Category Archives: amps

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a lot of comings and goings in terms of gear over the last few months, and the gear section of this blog is hopelessly out of date.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.

Tweaking with your ears

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.

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.

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.

My amp situation

If are a regular to this blog, you have noticed that I have been doing a bit of amp-hopping over the last couple of years. I have owned a Reeves Custom 6, a Stulce SA-10H, a Genz-Benz Black Pearl 30, a Silverface Fender Bassman, a Fryette Sig:X, a Vox AC30, and a Mesa Dual Rectifier (I think that list goes back about a year and a half).

Most recently, I have come back to the Fryette Sig:X. I traded it in a moment of restlessness, even though I was really happy with the tone that I was getting from it. It’s unfortunate that the grass is always greener on the other side. I guess I wanted to downsize from my 4×12, and instead of just getting a smaller cab, I threw the baby out with the bathwater.

Anyway, as I mentioned a couple of posts back – I was lucky enough to find a used Sig:X online so I grabbed it. It must be a pretty new one, because it has the Fryette branding on it rather than the older VHT stuff. I was using the Mesa recto horizontal 2×12 that was part of the AC30 trade, but it didn’t really sound great with the Sig, so I sold it (I ended up selling it on Craigslist – it sold in less than a day). I found a matching VHT/Fryette Fatbottom 2×12 on ebay a couple of nights ago. The Fryette 2×12 cabs almost never show up used so I bought it.

The Fatbottom cab is really small (about 30″W x 16″H x 14″D), so it’ll be a lot easier to move around than the old 4×12″. My old 4×12″ sounded amazing, but it was enormous. This cab is about half the size of the old one, and about 25 lbs lighter. I’ve heard that the Fryette 2×12″ cabs sound really huge, and I’m excited to hear what the Sig:X sounds like through it. It should be here tomorrow, just in time for a TLP rehearsal.

Anyway, so after a hiatus, I am firmly back in the Les Paul / Fryette camp. I’m afraid that Fryette has ruined me for other guitar amps.

going in circles

Well, things keep coming and going around here.

I sold my Jazzmaster this weekend. It was a very cool and unique guitar, but I just couldn’t seem to find a real use for it. I upgraded the pickups to Lollars and installed a Mastery bridge, but it never really became what I wanted it to be. I guess that was somewhat foolish of me. Maybe I just really liked the look of it, but couldn’t get past the somewhat awkward way that it played or the way that it sounded. I certainly didn’t get along with the fingerboard radius. 7.25″ is way too curved for my playing style. I realize now that I prefer a much flatter fingerboard.

I am also in the process of selling my Mesa Dual Rectifier. I kinda like this amp, but I can’t help but feel a little generic playing it. It is not what I would call versatile. It’s certainly not from lack of trying. I have spent a lot of time with this at home, and I just can’t get a clean tone that I’m satisfied with. I also can’t really dial in the “in between” tones – you know, the tones that aren’t clean, but not fully saturated. It just doesn’t have a satisfying medium gain tone. I don’t know – maybe it’s me. I just haven’t bonded with it.

I have gone through a lot of potential options for amps, and decided that I shouldn’t have traded my Fryette Sig:X. It was a dumb move. I loved the way that it sounded. Great cleans, killer high gain, and all points in between. Seriously, that amp was amazing. It also cleaned up with the volume knob really well (something the Mesa doesn’t do at all). My main problem with the Fryette was the speaker cabinet. It was a great sounding cab, but it was a 4×12, and it was way too big and bulky. I should have just sold the cab and bought a smaller one, but I felt like getting a fresh start.

Anyway, I was having zero luck finding another one, but I just happened to go to a gear forum this afternoon and saw that a guy was selling one for the same price that I paid for my old one (and I got a great deal the first time around). I saw the listing literally 5 minutes after he posted it, and I emailed him immediately. The seller said that 4 people emailed him right after me, but I was the first. I’ll probably get the amp later this week.

Now I just need to sell the Mesa and buy a new guitar – probably a Les Paul. I used to have an LP, but it was one of the historic reissues, and it had a really fat neck. It felt great for rhythm, but playing lead on that thing wore me out. The next one that I get will need to have the thinner 60s profile.

Anyway, the lesson is to think hard before selling something. You may end up missing it.

Jazzmaster Demo

Here’s a quick clip of the Jazzmaster in my (soon-to-be-former) AC30. No effects. First I run through neck/middle/bridge with full tone, then I run the same progression with the tone at 6. Nothing fancy, but it’ll give you a general idea.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You saw this coming…

Maybe I have a problem. Is there a 12-step program or something that will help me cure my inability to commit to an amp?

Let me back up. I love the new Vox – I am not a hater. The clean tone is huge and amazing, and there is some truly great low gain overdrive to be found. When I traded for the Vox, I didn’t really intend for it to be a keeper. I got a trade offer that was heavily overbalanced in my favor and I took it, thinking that I could flip it for a profit. However, I fell in love with those clean/semi-clean tones when I played it at home and I decided that I wanted it.

