Unsigned and in a Bind

July 16, 2008

Dear Dude,

My band just finished recording a full-length record and since it’s our first and we are unsigned, we have printed 300 copies of it independently. We have booked a big CD release show with bigger signed bands in a large local venue. We have enough CDs printed to last us a while, but we’re stuck with the hassle of having to get everything pressed and packaged at our expense. We’re attracted to the additional organization, promotion and “backbone” that a label can offer us, but the few deals we’ve been offered don’t seem proportionate to the amount of work/money we put into this record. What do you think the best approach to formally releasing a record in this day in age? Do you think it’s worth singing with an indie label that’ll “loan” us the CD printing, but take a lot of our profit and get us slightly better tour packages? Or do you think it’s better to keep it DIY until we find the “perfect” deal, without the hype factor and resources that a label has to offer?

Thanks!

Unsigned and in a Bind

Dear Unsigned and in a Bind,

This is a very interesting and complex question. In an effort to answer this in some kind of reasonably short fashion let me just preface what I am about to write by saying there is no one correct way to release a record (regardless of the era or state of the music industry). Different bands choose different paths and, just for the record, this Dude does not judge. That being said to DIY or not to DIY has always been a burning question. In 2008 a lot of the rules have changed and doing a record on your own can be both profitable and easily obtainable. So lets dig in!

I’m afraid there are really two questions: one – what do I think the best approach to formally releasing a record in this day in age is, and two – what do I think you should do in your current situation. Since the latter is more important, I’ll just get the first question out of the way. I believe that in the 2008 music industry climate current artists can have success releasing their own material or playing the music industry game. It’s almost an open market, I have seen bands have success both ways and both have their advantages. With the exception of Fugazi, I have yet to see a band self release material and sell more then their contemporaries who are signed to labels (sure bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead are self releasing records but these bands have already reaped the benefits of the label game). At the same time I can tell you for a fact that I would have made more money in the long run if I had not signed to a record label and rather self released all the material. So, in a sense you have to pay to play the game. Both have their distinct advantages but this brings me to my answer and more importantly my advice for you. My suggestion isn’t to pick a side but rather play both games. I think that the best way to grow a band in 2008 is to follow both routs and in turn use the strengths of both systems.

Look, you already have your record recorded, laid out, and pressed. You even already have a CD release show set up. At this point a record label can’t do much for you except promote the release. Honestly you could hire an outside promotions company to do the same thing and probably make more money. The real thing you don’t have that a record label can offer is distribution. You are not going to be able to get those CD’s in “real” stores and honestly it really shouldn’t matter that much at this point. To me the CD is a dead medium. You got to start thinking MP3’s if you want to move into the future and get your record up on the internet! Release it on iTunes, Music Exchange, or shit, even build a way to buy it right of your myspace page! You have to make that record available to as many people as possible, and with no record label involved you have to cover all the basses yourself. As a DIY artist the MP3 digital version of your record is way more cost effective. Think about it, no more pressing CDs, its all virtual and that means a bigger profit margin for your band.

I think your best bet is to continue playing shows and selling your self produced record while also pimping the music out over the web . The worst thing you could do right now is sign to a record label out of desperation. This has been the downfall of many a band. I say take your time, keep playing shows, sell your own product, and most importantly create that buzz! Because it’s that buzz that is going to attract a record label who will offer you a deal to do it right.

Don’t be afraid to do things for yourself in the beginning, you may just find the skills you learn are going to help make your band bigger but also keep you from getting taken advantage of later. There are many advantages to being a signed band and working within that world. You mentioned touring that is probably the one place that being signed is the most helpful. Not to mention the built in promotion that comes with record labels advertising your band along side of other established bands. But it’s by building your band, its fan base, and its integrity that you will be able to survive and take advantage of the things you will be exposed to and offered when you start playing the “signed band” game. The DIY skeleton you build is going to work as a base for everything forward and your going to need it to survive life under the iron fist of a record label.

