History of the last year or so…
It has been about a year since I last posted so thought I should get back into this. I have done hardly anything to do with sound except play Guitar so now need to reboot my career as…what ever the hell it is that I want to be. Haven’t figured it out but will do soon hopefully. I’ve been to a few gigs, saw Garbage twice, Placebo in December, Gary Numan in September but not a gig. My dad and step mum paid of me to go along to a rehearsal which is a 3 hour session where you can chat to the band and play all the instruments. I’ll ask him for a job and throw loads of humour at it. Whats there to lose?
I have been playing a lot more Guitar than before but think I need to play more so need to work out a job that accommodates that more. I was working on the bar and got bumped up to bar supervisor, effectively a bar manger but paid a lot less so ended up being really pissed off and left to start labouring for a brick layer. Ive been doing that for a few months and have gained a lot of muscle and the cash is really good but its prodominantly 12 hour days, 6 day weeks at the moment. Not giving me much time at all. This week has given me time to think and I’m realising I’m not very happy with the way things have gone over the past few years but I’ve learned skills that I can take anywhere in the world and get paid in case I’m in a jam. And I partied hard and finally got with the girl I need to be with from the beginning!
Pressing on, my Guitar Rig is pretty awesome. Got myself a brand new Gibson Firebird Reverse; but need to take it to a specialist to get the neck sorted. Buzzing really badly on the E, A and D but cant relieve the truss rod so the frets may need stoning. Still sounds noice! Almost like a Les Paul but les sustain (if youre playing a real les paul which has minimal weight relief or non at all!) and a bit woolier. Very Jonny Winters. I got it on a 12 month interest free finance for £850. My girlfriend Nicknamed it Pheonix. The reason why I went for one goes back to when I was trying a 70’s Twin Reverb in Wunjo guitars in Tin Pan Alley, which was up for £700. The first Guitar I picked up was a vintage Firebird. It felt right dispite its length and it played like a dream. Together they sounded incredible! I asked the dude how much it was to which he replied its around £4000. I imediately put it back seing as I couldnt even afford the amp. Youll have to excuese the state of my garage in this post, I promise I will tidy one day!
I had been using the Squire Esprit, which is like a double cut Les Paul except a bit wider and heavy as an elephant round your neck so I named it ‘Big Mamma.’ It has 2 Duncan designed Humbuckers in the bridge and neck with volume and tone for each. It has been a faithful companion, never got bored of playing it. I flipped the neck pickup to try the Peter Green thing but it literally did absolutely nothing.
As well as that I have a Squire Stratocaster which is the signature Simon Neil version. Didn’t realise that until way after I bought it. I got it before I knew anything about guitars really 🙂 Took the scratch plate off and went to town on the shine with sand paper to give it a worn relic look knowing that it was only a £400 guitar so wasn’t bothered about resell price or anything. The pickups in there will be made from Chinese Pot Metal and the Bridge single coil sounded Tinny and awful so replaced it with a DiMarzio Tone Zone BC-2 (DP226). This is a Humbucker the Size of a single coil. I wanted to get the Billy Corgan Buzz Saw Tone but I’ll talk about that later. My ex girlfriend (when we were together) named this one Lexie the Slut “because I finger her more.”
Just to clarify for people who don’t know, because I didn’t until recently, the Difference between an American and a Chinese Stratocaster: The Chinese ones are thrown together but the Americans take time on their Strat and cost a lot more because of the quality of parts and the cost of labour. The metal parts in Squiers (pickups, bridge, machine heads, electronics) are made of Chinese pot metal which is where they will throw a lot of nickel and other low quality metals (in terms of conductivity), as well as a small amount of steel, to make their steel go a lot further. The conductivity of the electronics is almost at the diminishing point, the gear ratio of the machine heads is very low which is why they can be hard to tune, the wood will be a similar version of Ash or Alder such as Birch because it is cheaper but does not oscillate in the same fashion therefore impacting tone. That is why a Squire Simon Neil Strat costs around £400 and a brand new Fender USA Strat costs on or around £1000. This is not to say that every Squire will sound shite compared to a USA but it gives you a reason.