However, I play clean in my band approximately 4% of the time. The other 96% of the time, I need a big, distorted tone. Distortion pedals simply do not cut it. I don’t care how fancy/expensive the pedal is, what kind of transistors it has, or whether it was handwired by beautiful Scandinavian women - it just isn’t going to stack up to the sound that you get from a box full of hot tubes.

I looked at a lot of different options, but ultimately I decided to go with a Mesa Dual Rectifier. That may surprise some of you, but those amps are more versatile than some of those blues lawyers on The Gear Page might lead you to believe. Those guys don’t want to hear anything that wasn’t played on a strat/tele into a vintage tweed deluxe. Or maybe a Dumble. Anyway, the Mesa’s cleans are surprisingly Fendery when you use 6L6 tubes and the low gain overdrive tones are there if you are willing to look for them. Of course, the main reason that people get this amp is for the massive distortion tones that it provides.

I found a guy on Craigslist (who plays for a a “Christian” artist, no less) who wants my Vox along with the road case and is willing to trade me his Dual Rec and his Mesa 2×12 cab for it. Any day that I don’t have to pay shipping on an 80 lb amp is a good day. We’re supposed to make the trade next week.

I realize that I may have lost credibility with some of the hipsters who may frequent this blog (no offense, hipsters) who wouldn’t be caught dead on stage with a Mesa. To be honest, I’m not really crazy about the idea of it. Mesas have been used by many terrible, terrible bands to make music that I despise with every fiber of my being. However, the amp is a tool - a good one at that – and it shouldn’t be dismissed just because it has been used for evil purposes in the past. It just has a bad reputation due to all the bands with drop tuned/7-string  guitar players and cookie monster vocalists (and/or Creed).

Anyway, it is what it is. I’ll report back once I have had a chance to melt my own face off.

Vox AC30H2, guitar woes, etc

I mentioned last time that I traded my Sig:X amp for a bunch of other stuff, right? I got the ZT Lunchbox early last week, and it’s pretty cool. On Thursday, I got the big stuff: the VOX AC30H2 and the Fulltone OCD (v.4).

The VOX is nice. While it’s true that it was manufactured in China, which is not ideal, the craftsmanship is pretty excellent. It is a handwired amp, but it’s not point-to-point or turret board. It is a PCB type of construction, but all of the components are wired by hand, rather than installed by some giant machine. This doesn’t necessarily affect the tone, but it makes the amp less failure-prone and easier to repair if it does break down.

I read a lot of dudes on the internet who bash modern VOX amps because they’re inferior to the UK-built amps from the late 60′s. Well, you know what? The modern ones don’t catch on fire like the old ones did.

This AC30 is quite different from the Custom Classic series that Vox came out with a few years ago. The Heritage series doesn’t have tremolo, reverb, or an effects loop like the CC series did. That’s perfectly fine with me. I’m not a big fan of built-in effects like that. I’d much rather use outboard effects that I can access on a pedalboard. An effects loop would be nice, but it’s not really necessary since I’ll be running this amp clean.

Anyway, I took it to practice on Thursday, and I was having some issues getting it to stay clean. Even though the volume was pretty low (relatively speaking – this is a loud, loud 30 watts), I couldn’t get it to keep from breaking up. I played with it some more on Friday at the house, and I managed to figure it out. The amp has two channels: the top boost channel and the EF86 channel. At practice I was using the Top Boost channel, but I discovered that the EF86 channel is capable of delivering some massive-sounding clean tones that will not break up regardless of how hard you hit the strings. I had the volume at 12:00 (which is really loud), and full chords stayed perfectly clean when I hit them full on.

My pedalboard is currently undergoing some revisions. I picked up a Strymon blueSky Reverberator a couple of weeks ago, and it’s already gone. It’s a really great pedal with some amazing sounds in it, but it’s just too much money tied up in an effect that I’m really not going to use all that much. I’m keeping the Brigadier delay, but I’m picking up a Line 6 M9 to replace the BSR.

I already had the M13, and sold it because it was overkill. However, I really miss some of the weird loopy things that it can do. Things like pattern tremolo, pitch shifting, particle verb, step filter, sweep echo, etc are all really cool glitchy effects that I can use. The reverb sounds won’t be as good as the blueSky, but it’ll be close enough for spacey live stuff.

I also picked up a Musket Fuzz from Blackout Effectors to replace my diy Mayo clone. This thing is awesome. It’s kind of a modern take on the Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi. It has 6 knobs for tone shaping, so it’s really versatile for a fuzz pedal. It can go from mild overdrive tones to wall of sound fuzz. It’s pretty sweet.

I’m liking the OCD more than I thought I would. It’s really open-sounding, even at high gain levels. It’s not overly compressed and you can still hear your basic guitar-amp sound underneath the extra gain.

::

In less happy news, I have run into a snag with my Jazzmaster purchase. I found the one that I wanted, checked the seller’s references and sent him payment. Unfortunately, he is now claiming that his paypal account is frozen and he is refusing to ship the guitar until his funds are released. I filed a claim with paypal, told him that I wasn’t okay with waiting and that he needs to ship the guitar as per our agreement. I haven’t heard from him in a couple of days. I know I’ll get my guitar or my money back eventually, but it could be weeks before that happens. Part of me wants to fly out to wherever this guy lives and punch him in the face.