Forgiving & Unforgiving Amps

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randersonranderson Frets: 5
edited June 11 in Amps
I recently pulled out my 60's AC30 for a rehearsal after a long time of bedroom playing and think I've finally discovered what 'unforgiving' in an amp means. 

Great sounding amp (especially with the ES335), great fun playing all the parts then it was time for a solo.. Man did I sound sloppy! Every pick stroke, every 'bump' in the road highlighted for the world to hear. Of course 'practice harder' is the answer but it was a bit of a wake up call TBH.

It got me thinking though, in my adult playing career I've only really owned a Mesa Boogie Mk3, AC30s and a Yerasov GTA15 which is kinda like a Vox AC15 in some ways (EL84s). Have I never owned a 'forgiving' amp? 

Interested in what others would deem forgiving amps or am I wrong about AC30s completely and just p*ss poor at playing these days?!


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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 30909
    AC30s are forgiving - they may not be the *most* forgiving, but they still are. All valve amps are forgiving, that's why we like them :)

    If you want to hear what unforgiving sounds like, try playing a Peavey Renown at gig volume...

    That's a 160W or 210W - depending on series - 2x12" solid-state amp with highly efficient speakers, and it has probably the hardest and most directly dynamic response of any amp I've ever heard. If you over-play a note, you will feel it in the back of your head.
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • StuartMac290StuartMac290 Frets: 521
    edited June 11
    I think of an AC30 as a pretty forgiving amp, to be honest!

    I think very generally EL84 and 6V6 amps tend to be the most forgiving amps to play.
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 30909

    I think very generally EL84 and 6V6 amps tend to be the most forgiving amps to play.
    Probably because they're often cathode-biased, which increases compression when pushed hard. Some of the definitive EL84 and 6V6 amps also don't have negative feedback, so the onset of overdrive is softer and more progressive which also makes them more forgiving.
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • GadgetGadget Frets: 522
    All my amps are very forgiving.

    They've heard me play and not one of them's walked out yet! :)
    I think, therefore.... I... ummmm........
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  • thermionicthermionic Frets: 4561
    Forgiving amps are popular in the P&W scene.
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  • randersonranderson Frets: 5
    I think of an AC30 as a pretty forgiving amp, to be honest!

    I think very generally EL84 and 6V6 amps tend to be the most forgiving amps to play.
    Interesting feedback from everyone. I played a Fender BF amp today and found that to be more 'forgiving' at least by my definition. Spongier, obviously less pronounced mids - maybe this plays a part in what I'm getting at? Then again maybe I have got the whole idea wrong!
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 17426
    randerson said:
    I recently pulled out my 60's AC30 for a rehearsal after a long time of bedroom playing and think I've finally discovered what 'unforgiving' in an amp means. 

    Try a Dumble style amp.
    They have such a pronounced midrange that nothing is hidden.
    I am the juice of four limes.
    Trading Feedback
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 30909
    randerson said:

    Interesting feedback from everyone. I played a Fender BF amp today and found that to be more 'forgiving' at least by my definition. Spongier, obviously less pronounced mids - maybe this plays a part in what I'm getting at? Then again maybe I have got the whole idea wrong!
    Yes, the smaller BF amps in particular are quite forgiving too. Even a Twin is, compared to some amps I can think of... although not an AC30.

    If your AC30 is a Top Boost model, try turning the bass up full - this also cuts the mids, due to the odd way the tone stack works - and set the tone using just the treble and the Cut. That will get you the closest to the BF-type sound.

    If it's not a Top Boost - just a single tone control - try jumpering the Normal and Brilliant channels. That will give a softer sound than either alone.
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • ToneControlToneControl Frets: 4027
    Some people feel that large clean amps, like the cleanest Dumble clones (HRM), or the Steel string singer, etc. (think of a Fender twin set to the maximum clean volume, with plenty of treble) are the most unforgiving, since you can hear every little nuance. Personally I love that sound, I feel you can hear every ridge on your fingerprints, and which edge and angle of the pick you have used, and the dramatic change when you use fingers instead of the pick, or a bit of both.

