Talking about gear (61)
... yep, hear that all the time. It's almost up there with the meme of Jimi with the caption "Jimi plays without true bypass pedals and everyone still manages to enjoy his tone.
Those, amongst others, are the things guaranteed to make us roll our eyes and yawn. We've even had someone imply recently that professional guitar players don't really need fingers.
So, let's look at this properly. Let's have a think about the guitar signal, its path, pedals and what is needed and what isn't. Actually, let's not. Let's just remember this.
Guitar pedals are a tool that some people enjoy using. They are not essential. They are not invalid. They are a tool. Put it this way, if you were walking past a stone mason or carpenter working would you shout up to him "What you using that drill for bud, Christopher Wren didn't need that when he designed and built St Paul's Cathedral in 1675!" - I doubt you would, I doubt anyone would. Well, I hope no one would because basically, that would be a fraction silly.
We, as always, were having a discussion about this the other day. We'd seen many outrageous comments from certain people online and we were trying to contemplate it properly and we sort of came up with this. Guitar pedals are like a spice rack full of a wide range of spices. You sometimes pick on to make something a little better, you sometimes don't. We, and I'm guessing others in our industry, feel that we do not expect your entire playing life to revolve around pedals, we just expect that there are times when you feel like the tone you are chasing is not quite right and there may be something out there to help you get it. It's become more and more obvious over the years that more and more people are using pedals (helped that company's like ours make pedals that sound really good these days, as previously, not many of them truly did) because they give you better tones, they give you more options. If you have a decent clean amp, spend a few hundred bucks on your favourite pedals and they will be able to transform that amp into any number of other amps. Your Marshall can become a Fender and your Fender can become a Marshall... or a Vox, or a Randall, or... or.... or.... Certainly easiler than having to buy a new amp every time you want to change your gain choices!
So, consider your base tone, the one you love more than anything, a nice juicy perfectly cook steak (apologies to the vegetarians out there, but this is the best way to describe it). Sometimes you want it straight up, nothing fancy, just as it comes. Other times you might want it to have some pepper on it, or pepper sauce… other times you might want the full cumin rub, or even mustard… you can have it any way you like.
Your pedal box IS your spice rack, and let’s face it, would you want to go to dinner repeatedly with a person who cooks in the same bland way every time? Sometimes it would be great, others…. Just boring.
Anyone know how Keef likes his steak?
… I’m on a learning curve, so we might as well carry on! As I said in my previous idiot's guide, that name firmly applies to me, so I’m researching subjects that I don’t know about, but as someone who has been playing for years should, and posting my findings in this blog. Hope that in reading this you will find it as interesting as I did when I was researching it. I’m going to use some visual metaphors in here that doesn't make much sense, but they have helped me understand what is happening much better.
What causes overdrive, distortion, gain? Well, the first thing we HAVE to get out the way is that those are actually buzzwords that don’t really mean anything other than a term we use to consolidate it in our heads, the true word to use in this is CLIPPING.
Yes, clipping. Overdrive, distortion, fuzz, etc. comes from ‘clipping the signal’. But what does that actually mean? Clipping occurs, in real terms, when the audio signal amplitude exceeds the maximum voltage capability of the system it is in. Or, in real terms, when the wave is trying to get through a hole that it’s too big for. Does that make sense? A true sound wave, a pure one, is a sound wave that is a classic sine – fully up and down movement moving at a certain speed. It is the way this wave moves that gives sound character, so if you listen to this – this is about as pure as it gets I suppose, this is a note produced by vibrating the signal at 440 times a second, or to name it, ‘Hertz’ (let’s not go to the 432hz thing, I might come to that in a later piece).
So, when this signal is pure and it’s vibrating in an unrestricted way, you get a ‘clean tone’ (I’m not going to get into how different amps and guitars effect that tone, as this is a scratching of the surface piece). In order to distort the signal, or overdrive it – or force it through the hole that it’s too big for, we ‘clip’ it. We take the top off, take the bottom off, usually take them both off. Gain is a misnomer, increasing gain actually means increasing volume within a circuit, but after it's been messed with, it increases clipping.
So, here is a basic ‘clean tone’ sine wave.
When we clip that signal, it will look something like this…
This occurs by amplifying the signal a lot and placing a limit on the wave, so it gets ‘clipped off’ before it hits its natural peak/trough and comes back round again, the demonstration above would probably be more in line with soft clipping, as the amplification isn’t too great and the wave is pretty well intact apart from the extremities.
We get more severe levels of clipping, by increasing the initial amplification and making the clip more angular. Like this…
I fully expect that the more scientific/mathematical among you are looking at those and thinking “That’s not right, it needs to be more etc. etc.” but I’m not a scientist or a mathematician, I’m just a guy who knows his way around photoshop and this is the easiest way to show it.
One thing we have to remember here is that clipping is not the same as compression of limiting. We are not clipping the top and bottom of the wave with compression and limiting, we are just reducing the depth of the wave and bringing it more in line with the other waves, so the dynamics will be reduced but the shape of the wave will be retained.
The real joy of clipping comes with, as you may expect, adding in EQ (putting it before or after the clipping), low or high pass filters, or making the clipping asymmetrical and the millions of other things you can do to it… If you think about the classic OD circuits and how they change the tone as well as clip it, you start to teeter closer to the edge of the rabbit hole that is designing effects pedals.
