A Couple Years Late…but Electro-Harmonix is Worth it

So, I like to think of myself as a pretty hip cat when it comes to staying up with the times. But sometimes, I just can’t lie to myself any more. I am currently absolutely loving a few things that others have been loving for a few years. Sometimes you can be so focused on which voltage your overdrives sound best at, that you forget to take your head out of your pedalboard and enjoy the Electro-Harmonix LPB-1′s all around you. ;)

  • First two-year-old thing I just discovered. Apparently, Coldplay has been giving away a live album the last couple years for the price of an email address. Very lovely. I love U2, but they could take some pointers from these guys’ business strategies…Coldplay ‘Left Right Left…a lot of times’
  • Second thing…if you have not gone to Guitar Center yet and picked up the $40 Electro-Harmonix LPB-1 Linear Boost yet, please do so. I picked it up in a pinch last Friday, as I needed another boost that night and a Gear Page folk was like 2 weeks late in sending me a pedal, so I thought I’d see what all the fuss has been about over this little guy. To be honest, I just hoped it would be passable and unnoticeable as cheap while the whole band was playing. Turns out, that thing is really, really good. Hugely fat, and a ton of boost on hand (no, I will not say ‘on tap’…just like I will never say ‘kills’, ‘nails’, ‘hands down’, ‘tone for days’, or ‘delivered to your door’…gross). Here’s a little tip, too…turn it sideways and replace the knob with a bigger one, and you can work the boost knob with your foot like a volume pedal…might be all the boost you ever need.
  • That being said however, I did accidentally buy a Shadow Amps Double Fat Boost off of ebay for insanely cheap, as it was listed in a funny category and I just happened to find it in a search. It’s supposed to be heaven, so we’ll see. It definitely looks cool, and you can’t buy it at Guitar Center, so it must be cool. ;)
  • Electro-Harmonix is like Fulltone. They still sound amazing and put out some incredible products, but killed their cool factor by allowing themselves to be sold at Guitar Center. I mean come on…everyone knows tone comes from waiting lists and builders you can call by their first name.
  • Thom Yorke just continues to impress me. The beginning is pretty funny, too:
  • Again, again, again, again…I started searching for new amps and guitars in lieu of changing my strings. When I changed them, I loved my gear and tone again. I have come to the conclusion that I will never learn this lesson, and that sometime in the future I will just have piles of wonderful gear because I thought my tone sucked because of old strings and bought new gear to compensate. And…I’m okay with that.
  • I may be done with custom-ordering. Had a horrible experience with a road case company who gave the appearance of being all informal and kind about my requests, but then sent me something totally different than my order, and basically said, ‘Too bad, it wasn’t in writing.’ And of course took double the time they quoted. Then I had a pedal from a respected builder take 500% longer than the quoted time. When I emailed him or her, it turned out it hadn’t even been started and they had forgotten about it. Same thing with a current company…quoted 4-6 weeks, I email and call at 7 weeks, nothing. Finally send a strongly worded email at 8 weeks, and turns out they haven’t even started. I’m probably just too nice to begin with. But it does seem like these builders have super over-the-top email-every-day customer service until you actually hand over your money. Then absolutely nothing. I’d even be cool with a longer time estimate to begin with, or even a quick ‘running late’ text when the quoted time had elapsed. Guess not.
  • Last night, as I was playing somewhere, turned my volume pedal loop off, and then tried to use the volume pedal. When it didn’t work, I tried again. And again. Without switching the loop on. I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting to happen.
  • I think I’ve slipped into being too comfortable, and perhaps forgotten what it’s like to do anything out of the ordinary that’s actually a bit of a sacrifice for someone else. Because I accidentally did this, and it was pretty awesome. And I realized how far back I’ve actually retreated.
  • People think I have a 65 Amps London or Marquee all the time, because they mistake my 65 Amps cabinet for it. Which is why I almost bought a Two Rock cabinet the other day.
  • 24 is on Netflix instant. I finally get all the Jack Bauer love. I’m very ashamed that I made fun of tv dramas for so many years. I do tend to have a habit of making fun of things I’ve never experienced. But you gotta admit…who ever thought one of the Young Guns could play that role so well? Can you imagine Charlie or Emilio as Jack Bauer?
  • Also…I heard this the other day. “The reason people think Chuck Norris was immaculately conceived is because Jack Bauer is too ashamed of his wussy son.”
  • Okay, one more…”Terrorists dread the day in October that Daylight Savings Time ends. Jack Bauer gets 25 hours in which to kill them.”
  • It’s really cool to hang out with nice people. Like, actual nice people. Not the ‘trained Christian nice’ that evidences itself with the ‘How are you?’ / ‘Fine!’ / ‘No, how are you really doing?’ junk. I’m talking about just…plain…nice. I think C.S. Lewis describes this by saying that the most humble person you will ever meet will be the person you don’t recognize as being humble. Rather, they will just seem genuinely interested in what you’re saying, and you’ll leave thinking, ‘What a nice chap!’ (his words…and awesome British ones at that) without ever realizing their love and humility. They just plain weren’t thinking of themselves at all.
  • Anyone else ever turn on a pedal for a chorus just so you can tell yourself you really do need all those pedals? ;)

