Amp Tone Part 5: Speakers and Cabs

Maybe……just maybe the most overlooked part of amp tone. I’ll talk to a lot of people who are into tube-swapping, are point-to-point handmade snobs, and all that jazz, but who couldn’t care less about their speakers. Maybe it’s because you can’t see the speakers, so what’s the point of getting cool ones? (That really did use to be me. You know, I just might be the most materialistic guitarist you’ll ever meet.) But I remember the first time I actually took my tone mentor’s advice and changed my speakers. The difference was astounding. And then I remember the first time I took his advice again, and actually got the speaker he told me to get. And there was much rejoicing.

(By the way, I don’t know if you have people like my tone mentor in your life, but they are very valuable. You know, the unabashedly honest people. I remember he’d call me up and ask, ‘Hey what guitar are you playing now?’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, this Delta Les Paul knockoff. The guy told me they used to have a license from Gibson to make these, but then they started using better materials than Gibson and making them sound better than Gibson, and so Gibson sued them! So this guitar not only sounds better than a Gibson, there were only 200 of them made! I got for $250, and it’s worth, like, $5000!’ And he would say, ‘No.’ That honesty is so crucial. ;) )

EdgeBono.jpg picture by rypdal95
(And no, my tone mentor is not The Edge. Edge is my tone man-crush. I thought that was clear. My tone mentor is Mr. Huffman, to whom I owe a great deal, even if he doesn’t like the Memory Lane. hehe And is it just me, or does it look like Edge just ‘tolerates’ Bono sometimes?)

So speakers, at least in my opinion, are just as important as your amp. The wood of your cabinet is also extremely important. If I could boil it down to two things to look for in amp cabinets, I would say that you need to get a cabinet made of actual, solid wood. Not partical board, not some synthetic, new-fangled material they make Target furniture out of. (Nothing against that……half my wife’s and my apartment is Target furniture. But if we move it once, it’s toast.) Same thing as a guitar. The wood makes up a ton of the tone. And secondly, match your speakers so that the amp drives them.

Here’s what I mean. Even more important than a good speaker, is a speaker or speaker combination that matches your amp in wattage. You want the speaker, the only other part of your tone besides your hands, pick, and strings that actually moves real air and creates real soundwaves, to be pushed right up to its most efficient point. A 15 watt amp and a 75 watt speaker is not going to give you as much air flow and hence is not going to be as loud or as full as a 15 watt amp pushing a 15 watt speaker. I see so many people who think that a higher wattage speaker will give them more volume. Nope. The volume is from the amp, and the speaker just makes the amp’s tone real.

Now, there is another school of thought on this that you want a speaker with a high wattage rating so that it will be just a clean representation of the amp. Almost a blank pallette that doesn’t add any of its own tone. This tends to work better with sound reinforcement stuff like PA systems. But still, I find that personally, though I want a little more headroom in speaker systems so they don’t get overdriven and blow, they still sound better the closest they can safely be to the rated wattage of the soundboard. Some jazz and blues guys also use high-rated speakers, as did a lot of guys in ’80′s new wave bands. And they get some cool sounds. It’s definitely something to experiment with. And I used to do do it. I ran a 30 watt amp into a 2×12 cab with two 150 watt speakers. Whoa. And I liked it. But then I switched to a 15-watt Alnico Blue. And my ears just……well, let’s just say I’m not going back.

music-scene-breakfast-club.jpg picture by rypdal95
(Sorry, when I think ’80′s new wave, this is what I think of. Killer movie. Ever been tempted to do that in a library? Really hoping it’s not just me now. And this photo is definitely from VHS. Either that or it’s supposed to look all trippy -80′s-synthesizer-trill-dream-sequence. Either one is plausible. It was the ’80′s.)

Your amp just sounds the best when it’s sound is pushed out back into space, into reality, by a speaker working at its maximum potential. When the speaker is actually pumping, and being forced to use all of its frequency range. If you have too high of a mismatch between speaker and amp, the speaker will not be pushed enough, and you’ll lose a ton of frequency response. You’ll end up with a dull, middy, behind the mix sound.

Of course, though, you don’t want to blow your speakers. Well, maybe you do……I don’t know who all reads this blog. If you’re in a Dead Kennedy’s tribute band, go buy a 100 watt Marshall and some 5 watt 8 inch speakers. Knock yourself out…you’ll nail their tone. ;) And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if that’s your deal! But to the rest of us, we obviously don’t want to be changing speakers every gig. So, try to get speakers rated just slightly higher than your amp’s wattage; so then they’re pushed well, but they can also handle wattage spikes on the huge downbeat chord without blowing. Personally, I use a 30 watt amp into a 2×12 cab with a Celestion Alnico Blue (15 watts) and a Celestion G12H-30 (30 watts). So, as close as I can get to matching the ratings. And of course I mic the Blue if I’m only mic’ing one.

Which leads me to my next point. Celestion Alnico Blue. Get one. Nope. That’s the whole point. Get one.

I find that Celestions tend to sound best for EL84-based, Voxy amps. Specifically the Alnico Blues and G12-H’s. For EL34-based, Marshally amps, you might want to think about some Celestion Greenbacks. And for 6L6-based, Fendery-type amps, my preference is Jensens. For my 6L6-based amp, I use a 50 watt Jensen for a 40-watt rated amp. Again, trying to get the wattage a close to being matched without too much risk of blowing the speaker. And both Celestion and Jensen are making great reissue stuff, too. Within the last couple years, though. Make sure you get ‘British-made’ (not just ‘British-designed’, actual ‘British-made’!) for Celestions, and ‘Italian-made’ for Jensens. Other companies to check out would be Weber and Scumback. Both are making great clones of ’60′s speakers. And you definitely want to go clone rather than vintage. Speakers, just by their nature, are pushed hard. Vintage ones go out a lot, especially if you push your amps……which hopefully, you do. (See? I always just think my opinion is the right one. I should really try to be more humble. I mean, I’m saved by the fact that my opnion is always right, but the humility thing would help just in case. ;) )

The other speaker to check out is Eminence, although I’m not a huge fan. I used to be, but then Celestions and Jensens changed my mind. Please don’t kill me too much for saying that, if you’re getting sweet, sweet tone out of Eminence. You can kill me a little bit, but not too much. hehe

And lastly, very simply, EL84, EL34, and KT88 amps tend to react best to birch wood cabs. Solid. Again, please, please, please go with solid wood. And don’t go ported unless you plan on mic’ing the port, or you just play at home. And for 6L6 and 6V6, pine usually sounds the best. Pine is bigger and bassier, and just emphasizes that American blusey tone better. Birch is more mid-high-ey (?) and focused, and tends to cut through the mix better like you want with the other 3 types of amps.

As for closed or open back cabs, get open. It’s better. I’m just kidding. I really like open for most tones, closed if you really need that extra punch, like for metal or Marshall tones.

And if you can tell the difference between wiring in series or parallel, I salute you.