The Dude


The Touring Gentleman

July 14, 2008

Dear Dude,

My band recently started touring more and although I love it to death it has really been taking a toll on my relationship with my girlfriend. At home we talk and hang out all the time, everything is cool. But as soon as I go on tour it gets ugly. We get into a lot of fights on the phone and I find myself even dreading calling her now. I was wondering how do you juggle your life at home (specifically calling your wife) while on tour? How do you make a long distance relationship work when your never in the same place and working all the time? Do you think I should break up with her or is this something that band members go through all the time? I know this are weird questions but I hope you can help.

Thanks,

The Touring Gentleman

Dear Touring Gentleman,

Keeping your relationship alive, healthy, and most of all positive, while on tour is one of the hardest things to do as a touring musician. I have watched many a rock star hide behind a trailer all night or lock themselves in a bathroom stall for that 5-hour long argument with their significant other. There is so much temptation on tour and even the idea of that temptation can drive your girlfriend/boyfriend to madness while they are at home. The most important ingredient is trust. Having that means communication is not the whole battle, its just one part. You have to make sure that your significant other trusts you and you trust them. It’s a big step in making a relationship work while on tour. This means you can’t cheat on her, you can’t fuck around, you have to be honest and stick to it. This also means that if you ruin this bond of trust you may just doom the relationship forever. The same is true for her. You must have defined and clear lines of what is ok in your relationship and what is not. Its going to be different for every couple but it is very important to take the time before you go on tour to define the parameters or your relationship. I can honestly guarantee if you address this issue before you go on tour your overall communication skills and overall relationship will be better.

I am going to admit that along with the following advice you’re going to need 3 big servings of understanding, patience, and most of all trust. These three attributes are a must to making any relationship survive life on the road and are crucial to the process. But lets get into specifics.

Designated Call Times: Born of the payphone, this is a technique that my wife and I used before the age of cell phones. That being said it’s still a nice technique and can even be applied to the cell phone/internet generation. Chances are the two of you will be on totally different schedules while you’re on tour, and it may be difficult to find a time when it’s good for both you of you to talk. Phone tag is something you definitely want to avoid. It can breed insecurity, and the last thing you want is for her to think you don’t have time for her. So, try setting designated talk time. Think about your next day in advance and pick a 20 to 30 min window that you know you wont be driving, loading in, sound checking, sitting at the merchandise table, setting up before the show, etc. I’m telling you, if you give her an idea of the next time you will talk then all that uneasiness or worry will slowly dissipate. Relationships work well when they work consistently well so try to make those calls consistent. Remember to call when you say you will, and make sure you have the time you promised available. It’s the consistency that will keep her at ease when your on the road. In this instance consistency shows you value her time and will build trust. Coincidently it works really well when your international and need to keep that phone bill to a minimum. So, Mr. Touring Gentleman start working out designated times you can talk and stick to them. I guarantee you will see things get better fast.

Embrace the Electronic Age: Personal communication is a booming field. The rock Gods have blessed us with Skype, the iphone, Black Berry, instant messenger, video chat, oh and my personal favorite, the international cell phone plan. All of the above (plus the three more techniques that just got invented as I write this) have become tools to help keep our ever globalized world expanding. It has brought personal communication to a new height and it us up to you to use these tools while on tour. Video chat is cool but usually involves needing both of you to be online in a quiet place at the same time. This is sometimes hard. Skype, ichat, and Internet phones are nice and cheap. I see many a touring musician using these more and more often. The Black Berry phone is in my personal arsenal. It allows you to do Black Berry to Black Berry messaging free anywhere in the world anytime. Instant messenger is a must, its great while your working in a loud areas or doing work on your computer while on tour. Anyway what’s my point? Well it’s to start embracing all these communication outlets in order to make sure your home your life doesn’t get neglected. The world becomes a smaller place every second, and as a touring musician you need to use this to your advantage every step of the way.

