Lightfoot Labs Goatkeeper 2 Tremolo Review & Demo

Alright, since I’m in the middle of moving right now, I’m just going to say:

Goatkeeper trem. Yes.

Absolutely, yes. Digital/analog hybrid deal with analog signal path but digital control of the divisions, beautiful sounds, unparalleled control of the parameters, true bypass, tap tempo, looks like a Memory Lane…

…yes.

Only downside is that it is not a delay. And doesn’t light up like Matchless. Oh, and I’m not sure if Edge uses one. But still…

…yes.

Splendid.
Karl.

Strymon OB.1 Optical Compressor & Clean Boost Review & Demo

Alright, alright, alright. Yes, I hate compressors. Or have hated them. Because if you don’t like a guitarist’s opinion on gear, just wait a few days and ask him again. It will have changed. But this one I’m sticking by. I still do not like compressors. I do not understand spending hours upon hours and dollars upon dollars (mostly this one) getting an open, real-sounding tone, and then compressing the sweet mercy out of it. Luckily, the Strymon OB.1 is not a ‘compressor.’ It’s ‘compression.’ Yes, yes, I know I’m stretching things here, but cut me some slack…I’m trying to come up with a reason for why I like this pedal so much.

strymon ob1

But this makes sense to me! Compression itself is not a bad thing. And by the very nature of tube amps, all tone (see what I just did there? Linking ‘tube amps’ to ‘all tone’ like no other tone exists? Yep……and that is true) has some level of compression to it. And the right amount gives your sound focus and makes it less burly. But a ‘compressor’ per se, just makes me think of every compressor I’ve ever played (on guitar or recording equipment alike) that just splats all the life out of your sound. (I will say that I liked the Emma Transmorgrifier compressor. And the Analogman was very decent, as far as compressors go. But in the end, neither made the cut……the cut being that for me to keep a compressor on my board, it not only has to be a good compressor, but it has to convince me to use compression. This is a tall order…especially for someone like me, who once they have an opinion, really likes for that opinion to be right. I like myself. And that’s bad.) So, I knew that were I to ever use a compressor pedal, it would have to ‘lend compression’, rather than ‘compress.’ And ya, I’m totally aware that I sound like the worst of the worst of the self-affirmed gear wizards who spend more time reading about tone than using tone. Indulge me. Because I hate compressors, and love this compressor. I mean ‘compression.’ ;)

So, I was thinking the other night about compression (and about abominable snowmen, interestingly enough) and how nice it would be to use it push my overdrive pedals into their own respective overdrives, but compressed, for those times when I could really use a more ‘leadish’ sound, or a more ‘EL34-ish’ sound, or a more ‘Hiwatt-ish’ sound, or even…may you forgive me…even a Lin…nope, can’t say it. Or to put a mildness on my clean tone, or even for certain country sounds. (Yes, I know you hate country. And I can say ‘you’ to everyone, because most worship leaders do. But at some point, we’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that if we’re serious about ‘reaching people where they’re at’ like we always say, and being ‘culturally relevant’ like we always say even more (some would say all the blasted time), then we need to stop denying that probably at least 65% of the congregation’s radio stations when they leave the service and go back to their cars, are tuned to a country station.) But I knew that if I were to use a compressor, it would have to be a compression pedal; not a compressor.

Vince Gill
(Yep. This is what most people are listening to. Maybe not Vince Gill per se. But the whole country thing. Which I can dig. Now, he is a very fabulous guitarist. But the best thing about country music? You don’t have to dress like a rock star. Um……obviously. Although those 65 Amps in the background totally overshadow the plaid shorts. Yikes, I’m a girl. EDIT: I just remembered that my wife has told me that it is confusing to her when I refer to myself in this manner. So I’ll just go with ‘metro’.)

Enter the Strymon OB.1. Strymon is a relative newcomer to the boutique scene. They’re a division of Damage Control, and share all the same developers. Now, of course I have a very sincere love affair with the Damage Control pedals; so I figured if there’s going to be a compressor out there I like, it will probably be built by these guys. So I take this pedal out of the box, and I’m scared. Well, first I’m excited, because it’s this awesome indie-looking coffee shop muted gold/orange color, which is going to look great on my board. Priorities. But then the scared part comes in, as I notice that the pedal has no tone knob. Which is usually essential for me in getting the tone of a pedal to match as much as possible to the tone of my rig. So I plug it in. And whoa. I seriously can’t believe it. It doesn’t need a tone knob. It’s just my guitar sound, with compression added. I wish all pedals were built like this. And the compression? Beautiful. Not only that, it has an added boost switch that is switchable from a flat clean boost, to a mids boost, to a treble boost. Optical compression in a pedal, all analog circuit path, very well-built, inside and out. Awesome stuff. So I recorded.

Base Tone

--Prairiewood Les Paul (Wolfetone Dr. Vintage pickups)–>

&

–Melancon Strat (ash, with Lindy Fralin blues pickups)–>

–True bypass loop box–>
(–>Strymon OB.1 compressor–>
(–>Paul Cochrane Tim overdrive–>(loop engaged when obvious)

–True bypass box–>
(Damage Control Timeline delay–>(loop engaged when obvious)

–Matchless Spitfire–>

–65 Amps cab (birch, Celestion blue and Celestion G12H-30)

Possible Biases

–It is made by Strymon/Damage Control, and I like them. Very much so.

–But I tend to hate compressors.

–It looks so rad!

Interesting Stuff

Please don’t judge me for the U2 part.

And the Video:

So there you have it. A ‘compression’ pedal. Not a compressor. And I’m diggin’ it.

The Good

–Does not change your tone one bit. Wow. Not sure how they accomplished that.

–The compression is so ‘lax.’ I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s like a gentle massage of your tone, even at the high settings. Just gently focusing it, rather than squashing it.

–The compression sounds good at all levels.

–Works on just a simple 9 volt adapter, or even a 9 volt battery.

