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Thread: Active electronics is guitar?

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    Active electronics is guitar?

    There are lots of basses with active electronics. Why are there few guitars with active electronics?

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    My guess is that on bass people use the active controls for tone shaping to get their bass tone to cut through the mix. Screaming guitar usually doesn't have that problem. So many bass amps these days are way to bottom heavy, and then they need 1000 watts to be heard. I have played in some loud frickin' bands with my 75 watt peavey and had people say I played too loud.

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    Supporting Member Steve A.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Axtman View Post
    There are lots of basses with active electronics. Why are there few guitars with active electronics?
    Well, there are all of the Fender strats with the mid-boost circuit (EC, Buddy Guy, etc.) But I do agree with glebert regarding shaping the tone on a bass.
    I had a handful of active wiring harnesses for my 1976 LP Standard in the 80's but always went back to passive. I even made one from a Craig Anderton active Bass/Treble eq project... what a waste!
    Then again there are a lot of active pickups from EMG and others.

    I think that the bottom line is that passive guitars can sound pretty damn good...

    Steve A.

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    Bent Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve A. View Post
    Then again there are a lot of active pickups from EMG and others.

    I think that the bottom line is that passive guitars can sound pretty damn good...

    Steve A.
    This^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

    Since bass amps are typically called upon to take a relatively small block of wood and produce deep, resonant sounds they are much closer to "reference" amplifiers than guitar amps are. So it's possible to shape EQ ahead of the input without changing the function of the amplifier much. With a guitar amp/guitar combination you have a "system". They evolved together and create a unique effect. Guitar amps are definitely NOT reference amplifiers and are closer to being effected signal processors. Changing EQ in front of a guitar amp more than mildly can have drastic and discordant affects on it's function. So the only real use for active electronics in guitars would be the advantages of lower impedance. Leading to...

    There was a glut of active guitar pickups that started sometime in the early 90's. Even Fenders top of the line Stratocasters had active pickups (Lace Sensor) and Eric Clapton was was their front man!. The active pickups still hang on to this day in some jazz and metal circles (mostly EMG). Interestingly (or not) it came back around to mostly passive pickups for guitars. So much so that there are new metal amps with switchable input circuitry to make your active pickups sound more like passives!?!

    JM2C

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    I recently picked up a partscaster with EMG active pickups (the David Gilmour setup) and the sound is a bit odd. If you push the boost controls it gets a bit flange-y (I need to try with a brand new battery to see if that helps). Even with the boosts off they seem like they are trying to emulate a fender sound rather than just having that sound. Haven't set up with my normal strings yet, but on chords the notes don't blend as well as they should (or as much as I would like). They are very quiet though, which is nice for single coils.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck H View Post
    This^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

    Since bass amps are typically called upon to take a relatively small block of wood and produce deep, resonant sounds they are much closer to "reference" amplifiers than guitar amps are. So it's possible to shape EQ ahead of the input without changing the function of the amplifier much. With a guitar amp/guitar combination you have a "system". They evolved together and create a unique effect. Guitar amps are definitely NOT reference amplifiers and are closer to being effected signal processors. Changing EQ in front of a guitar amp more than mildly can have drastic and discordant affects on it's function. So the only real use for active electronics in guitars would be the advantages of lower impedance. Leading to...

    There was a glut of active guitar pickups that started sometime in the early 90's. Even Fenders top of the line Stratocasters had active pickups (Lace Sensor) and Eric Clapton was was their front man!. The active pickups still hang on to this day in some jazz and metal circles (mostly EMG). Interestingly (or not) it came back around to mostly passive pickups for guitars. So much so that there are new metal amps with switchable input circuitry to make your active pickups sound more like passives!?!

    JM2C
    I agree with all that, and it's well said....but...

    If passive means not needing a power source and active does, then Lace Sensors would not be an active pickup. They require no battery.

    They are a different construction and sound from the usual passive pickup, the details of which I don't know, but I've owned the Jeff Beck Strat in the past and have a set on an unused pickguard now, so I am familiar with them.

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    I recently picked up a First Act guitar with pre-amp/active electronics that impressed me. I got rid of my Ovation UKII because their active electronics didn't. Some tech advances are real

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    Quote Originally Posted by ric View Post
    I agree with all that, and it's well said....but...