Sorry, I kind of lost some steam there at the end. But I don’t want to get too ticky-tacky into some of the tone stuff. In tone, there’s some main points, and then there’s some crazy stuff. Like how to angle your amp against a wall so that the bounce-back hits the speakers out-of-phase to create a harmonic texture that’s pleasing to the one person sitting at such and such a latitude and longitude to hear it. I mean, if you’re into that, then cool; but I’ve spent a lot of time on stuff like that years ago, and missed some main points like driving my speakers, matching cabinet woods properly, or playing the right notes. ;) So sometimes I just want to make sure we keep the main thing the main thing, to steal a way-used-too-much-in-every-sermon-and-movie-since-1997 phrase. But it is pretty true.

And also, it’s difficult to write this blog and re-arrange my pedalboard at the same time. It doesn’t really need re-arranging, I just want to touch them. Lovingly. I mean, I’m going to go practice, of course.

And it’s officially Christmas season now, and I love Christmas. So this is happening:

elf2.jpg picture by rypdal95

Splendid.
Karl.

Which Pedal Gets That Clean Tone? (Or A $2,000 Pedalboard and a $50 Amp)

Sorry that the title is a bit confusing. I thought I’d try the two title thing, pulled together by an ‘or.’ You know, like Coldplay’s ‘Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends’ album. Because it’s definitely not lame sauce to steal ideas from famous people and pretend you never noticed. My motto is, if it worked for somebody famous, you should always steal it and pretend that it was your idea, and blindly ignore everyone who thinks it’s really dorky that you just copied whatever seemed to be popular and thought the public was so dumb they wouldn’t notice. No, that’s not really a motto; it’s just me saying words. (That’s from a movie, too……see? In explaining my motto, I even put my motto into practice. Good times.)

But my point is (and apologies that it seems like you always have to completely skip the first paragraph to find out what the point is) that I get a lot of people asking me what pedal they should buy to get good tone. And I always say, ‘Well, after your hands, tone starts first with your guitar.’ And they say, ‘Oh, ya, I already have one of those.’ And it is a really, really common and easy misperception to make; that pedals make your tone. Because if you’ve got one amp, one guitar, but 83 pedals, it would seem like that’s where most of the tone comes from.

FortAwesome.jpg picture by rypdal95
(See? Pedals are just way the coolest of all the gear. Sorry, this one always makes me laugh. This is one of the Freakshow pedals.)

And I used to be extremely guilty of this. At one time (man, honesty sucks), I had two pedalboards that I gigged out with (ya, together), with a total of something like 37 pedals between the two of them. There were thousands of dollars in my pedalboards. And I’ve explained this before; I was unmarried at the time, lived with roommates so rent was low, it was the early 2000′s when everyone thought credit was banks just being sweet, and I worked two jobs so I could say that the reason I couldn’t get a date was because I was so busy all the time, not because I had shoulder length hair, but didn’t own a brush. So I had a lot of extra money for gear. But I put it all into pedals. Thousands of dollars in my boards, but I was playing knockoff particle board guitars, and borrowed amps. Now, by this time, they were at least tube amps. But still.

PolarState1small.jpg picture by rypdal95
(Ya. That’s me. Years ago. I specifically chose a photo not showing my face so that I can deny it’s me later. Note the stringy long hair in a time way too far into the 2000′s for long hair. And note what my band affectionately or not-so-affectionately called the ‘Jesus slippers.’ Hmm……just stunning that I couldn’t get a date. Also, check out the humoungous pedalboard, with the relatively cheap guitar and speakers. The amp’s okay by this time. And of course, if your band is playing in the mall parking lot, you’ve absolutely made it.)

See, the pedalboard is by far the coolest looking and sounding thing. But it’s a tool. Your tone comes from your guitar and your amp. The pedals are called ‘effects’ for a reason. They are ‘effecting’ your tone. Not giving you tone. The point is to buy ones that let your true tone from your guitar and amp shine through; with an effect tagged onto the sound, but the original sound still prominent. If you have a bad sounding tone with your guitar and amp, a pedal will never change that. Let the pedals give you the desired palette of sound, or texture, or effect, or ambiance, and then get them out of the way. Even the ones that are on a good portion of the time.

Now every once in a while you’ll find someone who has a clean boost or something they leave on all the time to ‘change the tone of their amp’ or to ‘make their amp’s tone better.’ And some people get great results from this (and I’m not talking about buffers…that’s something different altogether). Some people also get great results from cheap guitars and amps. This is not about getting the most expensive gear, or about throwing away all your pedals. In the end, do what sounds best to you. What this is about is priorities. In order to get a good tone, your mindset needs to be that the majority of your time, efforts, tone-tweaking, and money, should be spent on your guitar and your amp. Let the pedals be effects. And if you look at your rig, and realize that your pedalboard is quite disproportionately more expensive than your main guitar and amp combined, it doesn’t necessarily mean your tone sucks. Nothing ‘necessarily’ means your tone sucks. (Except solid state amps and bad cables……again, kidding! But just a little. Kind of serious. Slight bit of kidding there.) But it might be a good indicator that your priorities might possibly be off.

A pedalboard of stock Boss and Danelectro effects coupled with a great boutique amp and a handmade guitar with handwired pickups will 99% of the time beat hands down a pedalboard of quality, boutique effects coupled with a low quality guitar and amp. (And I always leave the 1% in there in case somebody proves me wrong. Then I don’t have to eat it as hard and everyone still thinks, ‘Well, he was wrong, but at least he wasn’t fully committed to that opinion. Amazing what a little bit of non-committal, pretend humility will get ya. ;) )

Splendid.
Karl.

Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should

I have a saying that was borne out of necessity……and that necessity was borne out of my own idiotness (that can’t be right). And it came from me always thinking that somewhere, deep down, I was actually the next Johann Sebastian Bach, except with an electric guitar and a Slick Shoes voice. (This is high school days, now; come on. Slick Shoes and their girly vocalist were very, very cool. No. No they weren’t. But they were cool to me, for some reason, and that is, in the end, all that ever matters to ourselves. ;) ) It was just that no one had heard of me……when a Capitol Records producer finally did decide to visit my church (ya, these were real thoughts, and unfortunately sometimes still are), he would hear me and of course sign me right away.

So, because I had this view of myself, it just wouldn’t be possible in my mind for this prodigy musician who was myself, to find a note he couldn’t hit, or a riff he couldn’t play. So when Phil Wickham played a song in capo 37, and hit a soprano note, and sounded amazing doing so, if I chose to do the same song, I had to do it exactly like him. Can’t admit that Phil Wickham is better than you. No! In fact, he’s not better than me! Watch……let me hit this A. Same thing with guitar. When John Petrucci (again, high school…but he’s still admittedly a great musician) would play an insane solo, I would have to do the exact same solo……in a worship song. (That’s an entirely different problem altogether.) But here’s the thing. I can hit the A by Wickham. I can play the solo by Pettruci. No wrong notes, everything on pitch, all is well. But it sounds terrible! I end up screeching to the A vocal note in this shrill, Jack White meets whoever-did-the-voice-for-the-1930′s-Disney-Snow-White horrendous tone, and solo-ing 10 times too slow with absolutely no feel or form and chunking out every note.