–The boost side makes this pedal extremely versatile. It really can take the place of a few pedals.

–It sounds really, really good.

–And Terry from Strymon jumped on the comments section here (which was pretty cool) and mentioned that when the compression knob is all the way off, the compression is physically out of the circuit. Which is awesome! So you can use this as just a boost if you like. And here’s the thing. I almost mentioned that, because that’s exactly what it sounded like! But then I thought, ‘No, almost no pedals do that.’ Guess I should have trusted my ears. It’s just that they’re wrong so often! ;) But I’m so stoked that this pedal does this.

The Bad

–Not really a bad, but worth mentioning. The boost side is dependent upon the compressor side. So you can’t use the boost without the compressor. At times this is actually an advantage, as you can kick on the boost and compressor with one step; but it’s definitely worth mentioning as I’m sure I’ll get asked this. However, if you just want boost, as I mentioned above, the compression is completely out of the circuit when the compression knob is all the way down. You’d still have to hit the compressor side on to turn on the pedal as a whole, but at that point, just the boost is in the circuit.

–(This is sarcasm…just in case… ;) )If you want to squish your tone into oblivion, this pedal won’t do that. I’m not sure why you’d want to do this, but I hear professional guitarists doing it from time to time; and I can only assume they want to. But no worries; there’s a great Line 6 compressor called the ‘Boa Constrictor’ or some other awesomely 1982 Spinal Tap glam rock name like that, that’ll do the squishing the life out of your tone thing quite nicely if that is what you prefer. I’m gonna go ahead and say no. But that’s just me.

The Verdict

I now have a compressor on my board for the first time in about 6 years. My world has been forever changed. And by ‘world’, I of course mean ‘tone’. I don’t think I should even have to clarify that.

Splendid.
Karl.

AC Power Cable Shootout

With all this talk of amp tone, and the current amp shootouts that are always taking place both on this blog and in my mind, I’ve realized one thing. And that one thing is often the most overlooked factor in amp tone. It’s the AC power cable. I mean, this is what actually pulls the power to your amplifier. I see so many guitarists out there with $3,000 amps, and then a $10 power cable from Radio Shack. (Well, Radio Shack’s a rip-off anyway…a $20 power cable from Radio Shack then, without any added quality.) And I’m thinking to myself, how have the tonal nuances of these power cords escaped some of the most brilliant musical minds and ears of our generation? And the answer then of course must be, I am more brilliant than them. So, on to the shootout:

The Players

Cisco Technologies AC power cable (boutique, but not handmade):

Power Cable 1

Radio Shack AC power cable (mass-produced):

Power Cable 3

Quantum Tonal Laboratories AC power cable (handmade, shielded copper):

Power Cable 2

The Clean Tone

Prairiewood Les Paul (Wolfetone Dr. V pickups)–>

Matchless Spitfire (which all the cables are going to be plugged into and tested on)–>

65 Amps cab (Celestion Blue and Celestion G12H-30)

Possible Biases

–The Quantum Tonal Laboratories one does have a very sleek finish. Very classy. Looks great behind the amp and running along the ground into the wall socket.

–I hate Radio Shack. Their stuff always breaks, and never works right. I really did not want to like this one.

–The rectifier tube on the Matchless is brand new, and might not be burned in enough yet to be able to hear the proper amount of sag in each power cable.

And the Shootout:

And I’m totally kidding. For now.

Splendid.
Karl.

Post Phase-Inverter Master Volume & Taming Stage Levels

There are more important things than tone. I know…the very nature of that seems heretical. But, if we have established that our evoking-of-tears-anti-solo-with-sweet-Johnny-Buckland-ripoff-reverb-decay actually means nothing without the chord structure from the bass, piano, acoustic, rhythm electric, cello, whatever……then if you also cannot hear the chord structure from the bass, piano, acoustic, rhythm electric, cello, whatever……then there comes a point where cranking your amp to get the tubes warm and the the preamp and power amp sections ‘pushed’ for stellar tone, actually succeeds only in making that amazingly sweet tone mean absolutely nothing.

And of course, this is the point where most guitar articles usually go into the ‘next killer amp modeler’, or tube-buffered direct box, or some other gimick that is supposed to emulate a cranked amp. Which it won’t. There is no ‘emulation’ of signal actually passing analog through tube-driven amplification, and certainly no emulation for actual sound waves naturally coming through speakers and literally moving air. Now, I can’t tell you what you like and don’t like. (Much as I wish I could…hehe.) So it is possible (though I cannot see how… ;) ) to like sound from amp modelers and such. But it’s their own sound. Not a live amplifier with real tubes misused and overdriven. Just as you can get string sounds from synthesizers that you can like for what they are; but they’re not an orchestra. There’s a reason actual films still use the London Symphony Orchestra and LA Philharmonic for their scores. Well, most films. ‘Raptor Island’ definitely used keyboard strings. And ‘Rats.’ You know, the one where half-finished computer-animated rats float on top of people as they gnaw their ears off. (And they’re not supposed to be floating…that’s due to the afore-mentioned ‘half-finished’ nature of the animation.) All the while the synthesizer is banging out some unfortunate ‘string’ part that makes me want to hurt myself.

Raptor Island
(They never use the gun. I have no idea why. And this movie vaguely reminds me of some other movie…can’t think of it right now…something about ‘Jurassic’? I guess if it works once, may as well rip it off and do it again…and at lower quality. And you don’t even have to rip it off, either. You can have the copyright, and still do a lower quality ripoff. Like Jurassic Park 3. A whole hour of the same rubbish I’ve already seen 4 times. I mean, uh……2 times. I didn’t watch Raptor Island. Or Raptor Island 2. Yep, there’s a ’2′.)