The main thing that surprised me when I started to learn about clipping the signal is that it’s not how you would expect, as when you get to different reactions and requirements, you request the signal be clipped in different ways. For example, the classic ‘tube overdrive pedal’ works best when hitting an already clipping amp, the process aligns up and the result is truly glorious. For this reason, our Clarksdale – with the inherent EQ hump – will just accentuate what is already happening – with soft clipping. A distortion pedal, like the Dracarys, is treating the process completely differently – mostly hard clipping - needs a cleaner platform to work.
As a final point, analog clipping is fantastic, digital clipping currently is just plain awful… however, alot digital overdrive/distortion will replicate the characteristics and traits of analog clipping so progress is there and it's coming...
...let me introduce myself, my name is Jason and I'm a gear idiot.
Now. Having said that, I have been playing the guitar for WELL over 30 years, but I've always been more concerned with trying to play this virtuoso piece or if I can perfect the art of using the whammy bar to drop a note by a perfect 5th rather than thinking about why one amp sounds different than another, I'm guessing that many other players out there are like me as well, so following on from the piece I did about standby switches last year, I'm going to try to educate myself on these things, write them down, and hope that you guys join me on the learning journey as well. I can't guarantee that this is going to be 100% unbiased as I'm considering it all out loud in a real world situation from an uneducated perspective, but here goes, hopefully, it all makes sense...
One of the things that has often comes up, especially in the more expensive amps, is that having a tube rectifier is a good thing (I when I started reading about this I couldn't even begin to understand why some amps even have an option for both) - but, I've always just accepted that, but to be fair I have no idea what one is. So, I've asked people, Google, the dog, and my local milkman and here is the answer. A rectifier converts the power coming in from the wall from AC to DC. Well, that's that answered then. Shall we go jam and have a beer?
Of course, we can't, we have to ascertain the differences between different rectifiers, how different tubes make it sound different, why some amp builders insist that solid state is best - case in point - which was part of the first thing I read when looking at this, Mr Mike Soldano:
"In my opinion, all amps should have solid state rectifiers. I don’t believe there are any really good rectifier tubes on today’s market and, even if there were, why use them? The technology is obsolete; they are horribly inefficient, and far more expensive and troublesome to build into an amp. These tubes, no matter how good, will routinely need replacing, adding to your maintenance expenses. Besides that, tube rectifiers kill the headroom of an amplifier. If you want that spongy, vintage sound, there are other ways to do it. I have successfully designed and built amps that have replicated that soggy bottom, vintage tube rectifier sound using solid state rectifiers and various circuit modifications."
This melted my head a little to start off with because I always thought that tube was best when it comes to tone. So, trying to ascertain why, I read further and talked to the dog some more.
I found that the beauty of the tube rectifier, which in real terms can also be the beast of it, is SAG. And yes, there's that word again. Starting to think it's a nonexistent word invented by guitary types to describe something that the literary genius of before could not describe. So we just call it SAG. Now, SAG occurs when the rectifier is hit with a request for massive amounts of current, usually if it's working really hard. Almost like my understanding of the SAG that happens when you are at high gain and you slightly palm mute, everything goes crunchy and saggy, because the low end is requesting a HUGE amount of power and something has to give. In my head, this is a very good thing, but also it can be a bad thing as well, because if the power you are getting from the wall is under par, you will achieve SAG quicker... if the tube is on it's way out, you will achieve SAG quicker. So, once again (as with ANY discussion with tube amps), consistency is the key. Trouble is, most of us prefer the sound so much we are prepared to run this risk. The effects of SAG on a rectifier is that there is a slight delay, literally milliseconds in the response which then goes on to make the note bloom (as the rectifier catches up) which at the same time evens out the high end. Pretty certain most of us players will read a line like that, gently nod and maybe give a little smile, as that is ALWAYS a good thing. Then you get into differing types of tubes that force this behavior to make it happen quicker (for example, a 5Y3 is quicker than a GZ34), you start to understand that part of the rectifiers character and how it is dealt with plays a massive part in amps, and also plays a massive part many of guitar pedals trying to rectify that sound... Let's face it, if you are anything like me as you were reading that last paragraph you probably thought at some point about a decent compressor and a tube screamer!
Let's look at the other end of the scale now. The Solid State rectifier. These are made from silicon and do the same thing as the tube version, just extremely consistently. In my head, my first reaction to that is "YAY, consistency, GREAT" but then I remember those gigs I've played where my amp has never sounded bad because of the rectifier, just the times when it has sounded glorious. You know the ones I mean, the ones where something happens somewhere and for some reason, everything is compressing at the right time, the right amount, at the right volume, the notes are blooming, harmonics are leaping out and just everything else... I just wish it would happen more often. I suppose the challenge the builders of the future have it to make that happen, all the time, at all volumes.
