Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, Justin wrote Iceland, a blog about his band’s American tour. Justin isn’t on tour anymore, but Iceland continues, twice a week, on City Desk.
Though I do not own a guitar amplifier, I enjoy regular use of my sister’s Peavey Bandit 112—-a showcase for Peavey’s revolutionary TransTube technology. However, because I am too old to rely on my sister’s guitar amplifiers, I resolved to purchase my own.
Drunk on the undiluted energy that comes in the wake of an important decision, I visited Atomic Music in Beltsville, Md., earlier this week. Among those in the know, Atomic is the only place to purchase guitar amplifiers in the national capital area.
“Direct me to the Fender guitar amplifiers of the tube variety!” I directed an Atomic employee. “I have borrowed these amplifiers often and relish their warm reverberant sound.”
“Of course, sir,” replied the cashier. “If you have any questions, just ask Paul.”
I strolled over to the corner of Atomic’s spacious warehouse dedicated to guitar amplifiers. Numerous Fender tube amplifiers regarded me cooly. I stared at these demons of the ancient pre-transistor world for some time.
“Beautiful, aren’t they?” A short, middle-aged man had appeared next to me, and spoken.
“Are you Paul?” I asked.
“Indeed,” the man replied.
“Perhaps, then, you can assist me,” I said. “Can you summarize the difference between these numerous amplifiers in 100 words or less? In your explanation, please address the age, tonal quality, durability, and projected future exchange value of these machines.”
“Well…,” Paul scratched his chin. “There are many factors to consider. What year was the amplifier manufactured? What were the designers trying to achieve? What is the wattage? What is the resistance? What is the speaker configuration? Is the amplifier a blackface amplifier, or post-CBS, or some Frankenstein’s monster built with refurbished parts and non-Fender components? Does the amplifier have reverb and vibrato features, and are they functional? Is there a master volume knob? Are there cosmetic issues? Do the aesthetics of the amp—-height, weight, and overall design—-overwhelm its sonic qualities?”
“There is much on our plates,” I worried.
“More importantly,” Paul continued, “What is your intent? Are you a punk musician, a jazz musician, a blues musician, a metal musician? What are your artistic goals? What will you do with this amplifier? Why do you need an amplifier? Why, at the end of the day, are you here, and who are you?”
“You bring me to the edge of a nervous breakdown,” I despaired.
“Do not despair,” Paul said. “Do not fetishize information and schematics. Simply plug these amplifiers in, and play a guitar through them. Let your own ears be the guide. If you like the sound of an amplifier, that is the amplifier for you.”
“Choosing an amplifier is much like choosing a religion,” I observed. “Paul…I must say…you remind me of another Paul. This Paul was from Tarsus, a Roman tax collector turned Christian saint.”
“That’s strange,” Paul remarked. “I have never worked for the IRS.”