#1
I saw a video a while back comparing the EQ curves of a typical Fender, VOX, and Marshall tone stack. The Fender and VOX tone stack were surprisingly similar. So it led me to ask the question of the title- what else has influence over the overall tone and character? Here are my guesses, by no means technically correct.

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I would think that what has the #1 influence on the character of the amp would be the tone stack. The inherit tonal, EQ response of the amp relies a lot on this section. From what I understand, most guitar amp circuits cut midrange down to compensate from the midrange-heavy signal of a guitar pickup- how the midrange is cut and emphasized, and the overall gain of the tone stack, makes up a significant part of the overall tone and character of the amp.

Next I would say is the speaker. Sometimes speakers are overlooked- but an "American" voiced speaker vs a "British" voiced speaker, and every frequency response in between, has quite a bit of say in the sound. It has such a high impact on tone for pretty much for the same reasons as the tone stack- it heavily adjusts the EQ response of the amp. Not only that, but it can influence the attack, resonance, and overall loudness of the amp as well.

Next would be the Negative Feedback, or possible lack of. This is a new bit of info for me. From what I understand, a small bit of the output signal is put back into the earlier circuit. Since the feedback signal is reverse polarity (negative) relative to the signal earlier in the circuit, it cancels out some signal- creating a bit more balance in the signal, a tiny bit less "character" overall, and keeping the amp cleaner. Many Fender circuits utilize NF, resulting in a cleaner, balanced sound. VOX circuits do not, resulting in a bit more of an aggressive, pokey sound.

Another would be the power tubes/power section. I imagine that since most guitar amps use 12AX7's in the preamp, those tubes are not as varied in their inherit sound compared to power tubes. They, along with the circuitry that works/typically associated with the power tubes, impart some character on the sound. EL84's are typically a bit easier to break up with a bit of midrange emphasis, 6L6 is typically a bit cleaner with a bit of a midrange scoop.

The rectifier type also has influence on the tone as well. A tube rectifier can sag, a SS rectifier will not (or at least not as much).

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Those are very rough estimates from my relatively little knowledge. I know I missed a lot- bias type, PT/OT, choke, etc. Obviously amplification type (tube or SS) has quite a lot of significance but I have chosen to focus on tube circuits. Feel free to correct and/or add on.
Last edited by Will Lane at Dec 1, 2016,
#2
What has the biggest effect on the tone of the amp?

Your fingers.

I'm serious. I can pick up your guitar, plug it into your amp, and sound like me. Walk into a music store, pick up any guitar, plug into almost any tube amp, tweak the tone knobs for a few seconds, I have a general idea where it would be, and I'll sound like me even if the tone controls are just somewhere in the ball park. Often I don't even bother, as long as somebody didn't leave it all treble and no bass or some crap like that. I just turn the volume all the way off, turn the amp on, bring volume up to where I want it and play. unless the toe controls are way out in left field, I'll sound like me.

Same if I go to open mic night at a club. You have to plug into their rig, I bring my volume pedal and a short cable, plug in and I sound like me. I've played Peavey, Fender, Mesa, Marshall, very little difference except in overall amp gain level. I still sound like me.

David Gilmour said the same thing, he could walk into a music store, pick up any guitar and a pedal or two, plug into any amp and sound like David Gilmour. Onstage he uses Hiwatt amps because they are the cleanest he can find, in the studio he uses a lot of small Fenders. For one song he used a Fender Bandmaster in a large auditorium. (Sorrow, from Momentary Lapse of Reason) He has used all kinds of rigs over the years, but usually the Hiwatt amps onstage, different rigs in the studio but quite often Fenders in the 30 to 40 watt range, like the Vibrolux.

A lot of people have tried to nail the sound Joe Walsh got on Funk #49 with the James Gang. I finally found out in a n interview he used a Telecaster plugged into a Fender Champ. Nothing else. I've seen people try to do it on every amp you can think of...he's played a lot of Fender and Marshall amps onstage, the little Fender Champ is what got that sound. Clapton used a Champ too, the entire Layla album. Still sounded like Clapton...

It's your fingers.
Hmmm...I wonder what this button does...
#3
Sure you will sound like you, but do you have the same tone with a lp and a Marshall as you have with a strat and a twin?

