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Barron Wesley Guitars Alpha #7

Summary: Similar to the Alpha that I recently reviewed, this guitar sports Honduran mahogany, and the tonal difference is HUGE. I really liked the last edition (#5), but this rendition of the Alpha has it all going on. Ringing clean tones and lots of muscle. Nice.

Pros: Again, all hand-made, and the cleans – oh, the cleans – have a gorgeous bell-like tone. The body and neck resonate beautifully.

Cons: None.

Features

  • Scale length: 25″
  • Frets: 22 (medium)
  • Color: Natural
  • Top Wood: Quilted Maple
  • Back/Neck Wood: Honduran Mahogany
  • Finish: Hand-rubbed Tung Oil
  • Fingerboard Cocobolo Rosewood
  • Nut Material: Bone
  • Bridget TonePros AVT II
  • Pickups: Manilus Vintage/Modern PAF+
  • Controls: RS Super Volume/Bourns Push-Pull Tone/Switchcraft 3-way Toggle
  • Tuners: Gotoh Magnum Locking
  • Weight: ~7.5 lbs.
  • Build Completion: July 2011

Price: $1800 – Yes, you read that right. This guitar is for sale, and I would buy it myself if I had the cash on hand; this is a KILLER guitar!

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ From the moment I plugged it in, I fell in love with the tone and feel of this guitar!

It’s great to be close to local gear builders; especially when they make super-high-quality gear for a freakin’ fantastic price. Aracom was the first local builder whose gear I just had to have, and now it’s Barron Wesley Guitars. Russell at BWG, though a relative newcomer to the luthier scene is insanely talented. The workmanship of his guitars is on par with guitars that cost three to four times more, but more importantly, his guitars play and sound absolutely killer.

Last night, Russell dropped off Alpha #7 at my gig at Max’s Opera Cafe in Palo Alto, CA. When I took it out of its case, I just had to play it right away, so I plugged it in and was rewarded with such a natural, musical tone that I ended up finishing my last set playing that guitar. The clean tone was absolutely mesmerizing to me, and the fretboard made playing so effortless – it was scary easy to play. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself…

Fit and Finish

There’s not much else to say that I didn’t say in my previous review of Alpha #5. Russell’s work is flawless. However, there are some differences in the finish that Russell explained to me last night. For instance, he put on fewer coats of Tung oil on the cocobolo fretboard as he wanted a much more “natural” feel to the fretboard. To me, the result was spectacular! Right out of the box, that fretboard had just about the best feel that I’ve ever experienced. The finish is silky-smooth.

One thing I didn’t mention in my previous article was that I absolutely love Gotoh hardware, and I love wraparound bridges as well. With a single point of contact, the string energy transfers almost directly to the body.

Finishing my last set with Alpha #7

Playability

Again, in a word just like last review: Awesome. The neck on #7 is absolutely perfect! Not sure what extra or even less shaping Russell did on the guitar, but to me, this neck feels just right, and moving around on it is a dream!

How It Sounds

Alpha #7, with the Honduran mahogany gives the guitar a real Les Paul-like quality when playing with lots of crunch. The resonance in the wood is such that like an LP, you feel the string vibrations as they course through the body and neck. When I first picked it up just to feel how it plays, I immediately took notice of how the body and neck resonate, which is why I had to play it right away. As I mentioned above, I played it clean, but the cleans were so delicious, I finished my last set playing the guitar.

This evening, I spent some time with the guitar – actually, several hours – and have not been able to put it down, save to write this article. I put together some quick clips to demonstrate the sound of this guitar (all clips were played through my beloved Aracom PLX18 “plexi” clone):

First, we’ve got the riff to Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”

Amp was cranked, and I played it through the bridge pickup. Next, we’ve got the riff to the Doobie Brothers “Listen to the Music” to demonstrate the neck pickup played clean:

Next, I just started playing some random stuff fingerstyle in the neck pickup:

Then I played a riff to one of my own tunes in the middle position with both humbuckers coil tapped:

Finally, I quickly played a lead over a song idea I’m working on. The first part is played in the neck pickup, then I switch to the bridge to show the difference. VERY Les Paul-like in both response and dynamics:

By the way, those Manilus Vintage/Modern PAF+ pickups are absolutely KILLER! Russell made a great choice in these, as they complement the guitar perfectly!

