Surf Lesson Pt. 2

Posted: December 5, 2010 by Mike in Cool story bro..., DIY, John Fuckin Denver

Yes, I know, missed last week. Was in Disneyland and forgot to have something already prepared for you guys… other than the script to go with Doors At 8. Anyways, let’s get into the next part of our little lesson, dudes.

Okay, you got your radical surf guitar, its set up to catch some sweet sound waves, excellent, now what? Well, you need an amp to go with it, of course. So let’s look at some amps, shall we?

First thing’s first, while you can basically make any rig work with the right set up; for a truely GOOD surf sound, you need an  all-tube amp with some personality. And by that I mean, don’t waste your time on a Marshall like every other asshole (sounds generic and shitty) or a Peavy (sounds like a Marshall that got thrown down a flight of stairs… several times). I’m not saying you can’t pair a Vox head unit with a Marshall cab, just don’t break out the Marshall head unit cuz its full of fail and disappointment.

Speaking of Vox, have you checked out the AC series lately? Like the AC30? Well you should, cuz these amps have the right personality. Super bright, chimey cleans, and with the right amount of gain and tweaking, you can get a real dirty garage rock grit sound without sounding like you’re just cranking distortion like a punk rocker or a metalhead. If you’re wondering just how well Vox goes with surf music, take a look at the Shadows:

Pretty rad, huh? But maybe that’s not the direction you wanna go. Maybe you want something with a bit more bite, or you just wanna match your Fender guitar “properly”. Well good news, Fender has been making tube amps since they first started, how convenient! But be wary, surf consumers, Fender offers a LOT of variety that’s geared towards all sorts of genres. So basically if it has the words “blues” in it, there’s a good chance you should NOT be going with that amp. Unless that’s really the sound you’re going for, because you’re trying to stand out from other surf musicians.

1976 Silverfaced Twin Reverb. Silverfaced (70's) Fender amps can be had for under a thousand if you look hard. Or you can buy a brand new Re-Issue blackfaced (60's) series

In any case, the biggest, baddest, most iconic surf amp is of course the Fender Twin Reverb. Mondo huge and wicked heavy (all tube amps of reasonable size are beserk heavy, but the Twin Reverb is just a fucking tank), the Twin Reverb will belt out some harsh sounds and give you a real sweet surfer sound. This is definitely an amp to keep your eyes out for. But maybe you don’t want to go as big as the Twin. There’s also the Princeton Reverb and the ever-so lovely Deluxe Reverb, both really fantastic and smaller in size but not in quality amps.

There are a ton more amps to look at, but all the amps I named have one major factor in common and it is seriously THE most important feature your amp needs for a GOOD surf sound: REVERB! Reverb is that springy, “wet” echoey sound you easily recognize when you blast most surf music. Yes, very early Dick Dale didn’t use reverb, but soon as that came out, it can be heard on just about every recording he did. Dick Dale is one of the pioneers and considered the father of the surf sound. He’s called the “king of surf” for a reason.

Granted, you can go out and just BUY a reverb pedal, but seriously? A cheap digital reverb versus a REAL spring reverb? Sounds like garbage by comparison. When trying out amps, make sure it comes with a real reverb, not a digital effect reverb.

But as for pedals go, a good fuzz pedal (Big Muff) is a nice addition, or even a

A new Big Muff is relatively cheap, well under $100 at a Guitar Center

 vibrato pedal. Some amps like the Vox already come with a vibrato channel, but if your amp of choice doesn’t, maybe a vibrato pedal would be a good pairing for your set up. What vibrato does is basically create a different kind of echo, a more warped specifically channeled and with control of how fast it ricochets the echo.

So let’s review! What you need for a good “surf sound”:

-Solid body electric guitar with single coils

– All-tube amp

-Spring Reverb

-A variation of fuzz, vibrato, and maybe even a bit of delay

Of course you need to combine these things with actual surf style guitar for the full effect, but that was obviously the plan if you’re reading this as a how-to guide to go for the sound to match the style. And that concludes our two-part surf lesson.



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