I asked Brian why he opted for a tube rectifier in his amp designs, his answer was simple:
"To rectifier has a little bit more natural compression, and notes that are distorted sometimes feels more pronounced. Since this amp is fairly clean it just feels better with the tube. Solid-state will be much stiffer feeling"
So, we are back with the whole consistency feel and that "X Factor" thing of things magically happening under your fingers, why is it that when we talk about tube amps, we always come back to that? Playing the guitar is fundamentally an organic experience, for most of us anyway, we tend to dig that whole signal chain reaction that comes from a great player, great guitar, great cables, great pedals, great amp, great speakers. There is something delightful when those things work together to get that point, many many players rely on the inconsistencies of tube amps to get their tone and to keep them on their toes... yet many companies provide their amps with either both, or just SS. Why? I'm guessing that in amps where the gain response (clipping) is everything and the signal is being carefully balanced across gain stages, you will want the same thing, day in and day out and you don't want your amp to one minute to have a much more saggy low end appearing at random times, because with a lot of natural clipping happening, it would legitimately change the entire personality of the amp. Notable amps that have an SS (or both) rectifier: Soldano SLO100, Many Marshall Plexi's, Blackface Twin reverbs... the list is extensive!
OK, it’s story time – you didn’t think I would write a piece without a story did you? Pretty certain you all know me better than that!
Picture this, it’s late 1997 or so, maybe early 1998, and I get in from a gig to find my dear ol’ Mum waiting up for me… As I walked in she stood up, looking slightly mad, and just said “You HAVE to watch this, it’s amazing!”. She pressed play on the VCR and there on the TV was Robbie Williams, on a program called TFI Friday, performing his latest single – “Let Me Entertain You”, completely live.
It was a truly stellar performance.
Many of you lovely lot over on the other side of the pond won’t know of Rob too much as he’s massive everywhere but there, so I’ll fill you in. He was part of the first boy band to really take off over here in the UK in the early nineties - left in truly spectacular fashion after a few years and has been somewhat of an interesting character ever since. A lot of it has been expanded by the media, but safe to say that Rob has spent the last 25 years bouncing through life, living it to the maximum, and telling many a good story along the way. When he ‘went solo’ the vast majority of us expected it to be a flash in the pan, his first single I heard was, well, 'not my cup of tea'. After that he released a stunning ballad (that has more than stood the test of time – this was what we were expecting him to do) so by the time this performance came around most of us had written him off.
Seeing him perform that song was quite a moment. Gone were the visions of him being a boy band member who was only releasing stuff to maximise on the teenage girl market, and here was someone who was prepared to unleash his potential on a largely unsuspecting general public. I’m not sure who was more surprised at the success he had back then, us or him. Since then he has grown to be the complete pop star in the truest sense of the world, massive albums, massive singles, massive tours. I’m pretty certain that right now, and for the last 10-15 years, there hasn’t been a bigger star in Europe than Robbie Williams.
OK, enough of the back story, let’s talk about Tom. About 5 years ago Rob parted company with his band and got a new one (as you do), and just as his album was about to be released there was a big gig televised here in the UK – you could say it was somewhat of a comeback after a couple of years off. I was blown away with the band that night, it was far more in your face than the previous band, the guitars were more much more prominent, great tone was everywhere and all in all it was just an incredible gig. I spent a good 10 seconds on Google looking up the new band members, tweeted the new lead guitarist (from the company twitter account) to compliment him on his great tone and how much I enjoyed the show. To my delight he quickly tweeted back with the now legendary comment of “Thanks, I use some of your stuff!” (he was using Plextortion and Ego Compressor)… BOOM! This to me is perfect, this is what I love to find out, someone is using our gear already, loving our tone so much they bought the gear – it took me about 5 seconds to offer an artist deal. Let’s face it, when you find someone who plays that well, has a perfect grasp of what is required to be in a band like this, rocks the pants off a stadium while being part of an outfit that tours the world (playing to literally millions of people) it is one hell of a relationship to make for the company… So many people STILL consider us to be a country brand, but it’s artists like Tom that show that we are so much more than that.
It was 6 months later when I first met up with Tom at Wembley Stadium, June 30th 2013, during the “Take The Crown” World Tour. Unfortunately, it was a 9 days after my Mother had passed unexpectedly (I feel that she is linked to all this as it was her who waited up that day to show me the live performance, which prompted me to buy this album the following day - she was so excited we were going to the show as well). I was a little wobbly, understandably, but in that day I was convinced that this new incarnation of the RW band with Tom was a force to be reckoned with. It was emotional, there are a couple of songs that hit me, but I was bowled over with the power of the band, and how well Tom made our gear sound. To this day I am still a little overwhelmed with the show I witnessed that day. It was great to hear Wampler tone flattening 90k people at the iconic Wembley Stadium!
Fast forward to the present day. Here we are; Cardiff, the Principality Stadium, 21st June 2017 – the hottest day of the year. It was exactly 4 years to the day since we lost my Mother and Mrs Wilding and I were once again in the boiling hot weather, (it was the same 4 years previously, absobloodylutely boiling and this causes issues in itself, my wife suffers from a condition called Fibromyalgia and the heat makes and already terrible condition, unbelievably worse) about to go in… At this point I’d like to say that we nearly didn’t go, the recent events in the UK where concert goers were targeted was playing on our minds, but bollocks to that, we won’t let them win. We won’t let them disrupt our life.
We rocked up to the Stadium early as I had arranged to meet Tom for some photos and general chat about his gear. Tom is a tone chaser, he loves his gear, so it’s always a pleasure to get an insight into what goes into driving the biggest stadium pop tour of the summer. We got through security and were met by the lovely Jaeki Hildisch, Rob’s long time tour manager, who led us through backstage while giving us all the do’s and don’ts. Security is tight, so you have to do as you are told (you know me, so you you’ll know that ain’t easy), but it’s always incredible to walk in behind something like that, the ‘show’ itself is huge, mind-blowingly huge, consider the biggest show you’ve ever seen in terms of set, gear, people… it’s that big. You’d need days to drink it all in properly.
