Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
If you ask music fans about what element of a sound system makes the most difference when you change it, most will say the speakers.
We interact with speakers — we look at them, they create the music, etc. Makes sense.
Except some folks talk about tube amplifiers in the same way that speakers are discussed. It seems that in the tube arena, the idea that an amplifier can have a big role in the sound is accepted without argument. Ask any guitar player.
As to why, mostly what you’ll hear will be talk of “tone” or maybe something about “warmth.”
Warm sound means fat and bass-heavy, and that stuff is determined more by the type of capacitors used in an amp and also its transformers — not the tubes themselves.
Tone is more of the tube’s bailiwick because a tube adds what’s known as “second-order harmonic,” which is an even-order harmonic. Second order means that if a fundamental tone is at 500 Hz (500 vibrations per second), a tone will appear at the same time at 1,000 Hz, but lower in volume.
Humans love this, for reasons I can’t get into here. We love even harmonics — fourth isn’t so bad to our ears, either. But as we go up in orders, we become more sensitive to this distortion of sound, and it makes us believe less in what we’re hearing.
Newer transistor amplifier designs — class D in particular — tend to exhibit more high-order harmonics than we like, and sometimes they’re described as cold, harsh and analytical.
Something about the old-timey way just sounds better. To be continued.
If you like music and you’ve lived in Boulder for more than a semester, you might have heard of this Otis Taylor guy.
Otis is one of a number of music legends who call this area home. Otis has had a long discography, songs in big movies, international audiences, his name in lights, etc. He hasn’t retired from music — hell, he released a brand new, amazing album just this year — but he did plant roots here and snagged a home and raised a family. His daughter Cassie, in fact, is an excellent musician in her own right and has played electric bass on a number of his albums over the years.
He plays blues guitar mostly, in a style he coined way back called “trance blues.” It’s this rhythmic and melodic kneading of one chord over time, wringing every last idea out of just one key.
So every year, he does this thing in Boulder that is really cool. He hosts an annual open-invitation trance blues workshop and concert, and this year, it’s Nov. 11 at eTown Hall in downtown Boulder.
The feeling of adding to the collective onstage in the droning key, being a voice in a choir and together creating something greater than possible individually… that feeling can’t be synthesized. You need to hear it to get it.
Visit trancebluesfestival.com for more info including workshop price and recommended gear. All ages and all ability levels welcome for this awesome guitar jam.