Make sure she has a life of her own: Now this may seem harsh, but this is actually a major problem I see in most unhealthy relationships on tour. You don’t want your significant other to be living vicariously through you. He or she needs to have his or her own goals, ambitions, and aspirations. Otherwise its just the YOU show and that can get old real quick. The most unattractive quality a girl can have to me is laziness. You can’t let her get so wrapped up in your life that she forgets about her own. You need to encourage her to have aspirations and goals, as well as a strong social network. I know one of the main things that helps my wife, when I’m away from home for long periods, is her friends and busy social life. Equally you have to make it clear to her what your goals and aspirations are. I mean, if she knows you’re out there slumming it so that one day you can do this or that professionally, then it’s clear you have a defined goal your working towards. Damn, in two minutes you can go from loser musician to dude who is following his dream, and hopefully it will be contagious. If she realizes you have a plan for the future she will want one for herself. This is going to take time and work but it is essential to having a healthy relationship on tour. In fact I can state that every healthy relationship I have observed on tour is between two individuals who both have clear goals and are striving for success together as a couple.

Should you break up with her? Dude that is a complicated question to answer in one email response. I can tell you that every good relationship goes through tough spots, and every good relationship involves work. But let me say this, a good first step would be to evaluate your relationship based on the above information and then take steps to try and work on those things. Ask yourself, do I do the best job in communicating regularly? Is trust an issue in my relationship? Do both members of the relationship have goals and direction that help both remain focused on the bigger picture of life? These are all hard questions but they must be asked. By forcing yourself to work on these components of your relationship you will find it will help your growth as a couple and as individuals, and it’s this growth that will make for a strong enough relationship to survive even the longest tour.

The Dude


Live Wire

July 7, 2008

Dear Dude,

I’m playing my first live show at the end of August. The one thing I’m worried about is live tone, mainly the low end. Now, I’ve come to learn first hand the size and material a room is made out of can affect your tone. I’m planning to take written diagrams of all my equipment’s settings to dial it all in once at the venue. So due to the dramatic space increase will the house PA help level the playing field or do I have to reset everything to compensate for a larger area?

Thanks,
Live Wire

Dear Live Wire,

Live sound can be a trip, especially dialing in that perfect guitar tone. I have been on a 15-year continuous trip to find that perfect live guitar sound and to be honest I’m real close. Over that course of time I have spent a lot of money on expensive gear, blown up a few amps, and of course embarrassed myself many times. What’s come of all these years of searching? Some funny stories and a little bit of knowledge.

Yes, you will have to adjust everything to compensate for that larger area. You may have it dialed in to sound sick in your basement but taking your rig to the stage is a whole new monster. Your guitar amp is going to have to be turned up (way louder then you proabaly normally play in your house) and when that volume gets loud the whole amps sound shifts.

There are several factors that are just out of your control when rocking a live concert. You already commented that the size, and material a room is made out off, will affect the sound. This is true, however the number of people in the room, the material and size of the stage your playing on, and the quality of the house PA will have have an equally heavy impact on your overall live sound. I like to call them the wicked seven: stage size, stage build, room size, room build, PA build, and PA set up. Have I missed anything, is there one more factor? Yes, there is. Is it something you can control? Well maybe, but you just have to watch how much Jack Daniels it has access to. What could I be talking about? A soundman.

Having a trained and competent soundman is must for any serious band. I see so many touring and nationally recognized bands who miss this detail. They just go on tour with their million dollar rigs and think, “fuck it, it has to sound good.” A soundman is the single best investment you can make in your band’s overall live sound. And a bad soundman can make your show a disaster no mater how stoked the crowd is or how great your band is playing. So, get a soundman. The best way to find one is to talk to the house soundman whenever you play a show that sounds good. Most of the touring soundmen I know started out by doing house sound for national bands and having that one band say, “dude, that shit was sick want to come on tour?” Maybe you can’t afford one now but dude, the minute you find that soundman who can make your band sound good, hire him or her! It will be like buying a million amps that never seem to get paid off, but it will sound better and that is worth the money.

