This is me every week as I try to simplify my pedalboard.
This is me every week as I try to simplify my pedalboard.
It was a glorious day. Down in breezy Santa Monica, windows down, with my Matchless once again in the front seat next to me; me laughing and joking, he with his head out the window, sniffing the air contentedly. (Well, kind of. It was in the front seat with me. Too many tube crackages otherwise.) It was pretty much a Lifetime Original movie. Except with a dog that’s really the best amp ever, and without the ex-husband stalking us. Also Air Bud.
For those of you who may have missed it, got caught in a hailstorm going up a mountain to a conference to do worship, with my gear in the back of my truck, and my half-cab filled with people. (I think I originally said ‘rainstorm’. Isn’t it great how stories just get better and better the more time goes on? By next year, I’m pretty sure the ground connections in the Matchless were loosened as I used the glowing lights to fend off the Lochness monster on a deep lake expedition to Scotland in search of ancient underwater tonewoods. Ya! I like that one better.) A lot of gear was damaged, and yes, some ground connections in the amp were broken or water-damaged.
So I took it to Phil Jamison, who owns Matchless, and somehow manages to make me and everyone else I know who has talked with him, feel as if they are Keith Urban. Nicest guy ever, even though I’m kind of nobody. I told him the issues, asked him to just do a full checkup and fix whatever was needed to get it back up to full specs, and also to change the first channel Lightning preamp to a Spitfire preamp. I used to have a Spitfire, and would have kept it had I not needed 30 watts. So I bought the HC30 for a good deal used, with the intention of having the first channel modded into a Spitfire; however, the 2nd channel, the EF86 one, sounded so good that I kind of forgot all about 12AX7 channels. But every once in a while I miss it, especially when ground connections go bad, and you want to run through the ax7 channel as those tubes are a little less gainy, and hence quieter. Well, here’s the thing. I didn’t need the mod, because Phil fixed the amp so well that it’s quieter than it’s ever been. But not only that, the price he charged me for the repair and the mod together, was so low that I thought there must’ve been some mistake. I’m not going to say what the price was, in case he quotes on case by case basis’s, but I will say that Matchless takes care of their customers…even if they’re not sponsored by them.
It is also an amazing feeling to walk into that place and be surrounded by Matchless. Just everywhere. It’s like wading through tone. And to top it all off, when I walked in there, Ray LaMontagne was playing on their iTunes. I mean, seriously. How is this not the best amp company ever?
So I did a little demo of the Matchless. I’ve owned this for over a year now (absolutely crazy for me to play an amp that long without looking around), but have never demo’d it because…well…it’s a Matchless. I figured there were tons of demo’s on them, and that everyone knew who they were. And strangely, I’ve been discovering that’s not really so. I’ve met a lot of guitarists here and there who want to know what I’m playing…Top Hat? Z? Morgan? Divided by 13? And when I show them the Matchless, they’re like, ‘Wow, never heard of that amp!’ Which seems odd to me, as Matchless was the first boutique name I ever heard. However, maybe because they have now been around for over 15 years, they’re not as known by the newer generation of guitarists? Not sure, really. And there are a lot of demo’s, but mostly of this amp’s wonderful gained up Keith Urban sounds. And I wanted to display it’s killer clean tones, versatility, and ability to take pedals and effects.
Matchless HC30 (first channel Spitfire preamp) w/ all JJ tubes
1) Straight in: Godin SD–>Matchless HC30–>65 Amps birch cab with Celestion Blue & Celestion G12H30
2) Same, but with pedals in between. At various times, all of the following are used:
–Fulltone Fatboost (12 volts)
–This1smyne Dual Boost
–Ibanez TS7 in hot mode
–Dano Tuna Melt
–Fryette Valvulator driving them
Just a gorgeous-sounding amp, in my humble opinion. And that’s all with a relatively cheap guitar with stock pickups and a multi-piece body. A couple things that don’t usually get mentioned about Matchless:
–Versatility. I’ve never heard an EL84 amp be able to go from chime to an almost 6L6-ish clean blues tone. And contrary to what I’ve read elsewhere, I love the way effects and gain pedals react with this amp.
–Low Volume Tone. It also has a brilliant master volume; this amp with the master low enough to where you can hear it’s cutting some tone still sounds better than other amps I’ve played cranked. This whole demo was also done at 15 watts via the half-power switch, which is a great feature as well.
–Tow Rectifier Tube Slots. I have it running with a 5AR4, but you can also run it with two 5V4 rectifier tubes instead for more sag.
–Customer Service. A lot of it.
–That logo lights up!!
And that is what happiness is made of for me. Matchless, Santa Monica, and lots of delay. I’m also thinking about asking Phil if he will mod all my pedals to have glowing Matchless logo’s on them. Hmm…maybe I should think about saving money to buy back my Tim and Memory Lane. Nope. Glowing logo’s.
Splendid. (That is very true today.)
(Read this post first. Then the revealed overdrive is here: Blindfolded Tone Part 1: Revealed.)
The year was 2003. U2 had finished the Elevation Tour and was writing their new album, we sent each other chain email jokes instead of youtube links, Elijah Wood was a hobbit, and Coldplay was still indie. I was rockin’ a Boss GT6 that had a broken delay tap tempo (meaning, I didn’t understand what dotted eighths were), a Crate GFX120, a Fender PA, and a BC Rich Warlock. Bronze series, baby. And I was happy. Sure, perhaps a tad blissfully ignorant; but happy.
Then I visited a new church. And my life was changed forever. The deeply Biblical message? The innovative outreach program? The intense and powerful worship experience? Nope. That guy over there is playing all these little pedals velcro’d to what looks like a piece of plywood. And my life would never be the same. I was cautious at first. I joined the team, but just played bass. No one really sees the bass player. (Sorry, bass players.) I would just kind of lurk in the shadows and thump my notes, trying to peer through the drumset at the vast and wondrous world of colored paint and blinking lights on the plywood beyond. It beckoned.
As fate would have it, one morning the second guitarist was sick, and I was asked to bring my guitar rig that morning. I was excited. It was to be a good showing. After all, I had two amps! Right? A Crate and a PA are better than one Fender Twin, right? It’s one versus two! That’s gotta be louder! And he would surely look in wonder at the professionalism of my GT6, without the primitive velcro and plywood. But somehow I knew…a different world awaited me. A world where magical creatures like Klon Centaur’s carry you off into faraway lands where the color of the led actually changes the sound of the pedal, overdrives are chewy, and you desperately pretend to know which pedal you’re supposed to like better because for the life of you they both seem to sound exactly the same.
So we play the set, and I’m pretty stoked. Pedalboard guitarist has been staring at my GT6 the whole time. And even now, as I’m packing up, he’s looking in the back of my amps. Nope, no magical talent knobs back there; that’s all from right in these hands, buddy. And then he walks up to me:
Guitarist: So, how do you like that GT6?
Me: Oh, this old thing? I don’t pay much attention to effects, really. *(I hoped he hadn’t seen me dusting between the knobs earlier that day.)* But it’s actually really cool! It has a volume pedal that can also be a wah, and you can have any effect you want, it even has amp models and speaker…
Guitarist: I mean, how do you like the tone of it?
Tone. This legendary and heralded word of all words. I wish I had made a better showing upon my first hearing of it.
Me: You mean like does it stay on pitch?
Guitarist: *(with a pained grimace)* I mean, how do you like how it sounds?
How it sounds? This was all so sudden…
And with that he threw the cover back on his magical colors and velcro and plywood. The blue led’s blinked in perfect syncopated unison. Some of them even swelled on and off. It was intoxicating. I felt all my will slipping away from me…
Me: Uh, I guess I like the sound of it.
Guitarist: No you don’t.
Me: No I don’t.
I continued to stare unblinkingly at the blue led’s.
