670: Spinal Tap Amps

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 20:24, 20 October 2013 by (talk) (Transcript)
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Spinal Tap Amps
Wow, that's less than $200 per... uh... that's a good deal!
Title text: Wow, that's less than $200 per... uh... that's a good deal!


This comic is in reference to the 1984 mock documentary This Is Spinal Tap about the tour of the fictional rock band Spinal Tap. Here we see lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (a character portrayed in the movie by Christopher Guest) explaining to Cueball how the volume dial on his amp can be increased to 11. This is impressive to Nigel since guitar amplifiers generally only go to 10, leading Nigel to believe humorously that his amp is one louder than other amplifiers. In the 3rd panel you see a knowledgeable engineer wasting everyone's time by explaining in boring jargon that the amplifier has no units so 11 only represents a level higher than 1 through 10 on this specific amp. The numbers are not comparable to other amplifiers. This point is lost on confused Nigel. Going back to the 2nd panel we see the actual scene from the movie where the character questions the necessity of going to 11 for the very reasons explained in excruciating detail by the engineer in the 3rd panel. Lastly we come to the final panel, which features the smart engineer who understands that Nigel does not care to understand arbitrary scales so he offers to sell him an amp that goes to 12 and Nigel would believe to be one louder more. The humor is that the engineer would simply alter the numbers on an existing amp (that presumably only went to 10) to now read 12 as the highest value. The amp would actually not be louder but the smart engineer would be able to charge more from simple Nigel regardless.

The title text further plays on the fact that the amp's levels (1 to 11) are on an arbitrary scale. Many products are sold at a certain price per unit weight, volume, etc. (e.g., $2.99/lb for grapes). Nigel calculates that the $2000 amp would cost less than $200 per level, but he is unable to complete his thought since the amp levels have no units.


[Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap is showing off his amplifier to Cueball.]
Nigel: These amps go to 11.
Cueball: Is that louder?
Nigel: It's one louder.
Normal Person:
Cueball: Why not make 10 louder and make 10 the highest?
Cueball: But 11 doesn't have any units. It's an arbitrary scale mapping otuputs—
Nigel: Zzzz
Smart Engineer:
Cueball: For $2,000 I'll build you one that goes to 12.
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Specifically, it's $166.66 recurring per unit of loud. Thokling (talk) 22:49, 29 September 2013 (UTC)

I vote we start using "units of loud" instead of "decibels" (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Aye! BK201 (talk) 16:52, 12 December 2013 (UTC)BK201

I read somewhere that the amps used to have settings up to 10, but then people found ways to turn the knob past 10. It became culturally known as the 11 setting. In response, manufacturers made amps that went to 11, and this predated the movie. The movie just greatly increased the popularity of the idea. Can't find it anymore though. Maybe it was only urban legend Cflare (talk) 17:14, 16 June 2014 (UTC)

Most likely something to do with the fact that guitarists were still lighting up in the national grid into the 1980's. Check out the health and safety at music festivals act 198011.
OK most musicians die of heart attacks or cerebral haemorrhage but there is an history of electrical malfunctions at music gigs.

I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 01:17, 28 January 2015 (UTC)

Is it possible this story is a bit like the stories of the left-handed hammer that newbies on construction sites get sent to retrieve? 04:33, 10 March 2016 (UTC)
Replying to I actually own a real right-handed hammer that I bought in a Miami Home Depot shortly after Hurricane Andrew. At the time, they were also stocking some left-handed versions of the same hammer. And, yes, before you ask, there was a difference—in the way the grip was moulded. 18:41, 23 May 2017 (UTC)