Splendid.
Karl.

All Overdrive Pedals Are Not Created Equal (& HBE Big D Review)

I was going through this thing a couple weeks ago where I was just done with boutique pedals. Especially drive pedals. I mean, how complicated is a drive circuit, really? And how many variations can there possible be? So I found one for way cheap, that had two channels, and a ton of options for different sounds at different times for studio stuff. And I picked up this:

Do not pick up this.

I can see this pedal sounding great going direct into recording gear, or into a solid state amp where an extra preamp stage is needed. But into a tube amp, the best possible drive sound will be your amps actual drive. If you don’t like the sound of your amp’s natural breakup, no overdrive pedal is ever going to change that. If you do like the sound of your amp’s natural breakup, then try to get overdrive pedals that are moreso pushing your amp, rather than trying to be all the gain stages in and of themselves. The amp in a box pedals, like this one, are fine if that’s the sound you like and you never want a clean sound. But this one completely overtakes your tone, and you can’t dial out the compression or the fizz. Again, it might be right up some folks’ respective tone alleys, just not for me. It seems like I’m always re-learning that drive pedals are a necessary evil; so make them as close to driving your amp’s actual tubes as possible.

So…now I’ve either got to find a use for this pedal, or do the passive lie thing on gear-selling forums…’didn’t bond with it’, ‘thinning the herd’, ‘saw something I want more’…well, actually that last one could be true. I saw something I want more…it’s called a pedal that actually sounds good. ;) Kidding, kidding. There are some great clips of this pedal floating around…it just doesn’t seem you can use it and your clean tone without changing an exorbitant amount of knobs; it’s its own sound, and trying to be its own amp. I need boost drive pedals that work with my amp.

I did find this today…maybe I could throw it in for free to sweeten the selling deal:

And that’s the module only. Why do I have the things that I do?

Splendid.
Karl.

P.S. Working hard on writing new music…that’s why the posts have been few and far between. I’m having more fun playing music than writing about it. It’s an odd feeling. Going through flavor of the month pedal purchase withdrawals I think. :)

Time…for Some Reality

You just can’t say the word ‘reality’ without sounding ’90′s. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the ‘virtual reality’ tagline in the 1997 hit (except not) show VR Troopers? Oh. You know you loved it.

Anyway, once upon a time there was a pedal. For legal purposes, we’ll call it the ‘Omega Park.’ It was handmade by a small-town, hard-working, all-American guy in a basement. Beautiful, classic, opportunistic story. He called his company, once again for liability sake, we’ll say…’Mundane Yellows.’ And there was never a better sounding pedal. Guitarists who had never heard a Dumble could now hear a Dumble, thanks to this little handmade circuit. Don’t ask how 7 resistors and diodes can sound like 7 tubes, or how you’re supposed to recognize the pedal sounding like a Dumble if you’ve never heard a Dumble. It makes sense when you play them tones, bro. We marveled at the feat of genius captured in this innovation of magical boutique basement tone. The Gear Page was a buzz, emporium and ebay prices were soaring above retail as the wait time was increasing, and all was right with the world.