Guitarist: Do you think your amps sound full?
Me: Well…ya…I mean, they’re run in stereo, and I’ve heard…
Guitarist: No you haven’t.
Me: No I haven’t.
I tried to pull away from the strange and wondrous sight, but reality was fading. Fast. I made a half-hearted attempt at resistance by singing a Liquid Tension Experiment off-tempo time signature in my head, but it made no difference. Blue led’s. Blue led’s.
Guitarist: do you like the tone of that BC Rich?
Me: I…I guess. The guy at Guitar Center said…
Guitarist: Guitar Center knows nothing. Good tone can never be found within those four walls.
It was almost a fatal mistake. I felt the spell loosening.
Me: But, but…I’ve seen that green pedal on your board at Guitar Center!
Guitarist: You’ve never seen this at Guitar Center. With this extra dip switch and blue led?
Me: Guitar Center knows nothing…Guitar Center knows nothing…
And that was how I started hearing things without the benefit of my ears. Now, don’t get me wrong…for the most part, that was one of the best days of my life. Tone is so incredibly vital, and it’s appalling how many guitarists overlook it. It’s not all about skill. Have you ever heard ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ on kazoo? Tone matters. However, that day also did start breeding in me just a little bit of hearing things with preconceived notions of how they are ‘supposed to’ sound. And making up differences in tone in my head where in reality I couldn’t hear any. Which is always going to be a battle…we are never going to fully get over the psychological phenomenon of expectation versus reality, and how the two tend to color each other. However, I have become increasingly convinced as of late that at the very least, I do need to stop shying away from the question.
So here it goes. A new series on tone…without your eyes. I have no preconceived notions going into this. On the one hand, good quality in gear makes sense that it would translate into good tone. On the other hand, there are a lot of great-sounding guitarists using inexpensive gear. Mostly pedals. This series will focus first on those, because by and large, with a good amp and good guitar, if a pedal just simply effects your tone and then stays out of the way, you just might be able to get away with not mortgaging your house to get onto the end of a 7 year waiting list for a phaser.
I’m sure there will be some personal bias as well, but hopefully the blue led’s will be balanced out by the fact that I have no money and would really not mind being able to sell a few things, buy less expensive replacements, and use the extra money to live off of. Ah, who am I kidding…I’d use the extra money to buy a new acoustic. But hey…the principle’s there, right? Nope. …… I’ll work on it. Ah, nope again.
So this first test is with a drive pedal. It may be a distortion, it may be an overdrive, and it may be a fuzz. It’s in the context of a new piece I just wrote, and it might be an inexpensive pedal. Or, it might be an expensive pedal. It might be boutique, and it might be mass-produced. Or it might be one of those boutique ones without custom paint and a high price tag, so they obviously don’t sound as good. The pedal is at the bottom of the screen, underneath the black bar making the video widescreen. (Because I’m so rad.) Here’s the video:
Guesses anyone? Specific pedal guesses are fine, as are price range guesses, or general brand or just sound quality guesses.
I’m excited to start trying to hear without our eyes. I, for one, was absolutely wrong when I tried this pedal out. Blown away wrong. And for what it’s worth, the guitar is my normal Prairiewood hanging mostly around the neck pickup this time, the amp is the normal Matchless, the trem that favors heavily is the Dr. Scientist Tremolessence, and I re-arranged my board slightly so that the reverb and Arion delay came before the second Timeline so that they could be looped, rather than effecting the loop. Recorded with a mic. Ah, I’m still a gearhead at heart.
And if you just think blue led’s sound better no matter what and that’s all that matters, post away! Enough of those posts, and I’m jumping back onto that bandwagon away from the dangerous tonal precipice of objectivity and buying a Cornish pedal and hunting down Alexander Dumble!! Ok, that sounds really, really nice right now……this experiment might have just failed before it began.
Oh, and it’s not the GT6 as the mystery drive pedal in the video. lol Come to think of it, I ended up selling that GT6 to a lawyer who lived in a field…I was so happy to get rid of it that it didn’t strike me as odd at the time, but……
No intro. Yep. You hear that sound? That’s me crying because the world kept turning.
This week I got a pedal in a trade. It was a trade I did not want to make; because I needed the cash, and we all know what happens when I trade for something I plan to sell because I need the cash. Ya, not so much selling happens; or cash. Unless it sounds bad. But this week I heard an amazing pedal. And I now own it. It is the best I have ever heard of its kind. And you know what? I’m going to sell it. A momentous day indeed. So those of you who think I’ve totally jumped off of the cliff……nope. I’m hanging onto the edge for dear life…kind of like little boy Captain Kirk when he leaped out of the car as it was going over the cliff…you know…that one realistic part? (Honestly, the new Star Trek was much better than I expected. It had its ‘oh sweet mercy, please stop talking’ moments, but overall, it was a very decent action flick. Except for Eric Bana. Yikes, he is bad. The whole time I’m going, ‘That alien is a horrible actor.’ And then when I saw the end credits it was like, ‘Ah.’ Anyone else can’t help but laugh when the previews for ‘Time Traveler’s Wife’ come on, you see Eric Bana trying desperately to not suck, and Lifehouse sings, ‘I’m falling apart…’? I just can’t help it.)
So yes, there is hope for me. But that pedal is amazing. Seriously…when Coldplay calls…I’m buying it. And a lot of other stuff. Hey, don’t laugh. Johnny Buckland can’t live forever! Probably shouldn’t say stuff like that.
And feel free to guess the pedal of which this landmark has given homage. (Wow, that sentence didn’t work. Sorry, I’m in the middle of a move, amongst many other things, and due to those things cluttering my head, I fear my posts are making even less sense than usual…like Eric Bana’s acting choices…oh. That just happened.) Suffice to say, I’m not over the edge just yet. (Mmmmm…Edge.)
(There is no argument that you can possibly make to convince me this isn’t the worst acting performance in history. Well, at least no argument that doesn’t include Orlando Bloom.)
Which is difficult, because if you’ve been on this page for a piece, it’s obvious that I have a big mouth. Lots of opinions that I prefer to call facts, simply because they came from my own head. In which case they must be true. And then that is followed by lots of gradual back-pedaling on those opinions in subsequent posts when I realize I’m wrong; and the gradual part is so that hopefully no one notices. Like, in five years, I’ll have finally gotten to the point where I can say, ‘What? I never said tubes were better than solid state!’ Which will never happen, because comparing tubes to solid state is like comparing U2 to Black-Eyed Peas. One gives you feelings of joyous tears and heartfelt, passionate longing and schoolgirl crushes (maybe that’s just me) all rolled up in a down comforter of rejoicing. And the other makes you want to put a plastic bag over your head. And if you’re not catching the reference here, this is what I’m saying: Tube tone and U2 are nature’s inherent way of rejoicing, and solid state tone and Black-Eyed Peas are nature’s inherent way of thinning the herd. And yes, before you say anything, I know that Black-Eyed Peas are opening for U2 on the west coast leg of U2′s current tour. Which means in order for me to get close enough to the stage to touch Edge (which is non-negotiable by the way…I must touch Edge), my wife and I have to stand there through the whole Black-Eyed Peas set. So, east coast, you guys get Muse with U2. Midwest, you guys score Snow patrol with U2. And me? (Which is all that matters over here on the west coast, obviously) I get ‘My Lovely Lady Lumps.’ Which is only cool if either Will Ferrell or Alanis Morissette sings it, and I have yet to see their names on the bill. So, I guess I’m just going to have to rely on my irrationally encompassing love for U2 to get me through the opening band. Which means I should be okay.
