Archive for the ‘distortion’ Category

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!
Peterson VS-R StroboRack

Summary: Super-accurate, super-sophisticated, yet super-easy-to-use. With point-one cent accuracy and built-in temperament and sweeteners, plus a huge display, accurate tuning is a breeze with this unit!

Pros: The big display makes tuning extremely easy, and the built-in sweeteners (I’ll get into that in a bit) ensure that once you’re tuned you sound great.

Cons: None, at least from the standpoint of features and capabilities. But as I’m not really a rackmount guy, lugging this around would mean having to get an enclosure. But in the studio, IT IS THE BOMB!!!


  • 0.1 Cent Accuracy
  • Large, Backlit Virtual Strobe™ Display
  • Exclusive Sweetened™ Tunings For Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Dobro®, Baritone, Steel Guitar, Electric Violin- total of 34
  • Buzz Feiten Tuning System® Presets
  • 8 User-Programmable Sweeteners
  • 25 Presets
  • Built-In Mic
  • Mute Button & Remote Jack
  • Tone Out Jack
  • All Metal Construction
  • Neutrik® Jacks
  • 12V BNC Output For Gooseneck Light (not included)
  • Built-In Power Supply (No Wall Wart.)

Price: $359 (street)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0. I’ve used a lot of tuners, and this by far is the most accurate I’ve ever used. Despite it being a rackmount, my use of it in the studio has proven

I used to never be into rackmount gear, let alone sophisticated tuning equipment. But the Peterson StroboRack has me reconsidering both those things, especially in my workshop/studio where tuning accuracy is incredibly important.

I received the StroboRack a few days ago, and since I set it up (which required all of two minutes to plug in the cords), I can see why so many people love these tuners. It’s a completely different way to tune an instrument. Instead of lining up a needle or LED, or even using the “strobe” effect on a TU-2, you tune by making the “checkerboard” pattern on the LCD stop moving. If it moves the left, you’re flat. If it moves to the right, you’re sharp.

Tuning with one of these things does take a little getting used to. First off, I had to really lighten my touch with the tuning keys, and also had to make sure I didn’t put any pressure on the neck. At .1 cent accuracy, even a slight pressure throws off the tuning. But once I got used to it, tuning was a breeze!

Do you take sugar with that?

The StroboRack includes what are called “sweeteners” for specific types of instruments. I’m not sure I understand this idea completely, but it has to do with setting the right intervals between notes – compensating for the type of instrument – so that the tuned instrument doesn’t just sound great tuned up, but when you actually chords, the chords are much more tonally accurate. Apparently a lot of math goes into calculating these sweeteners.

All I can say is that my guitars tuned up with the StroboRack, actually sound better than when tuned up with my little TU-2. It probably has a lot to do with the high degree of accuracy, but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the “GTR” sweetener. For instance, I did an A/B comparison of tuning with the StroboRack vs. my TU-2. I took my time to get the most accurate tuning I could with both tuners. When I struck an E chord after tuning up with my TU-2, I had to make a couple of minor adjustments to my G and B strings – it wasn’t that the chord sounded bad, it just seemed to sound a bit “off.”

On the other hand, the E chord struck after tuning with the StroboRack with the GTR sweetener engaged sounded absolutely right on!

Fit and Finish

The StroboRack is encased in a nice, heavy-duty aluminum casing. It is really built like a tank, so I have no doubts that it could survive the rigors of the road. But I do advise getting an enclosure for it. It’s still a precision instrument, and should be handled with some care.

Overall Impressions

To say The Dawg digs this unit is an absolute understatement! Last night, I used it to set the intonation on a new guitar I got, and I have to tell you, the big display and scrolling checkerboard really made it easy. I know, a lot of folks would say, “But it’s just a tuner.” Well yeah… but the accuracy it affords you – especially you tone freaks out there – just can’t be beat. This is a unit that I will definitely be adding to my rig!

At $359 street, it’s not a cheap proposition by any means, but hell! We gear sluts spend tons of money each year on gadgets to make us sound better. One would think that sounding better also means being in tune. Of course, Peterson has several other tuners, like the StroboStomp that doesn’t have all the features of the rack unit, but it uses the same “Virtual Strobe Technology” as the StroboRack, so you know you’ll get the accuracy you need.

Mind you, I didn’t try out all the other features like outputting to two outputs, which is pretty cool, or using the XLR jack to go into a board. Those are great features, but frankly, they’re secondary to what’s important with this unit: Accurate tuning.

