Archive for June, 2009
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.
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……
(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.)
(Yep. Those are the piranhas. And the lighting and picture quality does look eerily like my Tim demo video.)
(Guess what’s gonna happen to this guy.)
Prairiewood Les Paul (Wolfetone Dr. V pickups)–>
Paul Cochrane Tim overdrive–>
Divided by 13 RSA23–>65 Amps cab (Blue and G12H30)
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.
Guess I’m keeping with the theme of posts that have been a long time coming. I was going to do a Tim demo, but after listening back to the video multiple times trying to convince myself that it didn’t suck, it still sucked. So that one’s getting pulled from youtube, and another one needs to get recorded today; which also means another day of uploading to said video sharing site. (That sentence was supposed to sound cooler than it did.) So I figured, hey, even though the video demonstrates so vividly that I don’t know how to play guitar, I can just pull it, and then pontificate on something else in a new article, which will then restore my faith in my own musical skills without having to actually practice. It’s perfect.
There are five main types of guitar pickups:
The double pickup. Like two single coils. Named as they are because originally, when single coils hummed, they put two of them together, wired each reversed from the other, and bucked the hum. What resulted was a thicker, more articulately full across the spectrum of sound, higher output sound. And then, of course, there’s variations on them, such as the more woody sounding, scooped mids-wound ones that ES-335′s and other hollowbodies use. And some of the Rickenbackers and old Gretsch’s used ‘toaster’ humbuckers that had a more open and woody sound as well.
(Here’s a picture of some of the ‘toaster’ buckers. Okay, okay. I just wanted to show a picture of Edge with his current rig, and the sweetest looking wood on a guitar I have ever seen. But mostly just Edge.)
The original pickup. Thinner sounding than the humbucker, lower output. They’re more mellow, and with the proper application of gain, can sometimes sing more, and sometimes be more responsive. Also have that ‘classic’ sound. Again, there’s different variations, such as between Strat single coils and Tele single coils. The main difference here is in the winding of the coils, to match the different pickup configurations on the two guitars. On Tele’s, you want to get the two pickups to match together for that neck/bridge combined Tele sound. On Strats, you want the three pickups a little more separate for the 5 position tonal options. And, of course, there are the scooped mids-wound ones for the woody, jangly sounds in Rickenbacker’s and some of the old Danelectro’s.
(Great photo of Jimmy Page playing some ‘lipstick’ single coils in a Danelectro. I believe this is on his extended solo on ‘Over the Hills and Far Away.’ But the important thing is the shoes. I have decided that I am going to have those. And the sad thing is that I am deadly serious. If my wife is reading this, she is cringing right now.)
Bit of a mix between single coils and humbuckers, but not quite. I’ve heard them described as more trebly humbuckers, as fuller single coils, as ‘making a Les Paul into a Rickenbacker’, and everything in between. Personally, I think they have their own sound, which I can only describe as warm and mellow, yet with a vintage bite to them. Especially with gain. And I am quite aware that that might not make any sense whatsoever. It’s honestly been a long time since I’ve played on P90′s, and when I did, I probably threw the guitar down with a disdainful look meant to insinuate, ‘I am much too rebelliously raw, metal, and in love with Kirk Hammett’ to like this sound. (I don’t think the other metal kids in Guitar Center were as impressed as I would have hoped.)
(There’s some great pictures of Brad Whitford playing some Melancon P90-equipped guitars, but the Melancon Forum is down right now. I’ll try to remember to put them up later. I probably won’t.)