So, sorry for the incredibly long introduction–had to make sure I put some strong opinions in there to solidify my point here. hehe Because honestly, if you play solid state, no worries. There are some good tones to be had in some of those amps. But, uh…get some tubes. Anyway, the opinions that matter to this point are these: I have railed for so long on the fact that if it meant getting a better guitar or a better amp, pedals should be of absolutely no consequence. Sell ‘em all to be able to pay for a better guitar or amp. And then I actually found a better amp. And realized how much I love my pedals. Like, as I’m removing my Tim pedal from my board, I’m noticing how comforting that scrolling paint has been over the bowling ball finish, staring up at me from my board for so long, as if to say, ‘If you need some good, saturated yet transparent overdrive tones, I’m here. I’m here.’ Sick, huh. I know. But yikes, it was hard to sell all those pedals. Suddenly, my board went from this:
The idea was an experiment. The Divided by 13 has 4 inputs: 2 channels, and then a high gain and low gain input for each. And since, in theory, amp overdrive will always sound better than pedal overdrive, I decided to get all my drive tones from the amp, and sell all my drive pedals. This way, I can pay for the D13 by selling the Holland Brentwood I used for pads, and all my drive pedals; and actually get better overdrive tones anyway. And then use the Holland AC30 for the pads. Because the original plan was to sell all the ‘effects’ pedals to help pay for the new amp and then get an M13…but that proved to be impossible for my brain to accept. So goodbye Tim, Mosferatu, Fatboost, Foxey Fuzz, and Varidrive. As well as the RV3 and POG and all the superfluous effects. (No delays are being sold…delay is not superfluous. )
So, after playing out with no drive pedals a couple times, these are my findings.
How it was hooked up:
I ran an AB switch at the end of my pedalboard, and ran one side to the low gain input of channel 1, and one side to the low gain input of channel 2. This would serve as clean tone, and drive stage 2, as the second channel of the D13 amps is very, very gainy. Then I ran two other cables, one from each channel’s high gain input, to two separate on/off switches. These served as drive stages 1 and 3. So, I had the low gain input on channel 1 as clean tone, the high gain input on channel 1 as drive stage 1, the low gain input on channel 2 as drive stage 2, and the high gain input on channel 2 as drive stage 3. And then I kept the Mosferatu overdrive and the Hartman fuzz on the board to compare.
1. Amp overdrive sounds really, really good. It’s the real thing.
2. However, when your amp is set to be just on the verge of breakup, and you use transparent pedals to push it into its own overdrive, the sound is pretty close to the channel switching on the amp itself. The Mosferatu and the fuzz both still sounded very good. Maybe just slightly less saturated. Because channel switching is more the tubes in the amp getting pushed harder with the amp’s circuitry, and pedals are moreso (when done properly) pushing the tubes by hitting them harder on the input. Now, my switching between the low gain and high gain inputs on the same channels, is pretty much for all practical purposes the same as a pedal…just a little cleaner and more natural, as there’s less circuitry.
3. Effects like the drive behind them, not in front of them. I forgot about this part. On the highest gain on the amp (drive stage 3), the amp just sounded spectacular. However, the effects were now too dirty. The Timelines surprisingly held their own and gave off a unique sound that was still pretty cool. But the Memory Lane sounded terrible, as did most of the other effects. And the Timelines of course sounded way better when the gain was from the pedals before them in the chain. In that way, the pedals are able to control the signal more, making for a cleaner and more pronounced effect sound. When running them into gain (like on the amp), the pedals now have no control on the signal. So your dry guitar signal into the amp just sounds amazing! So saturated. But then the effected signal hits that same saturated, gainy amp…and the effect sounds terrible. This is where effects loops come in. However, the D13 does not have one, and I tend to not like what those do to the sound of the amp; so I’m probably not going to get one put in. All in all, I really didn’t think about the effects part.
4. I didn’t have as much control as I would have liked, especially over the input switching. It is what it is, and you can’t turn up or down the gain. The D13 does a great job of having both inputs sound close together, but I guess I’m just used to how much control you have with all the pedal knobs. This was the least of my worries, though, and something I could have gotten used to.
5. And lastly, the thing I really didn’t think about. Smoothness. I play a lot of textures, and smooth switching is crucial. For instance, I’ll let a high, overdriven, bent note trail off with delay, while I switch off drive and start playing a clean rhythmic passage underneath the decay. Which works great when the delay is delaying the drive pedal before it in the chain. However, when it’s all amp drive, and you turn off the gain, it takes your entire level down right away; the delay cannot keep the driven note hanging on, because the driven note is not running through the delay to be hanging on. And this was especially bad when looping. Now the amp’s overdrive is bringing my looped phrase up and down, rather than having the overdrive recorded with it.
6. This is totally off the subject, but those Boss FS5L on/off switches are annoying! They don’t disengage until your foot comes off the pedal…so that’s awkward. I only got them because Loop-Master’s won’t come in for another couple months because he’s so backed up. So that’s going to take some getting used to for a while.
So overall, I would have to say that the slight edge in sound that the amp overdrive had over the pedal overdrive, was negated by what it took away from me in the sound of my effects and in smoothness when playing multiple passages. So I guess it’s back to overdrive pedals! hehe But I think I’ll keep the amp switching capabilities, for when a song calls for just that huge amp overdrive and no effects. And it’s nice in the studio as well. I suppose I could run wet/dry rig, but I’d definitely want to get another RSA23 for that, and that is completely out of the financial question right now. So it looks like I’ll be selling the Holland AC30, too, and getting a cheaper amp for loops…or selling the Melancon strat…to be able to buy back the overdrives I just sold. So hello again, Tim, Mosferatu, Fatboost, Foxey Fuzz, and Varidrive. lol Ah, guitarists.
Someone did mention to me the other day that maybe I should’ve just saved up for the new amp, and then I wouldn’t have had to sell everything and then buy it back. I did not understand the question.
Something triggered this in my head the other day; and I started thinking of all the tone ideas that I have abandoned over the years. And how fortunate that abandonment has been for the world as a whole. See, my natural tendency is to think that, if it’s an idea that’s been thought of before, it’s not good enough. And so I’m always trying to push the envelope for new and innovative ways to do the ultimate end of all life. Which is tone. (Just in case there was any doubt. ) However, for every one thing I’ve come up with that I actually end up instigating (that word might not go there) in my rig, there have been like, a hundred other abandoned concepts. Some, fortunately, before they were ever put into place; and others, quite unfortunately, after a good many people heard them live.
So, of course, my next thought is, ‘I should post my stupidity on the internet.’ I don’t know why that is always my next thought……I’m probably just hoping to get some kind of confirmation that I’m not alone. Oh, I hope I’m not alone in some of these. And please note that, yes…they are all completely true. And though most of them happened 5 or 6 years ago, as a 19-year-old just cutting his teeth on tone, a couple of them were…uh…not so long ago.
Yikes. I sure wish I had made some of those up.
Killer night. Much thanks to everybody that came out and lent their tone for the night. And to those who lent just their presence so as not to shatter our worlds with their tone. And to those who viewed online…listening to us, and then playing their rig at the same time, thinking, ‘Yep. My tone is better.’ (Or, maybe that’s just me who would’ve done that. )
The biggest thanks goes to my wife, Jamianne, who not only hung out and watched online, saved us twice by calling me when the computer mic was clipping out, but also answered almost every question people had about my rig in that chat room, correctly. I mean, whoa! If I wasn’t madly in love already, I would’ve been after I read the transcript and saw this: “Jamianne: Um, I think it’s the Damage Control Timeline.” Love is made up of exactly such things.
Jamianne, I love you, Sweetheart! Thanks for everything that evening.
Last Monday we had twelve guitarists out at my church for the Guitar for Worship Workshop, and a bunch of others watching on Mogulus via live webstream. I made a promise to myself not to count up the total value in dollars of the gear on the stage that night, so as not to have to feel guilty that we were all there to show off sweet, sweet tone rather than to sell all our gear and buy food for the world. The entire world. There was a lot of gear there. For those of you watching online, I’m not sure if it came through, but there were definitely tears of joy glistening in my eyes.
