Pete Thorn Talks About Celestion Impulse Response

Celestion spoke with guitarist and musician Pete Thorn, who has performed worldwide alongside legendary artists such as Don Henley, Chris Cornell and Melissa Etheridge. After relocating to Los Angeles to attend the Musicians Institute in his late teens he played with a succession of bands, building a resume that ultimately led to tours with globally recognised artists such as Robi “Draco” Rosa and Jewel. In 2006/2007 he wrote and recorded with Courtney Love for Hole’s “Nobody’s Daughter” album. That same year, he released his debut solo album of guitar instrumentals, “Guitar Nerd.” Thorn’s YouTube channel, on which he frequently posts guitar gear reviews and lessons, has attracted nearly 72,000 subscribers and well over 12 million views.

How long have you been using impulse responses and what benefits do they bring to your set-up?

I’ve been using impulse responses for four or five years now.

I think of an impulse response, as they pertain to us guitarists, as a bottled, digital version of a particular microphone, or a pair or more of microphones, on a guitar speaker cabinet; you get that signature sound of those microphones on that speaker in that cabinet. You can take that and digitally ‘bottle’ it. It’s then repeatable; you can take it with you, essentially.

That is a huge, huge benefit in so many different ways. Starting in the studio, an impulse response allows you to pick a perfect ultimate mic sound and put it into your digital audio workstation or inside a unit like the Axe-FX or Kemper or Line 6 Helix—and now you’ve got the perfect mic sound and it’s repeatable. And there’s another benefit, if you’re using a guitar amplifier and a load box, you don’t need to mic up a cabinet. There’s a volume benefit, a repeatability benefit, ease of use and the ease of setting up quickly and calling up a sound. In the past, it would have taken quite some time to set up microphones and test them, make sure they are in phase and that kind of stuff.

While there are so many benefits in the studio, musicians may not realise that at 2:30 a.m. in a New York City apartment you can be recording and tracking guitar with a baby sleeping in the next room, with totally pro tones. That’s a huge benefit.

I’ve been using impulse responses live even with a guitar cabinet on stage that’s moving air, so that I can hear it and get some feedback going. What the house mixer gets are the impulse responses that are hosted in a Two Notes Torpedo Live unit. The front-of-house guys love it, because they’ve got this absolutely consistent, rock-solid tone every night. There’s no bleed from other instruments, because there are no physical microphones onstage picking up anything. You get this very punchy, in-your-face, perfect and absolutely consistent tone in the PA every time.

Considering that there is a trend toward not having loud guitar cabinets onstage anyway — although I love having a cabinet onstage — there are a lot of productions where it’s just not feasible. I did a pop tour in France in 2013 with an artist and the stage had moving risers and dancers. They wanted a clean stage with no guitar cabinets. Once you go to a set-up like that it’s a no-brainer: why am I going to have a mic’d cabinet blaring backstage or under the stage, when I can have a perfect impulse response of a perfectly miked guitar sound in the PA? And it saves on freight.

The other benefit, of course, is that miking a guitar cabinet — miking anything — is an art form. It’s really easy to get a bad sound. Celestion are not just taking impulse responses and giving you the sound of that speaker. They’re giving you the sound of that speaker in a great speaker cabinet miked up in a world class studio with a terrific engineer doing the positioning of the microphones, setting the mic preamps and everything else. You’re getting the added benefit of the experience and knowledge of a company like Celestion, with a great recording engineer and recording in a world-class facility.

With impulse responses you have access to cabinets you could never otherwise get hold of.

Consider that live you can load it into certain units — for example the Two Notes Torpedo — and some of them are MIDI controllable. You could have different impulse responses dialed-up in different presets and with a MIDI footswitch, as you change, say, from the clean channel on your amp to the distorted channel, you could be going from, say, an open-back 4×10 cabinet on the clean channel to a closed back 4×12 cabinet on the dirty channel. So you have these extra tone options where you can optimise the speaker type to the type of tone that you are going for and MIDI-switch that on the fly.

Another good point that the Celestion guys brought up to me that I’d never thought of before is that when you are thinking about guitar speaker design, sometimes what sounds the best for a certain type of tone isn’t practical in the real world. So, for example, a really low-wattage speaker that is extremely inefficient and won’t handle more than 1W before it blows up, sometimes that can sound amazing for a certain tone. An actual speaker like that isn’t practical to use in the real world, but they could theoretically build it, and then make an impulse response of that and give you that to use in a digital format. So you would be able to have this unique tone of a speaker that otherwise wouldn’t be practical to use. So I’m excited to see where this goes and what they come up with!

Of course, you could make impulses of awesome vintage speakers, or a certain cabinet used on a famous recording. The possibilities are endless.

What has your experience been with the Celestion IRs?

Celestion have been showing me their work and I’ve been offering my suggestions along the way in this process. These have been created with a great recording engineer who has worked with all the great bands in England, in a world-class studio, so Celestion is on a great path. I’ve heard a bunch of the Celestion IRs and they are all amazing.