Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘clean boost’ Category

No, not the sexual kind – though we do like that – but the spring reverb kind. 🙂 Specifically, I’m talking about the Tone Candy Spring Fever. I reviewed the Spring Fever back in May, and gave it a 4.5 Tone Bones. But now that I’ve got it and after spending a few hours with it last night, I’m now giving it 5.0 Tone Bones! Here’s why:

  1. As I said in my original review, the Spring Fever is just about the best spring reverb pedal I’ve ever played. It sounds incredibly realistic, and unlike many of the digital varieties I’ve played, while it’s jangly with some top-end, it also doesn’t lose bottom end, so your tone stays nice and rich. That’s a little disconcerting to some folks because they’re used to a brighter tone, but for me, the retention of the bottom end is really what sold me on its tone, plus with the Spring Fever, you can go from subtle spring ‘verb, to rich, spacious, swirling surf tones, so there’s lots of variety on tap.
  2. What I didn’t get to test out in my original audition of the Spring Fever was its Volume knob which also acts as a clean boost if you turn the Reverb and Mix knobs all the way down. I’m not sure how much boost the pedal adds, but there’s enough boost on tap to slam the front end of your amp with loads of gain.

I particularly like the Volume knob because it solves a real problem for me when I play my acoustic gigs at venues where I have to plug directly into a PA board. My acoustics’ pickups don’t have much gain, and I usually have to crank up the volume faders on the board, which can be problematic as it makes it difficult to balance out the guitars’ volume with my vocals. I’ve solved this in the past by lugging my Presonus TUBEPre preamp with me, but that’s a bit of a pain to lug (read: extra gear, not because it’s heavy), and requires a separate 12V power supply. The Volume knob on the Spring Fever eliminates the need for me to bring a preamp with me. Nice.

If I have one complaint of the pedal, it has to be its finicky nature with power supplies, and will add some noise to the signal. Mike Marino explains this on the Spring Fever product page, and recommends some power supplies to use, such as the 1-Spot. I used the 1-Spot in my clips, and when the Spring Fever was activated, there was a slight, but noticeable hiss. This has to do with the power supply, and not the pedal. This also happens when I use my MXR Carbon Copy with the 1-Spot. When I hook it up to a regulated power supply like a Dunlop DC Brick, the pedal is as quiet as can be. So despite Mike’s recommendation about the 1-Spot, don’t use it. Get a regulated power supply like the DC Brick. Luckily, I have an extra DC Brick, so that will be powering my mini board.

How It Sounds

As I said, the Spring Fever is about the best spring reverb pedal I’ve ever played! Capable of producing a wide range of reverb, this pedal will be a permanent fixture on my board! I’ve still got to play around with it some more, but I recorded a few clips to give you an idea of what it can do. The clips below were all recorded using my 1958 Fender Champ output to a Jensen Jet Falcon 1 X 12. I start out each clip with a dry signal, then play it again with some “grease.” What that pedal adds with respect to spaciousness is amazing! All the clean clips were recorded at unity volume, while the dirty clips were played with the amp turned up to about 2pm, and the boost at 1pm with Mix and Reverb completely off. I wanted to demonstrate the clean boost and its effect on an overdriven amp.

Les Paul, Middle Pickup, Fingerstyle. Reverb: 11am, Mix:10 am

Left Channel: Les Paul Middle Pickup, Reverb and Mix same settings as above
Right Channel: Les Paul Neck Pickup, Reverb: Dimed, Mix: 8pm

I love the right channel track on this clip. Turned up all the way, you get this cavernous room sound, but with the Mix set real low, it becomes a much more subtle effect, providing almost a delay-like ambience without the echos.

Squier CV Tele Middle Pickup. Reverb: 10am, Mix 10am
MXR Carbon Copy with long delay time, Mix at about 10am

Les Paul Middle Pickup (biased toward bridge), Volume: 2pm, Mix/Reverb Off

Squier CV Tele Bridge Pickup (biased toward bridge), Volume: 2pm, Mix/Reverb Off

Overall Impression

Yeah, it’s pricey at $275, though you can find it at a lower price if you look. But I haven’t heard as a good a spring reverb pedal like this – ever. And the fact that it has a booster in it just rocks! For me, and especially for my acoustic gigs, this is a game changer!

Read Full Post »

To date, this is the most popular article on this site, having held the top hits spot for the past several years now. My feeling is that it addresses the murkiness of the debate between overdrive vs. distortion. And despite many people like myself who constantly say they’re two, mutually exclusive things, it remains a subject that needs clarification. I’m glad this has been a -hopefully good – resource for people! 

Remember: Distortion Is What You Hear! Overdrive Produces It!

I had an interesting conversation with a friend today regarding the difference between overdrive and distortion. Talk about two terms that are bandied about interchangeably in the guitar world! If you ask ten different guitarists the difference between them you’ll get ten different answers. But a common theme you’ll hear is what each sounds like; in other words, you’ll get a much more qualitative description as opposed to a quantitative description. What I’ve been after is a much more objective, quantitative description of each, but not necessarily too technical. So after talking about one versus the other, I decided to write down what we discussed, and throw my two-cents into the mix.

