Talking about gear (100)
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:
I’ll be the first to admit it, I’m a GAS addict. That’s the lovely acronym for what we lovingly call the addiction that is Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I love trying new gear and getting my feet wet when it comes to everything out there. I just love to experiment and soak up the tones of all of the different offerings on the market. Two things in particular that are my main focal points for frequent GAS attacks are Fuzzes and DELAYS. Fuzz is a whole other topic that is left to another blog (there’s so many different styles that I could probably take up several blogs gushing about the glory that are all things fuzz pedals. Delays on the other hand are the stuff that dreams are made of. There are multiple sounds you can achieve with delays that aside from some reverbs (which technically are a form of delay) you can’t replicate using any other effect.
A good friend and I were discussing delay’s the other day, and it’s amazing the number of delays that came up in the conversation that we each believed to be fantastic, whether we had both played the same unit or we compare and trade delays so we can test them out. The question arose between us as to whether you can have too many delays? We both quickly said “NO!” and moved on. Upon thinking about it for a longer period and experimenting with different delays, I came to the conclusion that there’s really no set rule on it, it’s all based on your moods and what you’re going for.
Looking at some of the main delay uses that many players would have a delay for (slapback, added depth for a solo, rhythmic dotted 8th’s, ambient and dreamy melodies, and then oscillation off of the top of my head that I use right off hand) I came to the realization that with one great quality delay pedal that you can hit most if not all of those categories. It made me want to downsize my rig (from pictured at the top of the page) to a much more condensed board with just essentials to push myself.
At the same time, GAS had me fighting the idea of taking pedals off of my board. I quickly started weighing the pros and cons and alternatives and these were what came to mind:
Pros of Multiple Delays:
- Quick and Easy – If I have more than one delay then I can set and forget them for my most common used delay settings and just kick them on when I’m ready. This is vital when changing songs or to other parts of a song because the settings are ready and you don’t have to fool with twisting knobs.
- Broader Coverage – By having different delays on your pedalboard, you can pick and choose varying flavors of delay to cover a broad spectrum of tones. You could pair a digital delay for dotted 8th notes with a warm analog delay for a great warm slapback, or a EP3 style pedal with a really warm preamp for solos with an ambient delay (with reverb even…Ethereal anyone?). The choices are endless in terms of mixing and matching delay types and sounds.
- Experimentation – Just like the previous part mentioned covering a lot of tones, you can mix those two delays with oscillation or dotted 8ths with triplets for a wall of sound. Stacking pedals is half of the fun, and the combinations can get really wild.
- Pedalboard Space – This is the biggie. Multiple delays means taking up extra spots on your board that either require you to give up other pedals to fit on there, or requiring a bigger board. Bigger board means more weight and more to deal with. Power can also be a big issue. If you power source is maxed out, then comes the struggle of figuring out how you’re going to power the extra pedal(s). Daisy-chaining delays is typically a no-no due to noise, so there’s that too.
- Knob Twiddling – Another main part is that with more pedals comes more tweaking, which can really detract from playing. I’ve spent many hours endlessly tweaking when I should have just plugged my Faux Tape Echo (my personal favorite delay) in and spent the time PRACTICING. I’m guilty of tweaking way too many settings because I want it how it sounds in my head. I can usually find it quickly once I’m familiar with a delay, but until that point it takes more time.
- COST – Pedals are expensive! Granted not as expensive as guitars or amps, but with several pedals you can buy a nice guitar or amp (or in some cases and decent car).
These are in their own category in itself because of the array of units and functionality out there. There are pros and cons to them along with multiple delays. They are usually very convenient because they’re completely loaded with various parameters and algorithms to tweak for nearly any delay style you can imagine. The appeal of such a pedal in one unit is hard to beat. That being said, they’re typically quite expensive and then you have what you have. They typically have banks of presets to choose from, but in a gig situation they aren’t always the easiest to tweak if you need to. At the same time, you have a boat load of options right there while only taking up a bit of room.
What are your thoughts? How many delays are enough? Will one suffice, or do you prefer multiple delays, or all-in-one units for complete tweakability? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Since early on, Brian has been a major fan of country music, and the one person synonymous with country music and Nashville is one of the most renowned studio musicians in history, Brent Mason. Brent’s style, touch and phrasing are unparalleled, where each note is played exactly how and when it should be with complete precision. Recording so often with many different artists, Brent wanted his dirt tones to be highly tweakable to allow his guitar to fit perfectly in the style and character of each individual song he works on. Brian originally created the Hotwired v1, which was meant to the THE pedal for chickin' pickin'. Fast forward a few years and the country music industry has changed, so the tools had to change to keep up to date. After discussing what Brent wanted, the Hot Wired v2 was born.
Our favorite part of the Hotwired v2 is its ability to adapt to just about any genre of music (even some degrees of metal!). The clean blend on the overdrive side allows the player to specifically tailor the precise amount of overdrive they want blended with their natural tone, so it’s similar to running a dirty and clean stereo amp setup! The distortion side is also very versatile, and allows you to cover loads of classic rock, country, and even harder rock tones.
Volume: This knob controls the overall level of the overdrive side of the Hotwired v2. Counterclockwise will give less overall output (fully counterclockwise will have no output), where turning it clockwise will allow you to reach unity in correlation with the overdrive knob, as well as providing a boost to the front end of your amp to push it into natural overdrive.
Overdrive: This control dictates the overall amount of clipping that is happening on your signal. It can go from the lightest, edge of breakup tone to a very saturated overdrive tone and all levels in between. Counterclockwise will yield less gain, which is great for adding just a bit of punch to lead lines and fattening up your attack. Turning the knob clockwise will up the saturation, but still retaining the overall characteristic of your guitar’s natural tone.