So I guess what I’m saying is that amp modelers are the ‘Raptor Island’ of tone. (*Barricades himself behind stacks of point-to-point wired tube amps for the onslaught of Lincoln Brewster videos that are sure to come flooding in.*) But seriously, if you use them and are getting tears of sweet tone, more power to you. Make that music, be that person, and rock. But for me, maybe I’m crazy, but it’s gotta be a bit more real. And I’m not talking about killing stage volume altogether, or getting a 1/2 watt ZVex amp or something. You need volume. Tubes need to be hot, every amp has a sweet spot on its gain knob, speakers need to be pushed, and air needs to be moved. A little stage volume is a good thing. Keeps things feeling fluent and live. Too pristine gives off a sterile feel that looks good on paper, but feels awkward live. But you have got to be able to find a way to get this tone and feel at volumes that can still blend with the band, and can still give your sound tech enough control to be able to blend with what he hears at the front of the house. Because like it or not, we cannot face-melt and run sound at the same time. I mean, I guess you could get a wireless system and do it, but knowing us, we’d just end up cranking our gain knob on the actual sound board. Because ‘these go to eleven.’

Enter post phase-inverter master volume. It comes at the end of the preamp circuit, as an overall, well, master volume. And when done right, it allows stacks of tube saturation without any noticeable tone loss, warmth loss, high end less, frequency response loss, feel loss, or weight loss. (This is like an infomercial.) Beautiful. I had this mod put into my Divided by 13 RSA23 by Jerry Blaha in Hollywood. And he does a fantastic job, with some of his own ideas thrown into the mod…such as placing it after the power amp. Which I love the sound of, but does go against the definition of most ‘post-phase inverter’ master volumes. However, he describes it as sounding most like ppimv. But there are many techs and amp builders who can do this. Gives you the tone you want, without having to get an amp-in-a-box, run your amp in a closet, or build a little house for it on stage.

Storm Trooper in San Diego (small)
(Speaking of bad movies, my wife took me on a date yesterday…yep, she took me…she’s amazing…to one of our favorite lounges and a show in downtown San Diego. Little did we know it was the first day of Comic Con. And there were so many things I did not understand. Costumes, people who looked like they were in costumes but you could tell they wore that every day, lines that wrapped around 4 downtown blocks of girls waiting to see the guy from Twilight…and for once I don’t know the actor’s name, and I would like to keep it that way…please do not tell me what it is…, and oh ya, storm troopers outside Dussini’s. My wife snapped that picture. Most times, you don’t need comedy films or stand-up clubs. You just need people who are into video games, Twilight, and galaxies far, far away. Because of course we guitarists never get into our stuff at all. ;) )

Last month, I posted an article on the different ways to get stage volume down. There’s power dampening, attenuators, master voltage, closets, etc. I’ve tried almost all of them, with the exception of master voltage. And thus far, a well-designed post phase-inverter master volume circuit is the best I have tried. I did a quick video on it, complete with playing through the click channel on the RSA23 with the gain dimed. And if you’ve ever had the opportunity to crank gain on a KT88 or EL34 amp, ya…it’s not quiet. But so incredibly saturated. So, with the ppimv mod, you can actually use the cranked gain sound.

So here’s the video, complete with me trying to figure out what exactly you’re supposed to do with a cranked gain Marshall/HiWatt sound. It was awkward. But hopefully you can hear the tones from the amp that the ppimv allows you to achieve:

Yep. Sounds like Jimmy Page without the talent part. But the gain that you can get, as well as clean tones on the verge of breakup, are pretty cool; and at bedroom, club, and church volumes. Obviously, you’re not pushing the speakers as hard…but you are giving them a broad spectrum of sound with the added gain, even at low volumes, which pushes them in a different way. And with a well-done ppimv circuit, you can turn it all the way up, and still get the sound of the amp wide open as if the master volume wasn’t there. With stuff like this available, I simply cannot see why you would ever have need of amp modelers. (Okay, maybe for reliability, tonal constancy regardless of temperature, versatility, etc……but that stuff just ruins my point. So I’m not going to mention it.) But the main thing is that you can still get your tone, feel, dynamics, warmth, and either gain or clean on the verge of gain (whichever your preference is for the given situation) at volumes that will still blend with the music. Because, unfortunately, music is kind of the point…and our guitar and it’s subsequent tone (hopefully) are there to support the music. Which sucks sometimes, because I do like it to be about me. Less tears at night. But I guess if it can’t always be about me, post phase-inverter master volume is the next best thing.

Oh and speaking of storm troopers (haha…such awesomely smooth transitions today), if you’ve never seen this, watch the right side of your screen:

hehehe

Splendid.
Karl.

Divided by 13 RSA31 Vs. Matchless Spitfire Vs. Divided by 13 RSA23 Amp Shootout (Or…The Downward Spiral of a Gear Junkie)

It’s all downhill from here. I adored my RSA23. It was better than almost any other living thing. But with all things you adore, the true test of whether you really adore it or not, is by how many duplicates you buy of it. So I decided, this is the best thing I’ve ever heard (er, well, that came out of my hands…I’ve heard plenty of way better things come out of other people’s hands); Fred (the guy who makes the D13′s…first lesson in being cool is to refer to those in more prominent positions than yourself by their first name……like Sam………and that’s Samuel L. Jackson for those of you not as cool as I) obviously makes a killer KT88-tubed amp; hmm……I wonder what his EL84-based amp sounds like. The RSA31. And then it came in the mail. I don’t know how it happened. But there it was. It’s so weird…not sure if you guys knew this, but if you enter in your credit card number on the internet, you can actually choose things to be sent in the mail to your house! It’s a pretty sweet system.