No, you don't. Neither did Gilmore or Clapton.
Why don't they make mouse flavored cat food?
#4
That is most of what gives an amp it's particular character. I'd say gain stage> amp design (Class A/Class AB)> speaker> tone stack, in that order with other factors being fairly minor.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis
#5
Clapton is a classic example to refute the whole tone is in your fingers BS. Clapton in Cream has totally different tone to his solo stuff. You can still tell that it's Clapton but his tone is radically different.
People confuse tone with talent all the time. Tone isn't the only, or even the main way that we recognise somebody's style. That is talent. Different animal.
Gilchrist custom
Yamaha SBG500
Telecasters
Randall RM100 & RM20
Marshall JTM45 clone
Marshall JCM900 4102 (modded)
Marshall 18W clone
Fender 5F1 Champ clone
Atomic Amplifire
Marshall 1960A
Boss GT-100


Cathbard Amplification
My band
#6
Cathbard

I gotta go with SRV on that debate. Gear definitely has it's own sonic character but for great guitar tone, hands matter a lot.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis
Last edited by Cajundaddy at Dec 2, 2016,
#7
Then explain Clapton
Gilchrist custom
Yamaha SBG500
Telecasters
Randall RM100 & RM20
Marshall JTM45 clone
Marshall JCM900 4102 (modded)
Marshall 18W clone
Fender 5F1 Champ clone
Atomic Amplifire
Marshall 1960A
Boss GT-100


Cathbard Amplification
My band
#8
It doesn't even matter. It's just a stupid thing to say in this context. The question was about which part of the amps make a lot of difference. Some people are apparently under the impression that "fingers" are a part of the amp.

As usual, the "tone is in the fingers" argument isn't wrong so much as it is annoying and inserted pointlessly into places it doesn't belong. This is a gear forum, if you want to talk about how much fingers matter go hang out in Guitar Techniques. It doesn't add anything to the discussion here.
#9
On topic, it seems like the first post is more of a "random list of things I recently learned go in amps" sort of deal, which is ok but a bit misinformed. It's a complicated question and there's not strictly ever going to be an answer. Understanding why it's a bit of a weird question takes some understanding of amp design and circuits.

Output transformer really should be high on the list. It's an enormous part of the sound, which makes some sense given how "dirty" the process is compared to, say, EQ which is fairly straightforward and whose parameters are generally well understood.The speaker is the very last thing that you have control over, before the sound hits your ear (thinking of the speaker and cab as a single system, I guess). So it's not surprising that the speaker has a huge effect on how the amp sounds. Power tubes...meh. Preamp tubes, you're totally backwards, the preamp voicing is hugely variable and important. Everyone uses 12AX7s because they're so versatile and varied in possibilities, not because they all sound the same. Obviously cascading gain stages multiply, quite literally, the tonal importance of the first stage.

I think the way to better understand this (not answer, really, but at least get a better sense of it) is to read some of the excellent resources out there like the Aiken amps site, Valvewizard, etc., and understand how and what the parts of a circuit do. Otherwise you might be under the impression that these are just lego parts you can kind of drag and drop, instead of networks that are interdependent and interactive. For example it's hard to say "the tone stack" has X amount of effect on the sound because, well, what are you comparing it against? Some amps that sound really similar have totally different tone stacks, and some amps have the exact same tone stack as other amps that don't sound anything alike. You can change the tone stack in an amp and hear what it does differently, which I think is a lot more useful than trying to say if it's more or less important than some other part of the circuit, in an abstract way. A little understanding of the reality is going to teach a lot more than this thread, which even if it could be answered wouldn't really help you understand much about why amps sound the way they do.

Go make a little Champ and mess around with the circuit! Everyone should do that at least once.
#11
Quote by Cathbard
Then explain Clapton


Heroin.


He was off it when he started sounding shi-I mean when he started his solo career
Quote by Axelfox
my mom and i went to a furry con and on the second day she said she didn't come and pay money to go see dumb shit.


Quote by JustRooster
I incurred the wrath of the Association of White Knights. Specifically the Parent's Basement branch of service.
#12
Quote by Roc8995
(1) On topic, it seems like the first post is more of a "random list of things I recently learned go in amps" sort of deal, which is ok but a bit misinformed. It's a complicated question and there's not strictly ever going to be an answer. Understanding why it's a bit of a weird question takes some understanding of amp design and circuits.

(2) Output transformer really should be high on the list. It's an enormous part of the sound, which makes some sense given how "dirty" the process is...

