell, fizzy, etc. This is what 16 year old kids generally want so the manufacturers are giving it to them.) Two, it tells us that it’s more important to mate the right amp and cabinet together than it is to simply use “good” stuff.
In case my babbling didn’t make sense to you, let’s hit the main points.
- The mating of the cabinet and the amp is absolutely critical.
- Only witchcraft practitioners know how to get Celestion GT75s to sound good.
- Sometimes amps that have fought you for years with one cabinet suddenly come to life with a different cabinet.
- The tonal effects of electric guitar cabinets is dramatically understated. Now that I have a collection of mics that work well on electric guitar, I realize that I should have have just stuck with the 57s and blown my money on a collection that looks like a mix and matched Motley Crue backline.
- There is some kind of magic character found in a cabinet that can not be found anywhere else. You can not EQ an amp to sound like it was recorded through a different cabinet. It doesn’t work that way.
- The cabinet plays an enormous role in the tone. When you plug a not-so-Recto sounding amp into a Recto cabinet and you hear that specific sound, you’ll have no doubts about the effects of the cabinet.
- Fancy recording gear isn’t going to make up for an ideal mating of guitar and cabinet. If anyone wants to argue this, I’ll start by asking if you are a) deaf ……or…..b) insane.
- Finding a way to audition a bunch of gear seems to be the real trick. You must make time and be proactive on this one!