Being a guitar player, I take every opportunity I can when it comes to getting out there and playing with friends, whether its in a hotel, a stage or in the corner of a pub. The experience of gigging is something which I feel is invaluable to the growing musician, and something which can greatly help you to hone your skills, improve your listening, and become a better, well-rounded player on the whole.
This experience often comes at a cost though, often there is little money involved, and aonly a few drinks on the house for your troubles. This means that it is sometimes quite tempting to bring as little equipment with you as will suffice in order to get a sound from the guitar. Some may decide to bring only their ten watt practice amp and mic that up, some may go even further and show up toting only a guitar, a strap and an extra high e string, and plug directly into a mixer. This issue gives birth to something of a dilemma: in order to gain all of that vital experience playing in a band situation outside of the home, is it necessary to care about the sound of the guitar and bring decent equipment, or is it ok to make do with the easy option and bring the bare minimum. Do you have to sound good to make the experience worthwhile, or is it enough to just be playing with others, regardless of tone?
The advantage of digital effects processors is that they are usually compact, stuffed with effects and amp sims and – perhaps most importantly – are very mixer friendly. This is why the majority of player will show up for a gig with a guitar and a multi-effect processor from either Boss or Line 6. The best part of the crowd in local bars and restaurants will likely be unable to tell the difference no matter what, and as long as you are in tune, relatively in time and there is always at least one person singing, its all good.
I, however, believe that the tone is always important when playing with other musicians. If you are to really enjoy the night, and therefore play your best and really get into the groove with your bandmates, you must like how you sound onstage. A good sound makes a happy band, a happy band makes good music, and good music makes a good night for everyone involved, both audience and band. This is why wherever I play I bring a tube amp with me. While some may consider it to be an extra thing, heavier than effects pedals and guitar combined and hard work to transport without a car or a taxi and not worth the effort, I believe that the benefits make it totally worthwhile.
For shows in bigger places, your tube combo amp acts as your own personal monitor: no more calling through the mic for the sound guy to give you a little more on the left monitor and less on the right! Not to mention that the sweet, warm tone from a tube amp sounds amazing when mic’d up and sent through a good PA system. As far as gigs in those smaller places are concerned, it is even better. You don’t need any kind of sound reinforcement at all, and are completely self-sufficient. All control is yours, and it allows you to tweak your sound with ease in order to dial in that sweet spot for each song you play.
Given the choice between digital effects into a mixer and a real boutique tube amp having your back on stage like your best friend, I know what I’d take any day of the week.