Talking about gear (106)
As gigging musicians, there is often one person at each of our shows that has a major influence over our guitar tone other than us– yes, I’m talking about the “Sound Guy”. Some Sound Guys run their sound boards like master helmsmen at wheel of a giant ship and do an incredible job of making sure sound levels are perfect, there’s not too much guitar in the monitor mix, and the mic placement on each cab is absolutely spot on. On the other hand, there are some “Sound Guys” that probably know what a PA is, might or might not know how to adjust the controls and/or mix the band in, and know that – a mic should go in front of the cab, but have absolutely know idea where it should or shouldn’t go.
By incorrectly placing a mic on a cab, your tone can be potentially ruined through the House PA all night. Too muffled or to “ice-picky” can drive a Tone Chaser nuts! No one wants to have to battle with their tone back and forth all night. While we might not be able to control how good the sound guy is, we can have control of where we place a mic on our cabinet. In this article, I’m going to briefly run through where to place a mic on your cab to produce the optimum amount of tone.
So the simplest, biggest rule when deciding on where to place your mic on your cab is: the high frequencies are typically strongest at the center of the speaker and will drop off towards the edge. This means, if you are half way through your set and you can’t stand how muffled your amp sounds through the house – move the mic closer to the center of the speaker. Vis-versa if your tone is too “ice picky high” move the mic closer to the edge/ outside of the speaker.
You can also fine-tune your tone by rotating your mic at an angle; this method is also referred to as miking “Off Axis”. Off Axis mic placement can help take off some more subtle highs and lows from your tone if you don’t need to drastically change your sound; but still want to tweak it a little bit. This method is often used when micing Alnico speakers. Personally, my favorite mic position on my cab is an off axis edge position – for my rig, its a happy medium mic placement – this position allows me to capture both high and low frequencies smoothly.
So how many speakers of the cab should you mic? Through personal experience, I like to put just one mic on the speaker and the EQ it through the house board. Sometimes if you use 2 mics on one cab, it can sometimes create an undesirable phasing issues. So keep it simple – one mic, one speaker, dial in the EQ at the board – great and easy tone through the house all night long!
While mic placement is not necessarily an exact science, these simple rules will help you have a little more control of your live tone on stage. So the next time you find yourself battling with your tone through the house PA remember – you might be able to have a little better tone by simply adjusting the mic… You just might make the sound guy look a little better too.
- Max Jeffrey
If you look at the entire product line of Wampler Pedals you will see a plethora of overdrives that often emulate famous amps. Some gear heads out there call these (A.I.A.B.) or for the non-initiated – Amp In A Box. So what is an “amp in a box” type of pedal good for and how is it used? While there is no right or wrong way to use an A.I.A.B. pedal – I want to tell you about the two ways I personally use them.
My personal favorite way to use an amp in a box type of pedal is - as a tone shaper. For example, lets say that I am using a Vox style of amp and some other pedals for a gig. That’s a great a tone. But being guitar players – after 4 hours of hearing the same tone at a gig – you might want something different – or in my case, you just get bored. This is where I introduce tone-shaping pedals to my pedal board. With something like the Black 65 or the Tweed 57 I can effectively help shape the tone of my current amp to help emulate those tones. This is a cool way, for me at least, to help create different tonal options for songs that might be very different from one another.
When using an A.I.A.B. type pedal as a tone shaper you can create more in-depth layers of tone by stacking different boosts and gains with it. You can stack dirt pedals either before or after it to make your rhythm tones a little chunkier or to add just something extra to your leads/ solos.
The second way to use an amp in the box type of pedal is to use it as a gain stage. An A.I.A.B. can help you create some monster lead tones when you crank it up after your boosts or gain/dirt pedals. Essentially, this method would be very similar to running your favorite dirt pedal into an amp that has been cranked up!
You can also stack multiple A.I.A.B.s together to help create some interesting tones. Again, there is no right or wrong way to use amp in a box type of pedals, these are just two ways that we personally like to use here at Wampler HQ. So get out there and experiment!
- Max (Wampler Pedals)
This week I wanted to take some time and talk about A.C./ D.C. (Alternating Current and Direct Current – not about one of the arguably best rock bands of all time.) Frequently I have customers ask me about what kind of power supplies they should use to power their pedals. While there are several great options out there – I wanted to just go over a few of our favorite options here at the shop.