Ok, so your band isn’t Metallica and you can’t afford a soundman (although come on if you can’t afford one either you’re too cheap or you just haven’t looked hard enough). So here are two stepts you might want to follow to get the best out of your live situation:

First, make an input list and introduce yourself to the house soundman. This is going to seem hard but dude just draw or write on a piece of paper what is going to be on the stage (its called a stage plot in the pro world) but you don’t have to do anything fancy. Take this info as well as the info about what exact monitor mix tweaks you will want (For me I always say: “Stage right guitar needs, kick, snare, vocals, and both guitars at equal volume.”) and give it to the house guy. Be nice and be friendly because this soundman holds your whole show in his measly little underpaid hands.

Try to be clear and friendly, if it was Darkest Hour and we were playing a local show without a soundman I would say:

“Hi, my name is Mike and I play guitar with the band Darkest Hour. I just want to let you know what we have on the stage tonight to make it easy on you. We have two guitars one on the left one on the right. Bass is placed stage left and has a DI and Amp signal. Our drummer has a kick, snare, rack tom, and floor tom. And lastly, our singer needs a straight stand and only one mic in the center of the stage.”

Make sure you end by saying thank you, again take it from a man with experience, don’t get into an argument with the house soundman before you play, its like pissing all over a judges robe before getting sentenced!

Second, keep your bands stage sound under control. After you have introduced yourself to the soundman I would just make sure the band all plays at a level and even volume (in other words don’t try to have a volume war with your band or the PA) you have to keep your sound and the entire band’s sound even and simple because the house soundman who doesn’t know your band or music is running the show. Make sure everyone’s tones are clear and that there is no buzz or noise coming from any of the gear.

A good place to start for that live tone is that sick tone you’ve already dialed in. The tone I start with live is always the same and its the tone that I can jam with at home. So start by using those settings you talked about but don’t worry about charting it out. Instead use your ears and hear what it needs. You may have to do this on the fly but the more you practice the better you will get. Just remember you probably only need to adjust your tone knobs a few degrees either way.

Live sound is tricky and it’s an art. It takes a lot of hard work, time, and most of all experience to really get those tones dialed in the way you’re used to hearing them at home. But don’t be discouraged I have played millions of live shows with soundmen I didn’t know and they were fine (were they as good as when I had engineers I have known run sound, no, but did we survive and have a good time, yes). In the end live sound or really playing guitar live is about the audience. So make sure you put on a good show and have a good time regardless. In the end its not really about whether your sound was as killer as the one time I saw Van Halen. It’s about whether or not you and the audience had a good time, so dial that guitar sound in, buy that soundman a shot, and have a good time because your first live show only leads to your next!

Thanks

The Dude


Introducing Ask the Dude’s Gear Guru

July 1, 2008

Introducing our resident Gear Guru, Aaron Deal. Aaron is a close personal friend of The Dude, and long time rocker, with over 15 years band experience on bass, guitar, and drums. As assistant manager and sales associate at three different (MD and VA) Guitar Center locations over the last 7 years, he is no stranger to music gear and it’s applications. Aaron is also highly skilled in the arts of home recording, guitar/amp maintenance, repair and modification. He currently plays drums in Salome and holds down the bass in Nitro Tokyo. Aaron is not only a killer fellow dude, he also knows his shit and is someone that even The Dude seeks advice from.

Check out his first addition to the site here.


Quiet Riot

June 30, 2008

Dear Dude,

I want to build an Isolation Cabinet that fits a 4×12 cab. I was watching the Darkest Hour webisode #2 video a long time ago and you were showing one off at the studio you recorded in. That ISO Cab looks like one of the best ones I have seen. Is there anyway you can tell me how to build that one or get me some designs of that Isolation Cabinet? I have looked at a ton of how to guides on the web and all I can find are temporary ones or ones that only fit 2×14’s and it is very frustrating. I am trying to start a home studio and it would greatly help me and my neighborhood out.

