Steve Winwood on Modeled Tones

December 1, 2008

YOUR LIVE TONE ON “DIRTY CITY” SOUNDS VERY SIMILAR TO THE RECORDING. Do you use the same gear in the studio and onstage?
Yes, and my amp since 2002 has been a Fender Cyber-Twin SE. There is a lot of controversy about using modeling amplifiers. Of course, the Cyber-Twin is a hybrid that uses preamp tubes. Regardless, there is a lot of argument. A pure vintage tube amp may have a quality that the modeled sound doesn’t, but there are benefits to using a modeling amp, especially when you’re playing larger places. You may get a good sound out of your vintage-style tube amp, but you lose the advantage once you put a mic in front of it and go through the house P.A. system. I run the signal from a Fender Stratocaster with Lace Sensor Gold pickups straight into the Cyber-Twin, and send a direct out from the Cyber-Twin to the mixing board. I use the amp purely as a monitor. Similar issues apply in the studio environment. In fact, I find the Cyber-Twin works even better in the studio where I have more control.

What amp models do you use?
Shoot, I don’t know. When I’m looking for a tone, I inspect all the factory sounds to see if any are close to what I want. I store them at one end of the memory bank, and then pick the ones I like best. You can add drive and make other adjustments that almost make a Fender patch sound like a Marshall, so I forget the starting point by the time I’m finished tweaking and have renamed the patch.
Levels are very important. I keep my guitar’s volume and tone knobs full up, and adjust the levels and EQ in the patches. On “Dirty City,” I use one for the body of the song, and one with a boosted level for lead. There’s no programmed tonal difference. In the studio, the sound that comes over the monitors is slightly different, so I might tweak bits of delay and EQ. Sometimes we go direct out of the amp, and also record a direct signal from the guitar. We run the guitar signal back into the amp if we want to try different tones later.

Are players surprised to hear about your gear?
Yeah, there is a lot of snobbery about modeling amps. I’m in agreement with some of it. At the end of the day, traditional tube amps do have better sound quality standing alone, but microphones, electronics, power amplifiers, and speakers mess with that original sound. I’ve been using the Cyber-Twin for more than five years and am quite happy with the quality and consistency of my tones.

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