We found Tom and his tech Adam in Adam’s tech area. It’s always a pleasure to meet up with Tom, he’s extremely personable, quiet, and there is no evidence of ego, so once we’d had a catch up chat the first thing I noticed was the rack of guitars…. Unfortunately for my desire to play the guitars personally owned by people I really dig, Tom is left handed, so I can’t pick them up and have a go… never mind!
Tom is more of a Gibson man than anything else, his main squeeze being a ’97 SG (loaded with Bare Knuckle Mules) that has been with him for years. I noticed some recent additions to his armoury, those being a ’01 335 (Bare Knuckle Stormy Mondays), an ’08 Les Paul ’58 reissue (also with Mules), a Bill Nash telecaster (Lollar pickups) and there is an ‘07 ’62 reissue Strat (Bare Knuckle Irish Tours) lurking. Also in there is a Nik Huber Krauster II. The infamous Ibanez LP copy that was his first real guitar is now retired from active duty, and is in the dressing room.
In the middle of Adam’s den are another new addition to Tom’s rig, Kemper profilers. They only use 1 patch, a profile of Tom’s beloved 1983 JCM 800 2204 - The last time I saw them they had 4x12”s under the stage in ISObooths so as you can expect, this is a considerably easier method for them to set up and control during a tour. And, let’s be honest, in a situation like this, it’s the perfect tool for the job.
After this we headed out on to the stage (now, this is where I must gently enter story mode again. Mrs Wilding comes to some artist visits, not many, but as she is a massive fan of Rob as a song writer/musician/performer, she comes with me to these. The look on her face as Tom leads us out on to Rob’s stage is always wonderful, her just face lights up. It’s a beautiful thing to see – probably the best part of the day for me, because she gets to live her dream while I live mine)… Anyway, back to the gear...
At the heart of everything is the impeccable GigRig G2. This controls everything. The cornerstone of Tom’s live tone is kinda clean, just sitting on the edge, and this is enabled by our dear old friend the Tumnus. Tom uses his volume control to balance his level of dirt and power, and uses the Tumnus perfectly to add extra dimension to what is already there. Tom told me afterwards that it was on for virtually the entire show – he just loves the way Tumnus brings everything to life - “The Tumnus is the latest addition to the board and is one of those ‘always’ on pedals! I’m using it a lot. Great mid range boost with amazing transparency.”
Right along the board sits the Velvet Fuzz, for those moments when you need to melt the faces. As we were talking about the Velvet, Tom grabbed the SG so we could get a feel for the power (he has a solitary 4x12” on stage that he brings in via a volume pedal to give feedback when required, and to also give Tom the ability to have the reaction that you just don’t get when purely playing with IEM’s). He uses the Velvet on tight mode so it’s sitting between fuzz and distortion and the sound with that SG was outrageously good, so much power and depth. As Tom says “The Velvet Fuzz is the best Fuzz pedal I’ve tried to date, and I’ve tried a few! I love the ‘tight’ setting to really punch through the mix.” Right there next to it is the old favourite, the Ego Compressor. Not used for much on this tour - but when Tom has to break out his slide in the set the Ego just gives it the sustain, control, depth and consistency you need. I’m telling you, that guitar was just sustaining for ever. “The Ego Comp is a big part of my sound when playing slide. I love the blend feature, as it allows you to retain your original tone and not get too mushy…” (I have to give a little mention to the look on Mrs Wilding’s face as we were on the stage and he played the solo lines of ‘Feel’, one of her (and mine) favourite songs, just for us, to show how he uses the Ego).
All too soon it was time for us to go, sound check time… Jaeki reappeared so we made our way out of the stadium. These are actually the times I enjoy the most, as you get to just talk to the people who are instrumental in making the show happen, you get to see all the backstage stuff, you also get a feel of what it is like to be part of the show. After we left the staging area, we were going through the area where the buses/trucks are and a black SUV pulled up and out poured the rest of the touring band. Tom instantly grabbed the other guitar player, the legend that is Gary Nuttall, for a picture. Realising that I didn't have a picture with Tom and myself, I gave Mrs Wilding my camera to get the shot. Now, she’s not used my camera before so as I was telling her how to do it, and while she was getting confused, Rob’s long time song writing partner and keyboard player Guy Chambers stood behind her… she is a keen piano player as well so she’s a fan of him… I said “Lis, Guy Chambers!” and pointed. Unfortunately, she didn’t hear and just took the pictures - as she handed me the camera she realized what I had said, turned around but he had gone… Such a shame, as she would have loved to meet him and he was right there, inches from her!
After we left, we met up with some old friends in town (we used to live just outside Cardiff and had not been back in 15 years), had a bite to eat, went to the box office to pick up our tickets, and generally soaked up the atmosphere. Safe to say that the people who wish to disrupt events like this did not win. Not at all. We then had to return to the hotel for Mrs Wilding to rest, that heat was killing her, but fortunately we had a hotel that was 5 minutes walk from the stadium so we could make sure she was ready for the show and get properly rested - We hit the show in time for the support act, and then waited patiently for the show to start...
And yes, the show – and that’s what these events are, a show in the truest sense of the world, was incredible. I won't post a review of the show, as that is another story, also there are literally thousands of reviews, videos, comments and everything else you can imagine online to give you a feel of how these events go... Attendance to a show like this should be mandatory for all musicians - I find things like an education on how to play for the song, play for the band, play for the audience.