I put this in its own category, because, even though active pickups are either in single coil or humbucker form, they always tend to sound the same to me. And that’s not a bad thing…just a style thing. Active pickups tend to have the thinner, more compressed sound that gives them tons of sustain, and less feel and dynamics. They work great for metal and other types of hard rock where you get most of the heaviness out of the amplifier, and the guitar becomes more of a ‘vehicle for sustain’ on some of the heavy chords and flying leads, where you need sustain all up and down the fretboard. And I hope this is sounding with good towards metal and hard rock, even though I usually tend to poke fun at the spandex, fans blowing in the hair…which Steve Vai actually does…the fire blasts from the side of the stage on the bends, the train whistle riffs, the Floyd Rose misuse that each band thinks they have invented, and the dramatic ‘this next note might just kill you with my talent’ looks in the eyes. Just want to make sure it’s coming across as complimentary, and that I do believe there is a place for metal, BC Rich’s, and shirts unbuttoned past where anyone would ever want to see. I just heard Jason Bateman say, ‘This is going to sound sarcastic, because it’s going to be complimentary…’, and that is not what I want. So if you play active pickups, rock those active pickups. Honestly, they do have a very unique sound, and can be put to good use. Oh ya! I totally missed this. By ‘active’, it just means they need a 9 volt to work. But that gives them that compressed sound. The biggest manufacturer of these type pickups is EMG.
Now that being said, certain guitarists have used active pickups in different ways, capitalizing on the sustain. Michael Brook uses them sometimes for some of the long, swelling, soundscapes he gets on guitar, and bassists use them a lot for added sustain so they can play less and fill more space. So there are other uses besides metal.
(Here’s some active pickups. Nope. Just wanted to show some metal. Fantastic, fantastic metal. But I’m sure they used EMG active pickups. It’s not a question, really.)
And if you’ve never seen this, well……it is beyond what mere words can attempt:
These pickups are used to ‘mic’ the strings in a traditional way. Usually on the bridge. They’re more for acoustics, to get that real acoustic sound of the vibrating strings without trying to add gain, but certain electric companies are using them now to mix in with the signal from the other pickups, or to give you added versatility by trying to give you an ‘acoustic’ sound without switching guitars. I’ve yet to install one, and am not sure if I will, but I do think it’s at the very least a cool and innovative idea.
Now that the basics are out of the way (or at least, my opinion on what the basics are, which could be totally wrong…except that it’s not ), we can go into what makes pickups sound good.
Quality of the Components
As with anything, the component quality is very important. And, like it or not, most of the mass-produced companies use poor quality. And with the independent or boutique ones, you pay for it, but they are using higher quality or even ‘real’ copper, and better magnets.
Handwound Versus Machinewound
There are advantages to both. Handwound tends to have a warmer and more dynamic sound. There is care put into the winding. However, there is also tons of room for variation, which is why sometimes the exact same model of a ’62 Les Paul which looks to have the same wood, can sound incredibly different. With machine-wound, you get a much more uniform sound over a larger number of instruments. But what it comes down to for me, is hearing handwound, and hearing machine-wound. Handwound has ‘that’ sound. More weight to the notes, more dynamics, and much less sterile.
Most pickups use Alnico V magnets. However, certain independent pickup manufacturers are starting to subscribe to the theory that part of what gives vintage pickups ‘that sound’, is not only the hand-wiring, but the fact that the magnets are wearing out a bit. So some of them are starting to use Alnico II and III magnets, as this is what is guessed to now be the strength of the magnets after they’ve worn out a bit in some of the vintage guitars. Very interesting theory, and one that I’ve found a lot of truth to in using the lower output magnets.
Some pickups have staggered poles for each string, and some uniform. Personally, I like uniform for Les Pauls for the clear ring, and staggered for strats and teles for a more textured sound. All up to personal preference, and of course, my opinion. hehe
This makes a huge difference! And you can do it with a screwdriver and don’t even have to remove the strings. Think of it like a singer’s placement to the microphone. The further back, the warmer and more spacious it sounds. But too far back and you don’t get the punch. The closer up, the more full and punchy it is. But too close, and you lose clarity and get distortion. Finding the spot your pickups are most happy at, is crucial. And every guitar and pickup combination is different. There’s no formula. And for those of you who are Edge and U2 fanatics (stupid…can’t believe you guys), one of his secrets is having the top of his pickups slightly lower than the bottom, so that he can turn up his bass and mids a bit more on the amp and get a fuller sound when he goes high on the neck, without it getting too muddy when he comes back down to play on the lower strings.