But then…someone offered me a Matchless Spitfire in a trade. And I really needed the money rather than a trade…but I’ve never owned a Matchless, and incidentally Matchless was one of the main factors in the Tonal Epiphany of ’03, that transformed me from a ‘music is about skill, speed, and technicality and if you sound good you’re a sellout and unoriginal’ metalhead into a ‘skill in music should evidence itself in how the finished product sounds and usually that means calm down, son’ minimalist. I had just been introduced to U2 (well, their music…not like, ‘Here, meet Adam Clayton’, unfortunately), and I was having trouble reconciling how their music ‘sucked’ (i.e. no solos, most of it in simple 4/4 time), but how it moved me so much more than the Tourniquet I was listening to. And how my amazingly technical phrygian mode riffs through my Boss GT6 on the Metallica patch never quite seemed to sound as good as the other guitarist’s one tasteful note through a Fender Bandmaster. And couple that with the fact that the other guitarist (who eventually became a tone mentor of sorts to me) had told me that Matchless was the best amp you could buy. And right around that time period, Phil Wickham and his band came and guested at a church I was attending, and I was blown away by the sheer ‘sound’ that was coming from their guitar player (I think it was Steve Marcia at the time), and how that sound was just hitting me right in the heart. And I spoke with him afterwards, and lo and behold he was playing a Matchless. Vintage sea green tolex…I still remember it’s beauty sheening tone towards mine eyes and forever embedding itself within my heart and bosom. (Bosom just means stomach, right? I thought so, but for some reason it sounds slightly inappropriate. Oh well.) I think he then asked me what amp I played, and I think I got really embarrassed and stuttered something about playing a Matchless also, because I had just programmed a patch into my GT6 using the base model of ‘Fat Match.’ hehe

So, long story short (ya…right), I now have a Matchless; after years of longing. And that is just the latest chapter in the long, downward, smiling with unabashed joy all the way, spiral of a gear junkie. And then the gear room (I mean, ‘office’…sorry, Sweetheart) that was so recently cleaned out and catalogued in this post, has now once again become this:

Amp Shootout '09
(And yes, the Matchless is taken apart in this picture. You don’t truly know your gear until you take it apart. And touch where the sweet tone comes from.)

Gear Closet '09
(And ya…the closet. It’s so hard to find shipping boxes big enough and strong enough to ship amps…so I have to keep them until I decide which amps I’m shipping off. It looks cleaner in person. Nope. Nope it doesn’t.)

And for some strange reason, those photos just warm my heart. It really is a sickness. I often tell my wife that it’s a good thing we don’t have money, or I’d totally be one of those old guys with hundreds of thousands of dollars in gear just piled throughout the apartment, but with inexplicably not enough money to eat anything more costly than secondhand catfood. (If you can name that movie, I’ll seriously give you a pedal or something!)

Luckily, I don’t have money, so only one of these amps can stay. And before I did these videos, I had no idea which one I would keep. So I figured I’d film a couple, and then edit the same parts played on different amps together, so I could hear the sounds back to back. And then, as long as I have serious gear junkie/drug of choice issues, may as well make them useful to others so we can all slide down the wondrous spiral together. Splendid. On to the shootout.

The Players

–Divided by 13 RSA23 with post phase-inverter master volume mod by Jerry Blaha. KT88 tube-based. 23 watts. First channel.

–Matchless Spitfire. 2006, Phil Jamison era. EL84 tube-based. 15 watts.

–Divided by 13 RSA31. EL84-based. 31 watts. First channel. First video is on half power mode; last two videos are on full power mode.

The Base Tone

--Prairiewood Les Paul with Wolfetone Dr. Vintage pickups–>

–Loop-Master bypass box (on master bypass)–>

–Loop-Master bypass box (on master bypass except when obvious delay is engaged)–>
(–>Damage Control Timeline (the obviously engaged delay at certain times)–>

–Divided by 13 RSA23, Matchless Spitfire, or Divided by 13 RSA31–>

–65 Amps birch cab with Celestion Blue and Celestion G12H-30

Possible Unfair Advantages

–The D13 RSA23 has been re-tubed recently, whereas the Matchless and RSA31 have some JJ preamp tubes that I found around my apartment. (Yep, I just find tubes everywhere in the apartment. Scary.)

–The D13 RSA31 does not have a master volume, and so it may be too loud for me to give it an accurate chance.

–The Matchless has a smaller preamp section with fewer tubes, and may not be able to get as saturated as the other two, whereas a matchless DC30 might be more saturated.

Possible Personal Biases

–I’ve had the D13 RSA23 the longest, so I know that amp and its feel out of the 3.

–However, I’ve played EL84 amps almost 90% of the time in the last few years, so perhaps the D13 RSA31 and the Matchless Spitfire will feel better to me, and my ears might be more used to that sound.

–As stated above, I have a long, unfulfilled love affair with Matchless.

–But it’s also really unhip to like a Matchless amp that’s not ‘Sampson era-built’ (’89-’98, I believe)

–If I like the Matchless, I’ll probably need 30 watts, so that’d be more amp buying. Not sure if that’s a bias against it or for it.

–The Matchless is gorgeous. And it lights up!

–The Divided by 13′s have more ’boutique mojo’ going for them.

And the Videos

Video 1. In the gear room/office. Before the Matchless came in. Just messing around, trying to get a feel for how both amps handle certain things.

Video 2. At my church, on an empty Saturday morning. Except where there is obvious delay on, there are no effects. That’s just the natural reverb of an empty church with terrible acoustics.

Video 3. Apologies on this one. There is some camera distortion, but besides that, this is where I put on a shameless amount of delay and just ‘space-out play.’ The delay allows me to play less and not really think about what I’m doing and just listen to the tonal differences in the amps.

Results

Alright, at one point or another in the past week, I have been absolutely decided on each one of these amps…about 7 times each. I just know that this is the one that’s better than the other two. And then it changes. Downward spiral. That I love so much. It’s really quite sad.

–Divided by 13 RSA23

The most colorful cleans of the 3. The bigger KT88 tubes give a real glassy sound, much like a 6L6 amp would; but a little less American blues sounding, and a little more British. Very pristine, with lots of clarity all over the fretboard. Its natural overdrive is one of the best-sounding Marshall/Hiwatt drives I’ve heard. Very aggressive, yet with the clean glassiness always there a bit. Extremely responsive, and very beautiful. And big sounding, without being overpowering. Also the loudest of the group. The ppimv master volume mod is essential for me on this amp.