Then someone bought, let’s call it, a… Yoko Worst Park. From China. For $30. And they thought, ‘Wow, this sounds almost as good as my Mundane Yellows Omega Park! Hey, the controls are all the same too!’ And they opened up both pedals. And found that they were the same. Or at least, similar enough to make boutique tone junkies everywhere cry like little schoolgirls and go running back to the nearest Guitar Center and play Boss pedals through Roland Cube 6″ amps to convince themselves that Boss pedals really do sound thin and they still have ears tuned enough to recognize the difference between crystal lattice and non-crystal lattice amps.

Now, I don’t have a horse in that race (although the internet awesomeness on every gear message board in existence has made for many an enjoyable evening read as of late). I don’t know whether the seemingly simple explanation of a company taking $30 mass-produced pedals, repainting them, modding a couple components, and then scratching out the name on the circuit board, saying it was a handbuilt original circuit, and selling them for near a 500% markup is true; or if the company’s response that the Chinese company stole the circuit years ago while they were mass-producing circuit boards for him is true. The point is that there were two almost identical pedals…one was overlooked as a cheap Wal-Mart pedal because it said ‘Made in China’, and the other was hailed as the defender of all things tone because it had a cool paint job, and was said to be made in a basement.

To be fair, who knows…maybe those three diode mods really do make a difference. But the whole fiasco really threw into the spotlight for me, how much we hear tone with our eyes. I missed the whole ‘Mundane Yellows’ circus, basically because I’ve been over the flavors of the month for a few years, save for the Timeline…since I’ve been waiting for the bpm Timeline since I got the original in February of ’08, and the bpm didn’t even exist yet. ;) But I have not bought a Black Arts Pharaoh fuzz, one of the 1,805 Lovepedal Eternity versions, or a Jetter Gain Stage Rainbow. But…knowing how I am about tone and blue led’s…I very well could have been involved in this latest deal. You could very easily have seen a video demo and a glowing review of the new handmade wonder.

Couple that with the fact that in the last few months, I have sold a Tim in favor of the v1 Fulltone (almost a heretical word amongst tone junkies the last few years) Fatboost, chose the non-tube Timeline over the tube Timeline in a blind test, and no longer like Lava Cables.

And then at the same time…try as I might, neither the Blues Junior or the Frenzel sounded as good to me as the Matchless. And the tube Valvulator buffer rocked (at least in my world) the non-tube ones, boutique or no.

So…the point here is…?

You don’t always get what you pay for. But sometimes you do. haha Play what you like, what gets your heart going, and don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Except for this blog, of course.

And if that doesn’t make you believe everything I say on this blog, then I’m just not sure what will. ;)

Splendid.
Karl.

A Little Break from the Timeline Madness

I’ve never seen hype like this surrounding a pedal. And yes, I’m keeping mine. I mean…I didn’t buy into the hype…? (I’m Ron Burgundy?) Anyway, it sounds gorgeous.

But it’s times like these that we need to remember that there are other things in life. Things like Mick Jagger. And David Bowie. And the fact that at one time on planet earth they apparently sang ‘Dancing in the Street’ together. And it was the best thing you’ve ever seen.

And no, they do not kiss. Horrifyingly close. But they do not. And there is a commercial before this video. (Ah, Vevo.) But I promise you, the video is worth it.

You can definitely thank my wife for somehow finding this amazing little piece of music history. :)

Things to take note of:

  • The ’80′s were a pretty rough time on clothing. Poor Mick looks like he’s 10. Bowie looks like…well, I don’t think that was the fault of the ’80′s.
  • At about 1:25, Jagger bends down in the street and grabs a soda. We can only hope this was put there by the crew, for him.
  • At 1:54, how does David Bowie get to where he does? He seriously must’ve crawled.
  • At 2:34, if Mick Jagger’s dance does not make you happy, you have no soul.