First, let’s look at the two terms, but from the perspective of an amplifier. The simplest explanation I could come up with is that overdrive, or in audiophile terms, over-powering, occurs when input gain exceeds the capacity of a device to handle the amount of gain thrown at it; in our case, a tube. What happens is that the smooth waveform that goes into the device gets “clipped” because the device’s input capacity is less than what is being thrown at it. Sonically, we perceive the result of this clipping as distortion. The higher the amplitude of the wave, the greater amount of distortion we hear.

But what about pedals? I’ll get to that in a bit, but I wanted to take the time to clarify these terms. There’s been a lot of confusion about these two terms because they’re used so loosely, and oftentimes interchangeably. For me, I’ll stick with the audiophile’s perspective of overdrive in that distortion is the result of overdrive or over-powering an amplification device. A way to think about overdrive vs. distortion is that overdrive happens in the front-end (what you put in), while distortion happens on the back-end (what you hear).


Related Articles


But here’s where we get into a bit of murky territory, especially with pedals. Strictly speaking, if we’re talking about overdrive as simply overpowering the front-end of an amp to make the tubes clip, the only pedal that is technically an overdrive is a boost pedal that takes your guitar’s signal and ups its voltage. But lots of manufacturers call their pedals overdrive pedals. In reality, all of those are distortion pedals as they include an internal clipping circuit which is overdriven into distortion – this includes the venerable Tube Screamer. OMG! Sacrilege!

So how do you tell the difference? That’s why I said we get into murky territory with respect to pedals. But as a rule of thumb, a distortion pedal will create a distorted sound irrespective of the amp. In other words, it’ll clip on its own. Put it front of the clean channel of an amp, switch it on, and it’ll create distortion. However, many, if not most, “distortion” pedals also provide a bit of gain boost to overdrive an amp. That’s where it gets murky, as most of the pedals termed “overdrive pedal” function as a combination of both overdrive AND distortion.

There are no real hard and fast rules, but in general, pedals that are commonly known as overdrive pedals (Tube Screamer, etc.) employ what’s called a “soft-clipping” circuit or transistor, where only a small portion of the input signal is clipped. Most distortion pedals employ a “hard-clipping” device to severely clip the input signal to get that “square wave” tone. But as I said, there are no hard and fast rules. Here’s an image that nicely describes the differences in the waveforms between soft-clipping and hard-clipping devices:

Picture courtesy of GM Arts

Sonic Differences Between Overdrive and Distortion Pedals

Many people have asked me over the years if there is a sonic difference between overdrive and distortion pedals. Having tested several of these pedals over the years, I hate to sound ambiguous, but from a practical standpoint, in some cases, it’s simply too hard to tell. For instance, if I crank up my Timmy’s gain then add a bunch of volume to slam the front-end of my amp, I get a lot of crunchy distortion out of my speaker as the signal squares off. Moreover, I get a bit of compression and sustain and it “feels” like I’m playing through a distortion box. On the other hand, if I take my EWS Little Brute Drive and turn the gain knob to about 10 am, I get a similar sounding distortion with a similar feel – even though it’s a hard clipping device! They’re tonally a little different as the EWS adds a bit of low-end punch, but nevertheless, sonically and feel-wise, they’re extremely close.

But there does exist a difference, and that is in output volume. When I do what I do with my Timmy to get that hard distortion sound, I have to use an attenuator because all the input gain creates A LOT of volume, so I attenuate the output so I can keep the volume at a manageable level. But with my EWS Little Brute Drive, because it’s a distortion pedal, it will clip irrespective of the amp, plus I set its output volume to unity. I can set my amp to any volume, then switch the pedal on to get my overdrive-like sound.  I actually do this with the Little Brute Drive a lot when I don’t want to lug my attenuator to a gig.

So yes, you can set up an overdrive or a distortion pedal to make it difficult to tell the difference, but in general terms, with a hard-clipping device, you’ll experience a lot more compression than with a soft-clipping device. The tone will feel “squishy” with very little dynamics. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, because sometimes that’s what you want. Overdrive pedals, on the other hand, because they don’t produce a square wave, will feel a lot more “open” and dynamic. There will be a bit of compression at higher gain levels, but rarely will you get to the order of compression that a distortion box will make.

Gain vs. Volume

Image courtesy of Sweetwater.com

Unfortunately, this is yet another area where we get into murky territory, and where a lot of people confuse the two. So to start out, let’s just put it simply: Gain is input; volume is output.

To provide a bit more clarity, think about the function of an amp as a two-stage device. The first stage takes the relatively weak signal from your instrument, then passes it on to the second stage and amplifies the signal to produce the sound.

The first stage of an amp is called the preamp. The signal passed through the preamp is called Gain. The level of gain will have a direct effect on the volume of your amp. Typically, the more gain you introduce, the higher your volume. BUT, that said, higher and higher levels of gain will have a lesser and lesser effect on volume, as the pre-amp reaches its capacity to handle the amount of signal passed to it (commonly called saturation) and will max out sending all it can handle to the second stage or power amp.

