Saturday, January 19, 2013

Whats Old Is New Again

Over several weeks I have been using Tom Hughes' "Analogue Guide to Vintage Effects" as a coffee table book. It's out of print but if you are able to procure a copy I highly recommend it. What's fascinating to me is the market for effects from companies that have long since closed their doors. Some effects fetch prices in the 100s! The truth is I don't have any and I don't plan on buying ant in the future. Well, that may not be totally true. I would buy a spring reverb but more for experimental reasons than nostalgia. I have stomp boxes and rack mount effects and some emulate vintage but I have an interest in nostalgia more from a historical perspective.

So why did some effects do so well and others fail. I have three reasons in order of importance:

1. The circuit construction

2. Good Marketing

3. Features

Most effects sound good because of the circuit design but things get dicey because there are often many versions of the same effect and sometimes under different names. It's really why some effects may be hard to duplicate unless you totally simulate a circuit and that may be difficult and CPU intensive.

Some popularity is pure hype and marketing as well. Sometimes it might have to do with a big name store carrying an effect or perhaps a popular artist might like it and everyone thinks if they get that effect they can sound like their musical heroes.

Old school stomp boxes also tended not to be feature rich although an exception may be Mu Tron for example.

A few special cases are also worthy of mentioning: Spring and Plate reverb, tube distortion/overdrive and tape delay. For various reasons emulating any of these is not a simple task. In my opinion most synth effects that have any of these effects do a lousy job. If you have a killer synth it's probably munching on CPU and a good emulation crushes many CPUs. Companies making synths also want to concentrate on the synth so effects are after thoughts. Distortion, especially the soft clipping of tubes, is hard to emulate. I don't have vintage tubes but I do have an EH "Tube EQ" with dual 12AX7s.

In my opinion here us where dedicated boxes like the Strymon "El Capistan" tape delay also shine as do some rack mount devices.

A final special case - reverb. In my opinion the most important effects are:

1. EQ

2. Compression

3. Reverb

Ok, in the end these are really mastering/Mixing tools rather than effects but to be, perhaps with the exception of delay, the rest are window dressing. A bit of ear candy but non essential.

So, that's my take on effects old and new. Hope you enjoyed it.

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