What would today’s ultimate mid-level amplification system for synthesizer, guitar & bass musicians be?
What is your -singular- amplification solution for recording, jamming or even live performances?
A few days ago I bought myself a Gibson SG Standard electric guitar. Promptly, I started to think about an amplifier and effects.
Full disclosure, I’m 95%+ all about keyboards and synthesis, a home producer, and even then more of a sound curator and programmer than a talented musician. Most of the time, my music world is a Sequential Prophet X, a Sequential Pro 3, a Waldorf Quantum, a Focusrite interface, an Ableton Live DAW, and a set of Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones. I also have a set of Tannoy studio monitors that I would love to get rid of, that I use for minimal open air analysis of my Anxiety Forest tracks. The mass majority of the time, it’s a headphone world for me.
Back to the guitar, I have a Blackstar ID Core 20 amp, which for $159.99 is a practice amplifier with a little bit of everything: solid state stereo; 6 variable overdrives; phaser, chorus/flanger, and tremolo modulations; linear, analogue, tape, and multi delays; and room, hall, spring, and plate reverbs. It is what I consider a great training amplifier. You can play it open air, with headphones or send it to your mixer/interface line level for recording. It is useless for gigging or jamming with friends though.
OK, now the macho in me, the emotional harkening back to my youth, wants a tube amplifier stack. I do want to jam live with some friends in a post-virus world. My crazy brain imagines a tube Blackstar stack with hundreds of watts and $5000 worth of pedals. Of course, this will never happen and it’s as useless as the training amplifier for my needs anyway. I need something in the middle.
I’m not even thinking about synthesizer amplification yet. I should also mention, I do have acoustic guitar recording/amplification needs as well.
I think it is impossible to come up with a multi-instrument gig/stack level type amplification system. At that level you are just going to need instrument specific equipment. If you are playing auditoriums, you are just not going to be moving equipment from your living room to the auditorium, so we’ll completely skip that angle.
So the moderate in me (what me moderate?), decides I could get a Blackstar HT Stage 60 MK2 combo tube amp with 60 watts OR 6 watts and direct out, maybe in the summer. That should be enough to record well with and flood the various room sizes available to jam with friends… then I keep thinking about effects, maybe modeling instead of tube or some combination.
Concurrently, in a semi-private Facebook conversation, my friend Jason Cooper, admin of the Sequential Pro 3 Synth Facebook group really cracks my head open by suggesting the Fractal Audio Systems Axe-Fx III MKII Preamp/FX Processor pictured in the header image on this post. This is cool, but it is pricey and sold direct only to my knowledge, so no credit terms. Seems like a lot for just my guitar needs. Still, it lights my fire, ha!
So now the concept of FRFR speakers (full range, flat response), studio monitors, and PA speakers is back in my head, and I think well, if I’m gonna go there, I might as well include my synthesizer amplification and effects needs…
AND just how many amps and speakers do I want in my relatively small studio area? AND what about something portable for jamming?
The synthesizer world is mostly a studio phenomenon, live amplification is probably the most under-discussed subject
I’m cool on headphones and studio monitors in the studio, however there is no portability or live performance usefulness. Most of the time when I think of portability or jamming, I’m thinking of a combo amp with two 12″ speakers or a single 15″ speaker. For guitars and bass, plenty of options. Of course, the effects pedal rabbit hole still exists, and face it, pedals can be messy and pricey collectively. For synths, there are not a lot of options that I know of for a dual 12″ or single 15″ combo amp. Roland has some keyboard amps. Know of any others? If you want grab and run combo amps, there seems to be little option other than instrument specific.
What are you gonna do though, have 4 combo amps?
One each for guitar, bass, acoustic, and synthesizers? Not in my world or room.
So far, the best solutions or compromises I can think of or know about, are something like that Axe-FX III, a pair of powered PA speakers and maybe a subwoofer, along with a pair of studio monitors for the studio. It’s still difficult for me to shed my traditional yearn for stacks or combo amps… but there is no simple solution I know of.
And there is a wide range of power and price in PA speakers.
What do you think? What do you do?
Please share your thoughts, experiences and solutions! If we can expand my preliminary thinking, we’ll do a follow up post.
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