Did I hit every note? Yes. Were they all on pitch, vocally and guitar-ily (I don’t even know what words I’m using now)? Yep. Everything was technically right. I can hit that note. I can play that guitar line. But should I? Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Wickham hits an A because he sounds great up there. I also can hit an A. But I sound a gazillion times better hitting an E. Petrucci plays those solos because he’s great at it. I can also match those notes. But I would sound soooooo much better taking out half the notes, slowing it down, and playing a solo that fits my pace to where I can put feel into it and make it sound good.

JohnPetrucci.jpg picture by rypdal95
(Understand, I do have a lot of respect for John Petrucci and Dream Theatre, even if not all their music grabs me. But, you do gotta admit, there is something a little cheese about growling at your audience.)

One of my musician mentors once told me that you should always practice at 110% of your ability, but never play live at more than 60% of your ability. Stay within yourself. And you gotta be able to admit, too, that you might not be as good as Phil Wickham or John Petrucci. A little dose of humility can take you from sounding horrible by playing something out of your musical range, to sounding great by playing something within your musical range. You might not be able to go to sleep at night thinking how amazing you were because you hit the same note as Phil Wickham, but everyone who heard you will go to sleep thinking, ‘Hey, they were pretty good’, rather than, ‘What did we just listen to?’

And the thing is, at one time or another Phil Wickham had to tell himself he wasn’t Pavarotti and to stop trying to hit D’s over middle C. And John Petrucci had to tell himself he wasn’t……well, I don’t want to start a war here over who the fastest guitarist is. They’re all just face-melters anyway; it all sounds the same, and there’s no real musical skill or melody or tone involved………………kidding!! Kidding!! Wow, it’s crazy……I could literally feel the heat coming from people’s anger even as I was writing that. For the record, Pettrucci is a fantastic musician; I just tend to get a little bored with the aeolian harmonic minor played as fast as you possibly can. No, wait, that’s Malmsteen. ;) Oh!! I’m feeling reckless today. But seriously, to each his own. Those guys are great musicians, just not my taste all the time, although Petrucci does pull out some wonderfully melodic passages every now and again. Some people get bored with U2 and Edge’s delay. I can’t for the life of me see how, but there may be some. hehe ;)

YngwieMalmsteen.jpg picture by rypdal95
(Okay, Yngwie just took all the cheese out of the John Petrucci photo. Hmm…maybe out of the whole world. This makes Dream Theatre look like Jack Johnson.)

I try to remember that there are very few Stevie Ray Vaughan’s or Emmy Rossum’s in the world. However unfortunate and harsh it may seem, the simple odds of it are, you’re not one of them. And neither am I. But we just might be able, if we stay within ourselves, to one day make music that sounds just as good, if not better.

Splendid.
Karl.

Music to Make You Cry

Here’s the promised ‘non-boring’ post for those of you bored with the new Amp Tone Part 4 post below. (And if you’re new here, I try to always follow up a technical tone post with a more fluffy and esoteric tone post, as I never know if I’m going to get tone junkies, music lovers, both, or both in the same person, here on any given day.) So this a collection of music that does for me what I think all music should do……grab your heart.

Powerful Worship…maybe watch this one last if you plan on watching them all:

Ray LaMontagne:

 

Tori Amos:

For classic’s sake, still an amazing song after all these years:

And of course, U2. But with Edge on piano, and no guitar:

 

Mmmm……Splendid.
Karl.

Amp Tone Part 4: Getting Good Tone Out of Your Amp

The almost finale of the Amp Tone posts……and another boring and technical post. Remember, for every boring and technical post, I’ll have a light-hearted, tra-la-la (in the best possible way) post up above. But some people dig this stuff……tone is like candy for us. No, really. We can literally taste tone. So we’ve had both parts of the effects tone posts, now we’ve got the fourth of five parts of the amp tone posts, and it’s just about time to move into what I feel to be the most important part of tone–the guitar. That’s debatable, of course, but that’s for a later post. So we’ll finish up the amp stuff right now in this post and in another soon……or until I think of something else that I just can’t live with unless I spit it out on this blog. Which is where most of these posts come from anyway. Me spitting.

So by this point, if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re agreeing with (or at least patronizing with) the views on getting a tube amp, deciding on the style of tube you want, and changing out the tubes. So now it’s time to set the amp. And this depends absolutely and unarguably upon your personal setup. Which begins with your hands. If we had the exact same amp and even the same guitar, we would still want to set our amps differently because of the way we play. You want the tone journey to be an organic, liquid experience, rather than a staunch, mathematical experience. Remember, there is no magic setting for any particular amp. For instance, a hollowbody guitar will cause you to roll off some bass on the amp. But if you’re playing jazz, you may want to emphasize the bass on your amp to accentuate the bassiness of the hollowbody. It all just depends. And please remember, these are my views……they could be wrong. They’re not, but for the sake of argument, they could be. (Come on! I’m just kidding!! Don’t hate…appreciate.)

So the first rule is unequivocably this: use your ears. And the second goes right along with it: keep your tone as pure as possible. Every piece of gear has a way it ‘wants’ to sound. A strat has a thinner feel. Trying to eq up the bass and mids on your amp will not give you the thicker Les Paul tone. It will sound muddy. Same way in trying to boost treble with a Les Paul to sound like a strat. That’s why some of us wackos are such gearheads……we’re looking for gear that doesn’t have to be tweaked like crazy to get the sound we’re looking for. The more you tweak, the more fake it will sound. And that doesn’t mean spending a ton of money……it just means doing some research and playing a lot of stuff in order to find the sound you want, and not just buying whatever is most popular or convenient.

NigelTufnel1.jpg picture by rypdal95
(The purest tone possible……guitar directly into amp. Directly. Ah, this is probably one of the best satire photos on us tone junkies that I’ve ever seen.)

So after using your ears and trying to keep your tone pure, try setting your eq knobs straight up and down. Again, as a general rule, if you have to tweak the living daylights out of your amp’s eq to get a decent tone, you’d be better of getting a new amp. The eq section is for minor changes to set the amp to react best to the guitar, and pedals if that’s your deal (and if you’re here at this blog, I’m guessing, on the average, that it is. ;) ) Now, make minor changes on the eq to set the amp to your guitar, hands, and taste. In general, you’ll want treble up a bit, mids up a very small bit, and bass down a bit. And just for the record, on my main amp, I break this eq rule quite a bit. It’s a sacrifice I make because of an amp with tone I can’t find elsewhere. This stuff happens. If you try to set your amp according to this post, and the sound sucks, disregard this post immediately. The rules are here to help tone; if they don’t work, throw ‘em out.

