Category Archives: pedals

Making some changes

As a result of various things that are going on in my life, I have decided to make a few changes.

I have really been struggling with my faith for a while, and a couple of months ago I decided to take a break from the worship band at my church. I have been involved with it for 10 years, but I don’t feel right being on stage leading people in worship when I’m not even really sure about what I believe.

I packed up all my gear that I had up at the church and brought it home. I had this big, expensive tube amp that was too loud to use in my house, and I had this big pedalboard full of really fancy, expensive Strymon delay and reverb pedals.

I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to really take advantage of this gear playing at home, so I considered my options. (1) I could just turn it down and try to deal with it, (2) I could sell my amp and get a smaller, quieter amp, or (3) I could get a modeler.

Long story short, I ended up selling a ton of stuff. I started out by selling all of my pedals. All of them. 3 Strymons, Micro POG, overdrives, custom volume pedal, midi gear, power supplies, etc. I was shocked at how much money I raised. It was enough to buy the most powerful amp modeler currently available: the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II mk2. I bought it used and saved about $400.

The next thing to go was my amp. I was dreading this for a couple of reasons. Part of it was that I really loved that amp. The other part was that I hate shipping amps. It’s a pain, and it’s freaking expensive. Anyway, I had it listed for sale on the gear page, and I got pretty much the best offer that I could have hoped for. A guy offered me two things in trade. The first was the foot controller designed to work with the Axe. The other thing was one of my dream guitars: a Koll Duo Glide in Pelham blue. I have been wanting one of these guitars for years, but the cost always kept it out of reach.

I have had all this gear for about a month, and I’m finally starting to wrap my brain around it. The Axe is crazy deep and there’s a pretty big learning curve. I’m working on a full review  with demos and stuff, and hopefully I’ll be ready to post something in the next week.

Gear stuff

I’m just going to pretend that I haven’t neglected this blog for the last however long it has been and just start writing. Sound good? Great.

There have been a lot of comings and goings in terms of gear over the last few months, and the gear section of this blog is hopelessly out of date. Rather than detail everything that I have used since my blogging absence, I’ll just run down what I’m using right now. Here is what I’m working with currently.

Guitars:

  • Warmoth/Fender Jazzmaster – I talked about this guitar a few months ago when I put it together, and I absolutely love it. I needs a little fret work, but it plays and sounds fantastic. It’s got some of the jangly jazzmaster thing with the fatness of P90s, and the neck (from my old ’94 american standard strat) is nice and broken in  and super comfortable.
  • Gibson Les Paul Special – Again, I totally love this guitar. It’s a no-nonsense rock machine. Super fat tones, great neck, awesome TV Yellow finish. It’s a little noisy, but it’s rock and roll, so who cares?
  • Reverend Flatroc 15th Anniversary – I am by nature a toned down, no frills kinda guy. This guitar is pretty much the opposite of my personality. Silver flake finish (looks crazy under stage lighting), Bigsby trem, high output filtertron humbuckers, bass contour knob. It’s super blingy and fabulous, but I like it. I just got it, so I can’t guarantee that it’ll stick, but I got a great deal on it and it’s staying for now.

Pedals:

  • Diamond Compressor – very “transparent,” subtle compressor with a great EQ. I leave it on almost all the time, and adjust the EQ depending on which guitar I’m using.
  • Barber Gain Changer – Amazing low/medium gain overdrive. Incredibly flexible – capable of so many GREAT tones. It’s way cheaper than it has any right to be. You can find these for less than $100 used and it sounds better than a lot of overdrives that cost a lot more.
  • Thru-Tone modded Ernie Ball VP Jr. – Thru-Tone added a great buffer and tone control to deal with the high end loss that these volume pedals typically impart. Also, it has blue LEDs, so there’s that.
  • Strymon El Capistan dTape delay (modded by me to accept external tap input) – This thing is magic in a box. Awesome crinkly/fluttery tape delay tone machine.
  • Strymon Timeline delay – probably the most powerful delay pedal currently available. I traded my old one for a Deluxe Memory Man w/Tap Tempo (also a great pedal) for a while, but I missed the Timeline, so it’s back on the board.
  • Strymon BigSky Reverberator – I just got this yesterday, and I have only had a few minutes to play with it, but I really like what I have heard so far. Extremely versatile, with lots of reverb styles from classic spring reverb to crazy choral and reverse sounds.
  • TC Electronic Ditto Looper – It’s just a really simple, basic looper. Great for practicing and coming up with layering ideas. I haven’t tried to use it live yet.

