When we switch our amps on and watch those tubes getting all toasty, we’re often reminded that our guitar tone’s being blasted out through some of the most outdated technology around. Tubes have been phased out of pretty much every industry, so why do we guitarists still insist on them? But hold that thought, please, as today Blog Of Tone’s most experienced hack is in musing mode about the past, present and future of great guitar tone – and get thinking, as we want your opinions on this afterwards!
I can still remember it like it was yesterday: I was bursting with pride, because, using two separate amps, I was finally able to have two independent and different working guitar sounds onstage! Two! Different!
Back in the early 80s, you see, two sounds on stage wasn’t a given.
The tonal versatility we all take for granted today was starting to take its first baby steps 30 years ago. But in our minds, we were already way ahead.
In fact, we were probably mentally already as far ahead as we are today in reality! We were real dreamers.
We’re all allowed to have dreams. After all, these dreams are crucial in letting us put seemingly crazy ideas into practice!
Dreams are the driving force behind many innovations and, for the impatient among us, an almost indispensable part of moving forward with life.
It’s the same with guitarists, of course: every up-and-coming six stringer has his or her own set of unique ideas. It’s been the same since the invention of the wheel.
While guitarists in the 50s dreamed of more power, flexibility and decent reverb FX, the 60s brought overdriven tones to the fore.
The 70s coincided with a lust for more channels, the 80s gave rise to demands for better distorted tones, and 90s guitarists were crying out for programmable amps with lashings of usable FX. In the early 2000s, we were dreaming of a digital world of tone, free from the tube.
Nowadays, we’re more in the middle, mixing tubes with digital trickery and enjoying all the very best bits from the past five decades of guitar amp development.
And the funny thing is, tubes seem to go well with these new-fangled digital ideas. Phrases like “iPad Connectivity”, “Network Technology” and even “Social Media” go hand in hand with guitar amps these days.
An algorithm that recognizes your hottest licks and posts them instantly to Facebook? Is that pure fantasy, or will it be completely normal in a couple of years?
Who knows, but one thing’s for sure – wherever the future of the guitar amp’s going, we think we’re going to like it.
It’s always been dreams that have influenced the evolution of technology. Dreams generate new lines of thought, concepts and research ideas.
If the wish for something more wasn’t there – that consistent desire to make things better – then we wouldn’t be where we are today with guitar amps, and a lot more besides.
And one dream can open the door for many new, unexpected developments.
Take the 70s as an example. Back then, the desire for more controllable distortion led designers to implement revolutionary new things like cascading gain stages and master volume controls – standards in today’s amp world.
Plus, the need for a more diverse range of sounds onstage inspired inventors to develop multi-amp systems, leading to the everyday multi-channel amps we can all enjoy now without a second thought.
And in the 90s, advances in digital technology culminated in modelling amps and DAWs (digital audio workstations). And where would most of us be without them today?
It’s crazy to think it, but all of these achievements – which we all take for granted, it has to be said! – were, back then, just a couple of sketchy ideas in some amp engineer’s head.
Of course, there were also a bunch of amp-related oddities that didn’t take off for whatever reason; things that disappeared because they were either technically not up to it, or they were simply not useful or useable for guitarists.
The guitar preamp with interchangeable “channel modules” and motorized preamp potentiometers are just a couple of the misguided – or perhaps just totally ignorant of the market and demand – inventions that came and went without too much fuss.
But the wheel keeps turning, guitarists keep evolving, and that means that even today’s gear darlings are at risk of being put out to pasture at any time, consigned to the annals of six-string history.
That means for us, the makers, the only way forward is to keep on seeking those next innovations. It’s not easy, of course. Those next genre-defining ideas only spring up once in a while, you know.
But you can help us.
Perhaps the most important aspect of finding the next big thing for guitarists is listening to those guitarists and finding out what makes them tick. What they love about their amps, and what’s missing. What their hopes and dreams are for their next gig.
Because you, the guitarists, are the creators of the music – the most important thing of all – and your constant desire for new and better gear, your unbridled quest to take your tone to the next level, is the lifeblood of engineers and developers.
And knowing what you – the players – want motivates us greatly; alongside the fact, of course, that the competition never sleeps!
Ultimately, though, it means that we’re in a business where the mindset of the consumer really determines where the industry is going to go.
And today, in the era of the internet, it’s more true than ever. No other medium gives us the ability to instantly deal out opinions, criticism and praise on a worldwide basis.
So, tell us: what are you thinking?
What are your musical wishes? How do you imagine the guitar amp of the future?
In 10 years, will we all be lusting after ginormous tube heads and 4×12 cabs, or will we all be fully digital?
Who knows? Maybe smartphones are the future of amps, and we’ll all just plug into active speakers and rock out that way. Or maybe the amp of the future is a software-based solution stored in the iCloud, accessible directly – wherever you are – in milliseconds.
Or maybe there’ll be a combo renaissance, or maybe some cool new tube/digital mixture will come to the fore, or…
On the other side of the coin, it’d also be great to hear from the engineers and developers themselves, and that got us thinking: why don’t we just ask them? Hell, we’ve got a bunch of them here at Hughes & Kettner, and they sure know their stuff!
So, why don’t you send us some questions for them?
Anything you want to know about the development of guitar amps, what the future holds, and how they get their kicks – you put the questions to us, and we’ll ask our technical geniuses to reveal all. Then we’ll tell you what they said, right here on the Blog Of Tone.
Sounds good to us, so get scribbling in the comments below!
We can’t wait to hear your questions…
First published: January 23 2015. Most recent update: September 21 2015.