    I'm guessing that a forgiving amp or patch would have lots of mids, lots of compression, and so would not reveal unintended variations in tone or volume
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  • FuengiFuengi Frets: 512
    I've got a Yerasov GTA15 and although I don't have huge experience of playing other valve amps - have used Cornford / Vox / Fender Super Sonic -  you do have to tread lightly with it, it's pretty responsive. 

    Works well with both a tickle and a slap, but you got to tickle and slap it just right.
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  • randersonranderson Frets: 5
    ICBM said:
    randerson said:

    Interesting feedback from everyone. I played a Fender BF amp today and found that to be more 'forgiving' at least by my definition. Spongier, obviously less pronounced mids - maybe this plays a part in what I'm getting at? Then again maybe I have got the whole idea wrong!
    Yes, the smaller BF amps in particular are quite forgiving too. Even a Twin is, compared to some amps I can think of... although not an AC30.

    If your AC30 is a Top Boost model, try turning the bass up full - this also cuts the mids, due to the odd way the tone stack works - and set the tone using just the treble and the Cut. That will get you the closest to the BF-type sound.

    If it's not a Top Boost - just a single tone control - try jumpering the Normal and Brilliant channels. That will give a softer sound than either alone.

    Yeah mine is without the top boost so will try that jumpering trick. Thanks for that.
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  • impmannimpmann Frets: 7017
    Less pronouced mids... so you don't want to be heard, then? ;-)

    Seriously though - I don't really understand the 'forgiving' vs 'unforgiving' thing. I don't understand the terminology.

    Never Ever Bloody Anything Ever.

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  • StuartMac290StuartMac290 Frets: 521
    impmann said:
    Less pronouced mids... so you don't want to be heard, then? ;-)

    Seriously though - I don't really understand the 'forgiving' vs 'unforgiving' thing. I don't understand the terminology.

    Play an early Bad Cat Black Cat 30 or a Matchless DC30 and you'll probably get it right away.
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  • JezWyndJezWynd Frets: 2123
    impmann said:
    Less pronouced mids... so you don't want to be heard, then? ;-)

    Seriously though - I don't really understand the 'forgiving' vs 'unforgiving' thing. I don't understand the terminology.

    Think valve vs solid state?
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  • nick79nick79 Frets: 114
    I had a Mesa F50 that i thought immediately was very unforgiving, in that it was so touch sensitive it took a little while to get used to. It was a totally different amp to the Laney Ironheart i had before that and it took me a little while to get used to it, but it did make me a better player. 
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 30909
    edited June 12
    impmann said:

    Seriously though - I don't really understand the 'forgiving' vs 'unforgiving' thing. I don't understand the terminology. 
    Forgiving means that you don't have to be as precise in your playing, because the amp has a naturally rich, usually slightly compressed sound which smooths out as you play harder and especially when it goes into overdrive.

    Unforgiving means it has a clear, uncompressed sound with dynamics that directly follow the picking strength and which usually sounds harsh when you push it into overdrive, so if you don't play carefully the errors really jump out.

    At least, that's what it means to me.

    JezWynd said:

    Think valve vs solid state?
    Yes, most valve amps are usually more naturally forgiving than solid-state, especially played loud and at the point of overdrive. This is why most players prefer valve amps, although the difference can be less obvious to a listener than the player.
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • impmannimpmann Frets: 7017
    impmann said:
    Less pronouced mids... so you don't want to be heard, then? ;-)

    Seriously though - I don't really understand the 'forgiving' vs 'unforgiving' thing. I don't understand the terminology.

    Play an early Bad Cat Black Cat 30 or a Matchless DC30 and you'll probably get it right away.
    I have. The Matchless sounded superb - sadly I couldn't lift it otherwise I'd have one. :-)

    So basically a 'forgiving' amp makes a slightly crappy player sound better than they actually are (ie it hides sloppy technique) - is that what we are saying?
    Never Ever Bloody Anything Ever.

