Talking about gear

Talking about gear (53)

Tone Tips – It’s in the details

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.

Breadboarding basics...

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!! :)

Are we too obsessed with gear?

I’m a gear and pedal addict, and I’m always scouring the internet for whatever is catching my eye at the moment (Gibson SG’s right now in fact). I find it interesting when I see magazine articles or YouTube videos about someone’s rig rundown (or when you see some big name artist like Prince or countless others) and their pedal board was comprised of almost all Boss pedals.

 

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it led me to thinking; do we obsess too much over gear? Why do some obsess over “boutique” gear while others are just fine with Boss or some other more budget-friendly brand pedals? Is our pursuit of tone out of necessity to achieve “the sound”? Personal enjoyment? Acquiring the latest and greatest gear? Is it a culmination of all of the above?

I tried to narrow it down to three types of players, in a very broad sense. This is a generalization, so in many scenarios it isn’t quite that static but more of a general observation than anything.

“If it’s not broke don’t fix it” – These are players that love their tone just the way it is and has always been since they found “their sound” years ago. They have no desire to change it at all.  Many times the players that fit this idea have great amps that they’re accustomed to and know every nuance about them, and every tone they can produce. There are likely a few base effects, maybe a boost or OD, delay, chorus, wah, or fuzz (among other things). In many cases it’s not a massive pedalboard, but in many cases the player has learned to coax the tones out of a smaller board of older pedals, and they don’t need any more than that. There’s nothing wrong with this mindset, because it allows the player to focus solely on playing the instrument instead of twisting knobs and they know their tone and utilize every piece of gear with precision that fits the moment and what sound they need.

G.A.S. Hounds – (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) – These are the players that love to buy gear and search for new tones.  There hasn’t been any official proof of why GAS sets in, but millions of players are stricken with the insatiable lust for “new” gear (new can consist of new-to-you, which is why the used market is massive right now). It could be the newest DSP delay that has been released with MIDI input, or a Distortion with active EQ controls and multiple gain stages, or a new Fuzz that’s supposed to be identical to one of the classic fuzzes Hendrix or Gilmour used. In many cases, it’s solely curiosity that drives players to want to try out the new gear.

New gear also can greatly inspire a player to try new tones and thus new ways of playing, which can be advantageous in growing their skill and finding their own sound. This works really well when a player is stuck in a rut with their playing, feeling like they aren’t progressing no matter how hard they try. There are many factors that could be discussed at a later date, but in general the GAS hounds are consistently on the chase for a new sound.

This leads to “flipping”, where a player purchases something (new or used) and in turn after playing it, “flips” it by reselling it in order to replenish the funds to put towards more gear. This is a major advantage to buyers and sellers in the used market, which is why it’s thriving so well. There are a lot worse things to do with your time and your money. Some people like to go bowling or play golf; G.A.S. hounds like to try new gear.

They just don’t care – There are a lot of players out there that don’t care what brand of pedal they playing, or whether it’s true bypass or buffered or if a pedal has the extra fancy functions. To them it is just a tool that they use to create music. It is like a carpenter who goes out and buys a hammer. He doesn’t necessarily need a certain brand name, just a good hammer that gets the job done. A lot of artists fall into this category. They know they need a certain sound, but they really don’t have the time, or care to compare delay pedal A to delay pedal B. They just need a solid functioning pedal that will get the job done and let them get their music out to the world.

So where do you fit in? Have you achieved your sound and are happy with what you have? Or are you the player that just likes to check out the newest offerings from the gear world out of curiosity? Or do you view pedals as just another tool in the toolbox, and it doesn’t matter what brand it is as long as it makes the sound you were hearing in your head?

The funny thing is, like most things in the guitar world, there is no right or wrong way to be. It really is about what makes you happiest, and what makes you want to pick up your axe and head to the woodshed.

Wampler Bravado In a live setting?

So, the title of "The world's luckiest guy who's employed by a Gear Company" probably went to me last week, actually, a few weeks ago but let's just say it wasn't completely obvious until Saturday night.