–Matchless Spitfire

A more saturated sound than the RSA23, definitely an EL84 thing. Less big and glassy, and more warm and full. The main thing that impressed me about the Matchless was its focused tone. It was able to get big, full, and warm, but still retain its focus in both the upper and lower mids. Master volume is fantastic. Its drive was just gorgeous; warm, focused, and staunch. Almost steely at times, which was killer for some of the modern EL84-type tones. Wonderfully warm, saturated cleans. EL84 goodness.

–Divided by 13 RSA31

The weird one of the group for me. I have been absolutely sure I was going to sell it, and then absolutely sure that it blew the other two away. I think this one is bordering right between genius, and going overboard. It sounds absolutely huge! But bordering on being unfocused and washy. Its cleans could be the most beautifully warm tone I have ever heard. But they might be just a touch too warm. Its drive might be the first amp to keep the mids warm perfectly in the high registers. But it might be bordering on being too uncontrolled in the bass at times. It has the incredible Divided by 13 color, and it times I think the sound in this amp is what I’ve been looking for for so long. And then at times I worry it’s straying a little too much into the ‘too much’ category. However, overall, an incredible sounding amp…and the warmest EL84 amp I’ve played…except maybe the Matchless……ahhhh!!!

Conclusions

As you probably gathered by the ‘ahhhh’ at the end of the last sentence, I have no idea. There’s something about the cleans of the RSA23. But there’s something about the drive of the Spitfire and the RSA31. But the Spitfire has more focus than the RSA31. But the RSA31 is warmer than the Spitfire…I think. But yet the drive of the RSA23 does retain so much color…but it’s just not as saturated as the EL84 drive of the other two.

And as I write this, I have absolutely no idea which one I’m keeping. Maybe I’ll just sell all my guitars. I won’t be able to play any music, but that’s a small price to pay for tone. Wait…

Splendid.
Karl.

The Coolest Looking Pedal I Own–Review & Demo

Which is entirely the point. Anyone can sound good. But can you look like Keith Urban while doing it? (Sorry to go country right there, but you gotta admit that Keith Urban’s got it going on. So does his gear. Wow. So many poorly chosen phrases in such a small portion of writing thus far.)  And the answer is yes. You can. With this pedal:

Matchless Hotbox

The Matchless Hotbox allows you to have an amp on your pedalboard. And not in a tone way. In a, ‘This pedal lights up like an amp’ way. Fabulous. This is only the second piece of gear in a long history of buying pieces of gear that I have bought because of how it looks. And it did not disappoint.

And I seriously thought about ending the review there. But then I realized that perhaps everyone is not as superficial and vain as I am. So, the tone of the Matchless Hotbox. It’s very, very good. But it is its own pedal. It doesn’t react to your rig. It’s a very trebly and chimey preamp that you cannot switch off. You plug it in, and it’s on. And it does do a surprisingly good job of transforming whatever you’re playing out of into a Matchless DC30 or Vox AC30. However, just a little false sounding to me. And that’s not the pedal’s fault…I just like more of a pure tone, and I feel like if you want to sound like an AC30, get an AC30. A pedal emulating it is not my thing. That being said, though, this pedal does do a fantastic job of it. It works as a great preamp if that’s your thing, due to its dual 12AX7 tubes.

This also allows it to be run direct, which can be nice if for whatever reason the venue says they’ll shoot you if you use an amp. This can be a great pseudo-amp, even though the term ‘pseudo-amp’ is just evil to begin with. And then the switch on the pedal. This, in essence, changes channels, like you have a two channel amp. And it has just a crazy amount of gain ‘on tap.’ (Sorry, it seems like these days it’s not a real pedal review without the cliche ‘on tap’ reference.) It gives you an extremely saturated, very compressed, distortion. And that’s really cool if that’s your thing. For me…not so much. Still too trebly for me, and too compressed, and changes your tone too much. It does work better if you’re already using it as a preamp, and then you switch channels. The change in tone there is much more smooth. But I’ve been trying it in a bypass loop and using it just for my ‘solo’ switch. And for that, it changes the tone from your amp a good deal.

All that being said, though, the sound that comes from this pedal is absolutely stunning. Great sound. Just not for me. So here’s the video, and you can hear what it’s capable of, and if you like it or not.

Clean Tone

Prairiewood Les Paul (Wolfetone Dr. V pickups)–>

Loop-Master bypass looper–>
(–>Matchless Hotbox

Loop-Master bypass looper (master bypass on)–>

Divided by 13 RSA23–>

65 Amps birch cab (Celestion Blue & Celestion G12H-30

1994 (Mark Sampson-built) Matchless Hotbox:

So that’s the video. You can hear that it is just a great sounding pedal. But it definitely does not immerse itself in your rig, which is what I tend to like for pedals. And I cannot stress enough that there is no tone control on the preamp side of the pedal. Just a volume. So, you either like the sound of the clean boost or you don’t. The odd thing about this whole review is that I am leaning towards keeping this pedal. Not for any other uses than 1) for those terrible times when the worship leader or singer or whomever you’re playing with wants to do a Kutless or Nickelback song, and 2) just in case any even terribler (?) times come up where the sound guy is a large man (or, I guess could be a woman, too), with whom I value my life to much to argue the point of using an amp. However, the first situation comes up about once every 4 months, and the second…well…let’s just say I carry an arsenal of information in my head behind which I can form a bunker and fire fact after fact (some of them true, some of them…eh…we’ll just say ‘yet to be proven’) on why I should be allowed to use an amp. And I have never lost. So, this is kind of an expensive pedal to keep on the board to use so sparingly. I’m currently looking for a Big Muff clone that can actually be heard in a band mix to do the compressed heavy sound deal. In which case, I could sell the Matchless. But the Matchless is the only pedal I’ve heard that can do the compressed heavy drive sound without getting lost in the mix. So for now…

…Wait a second. It looks like this:

Matchless Hotbox 2

I’m so keeping it.