I had an ESP explorer in red but could not get on with it so bought the better version (Firebird) and gave it to my girlfriends little brother. I also have an Ibanez Gio which was my first Guitar which came with a tiny crackly amp that never sounded good and a video of a Guitar Lesson…All for £100! I’ve relic’d that too and striped out the electronics. Going to put a Seymour Duncan Humbucker in the bridge, not sure what one yet, and just use a single volume knob to turn it into a Jerry Cantrell style of Guitar. I also switched the bridge for a Floyd Rose and installed a locking nut on the headstock.
My first proper amp is the Peavey Windsor Head and 4×12 Cabinet that I still use. I purchased it for £300 from a Guitar shop just up the road from my house after I got a huge Tax Rebate. Its a 100w Head with a single channel and Effects loop plus a Boost which boosts the Mids. In the Pre you have the typical gain and 3 band EQ, then in the Post you have the Master Volume, Resonance, Prescense and texture. The texture is very interested as it lets you fade between a class A or A/B amp effectively halving the power to 50w which really makes the amp compress more like lower powered amps do. I tend to keep it all the way up to class A/B because it pokes the high end right out.
It has 3 12ax7’s in the pre of which I have the Electroharmonix version because I love EHX! The edgier scratchy tone they give works really well with the Big Muff. It also has 4 EL34’s, of which I use groove tubes, in the post. The 4×12 is a beautifully balanced cabinet which tends to favour the higher mid ranges but I went on to buy a Laney 2×12 cabinet off a guy who lived near me. I swaped out the Celestions for Peavey Valve Kings and it screams! I use both of the cabinets and its loud but a really nice blues rock tone for the sorts of things I play.
I went to Tin Pan Alley again the other day in search of something of the Fender variety and came back with a 1960’s Harmony H305a. Bought it for £300 as well and its very different. It has 4 Inputs, 2 Gains (2 Inputs per Gain) and a crossfade between Bass and Treble. Thats it. I’ts a Combo with a 12″ cone made by Jensen. With the Gain and Treble up all the way it sounds Awesome! Extremely Bassy when you play a bit quieter but when you play hard it breaks up into a beautifully vintage driven tone. It has 2x 12AX7’s, 2x 6V6 and a single 5Y3. It’s the sort of thing that Jack White would sit on his portch whilst watching the cows in a field, sliding blues on a Guitar he made himself out of wooden shoe. I didn’t find what I was looking for when I got it but I found something Extra that is special that I couldn’t leave behind.
What I was looking for whilst I was there was a Fender Blues Deluxe or Hot Rod Deluxe. Or Ideally both Side by Side. The Tweed Blues deluxe from what I have seen has a brighter tone but the Hot Rod Deluxe has a bit more gain available. I play a lot of Blues Rock and so both amps should suite really but I wanted to head towards something with higher Gain for when I play heavier rock. The Windsor, is relatively heavy but cumbersome which is where combo’s are ideal. Some people would just say why not use pedals? To which I reply: Be minimalistic and have a much true-er tone. I’m not saying I dont use pedals, because lord knows I love them! But less is sometimes more, certainly for blues. I have seen both the Blues and Hot Rods on Gumtree for £450 which makes them a very affordable amp and they’re always ready for collection somewhere with 30miles of your house. They’re that popular. I’d like to investigate some 70’s Silverface amps but the Twin Reverb I tried was Fecking Deafening! All of which however are Combo’s which make them so much more convenient for gigging. I did infact travel down the road and bought a Hot Rod Deluxe II from a dude who in fact did the same course at college as I did.