As always happens with these things, I have a scripted out, hour-long talk planned that covers tone, minimalism, gear, sound, playing in worship situations, all the stuff that I truly believe myself to be the authority on. And then all my tonal heroes show up, and that belief comes crashing down. So instead of a seminar, I just had myself and everybody else talk through and demonstrate their rigs. And then there was tone.
And no, unfortunately, it was not recorded. See, I just assumed that Mogulus was smart enough to record automatically. Turns out that you have to push a little ‘record’ button. You mean I actually have to do something myself? Stupid technology. So you’ll have to do with pictures. Thanks to tone-master Jason Bast for a lot of these pics. (And, uh, you can tell which ones are his because they’re the ones that you can actually read the gear names in. Mine are from my phone, because I forgot my camera. Ya, I failed a lot technologically that night. I’m blaming all the sweet tone for clouding my senses.)
So here’s our ‘with our tone combined’ circle of wonder. And for some reason, I’m doing this in alphabetical order. Which is very unlike me. So, to make it more random and less like me, we’ll do alphabetical order of the last name. Ha.
(That’s my own personal Annie Leibowitz shot.)
–John Suhr Strat
–John Suhr Badger
–Lovepedal Death of a Vox
–Toneczar Openhaus (with EB expression pedal)
–Line 6 M13 (with Line 6 expression pedal)
–Planet Waves cables (I think)
–Voodoo Labs PP2+ (again, I think)
Highlight of Jason’s rig:
–Line 6 M13
I met Jason last year at the first tone workshop I did at my church. And he blew me away with how much sound and nuances of sound he could get out of any one pedal. Jason’s one of those guys whose tone really comes from his hands. You get the feeling that it wouldn’t matter what gear he played. His tone was fantastic through the Badger; which, by the way, impressed the living daylights out of me with its power scaling. It sounded ‘full’ and like air was still moving at relatively low volumes. Very cool.
And the M13. Wow. Its modulation sounds really, really surprised me. I was expecting cold and sterile, and instead it sounded like…not analog…but rather, clear and studio grade rackmount. Also, I didn’t know it had so much versatility. It was getting seek wah sounds, and filters, and all kinds of stuff. The overdrives didn’t do much for me…but, obviously, they don’t for Jason, either, as he’s got 3 stompbox overdrive pedals still on his board. And that Openhaus…mmmmmm.
Overall, I would definitely not mind having Jason’s tone. And I might even kill somebody (not really) to have his ability to structure chords and melodies on the fly. Great sounding rig, surprisingly good sounding M13, and killer Suhr Badger. And really humble…it’s cool to hear him warming up with crazy riffs, but then demo-ing gear with just sweet chord structures.
Jason, thanks for coming and sharing your tone, brother!
Eric didn’t bring his rig, so this is a photo I got off of his blog…he didn’t just jump up and start leading worship during the guitar workshop. I was trying to show his Tele here. Along with the Beeman classic special: capo 2. Love ya, Eric! When I played with Eric, he always capo’d 2 in E for a grand total of F# and confused lead guitar players. Come on guys, let’s face it–us lead guitar players are lost if it’s not in E minor.
And here’s his amp. Believe it or not, this is a Crate. Modded and completely re-shelled by Andy Lumsden. Sounds very good, and looks even better!
–1993 Fender Telecaster (American)
–1956 Gibson LG-1 (LR Baggs Pickup)
–Martin DM (Fishman Rare Earth Pickup)
–Crate VC508 (Lumsden mods)
–Visual Sound Route 66 compressor/overdrive
–Danelectro Tuna Melt tremolo
–Ernie Ball volume pedal
Eric was the worship leader at my church when I first started playing lead guitar in a worship setting, and one of my mentors. So unfortunately, he remembers me when I was trying to mix Dream Theatre with Acoustic Alchemy during Matt Redman songs and without a little something I like to call talent. But he’s gracious enough not to mention it.
Eric’s one of those musicians. You know, he does well whatever instrument he picks up. So, he’s a vocalist and acoustic guitarist by trade, but his electric playing and tone fit the music perfectly. Because that’s what musicians do…fit the music, rather than try to show of their chops. I love the way Eric plays lead guitar. And he’s a good friend, too.
Eric, thanks for lending your presence that night!!
–Carvin custom neck-through (um…I could be totally wrong on that)
–Carvin Nomad (I think)
–Planet Waves Tuner
–Digitech chorus (?)
–Marshall compressor (?)
–Fulltone Fulldrive (Original)
–TC Electronics Nova Delay
–Line 6 Echo Park
–Boss Loop Station
Highlight of Kenrick’s Rig:
–Carvin custom guitar
I met Kenrick just this year over this blog. And immediately, I loved his opinions on gear……or, maybe he just mentioned U2. One or the other. But his tone sounded awesome. The Fulltone Fulldrive is so overlooked these days because it’s one of the ‘original boutiques’ that became industry standard. And everyone (myself included), wants something different-looking. But every time I hear the Fulldrive with EL84 or EL34 tubes, I’m reminded why it’s industry standard. It really reacted well to the Carvin amp, which is another sleeper brand. Carvin has really up their game for guitar players over the last few years, and Kenrick’s tone proved that.
Also, the Nova delay sounded surprisingly good in his rig. He hit a couple layered delays that sounded fantastic! I’m not a huge fan of that pedal, so I’m guessing most of the sound has to do with his playing, and knowledge of how to dial the pedal in right.
But the main thing that got me was the guitar. Beautiful looking, and sounded wonderful. Really full and rich. Kind of goes with the point that if you’ve got a good guitar, everything else can be secondary and just fall into place.
We ran out of time to hear the Loop Station, which I was really looking forward to hearing, but maybe next time. Kenrick, it was awesome to have you there, and your sound was really, really good!!
Whoa, that picture takes me back. That’s the middle school multi-purpose room our church used to meet in. And Sal with his sweet Parker. Sal didn’t bring his rig, so I had to find this picture from what seems like ages ago.
–Parker (vintage, not sure of the exact model)
–(too many others to list)
–Sal doesn’t need effects.
Sal is one of those musicians who, when they come to your church, you’re like, ‘What are you doing here? You could actually get paid somewhere.’ hehe Sal is one of the fastest guitarists I’ve ever met, taught the guys from POD how to play, but can also give you a sweet, simplistic blues solo if you ask him.
And he’s really humble, too, shown in the fact that he didn’t bring his rig so as to not put us all to shame. But he’s got some great tone, mostly from his Parker. Great guitar, and it plays so smoothly. But Sal’s another one who’s tone comes from his hands. And I still find certain blues riffs coming out of me that are from him.
Sal, you’re a great friend and musical mentor. Thanks for coming!
(That’s Bob Huestis and his sweet, toneful rig. Oh, and Travis must’ve seen something he liked in the background. Probably a delay pedal.)
–Duesenberg Semi-Hollowbody (P90 and humbucker)
–Fender Telecaster (American)
–Line 6 M13
Highlight of Bob’s rig:
–The sweetest guitar you’ve ever seen in your life.
Bob gets talked about so much around the Temecula area here, I thought at first he was a myth. You know, like the Keyser Soze of tone. The kind guitar players talk about in hushed whispers. ‘Ya, that tone’s pretty good. But it’ll never match Bob Huestis.’ But seriously! It seems like everyone I talk to knows Bob. I’ll like, set a pedal and someone’ll say, ‘Oh, Bob Huestis wouldn’t do it that way.’ Ya. He’s a legend.