First, let's get a little perspective here. A lot of people think I get given gear all the time, I don't really - I have stuff here for work, that I have to use for promotional purposes - it's not mine and I have to hawk it round to various places, photographic, promote it - yeah I know, sucks to be me doesn't it. But it's not mine - I have to test run everything (in a live situation where possible) and one of the reasons I am still here after all these years is in part I never bullshit Brian, if something sounds great I tell him, and if it doesn't, I tell him twice. I don't tell everyone blindly how great our gear is, I will advise stuff that I think fits the player - I mean, anyone who is connected to me on social media knows I am very unflattering about tube screamers, which probably doesn't help our sales of the Clarksdale (our version of the 808 with expanded EQ and clipping options) much... but those people also know I am honest and I understand that each to their own... How many people do you know who love TS circuits? ;)

Getting back to the main part of this piece, I received the Wampler Bravado here at Wilding Towers in the UK on December 19th (which is actually my daughter's birthday so it stayed in the box that day while I was trying to be SuperDad). When I opened it, I must admit quite excitedly, I was surprised to see an America power cable in the box, so I looked on the side and saw the dreaded.... 120v. D'OH. Great. I had an un-useable amp. As you may expect, I text'd Brian and said "Well, that's a bit silly" (or something like that) and what do I do now, seems insane to send it back to the US... Over the next couple of days Brian had spoken to the transformer people, and the people who finalise production on the amp and I was told that it's a simple fix, the change over of a couple wires inside. That would be great, except I can't solder for shit. Great x2. Armed with explicit instructions on how to change it I dropped the amp off at my mate Bob's house, who is an audio electronics engineer, with the instructions and £20 later I have a 240v amp... This was December 23rd.The date of our last gig of the year - I got the amp fixed, I went over to my friend Ray's house to borrow an old yet delightful 2x12" cab with the view of giving it a run out that night. And then, 2 hours before I'm due to leave to the gig my car decided to die. Great x3. 

So, I didn't have the opportunity to test it that night, I borrowed a car from my lovely friend Kate and I went to the gig with my usual gear (which is a stock Fender BDri with a WGS Veteran 30) and as usual, my tone was lovely, mostly thanks to this little board of delight.

So, after Christmas I had time to play. I tested it with the Orange 2x12" (Celestion Vintage 30's inside), it wasn't great as they are designed to break up WAY early in the sweep, and I needed it clean. Unfortunately, they were soldered in so I couldn't swap then out (remember, I can't solder at all). Great x4. Here is where it becomes interesting. I have 4 WGS speakers here: the Veteran 30, ET-65, Reaper HP and the Blue Alnico thing, can't remember its name. So, I tried the Bravado plugged into the speaker in the Fender, first with the Veteran 30, then the ET-65, then the Reaper - all the time, comparing it to the 2x12" with the Vintage 30s. It quickly became a geek fest of tone, response, articulation, break up and everything else. Let's just take a moment to pass our good wishes onto my long suffering wife who had to listen to my crap playing, really loud, ALLLLLL day. 

Here is what I found.

The Celestion Vintage 30's are fabulous for that dirty thing, when using an overdrive to push it, the sound is incredible. But that's not what I want - I play in what is effectively a country/blues/rock band in pubs, so I need clean headroom. One can't play Brent Mason solo's when the amp and cab is clipping... So, I'm keeping that tone in the bank for when I need something more aggressive... The real magic arrived when I put the Reaper in. 

The Reaper. WOW. I just can't begin to tell you how perfect it is to my ears, for my style of playing, for my rig, in the places I play in. The Reaper is based on the G12H30 Anniversary edition, and it's perfect for this. Gone was the high end edge of the Veteran 30, gone was the break up of the v30's and here was the full spectrum tone of clarity and cleanliness of the Reaper.  It would appear that my speaker choice was made and I set off to the gig. 