Blend: This knob controls how much of your clean signal is blended with the overdrive signal from the Hotwired. Fully counterclockwise will result in only your clean tone passing through with no effect, and turning the knob clockwise will begin to introduce your overdrive tone mixed in with your clean tone. Fully clockwise will yield only your tone passed through the overdrive side of the Hot Wired. This knob allows you to have complete control over your tone with the right blend of clean sparkle and gritty crunch to suit any situation. The effects are most noticeable with the overdrive knob turned up, but the key is finding the sweet spot on the overdrive knob in conjunction with the blend to get the deepest, most three-dimensional overdrive tone that Brent has used as his characteristic tone for years on end on countless records.
Tone: This knob controls the overall high-end frequencies that are present in your overdrive tone. Fully counterclockwise on the knob will give a much mellower, darker tone which is great for jazz and smoky blues. Turning the tone knob clockwise will add in high-end content which provides a sparkle and depth to your notes, allowing you to cut through the mix at just the right amount of high end. The tone knob works in conjunction with the switch to provide loads of tone shaping options. We suggest setting your gain level and the fatness on the switch position, and then starting at Noon add or remove the highs from your tone.
Normal/Fat/Fatter switch: This switch allows the player to fine-tune their overdrive tone in conjunction with the tone knob. On the normal setting, there is no effect on your tone, it’s just the base signal from the overdrive knob and wherever your tone knob is set. The Fat setting adds an low-mid punch that works exceptionally well paired with brighter guitars to fatten up your tone. On the Fatter setting, it’s designed to make your tone sound MASSIVE. The lows and low-mids are the most pronounced in this setting, creating a much warmer and thicker overdrive tone.
Channel 2 (Distortion):
Level: Just like with the overdrive side, this level controls the overall output of the distortion side of the Hot Wired v2. Being a distortion, there’s plenty of gain on tap to give a great lead boost with the gain on tap, and unity is directly correlated with where the distortion knob is set. If the distortion is set lower, then you will have to compensate by raising the level. As the distortion goes up, you can back down the level to reach unity.
Tone: The tone controls works in the same fashion that the overdrive side does. Counterclockwise will result in a darker distortion tone (great for single coils), where turning it clockwise will give more brightness to your signal for darker guitars. We suggest starting the tone control at Noon and adjusting to taste based the tone you’re looking for and what guitar you’re using.
Distortion: This knob controls the overall crunch and amount of distortion that is happening on your signal. The gain range goes from slight breakup to full on rock glory and all things in between. It’s based on a Plexi-ish tone, but with a much more neutral tonal profile and less aggressive clipping. The distortion tone is based directly on where the tone knob and normal/fat/fatter switch is positioned. It can go from a light crunch to a fat wall of searing tone.
Normal/Fat/Fatter switch: Just like the overdrive side, the distortion side has a 3-way switch to adjust the low and low-mid presence of your distortion tone. Normal will have no effect, Fat will increase the “oomph” of your tone and fill out your sound more, and Fattest will give a great wall of fat sustain.
- 5” x 4.5” x 1.5″ in size (114.3mm x 114.3mm x 38.1mm) – height excludes knobs and switches
- Power draw: 17mA – The Hot Wired v2 can be run on an internal 9v battery, or a Boss-style negative center tip barrel connector. The Hot Wired v2 can be run at up to 18v, doing so will increase the headroom of the overdrive and distortion.
- Completely true-bypass, Handbuilt in the U.S.A.
- Built to the exact specifications of world renowned session artist Brent Mason.
- There have been 2 versions of the Hot Wired, with v1 having several different graphic iterations before settling in on the current closest graphic layout. The v2 is the most up to date version.
You can read more about the Hot Wired v2 or purchase factory direct HERE
Several years ago, Brian created an overdrive called the Cranked AC, which was loosely based on the legendary Class-A amps many famous users such as the Brian May, the Beatles, Tom Petty and the Edge used to achieve some of their most signature sounds. The Cranked AC mimicked those tones to a degree, but not as much as Brian wanted for a true amp-in-a-box. A Class-A style pedal was one of the most requested pedals for years, thus the Thirty Something was born.
Our favorite part of the Thirty Something is its ability to be paired with any amp and guitar and still obtaining that great glistening clean tone that made those old amps so great. We really wanted the clean tone to be the foundation of the pedal, then identified the characteristics of those classic overdrive tones to create the pairing that we feel nails those fantastic clean and overdriven Class-A tones.
Volume: This knob controls the overall output on the Thirty Something. It has plenty of volume on tap to boost your amp into natural overdrive, or to set as another “gain channel” for your amp. The volume is directly affected by the amount of gain that is set, so more gain may result in needing to adjust the volume down, where less gain will warrant raising the volume to get the proper volume to overdrive ratio.
Bass: This knob controls the overall low-end frequency of your overdrive signal. This really helps to tailor the Thirty Something to whatever amp and guitar you are using. For darker amps or some guitars with humbuckers, you may want to reduce the bass to prevent it from getting “woofy”. When using an inherently bright amp or singlecoils, the bass control can be used to thicken up your tone or fill out the sound if playing at lower volumes. We suggest starting at Noon and adjusting to fit your guitar from there.
Treble: This knob controls the overall high end frequencies present in your overdrive signal. This works exceptionally well paired with dark amps or humbuckers to sit better in the mix, or rolling it off will help with spikiness from too much treble from singlecoils. This control works at a different frequency than the Top Cut, as it’s more based on the high and upper mids. We suggest starting at Noon and adjusting based on what type of tonality you’re looking for.
Top Cut: This knob is similar to those old Class A amps that were inherently very bright (the Thirty Something is also inherently bright), and it allows you to roll off some of the upper high end frequencies which can be brittle or too aggressive for use with some guitars (singlecoils especially) or amps. Fully counterclockwise none of the frequencies are affected and everything is neutral. Turning the knob clockwise will begin to roll off a bit of the top high end to smooth out your tone. We suggest starting it fully counterclockwise and adjusting from there to suite your needs.
