Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Well, at least I don’t have to buy a new amplifier yet

BehringerGuitarLink

I’ve been wanting a new guitar amplifier for the past few years.

See, I used to have a decent guitar amp and a couple of great guitars – a Fender Japanese Telecaster and an Alvarez acoustic.

My amp, wonderfully customized Telecaster and Alvarez were hauled down to the pawn shop over a decade ago when I was practicing law and needed to pay my rent. Yes, people who owed me money put me off back then, but my creditors didn’t extend the same courtesy. Bastards.

At any rate, I’ve since replaced my beloved Telecaster with a Fender Deluxe Stratocaster and have been playing through a Danelectro Nifty 50 practice amp for the past few years. The Danelectro is fine (the thing is an absolute tone monster), but it is very limited.

Rather than spending about $600 on one of those great Vox Valvetronix modeling amps I’ve been wanting for some time, I decided to drop about $40 on eBay for a Behringer Guitar Link. That’s a nifty little device that allows you to hook up your guitar (or bass) through your computer’s USB port and wail away.

The device came packaged with some recording software, an audio editor and some amp models – all of that stuff is OK and is good enough to get you started. The amp modeling phenomenon is great, indeed, in that you’ve got software that will mimic various amplifiers. The very limited package that came with the Guitar Link is made by Native Sounds and mimics three amps – the famed Vox that was used by the likes of the Beatles, what appears to be some kind of Fender tube amp and something that attempts to mimic a Marshall tube amp (Native Sounds, apparently, hasn’t bought the rights to “swipe” the legitimate names of the amps their software attempts to emulate).

Of course, the combo package is limited in that you can try three models for 30 days and can get one for free by typing in a serial number that comes with the Guitar Link. Native Sounds is obviously hoping people will move on up to it’s allegedly good (and certainly expensive) Guitar Rig 3 which contains a ton of amp models, a lot of effects and all sorts of things that sound great.

At any rate, I’ve learned a few things while messing with the Behringer Guitar Link and figured I’d bore you good people with all that now:

1. A lot of critics out there claim that these software modelers will never sound as good as real amplifiers. They’re probably right. Hey, there’s no substitute for owning a huge amp, turning it up as loud as you can without the cops showing up and beating your guitar to death. However, this Behringer stuff is great for practicing and recording some demo tracks. One of my favorite features of the package I’ve got is that I can lay down a rhythm track, play it back and solo over it. My 12-year-old son has asked for a Epiphone SG for Christmas and I’m glad to know he’ll be able to do something I never did – bang out a chord progression and practice playing leads over it. Pretty cool. If the kid gets good at playing guitar, maybe he’ll get a “big boy” Gibson SG and an expensive amp. He’s got to learn to walk before he can run, however, and the Behringer Guitar Link (and his practice amp) will serve him well for now.

2. I suck at guitar and I’m mad about it. As a young The Hawg, I took guitar lessons from a fellow in Benton who was well versed in classic country, another fellow here in Benton who could play anything from classic rock to angry punk noise and an aging hippy in Fayetteville who proved just how intricate, complex and absolutely exciting playing rhythm guitar on a Telecaster through a Fender Twin Reverb amp can be.

I never was a great guitarist, but I could at least hold my own. My timing has gone to hell, my fingers won’t do what I know they can do and my poor Strat sounds like it’s being mangled by a sloppy cat who doesn’t give a damn. Obviously, things are different now -- when I was in college I had plenty of time to play guitar. However, being married, having a job and raising kids changes things quite a bit. Also, I can't exactly justify cranking up an amp when people in the house are doing other things (homework, watching television -- living, you know?)

I haven’t practiced regularly in years, see, but the Guitar Link will (hopefully) allow me to make up for a lot of lost time. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get back in the form I was in back when I sang (yelped?) and played rhythm guitar in my college band – the famed Wacky Savages. Yes, you can here my golden Telecaster running clean through a Fender Twin Reverb by clicking here. Ignore my Johnny Rotten-inspired yelp, though. What the hell was I thinking?

3. The Behringer unit was cheap, but setting up right might cost a bit of money. I’ve already had to buy a 1/8” to 1/4” adapter to plug some headphones into this thing (the unit will absolutely not play through my computer speakers). The headphones sound OK as do my computer speakers when I plug it into the unit, but what about feedback and all sorts of fun racket? That will likely require a decent set of monitors and they don’t exactly give those things away for free. Furthermore, I’ll have to get some decent amp modeling software as the package that came with the Behringer is decidedly limited. That costs some money, too. And what if I want to use a foot pedal to switch from, say, running distortion to running a clean channel? There’s some money as well.

You can wind up spending quite a bit to be able to play your guitar through your computer, mix tracks together and come up with some decent recordings. Is it worth it? Well, I don’t know. For now, I’m just happy I can practice whenever I want and I don’t bother people when beating on a guitar when I’m listening to my sloppy playing through headphones. That’s good enough for now.

The Behringer is a lot of fun and it didn’t cost much. As much as I’ve cussed computers since I got my first one in 1982 (a TRS-80 Color Computer!), I’m still regularly impressed with the applications that come out for the trouble-prone things.

65 comments:

Harrison said...

Did you look for used amps? Is your computer hooked up to a decent set of speakers?

Shame about the pawned guitar.

The Natural State Hawg said...

Harrison:

Yes, I've looked at some used amps -- got my heart set on the Vox, however. Another problem, of course, is that my wife tends to howl at me when I crank up an amp, so why drop $600 on something I can rarely use?

For now, running headphones through modeled amps on a computer is great. The speakers on my computer are decent, too, so it's a bit of fun to listen to the racket I've recorded.

It killed me to get rid of those guitars and amp years ago. However, I was a broke lawyer at the time and needed some cash in a hurry. I miss that Telecaster...

LOBO said...

Wow! That's really cool.

I've got a little ZOOM microprocessor that comes with all kinds of nifty effects, and a kicktail sound system for my PC.

I think I'll have to check one of these out!

The Natural State Hawg said...

Lobo -- I remember when those Zoom boxes first came out. Wonderfully diverse things -- you could pull just about any sound you wanted out of them.

Rebecca said...

Super cool! Thanks for posting this! I had never heard of it. My hubs is a guitarist (so are a handful of us in the family), who has written some great songs and wants to get them recorded. This Behringer piece looks terrific!

By the way, do you have a Mac? I am looking into getting one (a Mini) and can't find anyone to recommend one to me... I'm sure there are lots of fans, but no one's very vocal about it. Got any advice, and tips?

The Natural State Hawg said...

Rebecca -- Unfortunately, I'm stuck with a PC (my wife wouldn't let me drop the $$$ for a Mac). I did use Macs back when I was a reporter and absolutely loved them, however. Sadly, I can't give a lot of advice because I was using them back before they switched from Motorola chip sets to Intel.

All I know is that the people who get them tend to go nuts for them. My brother is one of those -- he's got a Macbook and can't say enough good things about it.

Good luck!

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