Certain boutique pickup companies are rumoured to have put actual magic into their products. Same magic that Klon, BJFe, Toneczar, and Pete Cornish effects have inside of them. It’s true.
(See? Actual magic. And if you can’t see the magic, then the only possible explanation is that you don’t know tone. It’s actually ‘anti-true bypass’ and ‘my hands will turn into David Gilmour’s if I play this’ magic. Honestly, I’m sure they sound great. Because of the magic.)
So, I subscribe more to the boutique pickups deal, because I like the higher quality components, the hand-winding, and using lower output magnets, although that’s an easy switch if you want to do it yourself. So, here’s a list of just a handful of some of the boutique pickup companies:
WCR–great pickups, great blend of warmth and ‘singing.’ I’ve used these and have been very impressed.
Lollar–also a great pickup company. A little more highs on his pickups, but also a sweetness that I haven’t heard elsewhere.
Seymour Duncan–the original boutique company. There’s debate about whether they’re still good, or whether they’ve gone to more ‘mass-producing’ techniques. Either way, I think they still sound good. Not my favorite, but definitely a very good sound. Oh ya…make sure they say ‘Seymour Duncan’ and not ‘Duncan Designed’. Not the same thing.
Gibson (actual vintage) PAF’s–yep, there’s a reason these pickups cost more than most guitars. Killer sound, especially if you get a well-wound set.
Gibson (new production)–still haven’t been impressed. Supposedly the custom shop ones are good, but I’m still not a huge fan. Apologies all around. hehe
Gibson (actual vintage) Dirty Fingers–yes on hollowbodies. Great woody and dry sound that really brings out the acoustic sound. No on solid-bodies. The dry sound doesn’t do much for the guitar.
Gibson (actual vintage) T-Tops–really good sound. Not quite vintage PAF, but still killer.
Wolfetones–my current favorite for humbuckers. Very well-wound, will use the Alnico II magnets on some models, and closest thing I’ve heard to a vintage PAF, while also having some of its own unique characteristics. Very dynamic, and reacts to different amplifiers.
Fender (actual vintage)–absolutely.
Fender (new production)–definitely lacking that ‘Hendrix’ weight to the notes.
Laguna–surprisingly? Not bad.
Lindy Fralin–favorite single coils at the moment. Lower powered magnets on some models, staggered pole positions, and incredible warmth, clarity, and weight.
Suhr–incredibly classic sound. Little more trebly, maybe like Lollars. But big and singing. Good times.
Manlius–good pickup. Really, really big sounding. Bit over the top for me, but still a great pickup. Well-priced, too.
Kinman–get rave reviews. Very expensive. I’ve et to try these.
Bill Lawrence–only heard these in clips, and they sound good. Might be a sleeper, or might be not quite up to snuff. But I’m sure they’re quality…his cables are stellar.
There are a ton of other boutique, independent, handwound, and mass-produced pickups out there. A literal ton. Of course, the problem with pickups is that the good ones also react to the wood in your guitar, so you have to install and de-install. Takes a lot more time to try them out then a bunch of pedals, or even amps or guitars. But it can be worth it. Like I said, I’m a believer that the guitar is the most important factor in your tone, and the pickups are the microphone for your guitar’s tone. Just as if you get Emmy Rossum singing into a Fender Passport mic; doesn’t mean her voice is bad, but the sound is still terrible. Now, get her singing into a Shure blue line or what have you, and now the true sound of her voice comes out. Same with pickups in a guitar. Except active ones. Just kidding, just kidding! But you still gotta love the ’80′s. Or the bands who still think it is the ’80′s.