Oh, and just for the record, I dare you to listen to Keith Urban’s tone in this and not desire it.

Amazing tone. Both clean and dirty. Desire it. Desire it a lot. And if you don’t, you can’t tell me you don’t at least desire those pants. Or legs that can make those pants look that good. I mean, desiring your own legs to look that good. Not desiring Urban’s legs per se. Hmm, I wonder if that’s going too far. Nah, I’m secure enough in my tone to say things like that. And by ‘tone’, I mean, ‘masculinity’. Although tone definitely needs some femininity in it as well. Okay, now we’re at a place that I don’t want to be. Everyone cool with changing the subject from Keith Urban’s legs blurring the lines between masculinity and femininity? Yes? Good. Okay, the hair…eh. And the actual song…decent. But the tone and the pants……desire was invented for these things.

Splendid.
Karl.

Paul Cochrane Tim Pedal Review & Demo

The hallowed Tim pedal. Used to be the shangri-la of unobtainable tone, and is now bordering dangerously on the precipice of too many people having it on their boards. And of course, if too many people have it on their boards, the tone automatically dies. It’s a weird phenomenon…probably something to do with having too many of the same circuit in too close proximity to each other…and the tone of the pedal in question literally gets worse. I call it the ‘Fulltone Fulldrive 2 syndrome’, which the Paul Cochrane Tim pedal is like, two pedalboards away from contracting. However, the Tim pedal is one of the few pedals that I believe can actually back up its hype with tone and originality. And in this way, I hope that people will still dig this pedal, even if it starts to show up on every board of every indie band in existence. (I guess it doesn’t have to be just ‘indie’ bands…but it sounds cooler…at least for another two weeks. ‘Indie’ is also on a dangerous precipice. If three more bands call themselves ‘indie’, the term will officially have absolutely zero meaning. So I’m using it while I can.)

But the Tim pedal, handbuilt to order by gear genius Paul Cochrane, is what I think to be a very original idea. Or at least the first pedal to put it into practice this well. It’s a low to mid gain overdrive pedal, but it’s unique in that it pushes each amp into its own natural overdrive. It sounds like your amp. It sounds like your guitar. It’s your clean tone, just overdriven. The circuit is such that it integrates with your tone. You turn it on, and it overdrives the clean tone of your guitar and your amp that you’ve worked so hard on. And it pushes your amp into its own gain, almost like you turned up the gain knob. Not quite, and it is still an overdrive pedal which lends its own flavor. There’s no getting away from that. But for the most part, it sounds like your amp’s overdrive, and sounds quite different on each individual amp.

Tim pedal

However, before you buy it, make sure you like your clean tone and your amp’s natural overdrive. The Tim will do its job incredibly of overdriving your clean tone…it still sounds like your tone. So you better like your clean tone. And the Tim will push the amp to its own overdrive. So you better like your amp’s drive. This isn’t really a ‘fix it’ overdrive pedal for tone you don’t like, like say maybe a Matchless Hotbox or even a Zendrive 2 might be, or can be used as. It works with the sound you have. Which is fantastic for those of us guitarists who have spent countles hours trying to perfect our clean tone, only to never be able to find an overdrive that integrates with that clean tone rather than destroying it.

Now, this is the like, fifth, Tim demo. The first one suffered from suckiness. The second one rumbled the camera off the piano bench I had it sitting on at about 2 minutes through. The third one was 1 minute long, because the camera shut itself off…which would have been nice to know about earlier than when I actually finished playing. And the fourth…something else happened…oh ya…I hit like, the worst note in the history of man playing music, and decided that I wasn’t ready to be that humble yet.

So I give you this one. In which the lighting looks like a ’70′s B-movie horror flick (Piranha, anyone?), and for some reason, I decided to not actually focus on the Tim pedal itself. But by the time I finished this one, I was done. I simply could not say ‘transparent overdrive’ and ‘pushes your amps’ one more time. Apologies. But the fifth take saying the exact same things gets boring quick…even if you’re talking about tone. Now, if it was a delay pedal……

Piranha 1
(This is Piranha. It’s basically Ron Burgundy running through the ’70′s from paper mache fish. Oh, and a girl is helping him, of course.)

Piranha 2
(Yep. Those are the piranhas. And the lighting and picture quality does look eerily like my Tim demo video.)

Piranha 3
(Guess what’s gonna happen to this guy.)

Clean Tone

Prairiewood Les Paul (Wolfetone Dr. V pickups)–>

Paul Cochrane Tim overdrive–>

Divided by 13 RSA23–>65 Amps cab (Blue and G12H30)

–or–

Holland AC30–>Heritage cab (Jensen P12N)

I specifically used two different amps in this demo to show how the Tim pushes each one into their own unique overdriven tones. Neither are ever played at the same time, and no a/b box is used. I simply just grab the chord and switch amps. But you can really hear how the Tim drives each amp differently. Here’s the demo:


My camera skills rock. But you can hear how the Holland sounds like its natural EL84 drive. And the RSA23 sounds like its natural KT88, Hiwatt-type drive. With the same settings on the Tim. I do think this is one of the best overdrive pedals out there right now. I’ve yet to hear another do what this one does so well. I’ve heard some great overdrives excel in other places, but as far as pushing your amp and maintaining your clean tone, Tim. It can do the low gain sounds beautifully, and then kick on the boost switch for mid gain sounds. Or, it can even do the mid gain sounds quite well on the first channel if you wish.