To be fair, I really like Mick Jagger, and the Stones. They’ve made some amazing and groundbreaking music. And David Bowie, well…um…well, if we didn’t have David Bowie, how would Bret and Jemaine ever have been able to make this video?

See? So many more things in life beside the Timeline.

Also, as mind-bottling as it is that that Dancing in the Streets video ever got made, I have to admit that there is a part of me that secretly wishes I were famous enough to put on a snakeskin jumpsuit with a trench coat and dance in the streets and have everyone still love me.

Splendid.
Karl.

P.S. What is David Bowie doing now?

Well, remember The Prestige?

That’s right. Gollum, Wolverine, and David Bowie in the same movie. Fantastic.

Break over. Timeline time.

Strymon Timeline First Impressions

Like Barry Zuckercorn. It’s very good.

ANOTHER NEW EDIT: The newest firmware update addresses the issue of not being able to write patches via midi patch change message. The Timeline can now do this, which is huge. It also adds in some amazingly unexpected features like spillover between presets instead of just with on/off, patch naming, and optional global tap tempo.

NEWEST EDIT: Here’s the promised higher quality Timeline demo, finally. Also the newest:

Timeline Vs. Timeline full blog post, including the video below:

NEW EDIT: Strymon’s first firmware update, available on their site now for free, totally fixes the bpm issue! Serious props. :)

EDITS: Two new videos, and new looping, midi, and mode information and nuances below each one.

MORE NEW EDITS: Ah, great. Just did a blind test between the DC and the Strymon, trying to choose the warmest as the DC. I chose what I thought to be the warmest and it was the Strymon. Then I blind-tested it with the DD20 trying to choose what I thought to be the most percussive as the DD20. Again, I chose the Strymon. lol May be keeping this thing.

Also, there have been reports of the Strymon’s modulation being thinner than the DC’s. If the knobs are in the exact same place, then yes. But the Strymon’s modulation depth seems to be more reactive with the speed knob. Try increasing the speed slightly, and it seems the modulation becomes much more like the DC’s. It’s possible that this means that the Strymon’s speed knob is calibrated to be able to get lower speeds than the DC.

Very rough playing, editing, and I’m literally filming myself touching the pedal for the first time, so I have no idea what any of the knobs or settings do. Which is painfully obvious. But…you do get to see how it sounds, how it compares to the original Timeline, the Brigadier, and the Blue Sky, and I promise that once I familiarize myself with the pedal, I’ll do much more in depth demo’s. For now:

  • The sound is uncannily like the original tube Timeline. Maybe…maybe slightly less warm than the original DC, but just barely.
  • The switches are quiet…I know that was a big point of contention after the NAMM demo’s.
  • There is no spillover when switching presets, unfortunately.
  • The tap tempo does not modulate or mute the current delayed sound.
  • Of course, beautiful feature set.
  • It’s even smaller than a DD20!

And a new video, of just some cursory looping with the Timeline. Mic’d up. I’ll comment more in a bit:

–Via midi, you can change very easily from patch to patch while still within the looper mode. Very cool!

–Overdub starts automatically when you finish the base loop. I can see how this would be cool to just continuously overdub, but it also means that you have to be careful when finishing a loop, because transient notes will be overdubbed automatically until you switch the overdub switch back off. And I find I get the most realistic-sounding loops when I keep playing for a bit after recording the base loop. I haven’t found anywhere in the manual where it states that you can switch that.

Another new video, mic’d up, of some of the more ambient modes:

–The different intervals are great!

–I didn’t think so, but being able to switch how long of a slice you want to pitch shift makes for some cool options.

–The vinyl scratch effect may actually be pretty useful.

–It doesn’t look like you can write patches via a midi program change like you could on the DC Timeline. This may make it difficult for me. I don’t want to scroll through a hundred banks to write patches…I’d rather push a button on the Midi Mate. Maybe the manual talks about this and I’m missing it?

