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.

Matchless Chieftain

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 ┬ádon’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.