1996 Gibson Les Paul Special – I love this guitar. I installed Lollar P90s and they sound so amazing. I put a ’50s wind in the neck and a standard wind in the bridge. I can get really clear, open clean tones as well as raw, fat distorted tones. It’s my favorite guitar that I have ever owned, and I spent a lot less on it than I have on many other guitars.
Bogner Goldfinger 45 – This is such a good amp. The Alpha/clean channel is just beautiful. It’s really flexible. I tend to keep the gain pretty low for a somewhat scooped blackface Fender kind of tone, but you can turn up the gain and mids for more of a british/vox tone, especially into an open-back cab with a celestion blue or something along those lines.
The Omega/gain channel is trickier to dial in, but it’s also really awesome. The loud/’69 mode is a marshall plexi style. It’s great for everything from cleanish Hendrix rhythm tones to crunchier AC/DC tones. The ’80s mode is pure JCM800 tone. It doesn’t really do modern high gain tones without pedals, but it has more than enough gain for me.
Bogner Ecstasy Blue – this overdrive is freaking awesome. It’s not cheap, but it’s probably the best low/medium gain overdrive pedal that I have ever used. It uses transistor instead of opamps, so it’s a little more amp-like than some other overdrives. Anyway, it has a bunch of knobs and switches, and it has a pretty huge range of tones, but I use it with the clean channel on my amp to get plexi/crunch tones, which opens up my gain channel to use the ’80s mode for lead tones and heavier crunch rhythm tones.
Strymon Timeline – I have been using this thing since it first came out. I was lucky enough to grab one from the first batch. I recently discovered that it’s even better/more usable with an expression pedal. I’m using the T1M mini expression wheel, which saves a ton of room on my board. Basically, it allows you to set a heel down setting and a toe down setting. At one extreme, I have it set for like 1-2 repeats and the level at less than unity, which is great for solos. At the other extreme, I have the feedback set much higher (but short of self-oscillation) and the level at unity or slightly greater. Of course, in between settings will average these values. I have found that I can play pretty much anything with two patches and no other delay pedals.
I have other gear, of course, but these are 4 things that I’m enjoying more than anything else at the moment. I could bring these 4 pieces of gear to pretty much any gig, and I don’t think I would be missing anything.
So, I’m not sure where to begin with this, so I’ll just start typing and see what happens.
One of my good friends is writing a book. He sent me a couple of chapters about a year ago and he recently finished the first draft. It’s pretty freaking cool. It’s kind of a sci-fi/fantasy story about space vampires, talking bear-like alien creatures, superhuman messiah figures, stuff like that. Anyway, he’s planning to self-publish it on Amazon when he’s finished with it. A few months ago, he asked me about writing some incidental music to accompany the story. I thought that was a cool idea – kinda like a film score, except for a novel.
I pretty much sat on my hands for a while. I tried to sit down and write, but nothing really came of my initial efforts. I decided right away that I wanted to do the Wagnerian leitmotif thing. Leitmotif is basically an operatic device that Richard Wagner invented where each character has their own melody. John Williams famously used the concept in his Star Wars scores. First I decided which characters deserved their own melodies, and then took some notes about what the mood should be for each one. That’s about where I stalled out until today.
Today was the last day of school before the Christmas holidays. Due to the weird nature of my class schedule, I had a few hours to kill, so I made sure to bring my laptop and guitar to school. After my last class, I sat down and started writing. For whatever reason, inspiration struck and I came up with a pretty cool idea for one of the characters. I plugged it into a notation program called Finale and exported the midi file to garageband, where I changed some of the sounds until I liked what I heard. I emailed it to my friend and he told me that what I wrote moved him. He also said that it was really surreal to hear something inspired by something that he created.
It’s always nerve-wracking when you reveal your work to someone for the first time. I was a composition major in college, and I had a composition lesson every week. During that lesson, I would present my work to my professor and she would offer direction on what I had done. She was always extremely gracious, even when what I brought to the lesson was terrible. I knew it, and she knew it, but she never said anything like “this is crap, and you would be wise to abandon it and never think about it again. In fact, you should probably stop writing music and also stop playing guitar.” No, she was pretty awesome. She definitely helped me to become a better musician and composer.
Anyway, I am pretty excited about what I’m doing. I’m envisioning this ambient/post-rock melodic soundscape that is also kinda metal-ish, but without the self-indulgent Dream Theater shredding stuff. There will also be strings and piano and stuff. When I get some stuff recorded, I’ll be sure to post my progress.