Think of the power amp as the stage that controls the output strength of your sound, or volume, if you will. It works similarly to the pre-amp in that the more signal you throw at it, the louder your volume. Some amps come with a Master Volume. Think of it as a valve mechanism that controls the amount of signal that is allowed to pass into the power amp. When it’s wide open, all the preamp signal will pass through to the power amp. For amps without a master volume, the amount of preamp signal allowed to pass to the power amp is set by the builder.

So what does this have to do with pedals? If you look at the picture above, whether labeled or not, all come equipped with both a Gain (or Drive) and a Volume (or Level) knob. These work pretty much the same way as Gain and Master knobs on an amp. The Volume knob controls how much pedal signal will be sent to your amp’s preamp. That could be enough signal to saturate your preamp which will overdrive it into clipping and create distortion. Combined with a distorted sound from the pedal, this could – and in many cases does – create a very pleasing mix of distortion sounds.

So which kind of pedal to choose?

The pat answer is it depends on what you’re after with respect to your distorted tone. I know that this is a rather ambiguous statement, but again, there are no hard and fast rules. In the end, you should choose a pedal based on what sounds good to you. But here are a couple of guidelines:

  • If you have a tube amp and just want distortion purely from overdriving the tubes, then a booster makes sense. There are several kinds of boosters. Some boost only a certain frequency range, like a Fat boost that boosts the lower frequencies. I personally prefer a clean, transparent boost that has a flat frequency response so that the distortion that occurs is my amp’s tone. I typically use a booster in conjunction with my amp set just at the edge of breakup, so when I switch it on, not only will I get a volume boost, I’ll overdrive the pre-amp tubes; and depending on how much gain I throw at the amp, I’ll get the power tubes working as well. Here’s a trick to try: If you have an effects loop, place the booster as the last pedal in your effects loop. When switched on, it will boost the gain going into your power tubes to saturate them. You don’t get a huge volume boost, especially if the power tubes are close to saturation, but you do get a bit of a kick. I learned that from Gene Baker, who does that in his rig.
  • If you want to add a bit of color and overdrive your amp, then a soft-clipping pedal like a Tube Screamer works quite well. Tube Screamer-type pedals typically give you a mid-range boost that results in a much warmer and smoother distortion. Many also add sustain and a bit of compression to simulate power tube saturation at any volume. My Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2 is exceptional in this department. Then there are others, like the EHX Soul Food that add a bit color but interact well with the front-end of an amp. But that said, there are some like my beloved Timmy Overdrive that are transparent. They’ll give you the gain and boost but will not color your sound (Note: that you’ll still have to set up the pedal’s EQ). I will add though, that in general, an overdrive pedal sounds and performs best when the amp is already clipping a bit. The mixture of the two creates a more complex signal that is quite pleasing to the ears.
  • If you want to get a distorted tone at any volume, then a distortion pedal is the way to go. There are lots of these on the market. My personal favorite (and the one I own) is the EWS Little Brute Drive. It’s a half-size pedal with a single knob, but it will give you TONS of distortion at any volume. I normally use it for leads, as it gives just a few dB of gain, but gives me all the distortion I need to get a great screaming tone! It also colors with a fat bottom end which makes leads sound beefy. Typically, you’ll use a distortion pedal against a clean amp. But then again, there are no hard and fast rules.
  • Then if a distortion pedal still doesn’t provide enough gain for you and you need to get a hard-clipped, super-squishy, compressed distortion, then the fuzz will get you there. I call fuzz “ugly dog” distortion. To me it’s like an ugly dog that you look at and say, “holy s$%t,” but it has personality, so you can’t help but love it. Can’t say I’ve ever been into fuzz, but I’ve spoken to lots of players who use it all the time, and they love it!

You can also chain overdrive and distortion effects to great success (aka “stacking”). I do this quite a bit because you get colors that you can’t get with just your amp. One thing that I do regularly is to use an overdrive pedal to push my amp hard, then when I want to get more tube compression and sustain, I slam the front-end with a booster (which is the last pedal in my chain). This doesn’t result in a volume boost because the tubes are already saturated, but you do get much more high-gain sound, and that can really work with solos.

Again, there are no hard and fast rules. You have to play a lot of them to find your sweet spot. But that’s half the fun of it!

More Overdrive Murkiness…

I referred to my Timmy above as a “transparent” overdrive. There’s a lot of debate about transparency, but suffice it to say that while technically distortion is color, transparent overdrives are those that once their EQ is set up to match the EQ setting on your amp, they will not add any other “color” than distortion. On the other hand, once you set up a non-transparent pedal’s EQ, it will still add its own tonal characteristics to color your tone. In practical terms though, transparent overdrives fall more into the booster arena, but it’s the EQ and internal soft-clipping circuits that still define it as an overdrive.