(Absolutely fantastic. And props to anyone who can name the film Meat Loaf appeared in that may have been the only decent piece of entertainment he has ever performed. hehe I think something scary is coming to get him. At least in his mind. Or in his pharmaceuticals. Don’t worry. He’ll fend it off with a Stryper-esque vocal shriek I’m sure. I would say with an anti-tasteful guitar solo, but I’m not sure he ever plays the guitar. He just likes to hold it.)
This is a blog of honesty. I don’t know why…it just happened that way. Somehow, this site became a way for me to pretend I’m not prideful by admitting mistakes that I know others will not hold against me because they find them humourous. (Ooh. That’s the honesty I’m talking about. I probably shouldn’t write stuff like that.) However, at the same time, I think laughing at oneself is a good motif to get into. It keeps us musicians from having that ever-intriguing inflated view of ourselves, who (let’s face it) think that we literally changed the world last weekend with our Gilmour-esque solo, or our Brian Eno synth run, or our ‘Spirit-inspired’ chorus repeat. (Sorry guys, the honesty is just happening today. I understand that God ‘told’ you to run ‘How Great is our God’ into ‘How Great Thou Art’ because it’s edgy and post-modern to rockify a hymn even though you heard Tomlin do it on a live recording six years ago…it’s cool, you’re still post-modern in my book…and then He ‘told’ you to move into minor chords (even though they don’t really work) while you tag the ‘how great Thou art’ line exactly 23 times. Even if your congregation doesn’t understand that God ‘told’ you to do that……I do. I gotcha. I’m right there in it with ya. He ‘told’ me the same thing…even though in the back of my mind, I was thinking that there were only 2 hands raised, and if I were to get the ‘worship was kind of mediocre’ talk at staff meeting this week, I’d need to see at least 9.5 hands up (the quick hand sway at chest level counts as the .5) to make my argument that no, worship was actually, in fact, both monumental and life-changing. Hence, we sing the chorus again.) So this is to keep me humble. And I really, really hope you can find at least a little piece of yourself in the above paragraph to chuckle about. It’s not meant to stir up feelings of bitterness because ‘the church’ and ‘worship leaders’ aren’t perfect. (Shocker.) Once we get over the fact that we’re just a bunch of losers doing the blasted best we can to be used by God, but that at least half the time we fail, and God somehow accomplishes His purpose anyway, picks us up, and tells us to try again to jump on board with Him again tomorrow……I think then, the more God can use us. And taking ourselves just a bit less seriously, might be a good motif. As it is also fun……
- I plugged in my direct box during practice even though I knew it would pop and even though I get angry at my team when they do this. But our sound guy was so far away and I needed to save my voice instead of yelling back to ask him to mute the channel…
- I tuned my guitar to drop D for the last song of the first set, and then forgot about that while playing the last set……four times……and the last set is just 1 song.
- I forgot that my team is a bunch of volunteers doing their best to serve, and I got quite noticeably frustrated and indignant during practice that the sound of the band was not what I wanted it to be.
- I typed different lyrics on the song sheet than I did on the background screens, realized it, and then sang the words on the screen and totally hung our background vocalist out to dry.
- I chose to get the right tone out of a pedal…for 15 minutes…rather than listen to my team.
- When I finally did listen, I was still thinking about my pedal.
- I got off the click track, but then quickly found something else wrong with the song so that we had to stop it and start over, so as not to admit that I was the reason we needed to start over.
- I missed a lighting cue while looking for a Landgraff on Gear Page in the tech boothe.
- I strummed my acoustic like an electric, hitting the big D chord, and then rocking the guitar around for ‘sustain’; and completely succeeding in looking like ‘I really wish I was a rockstar, but I guess the church will have to do for now.’
- I pretended not to hear an idea from our drummer, and then five minutes later ‘amazingly’ came up with the same idea.
- I borrowed a friend’s Taylor acoustic to play. It sounded fantastic. That’s not the bad part. The bad part is that I literally asked someone 4 years ago to shoot me in the eye if I ever played ‘the worship leader guitar.’ I’m glad he had the weekend off. No, I don’t think he literally would have shot my eye out (hehe, good movie), but I would’ve had to eat some serious crow (such an odd phrase) when I told him that I quite enjoyed the sound of the ‘sellout’ guitar.
