Thursday, 24 October 2013

A small rant

Its time for another rant, this time aimed at Guitarists.

Quad guitar stacks suck (I'm talking about the classic 'Marshall Stack')!
The level at which they suck cannot be adequately expressed in words on this page.
They are more sucky than a very sucky thing.

They seem like such a good idea when you are standing in a music shop being egged on by an eager salesman keen to pocket the extra commission and who name drops a list of artists who use that particular amplifier on stage with an 80's rock video playing on the screen behind you.

Here is the thing, those artists might actually have those amps sitting on stage but I'd put money on it that they aren't plugged in. They are paid product placement and the real amp the artist is using is more than likely out the back in a noise booth and is considerably smaller. No 'A list' guitarist anywhere in the world worth their salt actually uses a quad stack that is plugged in.

The thing with quad stacks is that they are all show and very little about them is good for producing great guitar tone. In fact if you were going to set out to design something to do a poor job at being a guitar speaker cabinet you would struggle to design something worse than a quad.

Firstly, the arrangement of the 4 speakers basically creates highly directional narrow beam of sound that goes everywhere you don't want it to go and nowhere you do. Most guitarists point their amps out into the crowd. A quad amp has a focal point nearly 20 meters in front of it so that means while you are stuggling to hear and are constantly turning it up, the poor people in the 10th row are being blasted while your sound engineer sits out the front cursing the bajeezus out of you. Quads would be the ideal cabinet if your ears grew on your knees.

Quad cabinets are incredibly efficient at converting electrical energy into sound pressure. If you were building a PA system this would be a good thing, but in a guitar cabinet this is actually a really bad thing. Guitars sound best when the amplifier is working really hard and generating lots of harmonic distortion. This only happens when the tubes are really working hard. The problem with a quad is that it is so efficient that you can never turn the amp up loud enough to get to that great harmonic generating level because it blows your eardrums out. If you do, the rest of the band turns up creating a wave of noise, blowing any siblance of seperation out the window and basically destroying your sound.

Here are some traits of the ideal guitar amplifier, you will notice they are almost the polar opposite of a Quad:

  • it has a single small speaker (5" to 12" max).
  • the speaker is particularly inefficient.
  • the amplifier section itself is not that powerful (10w to 15w is ample)
  • it can be tilted easily so that it points at your ears, not at your ankles.
  • it can be turned up to full volume without exploding or being insanely loud.
  • it has as few knobs as possible and doesn't have 'digital' anything.

I blame the 80s for the tendancy for modern guitarists to still buy quad stacks.
80's bands used to try outdoing each other by having rows of quad stacks across the back of the stage.
The reality was that none of them were actually plugged in and often they were just an empty shell stage prop.
The real guitar amps were hidden under the stage and mic'd up.
This caused every teenage boy in the world to want to own a quad stack despite the fact they made the worst guitar amps in the world. The manufacturers lept onto this trend and saw it as an opportunity to sell over-priced equipment to the masses.