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Acoustic Imaginearing Quantum DriveBrand-new from what appears to be a brand-new kind of overdrive/distortion, Acoustic Imaginearing has just released its new QuantumDrive, overdrive/distortion pedal. Folks, this appears to be totally new technology; the first and only that employs quantum mechanics tunneling to produce its distortion sound!

I’m no physicist, so I’ll let you do your own research on what quantum tunneling is. But this is a totally new twist on distortion! Here’s the press release:

The QuantumDrive, A.I.’s flagship product, is a versatile and unique overdrive and distortion unit that uses a patent pending process to dynamically shape the sound of the guitar by means of a quantum tunneling device. Quantum tunneling is a curious physics principle which allows matter to “pass through” other matter which would normally be impenetrable. A.I. has developed a means of using this effect to modify a guitar signal in unique and previously unheard of ways. The quantum distortion appears to add a vowel sound to the signal as well as emphasizing the consonant, fricative guitar distinctiveness. Affecting the edge of the waveform and not just the peaks, the result is a very expressive tone when played “in the zone.” Of course the pedal is also capable of wild and quirky, outside the norm distortions — each distinctive to the instrument processed by the Quantum Drive.

The effect is well suited for both guitar and bass, as bass frequencies are retained without becoming muddy. It has been used by Tony Levin on the latest King Crimson tour.

In addition to the distortion channel, the pedal has a solid overdrive channel, also uniquely designed, that can be used independently or chained together with the quantum channel.

I gotta tell you, I love this kind of stuff! And the fact that this is an overdrive/distortion pedal (you know OD is my favorite kind of pedal) is even better! I’m very excited when inventors add a new twist to something familiar. It just goes to show that there’s no shortage of creativity and innovation in the world!

How It Sounds

There are very limited sound clips available on the site, but the interface to listen to them is a bit screwy. I was able to do a debug trace to figure out the sound clip file names. The following clips were done with a Les Paul with the rhythm pickup into the QuantumDrive and output through a Peavey Classic 30. The clips actually aren’t that good, as the massive amounts of reverb kind of mask what could really be a great sounding pedal. But from what I could here, this is a real open sounding distortion, with just a little fizz. What I like is how the signal tails off.

Light Quantum Drive

Medium Quantum Drive

High Quantum Drive

Note that this pedal also has an overdrive that you can mix with the quantum drive as well.

Where to Buy

You can get this pedal on EBay for $165 as a “Buy It Now” or bid on it for $160 starting bid/$225 Buy It Now (in another auction).

This pedal is so new, they only have two dealers. This is a great find!

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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!

Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2

Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2 Overdrive Pedal

Summary: In Japanese, “abunai” means dangerous, and this pedal’s overdrive tones are indeed dangerous – at least to your other overdrive pedals. With three switchable clipping configurations, you can dial in a myriad of overdrive characteristics that’ll suit any situation, be it live or in the studio.

Pros: The magic’s in the three-way clipping configuration switch. Super simple to use, and very easy to dial in the kind of overdrive character you want.

Cons: None

Price: $199 (through dealers – check out the Tone Freak Effect Contact Page)


  • Controls: Drive, Tone, Level
  • 3 clipping configurations
  • True Bypass
  • Neutrik jacks
  • Teflon coated, silver stranded wire
  • Mil-spec PCB
  • Metal film resistors
  • Metal film capacitors
  • Hand assembled

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 – As I shared with Dereck Tabata (maker of Tone Freak pedals), with the amount of gear that I run across, I’m rarely blown away by pedals. But I was completely blown away by the Abunai 2. Step aside Tube Screamer, there’s a new sherriff in town.

One rainy friday night several months ago, I was sitting in an Armadillo Willy’s eating my dinner and surfing the web, while waiting for my son’s hockey practice at the rink across the parking lot to end. I was doing what Internet geeks like myself occasionally do: Search for available domain names, and reserve them, just in case I want to build a site or point them to this blog. In this case, I did a google search on “tone freak.” The first listing was for Tone Freak Effects; an effects manufacturer I had not even heard of at that point.

Being the gear slut that I am, I just had to mosey on over to the Tone Freak site, and check out what they had to offer. And much to my extreme pleasure, they had a bunch of overdrive pedals, my favorite kind of effect! I immediately reached over to my laptop bag and pulled out my ear buds so I could listen to clips. The first set of clips I listened to were recorded with the Abunai 2. From the very first clip, I felt that this pedal was something special. It wasn’t a Tube Screamer tone – it was something altogether different. It had a much “ballsier” sound than a Tube Screamer, but seemed to clip very similarly – at least in the middle position.

