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What is WET/DRY/WET?

What is a WET/DRY/WET Powered Guitar Speaker Cabinet?

Wet/Dry/Wet is a technique which can be used by guitarists for splitting a guitar output into three parts. It is utilised due to the fact that all valve amplifiers distort to a greater or lesser degree when turned up. This sound is highly regarded and sought after; there is an entire industry based upon either producing or replicating this sound.

However, any time based effects (delay, chorus, phasing, reverb, etc) which are used before the valve amplifier i.e. Guitar—->effects—->amplifier, are compromised by the fact that valve amps distort.  For example, distorted delay is quite often an unpleasant sound which musicians have endeavoured to avoid for years. The solution is to place effects units AFTER the amplifier, as the sound of delayed distortion is one of absolute beauty, allowing the full sound of both the amplifier and the effect to shine through.

I have been searching for “my sound” for nearly 25 years now, and have owned everything from tiny transistor amps to full blown rack systems and everything in between. During this time, I have bought and sold on a small fortune in gear attempting to find something that could recreate the sound in my head, which is mostly the sound of countless classic rock recordings.

Through years of research and trial and error while recording and performing with various set-ups, I eventually found that the major stumbling block I kept encountering was the one which a WET/DRY/WET system solves. However, as most semi-pro musicians, I was not willing to haul all of that gear and complexity around. I began looking for solutions.

Valve amplifiers have two main sections to them:

A pre-amp which incorporates all of the tone controls (bass/middle/treble/presence) and importantly, gain (optional), and a power amp for the master volume. Until the 1970s valve amps were made without a master volume control and the only way to produce gain/distortion was to turn the amplifier’s single volume control up. This is the “classic” Classic Rock sound, but it is very LOUD!

Amp builders then designed a pre-amp “gain” control into the tone/pre-amp section, and a master volume for the power amp section. This allowed Rock players to produce more gain/distortion than ever before by cranking up the pre-amp gain, while controlling the overall volume of the amplifier with the master volume. The sound of pre-amp gain is quite different to power amp gain, being “fizzy” with accented treble and lacking much of the harmonic overtones and beauty of power amp gain. However, with careful balancing of pre-amp and master volumes, and when applied by the Heavy Metal etc users of the 1980s and onward, it became hugely popular.

Amp builders then designed an effects loop into their amplifiers, as time based effects sounded awful run in front of so much pre-amp gain. The effects loop sits in between the pre and power amps and time based effects are inserted here. It is useful for players who rely largely on pre-amp gain, however, for as soon as the power amp/master volume section is turned up loud, the same problem of effects before gain is encountered. Effects loops have always been a compromise due to this inherent design flaw. As valve amplifiers have progressed and the valve amp and “boutique” valve amp industries have boomed, this compromise has proven to be a constant frustration for guitarists and amp builders; most of whom have come full circle and recognise that it is the power amp section of a valve amplifier which contains it’s best sounds and “soul”.

This has created an entirely new market for outboard “power attenuators”, which allow the power amp section to be run as high as desired, while bringing down the overall volume of the amp. Power attenuators have become increasingly common incorporated within amplifier designs themselves, such as THD and the new Marshall AFD 100, making effects loops more and more obsolete and impractical.

The solution is to run effects AFTER both the pre-amp and power amp sections.

Time based effects typically have left and right stereo outputs, no preamp or amplifier, and are thus unamplified. These left and right effected signals are called “WET”. The effect itself is powered by a low voltage battery or power adapter (9- 18v) and requires either an instrument (-10 dBv) or line (+4 dBu) level level signal; not an amplified output signal such as that which amplifiers use to drive a speaker(s). Therefor, the effect cannot be placed after an amplifier in line with the speaker output to the speaker cabinet.

Valve amplifiers nearly exclusively have a mono output of 4, 8, or 16 ohms used to drive a speaker cabinet(s). This un-effected output signal is called “DRY”. Most amplifiers also have what is called a “line out” output jack. This signal is both dry and unamplified, and can be used to input the sound of the amp directly into a recording unit, PA system, or effects unit. Older amplifiers without a line out are easily capable of sending a line out signal by use of a “line out box” which takes a line out tap from the speaker output. There are numerous line out boxes available on the market which are relatively cheap and easy to use.

In the late 1970s, Edward Van Halen made famous the sound of a WET/DRY set-up by using one (non-master volume) amplifier and speaker cabinet for his distortion sound, with a line out sent to a delay pedal with output to a clean/neutral amplifier driving another speaker cabinet (see/hear “Eruption”). This sound became the basis for many, many Rock and Metal bands throughout the 1980s and onward.

During this time, rack mounted (using 19 inch mounting racks from the telecommunications etc industries) systems were developed to deal with the complex wiring required by a WET/DRY set-up. WET/DRY/WET was the evolution of WET/DRY to include both the left and right stereo outputs of rack mounted digital effects units produced en masse for professional touring and semi-professional musicians.

This WET/DRY/WET system has been known ever since it’s development as the absolute best sounding way to combine both the beauty and feel of an overdriven valve amplifier with digital (or to a lesser degree, analog) effects units.

However, to run this set-up requires a mountain of gear mostly only suitable for touring professionals:

  • One valve amplifier
  • One solid state, or similarly clean/neutral valve, stereo amplifier to amplify stereo effects signals; or two mono amplifiers!
  • One guitar speaker cabinet(s) for the WET left output.
  • One guitar speaker cabinet(s) for the DRY middle output
  • One guitar speaker cabinet(s) for the WET dry output
  • A rack mount unit/case (not essential since the advent of floor pedal stereo effects units, though much more often than not “racks” are used) for housing effects, stereo amplifier and associated wiring.

Until now!

The Seer TM is a three speaker powered cabinet utilising two ten inch speakers for left and right “wet” signals, one twelve inch speaker for the center “dry” signal, and a 100 watt stereo power amplifier, all integrated within one enclosure. The materials and construction are of the highest quality throughout. The cabinet itself is made from 15mm birch ply by award winning Zilla Cabs, and wired completely with Evidence Audio Siren speaker wire and TRT Wonder Solder for the best in sonic quality and clarity.

The standard speakers are one 12″ Eminence Legend V128 (120 watts) or one 12″ Celestion Vintage 30 (60 watts), and two 10″ Eminence Ramrods (75 watts each), while the standard power amp is the excellent ART SLA-1 for 100 watts of clean power. Many other options of speakers and power amps are available upon request, as well as custom coverings and grille cloth to match virtually any amp head. The standard cabinet is closed backed, with an optional open back or “convert-able” three piece back also available.

There is a removable wooden panel on the front of the cabinet in order to access the power amp on/off switch and volume controls. The panel is secured with heavy duty velcro and has a small pull tab attached to it. The power amp indicator light shines through a hole in the front to indicate it is on.

The back of the stereo amp shelf area has an oval cut-out for access to the power amp “wet” inputs and kettle lead power input. The jack plate on the rear of the cabinet has three jacks (see “diagrams”): one jack is the input for the center “dry” valve amp speaker out signal, while the two L/R “wet” powered stereo output jacks are for driving two L/R extension cabinets.  This is an option in order to enhance the stereo spread of the setup if desired, although it somewhat defeats the object of a compact W/D/W rig which sounds excellent as is; but to each their own, it depends on how much gear you are willing to haul and the venue size.  All inputs and outputs are at an impedance of 8Ω.  There are two heavy duty carry handles on either side of the cabinet and removable caster wheels for the base.