- Some people in the congregation didn’t seem into worship, and my literal first thought was that I might need to switch to EA cables from Lava.
And there you have it. I am not…how do you say it…oh ya!……not good. However, I do feel much more humble now, and of course, the true test of being really humble is when you know you are.
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.)
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.)
Every time I think I’m awesome……I listen to this. And I realize I’m not. Not even a little.
I’ve got this song……that sends me back to the drawing board every time I hear it. Both tone-wise, and practice-wise. And in that sense, it may be the most important song I have ever heard. See, I’m a huge believer in never being satisfied–in always pushing yourself further. And I feel that songs like this are extremely important to have. And this might not be your song…which is even better. The point is to have those sounds in your own life, the ones that make your heart ache, and to be chasing those.
And not necessarily chasing the exact tone, or style, or note choice, or technique. But finding ways to evoke the same feelings you get from your ‘humility song’ in your own playing. So, every time I start to think highly of myself, I listen to this song. And it knocks me flat on my back like a Yngwie Malmsteen fan who just heard tone for the first time. (‘Tone’ meaning, anything besides Yngwie.) (And yes, I just said that.) The tone. The singing, screaming, aching tone. The musicianship. The simplicity. The notes he chooses. The feel. The sheer passion. And the overall sound that reaches through the speakers and pumps my heart for me for just a few seconds. And not what Bono is wearing. And yes, I said ‘Bono.’ Meaning, this is a U2 song. But, come on……was there ever any doubt?
I give you…the sound that keeps me humble. Especially from 3:15-5:00.
And I’m hoping you all have songs like this, too. Doesn’t have to be this one. But something, anything, that grabs your soul and pushes you to hone your craft to a place where you’re giving the same feelings that your ‘humility song’ gives you. This song kills me every time I hear it. And I realize that I am not a rock star. Well, that and the fact that for a couple seconds yesterday during a set, it made perfect sense to me to play an ‘A’ note in the key of F#. With lots of delay on. That’ll keep you humble quick.
Bunch of stuff in there tonight. None of them really merit their own post. Or maybe they do, and I’m too lazy to formulate them. Ya, probably that one. Anyway…
- The Tim is an amazing pedal. Doesn’t matter what amp…it brings out the amp’s own characteristics.
- Church can be awkward.
- Ever have those pedals on your board that you have no idea if you like or not?
- I should not have sold the Varidrive.
- Fox is stupid for canceling Arrested Development.
- When you ask, ‘How many people are coming?’ and the answer is ‘However many the Lord brings’, that is code for, ‘We actually did no marketing at all.’
- I think I accidentally sold my Mosferatu.
- People take effort.
- The Matrix’s are actually good films, despite Keanu. This is saying a lot.
- I wrote off Lovepedal after playing the Karl, and finding it a very awkward-sounding pedal. Like a Fuzz Face that didn’t form all the way. Now I am wondering about the Eternity.
- There is nothing in the gear world (and very few things in the real world) right now that I love more than my new RSA23.
- Maybe I should sell it and get an RSA31.
- I did not know Tom Hanks used until I saw him on Conan. Either that or he was really awkwardly trying to fit in with a younger generation. Same thing.
- Pearl Jam also sounded horrendous on Conan. This might not be due to the same reason as Tom. But it is definitely possible.
- Is the Bible less complicated than we want it to be?
- I think my tone would sound better in Ireland.
- Got desperate for some cables and had to get Livewires from the cursed place while my Lava’s come in. I remember now why I get Lava’s.
- The first time I used delay, I thought my pedal was broken because I asked my friend to set it to ‘Edge’ delay, and he set it to dotted eighths. But then the tempo was always different then what I tapped in. I didn’t figure it out for a long time.
- “The American church has been educated far beyond their desire to obey.” Aech. I think that’s me.