I’m waiting for an email back from Strymon on the bpm readout, though. Now, I want to be clear, that some folks may like this feature, and thanks to Josh and the community here, there’s a workaround. However, it still may be the keep or not to keep point for me. I was waiting to mention this until the manual came out, but it has, and this is not mentioned, so I’m going to guess that other folks are noticing this, too.

EDIT: As Josh pointed out in the comments, you can set the bpm’s, and then go back into the subdivision parameter, and reset the subdivision. However, you have to set the subdivision to a different subdivision, and then come back to your current one. And on the Timeline, that’s a few steps. So we’ll see how fast I can get at doing that live. :)

It appears the bpm readout when using the time knobs is a function of the outputted delay tempo. Meaning, the time between actual delayed notes…not the tempo of what you are playing. For instance, if you tap in quarter notes at 75 bpm, and you’re on a dotted 8th setting, the readout says ’75 bpm’ and you are playing at 75 bpm, but the delay of course is coming out at a dotted 8th division of 75 bpm. That’s all well and good. However, if you then want to play at 76 bpm, and you change the knob to 76, now it changes the delayed output to 76 bpm between repeats…not as the tempo of the song. Meaning, you now have quarters at 76 bpm, even though you are on the dotted 8th setting. To get back to dotted 8th’s, you have to tap again, or go back into the subdivision setting (a few extra knob pushes and turns), switch off of your current subdivision, and then switch back.

This may not be a big deal to most people, but I like to set my delays prior to every gig or service. And the whole point of a bpm readout is that I can set them quickly to the tempo of the song, even if I am using subdivisions. I don’t want to have to tap them in, because it is far less accurate and more time-consuming. And even the workaround makes things a little bit slower. Add to this the fact that the Timeline does not round your tap to the nearest bpm, but gives you 10th’s of bpm’s, and it is going to be a headache setting tempo’s when you are on a subdivision mode. On the DD20, and I believe the Timefactor, when you set the bpm, it sets the bpm for what you are playing, and then you subdivide off of that. So for instance, you set it to 75 bpm, and then that’s the ‘universal tempo’, no matter what subdivision you choose. And you can change the bpm’s at will via the time knob, and still have your subdivisions off of the new tempo. Which is much more functional (at least to me) than having the knob coincide with the actual times between repeats.

Again, resetting the subdivision after setting the bpm by hand resets the computer, and Strymon may have done this on purpose, or there may be a setting I’m missing or forgetting. And some people might love this feature. But for me, I’m really, really hoping there is a fix for this, because that’s one of the functional things I love about the DD20…however, the Strymon sounds just fantastic and has an amazing set of features. Here’s the new video with the workaround placed upfront:

The actual sound of the delay is quite, quite good. (Did I mention that? ;) hehe) I don’t think there will be any disappointments in that department!

More to come very, very soon.

Splendid.
Karl.

Tone Tips that Have Nothing to Do with Tone

Not everything is tone.

Heresy, I know. But wait! Everything can, and does, contribute to tone. And sound. We are wholistic people. So if you want the overall artistic sound that you are putting out of your amp, instrument, or voice to sound good and grab people’s hearts, sometimes it’s time to stop rearranging pedal orders and trying to decide which solder sounds best, and live.

1) Listen to Music Outside of Your Sphere

And I mean really listen. Especially to music that has nothing to do with your current style of playing, or your current instrument of choice. Music is meant to arrest the heart, and fill it with longings of beautiful things, thoughtful things, things we may not want to confront but should, and even things for which we were created and may have forgotten. And for musicians, we can sometimes lose that in the very effort of trying to learn how to create it better. We get caught up in the technicality and miss the beauty. I know for myself, a big part of that is that it is difficult to not listen to what they guitar is doing; because I play it, it interests me, and I’m constantly trying to get better. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. But sometimes I miss the entirety of the music, and hence cease to find any new inspiration, but only find new technicalities.