Now, I run the Tim at 12 volts, which I do with every overdrive and boost I have that can handle it. Increases the headroom quite noticeably, and I like that sound. The Tim can be run safely up to 18 volts, so if you have the means to try that, might be really cool. Also, I have to mention this again, even though I did in the video, too: the bass and treble knobs are cut knobs. They work opposite of normal eq conrols. So all the way counter-clockwise is all the way open or ‘on’ and all the way clockwise is completely cut or ‘off’. Sorry if that’s old news to everybody, but it has to be said, as it has caused a lot of confusion over the years and people have actually sold their ‘broken’ Tim pedals because of this. In reality, it’s pretty cool because it’s more like you’re cutting out the frequencies you don’t want, rather than adding in. For whatever reason, that starting point seems cleaner to me.

And I have to mention this, too. The Tim also has an effects loop, which allows you to put any pedal or combination of pedals you like, after its preamp stage and before its post-amp stage. I don’t use it because I use the Tim as my main overdrive for my amps. But if you want some crazy sounds, stick a phaser in there, or a fuzz or a something. Can be really fun.

And lastly, Paul Cochrane also makes the Timmy overdrive pedal. Now, this is the source of much debate, but the Timmy ‘should’ be just the Tim pedal without the footswitchable boost section. Technically. And that’s exactly what it sounds like to me. But there has been many a heated debate that the circuits are actually different. So have fun. But to me, it sounds like the Tim just has a boost switch.

So go buy one. It’s myspace.com/paulcaudio to order. Put it on your board, and then give terrible reviews of it so that nobody else goes and buys one, and the tone starts to die. ‘Unobtainable’ equals ‘tone’…this is one of the few universal truths of gear. But I must warn you…it will be very, very, very difficult to give this pedal a bad review. It sounds amazing…or, at least, I personally love the tone of it. But that is the sacrifice we have been called upon to make. We have to keep tone out of the hands of the masses. Otherwise, we will no longer be the cool, boutique, indie, bourgeois, tone-by-association-with-pedals-nobody-else-can-have-no-matter-how-we-actually-sound guitarists. And that is unacceptable.

Splendid.
Karl.

Ambient Pad Setup

(Note: this is an older post, and I now record with recording gear, and load the mp3′s onto iPhone’s. Most of the description in this post is still correct, and I added a new video, but this page is a little more current: Ambient Pads.)

Download ‘Bridge: Ambient Pads: III‘ for free

Download ‘Water: Music for Meditation (Ambient Pads II)‘ for free

After the last Guitar for Worship Workshop, I got a ton of questions on how I run the ‘ambient pad’ that goes along underneath what my guitar is doing. Yep, that was in March. And yes, it’s June now. In short, I suck. But, here it is!

The idea started from playing in band after band and worship team after worship team without keyboardists. And that wonderful bed the keyboards make for the other instruments to lie on was sorely missing. So I started doing it with my guitar on intros and low parts and such. Throw on some delays and a volume pedal and there ya go. But then I realized I needed to play guitar, too. (Novel thought. Sometimes I can get off in my own little ambient world pretending I’m Sigur Ros and totally miss every downbeat for about 5 minutes. And please note, that this is not a good thing, unless you are Sigur Ros.) And I realized that when I’m doing pad stuff, I’m ‘doing’ very little. Too much gets out of control fast. And honestly, if you ever want to give yourself a lesson in tastefulness, play ambient for a while. You’ll find just how far one note can go, and just how bad the ‘sort of okay’ note lasts. In a quick run, ya, the 4th can work over that chord, I guess. But when you’re creating space, suddenly the choice of notes becomes very, very crucial.

So I decided to record the pad, in every different key. I bought a little Fostex multi-track, specifically an older model that had no bells and whistles, so as to record the signal as purely as possible, and to make playback and switching tracks as quick of a process as possible. And then I recorded about 7 minutes of my guitar doing ambient swells in each key as a different song on the Fostex, and then set the loop points so that it’ll just go on forever. And then run it into a tube amp with decent clean headroom to give it back some of the warmth it’s losing in the digital recording. And since there’s no way to control it per se, I just run it into a passive volume pedal. (Is it bad that Britney Spears just came on my itunes? Come on now, some of her stuff is really catchy, even if she didn’t write it and it’s the pitch correction software singing.)

 

 

 

(*good photo of Britney Spears not found*)

 

 

 

 

And it’s worked very nicely for the last few years to start songs, end songs, meld between songs, and just generally create a nice bed underneath what the band is doing, or what my guitar is doing if I’m playing solo. The keyboardists like it, too, because in general, most of them play pad because they know it helps the song……but it’s not the most particularly fun thing to play. (Most of them just hit a chord and then hold the sustain pedal with their foot, and then make a big show about using their hands to eat coffee and donuts or something. hehe) So when they hear what I have running, they usually get excited that they can play more piano. And those who want to play pad and actually have it worked out to where they can create space and pad is ‘their thing’, it actually melds nicely with that, too. Part of the reason for that is that it is a guitar recording…and I’ve worked hard to make my guitar ambience sound more like an analog synth. There’s no digital synthesizers or anything. And this helps it sit in the mix much better. It tends to ‘appear’ when the music is thin, and disappear when the music is heavy. Plus, I’ve got it on a volume pedal as well, so I’m very ‘hands on’ with bringing it up and down when needed.

Now, there are some cautions to using this, but I’ll go over that after the video demo:

(hehe And yes, that was me ripping off Desperation Band, who ripped off U2′s ‘Streets’, who probably ripped off some classical composer or something. Nope. Every chord progression U2 has ever had is completely original. I believe it with all my heart. Even With or Without You. ;) But I used those two worship songs in the video specifically to show how the pad will work during a worship set.)