But it’s so cool to talk with him, because he’s extremely unassuming. Really humble, and genuinely interested in everybody else’s rig. But when he plays, whoa. I love that he had the minimalistic effects going on–couple drive boxes on batteries, and then the M13 for modulation. And let me tell you…his tone was fantastic. Really, really sweet sounding…but able to really drive when necessary. And he really knew that M13, too. Got it into a 4 cascading delay thing. And when he said it, I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be too much.’ But it was perfectly balanced.
But most of all, that guitar is just incredible. Wonderful sound. I want one. But then I’ll sell all my gear, get one, and realize that I still don’t sound like Bob Huestis.
Bob, thanks so much for coming. I really appreciate your sharing your tone and knowledge and gear with us! You sounded seriously incredible.
That’s his knee and half of his head there on the left. Adam, I’m so sorry I don’t have a picture of you, bro! I’d only officially met Adam the week before. And the first thing I realized is how humble he is. (And if you haven’t noticed by now, if there’s one thing I adore, it’s humility. Probably because if there’s one thing I don’t have, it’s humility. And if you think, ‘Oh, he’s just being humble by saying he has no humility’, just send me an e-mail saying that solid state is better than tubes, and see how humble I am then. ) But he asked some tone questions, and just learned from everyone else, and it was only the week after that I learned he’s actually a worship leader……and he never said a word about it. Very cool, brother.
Adam, thanks for being there, my friend!
(Wow, you can tell which picture is Jason’s, and which picture is mine. hehe)
–Prairiewood Les Paul (Oh yes)
–Mesa Boogie Lonestar Special
–Barber Tone Press
–Xotic RC Booster
–Cmatmods Signa Drive
–Seymour Duncan ShapeShifter
–Eventide Timefactor (with external tap tempo)
–Voodoo Labs PP2+ power (I think)
–cool boutique cables (Blast! I can’t remember what he said they were…something about darkness…)
Highlight of Ryan’s rig:
–Prairiewood!!! Okay, okay…Mesa Boogie Lonestar Special………and the Prairiewood
Did Ryan win the award for best tone? Of course! He was playing a Prairiewood, after all. hehe And for those you who don’t know, I’m kidding around because I also play a Prairiewood. But he did have really awesome tone! And he totally does win the award for cleanest pedalboard. It just looks killer! Ryan is another guy that I just met recently through this blog. And again, a very humble guy. But his tone was great, especially through that Prairiewood. Of course, I’m biased to those guitars. But it sounded really good…I even got a chance to play it through my rig, and it was awesome. Sounded almost just like my guitar. A couple subtleties, but whoa. Robert Dixon can make guitars.
The Lonestar, though! Wow. Mesa Boogie gets a bad rap. That amp sounded great. Really, really gutsy…but retaining smoothness. I liked it a lot! And I also liked the ShapeShifter. I have this weird thing with Seymour Duncan, because that name just brings back images from my metal days when it was all about Seymour Duncan pickups. But the ShapeShifter really kept his tone intact while effecting it, which is unfortunately rare with tremolo. Another pleasant surprise.
Overall, Ryan’s tone with the Prairiewood into the Lonestar was really, really good! Ryan, thanks so much for coming out, brother! You sounded great.
Tim didn’t bring his rig, so this is a picture of he and I being rockstars in our church’s old building about 3-ish? years ago. That’s his bass, and it sounds awesome. As for my gear? Three years later? I think the only thing I still have is that Holland…and it’s been modded, and tolexed in a different color now.
–Yamaha 4-string active bass (early ’90′s, I think…incredible sound)
–Art & Lutherie acoustic
–(too many others to list)
–Gibson Hawk (vintage)
–Modded Boss SD-1/TS808
Tim has been one of my closest brothers (again…brother like what Robert DeNiro calls people in the film ‘Heat’, not like we came out of the same womb) for about 7 years now. He’s a great friend, encouragement, and one of the most loyal people you’ll ever meet.
He and I have this thing now where, we’ve been playing together for so long, that we can tell where each other is going with the song…even if that place is going to be a mistake. hehe He’s one of my all-time favorite bass players to play with because his tone and the way he plays is so drive, and so ‘just what the song needs’, that it just fills up the harmonic space so nicely. If you haven’t had the opportunity to play guitar when Tim’s playing bass, I’d highly suggest it.
If Tim had brought his rig, his bass would’ve totally been the highlight. Really full without getting muddy. I can’t even remember exactly what model Yamaha it is…but it’s one of the older ones, meaning it’s good. Tim also got there early to help me set up, so I owe him a pedal or something.
Tim, thanks you so much for coming, and for being an amazing bass player.
(Yes, I know I used this picture already. But that was for Adam. This is for Danny…the guy playing the guitar.)
–Fender Tele (American)
–Fender Twin Reverb
(Aw, Danny, you’re gonna kill me! I can’t remember them all, and Travis’ shoulder is in the way. Stupid Travis…being nice and talking with people……and getting in the way of my camera. )
–Line 6 DL4
–Line 6 Tap Trem
–Oh, ya, that new Blackstar one!
–Is the Carl Martin one still on there?
–And I know there was a Tonebone at one time
Highlight of Danny’s rig:
–Line 6 DL4
I love Danny. (And I do have a wife…whom I love in a much different way.) But my love for Danny is for not only his tone and his playing, but because we have a similar story. We both came from metal backgrounds. When I first met Danny, he was playing a Peavey XXX. (Oh! So metal.) And I had like, just come off of my Crate and Boss GT6. And now we’re both minimalistic to a fault.
But Danny is one of the best worship guitarists I’ve ever played with. He really ‘gets’ what’s happening in worship music, and gives the song exactly what it needs, and rarely any more. I love his tone! It really sings, and he gets a lot from his rig. The main thing that always gets me about Danny’s effects is his DL4. I’m not a huge DL4 fan, because the sound (to me) seems fairly lo-res. But Danny’s taken a page from Coldplay’s Johnny Buckland, it seems, and uses his DD20 for most of the normal delay sounds, and the DL4 for the cool, lo-res stuff to layer in the background. I’ve yet to hear another worship guitarist do this so well.
He came a little late, and didn’t get a chance to set up his rig until after the circle of tonal joy had ‘officially’ disbanded, but the minute he started playing, he attracted a crowd. Danny, thanks for being there, brother. And thanks for taking so seriously your playing for God’s glory.
–John Suhr Strat
–Fender MIJ Tele with Jason Lollar bridge pickup
–Magic Amp Brit
–Maxon SD9 (vintage)
–MI Audio Crunchbox
–Paul Cochrane Tim
–Line 6 MM4
–Peterson Strobostomp tuner
–George L cables
–Voodoo Labs PP2+ power
Highlight of Travis’ rig:
Travis and I have an interesting history which he knows nothing about. He used to play at a Sunday night young adult church service in town about 5-ish? years ago that I used to attend. And he was incredible. I’d never thought of using the guitar to actually take the music and the worship somewhere. To drive. To sparkle. To actually sound good. As of then, I had only thought of power chords and solo’s. And a lot of guitarists are still there. (Think Steve Vai. Oh! Yep. I just said that. He makes more money than me; it’s cool.) So I’d go back to my church every week and try to emulate what he was doing on my Boss GT-6. And everyone at my church loved my stolen genius. And then he screwed it all up by marrying one of our pastors’ sisters, and coming to play at my church. And then everyone heard the real thing…with tubes, and tone, and a little thing called talent, and suddenly I was not cool anymore.
It was at this point that I decided to make my life’s goal to play better than Travis. And…um…it’s…well, it’s yet to happen. And for those of you who were there, or were watching Travis online, you know that it may very well never happen. Travis is one of the best guitarists I have ever heard. He’s a lot like John Mayer in that he’s able to play a lot; but still be extremely tasteful, soulful, and sound amazing. Well done, brother. And Travis and I are really good friends and used to room together before we were married…married to women…not each other…so that’s why we can joke around like this. I hope. It’s awesome, too, because he’s played with huge bands like The Kry, but he’s totally humble.