Well I got one in for review just yesterday, and from the moment I hooked it up to my board and started noodling, I was in love!!! And by 2am this morning, I was spent, which accounts for why I’m doing a review of the Abunai 2 the very next day. I just couldn’t stop playing (though after the first hour I did stop to take a break and write a First Impressions article)! So today I’m a bit fuzzy and a little worse for wear, but grinning from ear-to-ear because I just spent the previous evening in absolute overdrive bliss! I know some gear is good when it can consume my attention for hours on end. This is the perfect overdrive pedal!

Features and Ease-of-Use

The features are listed in the summary section above, but the most special feature of this pedal is the three-way mini-toggle set between the drive and volume knobs. This controls the variable clipping section which gives you symmetrical, asymmetrical, and no clipping to open up lots of different overdrive tones. As far as ease-of-use is concerned, this pedal’s easy to use. Select the clipping configuration you want, adjust level, gain, and tone, and you’re off to the races!

Interestingly enough, I wanted to get some background information on the pedal before I received it, so I had a nice conversation with Rob at Tone Merchants about the Abunai 2. He indicated that I’d have to spend a lot of time dialing in just the right overdrive tone I wanted, but once I got it, I’d be totally happy. Call me lucky, but I set everything in the middle position to start with, spent maybe 20 seconds twiddling the knobs, and found a sweet spot. I suppose it also all depends on how discerning or nit-picky you are… I’ll just call it luck for my experience. 🙂

How It Sounds

Many words come to mind with respect to how the Abunai 2 sounds: Killer, Inspirational, Ballsy, F-in’ Incredible! All of the above. To date, this is the best-sounding overdrive pedal I’ve ever played, and I’ve played a lot. You know how taken I was with the OCD, but even that lost out to the Holy Fire, which is yet another killer overdrive/distortion that will never leave my board – actually I shouldn’t say “never” because that’s exactly what I said about my Tube Screamer. It’s not transparent – at least not nearly as transparent as the Holy Fire – but the tone it produces is so damn sweet, who the hell cares about transparency? But that said, the tone of your amp doesn’t really change a lot. It just takes on a slightly different character, and that difference is simply wonderful

No matter what toggle position you go with, the Abunai 2 serves up lots of sustain that gives the resultant tone a very 3-dimensional quality. It’s in your face, but at the same time it’s very spacious – even when it’s simulating tube compression!

In case  you missed the previous article where I described how each position sounds, let me rehash it here. Note that I’m not going to try to identify which position refers to symmetrical, asymmetrical or no-clipping; only what it sounds like to my ears.


The middle position sounds much like a classic overdrive tone. It’s an open type of distortion tone with a nice grind that’s never harsh. This could be the closest you get to a Tube Screamer tone, but it’s significantly different from that tone. This is a great toggle position for playing dirty rhythm parts.


To my ears, this position sounds much like the tone you get as your power tubes start to saturate. You get a bit more voltage sag, resulting in more sustain and compression, but the overdrive tone still remains fairly open. And like an amp whose power tubes are starting to saturate, you get a slight volume drop. So far, this has been my favorite toggle position for leads.


This position simulates fully saturated power tubes adding tons of compression, tons of sustain, and the expected drop in volume as a result -it’s spongy. I compensated for this by adding some clean boost to get the volume back to unity gain. But despite that, notes are clear, and the dynamics are still incredible.

Here’s a sound clip I recorded at around 1am this morning. I played both parts using my Prestige Heritage Elite. For the rhythm part, I set the toggle in the middle position, rolled off the drive to about 10 am, set the gain to unity, and placed the tone dead-center. I had both my ‘buckers engaged for this part. For the lead, I used the left toggle position, upped volume to about 2pm, set the Tone wide open, and set the Drive to about 1pm. The lead was played through my bridge pickup.

I tracked the rhythm part in a single take, and then loop recorded the lead so I could just jam. I’m not sure what iteration the loop was in when I finally stopped. All I know was that it was about 2am, and I took the last “take” and exported the clip to an MP3.

Overall Impressions

As I mentioned above, my head’s fuzzy, I’m a little worse for wear, plus my fingertips hurt from playing so long last night. But what the hell! I was in complete tonal bliss! The Abunai 2 is an absolute dream come true in overdrive tone! This is a pedal that you just have to check out if you’re in the market!

