From the Editors
Switching around how we warm things up
Amplifiers are interesting things. You would think that as technology and electronics progress, that they would follow suit just as automobiles, telephones, and televisions have done over the years. This is not quite so. But — even more so than the phenomenon of vinyl records — amplifiers that employ vacuum tubes remain the most sought-after models to this day. There's a very specific way these vacuum tubes (also referred to as valves) sound when they're overdriven that musicians have loved since the mid 20th century. This boosted signal creates a crunch that, in varying degrees, has fueled rock 'n' roll for generations.
The first recorded use of this effect was by Goree Carter, a guitarist from Houston, Texas. His 1949 song "Rock Awhile" is now widely credited as the first rock 'n' roll song as well. It's a head-bopping swinging blues number that inadvertently paved the way for countless uses of this new sound.
Just like Carter's 50 watt Fender Super amp did 70 years ago, the valves take time to both warm up and cool down. In addition to the power switch, amp creator Leo Fender decided to add another feature, one whose true purpose happens to be perpetually fuzzy. It's the "standby" switch. Legend has it that it's a glorified mute button, intended to be used while musicians go on a break for beer during a set. Most guitarists will tell you that it's for protecting your tubes from wear and tear, as to not rapidly shut off the power switch too often. There are others who insist that it was actually created to protect an inexpensive amp's capacitors by reducing the voltage to the circuit while it warms up (this seems to be the most informed opinion). Either way, the switches stuck around.
It's from this switch that the Erie trio The Standby took their name. Growing out of an evolving mixture of hard rock textures, their sound depends on this warm overdriven tone. Blending that in with layers of other effects, Jordan Sigmund, the band's guitarist and frontman has created his own distinct sound to complement his vocal delivery. Shortly after the release of their EP Over, Under, writer Aaron Mook sat down with Sigmund to outline just how the band got to where they are, and why people should take notice.
This storied overdriven sound is not welcome everywhere, though. While some places cherish it, they seem to be a bit of a dying breed — at least for the moment. Nick Warren takes a look at how the local music scene is changing, leaving some bands powerless. Though the city is loaded with opportunities for acoustic singer-songwriters and cover bands, the industry has left many musicians feeling like they don't have a home.
While that feeling may be somewhat isolating, there are some people in the city who face the very real threat of losing their very literal home. Liz Allen follows one of Erie's downtown residents, Chuck, and looks at his personal story of displacement.
Power has to be channeled. When certain things reach their breaking point, things begin to change. Sometimes it's sound. Sometimes it's not.