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  • ToneControlToneControl Frets: 4027
    impmann said:
    impmann said:
    Less pronouced mids... so you don't want to be heard, then? ;-)

    Seriously though - I don't really understand the 'forgiving' vs 'unforgiving' thing. I don't understand the terminology.

    Play an early Bad Cat Black Cat 30 or a Matchless DC30 and you'll probably get it right away.
    I have. The Matchless sounded superb - sadly I couldn't lift it otherwise I'd have one. :-)

    So basically a 'forgiving' amp makes a slightly crappy player sound better than they actually are (ie it hides sloppy technique) - is that what we are saying?
    or that a forgiving amp conceals the extra expression in the playing of someone who has refined their touch and dynamics?
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  • BazPBazP Frets: 274
    See your Dumble and raise you a Trainwreck or Komet with a SS rectifier and no MV!

    ..kinda like an early 911 Turbo on a wet road - permanently trying to kill you but it's a lotta fun if it doesn't succeed


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  • StuartMac290StuartMac290 Frets: 521
    impmann said:
    impmann said:
    Less pronouced mids... so you don't want to be heard, then? ;-)

    Seriously though - I don't really understand the 'forgiving' vs 'unforgiving' thing. I don't understand the terminology.

    Play an early Bad Cat Black Cat 30 or a Matchless DC30 and you'll probably get it right away.
    I have. The Matchless sounded superb - sadly I couldn't lift it otherwise I'd have one. :-)

    So basically a 'forgiving' amp makes a slightly crappy player sound better than they actually are (ie it hides sloppy technique) - is that what we are saying?
    Not really, it's more that they are a joy to play, they seem to "flow' easily, and really free you up to play expressively. Of the amps I use most, my Bad Cat is effortless, the 3rd Power works with you nicely, the Magnatone is somewhere in the middle, and my Louis Electric Columbia makes you work that bid harder.
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 30909
    impmann said:

    So basically a 'forgiving' amp makes a slightly crappy player sound better than they actually are (ie it hides sloppy technique) - is that what we are saying?
    Yes, if you want to put it like that :). But that can be a good thing, because it allows you to concentrate on other aspects of sounding good.

    ToneControl said:

    or that a forgiving amp conceals the extra expression in the playing of someone who has refined their touch and dynamics?
    Not really. A forgiving amp can be very expressive too - you just need to play it differently.

    The funny thing is that some people like to say they like unforgiving amps as if it's some sort of badge of honour, but give them a *really* unforgiving amp and they're more likely to say it doesn't sound very good...
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • meltedbuzzboxmeltedbuzzbox Frets: 6983
    fuck my life... what a load of bollocks
    The Bigsby was the first successful design of what is now called a whammy bar or tremolo arm, although vibrato is the technically correct term for the musical effect it produces. In standard usage, tremolo is a rapid fluctuation of the volume of a note, while vibrato is a fluctuation in pitch. The origin of this nonstandard usage of the term by electric guitarists is attributed to Leo Fender, who also used the term “vibrato” to refer to what is really a tremolo effect.
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 30909
    fuck my life... what a load of bollocks
    No worse than Telecasters, which are always being held up as 'unforgiving'.

    Which must explain why so many indie bands use them...
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • meltedbuzzboxmeltedbuzzbox Frets: 6983
    ICBM said:
    fuck my life... what a load of bollocks
    No worse than Telecasters, which are always being held up as 'unforgiving'.

    Which must explain why so many indie bands use them...
    I've never seen that spouted to be honest but I can believe it...