Walking away, here’s the main thing that struck me after the show. As I was talking to Tom and when I was watching him demo how he uses the Wampler’s, it’s plain to see that guys like Tom are no different than you and me. We are all chasing tone, all the time. We all balance what we want to do in a song with what is required in the song. We are all looking to make sure our tone works perfectly, within every given situation, every night. We just want great tone. It’s a fantastic feeling to know that we can produce gear that “a massive pop tour in Europe” isn’t considered in the design stage, but fits in so perfectly with a show like this.
In regard to the disruption that is in the back of our minds at the moment, I’d like to leave you with the words of Rob who amended the lyrics of one of his biggest hits to send a message to those who think killing innocent people to send a message is acceptable, those who want to stop our way of life. “You know that we’re strong, we’re strong, we’re strong. We’re still singing our songs, our songs, our songs”. To hear the entire stadium singing that back, only a few weeks after the Manchester attack, was incredible.
I’d like thank Tom, Adam, Jaeki and the rest of the crew for a truly amazing show and their hospitality. You all rock, in the best possible way.
About a month or two ago I took possession of a Quilter 101 Mini Head. About time I posted a review of it I think as these amps are causing a big stir in the world of normal gigging guys, guys like me, and probably guys like you.
The first thing that strikes me about this thing is the size and weight, well, lack of weight really. It literally weighs the same as a bag of sugar. 2lbs. That kinda freaked me out a little as I know it’s a 100w head and can flatten the first three rows of any audience in any bar. For this very reason I didn’t plug it in straight away because I was already judging it, as a valve amp guy, weight usually signifies tone. The beefier the transformers, the better the tone. Which means literally, the heavier it is, the better it is more likely to sound.
After a day or so I plugged it in to my 2x12” cab, with a flat EQ (more about that later) and put it on Full Q, which is their cleanest setting. I was surprised, it sounded great! Full, punchy, and was quite alive. So, already it had worked its way up in my estimations and was outperforming most straight up analogue solid state amps.
The EQ on it is bloody confusing, I must admit it leaves me, even now, scratching my head as to why they’ve done it like this. A straight B/M/T stack would have made it easier to use and easier to dial in, but you have to balance a control that can give you a EQ like a smiley face, dead flat or a hi pass, and a Hi-Cut control that goes from flat to low pass. This wasn’t easy to find as I’m more of a turn it and see type of guy and I had to stop and think about how I want my tone forged, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did take an exercise of patience to find a tone I could build on. This leads me onto the “gain stage” selector. The Quilter boasts 5 different voicings, that brings in differing amounts of gain. Full Q is totally clean, Tweed, Jazz, Surf and Lead are quite self-explanatory… I found that for my needs (a clean platform to build on) Full Q or Surf was the best option.
The most important question for me is, how does it take pedals… well, to be completely honest it takes them like a dream. No matter what I shoved in the front it just took them without issue. I even started to bung random stacking options in front to see if I could break it, but it refused point blank to buckle and break. I’m telling you, if it can take the Dracarys maxed going into the Tumnus maxed and not fart out, it’s going to take anything you can put its way.
The only time it showed a weakness was, and this is probably the most important test, was when I gigged it. As most of you know, when I gig I either use a Wampler Bravado head and 1x12” cab, or a Fender BDri into a custom 2x12” loaded with WGS speakers. I tried the Quilter into both cabs and it sounded more than passable into the Wampler cab, but in the 2x12” it really lacked clarity, sparkle… you know, that glass element of a really good clean valve amp. The bass player in the band I’m in happens to be one of musical heroes (he was the person that introduced me to the music of Brent Mason after all) and has ears like a deer. He can hear everything and knows instantly how good something is. His comment was “That would be the perfect back up amp if yours goes down again”. That was enough for me to know that in this band, with this band mate, I can’t use it live.
So, what do I think of the Quilter. Does it have a place in my musical life? The answer most definitely is “definitely”. I will use it live going forward if I play in a band that doesn’t demand such pristine and glassy cleans (I still have my eye on an 70’s-80’s 90’s rock band), and I am severely tempted to follow Brian’s advice and get a TC Electronic Mimiq for the ‘other guitar’ feel – because that pedal doesn’t work in mono into one amp, if you use two it’s amazing. It would be perfect for that also as a wet/dry rig, the possibilities are endless. However, if you stick the Wampler Black ’65 in front of it there is no better option for a live clean rig using an amp you can legitimately put in the front pocket of your gig bag... Simple home recording, definitely. Practice, definitely.
Final verdict – can it legitimately be used to replace as a high end valve amp in a pure clean setting? For me… not quite. Maybe if the EQ was more logical and better laid out, and if they make the EQ of the front end more responsive and make it sound glassy, it would be a killer product and one that would take the world by storm. Maybe we should make a D class amp with some of Brian’s genius in the front end. As for this, right now I won’t ever leave home without it for a gig, as if my amp does go down, I can plug this thing in and it will do a fantastic job of covering the amps I use and love. It is the perfect amp for home use, simple recording and practice? Absolutely. I've put it to such good use already I can't begin to tell you. Right now, I don't think there's anything better out there for these purposes... Plus, let's revisit something I said earlier. I carry a spare 100w amp on a gig day in the slot in my pedal case that is designed for my cables. That alone makes it an invaluable addition to my rig.
Many thanks to my good friend and fellow tone chaser, Justin Hize for organising this for me and throwing it over the pond. It's been quite the eye opener!
Recently I truly haven't had a lot of time to play lately, so when I do I've been trying to kick the habit of messing with my board and pedals so much and just focus on playing. That being said, I still like to use some varying flavors of pedals, but not like I normally would if I had my full board on hand. My solution was simple, and it went against everything I know about proper board setup and powering them: I sat 3 pedals on top of my amp (Compressor, OD and Envelope Filter), used a OneSpot to daisy chain them, and let loose and played like crazy. I set and forget them and only adjusted the Q of the filter occasionally and that was it. It was kind of liberating, and it was really nice having the pedal right there *if* I wanted to mess with it.
Over the last few weeks or so, I’ve been wiring up my (current) dream pedal board. Those of you who are connected to me on social media are probably bored of it already, as I may have taken some pictures and talked about it a bit, but you know, it’s 2017 and that’s what we do!
Now, when I say my dream board – I mean that “with the materials I have in front of me, what is practical to play in the pubs and clubs around here, and what I can be arsed to program”. Obviously, there are things I would change in a heartbeat should I have unlimited funds (GigRig G2 and associated power modules spring to mind) but let’s not have a “desert island dream board” thing, just a “what is best and most practical for me” piece! We all know the Mobius can't touch a CE-1, but you just can't program it and control it via midi!
At the heart of it all is the One Control OC10 ‘crocodile tail loop’. It’s a pretty basic true bypass looper, with 70 presents, midi control and all that. I obtained it about 18 months ago as part of a wider deal and I’ve been sat on it ever since, waiting for the rest to fall into place. The analogue section of my board is extremely obvious, Wampler all the way – I have to tell you now, I am under no obligation at all to use Wampler gear personally, but you know, it’s bloody great so I use it. It’s as simple as that! So, my analogue section is as follows.
Ego Compressor (full size one, don’t have the Mini one – it disappeared into ‘That Pedal Shed’ when I went up with the Bravado some months ago and I’ll never see it again, which is a shame, as I need the space on my board – I could get a wah in there…), Tumnus and Dual Fusion (I order the DF C2 – C1, so the ‘screamer’ hits the front end of C1). The Dual Fusion is separated (whoever had THAT idea is a bloody genius *cough*) so each side can be controlled via the OC10 independently. A Strymon Mobius straddles the Drive section, the pre-gain section sits between the Ego and the Tumnus and the post-gain section directly after, a TimeLine, which then goes into an ‘always on’ TC Electronic Mini HOF and then a Wampler dB+ for clean boost is after. I also have a TC Electronic Polytune 2 mini in the tuner send of the OC10… Right, so that’s that.
So, in a nutshell –
- PRS Brent Mason signature;
- Line6 G30 (wireless);
- TC Electronic Polytune 2 noir;
- OC-10 (loop order... )
- Ego Compressor;
- Pre-gain Mobius (so great for Vibe and Phaser);
- Tumnus – on the edge of dirt, so it adds width and a little high end;
- C2 Dual Fusion – ‘Throaty’ (used primarily as a solo boost);
- C1 Dual Fusion – ‘Fat’ (main overdrive sound);
- Post-gain Mobius (Chorus, flangers, trem, etc);
- dB+ (clean boost for solos etc);
- TC Mini HOF;
- Carl Martin ProPower2;
- Fender BDri (running it as a head);
- Custom built (by my friend Rick who plays bass in the band!) 2x12”, loaded with WGS Reaper HP and ET-90. I run the cab vertically with the Reaper at the top, as it sound more natural than the ET-90 but that adds some lovely colour so combined – out the front - it sounds amazing.
The thing about this rig is that it does not represent the best effects you can get to do for each individual position (although I defy you to find anything better in terms of overdrive and compression), but in so far as the best for the space used in the context I’m using it for, definitely. I chose the Strymon stuff as I prefer the through tone to the comparable stuff on the market today, and they have the most options available within. I know a UniVibe, a CE-1, Electric Mistress and a Phase90 will be better, but the Mobius does it all well enough to get away with live, and it still sounds awesome. Same with the TimeLine, the Faux Tape Echo is infinitely better for delay… but patches. I need that control. MiniHOF, sounds perfect for the space it uses (and I don’t do different reverbs so…). So, for me, this is the best rig that fits on my medium sized Temple Board that I can control via midi and a looper.
So, that’s that. Why blog it then? Here is why, I need to tell you about the cables I’m running on this rig and how they have blown me away…
First of all, a little history (you thought you’d got away with it, didn’t you – but you know me, there is always a back story). I stopped playing when I got married and had kids, I’d not gigged for about 5 years before that so I sold all my gear apart from my acoustic and 2 high quality 30’ cables I’d had since 1993. When I got back in to playing, right before I started with Brian, I started to accumulate gear again but never, ever, once considered quality patch cables of being important. Pretty soon I had a decent guitar, a decent amp and some incredible effects… All wired up with ‘£4.99 for 10’ moulded plastic patch cables. This changed on my 40th birthday, a dear friend that I’ve known forever who distributes Evidence Audio cables sent me a few of the SIS plugs and a length of the Monorail cable. I reluctantly tried them and was instantly blow away by the quality of the tone coming from my amp. Yeah, that was an ‘oh shit’ moment as these things aren’t cheap! I started to buy them when I could… I now have my entire board wired up with them – which is about 25 cables of various lengths, using around 24’ of cable!
