WARNING! This post contains the answers to the quiz! If you still want to take the test, stop reading now and challenge your ear here.
It was only two weeks, but it feels so much longer—at least for me, after processing some 220 entries before receiving the third perfect eight-out-of-eight score last night, which concluded the contest.
I honestly didn’t think it would take as long as it did. Not that I’m complaining! The Amps Vs. Models Contest was a fascinating experiment that produced many interesting comments. Thanks to everyone who chimed in!
The final entry was from Jessie Nieboer of Walkerville, Michigan, who selected a Seymour Duncan Twin Tube Mayhem pedal as his prize. Several days earlier, Ralf Tyra of Hamburg, Germany, claimed second place. He chose a Twin Tube Classic and a Tweak Fuzz. And last week Colm Kelley of Dublin, Ireland, took first place with the first perfect score. He hasn’t yet decided which stompboxes he wants, but mentioned the possibility of three Deja Vu delay pedals.
And the correct answers?
D, C, B, A, F, E, G, H.
The amps pairs appeared in chronological order: The first two clips were the Fenders, the next two were the Voxes, followed by the Marshalls and the Diezels. In each case, the model appeared before the amp, except in the case of the Diezels. In other words, Clips 1, 3, 5, and 8 were models, while 2, 4, 6, and 7 were amps.
I’ve said all along that I probably wouldn’t have aced this test if I hadn’t made it myself. And most of you were in the same boat. Ten entries received a score of 6. Everyone else scored lower.
Some post-game observations:
• Listeners not only had difficulty discerning amps from models, but also identifying amp types. Many confused the Vox and Fender sounds. Even more mixed up the Marshall and the Diezel. In retrospect, it may have been a bad idea to include the Diezel, since its sound is not as widely known as the others. My thinking at the time was that I wanted to include something non-vintage and metal-approved, and I consider the Diezel an especially good-sounding example of this sort of amp. I bet more people would have ID’ed the amp correctly if I’ve played a more metal-sounding riff.
• The model that fooled the most people was the Marshall. Many, many contestants mistook the real Marshall for the model, which is interesting, since, to my ear, this is the pair with the greatest discrepancy between the tones. I’m not saying it’s any easier than the other pairs, or that I would have gotten it right. It’s just interesting.
• I probably should have come up with an alternate method of scoring that gave separate credit for distinguishing models from amps, and between various amp types. For example, a couple of contestants realized that 1, 3, 5, and 8 were the models, but got all the amp types wrong. It seems to me they should have received a higher score than 0.
• If this had been a playing test rather than a listening test, there would have been far more perfect scores.
But enough of my yakkin’! Let’s hear from three guitarists with ears far superior to mine:
Grand Prize winner Colm Kelly is currently working on a new studio project called Tiny Telephone Exchange. (You can check out their tracks here.) When pressed, he described his listening techniques: “The biggest tell-tale was the self-noise of the actual amp; this was particularly audible at the end of the clips. I am also reasonably familiar with the microphone used for recording the clips and knew what results could be expected. Otherwise, the Bassman was relatively easy to pick out as it was the only one of the four amps with 10″ speakers. A lot of time 12″ speakers contain low end information that gets EQed out at the time of mixing. Depending on what you are after, a 10″ speaker can sound closer to ‘finished’ straight off the bat.”
Colm says he is not a great fan of modeling: “In my experience, modeling takes a lot more tweaking to get it to do what you want, and the ability to endlessly tweak can lead to indecision. A recording with multiple tracks of modeling is a lot tougher to get to stick together. Referring back to my comment above about amp self-noise, I think a lot of times in recording, that dirt/noise is an important part of getting things to sit together right. I also think that the results that can be achieved with modeling depend heavily on the quality of the DI and conversion that you are using. That said, I am not up to date on the latest modeling software so I can’t say how much it has improved in the last couple of years.”
Second-place winner Ralf Tyra is a self-described “bedroom guitarist” who recently picked up guitar again after not playing for a decade. He says he trained his ear by working with Avid’s Pro Tools and Eleven Rack modeler: “I listen to any separated recorded guitar track I can get my hands on, regardless of the style of music, and try to tweak in the sound as close as I can get on my Eleven Rack. This is probably why I did that well in your contest: Listening to and A/B-ing real recorded amps and modeled amps is currently a great part of my leisure activities. I do not use any special studio technique for this, just my ears.”
Unlike Colm, Ralf is an enthusiastic model user. “I am deeply impressed by the quality of amp modeling nowadays,” he says. “It’s a dream come true to have so many great-sounding amps, cabs, and mics at your disposal, and still have some space in your bedroom.”
Third-placer Jessie Nieboer took a less scientific approach. “I have no clue how I did it,” he shrugs. “I just listened for some of the tell-tale signs of amps, like a little bark from the head and the more direct sounds of a model.” Jessie’s musical pursuits consist of “writing my own stuff, and just messing around playing with my friends.”
Any grand conclusions? Not really. Models are cool. Amps are cool. Sometimes models sound great, and sometimes they sound crappy, much like amps. We’ll be all over both alternatives here at Tonefiend.
Thanks yet again to everyone who participated! I hope you found it as interesting as I did!