An important decision you may have to make when considering a new guitar amp is whether you want a rackmount setup or a traditional guitar amplifier head or combo. You probably know the drill with guitar heads and combos (if not, catch up on your reading by clicking here).
Rackmount setups are not as common as heads and combos, but are still worth discussing for the very unique benefits they offer. In addition to the actual physical differences between a rack setup and traditional guitar amplifier, a rackmount setup can offer a different approach to creating your signature sound, a shorter setup time, and transportation protection. Here we will consider rackmount setups built into standard 19-inch racks. As opposed to the more expensive and custom setups you may see in big tour rigs holding multiple standard sized tube heads and even the speaker cabinets.
Rackmount vs. Traditional Amplifier Setups: Extra Flexibility
Let’s begin with a basic knowledge of a guitar amplifier’s components. In its simplest form, a guitar amp consists of a preamp, which is used to shape the tone, and a power amp, which amplifies the preamp output to its final level to drive the speakers. An effects loop may also be present in the preamp for control purposes, but this can also be created between the preamp and power amplifier when they are separate components. In traditional amplifiers the effects loop usually allows access to the output of the preamp and an input to the power amp section, for the integration of effect units. A rackmount setup, with separate preamp and power amplifier, essentially lets you separate out each component and fine tune the overall system to your heart’s content.
Rackmount System is Pre-Setup
A rackmount setup allows you to consolidate all your necessary gear into a single system. For instance, you can combine your favorite preamp with the power amp of your choice along with a power conditioner, your wireless system and any necessary effect units. You can then proceed to mix and match the components of your rig, allowing for extra versatility. If desired, you can begin with a power amp like the Carvin Audio DCM200L or DCM1000L for more head room, or you can go all tube with the TS100 and mate them with different preamps or even high end pedals until you find a combination that you like. Another example uses a traditional head like the Legacy 3 or V3M that can be racked with optional rackmount ears. Here the pre amp and power amp are in one unit, but are still racked with the power conditioner, wireless system and effects where they can remain plugged in for a quick setup at the show. Being pre-setup or all ready connected in the rack is a huge advantage for more complicated systems. When you get to the show you only have to plug into the wall, your speaker cabinet, and finally your guitar.
Rack it and Stack it… As Long as You Can Carry it!
Most rackmount cases are designed for heavy use and to withstand any damage that may occur during transportation. The more they are designed for protection the heavier they get. There are a few companies designing with new materials to help balance the weight to protection ratio. For maximum protection, a shock mount case has double walls, where an exterior wall supports an internal wall or rack frame through some form of shock absorption material. This could be simply foam padding or it can be rubber shock mounts. The result is better protection from bounces, but more weight. Your tubes will appreciate the shock mount ride. You can also put in accessories like a draw for cables and hardware, or a shelf for pedals and other small non-rackmount gear. So if you are gigging around town and need to constantly move your setup, watch out for creating a huge rack setup that might be more trouble to move than it’s worth. But the perfect sound may very well be worth it, and as long as the benefits outweigh the drawbacks (or if you have a big roadie) you’re good to go!
Who Will Benefit from a Rackmount Setup?
The tone wizards who are constantly tweaking the different parts of their rig will likely find a lot of satisfaction in building and customizing a rack setup. Touring musicians may also enjoy the added protection and peace of mind of having their equipment stowed safely in a rack case. Be conservative if you don’t have roadies- you may want to get all the gear working together before you finally purchase the rack so that you get the right rack size. A good rackmount setup could be a big step towards finding your perfect tone.