First of all, I’m just going to pretend that it hasn’t been three months since my last post. In that post I mentioned something about a new amp. I still have the Bogner by the way. I’ve had the same amp for like 4 months. Kind of a big deal for me. The amp is great. It’s a little tricky, but it’s great. [By the way, I have updated my gear page with new photos and stuff. Check it out up at the top of the page.]
Tonight at practice I was playing my Les Paul Special. It’s a great guitar, but it’s a lot different than the G&L ASAT that I usually play. The Special has P90s, which are really fat-sounding single coil pickups. They have similar output to a humbucker, but rawer, noisier and more ballsy. I love P90s.
Anyway, I wasn’t happy with my clean tone tonight. It was too bassy and boomy, and when I turned an overdrive on, it got even worse. I played with the EQ settings on the amp for a while and couldn’t find anything that I was happy with. The problem was that I was tweaking with my eyes rather than my ears. I was looking at the controls and saying “that setting looks like it should work” and then I was confused when it didn’t.
So I tried something radical. I trusted my ears. My ears were telling me that there was still too much bass, so I turned the bass down some more. I ended up turning it down to about 8:00. That’s almost all the way off. My other controls were weird, too. My treble was just under halfway and the mids were at like 9:00 or something. If you had shown me this setting, my eyes would have said “that’s gonna sound like crap,” but my eyes would have been wrong.
It’s a little depressing to think about all the gear that might have worked out if I had been willing to tweak with my ears.
That’s all I got for now. Hopefully it won’t be another three months before my next post. Maybe I’ll post tomorrow. Probably not.
The problem with playing electric guitar is that there is always something better than what you have. Whether it’s your guitar, amp, distortion, delay, cable, whatever – there is always something better than what you have in your hands. I fall into this trap all the time.
The progression goes something like this: I am satisfied with my tone. I read about a new piece of gear online. I am no longer satisfied with my tone. I sell the piece of equipment that I am no longer satisfied with and buy the new gear that I have been obsessing over. Rinse and repeat.
My most recent gear rinse cycle has been amp related. I was satisfied with my Top Hat Club Royale until someone offered me a different amp as part of a bigger trade. This particular amp was a Matchless Chieftain. I have always heard magical things about Matchless amps, so my interest was piqued, and I agreed to the trade. As soon as I plugged in the Chieftain I was pretty sure that I had made a mistake.
I pretty much hated it right off the bat, but I did my best to convince myself otherwise. I mean, how could I hate a Matchless? I tried swapping tubes, different guitars, and I tried some really weird knob settings. I finally found a setting that I didn’t hate, but didn’t really love. I tried to make the amp work for about 3 months before I gave up and sold it.
I ended up buying a Bogner Goldfinger 45, which is a really cool amp. [I'll work on a review/demo at some point.] It has a really fantastic clean channel. It might even be the best clean amp that I have ever used. The first time I plugged it in, I was really relieved that I didn’t immediately hate it. The gain channel is good and really flexible, but it’s kinda tricky to dial in. I would like a little more gain, but part of that problem may be the fact that I don’t have any humbucker guitars right now.
Anyway, now that I have an amp that I am happy with, I have resolved to try to stay happy with it. I need to work on my chops and stop trying to fix my musical shortcomings with my wallet.
I’d like to talk a little bit about my newest piece of gear. It’s the Xotic X-blender, and I really think it’s gonna change things for me. Basically, it’s a little pedal that allows you to blend your clean tone with the tone of whatever pedals you stick in the effects loop. I have been using it with my overdrives, and I am very happy with it so far.
People on gear forums talk a lot about transparent overdrives, and it has kind of become a joke because the word transparent means something different to almost everyone that uses it to describe a pedal. I’ve read people say that a tube screamer is a transparent overdrive, which is ridiculous to me.
For me to use the word transparent to describe an overdrive, it has to do a couple of things.
1) It can’t impart it’s own EQ curve to the signal in such a way that it can’t be dialed out. Pedals like tube screamers (and the myriad variations on the circuit) and Klon(e)s have a very distinct midrange boost that you can’t completely dial out.
2) It can’t introduce an unreasonable amount of compression. Most overdrives add a ton of compression to your signal as you turn the gain up. I have only played a handful of uncompressed overdrive pedals.
