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When our marketing director asked me to write a blog post comparing analogue vs digital amps, I have to admit that the first thing I did was to turn around to see if he was talking to somebody behind me. Here at Orange there are a number of very skilled musicians, many of whom are seriously into their rigs and can not only play but also understand the technical side of said rigs.  

I do not fall into this category.

Don’t get me wrong – I love playing but the thing is, I’m one of those people who have to work really hard to be mediocre and I’m really not interested in all the bells and whistles, I just want to plug in and play.

First thing I needed to do was find out what the difference is, so I had a chat with our techs. After they realised a primary (elementary) school level explanation was required, we began to make progress and I can summarise thusly:

Analogue guitar amps have a solid state, (transistors, resistors, capacitors etc.) or valve pre-amp that produces the tone and a solid state or valve power amp, which amplifies the signal and drives the speaker.

Digital guitar amps, use digital algorithms (complicated mathematics) to produce the tone and a solid state power amp to amplify the signal and drive the speaker. Digital amps therefore can theoretically reproduce any sound you want. It’s just a case of rearranging the order of the 1s and 0s in the signal. Brilliant!

So why would anyone want an analogue amp? Surely, digital is better. My digital TV is miles better than the old analogue signal I used to get from my RF antenna. (If you don’t remember those, ask your parents.) Before anyone starts, I realise reception and broadcast quality are different things, I’m just making an analogy. No pun intended.

Well, it would appear in this case digital isn’t necessarily better.

If you think about it, the signal going into your amp from your guitar is analogue – it has to be, it’s the sound of a string vibrating. The sound coming OUT of the speaker is analogue, again it has to be. We don’t have digital processors in our ear’oles so we need a soundwave in the air to vibrate our ear drum. So what’s the point of converting an analogue signal to digital and back again? Surely that means that analogue gives you what a digital amp is trying to emulate?

These thought experiments are all well and good but there’s no substitute for giving them a try, so I did. I’m not going to name the amps I tried, that’s not the point of this post – as I said at the beginning, I don’t have any strong feelings either way but I did have fun with both amps.

The digital amp was a bit daunting at first. Lots of knobs and lots of settings but once I sussed out what I was doing, I was able to dial in a load of different sounds and had a jolly old time making some wonderful noises much to the chagrin of the neighbours. The convenience of the digital amp cannot be overstated. I could see how something like that would appeal to gigging musicians hugely. There’s your tone, (or any other you may happen to need) right there in a box. Beats having to cart a load of heavy gear around. Awesome! How can analogue compete?

Pretty well as it turns out. As much as I enjoyed the digital amp listening to the analogue amp made me realise that the digital amp was quite sterile – on reflection, it was almost as if the amp was dictating things.  

I was wracking my brains try to think of a way to explain what I meant by that and the only thing I could come up with was to imagine a beautiful room full of expensive furniture but everything is white. The analogue amp coloured some of the bits in.

I’m no amp reviewer, so I can’t use a load of flowery words but it seemed to me that the analogue amp was as idiosyncratic as my playing. There was a relationship between what I was trying to do and what came out of the amp, that didn’t seem to be the case with digital. Also, I was able to just plug my guitar in and play. No messing around, no working anything out just instant fun.

I’m really not any wiser as to what’s better, all I know is what I prefer and I preferred the analogue amp although I can totally see why people would want to go for digital. The convenience and the ability to have everything right there in one place is very desirable, it just isn’t for me.

As mediocre a player as I am, music is more about how it makes you feel than it is about the technical side of things and for me the analogue amp had feeling.But hey, I’m not trying to convince anyone. What do you think?

Some guitarists are purists. Like Orange, they refuse to ever “go digital.” We like those guitarists. They are our bread and butter. We share with them an affinity for analogue tone. Digital hardware, be damned.

Why won’t they make the switch? After all, digital promises fewer repair headaches and a plethora of tonal options. The reason they’re sticking with analogue is that it sounds better. There’s no way around it, folks. What vinyl is to MP3s, analogue amps are to digital modelers. Analogue offers a level of presence and warmth in one’s tone that just can’t be achieved with a digital signal.

We’ve compiled a short list of Orange Ambassadors that are all-analogue, all the time. Check out their own reasoning behind staying true to their tone:

Scott Holiday of Rival Sons
In this day and age we’ve all messed around with digital amps…and the technology is pretty good now! Almost like the real thing even! The only problem is..It’s NOT the real thing. And the real thing wins…every time. That’s why digital platforms are imitating it..Because nothing will ever beat the sound and feel of valves/tube amps/analog circuitry. There’s almost a living breathing quality to a great tube amp…an immediacy…an almost human quality in responsiveness. I’m not saying ‘reject technology’ or to not appreciate it…I do! And I implement said technology within my rig. What I’m saying is: nothing will ever beat the sound of a great tube/analog amplifier.”

Ken Rose of Hero Jr.
“I am one of those ‘freaks’ that can feel analog reacting with my body. In most cases I prefer analog because it feels like the amplifier and the effects and the tape, or whatever is analog, is directly connected to my expression and creativity. I am not dissing digital by any means, as I use it daily, but I personally feel an aural and auditory kinship with analog.”

Andreas Kisser of Sepultura
“Analogue sound is the truth, is what the digital world tries to emulate but never gets quite there. I only use the sound of the amp, straight to the guitar, no distortion pedals. That way I can feel the real sound of the guitar, the wood, the pick-up and the strings. Analogue is where the evolution of a musician is, you break your limits and create something new.”