I have also been looking at the JCM800 2203’s because 2 of my favourite Guitarists use them; Billy Corgan and Tom Morello. Marshall are absolutely loved, which in fact puts me off them, but I cant deny how awesome their amps sound! By put off i mean in the way Josh Homme is put off a Gibson Les Paul, as it seems almost everything has been done with them. He wanted something different to everybody else. They JCM800’s do However cost around £750-800 second hand and thats just for the Head. I’ll get one one day! Then a Vox but I’m talking in like 5 years time once I have all the Pedals and Guitars I want!
I have always liked Pedals. My first was a Digitech RP50 Guitar Modelling Processor. It had everything I had never dreamed of! Distortion, Reverb, Delay, Phasing, Flanging, Compression, event Whammy and Autowah! This was great because it taught me about different effects that existed and I got to play with them all the time! I remember putting on the Whammy effect and talking through it with a Microphone that came with a Karaoke Machine my Dad got. A couple of years after that and after getting Big Mamma, My mother bought me a Boss ME-20 which is another Multi Effects Pedal but with an expression pedal for Volume/Wah. I could use them together too and was able to play things like the opening to ‘I am the Highway’ Audioslave. I put reveb on the RP50 and put the ME20 before it so you can strum a chord and then fade it in using the Volume Expression Pedal. I’d play things like ‘Bulls on Parade’ RATM, and even tried to get the same sound as ‘Black Hole Sun’ Soundgarden, using the Whammy and then a Rotary effect on the RP50.
When I bought Lexie I bought the Boss Dyna Drive, Mooer Blues Crab and some patch cables. As well as a strap and strap locks so the lad in Absolute Music had Quite a good sale that day! The Blues Crab is an emulatiuon of the Boss Blues Driver which I got because they didn’t have it in stock. The Dyna drive is a nice blues wooly pedal that breaks up a bit when turned right up. I went on and got an MT2 which is just disgusting. The only thing that its kool for is a phaser effect which you can do by turning the mids up and down as it has a 4 band EQ on it. This is similar to what Jeff lynne did on an ELO track I believe, not sure which however. I eventually got a Whammy during one of my trips to Tin Pan Alley for all of my Tom Morello needs. This was before I got into Jack White so when I started listening to the White Stripes I was like YES! I CAN DO THAT! Until I heard Blue Orchid and realised I needed a POG! I got the Boss OS-2, Digitech Grunge and a Cry Baby Wah off Amazon and I had myself a myriad of pedals!
I did however need a place to put them so had a wooden board and taped them on there but they’d still move. So I built a huge pedalboard out of MDF with 3 levels, one of which was cut short to allow room for the expression of the Whammy and Cry Baby. I replaced the ridiculous coloured plastic coated, low quality, chinese pot metal patch cables I had with the Cheapes Stagg Patch Cables off of Amazon and the Tone was vastly improved. At this point I didn’t really know what I was doing because before I had a tiny amp that was just zeroed and clean to just amplify what was coming in to be heard. I tried doing this with the Peavey and realised many moons later, that I was wasting a great Head. I got rid of the overcumbersome pedalboard I built as much as it pained me to do so. I took all the pedals away, which were in series straight into the front of the amp, and plugged my guitar in and played. I primarily have been playing Big Mamma as shes my most faithful companion and although shes taken a back seat whilst I get accustomed to the Firebird, I know shell make a huge return. Together Big Mamma and the Windsor head sound fantast. Quite an Edgy tone which can turn from blues to rock just with the change of playing style. I began experiment with the wah, whether it sounded better in the pre-amp or effects loop and began to learn about the science behind it. I was at college at this time so was learning about gain stages, EQ, effects, how they all interect and why they interect in a certain way.