Thanks,
Quiet Riot

Dear Quiet Riot,

We did record the Deliver Us guitars in an Isolation Cabinet, or Isolation Booth. It was because the studio was part of a bigger studio so many sessions used the rooms next to and below us. In other words it was like recording at home except everyone around you was also recording. My point is you wanted everything to be isolated. The Iso. Booth is basically a box inside a box. You build a big wooden box and then inside that box you build another box. You need to have air in between them because air is the best isolation material. A guitar cab is miked in the center box and then doors are closed so that the guitar is closed in and the sound is closed out. It looked pretty hard to build and to be honest the guitar was still pretty loud outside of the booth. Since dabbling in the world of home recording I have fought the Isolation Cabinet wars, and here are some methods I use that are less complicated, and keep the neighbors from killing me:

The Guitar Blanket: I mic a 4X12 speaker cab with a Sennheiser 609 and a shure 57. I put my guitar cab in a separate room (you can even have the guitar cab in the same room with you, as long as it’s not facing you because you don’t want the noise of you playing the guitar to bleed into the mics). After the cabinet is miked, I place 3 sleeping bags over the cab. You have to be careful to not displace the mics, I use Z-bars because they don’t fall all over the place like stands usually do. I’ve been able to run a marshal 800, Randall MTS, Peavey 5150 all at around the volume setting of 3 or so and get a loud sound to tape with out even coming close to waking up the neighbors. I have not heard any noise or tonal loss from this method. If you cant get your vintage head to distort up that quiet I suggest a power break as I have mentioned in other posts.

The POD: Dude, the purpose of a pod is to replace the need for miking and loud noise. To be honest part of the guitar tone on Deliver Us is from a line 6 Pod. The producer, Devin Townsend, blended it with 3 other sounds to make the overall sound of the guitars on that record. My point is they sound good and we didn’t even need the booth. You
can get tons of great sounding guitars from those pods with out any of this trouble. When I record I probably use the Pod for half and the Guitar Blanket Method for the other half.

Randall Isolation 12’ Speaker Cab: This is the professional proposed solution. I have seen some sick metal bands use this live to isolate the sound of their guitars and I have been lucky enough to use one a few times. They are cool and do work. I don’t always like the same speaker sound so I stick with my guitar blanket method but the Isolation speaker cab does work and is a good solution to check out.

The Old’ REAMP: The re-amp is all the rage with producers I talk to these days. Basically it means that every time a guitar is tracked there is an additional direct signal that is tracked at the same time. The guitars are grouped together so the DI and Amp track match perfectly. This means that later the DI track can be run into any amp or guitar sound and re-recorded. This is so you can lay down your tracks with whatever sound you have at the time be it POD or 5150 in your bedroom closet and later replay that DI signal through any sick guitar rig at any studio in the world. Whenever I do serious home recording I record a DI signal. I mean you never know a good DI can give you the tools to make that good recording sound amazing.

The more you experiment and the more you play around with home recording the more you will realize you can make most any guitar set up sound cool you just have to use your ears to tweak those knobs. Its like guerrilla sound warfare, use whatever gear you have as many ways possible. Its how you learn to adapt to using all types of musical/recording gear and give you the ability to make a recording in your home people will think you spent millions on.

The Dude


Riff Writer

June 23, 2008

Dear Dude,

I’ve been playing guitar for almost two years now and have developed a very solid technique in the short time I have been playing. I practice at least 3 hours a day anywhere between 4 to 5 days a week and I’ve taught myself almost everything and have only had a few professional lessons. I’ve hit a road block where I want to be writing more technical songs with soloing, using different scales and modes to create riffs and solid lines. I’m good with working within the major and minor scales but my knowledge is limited to those and I feel like if I had a better knowledge of other scales and theory I could be writing really complex guitar. A good example would be the guitar work from some of the songs you wrote for darkest hour like Deliver Us, With a Thousand Words to Say But One, and This Will Outlive Us.

The problem, I suppose, is that I just don’t know enough theory, scales and modes and how they all work together. So, without taking lessons what do you suggest would be the best way for me to learn how to solo and write really unique riffs, and how did you learn these advanced concepts yourself?