    Im just off to the fx section to post about a forgiving Big muff
    The Bigsby was the first successful design of what is now called a whammy bar or tremolo arm, although vibrato is the technically correct term for the musical effect it produces. In standard usage, tremolo is a rapid fluctuation of the volume of a note, while vibrato is a fluctuation in pitch. The origin of this nonstandard usage of the term by electric guitarists is attributed to Leo Fender, who also used the term “vibrato” to refer to what is really a tremolo effect.
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  • impmannimpmann Frets: 7017
    ICBM said:
    fuck my life... what a load of bollocks
    No worse than Telecasters, which are always being held up as 'unforgiving'.

    Which must explain why so many indie bands use them...
    By whom?

    I don't... and I've played a Tele most of my adult life. Genuinely, I've not encountered this term before... and I think I concur with Mr Buzzbox.
    Never Ever Bloody Anything Ever.

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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 30909
    impmann said:

    By whom?
    By a lot of 'proper' Tele players, if you read some of the US forums. The whole 'unforgiving', 'nowhere to hide', 'sorts the men from the boys' kind of thing... total bollocks.

    Just to be clear, although I understand what people mean by 'unforgiving' regarding amps, it's not something I'm ever bothered by. I can generally sound equally bad through anything :).
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • HaychHaych Frets: 423
    The most unforgiving amp I played was my old Peavey Duel 212.  The lead channel was ok, and in fact sounded very, very good, I'd almost say it was the best crunch sound I've ever had.

    The clean channel, though, was way too bold for my liking.  It didn't sound like a valve amp clean, if that makes any sense and I couldn't get the sound I wanted from it so it had to go.  Pity really because the lead/crunch channel was awesome.

    But while we're on the topic of forgiving and unforgiving; if one wants to play their best then surely playing an unforgiving amp is the way to go?  If a forgiving amp hides all the faux pas in your playing then it's logical to conclude that playing through an unforgiving amp should make you a better player, no?
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  • ToneControlToneControl Frets: 4027
    ICBM said:

    ToneControl said:

    or that a forgiving amp conceals the extra expression in the playing of someone who has refined their touch and dynamics?
    Not really. A forgiving amp can be very expressive too - you just need to play it differently.

    The funny thing is that some people like to say they like unforgiving amps as if it's some sort of badge of honour, but give them a *really* unforgiving amp and they're more likely to say it doesn't sound very good...
    I agree that a forgiving amp can also be very expressive, even a massively OD'd amp can. It's a different skill though.

    I'm meaning that the subtleties you get with someone playing with a touch closer to acoustic playing will not be heard as well on what I'd call a "forgiving amp"
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 30909
    ToneControl said:

    I agree that a forgiving amp can also be very expressive, even a massively OD'd amp can. It's a different skill though.

    I'm meaning that the subtleties you get with someone playing with a touch closer to acoustic playing will not be heard as well on what I'd call a "forgiving amp"
    That's true. It's one of the reasons I tend to like amps that some people think of as 'unforgiving' - big clean amps and solid-state - although it's not so much about subtlety, for me it's the ability to bash the guitar like you would an acoustic and not have it clip or mush out, but respond the same way as you play so you don't have to learn a new set of dynamics.

    But I detest some other other amps that are sometimes called unforgiving, especially those with strident over-pronounced midrange. I suspect I'm in something of a minority though.

    I suppose in the end it's whether the amp responds the way you expect it to so it becomes easy to play.
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • randersonranderson Frets: 5

    Forgiving means that you don't have to be as precise in your playing, because the amp has a naturally rich, usually slightly compressed sound which smooths out as you play harder and especially when it goes into overdrive.

    Unforgiving means it has a clear, uncompressed sound with dynamics that directly follow the picking strength and which usually sounds harsh when you push it into overdrive, so if you don't play carefully the errors really jump out.

    At least, that's what it means to me.

    ^^^^ That's a great explanation and that's how I understood the difference. Though tbh I felt the other day, like the AC30 fell in the second camp except that of course it's not harsh in the overdrive. I agree that a solid state is more unforgiving but an  'uncompressed sound with dynamics that directly follow the picking strength' was what I 'felt' I was experiencing with the Vox.
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