Next, and this is something I wish I could say until the end of the world (hehe, that’s a U2 song), use the gain knob as your master tone knob. What I mean is, the gain is not your volume, and it’s not your distortion. It’s your ‘tone.’ Set the gain where you think it sounds best with your guitar and for your style. If you’re looking to play something really, really clean, set it low. If you’re looking for a really overdriven, distorted, gainy sound, set it higher. For me personally, I like my amps set just on the verge of breakup. Where it sounds clean, but with just a little bit of edge (hehe…more accidental U2 references……no, with me and U2, there are very few accidents). Then, I use overdrive pedals to ‘push’ the amp into it’s own natural breakup. The amp’s overdrive will always sound better than a pedal. So set your amp to where the pedals can push it into its own overdrive. But when you go back to clean, the sound is clean with a bit of bite. If you lower your picking dynamics, you’ll get clean. If you dig in, you’ll get a hint of overdrive. You can also do this without pedals by setting your amp to be clean with your guitar’s volume knob at about 6 or 7, and then overdriven with your guitar’s volume knob up at 10. And lastly, remember that if you don’t like your amp’s natural overdrive, no pedal will ever fully rectify that. Just try it……try using pedals not for their own sound per se, but to push your amp into it’s overdrive sound. You just might like the results.

(Ya, I know. Another U2 clip. But this is a great example of an amp just barely pushed into a sweet, edgy overdrive. Edge’s hollowbody is doing a great job with that. Not to mention, this is one of the musicaly tightest and most passionate songs ever written. Again, just my U2-loving opinion, hehe, but this is also a great song for those who have ever only heard Joshua Tree-era U2. And, uh…don’t pay attention to what they’re wearing. The PopMart tour had amazing music and not so amazing wardrobes.) 

Also, when dealing with gains, remember that there are some low settings on gain knobs at which the amp will just not be driving the power tubes hard enough to sound good. Most amps have two ‘click points.’ You’ll turn the gain up and hear the amp kick in. And it’s like, ‘Oh, there’s my tone.’ And then as you keep turning it up, there will be another, more subtle one, where it feels like you just had a jump in tone.

So now we have a problem. Most likely, with this method, you’ve got a tone that you’re just digging. But, dpending upon the wattage of your amp, this tone may be really, really, really loud. Which is why a lot of people dig the lower wattage amps. The tone they’re after happens to be high on the gain knob……so in order to not kill people (sometimes literally……ever hear those trebly Marshalls that literally make the room swim?), they’ll get lower wattage amps. I used to have a 100 watt amp that just didn’t sound good until it was almost all the way up. Sounded great the one time I played in a huge outdoor venue (and by ‘huge outdoor venue’, I mean a big picnic at a park)……but for all the other clubs and small churches? Ya……good tone ceases to matter if people can’t hear it because they’re covering their ears.

BacktotheFutureAmp.jpg picture by rypdal95
(Micheal J. Fox of ‘Teen Wolf’ fame. Playing, for most of us, the dream amp. I still think this is one of the greatest scenes in movie history. But I might be biased.)

So now this is where the master volume comes in. A good master volume will preserve the gain tone that you set, at any volume. Now, there’s not any amp I’ve ever played where that is entirely true. Even the power scaling master volume amps or the post phase-inverter master volume amps. Your tone will always sound just slightly better with your amp running at full throttle…i.e., with the master volume all the way up. (Again, the reason for lower wattage amps.) But some amp builders have done very well with their master volume circuitry, and you can turn them down to lower volumes, and still preserve almost all of the tone of the gain knob. Now, some will argue that you should set your amps by having the master volume and gain knobs work together as two volume knobs. I’m not a huge fan of this…I’ve gotten way better results by using the gain knob to get my main ‘sound’ or ‘tone’, and the master volume as just that……a master volume.

And if you’ve got an amp with just a gain knob, and no volume, I really hope you happen to like a lower gain setting. :) hehe Or get a smaller amp, or take your amp to a tech to have a master volume installed. The other thing you can do is to get a half power switch. I run my main amp with a half power switch. So, if I’m in a small venue, I flip the switch down to 15 watts, which disables 2 power tubes. Then I can maintain my tone by keeping the master volume all the way up. If I’m in a bigger venue, or playing with a drummer who’s beating his drums like they told him he couldn’t play on tempo, I flip back up to 30 watts and use all 4 power tubes.

HollandTwins.jpg picture by rypdal95
(My amps. And as is my custom, this picture was taken not even a month ago, and the pedalboard is changed, and I’ve gone through speakers for the Holland Brentwood on the left. And sorry for my mad skills, ’80′s new wave, motion sickness camera shot.)

And lastly, some amps have a couple random knobs. The presence knob and the reverb knob. And both can be daunting when trying to dial in your tone. But presence is just what it sounds like…presence. It is how ‘or ‘small’ your amp sounds in the mix. Too little and your amp will sound far away. Too much and your amp will sound mushy. So set it moderately. Play your strings open as you turn the presence knob back and forth to get a feel for it. It will be different for every rig and in every room. And for the reverb knob, my advice is, if you’re looking for a surf sound, a cool ’60′s sound for a solo, or a drowning in the ocean tone for a certain song where you plan to have the guitar just sitting behind the band, go ahead and turn it up. Other than that, set it very, very low to just sweeten things. Too much reverb can make the guitar sound just washy and stand out in the mix for all the wrong reasons.

That’s it. Remember, try to find out how your rig ‘wants’ to sound, and where it is ‘happiest.’ If you’re making drastic changes, you’ll get bad results 9 times out of 10. And again, I’m no one to talk because I do break that rule a bit, because I try to use the first rule almost exclusively: use your ears. Take this stuff as a basics course that is a good starting point. Then let your ears do the rest of the setting for you. And not just your ears. If you’re playing only for yourself, then fine. But if you’re also trying to reach people with your music, try to find out what they’re hearing in your rig, and what they would like to hear as well.

Hopefully the boredom wasn’t too bad. Soothe yourself with tone.

Splendid.
Karl.

Marketing Yourself as a Musician

Of course, as musicians, we all want steady jobs. (Or gigs……’Gig, son. When you’re a musician, a job is called a gig.’ Sorry, that’s from a Simpsons episode, and it’s quite funny.) Now, as worship musicians, I know that sounds incredibly un-spiritual. But if you feel that playing music for God is something He wants you to do, and you feel that way enough to practice and improve your craft (i.e. buying gear…oh yes, I’m serious…hehe), of course you’re going to want an outlet with which to play music for God and subesquently, for people, so as to reach and help them. As Jesus talked about in Matthew, nothing worse than sitting on your gift.

