THE TWANG! Small Is Beautiful
steely Dan legend and sessioneer Elliott Randall talks us through his favourite miniature amp setups
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.
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.
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!
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