In Conversation: An Interview with Alan Durham from Durham Electronics- Part 5 

Alex Mitchakes
June 15, 2018
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38 min read

Mitchakes Music: I'm gear gassing for one of these so hard right now! I can't believe what I'm hearing. It sounds absolutely incredible! That’s the best sales pitch I’ve ever heard. Laughs.

Alan Durnham: If you've got a studio and you’re tracking to start a project, you usually hear a lot about having to make “scratch tracks” to avoid sonic bleed etc. We’ve all heard it before, well we're going to plug you directly into the board just so we can build a “scratch track”. A lot of times you lose good recorded takes because you're just stuck with the “scratch track” mentality. But with this product you can save a lot of time and money in the studio by utilizing “scratch tracks” as the final performance. The other thing we did was put amps on this recorded track. Then I wanted to sound like my 5E3 Tweed Deluxe. I dialed that particular sound in with the SiTone in like 2 seconds. There's that sound, right? But in getting that sound with the SiTone it’s incredibly versatile. The Tweed can't get the sound of the SiTone at all. So, I'm able to get other amp sounds with the SiTone live and in the studio, but also have this special thing happening that’s unique to this amplifier design. With the plus and minus with the gain structure you can use it going to the front of house, you can use it as its own preamp going straight into Pro Tools, you don’t have to use a preamp in the studio if you don’t want to, which is insanely cool. You can go straight in with your guitar and immediately start tracking in the studio.

 

MM: Can you tell me little bit about the Durham Electronics B.M.P. (Buffer, Master Volume, Preamp) pedal you made me? I'm trying to explain to some of my students about the concept of buffered vs. true bypass and why you need to think about it in your signal chain. I never got how much signal degradation I was having while using a large pedal board with true bypass pedals and really good instrument cables. So, when I went to playing straight into an amplifier with just my guitar I could hear the signal loss. I still feel like certain factors can call for True-Bypass. I usually want my wah pedal true bypass because they notoriously suck tone, but that’s about it. I want to get the kids away from thinking about the myth that you have to have everything true-bypassed. You need to have some buffers in line of your effects signal chain because, in my mind, effect chains work as if you have a large water hose and you’re trying to get water to have an equal pressure through the hose. I find you need buffers in your rig to help keep the water pressure equal throughout the guitar cable length. What are your thoughts on True-Bypass vs Buffered units?

 

AD: You know me. I'm not a fan of true bypass so, I don't make true bypass pedals at all. I was using true-bypass on the Crazy Horse fuzz pedal until this past year and I felt stupid because I realized I didn't need to be doing that after all this time. The Crazy Horse is now non-true bypass as well. If you're going through true bypass the real analogy, to make it simple, is you can't truly build true bypass. It’s a farce. If you went truly true bypass then you would basically be unplugging and plugging a cord in every time you bypass the pedal. There would be popping, humming, and all kinds of ugly sounds. It’s not the case. The only way to get rid of that is to load it down with resistance. What you've essentially done is load down the circiit. You've either got resistance from the circuit or from a resistor. You've got to pick what you want. I don't buy into the true bypass whatsoever. Plenty of people do.

The best analogy is the water analogy you just used. Mathematically with current is essentially the water pressure analogy you just made. You can have a power supply that provides 20,000 amps and you can plug into it and only get an eighth of an amp out of it. It doesn't mean that it's putting out that much current. There's simply that much power available to you. If you're in your car, you can go zero to 120mph if you need to, but that doesn't mean you're going 120mph the whole time you are driving. So, when you're loading stuff down, the more you load it down, the more you need to push signal through. That's basically what buffers do. They push the signal forward. I wanted to give players that. How much do you need push through? Is that old pedal you put in line really bogging things down? You need some more “pressure” to push everything through.

MM: A couple more questions and then I think we’ve covered as much as we need for today. For any of my students, or guitarists looking to improve their overall tone what should they be thinking about? What does great guitar tone mean to you? Is it quantifiable? Can it be measured? Is there some mojo to it? Or is it about getting a great sound that inspires you as a player? Also in closing, is there anything you’d like to say to my students who want to have a career in music, or start working on amplifiers, or designing circuits?

 

AD: Well as far as the question what great tone is, it is the tone that makes you want to play. It's something that sounds good with other players playing with you at the same time. You got to keep in mind you're not the only one playing. Making music is a group mentality. I tell everybody my famous quote is that if it's sounds good in your bedroom, it's going to sound terrible with a band. The reason is in your bedroom you're compensating for the lack of bass guitar, there's no drums, there's no vocals, and so what you hear in your bedroom is totally different. You want to sound full and big, but when you play with a band you’ll hear “I couldn't hear what you were playing”. Keep in mind good tone is a tone that works in context of a group setting. If you’re going to play at home by yourself have a ball, but I think music is about playing with people.

 

I don't want to sound like an old jaded musician, but I am, and the music business is a hard business. You need to play music because that's what you love to do. Don't play music because you want to be famous, or successful, or rich. Music should be enough for your goals. You will be disappointed if your goals are to be famous. You need to play music because that's what you want to do. If you have other skills that allow you to be involved in music, and that's what I have, your entire life can be music. My entire life is music. I figured out a way to use my skills and electronics to be able to be involved in the music business at all times. Everything I do is music-related. Everything I talk about is music-related. It's all there it's all guitar, you know it's music. You called me on the phone to talk about music. If you want to figure out a way to do it where you can always be involved in something that you love, then you can do it this way, by creating! It's just like music. What you can do is create stuff with it. There's a passion for it and you get sucked into it.

 

When I used to give guitar lessons many years ago, I got asked by parents all the time, would it be better for my child to start on acoustic? Well I don’t know are they a big James Taylor fan? The question is what do you want to play and what are you interested in? Then all you have to do is get something to help you facilitate that passion and interest. I stopped playing piano as a kid because all I ended up doing was practicing for 30 min a day in an overly structured system, I never got anything out of it. I stopped because I hated it. Playing guitar let me play whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and that was enough for me.

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