So, how do we go about marketing ourselves? As musicians, we’re incredibly insecure, so we don’t want to put ourselves in the position of perhaps being told we suck. If you’re a musician, and you don’t think you’re insecure, ask yourself which you would cry over first: someone telling you that you’re uglier than Gary Busey, or that you might have rushed the tempo on that chord change just a bit. Yep. So we’re insecure. And secondly, as Christians, we definitely have to appear humble. Just ‘appear’. No need for real humility in the church. ;) It’s sad that the satire in that last statement actually plays, but unfortunately it does. Let’s face it……as believers in Christ, we suck at being humble and excel at looking humble, myself absolutely included. But anyway, insecurity and trying to be humble are two very big hurdles at marketing ourselves as musicians.

GaryBusey2.jpg picture by rypdal95
(This is Gary Busey, of ‘Point Break’ fame. Busey, Keanu, and Swayze? All in one movie? Dear sweet mercy, let the cheeseball lines flow: ‘I am an FBI agent!’ ‘I didn’t let him go.’ ‘He’s not coming back.’ Okay, all those lines were from Keanu. Swayze and Busey actually have some redeeming value. Well, Busey did until he discovered botox.)

And we all know that marketing works. Why in the world else would people have actually gone and seen the movie ‘Click?’ And to this day, I know for an absolute fact that the only place where a kid can truly be a kid is at Chucky Cheese. That’s it. There’s no way around it. You can only be a kid up to your full potential while patronizing Chucky Cheese. When I borrow kids, that’s where I will take them……Chucky Cheese. No doubt about it. (Notice, I always use the word ‘borrow’ when it comes to children. I love children…………for about an hour. Then they need something. And since this view of children as more of ‘toys’ or a ‘distraction’ for about an hour or so, seems for whatever reason possibly somewhat harmful to said child or children, I have decided not to have any. My wife is right with me on this. ‘Borrowing’ is okay……because you can give them back to your cousins or siblings or friends whenever actual ‘parenting’ proves to be necessary. Like last night……a cat wandered into our apartment. Well, actually I heard it outside and let it in. See? I love cats…just like children. If a stray child was homeless and hungry outside my apartment, I’d let it in, too. It’s not like I’m not completely heartless. And my wife and I had a ton of fun with the kitty……for just about an hour. Then it looked like it needed a litter box, and we got bored and put it outside. Come on, we left it some food and milk. So, since that’s how my wife and I deal with kittens, we feel it’s best to not have children. Because, no one cares when you put a cat outside when it needs a litter box. But if you put a child outside when it needs a litter box, it tends to be frowned upon.)

Click.jpg picture by rypdal95
(Seriously, how many times can Adam Sandler just rename the same movie? The only good thing about this movie was that U2 found it in their good graces to stoop down and loan this movie their song ‘Ultraviolet’ for a few seconds. Oh, ya. And Christopher Walken. Walken always entertains. How much do you wanna bet he just showed up on set wearing that? Simply fantastic.)

That was a lot just to say that marketing works. And then even after I said all that, I put a picture in, too, making it even longer. But you gotta deal with the pictures, because I’m sure there are many people who just scroll through this blog until they find pictures. Probably, by this point, everyone who has attempted to read this post.

So what’s the best way to market yourself? It’s quite simple: humility. I remember a sound tech coming up to me a few years back as I was setting up for a service at a church. And he said, ‘You know what? You’re my all-time favorite guitarist.’ And of course, those are nice words for anyone to hear. But as I started formulating my false-humility-laden response, he continued with, ‘I mean, you’re not the greatest guitarist I’ve ever heard, but you’re so nice to us sound techs and easy to work with.’ Now that should have been a compliment. I, of course, did not take it as one for the rest of the night, and probably for a few months after that. In fact, I probably went home that night and went on Gearpage and bought six more pedals to prove what a great guitarist I was. (And if you haven’t discovered this already, I unapologetically equate ‘buying new gear’ with ‘practicing’. Not really. But close enough. ;) )

But that one tiny little thing has gotten me and kept me more worship musician jobs than any skill, tone, or even feel, ever have. Don’t get me wrong, skill, tone, and feel are important, but the majority of worship leaders, band leaders, producers, sound techs, whatever……are looking for someone who is easy to work with; someone who doesn’t have an unsolicited ‘idea’ for everyone else’s part in the song, someone who treats the sound guys with respect, someone who doesn’t live under the delusion that they’re the illegitimate child somehow of Stevie Ray Vaughan; someone who makes playing with them fun; someone who makes playing with them a little more worshipful; someone who turns down (I struggle with that one); someone who actually learns some of the parts in the recorded songs rather than thinking that whatever they come up with will be better than the parts the pros wrote……someone who’s humble. Ask yourself–can your worship leader pick out ‘great’ tone from ‘slightly better’ tone? But can he pick out ‘humble guy or gal’ from ‘Man, there’s-dissension-every-time-this-person-plays guy or gal? It sucks, huh. That being nice will always trump being a good musician. We hate to hear that. Well, at least I do.

But that’s how it is……and the world is probably better for God setting it up this way. So if you want to get on a certain team or certain band, or if you want to keep your current job or ‘gig’ (hehe), my humble (pun absolutely intended) advice is to take yourself just a little less seriously. That’s the first step towards humility. hehe And even me saying that is pretty prideful……as if I have the complete path to humility all figured out. ;) I don’t. Which is why I still make a big show of turning down my amp, but secretly also turning on two fuzz pedals and a boost whenever the sound guy asks me to turn down. hehe No, I don’t do that anymore…………sometimes.

Splendid.
Karl.

Fuzz Pedal Shootout the First

Well, the BJFE Candy Apple Fuzz didn’t come in yet, and I just couldn’t wait any longer. It’s only been a few weeks, but seriously……I’ve got 8 fuzz pedals just lying around…no guitarist is that strong. Could this lack of patience possibly be a weakness of mine?……I’m going to say no.

What I’ll do is just take my favorites of these, sell the rest, and then do another shootout when the BJFE comes in. Oh, ya, and I’ve got a Lovepedal COT50 Gold coming in, too. It would be a complete impossibility to have too many shootouts.

InBruges.jpg picture by rypdal95
(“Can’t you guys just talk it over?”
“Don’t be stupid……this is the shootout.”

hehe Gotta love the Irish shootout. Irish makes everything better. It’s like delay.)

So I got the 8 pedals (6 actually, but one is 3 pedals in one). (Whoa! ‘Porcelain’ by Moby just came on itunes. If you haven’t heard this song, please go do so. Life-changing.) Sorry for the side track, but when good songs come on, yikes! What are you going to do? Ignore them? Hmmm…maybe a lack of patience isn’t my problem……maybe it’s an just an incredibly short attention span. Anyway, what was I……oh, ya, the fuzz pedals. Here’s the layout. And for those of you new to fuzz, most fuzz pedals use one of two types of transistors–germanium or silicon. The germanium transistors tend to be warmer and less predictable…even the weather can affect them when they’re inside a pedal. They’ve got that ’60′s Jimi sound. The silicon transistors, in general, are usually a little harsher, tighter, and in-your-face. They sound a bit more ’70′s…Keith-ish. Both are great, and have their own place in certain songs.