When I arrived, I set up, level checked and over comes the bass player, Rick - who in my opinion is one of the greatest I've ever heard - he's so far in the pocket it's a thing of beauty, his tone is flawless, everything about his playing is perfect. Plus, I met him when I was about 15 so I've known him and played with him off and on for almost 30 years. He is a real tone chaser... he simply has the best tone of any bass player I've ever heard in a pub/club setting. ANYWAY... he asked about it, so I played a bit and he started to smile - we played with the bright control, the EQ and levels and we settled on position 3 for the bright switch, my guitar is quite dark (PRS Brent Mason) and I don't like harsh top end so my effects aren't set harsh... here are the settings (taken right after the first set):

We found that even at full brightness the tone wasn't sharp at all, it didn't bite, it didn't hurt (which it would have with the Fender), it just sounded a little more VOX like, which was as odd as it was unexpected (at that moment in time I was regretting not playing any Brad Paisley, but that's another story). As the gig went on, my I had a lovely time - my tone was INCREDIBLE. I have never, ever sounded like that before. Everything was clear, articulate and powerful. Everything was perfectly balanced and the levels across the entire spectrum was perfectly balanced. We had a great gig, loads of people danced, drunk people came up to me and were talking incoherently to me, but while shaking my hand and smiling a lot, so I'm guess they enjoyed it. I was a happy boy.

As we were driving home (across beautiful Dartmoor, 1am on a clear winters night but that's just me showing off about where I live, it's outstanding!) my wife said something that made me think. Now, my wife comes to every gig I play - let's face it, she didn't marry a guitar player to be sat at home on a Saturday night to watch the bloody X-Factor now did she - she knows my playing better than anyone - she's a great musician - piano player, and she is a fan of the music we play so if I have a great night, she tells me and if I don't, she tells me. She's always honest and is only interested in my development as a musician, so there is no bullshit.

"I've never heard you like that before, you sounded amazing. You must have known that because you were smiling all night and you played stuff I've never heard you play before". It would appear I'd been more thoroughly inspired by the amp than I realised. I'm pretty certain that this was the Bravado. It sounded SO good. The wife said it was amazing, the drunk people said it was amazing, Rick said it was amazing. I'm pretty certain that basically, the Bravado makes you sound amazing. I put it down to the following. I have 4 basic tones. Clean, Tumnus, and both channels of the Dual Fusion. I run them Tumnus -> c2 DF -> c1 DF. So, I run clean, I run Tumnus, I run c1 DF, I run c1 DF with the Tumnus, I tun c1 and c2 of the DF stacked, and I stack the Tumnus into that... basically, I use a LOT of variations - we are a cover band, and there's not a lot worse than a sole guitarist bands who only have 1 tone. With the PRS (that is extremely versatile) I have so many tones, I can't actually begin to count them and every one of them was utterly perfect. Previously I would have a great clean tone, nice OD tone or a nice face melting tone. I could never balance them all out and them all sound amazing. Not even good. Sometimes, the higher gain stuff was pretty muddy, still nice, but muddy.

So, if you want an amp that is clean, all the way (well, as much as it can be) that EATS pedals for breakfast and can take everything from low gain all the way up to the other end, this is probably the amp for you. It ain't cheap, but if you have a £2K guitar and a £1K of effects (like many players in my postition have), why put it through a £1K amp. By my reckoning, people often buy an under performing amp, just because they have a famous name on them. With the Bravado, you will never sound better, providing you have the right speaker. This is why SO many high end amp makers appear to have own brand speakers, they get companies to make a speaker to their spec and then stick a label over it... Maybe we should do that!

Speaking of all this (pun intended), Rick and I are making a 2x12" - the WGS Reaper is going in as is the ET-65. It's based on the spec of the Wampler cab, can't wait to play it out. Keep an eye out for the amp, it'll be in stores - selected stores - try it with pedals in front of it... Outstanding.

 

Troubleshooting - A beginners guide...