And here is a new video, about four years later, showing how I use the pads in a different context, and a context I think worship music is moving towards:

So that’s a little bit of what it does and how it sounds. However, you will notice that it is exactly what I recorded. And it’s kind of ‘set and forget.’ So, that’s the reason for recording a warmer, less digital guitar signal into it, and for running it through a tube amp…so it sits in the mix better. And by ‘better’, I am meaning less pronounced. And, of course, this works nicely with modern music and worship music, where we tend to stay in the key almost exclusively. But it’s not changing chords! It can background fill around the I, IV, V, vi, and every once in a while, the ii. But start doing some Larry Carlton, or Yes, or anything jazzy, progressive, or classical, and you need to shut it off. This is crucial. You NEED to shut it off. hehe It can get ugly quick. Also, when you’re recording it, you need to prepare yourself to be bored for 7 minutes. My first batch of recordings, I would start to get bored of the simple chord swells and triads at about the 3 minute mark. And then the next 4 minutes would be me doing a bunch of other stuff. All stuff that sounds cool if you’re controlling when it happens; but once recorded, it now shows up randomly. So anything but the triads, some suspensions, and a few major 7ths, is completely out of the question. This pad is meant as a basis for everything to play, not for it to necessarily ‘play.’ And lastly, this is a tool; just like another instrument. If it for whatever reason happens not to work in a particular song, even though logically, it technically ‘should’ work, shut it off.

But even though there’s a lot of cautions to running this, and admittedly it might be more headache than it’s worth, it has been invaluable for me. It can start sets, end sets, give ambience while changing guitars, allow me to play less during the songs, fills up the dead space in the songs, and allows me to play less (did I say that already? hehe). And you’ll know you’re running it right when you don’t necessarily notice when it’s there, but you notice when it’s gone. There’s been two times over the last few years when it has gone out during a set: once, the amp died; and the other time the adapter for the Fostex died. And wow, immediate difference. I’m going, ‘Why is the set so empty today?’ And then afterwards I realized there was no sound from the pad.

So that’s the lowdown (that’s homie talk, from the streets, for those of you who didn’t grow up in as rough of a middle class suburb as I did…one time I saw a cop…I know, crazy stuff) on the pad. And apologies to those of you who saw this post and went, ‘Well that’s a lot of work for like, no payoff. Give me another pedal demo!’ I understand that this one is a lot more time, effort, and thought in its implementation. But I did get a lot of requests for this post, and it has been 3 months since those requests, so I figured it was about due. And I’m trying to think of something clever, memorable, and just generally spectacular to say at the end of this, but nothing is coming. Deal. (Again, the rough neighborhood…sorry, I try to hide it, but it comes out sometimes.)

Splendid.
Karl.

Strat Shootout: Fender Vs. Melancon

For some reason, I had this Fender Hot Rod ’57 reissue. Ever have those moments like, ‘How did I get this?’ Usually it’s with pedals I’ve found, not whole guitars. But that’s just how gear is. Actually, it’s really quite wonderful.

But, before selling the Fender, I thought it was a prime opportunity to do an actual definitive, shootout between it and my Melancon strat. Now, as much as it joys me (can joys be a verb?…hehe…take that, high school English teachers…you told me one day I’d remember all the stuff you taught me……just proved you wrong! ;) ) to be able to say that my guitar was handmade by a guy cutting down the swamp ash trees in Louisiana while fighting off crocodiles (which, oddly enough, I think is actually true for once), the point is tone……not how cool your gear is. Wow, that was hard to say. So, if the Fender sounds better than the Melancon, I’m keeping the Fender.

And right here would normally be the insert of some random movie picture that has little, if anything, to do with what I’m talking about. And then I would proceed to make fun of it, because of my superior intellect. See? I know where my brain goes. But today, I have some extremely pressing family matters that are taking me out of state. I made a promise to myself when I started this blog to never go into personal matters, so I’ll just leave it at that. But it needs to be mentioned to account for the brevity of this post.

So, without further ado (what does that even mean?), here’s the shootout.

Guitars:

--Fender Hot Rod ’57 reissue Stratocaster with alder body, maple neck, SCN noiseless pickups in the neck and middle, and DiMarzio Tone Zone humbucker in the bridge

–Gerard Melancon Pro Artist S with chambered swamp ash body, maple neck, and Lindy Fralin blues pickups

Chain:

Strats–>

Loop-Master bypass looper–>

Loop-Master bypass looper–>
    (–>Damage Control Timeline delay–>
    (–>Damage Control Timeline delay–>

Divided by 13/Blaha RSA23–>

65 Amps birch cab with Celestion Blue and G12H-30

(Note that for the majority of the shootout, the second Loop-Master is on master bypass, and the signal is not running through the delay pedals.)

Uncontrollable Factors

–The Melancon is ash, and will as such have a brighter sound, and the alder of the Fender will have a darker sound. Also, with the humbucker in the bridge of the Fender and the single coil in the bridge of the Melancon, it’s difficult to pit those two against each other.

Possible Biases

–I love Melancon.

Odd Things

–I seem to talk to myself an exorbitant amount of times in this particular video. And most of it is completely unintelligible. Don’t know if the voices were particularly strong that day, or what.

And the Shootout:

 
The Conclusions

Actually, the Fender sounded quite good, I thought! And the noiseless pickups were very, very quiet. So props to them on that. It was very odd to play a strat without hum. However, I don’t know if it was just me, but there was a sparkle, chime, and a weight to the Melancon’s notes that the Fender just didn’t have. The Fender did have a beefier tone because of the alder, but you could ‘grab’ the notes better with the Melancon. Not exactly sure how to describe it, except to say that when I listened back, the Melancon just had more beauty…simple as that.

But the Fender did sound very good. It surprised me. All except that DiMarzio Tone Zone humbucker. Maybe it’s just my rig, but I didn’t care for that thing. Now, the SCN pickups I thought sounded quite decent. 

So I guess this time I don’t have to eat my words. I really do love Melancon. The guitar, of course, not Gerard Melancon, the guy who makes them. Although, if I ever were to meet him, there might be some awkward man-hugs and girl-tears. Both from my end, of course.

Splendid.
Karl.