But not only is he an amazing guitar player, but his ear for tone is fantastic. He actually gets good sound out of the Line 6 MM4…which I thought was impossible. But he’s such a good musician, he knows how to set gear for his rig. Overall, his sound was just fantastic. He’s the one who first made me realize what a good pedal the DD20 is. And that Magic Amp? Tim said it made him want to cry…in a really good way.
Travis, thanks for coming, brother. You sounded amazing, and you’ve patiently taught me a lot over the years.
–1968 Gibson ES-335 (I think)
–Bad Cat Hot Cat (again, I think)
–MXR Phase 90
–Boss AC2 (aka ‘suck’ pedal)
–Ernie Ball Jr
–Voodoo Labs PP2+
Highlight of Jared’s rig:
–Well, besides the obvious ’68 Gibson and the Bad Cat, it was the way he ran it and the Boss AC2 suck pedal
The first thing about Jared is how humble he is. He’s been in a huge band here in the Southern California area, and has even been sponsored by Bad Cat. But you’d never know it. Really humble guy. But his tone is killer. He had a really innovative setup where he runs the mono out of the DD20 into his Fender DeVille, and sets it clean. Then he runs the stereo out of the DD20 into a volume pedal, and then into the Bad Cat, set dirty. So, for overdrive, he just raises the volume pedal to control the level of his Bad Cat. So, in full overdrive, his clean amp is still filling space, too. Very cool sounding…almost a Keith Richards type setup. No od pedals. Just amp od. Sounds great!
And of course, the ’68 Gibson helps a lot, too.
But the thing that stuck out for me…and this is weird…was the Boss AC2, which he uses as his ‘suck’ pedal. The pedal just wrecks his tone, and he uses it for intros before he kicks into his real tone, or to fade out with a really jacked up eq. It was awesome! I’ve actually tried a ton of cheap od’s to get that sound, and could never get it to ‘suck’ good enough. hehe But that AC2 was really cool.
Overall, Jared has great tone, and a lot of innovation in the way he sets up his rig. Sounded awesome! Jared, thanks for being there, and for sounding amazing.
–Prairiewood Les Paul (Wolfetone Dr. V’s)
–Melancon Pro Artist S (chambered, Lindy Fralin blue’s)
--Holland custom (EL84-based)
–65 Amps cab (Celestion Alnico Blue, Celestion G12H-30)
–Heritage cab (Jensen P12N)
–Hartman Vintage Germanium Fuzz
–Hermida Mosferatu (12 volts)
–SIB Varidrive (ECC81 tube)
–Paul Cochrane Tim (12 volts)
–Fulltone Fatboost (12 volts)
–Cusack Tap-A-Whirl (well, a week later…not anymore)
–George Dennis optical volume
–Damage Control Timeline
–Diamond Memory Lane
–Damage Control Glass Nexus
–Damage Control Timeline (again)
–Fostex MR8 recorder
–Ernie Ball Jr
–Lava ELC cables
–Furman Power Factor Pro
–Voodoo Labs PP2+
–Various Loop-Master bypass boxes
–Various Rockron Midi Mate switchers
Highlight of Karl’s rig:
–How he is able to turn so much gear into so little tone (hehe Sorry, I couldn’t resist…you guys know my self-deprecating mannerisms by now )
Questions and Answers
1. What are your switching boxes?
–The main ones are Loop-Master true bypass boxes. With the amount of effects I run, if I were to run through all those boxes all the time, the tone would get sucked into low-mid heavy mush. So I run through two true bypass boxes (one for overdrives, and one for effects) that actually hardwire my signal out of the signal path when those effects are not in use. Works great. The other two switchers are Rocktron Midi Mates, which control the midi for the two Damage Control Timeline delays. They let me name and access the 128 presets in each Timeline pedal.
2. What is the half power switch?
–In order to get my tone to a usable level in certain smaller venues, I have to turn down. If I have to turn down too much, though, it doesn’t get my 4 EL84 tubes hot enough to get optimum tone. So I had Jerry Blaha in Hollywood put a half power switch in my amp that cuts 2 of the EL84 power tubes out of the circuit. So then when that switch is on, the tubes stay just as hot, there’s just half as many of them in the circuit, resulting in 15 watts instead of 30 watts. But same tone (save that the speakers aren’t being pushed as hard). It’s an amazing tool to be able to keep your tone where you like it by keeping your tubes hot enough, but still being able to blend with the music by not overpowering everything. And…the mod is much cheaper and much more convenient than buying and carrying around to every gig another 15 watt amp to go with my main 30 watt one.
3. If you decide to run your amp head on stage, with a 50 foot speaker cable to your cab in the closet, so as to minimize stage volume but still keep your amp loud enough to drive your tubes, will you lose tone going through that much cable?
–The simple answer is yes. But it won’t be that noticeable. I don’t pretend to understand all the technical aspects of it, but because of the impedances, the signal sent over the speaker cable from the head to the cab has far less tonal loss than an instrument cable from the guitar to the amp. However, you do lose ‘feel.’ We did this at my church for a while, before I had the half power switch mod done. And I ended up playing too much, and with too little dynamics (in general just hacking it), because I couldn’t ‘feel’ what I was doing through our IEM’s, or in-ear monitors. Even with room mics. There’s just something about a guitar amp. So I would venture to say that turning your amp way down on stage will actually sound better than cranking it in a closet……because on stage, no the tubes will not be as hot, and your gain may not be at its ‘sweet spot’, but if you can feel yourself, you’ll play better. And playing better will sound better through a quieter amp, than hacking will sound through a cranked amp. In general. If you play at some church where the stage volume needs to be absolute zero, then maybe the closet is a good option. Honestly, my favorite option is to get a smaller amp, or a half power switch, or a good power scaling amp, and to keep the amp on stage at now a reasonable volume. In my humble experience, a little bit of stage volume always helps the mix. And note that I said a ‘little’ bit of stage volume. Not even enough for the sound tech to really notice.
4. What phaser are you using?
–I’m using the Subdecay Quasar. Best I’ve found for the size. The Moog sounds a little bigger, but it also is a little bigger. Can’t justify that much board space for an effect I don’t use very often. And the Toneczar Halophaze is much more versatile and sounds fantastic, too. But I can’t justify that much money on a phaser until I start using phase as much as delay…which doesn’t seem likely any time soon. But the Quasar is a very decent, full-boided phaser.
5. What pedal were you talking about for weird multi-effects?
–That would be the Damage Control Glass Nexus. It’s a multi-effects unit, but it’s delay and reverb are so good and can be added to any effect. So it makes it probably the best all-in-one ambience pedal I’ve ever played.
6. What are you using for the ambient ‘pad’ in the background?
–The pad is all my guitar……but recorded, saved, and then called up and looped through a volume pedal and second amp. So a totally separate rig. Basically I record my main guitar rig doing ambient swells centering around the tonic chord and its suspended variations for about 7 minutes. I do this in every key, and save each one separately into a Fostex MR8 recorder. Then, depending on what key the song is in, I call up that ‘song’ in the recorder, set its loop points so that it restarts at zero after reaching minute 7, and then run it into another tube amp for warmth. So it’s constantly running; but to control the volume, I run it into a volume pedal before it hits the amp. Works great as a filler in the background, takes the awkwardness out of times in between songs, starts services, allows something to play while I tune, etc. You just have to make sure you turn it off or way down if the song goes out of the key, if the sound guy gets excited by it and cranks it, or if you have a couple keyboard players taking up the same sonic space. But overall, it’s been one of the best things for my rig.