Gain: This knob dictates the overall amount of overdrive present in your signal chain. The level of gain is dependent on what position the Headroom Switch is set to. The Thirty Something goes from a clear, chimey clean tone enhancer with loads of cut like those old amps all of the way to full on saturation and copious amounts of overdrive. It can go from Edge-inspired riffs with delay to Brian May-inspired crunch with the turn of the gain knob. As you increase the gain, the volume will also raise and likely need to be adjusted. We suggest starting around 9am and exploring the cleaner-side of the gain range, then cranking it to get those soaring lead tones that defined some of rock’s early years.
Boost Level: The boost knob is based around a Top Boost like many players used on those Class A amps to boost them further into overdrive. This boost accentuates the highs and high-mids to increase the gain and punch of the overdrive and add sustain and a clarity to jump out front in the mix. Being an independent boost, it can be paired in front of any pedal to add that extra high-mid crunch and cut.
Headroom Switch: This switch selects between two different gain settings on the Thirty Something. Set on 15, the Thirty Something will clip into overdrive faster because it’s a "smaller wattage” amp-style compared to the 30 side, thus having more gain on tap and achieving it quicker. On the 30 side, there is much less gain and it stays cleaner with just a bit of added grit like an old 30w Class-A amp (which were loud and clean). This switch directly affects how the gain knob reacts, so we suggest starting on the 30 side (cleaner) and switch to the 15 for more gain.
- 5″ x 4.5″ x 1.5″ (88.9mm x 114.3mm x 38.1mm) – height excludes knobs and switches
- Power draw: 13mA – Powered by a 9v center negative tip cable (Boss style) or internally via a 9v battery. The Thirty Something can be run from 9v up to 18v and anywhere in between. Increased voltages will lead to higher headroom and less gain.
- Boost can be used when main pedal is off to drive amp/other pedals
- True-Bypass switches
- There have been two naming iterations of this pedal. The first with the name being the “Ace Thirty”. Due to a nasty-gram from a certain company (long story), it was lovingly renamed the Thirty Something. There is no difference in the circuits whatsoever, it was merely renamed.
You can read more about the Thirty Something HERE and also buy factory direct.
The Faux Spring Reverb was developed because Brian wanted a flexible, but authentic-sounding reverb without having to lug a reverb tank around. The idea to put it into a pedal format made it easy to travel with and allowed flexibility on the fly instead of having to go over to the amp to adjust. The FSR is a digital reverb, but it has an all analog signal path, so your base tone remains the same with the added reverb effect being blended in. This works well because it allows more flexibility to tweaking the reverb signal to exactly where the player wants it.
Our favorite part of the Faux Spring Reverb is it’s natural sound and feel. It feels and reacts like a reverb tank, but allows you to adjust the tonality to fit any amp and guitar, going from a light room-ish vibe to add depth, or full on surfy wash.
Level: This knob controls the amount of reverb that is merged with your analog signal. This ranges from no mix at all fully counter-clockwise, to a full canvas of reverb that adds depth and feel to your tone like having a spring tank nestled on top of your amp. The key to reverb is finding the sweet spot where it’s got the depth that you want without drowning out your guitar tone (unless you’re using it for ambient washes). This allows you to tailor it precisely to the amount of reverb you want. We suggest starting it at Noon, setting your shade and depth, then adjusting the level to the desired effect level.
Shade: This knob controls the overall tonality of the reverb signal (it does not affect the dry signal). Setting the shade counterclockwise toward the dark side will yield a mellow, warmer reverb tone that sits nicely in a mix for added depth, without overpowering the guitars original tonality. Adjusting it clockwise toward the light side will give a more out-front and noticeable “spring effect” for your reverb tone. The darker setting is great for just adding a bit of depth in a dry room, where setting it lighter will give those classic surf tones of the reverb tanks. This knob changes the effect of the Depth knob, so adjusting each to find the right balance is key. We suggest starting it at Noon and adjusting to match your guitar and what type of atmosphere you'd like to create.
Depth: This control dictates the length or amount of time the reverb signal continues on before fading out. The max reverb time is 2.8s, so there’s plenty on tap to get a great ambient wash. Turning the knob counterclockwise will yield a quicker reverb effect and fade quickly as well which is reminiscent of a smaller spring tank. This setting works great for country picking with the shade knob on the lighter side. With the Shade knob darker it will be a more mellow feel, where it provides an ambient undertone that makes your guitar tone a more three-dimensional. This control is interactive with the other knobs, so adjust the shade will dictate the character of your reverb. The depth will then dictate how much decay occurs, and the level can be used to set it from light to heavy mix for any combination of great reverb tones.
- 5″ x 4.5″ 1.5″ (63.5mm x 114.3mm x 38.1mm) – height excludes knobs and switches
- Power draw: 78mA – Powered via 9v negative center tip (barrel plug like Boss). NOTE: You cannot use a battery with the Faux Spring Reverb, and it should not be run at a higher voltage than 9v.
- 8s max reverb time
- True bypass
- There have been 3 color variations on the Faux Spring Reverb. Early versions had a silver case with black knobs and lettering, later versions had a dark greenish-brown with white knobs and white lettering. The latest version has a brighter green with white knobs and lettering, and the Tone knob has a graphic denoting lighter or darker.
You can read more about the Faux Spring Reverb HERE as well as purchase factory direct.
A couple of weeks ago someone asked the following question in the Wampler Pedals Tone Group on Facebook… “How long do you guys let your amps warm up in standby? I used to play about 10 mins before switching it over. Now I'm doing it within the first 5 minutes, and no sound comes out for about 20-30 secs is that the sign of an amp issue?”
I sat there and looked at it for a while, and all I could think was "I don't think I've ever been told about the real use of a standby switch, I just turn on, about a minute later flick the standby switch to on, rock out. When I stop playing, I leave the amp on but flick it to standby”. This period can be either a couple of minutes, between sets at a gig or even virtually all day when at home. I always thought “if your amp is on standby, everything is good”. The trouble is the more I thought about this, the more I realised I’d never even read what to do anywhere, I just did it – the same thing I’d been doing for years and years and years. I didn’t know if what I was doing was right, wrong, standard, naïve or anything else. I just saw the standby switch on my current amp (Fender BDri) and used it the same way I’ve always used it on every valve amp I’ve ever had.