But further exacerbating the overdrive murkiness is that many overdrive pedals are actually purpose-built to mimic the sound of a specific overdriven amplifier. These are meant to be played through a clean channel with lots of headroom. A good example of this is the Caitlinbread Dirty Little Secret that produces classic Marshall Plexi to Super Lead tones. With a pedal like that, you just set your clean channel to purely clean and let the pedal do the overdrive work.

Note: Several articles I’ve read on this topic use the generic “overdriven amp” explanation to describe all overdrive pedals. It would be okay if they described them with respect to how the pedal responds, but more often than not, they use the term to describe the sound. Unfortunately, they completely miss the pedals that are built to be transparent. I’m not saying they’re entirely wrong, but just a little narrow in scope when you consider the overall landscape of overdrive pedals available.

Now… let’s add even more murkiness to the overdrive issue, shall we? There are some overdrives like the EHX Soul Food, which is a Klon Centaur clone, that at first blush, fall into the transparent overdrive category. So one would think that you’d set your amp at the edge of breakup, then use the pedal to push it over the edge and add its own clipping. This is a common way of using an overdrive, and it’s exactly how I use my Timmy. But even though the Soul Food wasn’t purpose-built to mimic a particular amp, I use it almost exclusively as a standalone soft-clipping device played through a clean channel. Its distortion sound is so damn sweet that I don’t want to taint it by adding clipping from my amp.

So… what you choose will be wholly dependent upon what pleases you.

Update: November 26, 2012

I ended the article three years ago with the statement that you have to play a lot of pedals for find your sweet spot. Three years later, that statement remains true. You see, in a recent article where I asked if new overdrives are relevant with so many on the market, there are some pedals that work with certain rig configurations, and some that just do not. There are also some rig configurations that work great on stage that sound absolutely horrible in the studio. I’ve been in the studio for the last few weeks (grabbing studio time where I can), and when we worked on a song where I needed some high-gain sounds, my rig just did not work! I was using my trusty DV Mark Little 40 clean, with my Timmy and the Little Brute Drive for distortion. Sounded like crap when recorded. I ended up bringing in my VHT Special 6, cranking it up all the way, and slamming it with a booster! Worked like a charm, with all the high-gain character that I wanted out of that tone. So I learned a valuable lesson there.

Read Full Post »

Wanna slam the front-end of your amp with up to 50dB of gain, then be able to add some distortion? Then look no further than the Way Huge Angry Troll. I don’t have much information on it yet, but it’s a simple two knob affair. The left-hand knob controls the variable boost, while the right-hand knob provides 6 positions of “Anger” from no anger (clean boost) to a full fist. Here’s ProGuitarShop.com’s video demo.

Read Full Post »

5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

GeekDriver by the Original Geek

The GeekDriver by the Original Geek

Summary: Is it a booster? Is it an overdrive? No! It’s the GeekDriver.

Pros: From gorgeous, slightly fat boost to searing, face peeling overdrive with tons of overtones and harmonics, this pedal does it!

Cons: None.

Features:

  • Hand-wired and soldered in the US
  • Volume, Treble, Bass and Gain Controls
  • Neutrik and Switchcraft jacks
  • True Bypass

Price: $205 direct

Tone Bone Score: 5.0. I’m absolutely blown away by this pedal! I can’t say for sure, but this is a pedal that I’d almost always have on.

I don’t give 5 Tone Bones away lightly. I have to be so totally blown away by some gear that I have to give it my highest rating. When I first heard the GeekDriver on Geek’s Premier Guitar Video, I immediately became intrigued. Then when I finally met the Geek himself at the shop he shares with Tonic Amps, and he demonstrated the GeekDriver in person, I knew I had to have one, so I told him I wanted one, and tonight I picked it up.

What exactly is the GeekDriver?

As the Geek will tell you, the GeekDriver is based upon the ColorSound Overdriver that was popularized by Jeff Beck. At its core, it’s a clean booster, but the Gain knob changes the game significantly, giving you anywhere from mild breakup to ugly, snarling dog overdrive, replete with tons of overtones and harmonics. At high gain levels, it’s like the ugly dog that’s so ugly you can’t help but love it, if you catch my drift.

One thing’s for sure, it’s not transparent, nor is it meant to be. When active it adds a slight compressive fat boost at all volume levels. The effect is incredibly subtle, almost visceral, in that  you “feel” that coloration more than you hear it. This aspect alone made me give this pedal the 5 Tone Bones. The effect is so sensual and appealing. I know I’m using a lot of flowery adjectives here, but it’s because it’s so hard to articulate the emotional effect that compressive boost has on me. When I get that feeling, I know I’m onto something good.

Then you turn the gain up, and in addition to that colored boost, you get layers of overdrive which become this ugly fuzz as you increase the gain that’s total ear candy. But despite the cacophony of distorted signals, the tone is still incredibly defined and articulate. Unlike a pedal like the OCD which can get pretty muddy when you crank the gain, the GeekDriver just oozes thick fuzz, but never gets muddy. Nice.

How it sounds…

In a word, it sounds awesome. It is very hard to describe what it actually sounds like. It’s like a colored overdrive with fuzz attached. In any case here are a couple of clips (BTW, both clips were recorded at bedroom level using my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. That thing ROCKS, retaining all my tone and dynamics):

In this first clip, I was just noodling, switching back and forth a couple times between the clean tone of my amp and the GeekDriver. Note that I set the Gain pretty high on the GeekDriver on the first section to show how ugly it can get – I love that sound!

In this next clip, I start the solo out only with the GeekDriver, with a very light pick attack. In the second part of the solo, I add my Abunai 2 to the chain to demonstrate how delicious the GeekDriver sounds when another overdrive pedal is stacked on top of it.

I believe the GeekDriver was meant to be stacked. I placed it first on my board, then ran my Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2, and my Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire after it. With both pedals, the GeekDriver just FREAKIN’ ROCKED THE HOUSE!!! Oh, it’s sounds f-in’ awesome by itself, but used as a “base” pedal in front of another OD or distortion pedal, and the mix is like nothing you’ve experienced!

Overall Impressions

As you can tell, I freakin’ love this pedal! I’m not surprise why Jeff Beck dug the original ColorSound Overdriver. This is definitely Geek’s unique take on that classic pedal, and what a unique take that is! It may not be for everyone, especially if you’re looking for a transparent boost. But if you’re looking for something totally different from your typical boost or drive pedal, the GeekDriver has a voice all its own. Like I said, it freakin’ rocks the house!

About the Original Geek

Meeting Geek was pure serendipity. I originally was going to Tonic Amps to meet Darin Elingson about his cabs and Fane speakers. I didn’t know the Original Geek shared a shop space with him. That’s serendipity for you.

For those who are familiar with Jeff and his creations, he is known as “GeekMacDaddy,” and for years, his pedals have been by GeekMacDaddy. But his company has gone through a recent name change, and is now known as the “The Original Geek.” But who cares about the name? I certainly don’t. I just know his pedals kick f-in’ ass!

For more information, and to order one, go to http://www.geekmacdaddy.com.

Read Full Post »

GeekMacDaddy British Ball Breaker

I had such a great evening tonight! Darin from Tonic Amps invited me over to his shop to try some amps through his excellent speaker cabinets (be on the lookout for a review in the next day or so). He has a very cool workshop that he also shares with “GeekMacDaddy,” who makes some absolutely KICK-ASS pedals! I got to try out a few of them tonight, and absolutely fell in love with the British Ball Breaker, which GeekMacDaddy touts as a classic Marshall Plexi in a box. He’s not kidding, either. This is a helluva pedal, with rich, thick, overdriven Marshall tone. Just set your amp on clean, crank the master volume, engage the British Ball Breaker, and you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous Marshall-esque overdrive!!! YOWEE!!!

You gotta check out these pedals! They just rock! In addition, GeekMacDaddy is just about to release another freakin’ fantastic pedal called the GeekDriver that is a totally awesome take on a drive pedal. It sounds awesome by itself, but this pedal was built to be stacked, providing the foundation tone, then driving another fuzz or overdrive pedal. Rockin’!!!

Damn! Two freakin’ awesome pedals that I will have to get – as if I need more! But hey! You know me and overdrive pedals! I just can’t get enough of them!

Here’s a great demo video of both the British Ball Breaker and the GeekDriver from PremierGuitar:

Notice that GeekMacDaddy’s playing through a Tonic Amp! Those amps just rock as well! However, I’m getting ahead of myself!

For more information, go to the GeekMacDaddy site!

Read Full Post »

Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 Boost

Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 Boost

If you read this blog with any regularity, you’d know that I have this thing about overdrive and distortion pedals. Not that I’m a shredder or let alone a virtuoso at guitar. I just love tone, and there’s something about overdrive that never fails to bring a smile to my face. But ever since I started playing with some great amps, and now that I’ve got a great new speaker in my Hot Rod, I’ve been relying less on overdrive for my grind tone, and much more on the natural breakup of my amps. Enter the Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23, what I consider to be the best clean boost on the planet.

A lot of pedal manufacturers claim to have transparent boosters, and I’ve tried several that come close, but the Mk.4.23 totally delivers true transparency. You get the natural tone of your guitar and amp – just a lot more input gain that will send your pre-amp tubes into saturation. Mm-mm-good! I already wrote a review of this pedal, but thought I’d do a follow-up on how I’ve been using it over the past few months.

I’ve been using the Mk.4.23 in a few different ways (in order of how much I apply it):

  1. First, I use it by itself with the volume dimed on the pedal into my drive channel to slam the front-end of the amp, and seriously overdrive it. In this mode, I usually don’t use any other effect in front of it, though I might use a compressor with my Strat to fatten up the tone. That way I know that I’m getting my guitar’s and amp’s true tone.
  2. Then I use it by itself to boost my clean channel when I need just a bit more volume when I’m doing a clean lead break to get over the band. In this mode, the volume’s set just past unity gain. I also set the volume knob on my guitar to about it’s midpoint so I can fine-tune the volume via my guitar.
  3. Finally, I use it in conjunction with one or more overdrive/distortion pedals to add even more gain to what the other pedals have to offer. Using it this way doesn’t really add any appreciable volume, but the effect is that the overdrive tone gets super thick and raunchy. It’s not all the pretty when playing chords, but single notes absolutely scream!

For such a simple pedal, the Mk.4.23 has really changed the way I approach achieving different tones. For more information, check out Creation Audio Labs’ web site!

Read Full Post »

Late last night, I was lurking (and posting) on my favorite gear forum The Gear Page, when I ran across this thread: Stacking ODs? where a player was asking if anyone had stacked any overdrives. I’ve been doing this for years with different pedal combinations, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Through my experiments, I found that stacking works best on amps that have a much more open distortion character; that is, the power tubes don’t compress too much. For instance, I tried this on an Aracom Custom 45R that KT-66’s in it, and the compression was so intense that it sucked away all the tone. When Jeff swapped out the tubes with 6L6’s, it was a totally different story. However, I’ve gotten the best results with amps based on either 6V6’s or EL84’s. These tubes don’t compress the signal as much when they saturate as their bigger siblings and maintain a much more open distortion character.

To hear what stacked OD’s sound like, here’s a clip I took out of a song I’ve been working on. Here’s the signal path:

Strat -> Tube Screamer -> Holy Fire -> Mk.4.23 Booster -> Reason SM25

The TS overdrive is set at about 2pm, the Holy Fire’s overdrive is set a 12, with distortion just past 2pm, and the Mk.4.23 booster is dimed for an extra 24db of boost. 🙂  The SM25 is StackMode (both channels run in a series with an extra gain stage), with gain at about 12. Here’s what it sounds like:

This is the raw, unmastered track. It’s really aggressive, but as you can see, it’s not super-compressed.

Update

I’m probably going to buy a Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret in the next couple of days. This pedal was made for stacking, much like the Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire. It’ll be interesting to see what it’s like on my board.

Read Full Post »

I recently started a friendship with Vinni Smith at V-Picks – what a cool dude! Not only does he make great picks, but that man can make an axe sing! Anyway, I was e-mailing him this evening about how his “The Snake” pickup has changed my life, and it got me to thinking about specific pieces of gear that have had a drastic effect on how I approach the guitar. I’ll share them here in kind of a loose chronology:

1. The Kyser Capo

Yeah, lots of people call ’em “cheaters,” but screw ’em. I couldn’t play lots of songs without one. But the Kyser capo in particular really changed my approach, especially after I saw James Taylor playing with one. For years, I used a standard nylon strap type of capo that just basically stayed in place. But then I saw JT playing with a Kyser. I always wondered how he did his mid-song key changes. I used to think he just changed his hand position and played barre chords. But I’ll be damned if he didn’t just slide the capo up, then just played open chords in another key. That was it! I was sold.

2. Ovation Celebrity Deluxe

After my beloved “Betsy” (a Yamaha FG-335 acoustic) broke in a terrible fall, I immediately went in search of a new guitar. I played all sorts in this used gear store and came across this gorgeous sunset burst Ovation. I wasn’t much of an Ovation fan – thought they were really tinny sounding. But when I played this one, it had a much deeper sound than the Ovations I’d played up to that point, and it was a shallow body, no less. When I plugged it into an amp, it sounded even better! That guitar got me into amplified sound. So of course, in addition to buying the guitar, I also got a small Roland 25 Watt practice amp. What a life changer that was.

3. Fender Hot Rod Deluxe

This was my very first tube amp, and an amp that I still use because of how good it sounds… er… I’ve had some modifications done to it, but nevertheless, being my first tube amp, it exposed me to a whole new world of tonal possibilities. Up to that point, I’d played only solid state amps from a Roland JC-12o to a Line 6 Flextone III to a Roland Cube 60 (which I still have – it’s an awesome amp). The Hot Rod showed me the wonders and beauty of tube amp distortion which is nothing like what you get with solid state amps.

4. Ibanez Tube Screamer

There are overdrive boxes, and there are overdrive boxes. But the Tube Screamer is THE classic overdrive box, and the oldest pedal on my board. I’ve of course fallen in love with other OD’s like the Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire, but the Tube Screamer had a real huge effect on how I looked at tone and established what pleases me the most with respect to breakup. It’s a great pedal (though I’m really psyched about testing the Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2).

5. Blizzard Pearl Fender 60th Diamond Anniversary Stratocaster

I love that classic, vintage sound, and this guitar delivered it from the moment I played it. Yeah, it’s made in Mexico, it cost me less than $400 new, but I chose it over Strats five times its price. Why? Because it kicked the shit out of the other guitars. It was THE guitar that convinced me that it’s not the price you pay but the tone you produce that matters. Since I’ve gotten her, I play “Pearl” every day. She’s the first guitar I go to when working on a new song. What a wonderful instrument.

6. Saint Guitar Company “Baby Blue” Benchmark

This isn’t my guitar, and I no longer have it in my studio, but this was the very first guitar that was made to my personal specifications. There is nothing like playing a guitar that’s made to order. The experience is surreal, and started me down this path of playing a custom guitar. Adam’s going to be building me one in the next few months – I’m keeping that one. 🙂

7. Reason Amps SM25 Combo

Even though I love my Hot Rod, the SM25 marks a time when I’ve gotten super-serious about my tone. I’d played a bunch of amps, but this amp showed me that sometimes you do have to pay to get stellar tone – and it’s worth every penny. Lots of manufacturers have created amps that run their channels in series, but I haven’t come across one amp yet that does it as well as Obeid Kahn and Anthony Bonadio. They’ve come up with an amp, cab, and speaker combo that’s like nothing I’ve played before – and I’ve played some awesome amps.

8. Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 Clean Boost

I used to think clean boosts were just to help punch a solo through the mix. I didn’t know that they could be used to slam the pre-amps of a tube amp to produce super-overdrive in an amp that no distortion or overdrive pedal can give you. But this one’s very special in that it adds no tonal artifacts of its own – it’s uncanny. What it does is boost the natural sound of your guitar, and when slamming the front-end of amp, gives you the true overdriven tone of your amp. This is a piece of gear that I cannot do without any longer, and it now has a permanent place on my board.

9. Red Bear Picks

I never thought I’d buy a handmade pick, nor pay $20 for one no less. But Red Bear Trading TortisTM picks truly changed my life. I now use Red Bears exclusively for playing acoustic guitar. They sound great with electric as well – I’ll get to that below when I talk about V-Picks – but no pick I’ve ever played has made my Ovation sound so good. These picks look and feel like natural tortoise shell, but they’re made from a polymer of milk protein. No matter, they’re awesome picks!

10. Aracom Amps RoxBox 22 Watt (soon to be released)

This diminutive amp oozes 6V6 goodness. It’s still kind of in the prototype phase so I can’t really write too much about it, but I think my friend Jeff Aragaki has hit a real sweet spot with this amp. Get this: It’s hand-wired, though it uses a solid state rectifier, and it costs less than $1000! The profound thing about this is you can indeed get boutique caliber gear at a great price. But for me personally, this amp is the very first boutique amp I’m buying. Oh, I’ll eventually get the Reason SM25 to run in parallel with this one, 🙂 but this amp is special because it’s the first boutique amp I will ever have owned.

11. V-Picks “The Snake”

As I mentioned above, I’ve befriended Vinni Smith, and I just dig the dude! He knows so much about guitar, and we’ve shared a lot of the same experiences, and love the same kind of music (his favorite guitar solo is the lead break in the middel of Frampton’s Do You Feel Like We Do – my favorite as well). When we first met, Vinni sent me a large sample of his picks, which I compared head-to-head with my Red Bear picks. Of course, I love my Red Bear Classic B-style Heavy, but when I played the comparable V-Picks Standard on my electric guitars, I just couldn’t believe this sound and action I was getting! So I decided to use my Red Bears for acoustic – as I said, nothing sounds better than a Red Bear on acoustic. But for electric, it was going to be V-Picks all the way. Then during a conversation we were having a couple of weeks ago, Vinni told me he’d send me his Snake picks. These are a whopping 4.1 mm thick, with a different bevel than his others. Since I’ve gotten them, I’m never going to use anything on electric guitar than the Snake! I use the rounded for a smoother, fatter tone, and use the pointy for bright attack tones – especially when I’m doing stuff on the bridge pickup! These two picks have totally changed my approach to playing electric. Thick picks in general did that, but these are the thickest I’ve played, and they absolutely ROCK THE HOUSE!

12. May 30, 2010 – I know, a bit late on the uptake here with this one, but life-changing nonetheless, and that is my Aracom Power Rox PRX150-Pro attenuator. This is the first attenuator that I’ve used that truly stays transparent down to bedroom levels. It is the only attenuator that accurately gives me my cranked up tone at low volume levels, and it is absolutely wonderful! I know there are others out there, but knowing that they’re modeled after existing attenuator designs that I know don’t sound very good at low volume levels, it was a no-brainer for me to choose this one. As Doug Doppler said to me in a recent visit to his home, “This thing has saved my ears!” Even Joe Satriani uses one of these units and loves it! That’s how good it is!

Okay, that’s it for me… Anyone care to share what gear has changed their lives?

Read Full Post »

Tone Freak EffectsI love serendipitous moments, when I stumble upon something new when I’m doing something else entirely. Such was the case of me stumbling upon Tone Freak pedals. I was seeing if the domain name “tonefreak.com” was taken, and at the top of the search results was Tone Freak Effects. You know me and overdrive and distortion pedals. I LOVE ‘EM! And Tone Freak Effects specializes in two kinds of overdrive, two kinds of distortion pedals, plus a buffer/booster and a really nice trem pedal.

The OD and distortion pedal clips I listened to demonstrate a very diverse set of pedals that have a classic character, but also sound fairly unique as well. For instance the Abunai 2 clips sounded a lot like a classic Tube Screamer – nice and open – but with a bit more low-end while maintaining that openness. In fact, all the pedal clips I listened to portrayed familiar OD and distortion sounds, but were also wonderfully different in very good ways. This could likely be because almost all the pedals are the result of collaborations with various guitarists.

No matter, these pedals sound awesome!

I’m particularly interested in the Buff Puff, a signal buffer, plus a clean boost. The buffer is on all the time, and helps restore the signal loss that can occur in a long effects chain. When you switch the pedal on, you get some clean boost. Not sure how many dB, but that is something that I find totally cool. In addition to my love for OD pedals, I’ve really started getting into clean boost – not just to up my volume, but to also slam the front-end of an amp. It’s wonderful!

Anyway, check Tone Freak Effects out at: http://www.tonefreak.com!

Read Full Post »

Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire Overdrive/Distortion Pedal

Fulltone OCD Drive Pedal

What do you do when you have two kick-ass overdrive/distortion pedals and don’t know which one to choose because both pedals bring so much to the table? The obvious answer is to use both. But my problem in choosing is exacerbated by limited pedal real estate, so I have to make a choice.

Actually, the choice wasn’t too hard to make once I started playing with the Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire. While I love the OCD, the Holy Fire wins hands-down for its versatility and total transparency. While the OCD is somewhat transparent, it can get kind of muddy and a little choppy at high drive settings, whereas the Holy Fire’s distortion section reacts a lot like a power tube at high gain settings producing a compressed effect that just rocks the house!

I still love the sound that the OCD produces. It really brings out harmonics and overtones, and set in a “sweet spot” produces a nice sparkly distortion that really sounds great. But as of late I’ve been gravitating towards retaining the natural sound of my guitar and amp, so the added artifacts that the OCD adds aren’t really what I want right now.

On the other hand, the overdrive on the Holy Fire is totally unique, and nothing like I’ve ever witnessed in all my tests of overdrive pedals (and believe me, I’ve tested a lot). The overdrive has what Creation Audio Labs calls a “wave shaping” circuit that evenly distorts the entire bandwidth of the incoming signal as opposed to creating a mid-range hump, or scooping the EQ. It really is completely even. You don’t lose any lows or highs, which is common in overdrive pedals. And the circuit reacts to both volume and pick attack, providing more wave shaping as you hit the front-end of the pedal harder. Simply put, you retain all the natural tone of your guitar! It’s insane! And it’s so special, Creation Audio Labs is trying to patent it!

I gigged with the Holy Fire for the first time this evening at my weekly Church gig. Make no mistake, this may be a church service, but we regularly hit above 100db in our sets, so there is plenty of room to let our amps breath, and take advantage of the higher gain settings on our equipment. Tonight, I made sure to pick music that would allow me to use the Holy Fire throughout my set. Talk about being inspired! I used it with my Strat and a Reason SM25 amp. What a combo! I set the gain to just above unity with the clean channel (about 10am), the overdrive at about 2pm, and distortion at about 3pm (so the distortion section would compress – it does this at around 2pm). The breakup was so smooth and delicious, I wanted to keep it on all the time! Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that with some songs, but where I had the entire band playing all out, the Holy Fire just made my heart sing!

The Holy Fire also plays well with other pedals. My mainstay overdrive pedal is my trusty green machine, an Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer. That’s one pedal that will NEVER leave my board! But here’s the cool thing: Running the Tube Screamer in front of the Holy First was like nothing I’ve heard before. I did this with my OCD as well, essentially getting a combined tonal effect that the TS and OCD produce. But the Holy Fire maintained the tone the Tube Screamer produces! On the other hand, it smoothed out and thickened the distortion. The result was the expected mid-range hump from the Tube Screamer, but with super-creamy distortion, plus the TS tone, that was like candy to my ears. No extra coloration that I came to expect by running my TS into the OCD. It was like playing a fatter Tube Screamer!

Believe me, despite playing in a worship service, the way I was feeling with both those pedals running together made it seem I like I was flying with the angels! I’m not exaggerating! There is absolutely nothing compared to the feeling you get when you’re playing with wonderful tone. It inspires and emboldens you, and you take your playing to places you didn’t think possible.

That was the feeling I got when I first started playing with the OCD, and frankly, I didn’t think it could get much better. But the Holy Fire has changed everything.

On top of that, I was using another Creation Audio Labs pedal, the Mk.4.23 clean boost, yet another amazing product from those electronics wizards. I used the booster to give me just a slight gain boost for when I was doing solos, or was in the refrain section of a song when I needed just a bit more volume. It too is a totally transparent boost, adding ZERO artifacts to your signal, so all the time I spent dialing in my settings wouldn’t be lost when the Mk.4.23 was engaged.

I swear, I must sound like a twitterpated, googly-eyed schoolgirl! 🙂 But it’s been a long time that I’ve felt truly inspired, like everything was totally right with my world of tone. I’ve finally (at least for now), found total balance in my tone. The circle is complete…

At least until I get a bad case of GAS!!!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »