I think we as guitar players put too much emphasis on gear, especially if we are going for an authentic vintage sound (I am very guilty of this). For surf, if you can get a good clean tone and that drippy reverb sound- whether it is with an on-board reverb, a pedal, or an outboard unit- preferably with a single coil pickup guitar, you should be good to go. Everything else is in the playing.
I agree. I’m not a “tone chaser”, in fact I disdain the term, for several reason, not the least of which is the fact that “tone” actually refers to a pitch and we probably would be more accurate to use the term “timbre”. But I digress (as usual).
When we compare our sound to a commercial recording, it’s an unfair comparison. Commercially produced recordings involve recording engineers that are true pros and know more tricks than Penn & Teller. Records made in the vinyl era required very specific techniques to work within the limitations of the medium. Lightly washing an entire track through a studio’s echo chamber could liven things up significantly and make the reverb tanks sound even better than they sounded live. Various studios were known for their characteristic sound. Trying to capture exactly what we hear on a classic recording might be compared to arriving at a gunfight with a pocket knife. You might pull it off, but the odds are not favorable.
I think that we can fall victim to the mystique of it all, too. I agree, that nothing sounds quite like a 6G15 driving a quartet of big-bottle tubes in a ‘62 Dual Showman, but that isn’t the only good sound, and in some cases, it might not be suited to a particular venue. I would imagine that when the Astronauts played at Tulagi night club, those big Showman amps would have blown the walls down, had they cranked them fully up. I heard Los Straightjackets in a room at least as large as Tulagi, and they appeared to be using Deluxe Reverbs. From the clarity of the output, I’d venture that the volume was 3-4, tops. OK, they are not a Surf band in the purest sense of the word, but they were getting a sound that I’d be more than happy with using the DRs and the onboard reverb.
Reverb is another area where we can really go down a rabbit hole. I recently played a ‘65 6G15 and it was stunning. It dripped like nothing I’ve ever heard and it required virtually no effort to get a Surf sound. But there are other great reverb sounds and there is no law (except, perhaps in Huntington Beach) which mandates that to be the only valid approach to reverb.
I have a TRRI, which I broke into a piggyback arrangement, inspired by Mel Waldorf’s Showman look-alike, Twin. Because of the small head cabinet, there is only room for a 9” reverb pan. It sounds surprisingly good and drips better than I would have ever imagined possible. Does it sound like a vintage 6G15? No! But it does sound very good. I also have a TC Electronic Hall of Fame Mini with a plate reverb TonePrint loaded which sounds amazing. I use it for my day-to-day, generic reverb, but cranked up, it’s better than I ever could have hoped for, even for Surf.—
The artist formerly known as: Synchro
When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.
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