- If no one realizes how good your tone is but you……hehe
- Keyboards add a ton.
- The wrong note with killer tone is still the wrong note.
- The right note with sucky tone still sounds sucky.
- ‘Comprehension is not a requisite of compliance.’ (You’ll never guess where that one cam from.)
- There was this cat my wife and I saw. It was huge.
- I think I sold the last Foxey Fuzz on earth.
- I joke about musical gear being parts of your family. But then when I sell them, it actually feels that way. Something has gone wrong. Or very, very right…just depending on how you look at it. I’m going with ‘very, very right.’
I love minimalism. Simplicity communicates; white noise makes people shut it off. Well, that and Keanu Reeves…he can also make you shut it off. Whether he’s on the television, radio, or whatever. Except for the this radio program. (Okay, okay. That was the worst excuse I’ve ever made for tossing in a ‘make-fun-of-this-lamo-actor’ bit. But I just realized that it’s been like, 8 posts since I’ve given you a picture of an actor making a fool of him or herself. And that is unsatisfactory. So I give you:
My staple…when I have no one to make fun of, I can always count on the emotionless Keanu Reeves. See, most bad actors give some great photos of themselves, well, acting poorly. Crazy face contortions, over-the-top emotions, and the like. But Keanu…well, his acting is bad for other reasons. His acting is bad because there is none. He thinks he’s acting, but he’s not. See the confusion in the above picture? Ya. That’s Keanu in everything. Everything.
So here’s the best thing you will ever here. This is a local radio show that has actors and musicians call in each morning. Kind of. And it is stupendous.
Anyway (and I really hope you listened to that), I was watching my U2 Slane Castle dvd the other day…hard to remember which day precisely, as this is a daily occurrence for me, and I was absolutely struck, once again, by the incredibly wonderful sonic results they get by playing nothing. Here’s a clip from the Slane show, where they do a stripped down section in the middle. And watch specifically (well, watch the whole thing…especially if you want your life changed), at about 1:30. Watch how nothing happens, and nobody plays barely anything. They just let the musical notes that are, fill up their own space.
That kills me how good ‘nothing’ just sounded. Give me a good melody, solid rhythm, and a tasteful harmonic structure underneath, and that is all you ever need. The best part is when, at 1:30, they do all almost go out completely, and no one thinks, ‘Oh cool. Space! Time for my solo.’ Because, especially in church, us guitarists are usually the worst at this. We think we’re being minimalists by waiting on the chord progression, but watching like a hawk for the split second that nothing else is going on, and then ripping a huge face melt, or throwing in a little train whistle bend, and then being proud of ourselves for our minimalistic approach. That is not minimalism; that’s poaching. Minimalism does what is best for the song as a whole, not ‘what’s best for me to be able to solo but still look like a nice guy by not stepping on everybody else’s toes.’ It’s not about taking turns filling up the space. Sometimes the space needs to be filled by absolutely nothing. Just let it be.
Splendid. (Not Keanu, though.)
I’ve been pretty open here about the times when I haven’t. When it was all about the guitar, hearing myself, feeling my tone, or unfortunately, most times, about making myself feel good about my sound. Or sometimes, the belief that the music simply cannot go on without the guitar being louder than any other instrument. And, if you subscribe to the belief that most of us guitarists do, that the music is the guitar, then I suppose this would be true. The interesting thing about all this is that, looking back on it, as I was trying to broadcast to people how good my tone was, and how well I knew music and had been around the block, and that the 100 watt amplifier ‘must’ be cranked to ‘get the tubes warm enough’ for maximum tone, I think I may have just been broadcasting how unprofessional I was. Broadcasting that if my amp wasn’t blaring, I couldn’t cover the deficiencies in my tone and playing anymore. Broadcasting that what ‘around the block’ really meant, actually really was playing on Sunset Boulevard. But paying $400 to play on Sunset Boulevard, opening for 7 other unheard of bands on a Tuesday at 5 PM, with a promoter who never showed. (Which is why, whenever I want to sound cool, I just say, ‘Oh ya. I’ve played the Roxy.’ I don’t mention the details. Because the details make it sound decidedly less cool. Maybe even bordering on sad. Alright. It’s just plain sad.) I wish someone had had the guts to come up to me and ask how in the world it was possible for my ‘knowing tone’ and ‘having been around the block’ to express itself in cranking a 100 watt amp in a small sanctuary, when Edge could get away with playing the Cannes Film Festival with a single AC30. Of course I would have had an excuse to deflect the question, but that doesn’t mean that amongst the soul-baring agnst and tears the next night over why someone didn’t like my tone, I wouldn’t have actually given the question some thought.
