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What made me post...(long and winding)

6/8/2000 2:00 PM
Holger Notzel
What made me post...(long and winding)
When I bought my first guitar, I had to bring a friend to tell me what sounded good. I couldn't tell the difference between gut strings and steel strings. I knew I was supposed to hear a difference, but I felt pretty much like a colorblind person trying to pick cherries off a tree.  
Years later when my hearing had already gotten much better I started building acoustic guitars. I learned about tuning a top, tap tones and all. For a long time, I kept banging on wood hearing nothing but the sound of a guy banging on wood. Gradually the tap tone started to open up and fall into pieces, fundamentals, harmonics, sustain, attack, decay, etc.  
Then, when I got into tube amps, hearing specific detail already happened much faster. I had great fun swapping tubes for hours and listening to tonal differences. I would built identical amps and change one key ingredient, say oil can caps in one, electrolytics in the other, trying to isolate sonic differences.  
As a result my ears have gotten reasonably good. There are lots of guys out there that hear much better, seemingly without effort, but I'm working on it.  
I do not come from a scientific background. When guys like R.G., Randall, etc. break out their formulas, I feel like a moron. I have no talent to learn the math, so I'm very grateful to those guys for providing it. However, when they make statements about the sound of certain components, I often disagree. What they claim not to hear I do hear. No subjective ifs and buts about it.  
Nowadays I'm building and developing amps 12 hours a day. I use my hearing more than my soldering iron. I use my rudimentary math to lay out the basic circuit and make sure it doesn't blow up in my face, and from there on its listening what the amp wants to do. If all we are dealing with here were psychoacoustics, how could there be consistency?  
Sure, the preamp tube shield test may be silly, it's just an example. It's not supposed to distinguish the "in" crowd. It just was sort of a breaking point in my hearing where I learned to distinguish harmonic layers in amps. After that, I heard more differences in other stuff, too.  
So should you start to train your ears and spend more time on hearing? That depends, it's not all good. I'm not trying to be funny, in all seriousness with better ears you will never be able to buy standard $400 stereo speakers at your local Circuit City again. They will make you physically sick. Don't get me started on stereo equipment anyway. The blackface Super Reverb you cherished for the last 10 years will no longer be be the best sounding amp ever made. In fact, unless you can find and afford a Trainwreck, you'll eventuall be starting to build your own amps. There will be no happiness in any new humbucker after you played the first good real PAF. If you have to get your vintage Strat pickup rewound, it will never be the same. Not because the current pickup guys are no good, but because the wire was manufactured differently back then (its surface looks entirely different under a microscope, try it), and you will clearly hear that. I do in fact have reoccuring nightmares about the neck pickup dying in my Strat. Kinda like losing a limb. Analyze this!  
You will spend a lot of money on NOS tubes. You will have to start working on your diplomatic and social skills (I skipped that part), because there will be quite a bit of frustration with guys who will tell you you're imagining all this.  
On the other hand, hearing is the most amazing sense. You can't develop X-ray vision, but X-ray hearing is no problem. You can hear a car pass by the window and disect the sound of the engine. Great fun! Enjoying music becomes a whole different experience altogether. Without trying to wax philosophically, the world kinda opens up to you (wow!). So whatever you decide to believe, don't let anybody tell you that you have to be born with it or you'll never have it. Also don't buy the lie that theses pesky little details don't mean a thing in the real world. One man's real world is another man's black and white copy. Also the cliam that the only difference between tube shields on and tube shields off is noise is a pile of crap! Oops, I guess I just strained my social muscle, better go now. Thanks for putting up with me in this great forum. Hogy
6/8/2000 5:19 PM
Mike D.

I'm glad that you can discern such subtle nuances in tone. That is both a blessing and a curse. I will agree with you that EVERYTHING affects tone to some extent. I will disagree on whether or not it MATTERS.  
For example:  
Do tube shields affect tone: Yes.  
Does it matter: No  
Why not?: Because varying room acoustics, line voltages, ambient temperature and humidity, how many people are in the room, etc. will totally SWAMP this barely perceptable nuance. And we are talking Everglades here, not some little puddle in the backyard.  
Some of us do not wish to get bogged down in the puddles of life...  
I, for one, would much rather have a sound man that could actually HEAR, had an IQ over 70 and wasn't a slobbering drunk hitting on my wife, rather than worry about whether I had carbon comp or metal film plate resistors....  
Mike D.
6/9/2000 6:26 AM
Steve Ahola

    A subtle change in the first stage of a guitar amp could make a big difference after it has been amplified umpteen gazillion times throughout the amp circuit. Although Holger may not have phrased it very tactfully, he does make a good point that we should all try to exercize our hearing "muscles", and not just work on our guitar licks and our soldering chops. (Not to suggest that we are not already doing that...)  
    Building an amp that sounds absolutely killer when cranked up and miked throughout an auditorium requires facilities that may not be available to all of us. However I suspect that there may be subtle sounds that we can learn to hear at lower volumes that can be an indicator of how an amp might sound and respond in actual playing situations larger than a bar...  
    If an amp designer was to constantly subject himself to these loud playing levels, he would soon become deaf, or at least his ears would become very fatigued and would be useless to him for the rest of the day. The really good amp designers seem to build amps that sound good at the full range of playing levels, from studio work to clubs to arenas. I suspect that there are subtleties that they have learned to hear that allow them to fine-tune their amps so that they do work well in this wide range of environments.  
    As to what these subtleties might be... damned if I know! But I do believe that they do exist and that people like Ken Fischer know how to hear them and how to work with them in designing and fine-tuning his amps.  
Steve Ahola  
P.S. Mike, we've already agreed that most audiences can't hear the subtle (or not-so-subtle!) differences between a good amp and a great amp... :( ... so we just need to follow our own tastes and hope that other guitarists like what we build. About the most that we can realistically expect from a typical audience is that they don't spill their drinks on our amps... ;)
6/9/2000 4:56 PM
Mike D.

I hear ya, man.  
There comes a point where tweaking becomes an end in itself rather than a means to an end.  
I've seen the same thing in motocross. I've seen guys spend umpteen dollars on tweako BS like titanium footpeg bolts, only to get smoked by a superior rider on a clapped-out 6 year old junker with the footpegs held on by bailing wire!  
I'm all for tweaking if it makes a real difference. But I don't like wasting time on the equivalent of titanium footpeg bolts.  
Therefore I propose the "TFB rating system", an inverse scale of modification usefulness.  
For example, changing speakers would have a low TFB rating, because it actually makes a real difference.  
Changing filament wires to teflon coated high silver content would get the highest TFB rating as it is a complete pile of excremente de Toro.  
Mike D.
6/9/2000 6:35 PM
Carl Z

This is what is refered to as economies of scale. As you start out small changes can have a vast increase in returns. As you continue the results become less and less apparent until you hit a point where massive changes result in very little returns. Its like when you replace all the 10% carbon comps with 1% metal films you can hear it right away. But going through an amp and replacing the 1% tolerance resistors with 0.01% precision resistors will hardly change a thing and will cost an arm and a leg. There's a point where you have to say enough is enough.  
Carl Z
6/9/2000 9:32 PM
Stephen Conner

"I've seen the same thing in motocross."
I've seen the same thing in mountain biking too - you can now spend $5000 on a mountain bike with many titanium bits, but as a lot of people find out on the trails round here, no amount of money will get you to stay on the darn thing.  
Steve C.
6/9/2000 9:48 PM
All the tweaking is great and will make your amp sound good, but as soon as the bassist and drummer start playing at stage volume, the nuances disappear and the crowd (as well as bar owner) don't care about carbon comps!

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