“Hamdangler” was the only thing written on the back of the Atlanta Falcons jersey, in a screenshot of the preview photo at the NFL’s custom jersey shop online. I will never forget it.
This was many years ago, when the tabloid-style newspaper that the Daily Camera used to produce, called Dirt, was just getting started. The NFL at the time was debuting a feature where you could put your own name on NFL jerseys, and Dirt’s editor-in-chief David Parker and his young, silly staff thought that would be a perfect photo to accompany the story.
I still laugh thinking about it. I picture someone dangling a shiny ham in front of an alligator or something.
Anyway, customization can be really fun, and it’s a big part of our modern society. We’re past the days of one-size-fits-all, and with the influence of the Internet, we’re in the age of anything goes.
Generally, personalization or customization tends to have more to do with the way a thing looks. I had a chance to play with some Bose QuietComfort headphones recently and learned that for an astonishing $100 extra, you can change the colors of the parts. While I thought that was an overpriced customization for a pair of $250 headphones, once I saw some suggested color schemes, it seemed less frivolous. But how about better internal speakers for the extra cost?
The past few weeks, I’ve been waxing prolific about vacuum tube audio. I talked about the special sonic qualities of the old technology and spent some time pointing to modern companies that take the hassles out of the experience. One thing I haven’t talked about yet is “tube rolling,” which is essentially customizing the sound of your tube amplifier by using different tubes.
This quality of tube amps is remarkable for two reasons. First, you can significantly change the sound character of a tube amp by choosing either a different company’s tube of the same type or by installing a different kind of tube altogether.
The second remarkable thing is the switching itself. In all other types of amplifier, what the company designed is what you get. You can’t just pop out transistors or op-amps from your machine and swap with something else. They are relatively set in stone. But since tubes are built to plug in and pull out of a socket (due to their short life and their need to be replaced), they are looked at as interchangeable by consumers.
Tube manufacturers knew this from the beginning, so countless circuit designs have been created to add flexibility and allow users to use different types of tubes.
Touching on that for a moment, let’s acknowledge how old tube technology is. It’s super old. Like, circa or before the incandescent light bulb kind of old. So you know that a group of people over in this country thought a power tube should be this way, and a group over in that country found a different way to get it done, etc. It always happens. There are, by this point, hundreds if not thousands of different types of vacuum tubes. Fortunately, there are just a handful of the best types for each job a tube can do. I’ll pick up on that next week.