And again, since most worship guitarists don’t ever use fuzz, I’ll explain just briefly. Fuzz is a very organic-type pedal that reacts to everything…your guitar, amp, cables, what pedal are before it, etc. This can create some sweet sonic soundscapes when used correctly. It can also get synth-like sounds, harmonic feedback, and give some full, huge, lush chords and solo notes. Mmmm…fuzz. It’s great in worship music for swells, for stackable chordal anti-solos, and for hiding chords in the background. Also, it’s great for the neo-folk/raw ’60′s stuff that’s back in style right now. So, on to the shootout:

The Players

–Monsterpiece Three-Headed Fuzz (NPN silicon, AD2000 silicon, PNP germanium & silicon)
–Lovepedal Karl (germanium, I believe)
–No name, homebuilt (not by me) Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face clone (germanium)
–Axis Research Fuzz Faze
–Hartman Vintage Germanium Fuzz (germanium, of course)
–Skreddy Top Fuel (I believe silicon, but it’s not a true fuzz pedal so maybe neither)

The Clean Tone (to get an idea how these pedals react to this type of rig)

–Gerard Melancon Strat (ash)
–Lindy Fralin Blues pickups (mostly neck pickup in the videos)
–Lava ELC cable
–All 8 pedals (again, some definite tone suck with all these pedals and no bypass box or buffer, but they’re all getting the same treatment)
–Lava ELC cable
–Mike Holland EL84-based amp
–65 Amps Cab with Celestion Alnico Blue and G12H-30
–Little stock mic on a digital still picture camera that happens to have a 4 minute video setting. hehe :)

My Personal Biases

–I’m having an absolute love affair with fuzz lately. So I’m most likely just going to keep them all.
–The Monsterpiece looks like it’s from ‘That Thing You Do’, which can never be a bad thing.
–I played the Skreddy in my latest overdrive shootout, and I’m still swimming it’s tonal euphoria a bit. But just a bit.
–And the no name clone and the Axis Research run off of only batteries, and that’s just annoying. Always having to change the batteries out, wondering what it would sound like with a brand new battery in, even if the battery is only a few days old, etc. So this two would have to just kill the others to win a spot on my board.

Alright, here are the shootouts. There’s 3 of them so that I could realy put everything in there. And if you make it to the end of part 3, there’s an amusing surprise solo in there during which I break two very important guitar laws:

1) Play tastefully.
2) Never attempt to face melt if you are in fact incapable of face melting.

Ya……I definitely forgot those rules with 8 fuzz pedals staring at me. Very unfortunate for the listeners.

Part 1:

Part 2:

 

Part 3:

The Findings

–Monsterpiece Three-Headed Fuzz (NPN silicon, AD2000 silicon, PNP germanium & silicon)
Really stoked about this pedal. I’ve never played Monsterpiece before, and I was really surprised by the tone and the headroom in the pedal. The silicon side was nice and even warm, along with its characteristic focused-ness (entirely possible that this word is made up). The AD2000, though too harsh and angry for my style, definitely did what it was supposed to do very well. And the PNP was just great. Very warm and harmonic.

–Lovepedal Karl (germanium, I believe)
A little disappointed with this one. But with fuzz, a lot of times the pedals just don’t react well to certain rigs. But I couldn’t get any definition without it going trebly, and I couldn’t get any warmth without the notes being indistinguishable.

–No name, homebuilt (not by me) Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face clone (germanium)
Man, this stupid pedal……I bought it from some guy on e-bay years ago, and it just will not leave my board. It sounds so good! The harmonics are vitrually unmatched, and it’s able to get huge and dirty while still letting the notes stack on top of it nicely. Very real, organic sound. Maybe the most transparent of the whole group.

–Axis Research Fuzz Faze
Really liked the sound of this pedal. It has five gain settings, which makes it very versatile for getting the right tone for that night. Very warm and full.

–Hartman Vintage Germanium Fuzz (germanium, of course)
Wow. Maybe my new favorite pedal. Rich and absolutely full. The dirtiness just seems harmonic and stacked, rather than dirty. Which I love. And the sustain and synth like sounds that this thing does are amazing. And it does react to your actual tone, which is very good. And overall, without all the sound talk mumbo jumbo, it just flat out sounds great!

–Skreddy Top Fuel (I believe silicon, but it’s not a true fuzz pedal so maybe neither)
Still really loving this pedal. It is so very nice to have a high gain pedal that sounds like the dirty/synthiness of a fuzz, but without the craziness and unpredictableness.

The Keepers

–No Name Fuzz Face clone
I do believe the Hartman beat it overall, but there’s a still a certain sound in this pedal that I have never heard elsewhere. I’ll keep it when I need a really, really organic, earthy sound.

–Hartman Vintage Germanium Fuzz
My new favorite fuzz pedal. Sounds amazing…what else can I say?

–Skreddy Top Fuel
My high gain/compressed/fuzz/not a fuzz pedal. Very, very amplike pedal.

The Not So Keepers

–Monsterpiece Three-Headed Fuzz
Loved this pedal, and was totally going to keep it for when I get called on for those particular sounds. But money is tight right now, and I will probably end up using the germanium Hartman 9 times out of 10 anyway. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Lovepedal Karl
It’s possible that I just need to dial this one in more. But with the sound I’m getting from the other fuzz pedals, I probably won’t take the time with this one. So, off it goes.

Axis Research Fuzz Faze
Great pedal……the Hatman just does what this one does slightly better in my humble opinion.

So there you have it. Hopefully this can help a bit……and I’m looking for something mildly amusing to tie this all up with tonight, but I am quite sleepy now. Weekends are long. But good……better with fuzz.

Splendid.
Karl.

Blogroll

I’ve been feeling the need lately to make just a slight diversion from the usual ‘guitar for worship’ stuff and highlight those on my blogroll. I’ve just been stoked by how many honestly ‘good people’ frequent this site; so I think it’s time to give them linkage. However, I also get that if you’re new to this blog, a post on my blogroll isn’t exactly what you’re looking for. So I’m posting a fuzz shootout right above this. And if you want to be linked from here, but you’re not listed, just comment here with your blog or site and I’ll put you up!

Thanks, everyone!

Splendid.
Karl.

Cleaning Out the Gear Closet–a Pictorial Journey

I keep absolutely everything pertaining to gear. I’ve learned the hard way that that pedal I said I would never sell……ya, I’ll sell it. And when I do, if I’ve already thrown away the box simply to keep a little space in my gear closet, it won’t fetch as good of a resale price. I have no idea why……maybe some people just keep the pedals in the boxes for investments. Nah, we’re guitarists……we keep the boxes so we can say we ‘have that pedal’, even if we’ve never used it. But I take it one step further; I prefer to say I ‘had that pedal’, putting it in the past tense; it implies that ‘I’ve already been through that stage, son.’ Really great tool for building yourself up in your own mind. Hmm…well, once again not sure how we got there. But anyway, I keep everything–pedal boxes, boxes to ship pedals in, packing supplies, old tubes, whatever. I always think that one day I’ll need them. But things have gotten out of hand.