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4.75 Tone Bones - Almost perfect but not quite

Barber Direct Drive

Barber Direct Drive

Barber Direct Drive

Summary: The Direct Drive is a nice, fairly transparent overdrive that maintains your amp’s tone that can produce mild grit to over-the-top, searing gain that sustains for days. 


Pros: As overdrive pedals go, this pedal sounds great, and with internal trim pots you can adjust the bass response and presence. This ain’t a Tube Screamer clone by any stretch of the imagination. Plus, it’s handmade and at a GREAT price!

Cons: A little noisy with single coils and P-90’s.

Price: $119 direct


Volume, Tone and Drive knobs
Internal Trim Pots to adjust bass response and presence 

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 – I really like this pedal! It’s fairly transparent and clear, and except for a bit of noise with my Strat and PRS SE II Soapbar, this OD delivers great tones at any volume!

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I have a thing for overdrive pedals; especially in a small home studio like my own, a good overdrive pedal really helps get that drive tone when you have to play at bedroom levels. Unfortunately, not all drive pedals behave well at low volumes. I would have to say that a lot of my overdrive purchasing decisions have been driven (excuse the pun) by how well they perform in low volume situations like a home studio. I’ve played several drive pedals over the years, and while almost all sound great when an amp is pushing some serious air, there’s only a select few that perform well at much lower volumes. So I’m happy to say that the Barber Direct Drive falls into the latter camp!

Ease of Use

What could be more easy? Three knobs for Volume, Tone and Gain. Just dial in the amount you desire of each, and you’re off to the races. But the Direct Drive also provides a cool push-pull pot with the Tone knob that engages what Barber calls “Fat Harmonics” mode for what they call the “Expensive California” amp tone. It’s another way of getting more high-end sparkle and emphasis on overtones and harmonics; much like the Fulltone OCD that has it on all the time. But wait! There’s more! 🙂 Inside the box are internal trim pots for adjusting bass response and 

How It Sounds

It’s certainly fatter sounding than a Tube Screamer, even though Barber claims in their manual that a certain knob setting is an “808 killer.” I tried the Direct Drive at that setting, and it’s close, but sorry, no cigar. But that’s not a bad thing! The Direct Drive has a very distinct personality and definitely a sound and voice all its own! I did mention in the Summary that it’s fairly transparent. It is, but nowhere near as transparent as the Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire which is just about the most transparent overdrive I’ve ever played! But again, that’s not a bad thing. The overdrive characteristics are a bit tighter than a Fulltone OCD and much more even EQ-wise than a Tube Screamer; like I said, it has its own voice.

Here’s a clip I recorded. The rhythm part features a Strat. The Direct Drive’s volume is at unity, tone is dead-center, and Drive is about 10 am to get just a tiny bit of overdrive. The solo employs my Prestige Heritage Elite. The box’s volume is still at unity, tone is about 1 pm, and the drive is set to dead-center. This produces a nice, smooth grind, and lots of sustain.

By the way, the cool thing about that clip is that it was recorded at bedroom level, with my ribbon mic about 2 inches from the grille cloth! For the pedal to create that drive sound at that level is amazing!

Overall Impressions

This is a real kick-ass pedal, and I do have to say that in low-volume situations, this has got to be one of the best sounding drive pedals I’ve played. I dig it!  This is not a pedal I’d just at high gain, gig volume situations. It’s not that the tone is bad, but even though Barber has removed some of the compression characteristics in the later models (the old ones were pretty thick in comparison, apparently), it’s a bit too tight at high gain, especially when you need to punch through a mix. Besides at that volume level, I tend to stay away from my overdrive pedals altogether and just use my Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 booster (the best, most transparent booster on the planet, IMO) to slam my pre-amp tubes. 

But for general overdrive duties, this is a great pedal. I actually love its fatter tone when playing in low-volume venues, and for a street price of $119, and being hand-wired to boot, this is a pedal that I don’t think I can ignore! Neither should you! 🙂

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Reinhardt Amps Willard Distortion Pedal

Just ran across this brand-new fuzz pedal from Reinhardt Amps, called the "Willard" distortion pedal. This pedal is pure 80’s fuzz, a sound that I came to love! From the video, it’s clear that this pedal is capable of producing some serious hair, but it also retains a lot of clarity. Built around a true NOS LM308N op-amp chip and based around a big-box Rat of that era, this is a very nice-sounding distortion box. Check out the video below:

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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.

