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.
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.
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.
Ok, so I’ve been busy. In the two weeks since my last post, I have done a lot of selling and buying (pretty much in that order).
Tim – really nice boost/overdrive, but I wanted a new flavor.
Strymon El Capistan – amazing tape delay simulator, but it had to go for reasons listed below.
Suhr Riot – cool high gain distortion box, but didn’t really play nicely with my amp.
Pedaltrain PT2 – a little too small.
Lollar Strat pickups – Nice tone and well-balanced, but too low output and didn’t match up with my other guitars.
Boss RV5 – Really cool modulated reverb, but kind of a one trick pony.
Lots of good stuff in that list. However, it had to go to make room for better stuff.
Strymon Timeline – full review coming soon. Suffice it to say that this delay is pretty freaking awesome. This is why I sold the El Capistan.
Lovepedal Amp Eleven – Some people say that it’s a Tim clone. Maybe so. Regardless, I prefer it to the Tim. The overdrive is smoother and the boost sounds better to me. It sounds really, really great in when boosted by the Sparkle Drive.
Brady Cases custom 32×18 board – I have always loved Bradycase pedalboards, and when this one popped up used at like half price on The Gear Page, I had to jump on it. It’s a little too big right now, but I’ll grow into it. Besides, I have too much money wrapped up in pedals to haul them around in a soft case.
Strymon blueSky Reverberator – I had one of these a while back, but I sold it to fund other gear. We’ll see if it sticks around this time.
Diamond Compressor – Holy crap, this thing is awesome. You can dial in subtle compression all the way up to squashed chicken pickin’ tones. I’m somewhere in between, btw. I love the tilt EQ – it’s great for adding just a little sparkle.
Fulltone Clyde Standard wah – I have been needing a wah, and this one popped up cheap on TGP. It’s a little bright, but I think I can tone it down a bit with an internal trim pot.
Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive – I’m really liking this pedal at the moment. It’s a tube screamer clone, which ordinarily would be an instant turnoff. I think that tube screamers tend to be overly compressed, muddy, and mid heavy. However, this pedal has a clean blend which allows you to add your unaffected clean signal in with the overdriven tone. It allows you to have the fat overdriven tube screamer tone, yet still retain the brightness and “sparkle” of your original clean tone. I kept it on full time yesterday.
Lava Cable Mini ELC pedalboard kit – These cables are really cool. They are super easy to put together, and if you build them right, they won’t crap out on you like the George L’s do. I like that they’re really low profile and the connectors don’t get in the way, so you can put your pedals really close together if you need to.
That’s pretty much it for now, but I’m on the lookout for new stuff. I kinda want to add some more dirt (maybe a Rat and a fuzz) and I really want to get a true bypass looper pretty soon. I will probably build that one myself, but I need to figure out if it would actually save me any money to do it that way – all those parts really add up quickly.
Here’s a picture of my board, pretty much as it is at the moment. I still need to get my io distortion back from Maury at RAILhead Effects – he’s fixing it up for me (apparently, I was a little too hard on it).
If you have been following my exploits/follies in the pedal swapping biz, you noticed that I sold a ton of crap to raise funds for this pedal. The Freaking Holy Grail [Yes, I capitalized "Freaking"]. Anyway, I sold all this stuff, and then I got impatient. I decided that I wanted to spend my money right now and that I could wait for the Timeline. I ended up buying a really great pedal – the Diamond Memory Lane 2 – a true analog delay pedal with tap tempo.
It is an awesome-sounding pedal. I have had it for a couple of weeks now, and I totally dig it. It sounds unbelievably good, even if the tap tempo is a little weird. I love the fact that you can control the EQ of the feedback. Lower settings get a really dark-sounding delay that fades away almost immediately. Higher settings give you a really bright-sounding repeat (not digital-sounding) that kinda hangs out and lends toward self-oscillation. I also really like the modulation. Yes, it can get out of hand and cartoonish really quickly, but it can also be really musical and amazing.
The tap is weird. It bases the tempo on only 2 taps, which is not really very accurate. Most delays use a little microprocessor to average your taps really accurately and kinda “guesstimate” what you really intended. The ML2 is not like that. You pretty much have to tap in sets of 2 until the tempo is right. If you’re not a really accurate tapper, your tempo is going to be off.
Anyway, I’m getting off point here. I had decided that I really liked the ML2 and I had come to terms with the weird tap thing, and then I visited the Strymon Timeline page. Oh man. All bets are off. I have to have this thing. Strymon is just magical. I think that they might actually be wizards or something.
Now that I have heard the Timeline, I have put my Memory Lane 2 up for sale (and I think that I have a buyer for it). I still have my El Capistan, and it can serve as my only delay for the time being. I just hope that I get in on the first run before they sell out. I am so fickle. I need to spend more time playing guitar and less time obsessing over gear.
I got my Tim pedal in the mail today and I had a chance to play through it for a while. The overdrive section sounds pretty much exactly like the Timmy pedals that I have owned in the past. I use them at pretty low gain settings, just to get some grittiness going. It’s a really nice overdrive. I hesitate to use the term “transparent,” but these pedals really are. You can hear the tone of your clean signal underneath the added gain. It’s kinda magical.
I have owned the Timmy overdrive, and the Tim is a little bit different. The Tim has the same overdrive section with identical controls, but it also has a boost and an effects loop. I don’t really think I have a need for either of those things, since I typically use it at pretty low gain settings. I will probably end up trading the Tim for a Timmy to save a little room on the board.
If you have a Tim, do you find yourself using the boost and/or the effects loop? If so, how?