    If passive means not needing a power source and active does, then Lace Sensors would not be an active pickup. They require no battery.

    They are a different construction and sound from the usual passive pickup, the details of which I don't know, but I've owned the Jeff Beck Strat in the past and have a set on an unused pickguard now, so I am familiar with them.
    ric,

    The Alumitone design by Lace is a current transformer. The aluminum frame is stamped out to fit either a strat style pickup, humbucker, or P90 footprint. If you look closely at one side, you will see long c-shaped laminations going through the aluminum frame where the two string loops with the magnet in the center would be in series and this acts as the single turn primary in a current transformer. The laminations just allow a stamped frame to be used as a string loop with no need to form a solder joint. Under the Alumitone, attached to the c-shaped laminated transformer core are two round coils about .75 inches long by about .375 inches in diameter which each contain about 15000 turns of very fine magnet wire between AWG 46 to 48 to make about a 5000 ohm coil. These coils are wired in parallel and thus represent a pickup with about 2500 Ohms output resistance. Using the principal of current transformers operating at a very low level, the voicing of the Alumitone can be altered by varying the secondary turn count and by controlling the size and resistance of the string loop. Thick conductors pass less high frequency to the center and thus create less high frequency current. Here is where the ears of the pickup designers govern the desired sound and mass production can make each pickup a very close match to produce the designed sound.

    I hope this explains the Lace Alumitone design?

    Joseph J. Rogowski

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    Last edited by bbsailor; 06-10-2018 at 09:47 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bbsailor View Post
    ric,

    The Alumitone design by Lace is a current transformer. The aluminum frame is stamped out to fit either a strat style pickup, humbucker, or P90 footprint. If you look closely at one side, you will see long c-shaped laminations going through the aluminum frame where the two string loops with the magnet in the center would be in series and this acts as the single turn primary in a current transformer. The laminations just allow a stamped frame to be used as a string loop with no need to form a solder joint. Under the Alumitone, attached to the c-shaped laminated transformer core are two round coils about .75 inches long by about .375 inches in diameter which each contain about 15000 turns of very fine magnet wire between AWG 46 to 48 to make about a 5000 ohm coil. These coils are wired in parallel and thus represent a pickup with about 2500 Ohms output resistance. Using the principal of current transformers operating at a very low level, the voicing of the Alumitone can be altered by varying the secondary turn count and by controlling the size and resistance of the string loop. Thick conductors pass less high frequency to the center and thus create less high frequency current. Here is where the ears of the pickup designers govern the desired sound and mass production can make each pickup a very close match to produce the designed sound.

    I hope this explains the Lace Alumitone design?

    Joseph J. Rogowski
    Yes, Joseph, it does explain it- thanks.

    I have the plastic red/ blue/ gold types and wasn't aware of the workings of the new type(s). I'm not aware of the workings of the old ones, for that matter, only that they needed no battery. Thanks again for bringing me up to speed.

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    Bent Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    I did not know the LS pickups weren't technically active! And that's interesting technology. I'll stand behind my post above with that exception then.

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    "I'm just going to perform a bit more scientific investigation, turn it up to 11 and rip of the knob." überfuzz

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    I have a Gibson GK55 that has passive humbuckers and has a factory active MOOG board. It’s not a synth but has active tone controls with a +/- 15db boost/cut. The speed knobs have “0” in the middle. It has some other unfathonable switches too. I’ve found the damn thing unusable, lol. Been hanging on my wall for years.

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    Guitarists can't be trusted to pick up the kids, walk the dog OR buy batteries. Guitarists are also MUCH more traditional than bassists. Traditionally the guitarist gets all the attention/sex etc. while the traditional bassist is mainly forgotten
    Few can hear the bass in a typical mix so the poor guys will try nearly anything.

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    To answer my own question.....my thought is that bass players like a clean sound with lots of headroom where as guitar players like a dirty overdriven sound. Active electronics are for more clean sound rather than overdrive. But I could be wrong.

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    Old Timer olddawg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Axtman View Post
    To answer my own question.....my thought is that bass players like a clean sound with lots of headroom where as guitar players like a dirty overdriven sound. Active electronics are for more clean sound rather than overdrive. But I could be wrong.
    Originally.... EMGs were high output active to slam the preamps of Marshall(ish) amps.