There’s honestly nothing worse than the feeling of going to jam, and something isn’t working correctly in your chain. It’s a mix of emotions, from sad to angry to just generally a “What the heck?” moment. The next process involved is troubleshooting or searching on the internet for the answer. First and foremost we suggest contacting the manufacturer of the pedal for help. This cuts to the chase by going direct to the source, especially in terms of warranty and beginning the process for repairs (if necessary).This is just a helpful guide of sorts to narrow down areas to troubleshoot on your own prior to moving forward. These are common ways to troubleshoot that apply to nearly every pedal out there.

The first thing to try when anything is acting wacky with a pedal is to isolate it for testing. This removes any other variables and focuses on the cleanest and simplest signal path to troubleshoot. Start with your guitar going out with a confirmed working cable to the input of the pedal, with the pedal having a fresh 9v battery (if applicable, not with minis) and disconnected from your power supply, straight into the amp. If the pedal behaves correctly, then you know the problem was somewhere else in the chain. If the issue is still occurring, document everything you can to better help identify the problem for the tech. If there’s no output, try cutting the footswitch off and on several times, if it comes on occasionally, it could be a bad footswitch. If you turn a knob and the sound seems really odd or has no effect at all, it could be a bad pot. Does the LED cut on? Any small detail will help when you’re going to have it repaired.

Batteries – Some companies ship their pedals with batteries, some do not. Leaving a cable plugged into the input of a pedal will drain the battery, even if it’s not being used. One good idea to practice is if you’re using a power supply to power your pedals, remove the battery to prevent corrosion over time. If you do use a battery, be sure to use a fresh, unused battery

Power – Digital effects especially are more prone to be noisy if you’re not using a dedicated, isolated power source to power the pedal. Daisy-chaining digital effects with analog pedals or other digital pedals will create substantial noise. Isolated power supplies can be a bit expensive, but they’re worth the investment in the long run. If you’re concerned it’s a power issue and you’ve tried it isolated with a battery, then there could be an issue with the cable from the power supply, or with the power jack. Note: Using the wrong power supply can render a pedal useless, and that is not covered under most warranties. Our pedals in particular require a barrel-type (Boss style), center-negative power supply cable. Some pedals have the ability to run anywhere from 9v to up to 18v (and anywhere in between), where some will be rendered useless if run above 9v. Check out this blog for an in-depth detail of which of our pedals can be used at 9v and 18v: http://www.wamplerpedals.com/news/blog/talking-about-gear/power-9v-or-18v

Footswitch popping during activation – If your pedal has recently started an excessively loud pop when you first activate it after moving pedals around on your board, there could be an issue with the impedance the pedal is seeing. For starters, try the first step and isolate it and see if that is taking care of it. If it’s no longer popping, then another pedal in your chain is causing an impedance issue, so try swapping positions on your board could fix it. Bad cables can be the culprit as well.

Crackling Pots – This would signal dirty pots, which can be solved by using an contact cleaner, which is discussed more here: http://www.wamplerpedals.com/news/blog/talking-about-gear/cleaning-the-pots-on-your-pedals

There are a multitude of different things that can go on based solely on the fact that you’re stepping on electronic devices repeatedly, so despite every builder’s best efforts things do fail. This is exactly why we personally offer a 30-day customer satisfaction guarantee and return policy when purchased directly through our website.

Cleaning the pots on your pedals...

Scenario time: You’re at a gig and the show is going well. The band is tight, the crowd is loving the music and the bar owner is loving the way you your group have packed the house. You bend over to adjust the gain on your overdrive pedal, and you hear it… and the room hears it. That noisy, scratchy and crackling sound of a dirty pot. It isn’t a gig killer, but it definitely brings the joy down a notch. Resisting the urge to throw that pedal across the room in disgust, there is a way to resurrect it and get it back into full operating order once again. To get started we’ll visit Amazon.com to search for Deoxit Contact Cleaner. (Note, this is available at multiple different outlets, including some vehicle care places, and I’ve even seen it at Guitar Center before. We just chose Amazon out of simplicity).