Most pedals run off of a 9 Volt battery/ power supply. Most all of your off-the-shelf batteries will power up your pedals just fine with 9 Volt D.C. power. While most all of your off-the-shelf 9 Volt batteries are very close to providing 9 volts, not all of those batteries will register a perfect 9 volts when tested with a multi-meter. If you test a 9 volt battery with a multi-meter your battery might read anywhere from 8.5-9.4 volts (give or take). Your pedal’s tone can sometimes fluctuate depending on how much power that pedal is receiving. Dirt pedals with weaker batteries can often sound muddier or have a weaker output. Delay, reverb, compressors, and some other types of non-dirt pedals will actually start clipping and will often times sound bad. Depending on your rig/ setup - this tone can some times be desirable to certain players. Wah pedal often fall under the same category. Many players claim that slightly weaker batteries produce a sweater tone. Recently, I tested this theory with a 9-volt battery from a smoke detector (I replaced the old smoke detector battery with a new one). I’m happy to report that it did in fact change the tone for the better!! While some pedals work better with drained batteries some pedals need a full charge or better yet a dedicated power supply – most often times modulation pedals, like delay pedals, fall under this category. Many fuzz pedals fall under this category as well and will sound different, often times better, with a lower level of power from a weaker battery.
A One-Spot or a Daisy-Chain type power supply is often a great option for smaller pedal boards or players that are on a limited budget. If you are looking for a lightweight option to power only a couple pedals, these types of power supplies will do the trick. A Daisy Chain type of power supply provides several D.C. barrel adapters on a single string of wire to provide your pedals with power. This will cut down on your need for remembering batteries at a gig. Because of this uninterrupted power flow, sometimes certain types of pedals will not “play nice together”. Some delays and some dirt pedals with these types of power supplies will create ground loops/ unwanted hum and other potentially annoying signal interference in your rig.
Another popular option, and one of my personal favorites, is an isolated power supply. Isolated power supplies are made by several companies and greatly range in price. ISO power supplies, like Voodoo Labs, are often times heavier, larger, and more expensive. However, with a dedicated/ isolated power supply provided for each pedal, a player can effectively eliminate any unwanted ground-hum noise that may occur. (Like a bar with a hundred neon signs). Although some ground noise my still come through on occasions, a lot of it is taken care of. Most of these types of power supplies will regulate the current going in to your pedal at a nearly perfect 9 Volts. However, some isolated power supplies will have dip-switches that will allow you to “sag” your power to certain pedals to allow you to achieve that dead battery tone that some players have come to love.
So which option will work best for you? If budget allows and you have room on your pedal board – I personally think an isolated power supply, like a Voodoo Labs, is the way to go. But if space, weight, or budget is an issue there is absolutely nothing wrong with a Daisy chain/ One-Spot style power supply or even a good old-fashion store bought 9 Volt batteries. You be the judge!
- Max Jeffrey
For most us tone chasers, there are few memories as strong as the first time you plugged in to your very first tube amp. For some of us, that memory was at your local guitar shop, for others it was sneaking in to our big brothers room while he was away, while yet others it was a special occasion like a birthday or Christmas. For me, it was the latter; Christmas morning of 1997. I had saved money all summer long bailing hay and had over half of the money saved for a brand new Fender Hotrod DeVille 2x12”. My parents surprised me for Christmas by paying off the remainder of my balance at my local music shop and having it under the tree me.
For most us, the switch from solid-state amplifiers to tube amplifiers was a tonal game changer! From the warm glow of the tubes and the slowly lighting of the jewel light, to definitive click of the on/off switch and this new switch called “stand-by” - I was hooked! Every chance I got, I cranked up my amp up louder and louder so I could get that natural saturation from compressing the tubes harder and harder – often times with much annoyance from relatives and the neighbors.
The only tradeoff was the weight! For me, going from a mass-produced 15 watt 1x10” combo that weighed under 20 pounds to this 2x12” 70 pound behemoth was a drastic difference. But while my young back screamed with my pain, my eyes wept with joy at having the ability to closer achieving the tone I kept hearing on the radio from some of my favorite artist.
Although years later, I own a couple of different amps now (different circuits, different tubes/ tube configurations, a plethora of different speakers in various different sizes.) I still get a certain thrill thinking about that amp and the first time I ever fired it up. That amp has been through the ringer for sure – from numerous gigs, rehearsals, bedroom practicing, re-tubing, re-capping, and new speakers – it is still with me. Every now and then I feel nostalgic and fire up that amp and crank it! Although I still have to watch my volume with the neighbors, I no longer have to worry about the annoyance from the relatives – just the fiancé.