7. What’s your honest opinion on the Line 6 X3L?
–hehe I’m not a huge modeling guy. If it works for you, then that’s awesome! But I’ve found that personally, I sound way better through a real tube amp driving real speakers, actually physically amplifying, moving, and effecting the air around it……rather than just changing signals into 1′s and 0′s and replicating via algorithms sounds that actually exist in nature. And for versatility, to me it sounds way better to learn how to change strum dynamics, pickup switching, and song feel for dynamics, then to switch ‘amps’ on a POD. Not saying they’re bad! Some people straight-up rock through them! It’s just that this was the question, and this is how I very humbly feel about them. Don’t hate me. lol
8. What’s your honest opinion on the M13?
–Expected to hate it. Was very pleasantly surprised. Not really into the drives on it; neither were Bob and Jason, as they obviously had external stompbox drives in addition to the M13. The drives sounded decent until they turned on their real drives and it was like, ‘Oh.’ But the modulation effects were very, very nice. And it’s really hard to beat the versatility of that thing. To be able to have your expression pedal control two parameters at once? To be able to have seek wah effects that you’d never be able to have a dedicated pedal for…but they’re in the M13 when you need them. Global tap for 4 cascading delays? Line 6 really did their homework with this thing, and I think it sounded fantastic in both Bob’s and Jason’s rigs. You gotta remember, though, that both Bob and Jason had obviously spent a ton of time dialing it in properly to their rigs, and that with Suhr and Duesenberg guitars and Suhr amps, it’s hard to sound bad. haha But I really, honestly, and truly, loved the sounds that were coming out of it. Am I going to sell all of my modulation pedals and by one? hehehehe Uh…no. But it did cross my mind for a few fleeting seconds……which is saying a ton for a multi-effects pedal to do that to me.
Alright, I think that just about covers it. Here’s some random pictures to remember the night of tone by:
Kenrick and Jared, obviously solving the all the world’s problems…with tone!
And here’s Ryan and Bob talking pedals. You can see Ryan’s gorgeous Prairiewood there. Mmmm. And Kenrick looks really bored in the background…must mean I’m talking. hehe
And lastly, this is Travis talking with Danny. And Kenrick and Jared are still trying to make tone solve world hunger. Actually, it looks more like I took this picture by accident.
Again, huge thanks to everyone who came out on this night, both in person and online! I learned a ton! Never before has so much tone been contained in one room. Except for U2 concerts. And practices. Anywhere where Edge is. I’m going to try to do these much more often……and actually record them.
We’ve gone through two parts of pedalboard tone, five (and a half) parts of amp tone, and as we move into the tone of the guitar itself, I wanted to post a bit on the theories of the tone hierarchy; or, the importance by percentage of each piece of your rig as it matters to tone.
(This has nothing to do with anything. Don’t try to find a transition, because there is none. But there are a lot of people who just skip to the pictures in this blog, so……trying to keep them happy, too. This is one of my favorite pictures, and I have no idea why. If you’re not laughing yet, just look at it longer.)
Now there are a lot of different viewpoints on this, and here is how a typical conversation about the hierarchy of tone plays out:
Picture a jam night at church. Everyone’s kind of milling about the stage, talking with each other, trying to act interested in the other person’s stories about how their band Iron Serpent used to tear up the Sunset Boulevard scene in 1986, but really trying to steer the conversation back around to their solo last Sunday that just broke everyone in the congregation into immediate ‘worship tears’, but that no one in the band seemed to have noticed. The gearheads look intense as they set up their rigs, secretly hoping that someone will ask about their killer pedalboard so they can brush it off with, ‘Oh, it’s not really that complicated; I mean, there’s definitely a learning curve to it…blah, blah, blah…mid-hump…blah, blah…transparent…etc.’ In the back, the older plug-me-into-whatever-amp-happens-to-be-at-the-church-at-the-time-all-I-need-is-volume-to-solo-your-face-off guy continues, well, solo-ing everyone’s faces off at a volume that has been expertly calculated by years of solo-ing everyone’s faces off at musician’s socials to be just loud enough for no one to be able to ignore it, but just soft enough so that no one can actually call him out on the ‘Eddie Van Halen was nothing’ attitude. The vocalists look bored out of their mind. The sound tech runs around like a crazy person trying to accomodate the worship leader’s constant ‘More of me in the monitor’ request, because he is obviously incapable of running a jam session without hearing his voice and guitar at the perfect volume with the most precise bit of reverb (not too much now…no, now that’s too low) in every single monitor on the stage. The drummers and bassists are the ones talking, because their rigs usually stay set up at the church. The keyboardist is doing something, but nobody cares. (Sorry, keyboardists…I feel your pain, and I personally think keys are one of the most important parts…but sadly, you know it’s true.) If there are any other instruments, they’ve long since given up on tuning up, as they can’t hear themselves over the oh-so-proudly-played ‘Crazy Train’ by the youth kid with the amp that seems way too big for the incredibly thin sound coming from it. And somewhere, if you turn your attention to the first few rows in front of the stage, you’ll find the new people. You know, the ones who read in the bulletin that the jam nights are a great way to meet people on the worship team and maybe get involved with serving on the team once a month. They’re usually spaced out from each other by a couple seats, guitar cases still latched shut, awkwardly trying not to look awkward. A couple of them even have some cookies they brought for the worship team. (Okay, sorry, got a little too heartstrings at the end there.)
And then in walks the new guitarist. You know, the one who’s played a couple times; he’s really humble, but a decent player. Seems to really enjoy being on the team, and hasn’t yet gotten into the ‘it’s cool to pretend you’ve got better things to do’ deal. And he’s got a brand new, hmm, let’s go middle-of-the-road boutique amp here…Top Hat King Royale. And he’s kind of sheepish about bringing it in, but still wants the worship leader to know that he is serious about this gig. No one really says anything until the guy who always starts the conversations comes up. You know, the guy who you’re never really sure why he’s at these things. You never see him play, although according to him, he’s really pretty good.
Guy Who Never Actually Plays: ‘Whoa, nice amp, big guy!’
Top Hat Amp Guitarist: ‘Oh, thanks, man.’
Guy Who Never Actually Plays: ‘Bet that cost a good chunk of change.’
Top Hat Amp Guitarist: ‘Well…I got a good deal…’
Gearhead Guitarist 1 (acting like he’s coming to the rescue): ‘Ya, they’re not that expensive really anymore. I mean, they’re great amps, but once they started building them in mass, they stopped handwiring them, and you know, you can get a pcb one like this…you can tell it’s a later model pcb because of that particular shade of black on the logo…for like, $1500.’
Bassist (who Gearhead 1 knew he’d get a reaction from): ‘$1500! And that’s relatively cheap?!’
Gearhead 1: ‘Oh, ya. My D13 was around $2450, and that was a sweet deal. The tone is just pristine, man. Really haunting mids.’
Worship Leader: ‘More in the monitor.’
Gearhead Guitarist 2: ‘Dude, get a clean boost hitting the front end of a good cheap tube amp, and it’ll sound just like a Divided by 13. I mean, your tone’s great, bro, but my Barber Direct Drive will do pretty much the same thing.’
Solo-ing Eddie Van Halen guy: ‘Tone is in the hands, man.’
Gearhead 2: ‘Well, ya, but having good gear helps get that tone out of your hands. I mean, how would Stevie Ray Vaughan have sounded out of a Crate? But give him a Barber Direct Drive like I’ve got, running into that Crate–’
Eddie Van Halen: ‘Man, I remember one time I saw Eric Clapton, man. His amp went out in the middle of a song, so he just walked over to the house amp. Some no-name, little 8 inch speaker. He plugged in, turned a couple knobs, and sounded like…well…like Clapton.’
Gearhead 1: ‘Sure, but imagine Clapton with my D13.’
Worship Leader: ‘I’m hearing a bit too much reverb in the drum monitor.’