Deoxit is designed to clean, lubricate and preserve contacts and conductivity, by dissolving the dirt and grime, and it does a great job of it. Though it’s in a liquid form, it is quick drying and will not hurt the pedal at all. Deoxit is effective, but it is also quite strong so some precautions are in order before using it. Being an abrasive substance, you want to use it outdoors in a well ventilated area and not on a windy day. To be extra careful it wouldn’t hurt to wear a face mask to prevent breathing in any of the fumes. The same goes for your eyes, you don’t want this getting into your eyes by accident, so some glasses or other form of protection wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Once you get done with the following steps, be sure to wash your hands as well to prevent some from accidentally getting where it shouldn’t.

 

Step One:

Take the pedal apart to access the pots. Remove the back cover to expose the inner pots and circuit board. If you’re uncomfortable with this process, it’s best to take it to an experienced tech that is familiar with electronics.

 

Step Two:

Each potentiometer has a small opening that will allow the cleaner to get inside and loosen the dirt that has collected in there. As you spray liberally turn the knobs back and forth quickly. This will work the dirt loose and restore the contact needed for clean transitions in your adjustments.

Step Three:

Put the pedal back together and test it out. That scratchiness should be gone. This method can be used on switches as well. Just work the switch as you spray to ensure they are free of dirt and are well lubricated. Deoxit can also be used to clean your inputs and outputs, and even your AC adapter jack can be cleaned this way. Just don’t do it while attached to power. It could void your warranty and/or seriously hurt you.

Now, this is a technique that works most of the time, your mileage may vary but it could save you some time instead of having to go through process of submitting it for repairs.

Brian covers this more in depth in his latest vlog: How to clean dirty & crackling pots (potentiometers) on a pedal...

G-Bender, in a nutshell

After the new shots of the Paisley Drive were posted, we received a lot of messages through Instagram and Facebook regarding the bridge configuration on my Crook Custom Telecaster (pictured above). I just wanted to run through the configuration and mindset behind the bridge setup and give an insight into it after using it for a decade now. I love this guitar dearly, primarily because it’s my father’s. He and I both ordered a Crook at the same time, and they’re identical in terms of pickups and wiring and hardware, but he chose a red paisley with silver flake underneath and a rosewood fretboard, where I chose to pursue a new prototype paint job with a green paisley and the silver flake underneath with a birdeye maple fretboard (pictured).

Let’s start off with low E and A strings. This compensated saddle is made of aircraft grade aluminum. Bill Crook was telling me during the development process that he uses this type of saddle because it provides and extra bit of bite and snap to the lower strings, which can sometimes flub out and sound a bit too undefined (especially using dirt pedals). Next up is a single saddle for the D string, which is also stainless steel. Again, it provides a great bite and twang without being offensive or ice-picky. We’ll skip to the high B and E strings for now (the G string will be discussed in a moment). For the high B and E, Bill decided to go with a brass compensated saddle. He mentioned that after extensive testing that the brass would retain the killer tone without the ice-pick sometimes associated with teles and those strings. The bottom two string are very warm and have loads of sustain going on, but never get muddy.

So the big question is, what’s going on with that funky looking saddle on the G-string? That’s a McVay G-bender mechanism from Charlie McVay. Charlie is a lap-steel player by trade, so he was naturally very affluent with the bending systems in those instruments. Brad always preferred a G-bender to a B-bender  because he felt it was more musical in nature based on what bends you could accomplish. It’s Brad Paisley, so who am I to disagree? Being the superfan that I’ve always been, I got one installed too. Essentially what is going on is a level system that’s installed into the body, with an small “arm” lever that you attach your straplock to instead of directly to the guitar. The way it works, when you pull the guitar neck down towards the floor, the level actually raises the G-string by one who step. This is incredibly fun to include in your regular playing because it allows you the ability to do open string bends to really get twangy. I’ll be the first to admit that I abused it when I first got it, and had to train myself not to rely on bending the g-string with that at not my fingers too. There are two distinct tones between using the bender and manually doing it.