So now that I have shared my first tube amp story with you, we would love to hear what your first tube amp was too! So tell us, what was your first tube amp?
- Max Jeffrey (Wampler Pedals Associate)
As a self-proclaimed gear nerd and tone chaser, as I’m sure many of us are, we often obsess over the major components of our guitar rig while we are on the quest for that perfect slice of tone we hear in our head. Whether it’s a vintage or modern guitar or amp, one off pedals or mass-produced pedals – we are all guilty of going to our favorite music store and playing them all to try and find “the tone”. However, we often times don’t think about the smallest and cheapest component of our rig… the lowly plectrum!
The plectrum, or pick, comes in a variety of different materials, shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. While there is no hard and fast rule to what pick will be the most comfortable in your hands- there are a couple things to think about as far as thickness and material of a pick; and how they can shape your sound.
Material is often something we don’t think about when it comes to choosing a pick. Different materials that picks are made of will help produce different tones and dynamics. Some common mass produced picks are made of tortex, polyurethane (plastic), nylon, celluloid, and acrylic. But the list doesn’t stop at just those materials. Some traditional picks are made of wood, felt, and tortoise shell. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top swears that the secret to his tone is a metal Peso that he uses as a pick.
Nylon, poly/ acrylic, ultem, and celluloid type picks can help brighten up darker tones. The interaction between this pick material and the metal strings of your guitar – can produce higher frequencies that some darker rigs might be lacking. Picks made out of tortex, delrex, and similar materials can often have the opposite effect and give your rig a darker or a more mid-scooped response. These types of picks can often help tame bright sounding guitars and amps.
Pick thicknesses are often times just as broad as the materials that they are made out of. On average - pick thicknesses range from extra thin (usually around .44mm or less) to extra thick (usually around 1.50mm or higher). Thinner picks can often times help with strumming patterns and players that want to play sweeping style movements. Thicker picks will help with individual note definition and produce a heavy, more robust, and often times louder sound.
My personal "pick" has traditionally been of the celluloid variety in a heavier gauge. Lately however, I have been playing a heavy gauge acrylic pick from the guys at Gravity Picks. My note to note definition sounds better than ever. I typically have a darker tone and celluloid or acrylic style picks help give me some of the higher tones that my rig sometimes lacks.
Ultimately, you are the creator of your own music and the pick that you are most comfortable using at the end of the day is all that matters. No one but you can decide which pick to choose or what thickness to use. So get out there and try a couple different brands, thicknesses, and materials and find the one that will never leave your pocket – except to play your guitar.
- Max Jeffrey (Wampler associate)
While browsing through gear forums and threads, you might run across the term “sag” occasionally when referring to different pedals or amps. So what is sag and is it good or bad?
Sag and compression are often times synonymous terms. When a tube amplifier is cranked up hot and loud, the tubes will naturally start to compress, or sag while being pushed. This natural occurring compression is helping to create that wonderful tube breakup tone that so many of us are in love with.
Some of our favorite pedals, Wampler and non-Wampler, are designed to help create this phenomenon to make your pedal sound more natural and responsive – just like a tube amplifier. Sometimes a player will need/ want sag in their tone. Fender amplifiers, especially blackface style amps, have some very characteristic sag that makes them sound wonderful. Sag in fuzz pedals can also be a very positive attribute at times as well. (Giving you that big and heavy 60’s fuzz type tones for example.)
Occasionally, players do experience too much sag/ compression in their tone. Sometimes you will read about players that experience a sudden loss of volume when playing a high output guitar through a high gain pedal.
An example might look something like this:
“Whenever I play my Les Paul with burst-buckers through my Wampler Pinnacle Distortion, I temporarily have volume loss from my signal on the first few power chords that I play. The signal sounds almost delayed or ‘soft and squished’. This problem doesn’t occur when I use my Telecaster or Stratocaster – just my Les Paul.”
This is a perfect example of sag! As you probably already know, the higher the output of your pickup (Big overwound or hot humbuckers for instance) the harder you will drive the circuit of your pedal. Just like a regular tube amp, when the pedal’s signal is pushed – the signal will start to naturally sag.
However, this problem doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy your favorite high output pickup guitar and your favorite high gain guitar pedal together again. Don’t let your sag be a drag – this problem is often times very simple to fix. Often times sag and compression issues with a pedal can be alleviated - by lowering your pickup height. (Check out Brian's pickup spacing on his Whitfill telecaster below). So how much do you lower the pickup height? Honestly, it’s a trial and error approach. Make small adjustments with a screwdriver to the screws on each side of your pickup equally, until you hear the desired amount of sag in your signal.