Tim Sult of Clutch
“I prefer the warmth and depth of an analogue tone. It makes the wood of the guitar and cabinets sound more like a living being.”

Danko Jones
“Lately, I’ve seen bands playing live without real amps. I mean, wtf? If you’re a rock band and you’re not playing through real live amps during a show, it’s not a rock show.”

So Orange has released a new guitar amplifier, you are shocked right, an amp company releasing an amplifier! But the TremLord is something a little different for Orange. 

The centrepiece of the amplifier is an all valve Tremolo, this is Orange’s take on the 1950’s amplifiers that used this effect to such acclaim.

This made me think one; what is tremolo and where will I have heard it before.

First, what is Tremolo?

Tremolo is simply put a modulation effect, it changes the volume of your signal at certain speed and depth. This is not to be confused with vibrato, which changes the pitch of the signal.

On the TremLord you can set two different speeds of tremolo and also the depth of the modulation. This means it’s perfect for use live with a footswitch.

Uses of Tremolo in Songs

Otis Redding – “A Change is Gonna Come”

This is the song that made me explore songs using tremolo, Otis Redding’s version of “A Change is Gonna Come” is a fantastic example. After the opening horn section the unmistakable tremolo guitar chords float in, which then stay throughout the whole song.

After this I dived headlong into finding more interesting and diverse song that used this effect, trying to find examples from across the musical spectrum and also the past 60 years.

Radiohead – “Bones”

Hearing “The Bends” for the first time I remember the raking sound of the tremolo on “Bones” being one of my favourite parts. It felt like the start of the band moving their sound away from the grunge sound of the first album. I chose a live version as it shows Jonny Greenwood using the effect throughout the song. 

Rage Against the Machine – Guerilla Radio

Tom Morello is known for his unique use of effects and I think this was one of the first Rage Against the Machine songs I ever heard,  I remember struggling to understand what that sound was! Heavily leaning on his trusty boss tremolo pedal the track has become a mainstay of the bands live performances and as the live footage shows it’s no wonder why. 

Rolling Stones – “Gimme Shelter”

The lilting almost glassy sounding guitar intro to the track could be one of the most famous uses of the effect. This stone cold classic was released in 1969, sometimes I feel it gets forgotten about, as people remember “satisfactions” fuzzy tones more. But this for me is the Rolling Stones in a song and the guitar makes it.

The Smiths – “How soon is now?”

This couldn’t not be on the list, its so in your face the Tremolo effect. One of The Smiths most famous songs, this was actually originally a B-Side of the 1984 single “William, it was really nothing”. The original demo for the song was called “Swamp” which hardly surprising when you hear the song.

One thing I noticed while going through this is how many great songs that use this effect, I could have provided another 30-40 songs easily. So if you have any songs that you think I may have forgotten, please comment in the comments and I look forward to delving into even more tremolo songs!

I’m Tom Petersson, bass player for the group Cheap Trick. I’m here in London, England at Sixty Sixty Sounds, Denmark Street.

I came with our guitar player Rick Nielsen, he and I came to London in 1968. We went to Cliff Cooper’s shop, Orange music which is around here somewhere! I don’t know where the exact location was and he was just starting to build Orange amps in the back room. 

Once the british invasion hit that kind of took over everybody’s lives at the time, it just kept going on and on, and people are still listening to it, its amazing!

We first saw Orange amps being used by Fleetwood Mac, they came over in ’69 in the US and they had the big giant bass rig. Peter Green and Danny Kirwan the tone they had was killer, I love to have the feel of the air being pushed like 412 cabinets. I’ve always liked the sound of tube amps, i’ve never liked transistors, it never had the right warmth to it and distortion. We’ve never used pedals for distortion, it’s all totally the amp being pushed to its maximum. I love the sound of the amp sounding like its about ready to blow up, like Jeff Beck is that perfect example of just great tone. Of course it’s in his hands, so it is different in that way but its just that sound and that warmth and that real distortion that you can’t get from transistor. You can’t match the sound of tube amps.

What I like about Orange is the quality of the gear and just the tone, it’s got that warm tube sound and you can push it. If you back off it will clear off a bit, it will be relatively clean and if you dig into it, it breaks up great. So you have got a lot of room with getting your own sound, with muting and it brings all the subtleties out in your playing. Something about the sound about the analogue amps is unbeatable.


Something about the sound about the analogue amps is unbeatable.

For us reliability is a big key and you don’t need amps breaking down. Having vintage amps is a pain, you can’t replace them, they get busted up traveling and the Orange gear just covers all the bases really.  You can get it anywhere and they just have great sound, they really are unbeatable.

I use an AD50 guitar head running a 412 orange cabinet and an AD200 bass head running a 412 orange cabinet and that is it!

I play a 12 string bass, my rig is really the same for a 4 string as a 12 string bass. Its that same guitar sound, your just really adding in the high, it’s a bit like a 12 string guitar playing along with a bass. When I switch over sometimes to a T-Bird or a Fender Precision, they both have that grand piano sound which is great. So you get that great guitar distortion and they have great low end. It’s really basically the same sound, the twelve string is a bit bigger because they’re are high strings going on. Get the great guitar sound and then just add bottom, nothing to it.

The main reason we keep going or most musicians, is that you don’t have a back up plan, it’s not like I can fall back on my lucrative dentistry career! I have been doing this since i was 14 years old and started playing in clubs since I was 15 and it’s really all we know. It’s what we love to do and I can’t imagine stopping. You are not thinking anything, you are playing for the love of it, there is mainly no money in it. You just do it because you love it, we have kept going and there is no reason to stop, yet!