I got a Big Muff due to how much I was listening to the White Stripes and just used it with the Whammy and POG. This is where my love for EHX began! All of this was In series with the Whammy first, then Big Muff, Then Pog. I now actually put octave effects before distortion as it can sound extremely muddy the other way around. The Whammy always comes first though as it tracks the guitar a lot better than when its further on down the chain, again due to muddying other effects and signal degredation. Then adding in the Wah Pedal it makes sense to put on in the effects loop as it is a band pass filter that sweeps with the expression pedal. If its put before the distortion or Pre-amp then its just EQing, if you will, the Guitar. After distortion or Pre-amp it has a lot more harmonics for it to play with. I actually at the moment use it before, as when its in the loop it can sound a lot more intrusive. You have harmonics that remain constant when its in the Pre but when its in the loop everything jumps around so I want it to stay sounding grounded. I did actually try putting the Cry Baby after the Big Muff which sounds wicked! I wouldn’t use it all the time though but may leave a cable on the Pedalboard so I can quickly change it for a single song or something because It does sound awesome.
Taking this understanding of effects, it makes sense to keep distortion in the Pre but other effects such as a Phaser can sit nicely in the loop, as well as flangers, rotary effects and other effects that change the EQ. Next thing to understand is where you may want to put Reverbs, Delays and Tremelo’s. The last effect in a Chain effects everything that preceeds it more than the other way around. If you were to put a Tremelo after a Reverb (like a Fender Twin Reverb) then the Reverb would cut in and out with the Tremelo. The other way round and there will be a consistent flow of sound as the Reverb Shimmers. This works the same way with a Delay and a Reverb.
After I gave the ME20 away.
I eventually got a Pedaltrain Novo 32. I was looking at the Terra 42 and thought that it may be excessive but now im not sure whether or not i made the best decision. The truth is I wont know until I get in a band and get gigging and have to lug the thing around, as well as, put it to the test seeing which pedals I actually use to see whether or not they have a place on the board. A lot of Guitarists will in fact use a range of different sized boards depending on the Style of gig they’re delivering and how far they’re travelling. Carrying a Terra 42 on planes on a tour of america consisting of 20 dates in small venues would be awful. However travelling around the UK in a van playing larger venues would be more managable. Same goes for Combo’s.
I am pretty OK with a soldering iron and my OCD makes this job a lot easier, so I cut a lot of cables to length after deciding on the placement of my pedals which somewhat works around signal flow. I tend to put the expression on the right (Wah, Rotovibe, Whammy) and everything else on the left. With the 2 effects loops you can put pedals to the back of the board where it tends to be harder to hit their bypass switches and then turn them on from the bottom (Big Muff and OS-2). When routing the cables beneath the board its wise to, where possible, run power cables from north to south and signal cables from east to west so that they barely cross eachother. You can cause a lot of electro-magnetic interference when they are run side by side so its a good method of prevention. Everything running through the first loop is on the right, then the second loop at the top, then the right hand side of the board is all in series. This is how its worked for me so far but I’m itching to change it at the moment.
Please excuse the low quality camera, I am looking to get a new camera for the purpose of images for the blog but I’m also thinking about a VLOG on Youtube.
Another trick is to wack cardboard over the top of the board and place the pedals where you think they may work best on top, so they dont stick down, use it for a week or 2 then decide whether you are to keep it that way. It’s much more of a pain in the ass to pull them all up and then try and sit them roughly in the right place, bit the slightest adjustment to the right means pulling it off the board completely. I bought some shrink rap also to cover the solder inside the patch cables but tend to cut them in half so they barely poke out the bottome of the jacks making the cables difficult to bend around the place. I use insulation tape beneath the board to stick the cables down to the board so nothings flapping around. I also moved the Power block from the top to beneath the board which gave a lot more space.
How the board was before.
Another Great idea is pedal Risers which are relitively inexpenisive and may save your bacon during gigs. They do what they say on the tin raising the bottom of the pedal upward raising the Bypass switch making it much easier to reach without touching the pedal below it. They come in different sizes and I even bought one pre-emptively for the Flashback X4 when I finally get one which will go on the top left of the Board. You can also see I hage added a buffer to the board which is the point of entry for the signal.