The point of me saying all that stuff about transparency is that a blender basically allows you to give pretty much any pedal a certain degree of transparency. Some overdrives that boost the mids tend to muddy up your signal, making more complex chords somewhat indistinct. Blending your clean allows you to add a little sparkle, chime, or clarity (or any other tone buzzwords) back into your signal. An overly compressed overdrive can rob your playing of dynamics. A clean blend allows those subtleties to be reintroduced without getting rid of the dirt.
The coolest thing about the X-Blender is the big mix knob on top. It was designed to allow you to adjust the blend with your foot while playing. I don’t know about you, but I hate having to bend over in the middle of a song to tweak a setting on a pedal. If you need a little more/less dirt, you can just nudge the knob clockwise with your toe and shift the wet/dry mix a little bit.
Basically, it is a very cool pedal. It is especially cool if you are really into cleanish/edge of breakup tones. I know that other guitarists have used it with delay, reverb, and other effects, but I haven’t really looked into that possibility yet.
A couple of posts back, I mentioned that I was working on a trade for a Matchless. I traded my Top Hat Club Royale and my AVRI Jaguar for a ’96 Chieftain. I really liked the Top Hat, and wasn’t really trying to get rid of it, but this trade kinda fell in my lap and I found it hard to say no. I was mostly trying to get rid of my Jaguar, and this guy asked me about the Chieftain and wanted to know if I had anything else that I could add to the trade.
I have had it for a few weeks now, and I have spent enough time with it to be able to say that I really, really like it. A lot. At first, I wasn’t so sure. The first time I dialed in a tone, it was really bright and somewhat unbalanced sounding, and it wasn’t getting along with my overdrives. I was having a hard time dialing in a tone that I was satisfied with. I swapped the preamp tubes for some lower gain Jan/Philips and Tung-Sols (I really don’t like JJ 12AX7s) and put some SED Winged =C= EL34s in the power section. That helped somewhat, but I still wasn’t totally satisfied.
I did a lot of reading on various forums, and people kept saying things like “the Chieftain is a loud amp” and “it’s meant to be played at stage volume.” The first opportunity I had to really turn it up, a lightbulb went off. As I turned the master volume up, that annoying brightness went away. As it turns out, there is a bright cap on the master volume that is intended to keep your tone bright at lower volume settings (or something like that). I may end up removing it, but I probably won’t, since this is a Mark Sampson era Matchless not that that necessarily means anything) and it might lower the potential resale value.
So anyway, with the master turned up to about 1:00 or higher, and the volume (gain) control set to 9:00 or so, The Chieftain delivers a really fat, well-balanced, albeit fairly loud clean tone. I am not very good at gear reviews because I don’t like using the familiar tone adjectives like sparkly, chimey, bell-like, creamy, woody, etc. I haven’t really delved into the natural amp overdrive, but I really love the cleans on this amp.
I have been on an amp tone quest for a long time, and I think I have hit a major milestone with the Matchless. I think I’ll hang onto this one for a while.
If the following conditions apply, then you should be listening to Punch Brothers:
you are a living human being
you enjoy music
you have a soul
Punch Brothers is a traditional bluegrass ensemble (mandolin, banjo, violin, guitar, and bass), but they don’t really play traditional bluegrass. If they did, I certainly wouldn’t be listening to them. These guys are all exceptionally talented musicians, especially Chris Thile (mandolin/vocals) and Noam Pikelny (banjo). You may know Chris Thile through his work with Nickel Creek.
Anyway, here are a few videos.
You should be listening to these guys. If you aren’t, well, you may not have a soul.
I’m not even sure why I have this blog. I post like once a month. Maybe. Usually when I post, it’s only about new gear that I just bought. Yawn.
Speaking of which, I just bought some awesome new gear! I sold my bassman (why did I think I needed another amp?) and bought a Deluxe Memory Man Tap Tempo. It is amazing.
Other recent acquisitions:
Walrus Audio Voyager – It’s pretty much a Klon from what I can gather. As an overdrive, it’s not very good, but it’s an awesome boost.
Diamond Tremolo – it sounds awesome, but I’m still trying to figure out how to use it.
Timmy – it’s awesome. Pretty much every pedalboard needs one of these.
I also have a deal in the works to acquire a Matchless Chieftain, which is pretty much one of my dream amps. I’m trading my Jaguar and my Club Royale for it. (Chances are you have seen/heard this particular Chieftain if you have ever listened to lowercasenoises, aka Andy Othling/tubescreamer316 on youtube.)