But no one did. (Thanks, everyone! If you’ve ever thought I was too loud, well, looks like it was your fault. ) And I had to figure it out on my own. And I’ve posted many times on this…and not so much on not so much keeping the stage volume low; on keeping the stage volume where you can help the music by getting great tone and feel from your rig, while also still managing somehow to blend and mix with the rest of the band. And I don’t want to run it into the ground. No…ya, I do. So, as I visited my second cousin’s church last weekend, amongst the more pressing family issues, I found something that gave me the excuse to post about this extremely important issue again:
Very cool. That’s my cousin’s (who’s the worship leader over there) Bad Cat…in a soundproof trapdoor underneath the stage. And when I say ‘found something’, that doesn’t mean that I just randomly found a trapdoor in the stage after service, opened it up, and was like, ‘Hey cool! A Bad Cat!’ Not saying I haven’t had that dream before, but unfortunately this was reality, and it was Mark’s Bad Cat. ‘Found something’ also does not mean that during worship I’m wondering where the great tone is coming from because I can’t see an amp, and in my fervor to prove to myself that great tone can’t possibly come from running direct, I jump up on stage and start weaving through musicians, randomly opening stage trap doors looking for Bad Cat’s……as much as I can picture most of you imagining me doing that. But after the service, because I just can’t ever seem to help myself, I had to go on stage and ask him about his rig. And he showed me how he had asked them when they re-modeled the stage to put in two ‘amp tunnels’ on either side of it.
And I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. Not the trapdoors themselves necessarily, but the fact that keeping stage volume low in order to mix with the band meant so much to him. That he ‘gets it’, on both sides of the spectrum…both tonally, and in the way that that ‘good tone’ is meant to help the band. See, on the one hand, you usually get the guys who don’t realize what a good sound can do for the music as a whole, but they do get mixing with the band, and so they just run direct or through a POD or what-not, and sacrifice tone. (I know some of you may be doing this, and if you’re getting insanely good tone without an amp, then more power to ya! I’m just going on my personal experiences…not trying to say your tone is bad. hehe Alright, covered myself? Good! hehe) And then on the other hand, you’ll get guys who know what good tone is, and have the most beautifully singing tone just soaring out of their 200 watt HiWatt……but then they totally miss how that amazing tone will help the music, because no one can hear the music. But here’s my cousin, a professional musician (you can check out his stuff at markalan.net ; he’s really humble, so he’d probably kill me if I mentioned the names of the people he’s worked with, but suffice it to say, he’s a professional musician), who gets and takes seriously enough both tone and also how it relates to mixing in with the band to create an overall good sound for the good of the music as a whole, enough to have something like this amp trapdoor built.
Now, you may not be able to call up your pastor, promoter, or owner of the club you’re about to play at for the first time and say, ‘Hey, by the way, I take tone and mixing with the band really seriously, so here’s what I need built before I come play.’ But you can take it seriously with other ways.