Thanks,
Riff Writer

Dear Riff Writer,

There is a tendency amongst musicians, guitarists especially, to equate learning music to some sort of science. Since a lot about learning how to play the guitar can be attributed to muscle memory, there is often a push to look at all things associated with guitar in the same way. Shit, if you can learn to shred up the neck in a hundred different modes and chord progressions, and play Abduction by Steeler, or Eruption by Van Halen, then you should be able to grasp advanced song writing concepts and write a kick ass song, right? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Studying music theory may help you come up with some unique idea’s for riffs and chord changes but in my experience it is not really going to help you come up with kick ass songs, and that’s the real goal. So, the true question is, what is the best way to teach yourself the advanced concepts of songwriting and song structuring so you can write more technical and interesting music?

Look, there is no distinct path to teaching yourself how to write a song or complex riffs. You ask how long it took me to learn these advanced concepts? My answer is that I feel I’m forever in the process of learning, and that until a few years ago I never even really worked at getting better at writing. For me, songwriting came naturally and organically so I didn’t spend much time thinking about it the first 8 or 9 years I played guitar. Don’t be discouraged if this is not the case for you, just because it doesn’t come naturally that doesn’t mean you can’t write amazing songs.

First of all, you are thinking about songs in form of scales, keys, modes etc. I don’t think about songs, or riffs, in these ways. I think about songs in how the riffs form around each other, how they transition from one to another, and lastly how they work to form a skeleton of a song. On all the Darkest Hour songs you mention the mindset behind writing them was not based on what key or mode they were in. In fact if you listen to A Thousand Words to Say But One the chord progression is the same almost the whole song.

Whenever I walk into a room and work with a metal band for the first time I usually think of the songs first as riff libraries. To me, metal is mostly about the flow from riff to riff. Usually, any riff of a metal song can be the chorus or the verse, depending on the vocals. There are many times I write a Darkest Hour song only to have John put the chorus over my intended verse and the verse over my intended chorus, but it still works because with metal you can always bend the rules.

When Darkest Hour is writing a song we usually start with a few riffs, and then determine how many times each riff needs to repeat before we switch to the next riff. Then we count the number of times each riff is played in our heads so we all understand the skeleton of the song. I usually have to do this process the first few times we play a finished song all the way through in order to remember it. If you want to use this technique in writing your own music, a good exercise is to listen to songs you love and chart them out in this way. For instance here is the structure for Hot for Teacher by Van Halen, charted out the same way we chart Darkest Hour songs when we are writing them:

Drum Intro: X6
Guitar Intro: X 4
Riff A (intro/): x 1 1/2
Riff B (Quiet Pre Verse) X 4
Riff C (Loud Verse) X 6 (VOCAL IN AFTER 2)
Pre Chorus X 2
Tag X 1
Chorus X 4
Riff B (Quiet Pre Verse) X 4
Riff C (Loud Verse) X 6 (VOCAL IN AFTER 2)
Pre Chorus X 2
Tag X 1
Chorus X 4
Solo Break X 9 Times
Riff B (Quiet Pre Verse) X 4
Chorus X 4
Outro X 3
Rock End X 2

The above structure could be applied to any metal song and work well. Notice how and when the parts repeat, and notice how each parts changes a little when it is repeated. Now, please don’t think that I am suggesting you copy songs from other bands, I am only suggesting you take inspiration from artists you love. Look at how their songs are mapped out and translate that into something that is your own. Once you begin seeing your songs more like a string of riffs rather then a flow of chord progressions it will be easier for you to see the structure. I promise the more you work at this the better you will get. It’s like a creative muscle you always have to be flexing and working out in order for it to grow and thrive.

THE DUDE


Crank it to 11?

June 18, 2008

Dear Dude,

I always hear people saying that a cranked tube tone is the best. I’ve been to plenty of live shows but the amps were usually miked into the house PA, never needing them to ever be turned past 3 (not saying they weren’t). I’ve always had solid state or hybrid amps, but nothing as loud as the 6505 I just purchased. When I’m at home I play at around level 3, so I could totally see myself blowing a speaker or losing sound quality around 6 or 7. I’m wondering if I’m putting my cabinet, or even head, in harm’s way by really letting the thing crank? My current setup is an ESP viper, 6505 head, and a Basson 4×12 cabinet.

Thanks,
Crank it to 11?