Original Guy with the Top Hat: ‘Well, eventually I want to get a Divided by 13 amp, and some Barber pedals, and I’m trying to practice more, too; but for right now, I’m just saving up and using what I’ve got.’
Gearhead Guitarist 3: ‘What’re you playing through that beast?’
Top Hat Guy: ‘Uh, a Fender Stratocaster.’
Gearhead 3: ‘Made in Mexico, or USA?’
Top Hat Guy: ‘Uh……’
Gearhead 3: ‘What’s the serial number?’
Top Hat Guy: ‘Uh……well, I’m not sure, but it sounds really good to me–’
Drummer: ‘How loud is that thing? It looks small.’
Worship Leader: ‘My voice sounds muffled over here.’
Gearhead 3: ‘What you need to do is sell that amp, get a Fender because there’s really no difference, and use the money to get a really good guitar. Like a PRS or something.’
Gearhead 1: ‘Well, make sure it’s a pre-1995 PRS.’
Guy who Nobody Knows Why He’s There: ‘Hey, like Carlos Santana!’
Worship Leader: ‘I think that feedback is coming from the bass monitor!’
Bassist (walking over): ‘No, it’s not. You always turn down my monitor and then I can’t hear myself over the drums.’
Worship Leader (completely serious): ‘Well, you’re just playing bass, do you really need to hear yourself that much?’
Drummer: ‘So…how loud is that amp?’
Top Hat Guy: ‘Um, I think it’s like 35 watts…’
Eddie Van Halen: ‘Man, you’re as loud as you play, man.’
Gearhead 2: ‘It just depends on what pedals you stack in front of it. I use this Zendrive…’
Worship Leader: ‘Am I the only one hearing that buzz?’
Top Hat Guy: ‘Well, I guess I should go set up now…’
Gearhead 1 (with his head inside the back of the Top Hat): ‘You still have the stock tubes in here?!’
Vocalist 1: ‘Want to get some coffee?’
Vocalist 2: ‘Yes.’
Worship Leader: ‘Does my voice sound like I’m singing into a pillow? Is this monitor even on? Give it some more reverb. Ya…more…there ya go. No, too much. Less. Wait. Little more. Sorry, I don’t mean to be a jerk, but…ya, little more. No, wait. Now bring my guitar up. No, down. Is there reverb on the guitar yet? How come? How do all my settings get changed in between Sundays?!’
Youth Kid Guitarist, now inexplicably with a mic in front of him: ‘Goin’ off the rails, on a crazy train…’
New People: (They don’t say anything, because nobody has noticed them yet.)
(Still no tie-in. Just an excuse to show some of my favorite pictures.)
And I’m sure you’ve been in situations like that. Or at least in conversations like that. So I’ll tell you right off, there is no right answer, because in order to get a great finished product, i.e. a beautiful sound from your instrument that fits well in the mix, adds to the overall sound, and pushes the overall music to another level, there needs to be all of these ingredients. Don’t look at the most important, and just do that one. None of these are anything without the other. But there is a hierarchy, at least as I see it, that’s important to focus on so that we don’t spend all of our time dialing in the best sound ever on our phaser pedal, but never change our strings, practice our guitar, or search for a better sounding amp. So, here’s the hierarchy of tone as I see it.
To me, this is the most important part of tone. Give me a musician who can think on the fly, and come up with good supporting lines and chords and riffs and solos and harmonies and textures over someone with good tone or finger dexterity any day. Obviously, good finger dexterity is important to play everything your mind comes up with properly, and good tone helps make those great textures actually sound good; but it begins with the mind. That is what truly makes a musician.
This is so evident if you ever get the opportunity to watch a few musicians jamming on the same rig. All the variables are the same, but they will sound incredibly different. Some will sound great…others, not so much. And some will sound great, but different. If you have no feel in the way you play, the best sounding gear in the world will not help one bit. However, the best feel in the world would sound so much better through good sounding gear. So, they definitely go hand in hand (hehe, stupid pun). But overall, I’d take the player with good tone and feel in their hands and bad-sounding gear, over the one with no feel, and good-sounding gear. However, if you gave me that choice, I would choose neither. I’d go look for the one with both. We get too caught up in one being right and the other wrong, sometimes. There are tools to good sound, and you need them all.
For the love of all that’s good in this world, the rest means nothing if you’re not in tune.
4. Guitar (along with pickups and wood)
Now this is where I’ll get some disagreement. A lot of people would rather have a good amp and a bad guitar. I would rather have a good amp and a good guitar, but again, if I had to choose, I would put the most effort into a good guitar. And this can only really be properly felt if you’ve ever played a really, really good guitar. And I don’t mean that to sound snobbish. It doesn’t have to be a really expensive guitar. But I mean, a really, really, good guitar.
One, for the tone. I have heard good guitars take junky amps to amazing levels. I’ve even, once, heard a ’60′s Gibson 335 take a PA and confuse me into thinking it was a Bassman. Now, amps can do the same thing for bad guitars, but I haven’t heard it sound quite as real than the other way around.
And two, for the feel. If tone is mostly in your hands, you do want a guitar that feels good to play. Good intonation, good action, stays in tune, all the stuff that in my younger guitar years, I sloughed off as, ‘Pretty boy stuff. Just give me a guitar that sounds good, and I’ll deal with all the feel stuff.’ But if you don’t have a guitar that feels good, a few things happen. One, you’re not motivated to play and practice. Two, you end up compensating sub-consciously for the bad feel by playing differently. Three, you end up over-playing and forcing the strings out of tune. And four, you’re not able to relax and have fun while playing, which is one of the biggest factors in keeping the most important part of tone, your mind, at the top of its game.
So, I cannot stress this enough. Go do some research, and see if you can’t get a deal somewhere on a really good, handmade guitar. I’m talking one piece body, one piece neck, hand-wound pickup coils, good pickup magnets, set up properly to stay in tune and feel good, and one that you really bond with. I know when I finally did that, the world just opened up with love and rejoicing. Literally.
A good guitar is nothing without strings. This, the pick, and the speakers are the only three actual acoustic things in the electric guitar rig. Spend a lot of time on them.
Yep. The literal first part of your sound, after your mind and hands.
7. Amp (along with tubes)
Now of course, I just got done saying how a guitar is more important than the amp. But remember, although I believe that to be true, one is still pretty close to nothing without the other. Electric guitars, by their nature, were made for amplifiers. It’s very, very close to being one instrument. The amp is taking your guitar’s tone and making it real. They work together, and you need to find ones that compliment each other.
8. Speakers (along with wood)
I could have put this in with the amp, but as it is one of the three parts of your rig that is actually acoustic, it deserves it’s own place. Speaker and cabinet choice are hugely important to the sound of a good amp.
Yep, ahead of pedals. Even with just your guitar plugged straight into the amp, the cable will make a world of difference.
10. Boost/PreAmp Pedals
Stuff that you’re using almost as parts of your pickups. I don’t use these, but a lot of people do, and get great results. Clean boosts and preamps; stuff that’s always on.
11. Delay Pedals
hehe Not the effect kind, as much as I’d like to say it. These are the pedals you use as part of your amp’s tone, almost. Reverb, delay, pitch shifter pedals, modulation pedals; again, things that you leave on all the time.
12. All the other Effects
Not for tone, for texture and ‘effect.’
And that’s the hierarchy of tone as I see it. This is the level of attention I give to the various parts of my rig, and as of now, I’m happy with it. I’d urge you to try different variations of this, and find out what works for you, as far as which parts of your rig you give the most attention to. Just because this is my opinion, doesn’t mean it hs to be yours. I mean, I’m right, but you don’t have to be. (hehe Kidding, just kidding.)
So next time you’re at the jam session, you’ll be the one with the ‘actual’ right answers. Stupid other people.
(And lastly……just fantastic.)