GearCloset1.jpg picture by rypdal95

See, it’s like in your Christian walk……sometimes things get cluttered. The cares of this world can literally ‘clutter’ up your life just like the boxes in my gear closet……

hehe Just kidding. I just couldn’t resist the classic skin-crawl-Christian-metaphor-link. You ever hear those worship leaders who make a sermon out of a song that has nothing to do with anything they decide to talk about? Like, not even remotely? Like, ‘Speaking of ‘How Great is Our God’, trials are a way to make us tithe. It reminds me of a song God just wrote through me…’ ;) Come on…we’re all worship leaders to some degree here; gotta have a good laugh at ourselves every now and again.

Anyway, I decided to clean out the gear closet……in June. I finally did it yesterday. Tomorrow is always the best day for anything involving not playing guitar.

Seriously…I’m going to be the old man with hundreds of thousands of dollars in gear piled up in one wing of the house, but sitting on my couch with one beat up guitar and an old tube amp, perfectly content. Is that what we guitarists have to do, maybe? Go through every single piece of gear imaginable just to realize in 50 years that all we really need is a guitar and an amp? So, maybe I should just realize that now and save myself the trouble of buying and lugging and playing and learning thousands of dollars worth of gear! …………Wait, what? Was I just talking about playing only one guitar, one amp, and no pedals? haha I say crazy things sometimes. So here’s the extremly important guitar gear lost in the closet:

GC17.jpg picture by rypdal95
Extra tubes…because I have to lie to myself and say that if I ever blow a tube, I’ll just replace it with an old one. In reality, blowing a tube is just an excuse to search for new tubes! Better tubes! And tons of pedal boxes for no reason whatsoever, and some rubber bands just for good measure, I suppose? Why do I keep these things?

GC16.jpg picture by rypdal95
Okay, here we go. A table. My wife told me to throw this away last year. I said, ‘Sweetheart, you can still put stuff on this! That’s what tables are for, and this one still does it perfectly!’ She told me that was fine if I wanted to use it somewhere where she couldn’t see it. So I put it in my gear closet thinking how right I would be one day when we needed a table. Yep. It’s in the dumpster now.

GC20.jpg picture by rypdal95
I have never owned a Suhr guitar, amp, pickups, or even their little dry signal mixer thing. Yet I have this. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I have this fantasy of dying (ya…little weird) and then when they come out to clear out my stuff, one of the moving guys will actually be like, Bono’s nephew and be like, ‘Whoa, this guy must have had some amazing gear!’ when he sees things like Suhr business cards strewn about, and then U2 will play at my funeral or something. I gotta get some better fantasies.

GC1.jpg picture by rypdal95
More tubes. There was seriously like 67 tubes in that closet. And that’s a computer back there. Compaq. From when I was a kid. I remember being so excited when my dad upgraded it to the latest technology by installing a cd drive. Yep. It’s certainly a good thing I have that…just in case. You never know.

GC19.jpg picture by rypdal95
Some worship sheet music that I probably told myself I would use the next week; and then when the next week came, I just printed out some new ones. Yup, Blessed Be Your Name. A classic never dies. No matter how many times you play it…or how many times you fake the congregation into thinking that you’re ending the song accapella and then wait, wait for it, is that the kick drum coming back in? Oh, I hear the guitar player starting to drive! Could it be? Yes, yes it is!! We’re singing the chorus again!! Thank goodness! I thought we were only gonna do it 7 times! The worship would have been quenched for sure if we hadn’t built back in! hehe Sorry, I’m having fun tonight. The rule is you can only make fun of people who you are a part of, or who make more money then you do. And I’ve probably played this song more than most and built it back in way more than most. You know, when you’re playing guitar and the worship leader wants to stop the song, but you just totally feel that God wants more so you look at the drummer and start to swell back in, and there’s nothing the worship leader can do about it? hehehe In all fairness, this is a very good song…with a great melody and people really seem to worship to it.

GC21.jpg picture by rypdal95
And some trash. Never know when you might need that. Now, was it too difficult for me to walk the three feet from where I was in the closet taping up a box to ship a pedal in, so that I could toss this in the trash by my desk? I can answer you very simply: yes.

GC18.jpg picture by rypdal95
Seriously, how do I get this stuff? I don’t even like Mesa tubes.

GC6.jpg picture by rypdal95
Yes! Does anybody besides me remember these games? In junior high, my friends and I would literally spend days and days on end in the summer at each others’ houses playing these games……breaking only for G-Rock, Surge refills, and to switch cd’s from Dogwood to Blink-182 and then to Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’. (Ya, one of my friends was a little strange. That is a really catchy song, though, you gotta admit.) I still think these are the best games ever made.

GC3.jpg picture by rypdal95
Oh, yes. I’m not sure if you can read the labels, but the top one is taped episodes of ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’ and the bottom one is ‘Die Hard 3: With a Vengeance.’ Why the blast do I still have these? And you want to know what? These definitely did not go in the trash. I cleaned out the closet, but these are still in there. How can you throw away something that you know has Sam Jackson on it?

GC2.jpg picture by rypdal95
And the motherload box of guitar junk. That’s a circuit board of what used to be a vintage Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man. The guy said it was broken. So I bought it for really, really cheap. When it came in the mail, I realized that by ‘broken’, he meant ‘in pieces’……and not even all of the pieces at that. And of course, more tubes, tube springs, tone pots, and an Albertson’s bag.

And brace yourself for the best thing ever:

GC4.jpg picture by rypdal95
This doesn’t even need commentary. Just bask in its glory.

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And of course, what guitar clepto’s closet would be complete without a blown fuse? Because you really never know when you’ll need that.

GC7.jpg picture by rypdal95
And last, but certainly not least: Staff Advance 2008, of which I was obviously enthralled. So much so that I used my insane artistry skills to draw a car driving up what appears to be a snake. And an Indian arrow dagger is flying towards the car. (I knew nobody would pick up on what that was, so I figured I’d just explain.) And the other things are lamposts…maybe. Now, you might be saying, ‘Well, you couldn’t have been all that bored…you didn’t draw that much.’ To which I must respond that, as unbelievable as it is, that sad little drawing is like a 3 hour project for me. So I was pretty bored. But honestly (and in case people from my church, are reading ;) ), I’m one of those people who can’t pay attention if I’m not doing like, 3 other things at the same time. Like right now, I’m typing this blog entry, but also listening to Coldplay, re-arranging my pedalboard in my head, and gazing lovingly at a picture of The Edge. Well, the first 2 are true. Ah, forget it. They’re all true.

So, if you’re also a gearhead with a closet full of useless guitar junk……I’m there for ya. Let’s join forces in our belief that these gear hordings make us better guitarists. Because they absolutely do.

Splendid.
Karl.

