I am the first one to admit that over my entire guitar playing career, I have never had a really great guitar tone. Where many of my guitar playing colleagues developed into instrument and amp experts (dare I say nerds) and often spent substantial amounts of money on just the right, often vintage, guitar, this was secondary for me. There rarely was a gig in my career on which I didn’t bitch about my sound (then again I heard other guitar players with much more professional equipment having mediocre tone and bitch about it.)
In the beginning years, this had much to do with the fact that instruments and amps of any kind weren’t cheap. And I never had enough money. I think over the years, I simply learned to live with the flaws of my sound or tone. As a matter of fact, in the meantime I actually like the flaws and shortcomings of many of my instruments.
It’s a bit different with amplification. While I really like my 100W Carvin tube combo, it’s a little too powerful for many shows. For those smaller venues I had been using a 30W Epiphone tube amp until it blew up one night, emitting a pretty bad smell. It’s still on my workbench for repair. It was replaced by a used Crate Blue Voodoo 60W combo which I would consider to be the best sounding amp I ever owned (contrary to many guitarists’ opinions). I had bought the Crate used in 2014 and this Summer, 2017, it also fizzled out on a gig. This happened just before our European tour in June and it went undiagnosed and unrepaired until we came back (replacing all the power capacitors did the trick.)
Since it’s a bit unrealistic to take an amp on an airplane these days, I was dependent on whatever backline the venue offered, although on the second half of the German leg, I was able to use a friend’s Fender Classic 30. That was a sweet amp and fit well in the car. I had the iPad with me, thinking I would use it for guitar effects, but the small connectors are just a little unreliable. We did a show in Berlin where I used the house amp – I think a Yamaha Series II. Sounded okay, but fighting all night to get a halfway decent tone takes away from the playing. Then there was the club in Edinburgh, Scotland, which had a guitar amp I don’t remember the brand of. It worked okay and after a while I just stopped worrying. Next night we rode the train to Glasgow. The club there only had a bass amp and a keyboard with a PA. That was when I was really grateful for the iPad. Going into the PA system straight from the iPad wasn’t perfect, and having little control over the monitor speaker to actually hear myself, it wasn’t very comfortable either. But, after I listened to the recording from that night, the guitar sounded actually quite good in the room.