It started out with me wanting to trade my Timefactor for something less knobby and twiddly. I saw a guy on The Gear Page selling/trading a Diamond Memory Lane 2, and I was intrigued. I have always heard amazing things about them, but they always seemed way out of my price range. Anyway, I offered to trade my TF + some cash for his ML2. He replied that he was trying to pare down his delays, but that he was interested in my King of Tone (as long as I added a little cash on my end).
It was kind of a tough decision, but I decided to go ahead and do it. The King of Tone is a really nice pedal, but it’s not really all that unique. It is essentially a heavily modified Bluesbreaker pedal. I could get something very similar for about a third of the resale value.
After making that decision, I still had to get rid of my Timefactor, so I opened up my trade listing on TGP to include other things (like overdrives, compressors, etc). Almost immediately, someone offered me a brand new v.2 Tim plus a little cash. I was specifically looking for a Timmy, but I have never tried a Tim, so I figured why not?
It may not have been exactly what I was looking for, but I think I came out pretty well on this deal. The Memory Lane 2 is supposed to be one of the best analog delays available, and it’s the only true analog delay that I have ever seen with tap tempo. I’m really looking forward to checking it out.
I recorded a clip of my strat into the King of Tone. This combination sounds pretty amazing, in my opinion. The strat is so pristine and clean that you can hear every little nuance of your playing, and the King of Tone makes this guitar absolutely sparkle.
I’m not gonna bother doing a play by play on all the settings, but I will say that I didn’t mess with the knobs at all, except to turn the tone knob down a little on the yellow side.
Here’s what I used on this recording:
’94 Am Std Strat (Lollar Dirty Blonde pickups)
Analogman King of Tone
Strymon El Capistan
Fryette Sig:X / Fatbottom 2×12″
I can’t wait to use this live.
I am contemplating selling my Timefactor and picking up an old big box Deluxe Memory Man and something cheap like a DD5 to handle dotted eighths.
Here’s a really quick, kinda rough around the edges demo of my new Analogman King of Tone pedal. I dialed in my Fryette Sig:X to the Fender-iest tone I could, grabbed my Bluesboy and played through a handful of settings. I had the red side set to distortion and the yellow side set to overdrive.
I don’t really remember what I did exactly as far as settings, but I know that I started out on the red side with the distortion set kinda low. I gradually raise the gain until it’s cranked. I did a similar thing with the yellow side, then I play with both sides engaged. At the end, I click on the El Cap and just noodle a bit. There are quite a few sour notes in here, but I tried to do the Jimmy Page thing where if you play a bad note, just keep playing it until it sounds right.
I mentioned this in the comments here, but I never actually blogged about it. Anyway, a couple of posts back, I wrote about a couple of new pedals that I ordered: the Strymon El Capistan, and the DMB Stellar Drive. I still have one of those pedals.
The El Capistan showed up first, and it is awesome. There are so many cool sounds in this thing. It runs the gamut of tape delay tones, from a clean, well-maintained unit with fresh tape to one badly in need of repair with dirty, crinkled tape. I tend to go more for the dirty, crinkly sounds. The only downside with this pedal is that you can’t store more presets. It is so deep that you could easily come up with 8-10 distinct, useable settings. Unfortunately, the design only allows you to store one preset, accessible through the Strymon favorite switch.
While I love the El Cap, the Stellar is a very different story. Long story short, I hated this pedal. I think I probably got a bad one, but it’s not like I bought it used. I bought it directly from the manufacturer, and I would assume that they check their pedals out before they ship them. I opened it up before I plugged it in, and I have to say that it had the messiest wiring that I have ever seen in a pedal at that price point. It looked like a rat’s nest inside – way too much extra wire laying around. There were two PCBs inside that were held in place with hot glue. It just looked like it shouldn’t work.
Now, it’s possible that the way that the pedal looked on the inside affected the way that I heard it, but I don’t really think so. When I plugged it in, I heard some of the worst overdrive tones that my ears have ever been exposed to. I don’t really know how to characterize it. It just sounded bland and muddy. There was some weird resonance to it that I couldn’t dial out, no matter how I turned the knobs. It sounded nothing like the demos that I had seen on youtube, which I thought were very good. I was extremely disappointed, and I returned it immediately.
In the meantime, I sold a couple of random pedals and decided to buy an Analogman King of Tone and a Boss RV-5. I used to have an RV-5, but I sold it to get a TC Electronic Hall of Fame reverb. The HoF sounded pretty good, but it couldn’t quite get that same lo-fi modulated delay that the RV-5 does so well.
I put my name on the King of Tone waiting list in December ’08 and my name came up on the list in June ’10. So, the wait was about a year and a half. Of course, I put my name on the list on a whim, and pretty much forgot about it, so it’s not like I was holding my breath the whole time. Besides, it took me another 10 months to actually order it, so I obviously wasn’t in a big hurry to get it.
Of course, I haven’t actually played it yet. It came in yesterday, and I just had too much stuff going on to actually sit down and play. Hopefully, I will have a chance to spend a few minutes with it this evening, and of course, I will be sure to post my opinion on the matter. Will it live up to the hype? Probably not. Will it sound good? We’ll see. Does it look good on my board? Oh yes.
As a postscript, I played my newly Lollar-equipped strat on Sunday a little bit. I have the amp (Vox AC15CC/Eminence Red Fang) set up so that I get some decent breakup with my tele and Les Paul. With a boost it goes into overdrive with those guitars. The strat is a totally different story. It stays clean even with the boost on. I just don’t understand pickups, I guess. The output on the strat pickups are very similar to the pickups in my tele, so I don’t know why there’s such a dramatic difference in the way that they push the amp. Anyway, it looks like the strat will be reserved for when I want to play really pristine clean tones, which isn’t really all that often. I usually like a little bit of dirt in my cleans.