Sometimes when you lower your pickups to make one pedal sound better, it might not make another pedal in your chain sound like it did before you lowered your pickups.
For example: By lowering the height of your pickups – you made your high gain distortion sound better, but now your Tube-Screamer doesn’t sound as beefy as it did on the old settings. When you lower your guitar’s pickups – you will at times need to adjust your pedal’s volume, tone, and/or dirt settings to achieve the unity with your other pedals.
Some pedals will naturally sound better with higher pickups rather than lower pickups; in this case you may have to decide which pedals you like the best with which guitars. In the same way that some guitars sound best with different amps, some pedals naturally sound better with different guitars. This isn't a hard and fast rule! Every component of a rig has a unique sound to it and all your gear works together to form your individualized tone.
So is sag a bad or a good thing? When used in proper doses, sag can make your tone sound more robust and can add color to your solos while helping you to achieve some killer tone! So how much sag will you need? Only you can answer that one, so get out there and add or take away as much sag as you want until you achieve the perfect amount you hear in your head!
- Max Jeffrey (Wampler Associate)
What defines a “good” reverb? The recording engineer will define it one way, the concert pianist another, and the guitar player yet another. An engineer craves a myriad of options and a super-low noise floor, and these days, probably integration with their DAW of choice. A concert pianist or opera singer merely desires a realistic representation of an outstanding acoustic environment. But we guitar players are a curious lot. For many of us, the term “reverb” produces an unusual evocation; one formed by the equally unusual effect of audio passing through long metal springs. Unusual or not, the now seemingly archaic practice of producing “reverb” by sending a guitars signal happily bouncing down a long spring produces more than just a sound that emulates a large acoustic space; it produces magic.
Some accounts credit Laurens Hammond of Hammond Organ Company fame with inventing spring reverb in the 1940’s; other accounts contend that Hammond was second to Bell Laboratories, who rumor has it was experimenting with the concept as early as the mid 1930’s. Just exactly who and when doesn’t really matter; what matters is this: the distinctive sound of spring reverb is literally as old as, or even older than, the electric guitar itself. Those original Hammond reverb tanks were things of aural beauty, and they were really “tanks”; with comparatively huge springs hanging literally in tanks of oil.
It was, of course, Leo Fender who introduced the greater guitar-playing world to the magic of spring reverb, and his “tanks” were made by the Hammond Organ Company in good old Illinois, USA.
For the most part, when discerning guitar players talk in hushed tones about the hallowed golden sound of spring reverb, it’s those wonderful vintage US made tanks from the 1950’s and 60’s they hold in such high esteem. The warm-fuzzy golden goodness of vintage spring reverb is undeniable. Also undeniable is the fact that for most gigging guitarists these days, such vintage reverberation is just not particularly feasible. Not only are vintage reverb units or vintage amps that contain vintage tanks expensive, they can be unreliable. No one can blame a delicate little spring that’s been banging around under tension for decades for not being able to keep up with the rigors of the road, and so most vintage units are now enjoying the rest they so exhaustively earned, living a pampered life of luxury in a studio or honored vintage collection.
So where does that leave us? Where do we turn to get our reverb fix? For most of us this has been a difficult question. Once you have basked in the glory that is vintage spring reverb, it’s hard to accept anything less. The current production spring tanks don’t sound as good as the old ones, are still prone to damage, and can, of course, still make some really offensive noises when jostled about. For those of us who on occasion are required to travel with only a modest pedal-board the problem is particularly poignant. And so the decision is made by most guitar players: we need a reverb “pedal”.
Those of us old enough to remember the pre-digital days also remember the pre-digital “reverb” pedals, which were not really reverb at all. These things were actually the product of a bunch of short analog “bucket-brigade” delays. The sound produced was, well, interesting; but it was most decisively NOT reverb. When switched on, these things hissed like a serpent, and when switched off they sucked all the high-frequencies plumb out of your tone. To add insult to injury, these behemoth pedals also generally required a proprietary 18-volt (or higher) power supply, too.