As an example of using a G-bender, I wanted to take a look back at one of my favorite country tunes that’s not too technically difficult, but incredibly fun to play and a great introduction to Brad Paisley’s playing style and the idea behind the bender. (There are two versions of the tab, one without a bender and one with). I loved Brad’s song “Old Alabama” from his album “This is Country Music”, so at the time of release I sat down and tabbed out the intro. In regards to the tones, I use the Ego Compressor for a light squish (sustain at 10:30) but with the blend low(Noon to 2pm) and the attack fully clockwise (slowest). This helps adds that feel of your amp compressing and also smoothes out the notes without that heavy squish on the initial not attack. Next I ran into the Paisley Drive, with the gain said relatively low (10am) and treble to taste. I was using a bright amp (Dr. Z RXJr) so my tone was set at 10:30. The key for me was using the mids in the UP (medium mid hump) position, which is closely based on Brad’s Z-Wreck tone. The volume you want set right above unity. Following the Paisley Drive I went into the Faux Tape Echo set to a light slapback, set with the mix knob just below unity, (repeats fully counter-clockwise, time knob at 9am). This gives the perfect slap that adds the depth and feel to the note to complete the full tonal package.

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And here’s Brad discussing his G-bender (and he’s actually using his prototype Wheelhouse Delay that Brian created for him!)

 

The mysteries of setting up your guitar...

I was checking out the wonderful "The Guitar Hour" last week (hosted in part by signature artist Tom Quayle) where the guys went to a luthier and filmed and dissected a full set up on guitar. It's compelling viewing and fascinating to see what happens when a professional does the job perfectly! If, like me (having worked in guitar shops for years and having set up thousands of guitars in my time) you thought you know it all, then this will be a real eye opener for you.

Part 1 - The Fret Dress - The thing that always made me really nervous! 37 minutes.

Part 2 - Taking you through the first part of a standard set up. 35 minutes!

Part 3 - The rest of the standard set up. 36 minutes.

 

Thank you to Tom, Dave, Dan and David for letting us publish on our blog, it's much apprecaited! You can check out The Guitar Hour here.

The basics of powering your pedal board

Power, power, power… This has to be the most asked question we get, well, the many variations of it anyway… I’m not kidding when I say it’s probably a daily event that one of us answers the question! So, I’m going to consolidate the headline points into here so hopefully we can provide you with the one stop place to get all the information! A few weeks ago, our friends over at That Pedal Show produced the ultimate geek-out about power, but running at 37 minutes, many didn’t get to the end so I am consolidating it here to make is easy to grab the basics, with a little of my own perspective to keep it relevant...

What power do your pedals take?

ALL of our pedals are designed to run at 9v DC, center pin negative (The DC and center pin negative is essential). Some of them can be run at 18v (you can see a list of those in our FAQ section here). So, most power adaptors will be just fine. We don’t recommend specific ones, but any one made by a reputable company should be good. If you need to double check, or a second opinion, you can ask us or any gear forum, or your local store! There’s always a load of people willing to discuss power... 9v is the amount of power (voltage) the pedal takes to work under standard operating conditions so if you want to hear it like Brian hears it, run it at 9v. However, Tom Quayle uses his Dual Fusion at 18v and I find it works best for me at around 15v. 

What are mA?

Well, basically, this is how much juice your pedal is taking from the supply. This is the current. So, if your pedal takes 30mA, a 700mA adapter will be just fine. Anything up to the amount listed on the adapter theoretically will be good. You won’t melt a 30mA pedal down by putting a 700mA adapter in it, the pedal will just take what it’s needs and the rest is just not used. So, if you have 3 drive pedals; one at 30mA, one at 15mA and one at 25mA, your total draw will be 70mA which in theory still leaves 630mA ‘headroom’.

A simple way of putting it is that the voltage is the strength of the current and the mA is how much of it is used. Most plugs here in the UK have a 5A – 13A fuse in them, the US usually has 15A, so even if you are chain up a lot of 50mA pedals, you can draw tons of them at 9V until you start to run out of “headroom” from that plug. Hope that makes sense... 

*One thing though, I wouldn’t try to push the adapter to the limits, leave some room. I’ve heard it say that if you draw over 60-70% of the adaptors power, you might see a drop in basic voltage which will affect the way the pedal sounds.