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    Bent Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Axtman View Post
    To answer my own question.....
    Well you've had many replies, so why did you ask it then

    It's not as simple as a "clean" vs. "dirty" thing. olddawg replied aptly in post #14. The advantages of active electronics simply hasn't reached the guitar "system" market the same way as the bass guitar market because it's less accessible for the reasons I stated in post #4. Even clean guitar sounds are "effected" by phase and intermodulation distortions that don't necessarily sound "distorted" but still affect the tone and feel. Bass players, OTOH, struggle just to get the frequency range they're after. Bass amps are REFERENCE amps, pretty much. Guitar amps are SIGNAL PROCESSORS, pretty much. Being that bass amps are reference amps you can put anything you want into them. Bass, phonograph, keyboard, intermission program And many are sold as such too. And always have been.

    Guitar amps are specifically designed to make guitar pickups sound a certain way and certainly NOT as reference amps. Most guitar amps would be much poorer reference amps than bass guitar amps for exactly this reason. So bass and their amps have evolved more with newer technologies because it was more accessible to that market. Whereas guitars and guitar amps have evolved together outside of that market. There have been many (and will be more) attempts to apply standard audio industry tech (reference amplification) to guitars, but because they and their amps exist in an isolated niche it rarely takes and holds on. Bass guitars and their amps, being in a more typical audio technologies area (reference amplification) bass guitars are more accessible to such efforts and they persist more readily.

    Simple Simon.

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    "I'm just going to perform a bit more scientific investigation, turn it up to 11 and rip of the knob." überfuzz

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    Quote Originally Posted by Axtman View Post
    To answer my own question.....my thought is that bass players like a clean sound with lots of headroom...
    [Rant On]
    And then there is me. Screw that. I come from the Geddy Lee/John Entwistle/Lemmy school of bass playing. So I plug my Mustang Bass into a grungy old 50W Bassman head w. 2x15" CTS speakers. Sound guys bitch CONSTANTLY that I'm too loud. I usually play on 3. When I get to play on 4, though, (insert "heavenly angel choir" sound here). But you know what else? Folks all the way in the back can tell what notes I'm playing. I have zero problem slicing through a mix.

    For the record, I HATE that super clean hifi bass sound, and I hate the amps that help make it all possible. And what the $#!+ with all the "bass" cabinets & amps having HORNS? The SVT (the REAL ones, like the 70s) are the pinnacle of bass technology, followed by the B-15N, with the 400PS behind, but since I've never played one, maybe it's better. Lower power, EFFICIENT speakers, and lots of them, and who needs your battery-powered basses and kilowatt amps?

    9V batteries are for smoke detectors, transistor radios, and for making your bass sound like a transistor radio.

    [Rant Off]

    Justin

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    Bent Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    Just for you Justin.



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    Last edited by Chuck H; 06-13-2018 at 02:36 PM.
    "I'm just going to perform a bit more scientific investigation, turn it up to 11 and rip of the knob." überfuzz

    "...less ear-friendly but handy for jazz." Leo_Gnardo

    "A pedal, any kind, will not make a Guitar player more dangerous than he already is." J M Fahey

    "If you build it, it will hum..." Justin Thomas

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    That musta put me in a really good mood, cuz I just danced across my kitchen several times. I haven't danced in 15 years!

    Justin

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    @Justin Thomas
    Lots of bass players I know favor higher value pots and smaller caps in the passive electronics over going with active pups for gaining higher EQ in the mix. The impedence/tone suck problem is more easily addressed with active pups. It's all about trade-offs for circumstances.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck H View Post
    Guitar amps are specifically designed to make guitar pickups sound a certain way and certainly NOT as reference amps. Most guitar amps would be much poorer reference amps than bass guitar amps for exactly this reason...
    And yet... the best compliment I ever got about one of my amps was my Spitfire clone built into a Stromberg-Carlson PA, with a lot of from you, Chuck...
    We were using it plugged into a Craigslist $10 4x10" Chinese speaker grqy-carpet-covered column cab, as a PA. My friend asked for a bit more highs in his vocals, and our acoustic player asked, "wait, you're Mic'ed?" So, even as a misapplied guitar amp, it still sounded more aesthetically pleasing than our actual PA, and obviously more natural a l and faithful to my friend's voice. So, reference amp or not, a guitar a small tube guitar amp makes a killer PA, too - the flaws inherent to the beast are what give it the sonic edge, specs be darned.