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Catalinbread Dirty Little SecretI always love being able to get great tone at a bargain. It’s not that I’m cheap. I’ll pay top-dollar for great gear, but when potentially great gear comes at an incredibly affordable price, the Dawg’s ears perk up, and his nose starts sniffing around to see where he can play some gear.

Such was the case when I first came across this little pedal company located in Portland, Oregon called Catalinbread. I had run across the name on a couple of gear forums, but didn’t get a chance to check out their site until today when I read their press release in Harmony Central Effects News. After I read the press release, I had to check out Catalinbread’s site, and much to my pleasure, Catalinbread offers several, very cool pedals.

One thing that makes them stand apart is their diminutive size. As noted in ProGuitarShop’s Catalinbread company page, “One of the defining features of Catalinbread effects pedals is the size. Catalinbread pedals are half the size of your standard MXR. That’s right, take a Phase 90 and cut it in half vertically and you’ve got the basic size of Catalinbread’s pint-sized pedals.” But, as they say, size isn’t everything. Apparently Catalinbread’s pedals pack a lot of sonic punch.

The other thing that makes Catalinbread pedals stand apart is their price. Their most expensive pedal that I found was US$179.95. Several of their pedals are under US$120.00! Mind you, these are handmade pedals! That’s so awesome! Catalinbread is definitely taking the stand of selling gear at lower prices to get it into players’ hands. Creation Audio Labs does this with their awesome pedals, and Aracom Amps does it with their VRX line. This ain’t trivial stuff, either. This is great, handmade gear at a great price!

Can you keep a secret?

The Dirty Little Secret could be construed as another “amp in a box” pedal. But from what I’ve heard from sound clips, it’s far from that. Catalinbread claims to have built into the box amp-like touch sensitivity that accurately respond to your playing dynamics and volume input; so much so that you feel like you’re playing in front of an amp, and not through a pedal. But there are several videos on the DLS product page that bears this out. Check out that page here.

Of course, only a live test will reveal if that is true, but I’m intrigued enough to go try one out if I can. The only problem with that is there are none to be found. This pedal’s so scarce that you can’t even order one on the Catalinbread’s web site! I have a feeling they’re being sucked up as fast as the company can produce them. Even retailers who were hawking the pedals awhile ago have either removed their sale pages or replaced their “buy now” link with ‘Email us about ordering.”

Well… my brother lives up in Portland. Maybe I’ll have him look these guys up!

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Ahh… yet another distortion box! Hehe. You know I just dig ’em. This one is from the same guys that bring us the J. Backlund Designs guitars; specifically, Bruce Bennet, of Bennett Music Labs, the actual maker of the J. Backlund Designs guitars.

I discovered this pedal while perusing the web for videos of the JBD-100 that I announced yesterday. It turned out that there was a video of how Bruce built the Brown Sound pedal (it’s below). That really got me interested in the pedal, so I did a bit more searching. I went to the J Backlund Site, and they had a link to view and list to sample of their pedals on a MySpace page.

That turned out to be a bit of dead-end because I couldn’t find where to buy them. I finally found a place that sells the pedals, call OohLaLa Manufacturing. Apparently, they’re a distributor and production house for a bunch of boutique pedals. They either take designs from pedal designers, then manufacture them or, as I found out from Bruce Bennett today, they just distribute the finished pedals. Defintely check out their site! Too bad they don’t have sound samples.

The Brown Sound

The original “Brown Sound” was popularized by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Clapton with the “Woman Tone.” In its simplest sense, the Brown Sound was produced by using a bit of fuzz combined with TONS of power tube distortion. The end result was a way huge sound! Fast-forward a bit, and the Brown Sound then became associated with Eddie Van Halen. But to produce his tone requires a bit more work.

What about the Brown Sound pedal? Well, it’s not an EVH tone simulator. Apparently, it’s more of a Hendrix tone simulator as the guys at Analogman describe here. Interesting to note that this pedal is not meant to add gain. The volume knob is more of a volume cut, and the drive adjusts the amount of “Brown” you get. That’s actually kind of cool because I’m assume you don’t have to mess around with the volume much to find unity gain. Just leave the volume knob wide open, and let the pedal do its thing.

I’m gonna have to contact the guys over at OohLaLa to get more information about this pedal. I love that tone, and to get it in a box would be awesome!

I forgot to mention: The pedal is all hand-wired, and it’s only $159! Pretty cool! Anyway, check out the video of how it’s made.

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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?

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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!

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