Firehawk 1500 FRFR Full Frequency Flat Response Guitar Amp

What is FRFR?

The world is getting speedier and speedier, and folks always seem to be looking at ways of speeding things up even more. From “touch to pay” credit card systems to dry shampoo, the world has gone and got itself a jones for faster. In fact, we Americans are so short for time these days that we’ve even stopped using full words and sentences – if we can communicate in abbreviations, we do.

Thus grows the ever-expanding world of acronyms. It’s not enough that we say “DAW”, instead of describing our computer recording setups, or that we write “OMG” instead of saying all of the words out loud (though my own personal abbreviated exclamations are a tad less “rated PG”, I’m afraid), but now we have to regularly learn new acronyms for our guitar setups just so that we can communicate with other guitarists.

Case in point: the term “FRFR”. Those of you who cruise guitar forums may have seen the term previously, but many folks still don’t know that “FRFR” is short for “full range, flat response”. Great – now you know what the words are, but what in the heck does the term really mean? The reality is that to fully understand what an FRFR system can do and whom it’s for, one must first realize how traditional guitar speakers work.

Electric guitars and their amplifiers have the potential to be very abrasive things - metal guitar strings interacting with miles of wire, magnets, glass tubes and gain stages - so traditional guitar speakers help by removing a bunch of treble from the amp’s output before the guitar becomes audible. By rolling off most of the frequencies above 5K, a traditional guitar speaker makes the experience of playing an electric guitar through an amp much smoother than it would be otherwise.

The alternative? I learned the hard way by connecting a tube guitar amp to a passive PA loudspeaker when I was 16, and I can remember running to the bathroom to make sure that the enamel hadn’t come off of my teeth after hitting one chord. Sweet Mary, it was painful! All of the snarky frequencies that a guitar speaker naturally de-emphasizes came through loud and clear, and I thought my face was going to come off.

The reason for this stems from the fact that home stereo and PA speakers are designed to accurately play back full range audio. In the case of a home stereo we play back mostly commercially-mastered CD’s and MP3’s, but a PA speaker has to go much farther than that, dynamically. Think about a loud funk band gig with horns – at ear-splitting levels, the PA has to be able to handle the drums, the bass, the brass instruments, the guitars/keys, and the vocals.

In order to reproduce all of these sounds accurately, full range speakers employ high-frequency drivers (commonly referred to as “tweeters”), whose entire job is to accurately reproduce those crisp upper frequencies that guitar amplifiers remove altogether.

Therein lies the rub: an electric guitar amp needs to be dulled down by a guitar speaker to work correctly, but an acoustic guitar needs the tweeter from a PA speaker to sound natural when amplified. This is the fundamental reason why you would normally NOT run an acoustic guitar into an electric guitar amp, and why you would NOT run an electric guitar into an acoustic amp. Either system does a disservice to either instrument when paired incorrectly.

Now that we know how electric guitar and PA speakers differ from each other, and we know what “FRFR” stands for, we can figure out how all of this is supposed to work. An FRFR system is designed to have a flat response, so that any signal sent through it sounds the same at any volume. Loud or soft – small gig or big gig – an FRFR system basically mimics the behavior of a PA and sounds the same no matter what. It can reproduce much higher frequencies than a guitar amp can, and also handle lower ones as well.

So you have an FRFR speaker system and you want to use your electric guitar with it? No problem! All you have to do is run your electric guitar through a processor with built-in speaker modeling first (I personally use Helix for this, but there are many options available these days). The speaker cabinet model should accurately reproduce the rolled-off response of a real guitar speaker, which can then be sent through the FRFR system without sounding harsh. It’s the same idea as mic’ing a real speaker cabinet on stage and sending it to the PA, only there is no bleed or additional stage volume involved.

There are a ton of benefits to this scenario: you can play both big and small gigs with the same rig (and have the same tone at all of them regardless of volume); you can play both acoustic and electric instruments through the same speaker system; stage volume is controlled (so there is less bleed through vocal mics); you can save all of your volume and tone changes in patches (so sound check is a breeze and the audience always hears the same thing); and you don’t have to bring a pile of heavy and expensive gear to every gig to get all of the sounds you need.

All of these are reasons why more major touring acts are turning to FRFR scenarios every year. It removes a lot of the random variables that can wreak havoc on a live gig.

As far as which gear to use, there are more FRFR components available now than ever. Line 6 has been one of the pioneers of FRFR (we just call it “full range” to make things easier to understand), so along with the Stagesource L2 and L3 speakers, we’ve also just released the first all-in-one FRFR solution with our Firehawk 1500 Stage Amp. With 1500 watts of power, a six-speaker full range playback system, graphic editing capability, a pile of I/O and a full Firehawk guitar processor built in, it may be just what you’re looking for. For more information, be sure to check out Happy FR’ing!