THE TWANG! Small Is Beau­ti­ful

steely Dan leg­end and ses­sioneer El­liott Ran­dall talks us through his favourite minia­ture amp set­ups

Guitarist - - Opinion - el­liott ran­Dall

When I was a young aspir­ing player, I al­ways dreamed of own­ing a great guitar amp setup. As time pro­gressed, I worked my way up the chain of cool guitar amps, even­tu­ally favour­ing a hy­brid ‘Franken­stein’ of four Fender Su­per Re­verb amps, with the in­sides mod­i­fied to give me 100 watts RMS. The tone was su­perb; the sheer am­pli­tude was over­whelm­ing. And it did some per­ma­nent dam­age to my hear­ing.

As the years rolled on, all kinds of new cre­ations sur­faced – and within the realm of guitar am­pli­fi­ca­tion came some very in­ter­est­ing de­vel­op­ments. Let’s talk about three cool ex­am­ples of minia­tur­i­sa­tion in the guitar am­pli­fier species. Here are three ex­am­ples of what I’m talkin’about.

The Pig­nose

This mini-amp made its first ap­pear­ance at the 1973 NAMM Show, and be­came an in­stant ‘must-have’. With its faux-leather cov­er­ing, a sin­gle con­trol – for vol­ume (in the shape of a pig’s nose) – what you got was a five-watt amp, and the only ma­nip­u­la­tion of tone could be done by open­ing and clos­ing the cab­i­net. It was a hoot, but a vi­able piece of gear for many who were look­ing for new and quirky sounds. I re­ally loved record­ing with mine, as did Joe Walsh, Frank Zappa, Eric Clap­ton and Terry Kath, among oth­ers.

I used to place my Pig­nose in a large wooden cab­i­net, which ex­ag­ger­ated the low-end and made a big dif­fer­ence to the over­all sound. It just felt… big­ger and fat­ter and warmer! The buskers al­ways loved it, too – it can run on bat­ter­ies and has am­ple power/push with which to make your state­ment – any­where.

The Rock­man

I re­mem­ber bump­ing into Bos­ton cre­ator and gui­tarist/in­ven­tor Tom Scholz at a NAMM show sev­eral years later. He handed me a pack­age and said,‘Let me know what you think of this. ’The ‘this ’was one of the orig­i­nal Rock­man X100 units. It was ba­si­cally a guitar preamp/amp with­out the speaker(s). It had two mini-stereo out­puts and you could use it with a set of head­phones for a‘per­son­alised’ lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence – great for prac­tice! But it did a lot more: by plug­ging the main stereo out­put into a con­sole (or amp), you had a to­tal guitar rig. Per­haps not as many tonal op­tions as a full-blown amp, but its sound was uniquely its own, and in­cluded cho­rus, echo, clean and dirty sound op­tions.And it could strap onto your belt!

The iRig

This is pretty tiny and weighs only a few ounces, but the DSP pack­age is huge. De­signed to be used with an iPhone, iPad or com­put­ers (Mac or Win­dows), it in­ter­faces with IK Mul­ti­me­dia’s Am­pliTube apps.The users’ choices of am­pli­fier sim­u­la­tors are more than im­pres­sive.You can dial up a 60s Bass­man, a Roland JC-120, a Mar­shall stack and dozens more – not to men­tion the ef­fects ped­als choices built in, as well. Oh yes, the app has a built-in multi-track recorder, too.

So with this lit­tle pow­er­house, you can get to the gig car­ry­ing your guitar, the iRig and iPad (or iPhone), plug into the con­sole – or a larger guitar amp; there’s an out­put jack for that, too – and you’re good to go. I re­ally can’t praise this new tech­nol­ogy highly enough. Truly 21st cen­tury. Fewer chi­ro­prac­tor bills, too!

So whether you are record­ing or per­form­ing, the most im­por­tant is­sues are your play­ing com­fort and hap­pi­ness with the sound be­ing achieved, and the over­all bal­ance of the ensem­ble. Whether you are us­ing a cou­ple of hun­dred watts and mul­ti­ple cab­i­nets, or any of the above ex­am­ples, these ‘de­sir­ables’ re­main the same.

The tiny but mighty iRig lets you plug in and en­joy some killer tones

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