So what I like to do is listen to music without guitars, and music that I have no outlet to create. That will be different for everyone, but for me, it’s most often classical music and Celtic music. These styles, although usually done without my instrument of choice, fill my soul and mind with inspiration. So that when I go to play guitar, I’m not trying to create any techniques that I have heard within those styles of music, but rather the feelings they produced in me. In essence, I’m playing the feeling, not the music.

Now, you do need to listen to guitar music of course, to continue to get better and get new ideas technically. But, just for a bit, try divulging from that every once in a while. Listen to music that inspires you emotionally that is completely outside your normal listening sphere, and then, next time you play a note, or a riff, or write a song, try to play that feeling.

2) Do Something Physical

I don’t mean become a gym rat necessarily. But it’s amazing how pushing yourself physically opens up your mind. On the days that I work out, my mind is so much clearer. And, this is true, I can literally see the notes in my head better while I’m playing guitar. It sounds odd, but not when you think about it this way. Which do you think will inspire your playing that evening more: sitting on the couch all day eating cheese puffs and watching Vin Diesel drive fast again, or taking a jog? Playing World of Warcraft or pruning trees? It’s a little zen, I admit, but it actually works. Physical activity focuses your mind. I’m serious…try it just for one time, and see if the notes on your guitar don’t jump out at you more clearly.

3) Stop

Just take some time. Especially before a worship service. Pray, okay ya, but also just take a moment. We tend to pray so much and get together for prayer circles, and then the band, who’s been borderline coarsely joking with each other all afternoon or all morning, suddenly gets all spiritual and says phrases like, ‘in this place’ and ‘as we come together’ and ‘go forth in our midst’. And then everyone gives that Christian prayer moan thing. ‘Mmmmm.’ Ya, I know I do it too. haha And that’s all well and good, but maybe take some time to stop, and think about God. In a real way. Just shut up (in a really nice way), remember that He created you, then you didn’t think that was enough, and then He died for you. And then be quiet, let that sink in, and maybe He’ll say something to you. And maybe not. But that’s not the point. Psalm 46 says to ‘be still and know that He is God.’ It doesn’t give any promises of what will happen afterwards. Maybe God won’t speak to you as you’re still. But you did it, and that’s what He tells you to do. And I say this as much to myself as to anyone. :) It makes a huge difference.

4) Eat Right

Again, with the wholistic thing. Just like your germanium fuzz pedal doesn’t like to be fed 4 volts on reverse polarity, your body also reacts when you feed it things on which it was never meant to run. And then we wonder why we can’t think clearly. And I know…I know, I know…that if you were to have told me that 3 years ago, I would’ve laughed in your face. Or thought you were trying to sell me the latest version of that same pyramid scheme magic juice people have been saying will heal all your troubles for the last 20 years. But honestly, at least for me, eating things my body needs and can actually run on, has helped my playing tremendously.

5) These Things:

Strap Locks.

Why have I not heard or thought of this before? That’s a rubber washer from Home Depot. Fits any guitar, no modification, can use any strap, interchange different straps, no clicking like normal strap locks, zero installation, and .98 cents. Okay, you need two of them, so $1.96. I guarantee that having strap locks for that cheap will inspire you so much that you can just pretty much forget about the previous other four points. hehehe

But in all seriousness, life is not tone. But a life lived well, will translate into every aspect of that life, including your artistic expression, music, sound, and tone. This is a journey I’ve been on for about three years now, and is coming more into focus daily. It’s a passion, and as I think it’s important, but don’t want to subject all musicians reading this blog to it, I’m going to be posting about life, simplicity, and cleansing, on my wife’s blog: Gluten-Free Wife. So, if you’re interested in increasing your tone, hehehe, by eating nuts and seeds, go there. If you’re interested in increasing your tone by watching lots of U2 videos, stay here. Or, as I’m gonna do, you can do both.

And, of course and as always, feel free to disagree. Especially on the other blog, because I know there’s a lot of people who do. But this is what works for me, and as usual, I for some reason decide to spew it out online. Hope it helps you, amuses you, angers you, or makes you like Coldplay. All of the above is cool, too.

Tone. Life. Cheap strap locks. Yes.

Splendid.
Karl.