    Justin

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    You ask a reasonable question. I suspect one of the reasons is that basses are less likely to be used with outboard pedals, other than for tone-shaping and maybe limiting/compression. That is, bassists often aim for the most straightforward, clearly audible, tone. Whatever they do stick into the instrument usually doesn't have much gain associated with it.

    In contrast, guitarists can often use a lot of effects. And that introduces some challenges. Whatever you stick in the guitar is always "first", with no way to re-arrange the order, so you better damn well like whatever is in that order because you're stuck with it. Many guitar-oriented effects can suck more battery-current, and nobody wants to keep changing batteries or have to remember to pull the cord out of the jack to disable the battery between sets.

    As well, a simple volume/treble/bass arrangement on a bass can be enough whereas most guitar effects can often benefit by adding juuuuuuuussst one or two more knobs or switches. By virtue of their longer-scale necks, bass bodies are generally bigger, offering more real estate to spread out controls. In contrast, guitars with onboard effects often have cramped spaces for knobs, or are forced to situate them where they are awkward to access. My advice to those wanting to stuff FX in their guitars is "If the effect can be better implemented on the floor than in the guitar, why put it in the guitar?"

    Having said all of that, an onboard low-gain preamp that can buffer long cables from the guitar to whatever the next-thing-in-line is, can be a real blessing. Of course, you have to like a nice bright crisp clean guitar signal for that to be true.

    Years back, I made myself a clone of an Ibanez TS0808 Tube Screamer. Could not for the life of me see what the big deal was. Pretty much hated it. Then, I got a new guitar that did NOT have the onboard preamp of the previous guitar, and suddenly the lights came on for me. The preamp only had a gain of 4x, but that was enough to render it nigh impossible to extract mild overdrive from the TS808. So that's something to keep in mind: guitar pedals are often designed in anticipation of a particular input signal level, and if the guitar outputs something hotter than that the outboard pedals may clip in undesirable ways.

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    Supporting Member eschertron's Avatar
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    Don't forget, some guitar 'purists' strip all the controls out of their guitar and simply wire the pickup straight to the jack. No messin' with stuff, there. Then plugged into something loud.

    Tangentially, I saw Vintagekiki's recent post on a Fender vol/tone pedal. Looking at the schematic, I thought "why, I have one of those built right into my guitar!"

    Fender Vol/tone pedal

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    Supporting Member Steve A.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eschertron View Post
    Tangentially, I saw Vintagekiki's recent post on a Fender vol/tone pedal. Looking at the schematic, I thought "why, I have one of those built right into my guitar!"

    Fender Vol/tone pedal
    I was given one of those pedals when I swapped out the pickups for Nashville studio musician Bobby Thompson's son's bass back in the late 70's. I was under the impression that it was designed for pedal steel which normally has no controls at all...

    Steve A.

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    Supporting Member eschertron's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve A. View Post
    I was given one of those pedals when I swapped out the pickups for Nashville studio musician Bobby Thompson's son's bass back in the late 70's. I was under the impression that it was designed for pedal steel which normally has no controls at all...

    Steve A.
    Well, that would make sense, then. :stunned:

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    If it still won't get loud enough, it's probably broken. - Steve Conner
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    Distortion is a form of signal degradation. It is pretty easy to define what a good "clean" signal is, but trying to achieve just the right kind of "broken" can be pretty maddening. - glebert

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    Supporting Member eschertron's Avatar
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    Steve,
    thanks for chiming in. I was looking for the thread where you mentioned using the EMG afterburner as a built-in secret weapon. I had one in a squier strat a while back, a great way to turn my <1W 'living room' amp into a fire-breather.

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    If it still won't get loud enough, it's probably broken. - Steve Conner
    We need more chaos in music, in art... I'm here to make it. - Justin Thomas
    Distortion is a form of signal degradation. It is pretty easy to define what a good "clean" signal is, but trying to achieve just the right kind of "broken" can be pretty maddening. - glebert

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    Quote Originally Posted by eschertron View Post
    Steve,
    thanks for chiming in. I was looking for the thread where you mentioned using the EMG afterburner as a built-in secret weapon. I had one in a squier strat a while back, a great way to turn my <1W 'living room' amp into a fire-breather.
    My Charvel model 4 has a JE-1200 mid boost. I leave it at maximum settings either for single coil clean sounds or for humbucker distorted sounds, it just fattens up all the right frequencies.

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    Many of the bass players I know use active electronics to increase the low-end when using older amps/speakers that have a roll-off that diminishes that low B fundamental on a 5-string or when using a detuned 4-string. Kind of a brute-force approach.

    I fit preamps into guitars (mainly Teles) to give a more versatile instrument. The self-discharge rate of the battery is greater than the circuit's current consumption so lasts at least 5 years (mine has been in since 2011 and still works fine despite daily use) and a bypass toggle means flexibility and reliability. I position the amp between the selector and the volume/tone. This buffers the pickup output and gives a wider tone control operation. The mild boost just lifts the output for soloing, or gives a little more drive to an amp/pedal and more clarity. Many of the players that used to take out a Tele and LP now just use their Tele and flip between active/passive.

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    WRT bass players and pedals, thousands of bassists have posted to the "Post Your Pedal Board" threads on Talkbass.com:

    https://www.talkbass.com/threads/pyp...ables.1063732/

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    Old Timer olddawg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mick Bailey View Post
    Many of the bass players I know use active electronics to increase the low-end when using older amps/speakers that have a roll-off that diminishes that low B fundamental on a 5-string or when using a detuned 4-string. Kind of a brute-force approach.

    I fit preamps into guitars (mainly Teles) to give a more versatile instrument. The self-discharge rate of the battery is greater than the circuit's current consumption so lasts at least 5 years (mine has been in since 2011 and still works fine despite daily use) and a bypass toggle means flexibility and reliability. I position the amp between the selector and the volume/tone. This buffers the pickup output and gives a wider tone control operation. The mild boost just lifts the output for soloing, or gives a little more drive to an amp/pedal and more clarity. Many of the players that used to take out a Tele and LP now just use their Tele and flip between active/passive.
    Doesn't seem a whole lot different than having a TS or "Clean Boost" type pedal right after the guitar. I guess positioning it before the tone controls could have an affect.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mick Bailey View Post
    I fit preamps into guitars (mainly Teles) to give a more versatile instrument.....This buffers the pickup output and gives a wider tone control operation....Many of the players that used to take out a Tele and LP now just use their Tele and flip between active/passive.
    I'm not getting it either. I would "think" the toggle would give you a choice between "standard Tele" and "really bright Tele" sound. ?????

    -rb

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    Quote Originally Posted by rjb View Post
    I'm not getting it either. I would "think" the toggle would give you a choice between "standard Tele" and "really bright Tele" sound. ?????

    -rb
    That's what I wanted to get away from - most preamps I tried just gave more of the same with a top-end boost which was often harsh. One thing a Tele doesn't need is more top-end.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mick Bailey View Post
    That's what I wanted to get away from - most preamps I tried just gave more of the same with a top-end boost which was often harsh. One thing a Tele doesn't need is more top-end.
    Maybe I misunderstood. So... your preamp is more than just a buffer?

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    Since the real advantage of a preamp in a guitar is the low impedance output most designs offer that. The "harsh"ness is likely a consequence of no loading from the guitar cable capacitance. You lose the resonant peak around 3k or 4k and the roll off above that in trade for almost no peak and almost no roll off of higher HF.

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    "I'm just going to perform a bit more scientific investigation, turn it up to 11 and rip of the knob." überfuzz

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck H View Post
    You lose the resonant peak around 3k or 4k and the roll off above that in trade for almost no peak and almost no roll off of higher HF.
    Yea, I've got all that. What I don't get is how a preamp can make a Tele sound like a Les Paul. I must be missing something.

    -rb

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    Bent Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    Well surely some designs are "tuned" to pull off trick EQ and output with the right settings. It's probably handy-ish in the right circumstances. I just find the simplicity of a plain pickup through a cord and into a tube grid too charming to mess with

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