Dear Crank it to 11,

Live volume and more directly, stage volume is a battle fought every day in clubs throughout the world. This battle pits would-be guitarist against the ever knowing (or at least ever-claiming to know) house sound man. Now, if you are lucky enough to travel with your own sound guy (like myself, wuz up Johnny!) then you will get the distinct pleasure of battling the same person night after night! So how loud is too loud? Is there such a thing as to loud? And what’s a reasonable stage volume? Can playing too loud damage your gear? These are questions I have asked myself many times, and here is my take on where you should set that dial.

I am very familiar with the 6505. I have had all models of the 5150 line as well as a few different versions of the 5150 II and the 6505. I have mentioned before that it’s my safety amp because if you get them in relatively good condition they all tend to sound relatively the same. Not something you always want in an amp but it does get the job done. On the 6505 (the distorted channel we are talking about here) there are two volumes you need to be aware of, the Pre Amp (PRE) control and the Master Volume control (POST). Your overall volume and tone for this amp is basically the blend of these two knobs.

I have never run a 5150/5150II/6505 live with the POST volume louder then 5 (and 5 is pushing it, I usually have it at around 4) and I usually run the PRE volume at around 4 or 5. I use a tube screamer or Ratt pedal for extra distortion. I don’t like how the preamp gain sounds after it gets past 5 on those amps. If you listen when you crank that up you also get all sorts of extra high and ultra low end that to me just makes it sound too muddy. I see other dudes out there making the grave mistake of cranking up that PRE knob way too loud. Just to be clear, you can’t “cover” up sloppy or inconsistent playing with more gain. Don’t fall into this trap. Metallica, Magedeth, ACDC, Van Halen, Slayer, Anthrax, all the great shredding bands play with minimal gain in order to have each note sing. Even Dimebag who did play with a shitload of gain made sure it was still clean and clear so watch out with that PRE knob on the 6505, its not just a distortion or volume knob.

I would say if you run your head consistently or even a few times with the POST on 7 or higher you may damage that head. I doubt you’ll fuck up a speaker cab but it is possible. The quality of the tone and overall sound on most modern amps tends to deteriorate when you turn them up too loud. See, the idea of cranking up a tube amp comes from the olden days when you had to crank it up to get any distortion. Now amps are made to get those sounds at minimal volume and they don’t really have the same characteristics as their older counterparts, so cranking them up doesn’t add anything to the over all sound quality.

If you have an older amp and want that crazy ass sounding rock distortion, but don’t want all the volume, you can always look into what is called a power break. Marshall makes a really good one. I got into the power break when I had my experimental stage involving Marshall JMP’s. They were loud as fuck (like, I mean, too loud to even play a show with) but it was the only way to get that sound I wanted. The power break worked great for me. It’s designed for the specific purpose to allow you to run those tubes hard and still get overall volume control.

Volume is all about moderation. You want the guitar to sit well with whatever you’re doing. If your just jamming at your house or recording I would say put the PRE volume at 4 to 6, depending on how hot your guitar is, and put the POST volume at like 3 or so to jam or record. If you’re rocking with a band then push that bad boy up to 4 or 5 with the POST volume. A 5150, 5150II, 6505 should be loud as shit when placed on the distorted channel, POST volume at 4, and PRE volume at 5. If yours isn’t then maybe it needs new power tubes or there is something else with your set up that might need tweaking. I frequently change the power tubes on my heads. It’s expensive but it absolutely affects the overall sound.

It’s good to know that most pro musicians don’t run their actual amps that loud. You might see them on stage with a wall of amps behind them but most of the time only one head and cab is turned on. Shit, I have seen some big, big, big metal bands play with walls of amps but have their actual live sound coming from small combo amps or even pods. Many musicians prefer to run their amps quiet I think most notable, Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine. I have read more then a few times that he prefers his stage volume very quiet and I think few can argue with the power that is Rage live. Keep all this in mind when you enter the battlefield of volume and live music. You want to find a good combination of your tone, your volume in relevance with the other instruments, and of course your overall sound in the front of house (or live room).

The Dude