Using the glorious medium of social media I put a question out on out my personal FB about standby switches, their use and what would be the best way to deal with them, or even use them. I tagged some extremely (and some not so) reputable amp builders and asked the question “Can someone please tell me WHY we put valve/tube amps on standby”. I wanted to leave it generic, leave it open… Wanted to hear the opinions of the people who work in the business – let’s face it, 5 minutes on Google had given me so much conflicting information that I was about to switch to solidstate as they are obviously much better and less likely to melt your face or burn your house down. So, having done this I went away to do something else and when I came back didn’t expect the response I got, it would seem this is quite the talking point.
The simple answer to this question is there is no simple answer. It would appear that the standby switch is put in place mainly due to customer expectation than anything else! Here are some of the choice comments from some of the guys.
First to respond (within seconds) was Roland Lumby from The Amp Clinic in North West England, Roland is the go to man in the area for the maintaining and upkeep of your vintage and modern amps… He said “You put it in standby to stop it making a noise while the band takes a comfort break. There's no technical requirement! Using standby means you don't have to wait for the valves to warm up.” I must admit, this threw me a little as I was not expecting such a dismissive answer basically stating that the standby switch is just not ever needed. So, I read on…
Next up to offer something was James Hamstead of Hamstead Ampworks. “Better to turn the master down or unplug the guitar. Standby doesn't do the valves any good. The cathode emits electrons, but they have nowhere to go, so they go back down to the cathode. It's called cathode poisoning, and it will change the characteristic of the valves for the worse - noisier, reduce gain etc.” – The theory of cathode poisoning was bought up a couple of times. I must admit, this kind of made sense to me in a “sounds logical but I have zero scientific logic or reasoning to support my thought process” type of way. So, after this I started to think that maybe the standby switch would start to harm my amp rather than protect it?
Then in swoops Mike Fortin. Designer of signature amps of Ola Englund, Scott Ian and Kirk Hammett. So you know, he understands gain structures and valve amps! He just posted this link which to save you trawling through it (you should, it’s great and not that long) had the following line: “Fender essentially misinterpreted the requirements, and everyone else copied Fender. Leo tended not to put anything into the circuit that he felt was unnecessary - but he came from a repair background where a standby switch is a service convenience.” This was supported by Jamie Simpson of Booya Amplifiers. So, obviously – the valves carry a lot of juice when they are in full flow so you’ll want to restrict the flow to a safe level when servicing them, so the standby switch appears to have been put in to protect the health and safety of the people working on the amps rather than any need in normal operation. The article even goes as far as stating that the best way to deal with your standby switch is “Bypass the standby switch internally so that it does nothing.”
After this the answers started to get more specific and silly (it is Facebook after all) yet some interesting points were made. “Unnecessary if your output tubes see 500v or less. If they see 800 like in a musicman (on not half) it might prolong their non microphonic life” (Harald Nowark). “When you turn the first switch on you send 6.3 volts to the heaters... This warms the cathode which is treated or coated with material that promotes the expelling of electrons. By warming up the cathode before hitting the tube with high voltage it protects the coating on the cathode. When you take the amp off standby the big voltage hits the tube. Also, I think you should turn the entire amp off if you take more than a 10 minute break... No use baking your components for no reason when it only takes a minute to warm it back up....” (Phil Bradbury – Little Walter Tube Amps). Questions were asked about unplugging speakers in standby mode “Still wouldn’t do it” (James Hamstead) and so on and so forth. This really jumped out at me “You see all those amps warming up before a concert? They're not on standby... your amp won't start to cook (class A amps excepted) without the HV on, the amp barely gets warm with just the filaments (when biased right, I must add). And... it's not the tubes warming up that does the most for your tone... it's the electrolytic caps... the ESR goes way down as the temperature goes up... so warm your big tube amp up good before you play. Standby is good for soft-start... cathode stripping is not really a problem with indirectly-heated cathodes (like all tubes we use now), so using standby and separating the HV from the filaments just lowers the inrush current, doesn't really prolong cathode life. There have been wars fought over this, google cathode stripping for more. Cathode stripping happens to thoriated (directly heated filament) cathodes, found on large transmitting tubes.” (Stephen Cowell). “The standby switch is for convenience as a way of keeping your amp ready to go between sets or a quick way to mute when making changes to your rig. There have been millions of pieces of tube gear made (tv's, radios, hifi, etc) that never had standby switches and worked just fine. If there is any validity to the "cathode stripping" theory, let me just say I have seen more tubes blown from the instant surge coming off standby than from improper warm up. And yes, an amp does sound better after it is fully warmed, but you don't have to have a standby switch in order to warm it up. All this being said, most Shaw Amps will continue to be produced with standby switches for your convenience.” (Kevin Shaw – Shaw Audio)
In regard to Cathode Stripping, Roland made this excellent point: “During the 40s,50s and 60s, the best sound we heard was from a Juke Box. This machine stood all day, all week, for many years in the corner of the Cafe, waiting for the coin. How did it play right away? That's right, it was in standby. The valves were heated by the main jukebox transformer .. The amp had a mains transformer which was switched off, it fed the rectifier valve which was directly-heated (usually a 5U4) When you put a coin in, the amp transformer was powered up, and HT would appear after 5 seconds or so, quick enough to beat the record onto the player. This meant that the valves were running the heaters continuously. Cathode poisoning was such a problem that they would have to put a new set of valves in the Juke Box every thirty-forty years!”
Trace Davis, head of Voodoo Amplification came in with this marvellous insight, not only into the industry but to tone. “When it comes to manufacturing amps it’s a great deal easier & faster to include a Standby Switch than to deal with daily emails & phone calls from those asking 'Why is there no Standby Switch? My local tech said that's bad for the tubes?' As one can imagine daily emails & phone calls like this consumes a great deal of time so consequently most companies continue to implement Standby Switches as it’s more cost effective” and “To varying degrees this also enters into the topic of tone. Does an amp sound & feel better once the tubes have come up to temperature & the bias has settled in? In my very humble opinion, yes, so once you do engage the Standby Switch into the ready-to-be-played mode it takes a minute or so (depending on the design, how long the power switch has been on, etc) for everything to settle in to where the tone is consistent.”