Speaking of youtube, I recently recorded a demo of my pedalboard with my iPhone. If you want to hear some awkward narration and clumsy noodling – please watch!
As usual, I have been buying/selling/trading gear. Most recently, I traded my Duesenberg. It was pretty cool, but it was really expensive, and it didn’t feel like it was worth the price that I paid for it. I was under the impression that they were handmade in Germany, but it turns out that they are manufactured in Korea, while the final assembly is done in Germany. I paid like $1900 (used) for the guitar, which is way too much money for a Korean factory guitar. It didn’t really feel any nicer than any of the other MIK guitars that I have played that retail for about a third of what I paid for the Duesenberg. I started to worry about the guitars losing it’s value, so I just wanted to get rid of it.
Anyway, this is what I traded for:
It’s an AVRI ’61 Jaguar and a Bassman ’59RI LTD 4×10 combo. These guys sound like they were designed to be played together. The Jaguar is a pretty bright guitar, and the Bassman can be a pretty dark amp, so they really balance each other out nicely. However, I am not a big fan of the 7.25″ radius fingerboard on the Jaguar. It frets out on bends higher up on the neck unless I raise the action significantly. I’m still kinda figuring it out. I really want to like it, I just need to continue to tweak it.
I’m revamping my pedalboard situation quite a bit. I sold my big bradycase pedalboard and got another Pedaltrain – a PT3 this time. The Brady was just too big, bulky, and heavy. Another thing is that it’s not really good for someone who rearranges their board as frequently as I do. Everytime I wanted to move a pedal, I had to drill a few more holes and reroute patch cables under the board. The Pedaltrain is much more convenient. I still need to get a road case for it – my pedal collection is too expensive to carry around in a soft case for an extended period of time.
I recently discovered a newish pedal manufacturer – Walrus Audio. I bought their Voyager pedal, which is a boost/overdrive. From what I understand, it’s a Klon clone with different clipping diodes and an internal 18v charge pump. I also got their Iron Horse distortion (which should be coming in today). Again, this one has some clone rumors swirling around it. It’s supposed to be similar to a Rat with a switch for different clipping options and (again) internal 18v conversion. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do some demos or a review in the near future.
It has been a while since my last post. That’s kind of becoming the norm around here. I need to stop waiting so long between posts.
Hmm, let’s see. I haven’t bought or sold any guitars since my last post, but I have bought and sold a bunch of pedals. My most recent acquisitions are a POG2 and a Teese RMC3 wah. Here is the current board:
I really want to like the POG2, but I’m having a hard time figuring it out. It seems to have quite a bit of boost to it, and it adds some noise to my signal. The effect is cool, but I think it may be a little overkill. I may end up going back to a Micro POG.
I have been playing with a clean tone a lot recently. I used to run my amp overdriven and push it further with overdrives and stuff, but I have moved away from that recently. I still use overdrive a lot for rhythm, but I’m finding myself going clean more often than not. A lot of the nuance gets lost with too much overdrive.
I want to get back into playing classical guitar. I really enjoyed it in college, but I pretty much quit playing after graduation. It was too much effort to keep the nails grown out to the proper length. However, I have been itching to get back into it. Unfortunately, I don’t even have a nylon string guitar anymore. I guess that’s something else to put on the list.
I guess the thing that has prompted the renewed interest in classical guitar is related to my new job situation. I am now teaching at 2 school, from grades 7-12. The top group at the high school is working on some pretty serious literature, and it made me realize that I have been slacking off lately. I mean, I am a classically trained musician, and I barely even practice anymore. It’s shameful, really.
Another thing that kind of inspired me was the discovery of a band called Punch Brothers. They are a bluegrass ensemble fronted by Chris Thile from Nickel Creek, and they play some pretty progressive music. It is virtuosic, clever, extremely melodic, and fun to listen to. I was watching some youtube videos and I came across a performance that they did of the third movement of the Bach Brandenburg Concerto no. 3. That’s one of the pieces that we are working on with the high school group. I decided to start learning the violin 1 part. Most of it is really high and fast, and it is really stretching my chops. I have learned about 12 measures, so I’m about 25% of the way there.
In non-guitar news, we legally adopted the girls a couple of weeks ago. Brittany and Katie are now officially Hintze girls. Here’s a pic from adoption day.