(3) Preamp tubes, you're totally backwards, the preamp voicing is hugely variable and important. Everyone uses 12AX7s because they're so versatile and varied in possibilities, not because they all sound the same.
(1) Pretty much- My bits of knowledge are quite new and basic, which is why I made the thread. Are you saying that a definitive list of "x bit of the circuit has this much influence over the tone", ranked from most to least important, will not always apply universally to every amp? I.e. "this amps' tone stack has more influence over the tone of this amp, compared to this other amp's tone stack which does less?" Or is ranking the influence in this way for any amp undefinable?

(2) Any elaboration on that or is it too much to go into? I do know the OT has a lot to do with the sound, I just do not know exactly how so. I'll do some research soon myself.

(3) But is the sound of the 12AX7 preamp dependent only upon the tube being a 12AX7, or because the designer took advantage of some possibilities and let alone others? As in, are the 12AX7's the finished picture or are they rather a canvas? The circuit has to "control" what the preamp will sound like, which is not dependent upon the 12AX7 tube alone but rather the surrounding circuitry. However, I see power tubes much more as a utility, they do their job of elevating the signal level to be able to drive a loudespeaker- but some of their "character" is imparted on the sound, and that character is applied just from the tube being itself, not necessarily from anything the designer did. Is that incorrect thinking?
Last edited by Will Lane at Dec 2, 2016,
#13
1. Yes, exactly. Ranking it is undefinable, and couldn't possibly apply universally. Think about it this way - "what part of the guitar makes the most difference?" Compared to what? You could say pickups but what if you're comparing two guitars with similar or even identical pickups? The word "difference" is comparative, so any question about "how much difference" with no point of reference can't possibly be answered. You can't say that this or that circuit makes the most difference in a vacuum. There's no context, and "difference" by definition requires context. You can make vague generalizations under certain circumstances but that's mostly idle chat, and doesn't offer much in the way of real understanding.

2. Plenty of information available online. Like pickups, there's a bit of basic information but the details of how and why things sound different is much more complicated. Victoria has a good intro to the topic http://www.victoriaamp.com/understanding-your-output-transformer-part-one-by-mark-baier/

3. If 12AX7s were the finished picture, you'd expect most 12AX7 preamps to sound largely the same, no? Obviously the sound is not dependent only on the tube being a a 12AX7, as evidenced by the easy substitution of 12AT7, 5751, etc, which will sound very similar in the same circuit. What you're saying is much more a function of preamp design than the tubes themselves. Of course the preamp is going to impart more character, that's the whole point of the preamp. It's the tone-shaping portion of the amp. The tubes are a red herring here, I'd really strongly suggest trying or at least researching some simple preamp voicing mods to understand how and why this is the case.
#14
pretty much what colin says.

I like to say "the circuit is the most important bit" because then i don't need to learn any more fine detail
Quote by crownegamers
I saw in a couple of pictures that on Bucketheads Les Paul (only some pictures) that his neck pickup is painted in white. Can anyone explain to me why he would do this, and if there are any pros and cons.

Quote by dspellman
The guy wears a KFC Bucket and a white mask during performances, and you're interested in the color of his pickup covers?

#15
Quote by Dave_Mc
pretty much what colin says.

I like to say "the circuit is the most important bit" because then i don't need to learn any more fine detail


For me the secret is all in the crystal lattice...


Quote by Axelfox
my mom and i went to a furry con and on the second day she said she didn't come and pay money to go see dumb shit.


Quote by JustRooster
I incurred the wrath of the Association of White Knights. Specifically the Parent's Basement branch of service.
#16
I prefer romaine though! Will my tone suffer?
I'm just a kickin' and a gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer.
#17
Quote by dementiacaptain
I prefer romaine though! Will my tone suffer?


We will have to ask Howard but from the looks of things I don't think he's a fan of salad.


Quote by Axelfox
my mom and i went to a furry con and on the second day she said she didn't come and pay money to go see dumb shit.


Quote by JustRooster
I incurred the wrath of the Association of White Knights. Specifically the Parent's Basement branch of service.
#18
^ hahahahahahahaha
Quote by crownegamers
I saw in a couple of pictures that on Bucketheads Les Paul (only some pictures) that his neck pickup is painted in white. Can anyone explain to me why he would do this, and if there are any pros and cons.

Quote by dspellman
The guy wears a KFC Bucket and a white mask during performances, and you're interested in the color of his pickup covers?