To support this, Roland came in with “Trace is right about the amp sounding better when hot, particularly when the output valves get older, they don't achieve full emission until the cathode has been heated for around 2 to 5 minutes. This is actually testable, and is not speculation”.
So, you know, I could rip apart all the comments by all the fantastic amp builders and repairers who contributed but instead I will summarise with the following, written in language that we can all understand.
Your standby switch is a hangover from Fender being more interested in the early days of repair and servicing. In terms of normal playing, in a normal amp, your standby switch is pretty useless. It’s just there as we guitarists expect it. Your amp will probably sound better after a few minutes once everything has warmed up and settled down. Cathode Stripping, do you want to risk it? I don’t, so I won’t be leaving my amp on standby when I’m not playing it. I’ll just turn it off (as like most people, my amps sits in that fraction of a millimeter between “Can’t hear it?” and “Ermhagerd!” so turning the volume down isn’t really an option). Please do not turn your amp on at all without the speaker plugged in and please – if you love your amp - give your valves a few minutes (minimum) to cool down before moving your amp after use. And, of course, there are no user serviceable parts inside – leave it to the professionals!
And who said social media is full of cats, politics, beard combs and pictures of people’s lunch?
The Plexi Drive Deluxe is the next step in the evolution of the classic Plexi Drive, which is one of Brian’s earliest designs. He always wanted to be able to have those great Plexi tones used in classic rock recordings from AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and countless other bands on any amp he was using.Those famous guitarists would crank their plexi up to the max for massive walls of sound and sustain, but that's not always feasible in certain scenarios. Many famous players are still using the standard Plexi Drive today, from Brad Paisley to Jake Owen and countless rock and blues players (as well as other genres). For years since its release, customers have been requesting the circuit with added flexibility to help tailor the overdrive sound even more to whatever amp and guitar combo they were using. Brian tinkered with the circuit and added the active 3-band EQ, bass and bright boost switches, and an independent footswitchable pre gain boost. Thus the Plexi Drive Deluxe was born.
Our favorite part of the Plexi Deluxe is the immense tweakability of it. With the 3-band active EQ and two tone-shaping switches, you can tailor the pedal to match any guitar and amp combination to get that powerful, cranked plexi tone that has been driving classic music from every genre at whisper quiet or extremely loud levels. The EQ is fully integrated with the Post Gain circuit, so even the smallest tweaks can change your tone into a different flavor. Our other favorite part is the Pre Gain circuit. It’s based on the wildly popular overdrive that is famous for it’s mid-hump that people have been using to boost their plexi’s for years. Pairing the mid-based boost with the Plexi Drive’s circuit gives even more gain and tonal coverage to make it usable for any genre of music. The pre gain boost also works really well stacked with other overdrives and distortions for a great versatile boost to every pedal in your signal chain. The Plexi Deluxe works exceptionally well with any type of guitar, whether it's outfitted with single coils, humbuckers, P90's, etc. and isn't picky on what amp it goes into.
Volume: This knob controls the overall output of the Plexi Deluxe. Just like most overdrives it’s reactive to the gain control. As you raise the gain you may need to adjust the volume down to compensate, and vice versa. There’s plenty of volume on tap to set the gain low and boost the front of your amp with a fine-tuned boost on the EQ.
Bass: This controls the overall low-end frequencies of your overdrive signal. Being an active frequency control, you can add or remove low end from your signal. Removing it would help with bass-heavy amps if there’s too much thump to keep them from flubbing out. Adding in low end will fill out the sound and give your tone a thicker, meatier feel at lower gain levels, or to add some depth to a really bright amp. We suggest starting at Noon (which is neutral on the signal) and adding or subtracting from there. Small increments will open up sweet spots between different guitars and pickup positions.
Mids: This control dictates the overall mid-range presence in your overdrive tone. Also being an active EQ knob, you can add or remove the midrange to tailor the sound exactly to where you want it. Scooping the mids (counterclockwise) will yield an edgier and more aggressive, modern tone. Adding in mids (clockwise) will add midrange frequency which helps to cut through in a live mix, or to get some classic vintage recorded tones from the 60's and 70's. Similar to the bass control, we suggest starting at Noon and adjusting in increments from there. One thing to note is that adding in mids will typically increase the perceived volume of the overdrive, so you may need to adjust the volume knob accordingly to compensate.
Treble: This knob dictates how much overall high-end frequency is present in your overdrive signal. Just like the other EQ controls, it’s an active control and allows you to add or remove exactly the amount of high end you want. We always suggest starting at Noon, and adjusting from there. For extremely bright amps you could cut the treble and boost the bass, or on bass-heavy amps you can boost the treble by several dB’s and cut through the mix really well. This control works directly with the Post Gain knob, and will change the overall flavor of the overdrive.
Post Gain: This knob controls the overall amount of gain from the Plexi Deluxe. The range of overdrive available goes from a barely broken up, slightly hairy tone to full-on saturated rock n’ roll and all things between. At 9am there it will be as if you’re just starting to get some of that great plexi breakup, but the natural tone of your guitar still takes center stage. Heading up to Noon the added sustain and grit will really start to show and you’ll have that identifiable “KERANG” that plexi’s are known for (weird guitar term, but I think you get my meaning). Around 3pm there will be a major amount of overdrive happening, and the Plexi Deluxe emits the feeling of a powerful, cranked and screaming hot plexi amp. The gain is very reactive to your guitars volume knob, so rolling it back a bit will lower the gain while still maintaining volume for rhythm parts, then rolling it back up for solos for that extra saturated punch. For an overdrive pedal, the Plexi Deluxe has a considerable amount of gain, and just tweaking the knob will take you through all of the classic plexi tones from decades of great music in every genre. Running the pre gain boost will increase the amount of gain as well.
