January 12, 2017
Spend some time on any online gear forums, and you'll likely find the word “transparent” gets thrown around a lot, especially in reference to effects pedals and guitar amps. It’s often touted as a good thing for many reasons. While different musicians have varying definitions of what qualifies as a transparent sound, the term generally refers to the way in which a piece of equipment adds minimal, if any, of its own tonal qualities to the original instrument’s sound.
A guitar played through a transparent overdrive pedal, for instance, leaves most of the guitar’s nature and tone intact while adding grit and distortion. Similarly, a transparent guitar amplifier faithfully conveys the nuances of your guitar without adding its own coloration. Of course, the definition of transparent is completely subjective; this article will give a rundown of the different ways musicians may hear different gear.
Amplifiers and “Baked-in” vs. Transparent Tone
Have you ever tried out a new amp with all the EQ controls set at noon and noticed that some frequencies popped out or were more prominent than others, despite the “flat” EQ setting? This may be due to it having a “baked-in” voicing. Every amplifier has its own voicing or tonal characteristics that contribute to its signature sound. Some completely change the nature of your instrument by adding a distinct emphasis on certain frequencies (increased upper mid presence, for example) and adjusting EQ may or may not be able to completely remove it. This is not necessarily a bad thing- if you like the way it makes your guitar sound right out of the box, and it also sounds good with the band, then your job is done. Although they may not be considered to be transparent, many amplifiers with a prominent baked-in tone are designed to be able to get a particular sound quickly, with minimal knob turning, and this can be really helpful in minimizing the time you spend dialing in your sound.
An amp that is more transparent can serve as a clean palette on which to create your tone, since it lacks a prominent baked-in voicing. If you use a lot of effects pedals to shape your sound, a transparent, neutral amplifier can serve as a great platform. Similarly, musicians who prefer that their amplifier faithfully reproduce their instrument, rather than serve as an additional tone shaping source, may find that an uncolored amp works better for them. How can you tell if it is transparent? With your ears, of course! Everyone hears differently and only you know what sound you want.
Consider Equalization and Tone Shaping Options, Too
An amp’s equalization options are perhaps more important than whether or not it is transparent. Even if you’ve dialed in your tone now, it will change over time and even from song to song, and your amplifier needs to be able to roll with those changes. Consider your amp’s EQ and tone shaping capabilities rather than what they sound like at flat settings. Amplifiers with baked-in voicing, for instance, may be able to be made transparent with a few knob turns, or a few changes to your guitar’s tone controls. Amps that seem transparent can be given another distinct flavor by doing the same. Amps with voicing switches like the Carvin Audio V3 go the extra mile and let you switch up your amp’s voicing on the fly, for instances, where you need a particular flavor or just want to change it up.
The Carvin Audio V3’s bright, mid cut, and deep controls give you a plethora of master tonal options within easy reach.
Tone is Not Just in Your Amp
Your overall sound is a combination of everything from your choice of instrument, amplifier, effects, and of course, your playing style and technique. The way you attack your strings may be just as equally responsible for your tone as your amp. Rather than focusing on whether or not an amp is transparent, try to find one that complements your overall setup and provides the tone shaping options needed to give you a versatile sonic palette.
September 15, 2023
August 18, 2023
It’s not like the guitar is ever boring. But sometimes you just want to branch out and see what else you can accomplish. This is true if you’re in a noise band or hyper-experimental act, but it’s also true if you’re in a straight-ahead rock band looking to add a few crazy moments to your show or record. So, let’s look at a few advanced effects you can try for that experimental vibe.
July 31, 2023
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