“Electric Guitar & an Amp. That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll!”

Technology. It’s meant different things for different generations. It’s come in different shapes, sizes and forms. It’s been a wheel, an axe, bronze, metal and steel. In general, it has made life easier but it has also lead to some of humanities greatest disasters. For the most part it’s welcomed but there are always those who lament the loss of craftsmanship or the human touch, especially when it comes to mechanisation of industrial practises. In the electric guitar world debate looms large over the use of CNC machines in relation to shaping bodies and necks, and whether or not the human touch constitutes an overall more soulful, if not better and more accurate, finish. Details. The debate rages on! Still, however guitar lovers may grumble as to what makes for the best electric, the digitisation of amplification and effects holds a special place in the hearts of waring guitarists and musicians everywhere. One need just look at the many fora online to understand. April’s chat gets Colm’s take on these things.

Pic: Line 6 Family of all in one amps and effects processors.

“Yeah, they’re definitely useful,” says Colm in relation to the many digital options in guitar amp land these days. “For practise especially. And as a writing tool. You can just patch up a facsimile of what you think may or may not work without having to go and buy something specific or whatever.” Do you have a preference? “Analog. But 50% of that is romantic and 50% is because it’s so much more fun to have an amp with pedals in front of it. It’s a lot more involved process and it’s instant. No latency or firmware problems, just plug in and away you go. Things go wrong but they’re easier to fix. It’s also what I started on.” You mentioned romance, just there. Could you expand upon that? “Yeah. The bands I was into all had analog gear, bar a few odd digital effects in the 80s, say. We’re a pretty nostalgic bunch us musicians, so for the most part we’re trying to emulate certain sounds and if we can do it through the same means as our heroes all the better.” I remember you saying your preference for Vox amplifiers was due to Tom Petty. “That’s right.” Is digital just not up to scratch. “Sound wise I reckon it’s indecipherable now in a live situation. To be honest I’d have a very hard time telling you which is which. But, again, it goes back to tradition. For me, the electric guitar and an amp. That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. And that’s the experience I want to have while playing. I think it’s the same for most musicians’ but sometimes the practicalities outweigh heritage.” In what sense? “Well it not all glamour. Amps are heavy and pedals and pedalboards can be, depending. One amp may not be enough. You may have to mic up the amp, there’s maintenance etc. Pros and cons. In today’s world of convenience, digital can do all that in a small box and go straight to front of house, and that is very appealing.”

Old School! Colm's more traditional analog devices

Does that mean we may see you playing through digital equipment someday? “Playing! What’s that? Haha. It could come down to financials. In an ideal world, amps all the way. But with the digital stuff it pretty much sounds the same everywhere you play. Not so with analog. Now, as a musician getting the sound right at venues is an obsession and a challenge we all like generally but it’s time consuming. You may be sharing the bill with others and have no sound check, so in that situation then digital’s probably more appropriate. I guess it’s horses for courses.” So you’re in no way opposed to digital gear or effects. “Absolutely not. It’s been brilliant for bands like us. Especially in the studio, demos etc. In particular, I remember on one song from our album, the producer Brendan O’Connor wanted a Marshall amp sound for a specific part and we used a plugin. We were very happy with the results. And It was a lot cheaper than going and renting an amp, haha. But if we are to play out again of course it would have to be a consideration due to the reasons we mentioned above. It’s not just convenience, it’s also practicality. Tech usually makes life a little easier and that’s certainly the case with the digital stuff.” Is it easy to come up with the sounds you want, on digital? “That’s never easy, but digital can be somewhat easier. I just keep it simple and try to emulate what I already have. It always goes back to the old stuff, because that’s what made rock music what it is. Also, getting to know your favourite amp and pedals and making mistakes etc helps you grow as a musician. It helps you get your sound. You’re connected in a very literal, tangible sense. With cables and wires and being involved and knowing your signal path and how each component part affects the other. Digital kind of has it all there for you, though you could be tweaking for years. Still, it’s not the same, and never will be. It doesn’t feel or react like the analog stuff does. That matters!”

Reaction. Feeling. That matters! Especially in music.

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