Pre Gain: The pre gain boost is is an independent footswitchble mid and gain boost that is based on a classic circuit that has been used for years by nearly every guitar player since its inception. This circuit is known to make tubes scream with a mid-presence that pairs wonderfully with other overdrives and distortions. With the one control knob, it will raise the volume and the gain in conjunction to give more of a punch to the Plexi side of the Plexi Deluxe, which will add gain and also help cut through the mix really well for leads. Because it is independent (it can be used by itself without requiring the plexi drive being engaged) it can be used with any overdrive or distortion on your board, or even as a standalone overdrive. Don't hesitate to crank that thing up well past Noon to get some great grit and sustain happening.
Bass Boost Switch: This switch is activated in the UP position, and disengaged in the down position. The bass boost changes the character of the overdrive by increasing the frequency which makes it feel like you’re going from into a cranked 4x12” cab (or two!). This isn’t a traditional bass boost which will make the drive fuzzier, but it evokes more feeling when playing live or recording. It works exceptionally well at lower volumes where it will make your tone seem much more full and 3-dimensional.
Bright Boost Switch: This switch is also engaged when it is in the UP position, disengaged will be pointed down. Activating the bright boost will add a crisp high-end frequency which works really well for dark amps or pickups, and it also gives your overdrive a different tonal sound and feel. It’s much more aggressive and bordering on the JCM territory with a more aggressive feel depending on how high the gain is set. Engaging this switch may warrant adjusting the active EQ section to find the sweet spot.
- 5” x 4.5” x 1.5″ in size (88.9mm x 114.3mm x 38.1mm) – height excludes knobs and switches
- Power draw: 22mA – Powered by a standard 9v center negative tip barrel connector (Boss style) or an internal 9v batter. The Plexi Deluxe can be run from 9v up to 18v, and doing so will increase the headroom and the overall openness of the overdrive.
- True bypass, top mounted jacks and soft switches
You can read more about the Plexi Drive Deluxe or purchase factor direct HERE.
Tom Quayle is one of the premier fusion guitarists in the UK, who is well known for his vast knowledge of music theory and is leading the forefront in terms of instructional material to help guitarists develop their technique and hone their fretboard knowledge all over the world. His legato speed and fluidity is nearly unbelievable to watch and his ear for tone is absolutely spectacular. In 2012 Tom was already using our pedals, and he and Jason Wilding struck up a great friendship. The Dual Fusion came about when Tom was discussing with Jason about how much he loved the Euphoria and Paisley drives, and how he enjoyed stacking them in different combinations to create his signature fusion sound. Fast forward about a year and it was decided that they would make a perfect pairing for a dual pedal, but there were a few things Tom wanted modified to suit his fusion playing style better. A few changes included removing some switch positions that he didn’t use, as well as the bass knob from the Euphoria side, but he wanted more transparency and clarity most of all, along with a certain response in the gain structure. The result is the Tom Quayle Signature Dual Fusion. (Note, there is a video at the very bottom of the blog where Travis Feaster compares the Dual Fusion to the Paisley Drive and Euphoria).
Our favorite part about the Dual Fusion is the ability to setup the switching order exactly how you would want it. 1 into 2, 2 into 1, or each side set independently through different loops and combos of other pedals. This allows for infinite tone shaping options and combinations, limited only by the imagination (and cabling!). They are made to be fantastic standalone overdrives, but stacked the magic combines into a “fusion” (sorry for the pun) of smooth and sustaining gain, while still remaining transparent and sparkling with the original guitar tone always taking center stage. This video will show you a brief description on how the switching system is setup:
The Dual Fusion is extremely versatile due to this switching option setup, and it works really well paired with humbuckers, singlecoils, P90’s and all things between. The Dual Fusion reacts directly with the guitar at the heart of it’s tone, so if you love the sound of your guitar into the amp but with loads of tweakable tone-shaping options, then this is the pedal that will do it.
Volume(s): These knobs control the overall output of each side of the Dual Fusion. The level of the volume to reach unity depends on the type of guitar and where the gain knob is set on each side. If the gain is higher, then you won’t need the volume as high, where if the gain is low you’ll have to raise the volume to compensate. This pedal overall is not excessively loud, so don’t be afraid to turn it up a bit to reach the level that you want. That being said, there’s still enough volume on tap on both sides to give a boost to the front of your amp for some great amp breakup.
Tone(s): The tone knobs dictate the amount of high end and presence each side of the Dual Fusion has. Counterclockwise will yield a darker, warmer tone with less accentuated highs, which works really well for bright guitars and amps to tune your overdrive precisely to where the sweet spot it. Clockwise it will increase the high end content of the overdrive and give it a much brighter and punchier tone, which is fantastic for humbuckers and inherently darker amps. A good place to start is a Noon, and making small incremental adjustments from there. The tone knobs react differently based on which position the Voicing switches are at on each side of the pedal. Adjusting the voicing switches may require you to adjust the tone up or down to find the sweet spot in that configuration.
- Side 1 (Vintage): The Smooth setting is based more on the classic *D*-style amplifier (the name rhymes with Rumble ;-) ) . The touch response is much smoother and the EQ is a bit more neutral in terms of any particular frequency being accentuated. It works equally well on any pickup selection, adding a richness to your tone even at the lowest gain settings. In this position the Tone knob may warrant a bit extra high end to cut through the mix, or to make it even smoother you can reduce the tone knob towards the counterclockwise direction. This is the preferred setting of Tom Quayle. The Fat setting has a much more pronounced midrange and more accentuated lows and low mids. This works really well for fattening up single coils or cutting through the band mix. There’s a bit of a volume bump and overall less overdrive than the Smooth setting. In this position you may want to lower the tone knob to compensate for the jump in midrange, or raise it as a boost for your tone on solos and control the output with your guitar's knobs.