Here is the thing, this is why I love them – not only do they sound great (and they really do) they are SO easy to make you just wouldn’t believe it. I have experienced many versions of the solderless cable in past, they either are a bitch to make, only 50% of them work first time out, or the plugs are stupidly large or a strange shape – never quite understood that – but these are discrete (they stand out less than 15mm from the socket), OK, so they aren’t a pancake but as far as right angled cables goes, that’s easily in the discrete ballpark! The great thing about the SIS plug is that once you strip the cable back (I do it with a pair of kitchen scissors, no need for all the fancy tools and stuff) you place it in the plug and then turn. If the cable is in the correct state (you have to leave the right amount of core showing and wrap the shielding stuff round properly etc) once you have screwed it in the plug will not come off. So you know it’s connected. You then put the cap of the plug on and boom, you’re away. It currently takes me about 2 minutes (again, with the scissors) to make a cable and with this board I’ve had a 100% “first time” success rate. I’ve not had one that’s not worked… There isn’t a knack to it, you don’t have to have special tools, once you know how much cable to leave bare, you are away. That, if you think about it, for a solderless system is quite incredible.
Now, there are other cables in play here as well… I took a punt, as I’m now an Evidence Audio fan, and order some Forte Cables. Now, these aren’t cheap – they really aren’t cheap. I read all the stuff about them, apparently you need to break them in, they sound best going in a certain direction… I’m always quite dubious when I read stuff like this, but you know, once I plugged it in, the signal was clearer. The sound fuller. They are extremely bendy and flexible (handy as the guys that help us pack away the gear at the end of the night can be a little brutal with gear), extremely strong and as always built like a tank. I played them for 4 gigs and then did a little experiment. I turned it around and it sounded not as clear, not as full… can a cable be directional? I don’t know, but it didn’t sound as good as when I was using it the right way round! There was life missing, top end absent (not missing, just not as ‘there’) and an overriding sense of loss of life and a little power. I thought it might be my accountant trying to justify it the purchase in my head until one of the guys in the band confirmed it as well. The old cables I had all these years, that were quite expensive at the time and guaranteed for life still work, they just don't sound very good anymore!
So, what started as me wanting to show off my new board, ended up as an advert for Evidence Audio cables (don’t worry, I have no financial stake in them, I’ve payed for most it, and am under no obligation to promote them - so this isn’t a sales pitch). I see so many people getting frustrated with their patch cables, people who can’t solder, people who get large failure rates. My advice to you, get the Evidence Audio SIS/Monorail system, you can’t go wrong. Well, you can, but I’ve only seen it once!
Here is a little video of Dan Steinhardt construction the MonoRail/SIS system cables... (cable making start at 17:50)
Seriously, Evidence Audio cables... there is no better system!
Tone sculpting has become a bit of an art, and many players pay so much attention to all facets of their board and guitar. Every link in the chain adds up to the overall tone you’re going to have coming from your amp, and small adjustments in your chain can make a big difference e in the long run.
Picks – There are thousands upon thousands of options for picks, ranging from extremely cheap budget picks all the way to expensive boutique picks that are worth almost as much as some pedals are. If you’re ever looking for a quick adjustment in your tone for something different, try a different pick shape or material. Different material will have a different tonal result on your pick attack, the harmonics and even feel of your playing. Metallic picks (using coins, etc) will have a brighter, chimey-er tone, where using some wood picks will yield a much darker tone. There are a plethora of options in terms of the material used to create them, so do your research and find which material yields the tone you’re looking for. Different thicknesses will make a large difference as well. It’s a fairly inexpensive way to for you to approach your tone differently. Also, if you don’t normally use your fingers, try it! Your fingers and fingernails have their own unique tone, and can resonate differently than a pick can. Switching up your right hand technique can really help you break out of the box tonally and technically.
Cables and Buffers – These are a foundation part of your tone, so great cables can make a huge difference. Again, there are a plethora of options out there for soldered and solderless cables, along with varying ends and methods of creating those cables, along with shielding options and types of outer casings for enhanced durability. The key to finding a great cable is finding a set that creates minimal signal degradation. The cheapo $5 patch cables can suck some tone and cut your high end, which after going through several of those cables will yield a more muffled, dull bypassed tone. Buffers also play a huge part in keeping your tone pristine. Buffers alter the impedence of your guitar signal, which helps it travel through your board easier. Just remember that some pedals (fuzzes and wah’s) aren’t fans of buffers, so place them before it. The best judge of whether you need a buffer or not is to take a short guitar cable (10’) and plug directly into your amp and play. Now plug into your board and see if the tone sounds muffled or like a blanket is lying over your amp. This would be due to signal loss from not having a buffer or needing better cables.
Speakers and Speaker Cabs - Of all of your tonal puzzle pieces, these are literally the devices that project your sound into the world, so choosing the right speaker for the application can play a huge role in turning great tone into STELLAR tone. There are more options than I can possibly put into a single blog, but there are hundreds of speakers from various companies that can accentuate the amp it’s paired with, and subsequently the pedals and guitar that are running into it.
The key to finding the perfect voicing for the sound you have in your head is realizing what you’re intentions are for the amp you’re using. If you want clean headroom, your speaker choices can differ greatly from an amp that you’re intending to use as your dirt tones. Choices can be affected by what configurations you have as well, so a single 1x12” cab will sound different from a 2x12” and a 4x12” (or 4x10”, or countless other options). Having a cab that holds more than one speaker is beneficial because it allows you to mix speakers to fit the perfect application. One speaker may be designed for more aggressive lows and highs with less emphasis on mids, where you could pair that with a more mid-focused speaker to fill out your sound tonally.
When choosing your speaker, you need to pay attention to the outputs on your amps and what ohms they can put out, as well as the speaker and make sure they match up. If you’re not sure exactly how to do this, the easiest method is to email the company and let them know what amp you’re using and they can recommend the right product and ohm rating for you. Your amp can sound completely different based on whether you’re running at 4ohm, 8ohm and 16ohm and doing the research between the various options and what works best for your amp will yield some really fun and great sounding results.
Along with proper speaker choices, deciding on the right cab (as mentioned above) will play a part in your overall tone. Horizontal cables vs. vertical cabs can make a big difference on the tone you and the audience are hearing, along with which way the cab is facing and whether it’s tilted, off the floor, or even facing a different direction. The last thing the front row of a gig wants is to have your speakers blaring directly in their faces. Tilting the cab back (on combos) or getting the cab off of the floor will help diffuse some of the sound and disperse it into the air instead of directly at the audience’s faces.
Mix it up a bit – Do you normally run your delay into the FX loop? Try placing it before your dirt pedals for a completely different set of tones. There are typical “guides” and thought processes that come to mind when laying out a pedalboard, but when it comes down to it there are no rules, and what’s right is whatever sounds best to you. Experiment with signal chain order, especially stacking different pedals into each other to see what sonic tones you can coax out of something that would seem so unorthodox.
We get a lot of questions about breadboarding. It is an essential for any DIYer. Using software from 123d.circuits.io, we are able to give you the following tutorial on how to build a voltage amplifier circuit, or as many guitarists call it, a JFET booster. This is a basic breadboard layout. The battery, of course, represents your power supply, but any power supply will work.
The top and bottom two rows are all connected horizontally.
In the middle section, the holes are all connected vertically. This is important to remember, as this is key to how our signal will flow.
First thing we will do is run power into the board. We accomplish this by running a wire from the positive lead on the battery snap to one of the top rows. It can be any hole in that line, we just chose the closest. That entire row is now 9 volts power. And you do the same with the negative feed to the other row. That entire row becomes our ground.
If you are building a circuit using op amps, you will want to run power to both sides of the board. This is done by using a jumper wire from the positive row and the ground to the bottom two rows.
We are going to need an input and an output jack. Heat up that soldering gun. You will need to solder wire to the lugs on the jack. Notice how the negative lug is connected to the ring? This is where you will connect ground. The positive lug, which is connected to the tip, carries your signal into the signal chain.
We will now run a wire from the positive lug to one of our columns in the middle section. You would then run a wire from the negative lug to ground.
Now that we have the basics in place, we want to start this circuit out with a J201 JFET transistor. Notice how the three legs fit in three different rows.
Next we will need to add a .022 capacitor to the input.
Next we will place a 1k resistor in parallel, in the same row, with the capacitor.
Now we want to run a jumper wire to the first leg of the JFET.
The middle pin of the JFET can be given many different values dependent on what frequency response you want or how much gain you desire from the circuit. You can use any size resistor, however we will use a 1k resistor for this demo. We need to attach one end of the resistor to ground and the other to a hole in the middle section. We will then run a jumper to the middle leg of the transistor.
Now we need to run power to the JFET. We do this by attaching it to out 9v line and then to a hole in the middle. Again we need to use a jumper wire to get to the third leg of the JFET.
This is a little tricky here. As this resistor value will be dependent on what is needed to get a 4.5 reading on a voltage meter.
To check your voltage, you will need to attach the black probe to ground, and the red probe to the powered pin of the JFET. Then trade in resistors until you get a reading of 4.5 minimum.
It does not need to be 4.5 exactly, but I don’t like to go below that. Generally 4.5-5 volt is where you would like to be.
Okay, so the transistor has power and is working, but we need sound. Now we will add a capacitor where the power is coming in at the JFET. So we will connect it with the jumper wire that is going to the third pin on the transistor.
The other leg of the capacitor is where the sound will be coming out to your output jack. (Remember, when connecting your jacks to hook your negative to ground)
Warning: When you connect this breadboard to your amp it is going to be very loud compared to your usual guitar signal. This is because we have not added a volume pot yet. So let’s add a potentiometer. There are two types, wired and plug-in. For this demo we will use a wired type. We will be using a 500k for this circuit.
We will connect the third lug to the output of the capacitor. The first lug will go to ground and the second lug will go to a random hole in the board and then out to our output jack.
You may notice an added resistor in the diagram there. Very observant grasshopper. That is a 1 meg resistor that we forgot to add. It is attached to the first leg of the transistor, and then jumpered to ground. Our bad. So if we were to translate this to a schematic it would look like this.
As you can see, it would run input to capacitor to resistor to ground to JFET to ground. R5 is going to change in value as you bias it to reach 4.5 volts, then the signal continues to our capacitor (c4) to our volume pot to negative to our output. And so we just breadboarded a JFET booster. Well done!! :)