–Post Phase Inverter Master Volume
This is the one I’m stoked on right now. When I got my new Divided by 13, it sounded good. And loud. And I knew I needed that good sound, but at a lower volume. And I finally decided to try post phase inverter master volume. This is a mod done to the amp that takes the volume down at the end of the signal path. So you’re not choking out any of the circuits or tubes from getting signal, you’re just regulating it afterwards. I’d tell you exactly how it works, but I don’t know. hehe *Sigh* I’m again reaching some level of honesty that borders on stupidity. But the result of it working, is fantastic. I had, again, Jerry Blaha at Amp Crazy off Sunset, put this into my D13, and it’s amazing. It’s his own special design, and then he tailored it a bit, I think, to integrate with the D13. And it is smooth as anything. No tone loss when all the way up, utterly smooth while turning it all the way down. And almost the exact same tone at whisper volumes as when cranked. Pretty crazy. Obviously, the speakers aren’t being pushed as hard the lower it is. But everything else is pretty, pretty close, to the amp’s regular tone. Fantastic.
This one works just like a master volume knob, but is, in essence, cutting power in order to cut volume. At least, that’s what it did in its first incarnation. Different builders now have put their own spin on it. I believe Reinhardt was one of the first amp makers to do this, and now Suhr I think is kind of taking it further. The Suhr power scaling sounds really, really good. Mojave also does this, but…well, let’s just say Mojave turned me off to power scaling as a whole, until I was able to hear a Suhr. But this is another great option; although, because of its nature, I think I’d want an amp that had been built around power scaling, rather than having it put in as a mod.
–Good Master Volume, or with Tone Stacking
Most master volumes control the signal to and from the preamp tubes. Some suck. Some are great. The good ones usually have some sort of tone stacking, which again, I don’t pretend to understand. However, it is able to maintain your tone by ‘stacking’ it (look how technical I am!), even as you turn the master volume down. You usually just have to try the amps out to see if the master volume maintains tone at low volumes, or completely sucks the life out.
–Half Power Switches
These cut out half the power tubes. Or, on some amps these days, 3/4 of the power tubes. Extremely useful, and with very little tone loss, as it’s in essence, making your amp into a lower wattage amp. The circuit just simply doesn’t flow into some of the tubes anymore, on a well-done half power switch. Very cool mod to do to the amp. Some amps come with these already.
Yep. Takes the edge off, but barring building an entire mini room on stage, usually not entirely effective.
If you have good monitors, this can be a great solution; just like my cousin’s church’s amp trapdoors.
These are external units that connect your amp to your speaker cabinet. They are, in essence, an external post phase inverter master volume. Be careful of the cheap ones as they will blow your amp! But some of the quality ones, like the Ultimate Attenuator, the Ho Attenuator, or the Richter, can actually do a very good job of giving you the same warm tube tone at lower volumes. The nice thing about these, as opposed to mods, is when you’re an idiot like me and change amps every week, you don’t have to mod each one…just use the same attenuator. hehe
–Running Direct from a Preamp
Some amps have direct outs, or you can buy dummy loads that have direct outs and that you plug into your amp’s speaker output, or you can get either rackmount or pedal preamps with direct outs, some of which are actually tube-based. And these can sound very decent. However, you do lose the actual ‘turning the electric signal back into a soundwave’ realness of actual speakers, as well as the power amp section, which I think is hugely important. As such, this is not my favorite option. Some people love it, and if you get good tone out of it, then good times.
–Running Direct from an Axe-FX, POD, or other Amp Modeler
I can’t argue with people who get tone they love from these. I’m just not one of them.
–Running into a Direct Box
Well, I might actually do this with a good guitar before I’d use an amp modeler. Signal is still kept intact, and if you have a guitar with good wood and pickups that has good acoustic response, then this can sound decent.
But…um…gets amps, folks. And hopefully this list gives some options of how to be able to get that good amp tone at low volumes without having to sacrifice playing through an amp. But also not sacrificing the good that that amp is going to do for the music because you’re too loud. There’s a balance to be found between that fantastic, cooked tube tone, and between using that tone to mix with the band and help the music as a whole. And when that correct balance is found, it ends up being better than either of the two ends of the spectrum on their own.
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.
--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
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.)
–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.
–I love Melancon.
–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:
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.