What is center pin negative?

Well, the tip of the plug (barrel type, usually 2.1mm) that goes into the pedal has two connectors, one on the inside and one on the outside, the one on the inside is the negative and the outside is positive. Who ever thought this up was clearly insane, it would be better to have the hot part on the inside out the way, but there you go. All of our pedals take DC, if you put AC into it smoke will appear, you will hear a pop and then you’ll have to send it back to us to be fixed – and the smell… it’s horrible. Remember, it's the magic smoke in the pedal that makes it sound so cool, so if you put the wrong power in and the magic smoke is released then it won't work anymore!  We ensure there is protection inside each pedal if AC is put in, but all it does is limit the damage, it doesn’t resist it. So, please please please please do not put AC into the pedal! It’s highly unlikely that a warranty claim can be made due to incorrect power being applied.

What is isolated power?

Basically, it’s the process of separating the power from each circuit from others present in the signal chain. Some pedals disrupt others (especially if you mix up analogue and digital) so the best thing you can do is completely isolate them from each other. Now, I could talk for hours and hours and we’d just scratch the surface, but I’ll keep it simple. If you are running pedals that are friendly to each other (modern overdrives/distortions) you should be fine to daisy chain them together (providing the above criteria is met). However, if you stick a digital pedal in the chain noise can be picked up and amplified by the ‘gain’ pedals. During the episode of That Pedal Show, Dan said that this is because digital pedals dump a lot of noise on to the ground (I didn’t know this) – isolation will take that away and doesn’t allow a pedal to disrupt another across the ground. Some people call this clock noise, some digital noise… it has many names but the only thing you need to know it’s just not a nice noise at all and you don’t want it. The more you isolate, the quieter your board will be!

So, there are the basics of the power conundrum. This is just scratching the surface but it should give you enough information to keep you ticking over (but not with clock noise) and have a happy, yet quiet, pedalboard!

 

Your Tone Knob...

When you think of tone, what comes to mind? For me it is all encompassing, from the wood the guitar is made of, the pickups, what type of wiring is setup, the string brand and gauge, to the cables, to each pedal and what it does to the signal, the pre-amp and power amp, the speaker, the wood that the speaker cab is made up. For me tone is the culmination of the effort you’ve put into selecting each part of your signal chain, and factoring in the tonality of your individual playing style and how it reacts to different gear.

I’m also 30 and a total gear nerd, and I love that stuff. My thought processes have changed over the years. When I was 15 and learning and playing punk rock and Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine and Incubus covers, my friends and I always had the same frame of mind: Hottest pickups and amps you could get in your hands, and ALL KNOBS ON 10! Our guitar volume was either on 10 or 0, and there was no in-between unless by accident. At that point we didn’t even see the need to have a tone knob, because it was never below 10 (and we dreamt of custom guitars that included no tone knobs, just volume). This served me well for many years until I grew up some and learned the subtle differences just those two knobs make on you overall sound and some of the amazing tones you can get by adjusting them in small increments.

Today, I set my amps pretty neutral EQ-wise to be pedal-friendly, except for the fact that I add a touch of extra treble and cut the mids a bit to use pedals and my guitar to fill in those tone frequencies. I normally roll the tone knob back on my guitar to about 7.5-8 depending on the guitar at all times (more with Tele’s than my Les Paul), reserving that extra bit of top end for when I really need to get out front in a hurry, or if I’m in the middle of playing and it sounds too muddy I’ll roll it up without having to change anything other than my guitars. This works on the other viewpoint as well, so if I’m changing guitars and something is too bright (my Strat bridge pickup) I will roll it down a bit more. That’s how I approach the tone knob when playing personally, but it’s definitely not a hard fast rule.

When talking with Brian and Jason, they both still keep their tone knobs on 10 and never roll them down, though they do use their volume knobs pretty heavily. How do you use the Tone knob on your guitars?

For the sake of discussion, here’s Joe Bonamassa discussing how he uses the knobs. He forgot to add that the interaction with the pedals is a thing of tonal beauty as well: