Archive for the ‘Creation Audio Labs’ Category

Fender 60th Diamond Anniversary Stratocaster

I’m normally very methodical in my approach to writing music. But sometimes, I just get carried away with playing that I’ll just create a riff, and jam over it again and again until my fingertips are numb. Writing my latest instrumental was exactly that experience. I came up with a riff, added some bass and a basic drum kit loop to it, and spent the next several hours trying to cop my best SRV. 🙂 Believe me, no one can play like that dude! He was special.

But the point of this is that after hours and hours of playing, I really got inspired to not just let it be a jam track, especially after I came up with a phrase that felt like it could define the theme of a song. So over the next few days I tweaked with the song, and this is the final result. Note that I had a version of this up as of a couple of days ago, but I remixed it, added an echo part for the last section, and removed a bunch of layered on effects from the first cut. I ended up with a much more raw sound, which was really what I was after. Here it is:

All the guitar parts were played with “Pearl” my 60th Diamond Anniversary Strat. After playing ‘buckers for awhile, I forgot how fun it was to play my Strat! My amp, of course, was my ever versatile tone machine, my Aracom Amps VRX22. For effects, I used a Hardwire RV-7 Reverb, a Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 booster, and a Voodoo Lab MicroVibe.

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.


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 »

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 »

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!

Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire Overdrive/Distortion Pedal

Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire Overdrive/Distortion Pedal

Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire Overdrive/Distortion

Summary: Overdrive and Distortion and tons of gain in one box that will NOT alter your tone. Has built-in wave shaping that responds to attack and input gain that simulates overdriving the front end of an amp.

Pros: Possible to achieve all sorts of clipping from swampy grind to searing distortion rife with harmonics, overtones and feedback, and it can do all this at ANY volume – freakin’ amazing!

Cons: Operationally, none. But its circuitry is so special that it requires a special 48V DC adapter – it will not run from a standard 9V or 18V power supply like Dunlop DC Brick. But for what it brings to the table, that’s a small price to pay.

Price: $195 direct


– “G” Gain
– “O” Overdrive – Soft clipping circuit – has built-in wave-shaping to react to input gain much like the front-end of a tube amp. Higher levels evoke increased wave-shaping ensuring even distortion throughout the EQ spectrum.
– “D” Distortion – Square wave form distortion
– Hi-cut (variable sweep hi-cut, fully open gives you all the tone, dialed back scales back the hi-freqs)

Tone Bone Rating: 5 This stuff is magic.

The guys at Creation Audio Labs must be wizards – or at least half wizard – because they’ve created what I consider to be the only overdrive/distortion pedal that does what it’s supposed to do, and doesn’t alter the tone of your amp! Mind you, there are times when you want that. For instance, to me, the classic overdriven mid-range hump of a Tube Screamer is an incomparable sound, and something I will always have on my board because I like the way it changes my tone. But in a lot of other circumstances, all I want is grind or all out distortion, and I don’t want my tone changed. That’s where the Holy Fire overdrive/distortion comes into play.

This is truly a magical pedal. Not only does it look awesome with that brushed metal exterior, and glowing red “Holy Fire” letters, it kicks the freakin’ pants off pretty much anything that’s out there that claims tone transparency in my opinion. And I don’t say this lightly. Remember, if you’re a regular reader of this column, I’ve got a real penchant for overdrive and distortion boxes – especially overdrive boxes. So when I say a pedal totally kicks ass, I mean it! You might not see too many reviews on them here, only because I only take the time to write about gear I love and would put in my chain. This is a pedal that will be taking up space on my board! And at $195 direct from Creation Audio Labs, this is a must-have box!

What’s so special about it? Actually, the question should be: What’s not to like? You get the best of both worlds here: Completely transparent overdrive or beautifully compressed distortion. Playing just with the overdrive and the distortion completely rolled off, you can get that classic, mildly crunchy, gritty grind to rip-roaring rattle that’ll make you think your amp’s bottles will shake off. Conversely with the overdrive turned all the way down and sweeping the Distortion knob, you can go from sweet and mild distortion, to heavily compressed gut-wrenching distortion replete with harmonics and overtones that’ll make you feel you’re getting scalped! But the best settings combine certain amounts of both. When you find your sweet spot, it’s epiphany time!

Imagine all this in one little stomp box! And the kicker is that your amp will still sound like your amp! Mind you, I didn’t read any reviews of this pedal before I got one for review. I didn’t want to taint my assessment of the pedal. The VERY first thing I noticed as I twiddled with the knobs is that my test amps never lost their voicing (I used three amps: An Aracom RoxBox combo, a Reason SM25, and my trusty Fender Hot Rod Deluxe). In all cases, the amp I was playing still sounded like my amp except it had grind and/or distortion. And no matter what output volume I had, the pedal operated the SAME WAY!!! So imagine the versatility this pedal brings to the table! I’m going to do a test later on with my Fender Champ 600, and see what wonders the Holy Fire will conjure when I lay down some tracks. It should be interesting as well as rewarding. So whether you’re on stage or in the studio. If you need breakup in your sound, this pedal will do it.

But wait there’s more!

On top of all I discussed, the pedal is sensitive to input gain, and has what’s called “wave shaping” that responds to higher input gain and acts like you’re overdriving the front-end of a tube amp. When you hit the pedal hard with either a booster or diming your guitar’s volume, or just picking hard, the pedal’s LED changes to a yellow color indicating that you’re overdriving the pedal. The magic behind this is that wave shaping evenly distorts the input signal across the EQ spectrum, so all your input tone is completely retained. The damn thing works too! It ain’t no marketing gimmick! So just as you’d expect when you do the same things with an amp, the Holy Fire will do it as well. Like I said, it’s magic.

I should make mention to a very cool effect that happens when you turn the distortion knob past 2 o’clock. The circuit actually starts compressing the signal, so you lose a little volume, but you get a very fat signal. In my opinion, that’s where the magic occurs with the distortion. After playing around with lots of combinations, I ended up just diming the distortion knob altogether, then just layering in varying amounts of overdrive and gain. Truly candy for the ears here, folks. With that, I’m going to post a couple of YouTube vids here so you can see and hear for yourself.

January 12, 2009

I’ve written a follow-up on this pedal. In a nutshell, I got my first chance gig with the Holy Fire this past weekend, and it was a true revelation. Talk about being on cloud nine while playing the guitar! Read the follow-up here.

Read Full Post »