Ok, picture the scene. Your band is main support to a reasonably well-known, if fairly niche, touring band. It’s your first ‘big’ show and you’re all fired up for an amazing night. You’ve met the rest of your gang at your practice room and you begin the process of packing everything up, ready to travel to the show. Then, in an unbelievable twist of bad fortune, your cack-handed drummer drops your amp and large chunks of it scatter across the floor. There’s no time to fix it. “No problem,” you think, “the venue will have backline or I’ll borrow off one of the other bands.” Problem solved. Until…
You arrive at the venue and hunt down the sound guy. “Sorry buddy, the only thing we’ve got is a 15w solid state harmonica amp. You’re welcome to use it though.” Hmm. Nightmare. You locate members of the other bands but unfortunately their gear is covered in Hello Kitty stickers and glitter fountains. Hardly the kind of image you want to give people on your big night. So, the harmonica amp it is then.
You stoically arrange the rather sad looking unit onto the stage, fighting back the tears. The show must go on, right? You semi-seriously give the amp a pet name, to try and foster some kind of emotional attachment. “We’re gonna get through this, Doom Toaster. You and me. We’ll show them.”
But try as you might, there’s not a single decent tone to be found. At the back of your mind you know Doom Toaster sounds like the aural equivalent of a limp handshake from an insecure teenager. Seriously, you’ve heard vacuum cleaners with more sonic gusto than this thing. Applying any kind of volume to it serves only to highlight the disappointment but, at this late stage, there’s no other option.
Come stage time, you feel it. Everyone gets it, only this time it’s more intense. The Fear. You pick up your guitar, ring out the intro chord to your opening tune and the entire venue creases up laughing. Your big night, the one with which your band was going to put itself on the map, down the toilet because of bad amplification. Your band mates now hate you. The other bands hate you. The audience throw bottles of suspicious-looking liquid at you. Your partner leaves you. Your parents disown you. Civil war breaks out in Canada. Even your dog won’t look you in the eye. All because of little old Doom Toaster.
You might think this is an extreme example but, unfortunately, it’s not*. History is littered with tales of guitarists who have suffered similar fates due to mediocre, disappointing or sub-standard gear. Don’t be that guy. Here’s a few things you can do to ensure you don’t fall into that trap.
Buy once, buy for life
Never a truer phrase has been uttered; buy something good at the start and you’ll save yourself years of mediocrity. Buying something just to tide you over is a false economy. Yes, you might have to save longer to buy the ‘right’ one but, trust us, you’ll be glad you did. You know when you buy Orange that you’re getting something built with care, attention and quality which will last you a lifetime.
Get to know each other
Now you’ve got your new amplification life-partner, take the time to learn how it works. Read up on valves, gain stages, tonal variations etc. Do your homework so if, and when, something does go wrong you’ll know how to remedy it. The Orange forum is a great place to learn the inner-workings of your new amp. You can find out which pedals or tubes work best, as well as service tips for ensuring “Doom Toaster’s Return” (that’s what you named it, right?) a long and happy life.
Prepare for failure
Once you know what could go wrong with an amp (accidents not withstanding) take the steps to counter those things. Doom Toaster’s Return will require some love and care (and possibly flowers on it’s birthday). It’s similar to changing oil in your car. Stock up on spare valves and fuses, and know how to change them at a moment’s notice. For the touring musician, the Orange VT1000 valve tester will ensure any replacement valves you use are properly biased and good to go.
Learn your tone
Sounds pretty obvious, right? But by learning what specific characteristics make up ‘your’ tone, you’ll not be left floundering if you are ever forced to cheat on Doom Toaster’s Return by playing (having an affair with) another amp (you bastard!).
If things are going well and you’re playing regularly, it would probably be worth considering buying a second amp to keep in reserve. Clearly if you’re running something high-spec, like a Rockerverb 100 MKIII, then it’s perhaps unrealistic to consider buying a second one just in case. However, a more reasonable option might lie in the Crush Pro range; the CR120 does a more than passable Rockerverb impersonation at a fraction of the cost, and if called upon would quite comfortably provide the tones and stage volume you’re used to. Doom Toaster’s Return will simply have to accept that you’re not a one-amp guitarist, stop throwing your guitars on the front lawn, and come back to bed.
Beware well-meaning drummers
A final point to consider; there’s a reason why drum kits are so big. It’s so there are a lot of cases to carry, which removes the risk of drummers having to touch your gear.