Note: my time-based effects are synced with a JHV3 MTPro1:3 MIDI tap controller, and I have a pair of This1smyne mini expression wheels connected to the big Strymon pedals to adjust various parameters on the fly.

Amp:

  • Bogner Goldfinger 45 head
  • Bogner Goldfinger 2×12″ cab (Celestion Greenback & Weber Ceramic Blue Dog)

I have had this amp for almost 2 years now, which is probably a record for me. It has a really great clean channel, and a really flexible dirty channel. It does everything that I need it to do, and it has kept me from wanting to do any amp research for a pretty long time.

I’ll do a post soon(ish) detailing how I use all this stuff. I also need to update my gear page with new pics and stuff. I guess I’ll get to that eventually.

my current favorite gear

I have simplified my gear setup somewhat in the last few months, and I wanted to highlight some of what I’m using lately. Our church had 4 services yesterday, and I was really happy with my tone.

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.

blending and transparency

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.

New stuff

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.

Lots of gear updates…

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).

Sold:

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.

New/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).

Good amp vs great amp

When I first started playing in church, we were meeting in a temporary location and I was hauling all of my own gear from my house. I would pack up my guitars, pedalboard and my amp and make 2-3 trips to get everything, getting all sweaty in the process. Once we settled in a semi-permanent location, I kept using my personal gear.

Over time, I got kinda tired of 1) hauling my amp back and forth every week or 2) leaving my amp at the church building so that I couldn’t use it at home. I talked to our worship pastor about it, and he offered to buy an amp for me to use out of the worship budget. I didn’t want to spend too much, so I picked a Vox AC15CC1, and I got him to order an Eminence Red Fang alnico speaker. I have been using it for 4-5 years now, and it has been a good amp for that purpose.

Recently, I decided to trade my Fryette Sig:X head/cab. I wanted a combo, and I wanted something significantly simpler than the Sig:X, which is covered in knobs and switches and special features. It’s incredibly deep, almost infinitely tweakable, and it truly sounds amazing, but I just want to be able to sit down and play without really worrying about where the knobs are.

I was looking at Matchless and Bad Cat amps, but most of them were just a little bit out of my price range, and would have required me to sell something that I probably would have regretted selling. I stumbled upon an auction on ebay that seemed like a really good deal. The amp in question was a Top Hat Club Royale, a 20-watt class A EL84-powered 2×12 combo. I have always heard great things about Top Hat amps, and I know or know of a lot of guys who play them, so I figured it was worth a shot. The amp came with a nice ATA road case, and was priced lower than most similar amps without the case.

It showed up on Thursday, and I kinda went back and forth with myself about whether or not I wanted to bring it up to church to use on Sunday. It’s a heavy amp – it weighs something like 110 lbs with the case. I also wasn’t really sure if it would fit in my car.

I decided to give it a shot. I was able to get it in my trunk and get it set up in the amp room this morning. I kinda guessed with some volume/gain settings and got ready for soundcheck. I was pretty much floored at the difference between this amp and the AC15. No contest. The Top Hat just sounds so much… more. It’s huge and clean and big and full and sparkly and “chimey” and whatever. It’s just in a completely different weight class.

The AC15 is a good amp. The Top Hat is a great amp. It really makes a huge difference.

In case you’re curious – for pedals, I primarily used my RC Booster (always on) with the Tim in front for light/medium gain overdrive tones. I used a Suhr Riot for one song that needed a heavier rhythm tone. I just got the RC and the Riot this week – I really like both pedals. I sold the Memory Lane 2, by the way. Great pedal, but I’m just gonna have to get the Timeline.

::

Oh, it also didn’t hurt that I was using my new custom molded in-ear monitors today. They fit perfectly and sound incredible. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned anything about them here, but I bought some Ultimate Ears triple driver headphones on ebay several months ago. They sounded really nice, but they were huge and stuck out of my head like Frankenstein bolts.

I found this company online that takes the drivers out of your current universal fit monitors and installs them in custom molded enclosures. The whole thing costs $90 (plus $30 for an upgraded cable – highly recommended).

I just got them back this week, and I totally love them. Like I said, they fit perfectly and isolate almost all of the ambient room noise. The fidelity is outstanding. I highly recommend the process. The company that I used is inearz.com, a division of Fisher Hearing.

Timeline… Holy Crap

First of all, if you haven’t visited the new page that Strymon has put up for the Timeline, please do so now.

Click here and come back in about 30 minutes.

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.

Tim

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?

More pedal swapping

I’ve gone and done it again.

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.