Overdrive Shootout the Third

I don’t know how this happens. It’s not like I intend to have 10 overdrive pedals just lying around. They just start coming in the mail. Like magic. It’s so weird.

So I had 10 of them, and figured, let’s toss ‘em in a bag together and watch the ensuing bloodshed. I absolutely love it. For us guitarists, this is like dogfights……except it’s not as illegal.

ShanghaiNoon.jpg picture by rypdal95
(hehe Shanghai Noon. Some definite shootouts in this one. Stupid? Yes. Enjoyable? Absolutely.)

The Players

–SIB Varidrive with ECC81 tube (JJ)
–Xotic RC Booster
–Paul Cochrane Tim (at 12 volts)
–Fulltone OCD v3 (at 12 volts)
–T-Rex Alberta (at 12 volts)
–Skreddy Top Fuel
–Mad Professor Little Green Wonder
–Ibanez TS7 (home modded to something close to 808 specs)
–Sobbat Drivebreaker
–Hermida Mosferatu (at 12 volts)

The Clean Tone (to get an idea of how or why the pedals are reacting the way they are)

–Robert Dixon Prairiewood Les Paul
–Wolfetone Dr. Vintage pickups
–Lava ELC cable
–All the pedals…no buffers…a mix of Lava and EA cables……and yes, 10 pedals in a row without a buffer or bypass loop do suck a lot of tone……but I figure it’ll all balance out, seeing as they are all in the chain……maybe that’s just laziness, but……no, it’s laziness
–Lava ELC cable
–Mike Holland EL84-based head
–65 Amps 2×12 cab
–Celestion Alnico Blue and G12H-30

The Personal Biases

–The Tim, Mosferatu, and Varidrive were all currently on my board, so I’ve had more time to dial them into my rig.
–I’m not a tubescreamer fan.
–The Skreddy and Mad Professor I can sell for a lot, which would be nice.
–Edge uses a Sobbat Drivebreaker, so it automatically has the upper hand going into the shootout. It’s like Val Kilmer in Tombstone……you just know he’s going to win because he’s Val and he’s awesome.
–And again, as has been in my last two overdrive shootouts, it’d be so sweet if the little Ibanez TS7 with the home mod just pummeled everything else.
–The Skreddy is deep purple, and would look really good on my board.

The Shootout:

The Findings

–SIB Varidrive with ECC81 tube (JJ)
Wonderfully saturated, tubey overdrive. Nothing quite sounds like this pedal. But the compression is such that for my needs, it only works for me for solo tone. Which it does incredibly well, but it’s other uses don’t quite do it for me because of the compression thing. Oh, and putting a lower gain, high quality tube in this pedal really, really helps.

–Xotic RC Booster
Whoa. I’ve heard ravings about this pedal for a while, and finally got to try one. It totally exceeded expectations. The most natural clean boost I have heard. Keeps your harmonics, detail, feel, everything. Just boosts, and perhaps adds a touch of its own flavor, which is very warm when eq’d properly.

–Paul Cochrane Tim (at 12 volts)
I’ve already said so much about this pedal in the last shootout. It doesn’t seem to matter what other overdrive it’s up against, it’s just the most natural overdrive ever. Sounds like you turned the gain up on your amp. It takes your tone and overdrives it. I’ll say it again…the Tim will change your life. ;) And definitely run it 12 volts…the added headroom is crucial, in my humble opinion. Also, the knobs are extremely sensitive, which is awesome. Really allows you to dial it in well.

–Fulltone OCD v3 (at 12 volts)
For compressed glassy tone, this thing sounds really good. Version 3 seems to thin out your tone just a bit, though. But the smooth glassiness without sounding metal-ish is a really, really cool sound.

–T-Rex Alberta (at 12 volts)
No.

–Skreddy Top Fuel
Blasted pedal. I absolutely did not intend on keeping this thing. And then I turned it on. Oh sweet mercy. It’s like a fuzz without the fuzz. Just heavy, compressed distortion……but without getting grainy or squished. And doesn’t get unsusably crazy, either. And……not only does it look cool, but it’s also got a blue led. I absolutely love blue led’s.

–Mad Professor Little Green Wonder
Well, I’m not a big tubescreamer guy, but this is the best tubescreamer-type pedal I have ever heard. The mid-hump actually works for this pedal…it doesn’t get thin. On the neck pickup, this thing can really cop some nice, sultry blues tones……if I could pose enough to play the blues. But what a great pedal. For it to impress a non-tubescreamer guy……let’s just say I was very impressed.

–Ibanez TS7 (home modded to something close to 808 specs)
*Sigh* I always have high hopes that a cheap pedal with a home mod can stack up to the boutique stuff. It just doesn’t seem to happen. Not a bad sound……just quite noticeably boxier and less amp-like than most of the others.

–Sobbat Drivebreaker
Just a really, really good straight overdrive. Full, and a great crunchy sound. This would definitely be my main overdrive if not for the Tim.

–Hermida Mosferatu (at 12 volts)
This is the big brother to the Zendrive. More gain on tap. Just a beautiful, beautiful pedal. It’s like a higher gain Tim. Very transparent and lets your amp’s tone shine through, while still being high gain. And almost no compression. Just raw, amp overdrive, bordering on distortion. Really thick, harmonic, and clear. Cuts through the mix like no other pedal…well, maybe the high gain setting on the Varidrive. Also, the voice knob, as in the Zendrive, is a genius option to get the pedal tuned to your amp. And again, you really need the 12 volts.

The Keepers

–SIB Varidrive
I absolutely have to have it for anti-solos and drives.

–Paul Cochrane Tim
My main overdrive. The more ‘boost-ish’ circuit just lets my guitar and amp do the bulk of the tone work.

–Hermida Mosferatu
My high gain overdrive, and also my go-to pedal when things just aren’t working. It always sounds incredible. Again, the more ‘boost-ish’ circuit is fabulous for letting your tone get through.

–Skreddy Top Fuel
Totally did not plan on adding this pedal. But it’s really, really nice to have a high gain, compressed pedal for those times when the worship leader wants a more modernish voiced distortion. And it sounds crazy good, too.

–Ibanez TS7
I don’t use it, but again, my father showed me how to mod pedals using this pedal, so its got sentimental value. It’s nice to have a backup overdrive just in case, too.

The Not So Much Keepers

Xotic RC Booster
Loved it, but I have no need of a clean boost right now.

Fulltone OCD
Sounded great, but the Skreddy Top Fule does what it does, only better; in my humble opinion, of course. ;)

T-Rex Alberta
I have no idea what went wrong with this pedal. They’re Replica delay is one of the best pedals I’ve heard. This one…well…was not.

Mad Professor Little Green Wonder
If I had need of a tubescreamer, I don’t think I’d play anything but this one. But I don’t right now.

Sobbat Drivebreaker
Again, sounded great, the Tim just did the same thing a little bit better in my rig.

So there ya go. Hopefully this is helpful in finding that right pedal in your rig. Mmmm……legal shootouts.

Splendid.
Karl.