The late 1980’s ushered in the first “digital” reverb pedals. Like their analog forerunners, these things were generally large, power-hungry beasts; they also hissed like mad and sucked tone even when switched off. The “reverb” was at least approaching the sound of true reverb, but compared to a good spring tank … well … there just plain WAS no comparison. Even the reverb pedals of the late 90’s and into the early 2000’s left much to be desired. Generally the evolution of digital pedals went the same direction as all digital “revolutions”; they just kept heaping on features. Once you convert a guitars signal into a stream of ones and zeros, it’s pretty much possible to rearrange those digits to mangle the result in any number of ways. The problem is that most folks don’t actually like the sound of rearranged ones and zeros. To a discerning guitar player this digital process can bring about grave consequences. Cheap pickups, bad tubes, inexpensive speakers; these can all provoke a pretty objectionable tone, but they don’t hold a candle to decomposing a signal into representative ones and zeros, rearranging those ones and zeros, and putting them back together. This is exactly what most digital reverb pedals do.
If the story were to end here, it would be a sad story; but it doesn’t, and it isn’t. As of this writing, at least one company, Wampler Pedals, is producing a digital reverb pedal that accomplishes everything we want a reverb pedal to do, while avoiding those things we strongly require it to not do. The Wampler “Faux Spring” reverb pedal uses a very advanced and proprietary digital spring reverb emulation circuit that is among the finest available, one which bears absolutely no resemblance to the digital reverb “chips” commonly found in reverb pedals. This complex circuit was not designed to mangle ones and zeros in a nearly infinite number of ways. This circuit is designed with one solitary goal: to provide true “spring” reverb. And, as for that terribly distasteful process of taking your guitars signal, converting it into ones and zeros and spitting it back out, this pedal avoids that digital carnage by NOT Converting the guitars dry signal at all, the non-effected (dry) signal remains pure in its analog form. The reverb may be digital, but the guitar tone most certainly is not.
Is this the final chapter? That’s hard to say. Once Leo Fender discovered the magic of the spring reverb tank, it remained the sole source of reverb at Fender throughout his years of ownership. However, if Leo was alive and at the helm of the company that bears his name today, I can’t help but feel he would be giving this “faux spring” thing some serious consideration. Likewise, if the Brian Wampler’s of today continue to tinker and innovate, it seems inevitable that the state of the reverb pedal will continue its upward trajectory. Personally, I’d like one that is super-tiny, self-powered and needs no batteries or external power source, and … oh … sounds JUST like the reverb in my vintage blackface Fender Vibrolux.
To a few of you, the very term “scatter-winding” may be new. It was to me not long ago. I was introduced to the term while reading the Book: The Fender Inside Story by Leo Fender’s right hand man, Forrest White. Forrest pointed out that those highly sought after “pre-CBS” pickups were wound entirely by hand without the precision of modern machine-winding techniques. Those pickups were “scatter-wound”, or in other words, they weren’t perfect. The windings did NOT fall neatly, one nestled tightly to the next. This scatter wind was not a design intention; it was simply a natural result of the human process.
Another interesting tidbit from Mr. White’s book: Leo made those pickup winding machines himself. As was the case with so much of what Mr. Fender was doing in the early days, he was breaking new ground in winding pickups. There was no commonly accepted “correct” way to do it. And so Leo sourced the motors he thought would work best, concocted his own apparatus for cradling and directing the wire and for holding the pickup bobbins in place. His celebrated drive mechanism: a rubber-band. Turns out there were no drive belts available that had the right amount of “give” for the delicate wire he was using.
And so it is that young ladies, often seamstresses by training, wound pickups on machines driven by rubber bands. That would not really be much of a story if not for this fact: they were not just ANY pickups, they were THE pickups. The pickups that defined early American Rock & Roll. The pickups of the “surf” sound. Buddy Holly’s pickups. James Burton’s pickups. Jimi Hendrix’s pickups. You get the idea. This list has no end. These are the pickups that reside in some of the most valuable and desired guitars the world has ever known, or likely will ever will. Holy Grail tone? In a word, yes.
Today there are a few small American companies winding pickups by hand the way Fender did in the “Golden days”. Leo would be flattered by the hefty prices those pickups demand. To Leo, hand winding pickups, with the resultant “scatter” winding was not just one of several options; it was the ONLY option.
Scatter-winding is more than mere folk-lore; there is some real indisputable science to it. The inductance between wire windings laying tightly parallel to one another is indeed quite different from that of the same windings scattered willy-nilly to one another. The modern method of machine-winding pickups may be yet another instance of newer not being better. Sure a programmed machine can wind a heck of a lot more pickups in a day than even a highly competent human can, but with a yardstick delineated by quality rather than quantity, my money is (quite literally) on the human.