- Side 2 (Modern): The Throaty setting has warm EQ profile, which accentuates the midrange but still allows your tone to shine through like a naturally breaking up amp. This particular setting works great for rhythm chording, and it allows each note to bloom into a beautiful space of tonal bliss. There's very 3-Dimensional character to this voicing that works in all genre's of music. The Natural setting has a much more even EQ profile that lets all of the frequencies work together to give the most transparent feel while still fattening up your tone. This works really well if you love the sound of your amp but want a bit more “oomph” to sound like you’re pushing your amp into sweet sustaining overdrive.
Gain: The gain structure is really where the two sides differentiate the most. Side 1 (Vintage) has a much more open and natural gain profile, which lends itself to sound like your amp breaking up instead of a pedal doing the work. This side is the brighter of the two, and sounds great paired with humbuckers and singlecoils alike. At 9am there is a slight bit of hair added to the notes, but the guitar’s natural tone takes front and center stage. At Noon, there’s a bit more edge but with the clarity of an amp starting to breakup. Around 3pm there’s loads of added sustain and crunch, but it remains transparent and lets the natural tone of the guitar shine through. The gain is very reactive to picking dynamics, so picking lightly will give a sweet clean tone with light grit and smooth sustain. Digging in and picking more aggressively will give much more grit and sustain and really sounds like an amp overdriving, but at manageable volumes. This is imperative for fusion playing as well as most any other style of music because it allows the player to adjust their gain on the fly just by altering their touch. Side 2 (Modern) has a different feel overall and is the perfect companion to side 1. Side 2 has a more aggressive feel, with the gain structure being overall fatter, with a thicker sound, as well as being the darker of the two channels. At 9am, there’s a nice punch to your tone with some added grit that fattens up your lead playing and lets the notes bloom. At Noon, there’s more sustain and grit, and it also fattens up and has more edge on your natural tone that works great for blues and rock. At 3pm there’s a considerable amount of gain and sustain, and it covers everything from smooth fusion playing to even modern rock music.
Stacked together the two sides create a layered overdrive that fills out the sonic space tonally, but still retains your guitars natural character. Depending on which way you stack the overdrives, it will give different results. 1 into 2 will yield a fatter sustain and overdrive that’s pushed by the clarity of the vintage side into a rich, creamy overdrive with some sparkle. 2 into 1 will yield a more open, transparent gain with sparkly highs and a tight, sustaining bottom end.
- 5” x 4.5” x 1.5″ (88.9mm x 114.3mm x 38.1mm) – height excludes knobs and switches
- All Analog, True Bypass
- Power draw: 16mA – Powered via negative center tip barrel-type power (Boss style) or an internal 9v battery connector.
- Switchable stacking order (1 into 2, 2 into 1 or you can completely separate them).
The Triple Wreck is intended to be a meeting ground of the famous 5150 amps and those great Mesa-Boogie amps known for their high gain aggressive crunch and tight distortion sound. The goal was to have it versatile enough to cover a lot of tonal ground, but still stay true to the characteristics of what makes those amps special and combine the elements into the ultimate high gain distortion. It had to have a flexible EQ structure, and in typically Brian fashion there had to be a switch to give more options to shaping the tone. Last but not least he added a contained boost that could go from a slight standard gain boost to full on fuzz destruction. The result was the Triple Wreck distortion.
Our favorite part of the Triple Wreck is how the bass reacts to the gain level. Many distortion pedals “flub” out as the gain goes up and lose definition, where the Triple Wreck retains that tight bottom end even with the gain maxed. It sounds fantastic no matter what type of pickups you’re using, but it really comes alive with humbuckers on a detuned guitar especially. It’s just a full on hard rock and metal pedal that will melt faces, and at the current time has the most gain of all of our pedals on tap.
Volume: This knob controls the overall output of the distortion. With the volume fully counter-clockwise, there will be no output whatsoever, no matter how high your gain knob is set. Being a distortion, there’s a lot of volume on tap, but it’s designed more for using it as a distortion and not necessarily a boost. Just like most Wampler pedals, unity on the volume knob is dependent on where the gain is set. Lower gain will require the volume to be set higher, and on the flip side with the gain up you could reduce the volume to reach unity. A good place to start is putting the volume at 11am, and adjust the amount of gain you want and your EQ, then set the volume to a bit above unity.
Treble: The knob controls the amount of high end frequencies that are heard on the distortion signal. The amps that this pedal tries to emulate were known for a biting high end presence and aggressive feel, so that’s what Brian wanted to capture in the range of the knob. Counter-clockwise will reduce the amount of high end content, smoothing out the drive and fattening it up a bit. Clockwise will add in some high end content and give your notes some extra clarity and biting sustain that’s great for lead work. Starting at Noon on this knob and adjusting from there to match your guitar and amp is the best advice. Don’t be afraid to add a bit of highs in there to cut through the mix.
Mids: This knob dictates the amount of midrange that’s present in the distortion signal. There’s a wide range to increase versatility for aggressive scooped metal to more mid-heavy classic metal and rock. Counter-clockwise on the knob will scoop the mids, giving a much more modern and djenty sound that works really well for modern aggressive metal and thrash as well as harder rock. Clockwise on the knob will give you more midrange presence, giving more body and filling out the sound of your distortion tone. Adding mids will help cut through the mix in a live setting. Where you set this will be dependent on where you have the Hard/Brutal switch set. Start at Noon and adjust to match your amp from there.
Bass: This knob controls the overall low-end frequencies that are present in the distortion signal. The bass on the Triple Wreck is what sets it apart from other high gain distortions out there. No matter where the gain is set, the bass retains it’s tightness and doesn’t flub out. Counter-clockwise on the knob will remove some of the bass frequencies, which works really well for bass-heavy amps or to not make the speaker cabinet rumble too hard and add some clarity. Clockwise on the knob will add more bass frequencies to the distortion signal, adding a depth and a girth to the tone that is a staple of those great amps that it’s trying to emulate. Start the knob off at Noon and adjust from there to achieve the desired amount of thump in your signal.
Gain: This knob controls the amount of clipping and distortion on your signal. Being a high gain distortion, you’ve got a boat load of gain on tap through the entire gain range. It can be run for a slight distortion with some added girth and grit, but we feel that it shines as you crank the gain past Noon. Once you rotate the knob clockwise, the clipping and sustain and overall ballsy crunch will become much more saturated and in your face. The gain range runs from light distortion that lets your guitars natural tone shine through, to full-on saturated shred, punk, modern rock, and djenty. The gain structure changes based on where the Voicing switch is set, so on Hard mode it’ll be more neutral and Brutal will be much more aggressive and cutting. This thing is a behemoth of METAL!
Boost Contour: This knob controls a footswitchable boost. The boost knob only works when the Triple Wreck’s distortion is engaged, and it provides a few extra options for adding gain to you signal. Counter-clockwise will add more standard gain, which can be great for sustaining leads or for all out raw saturation. Rotating the knob clockwise will actually make the gain fuzzier, to the point at fully clockwise it sounds like you’re playing a fuzz. This can add some versatility to solos by introducing something different in the mix with loads of fat sustain that will remind you of a great Big Muff.
Hard/Brutal Voicing Switch: This switch governs the overall tonal character the distortion has. On the Hard selection, it’s much more neutral and even with all frequencies standing together on a unified front of harmonic glory (this side is perfect for classic rock and metal, and even like EVH’s tone on the Live in Tokyo Dome album). The Brutal side puts more emphasis on the high end frequency and makes it much more aggressive and heavy sounding with stinging gain that’s perfect for brutal modern metal and shred. Set this control first then tweak the gain and EQ to match your rig to find your perfect sound.
- 5.0″ x 4.50″ x 1.5″ (88.9mm x 114.3mm x 38.1mm) – height excludes knobs and switches
- Soft relay switching and top-mounted jacks.
- Power draw: 23mA – Runs off of 9v negative center barrel tip plug (Boss style) or an internal connector for a 9v battery. We don’t suggest running the Triple Wreck at 18v because the way the circuit is designed it will sound better at 9v.
- There have been a few iterations of the Triple Wreck; most notable change is the switch from a massive enclosure to a more manageable sized enclosure, and the latest version has been converted to top jacks and soft switches.
You can check out the Triple Wreck more and purchase direct HERE.
Jason and I were discussing rigs, and the topic of dream rigs came up in the conversation. We figured it would be an interesting look at what each one of us would consider our own personal “dream rig.” The idea was if money weren't an issue, what would your ultimate rig look like. This has been a tough one for me, because I'm completely addicted with GAS so my tastes will change by tomorrow. Alas, this is my checkpoint for this day in time.
DISCLAIMER: I’m a telecaster man at heart, have been for about 12 years. I’m very fortunate to have found my favorite teles that fit me perfectly in 2005 that were built by Bill Crook, and they are always my go-to’s for every situation. Looking at what would be great to accompany it though, would be a really nice Strat. I’m completely ashamed to say that I don’t actually own a strat that is in playable condition (I have a 2000 MIM, but it needs serious work that I got for dirt cheap). So, I’ve taken to imagining my perfect strat, because what rig is complete without one?
I would have my strat built by Bill Crook at Crook Custom Guitars, because I’ve had the greatest success in the world with Bill’s work, and I swear he knows what I’m thinking in terms of manifesting my dream into reality. It helps that he’s the coolest and nicest guy in the world too. The neck is easy, I mean super easy. My specs would be the following:
- Radius: 7 1/4 - 9 1/2 compound
- Fretwire: 6105
- Shape: .830 C
- Nut Width: 1.650
- Maple neck (unfinished)
- Indian Rosewood fretboard with pearloid dot inlays
- Vintage style Gotoh tuners.
The body would be light Ash and would look basically just like this with the sienna sunburst (disregard the tele neck):
It would have a Callaham bridge locked to the body like a hardtail (I never use trem, but like to have the option should I change my mind).
Bareckuckle Irish Tour pickups in cream with a matching pickguard, Bill's custom wiring and full setup. My cousin has nearly identical this setup (with Emerson custom wiring, which I can't recommend enough), and it's by far one of the best sounding strats I've ever played in my life (it actually gave me strat GAS for the first time in many years). The one thing that I would do to the change up the wiring would be to make the bottom tone control a master tone control for all of the pickups (like a tele), then move the volume down to the middle position and not have a 3rd knob near the strings. That's one reason I've never bonded with strats is because every time I get into playing hard my hand ends up bumping the volume down or up. That would completely eliminate that issue.
This is a tough one. My board would essentially be filled with Wampler gear (like it already is), and loads of delays like the Faux Tape Echo, Wheelhouse Lo-Fi delay, a special prototype Brian sent for us to see, a Gurus Echosex 2 and some other expensive boutique delays. There would be loads of dirt....overdrive, fuzz, distortion, alll of it. I would definitely have my modded tall font green russian big muff, and a few prototypes from Brian that I have cooking up in my head. By the time it was said and done I'd likely need two huge boards and someone to carry my rig around for me because of the sheer amount of pedals that I love. I'm a bit obsessed with pedals and switch up often, so it would be cool to have a huge board or multiple boards to have access to my entire pedal collection.
I run a stereo rig now and absolutely love it, so I would probably keep with that idea. My dream setup? A Dr. Z Z-Wreck head with matching 2x12 cab loaded with Celestion blue and gold, and the second I’m torn between a Marshall Bluesbreaker and a Marshall 2203 JCM800 Reissue with a 4x12 filled with greenbacks....so I suppose all 3 would work in addition to my Wampler Coyote 20 for the brownface stuff. I’d have an amp switcher to run each independently or together in stereo (eat your heart out Joe Bonamassa, haha). There’s a considerable amount of volume difference between the two, but that’s what makes it exciting is trying to get them to work together into a cohesive sounding rig.