Overall Impression

OMG! I’m freaking out by how incredible this guitar is! If I had the money, I wouldn’t be giving it back to Russell. That’s just how damn good it is. But as I mentioned above, the guitar is for sale. The price is a VERY reasonable $1800, and from how it looks, plays, and sounds, you’d be hard-pressed to get a guitar this good for that kind of price. If you get it now, you’ll be one of the lucky few who get one before he raises prices. Right now, you can take advantage of Russell wanting to get his instruments out and his name known. Once he’s established, the prices will go up as I imagine he’s selling these for just a little over his cost right now.

For more information, check out the Barron Wesley Guitars web site!

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Source Audio Soundblox Guitar Envelope Filter

Summary: Nice, moderate vowel-tone envelope filter box for guitar. You can get downright funky with this pedal. While it may not get as “vowelly” as competitive products, it certainly has a lot of tone on tap.

Pros: Great features and tone, and the pedal’s super quite when active. The controls are super-easy to manipulate.

Cons: While I love the sound of this pedal, its physical footprint is just plain big, making it impractical to put on my pedal board. Also, the plastic enclosure makes me a little “iffy” about its gig-worthiness.

Features

  • 21 Filter Sounds including 2 Pole Low Pass, 4 Pole Low Pass, Single Peak, Triple Peak, Peak and Notch and Phasers.
  • Positive and Negative filter sweep with variable range and sensitivity.
  • Dual range speed control allows equal adjustment of Attack and Decay speeds, or alternatively, a fixed, fast attack and adjustable Decay.
  • Modern Design — a thoughtfully designed box that features rugged construction and sleek looks.
  • State-of-the-art DSP — our proprietary 56-bit Digital Signal Processor, the SA601 and crystal clear 24-bit converters.
  • Motion Control — all Soundblox™ pedals are “Hot Hand® Ready” and can be used with any Hot Hand motion sensor to extend the capabilities of the unit.
  • Active Analog Bypass — bypass is fully routed around the DSP and active input ensures zero signal degradation.
  • Dimensions: 7 in/17.8cm (length not including 1/O jacks) x 4 in/10.2 cm (width) x 2 in/5cm (height, including knobs).

Price: ~$120 Street

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 ~ On tone alone, I’d give this a 5, but its size and plastic enclosure give it a lower mark.

A few months ago, I was thinking that the next tonal territory I wanted to tackle was using an envelope filter. I love that “auto-wah,” vowel tone. I’ve tried out a few over the months, but I got a chance to spend a good deal of time with the Source Audio unit in my studio, and I have to say that tonally, it’s a real winner for me.

Out of the different envelope filters I’ve tried, this one has just about the most features I’ve seen to date, with 21 filter sounds, which means you can get A LOT of different tones out this box. But despite the amount of tweakability, it’s super-easy to dial in tones, and to be completely honest, though I’ve had this unit for a couple of months to play with (thank you Source Audio – and no, this is just demo unit, though I’ll probably buy it), I have yet to touch the manual. Source Audio even sent me a wired “Hot Hand” controller that allows you to manipulate the signal with a ring that’s wired to the pedal. But I haven’t used it yet – the Hot Hand-less configuration has just worked for me.

There are only a couple of things that really irked me about the pedal. The first, and this goes for all Soundblox pedals in general is its large footprint. For me to use it at gigs with my pedal board, I’ve had to remove my wah pedal. It’s 7″ long, for goodness’ sake! Plus the plastic enclosure makes me a little nervous. I gig a lot, and I’m not sure just how well this would hold up getting banged around in my car.

But despite those little annoyances, I still dig the pedal – A LOT. For one, it’s insanely priced at around $120 street. Plus, it’s dead quiet on or off due to the analog true bypass switch, which is a great feature for a lower-price-point pedal.

How It Sounds

Of course, its sound is what sold me. But it’s even more than that because the pedal also reacts to input gain. So in addition to getting the 21 different voicings, by adjusting your input volume and pick attack, you can affect the tone of the pedal. I’ve literally spent hours playing around with this pedal, and every time I play it, I discover something new. Love it!

The following clips were all played with my Fender American Deluxe Strat into my trusty Roland Cube 60, set to a clean “Blackface” setting. I didn’t want to color the tone with any kind of drive or distortion. Note that I don’t remember any of the settings that I used on the pedal. In fact, when I recorded these, I just set the pedal to what I though would sound good, then hit “record.” 🙂

First off, is a little ditty that I put together with a clean rhythm track, and doing a lead over it.

Second is another lead track, but I added in some reverb and delay to give the tone some space.

Next, it’s just my guitar and the pedal. The first part of the clip demonstrates the pedal’s response to pick attack. Then I just play a random lead and some fast funk chords.

Finally, I set the pedal to extremes. I was after the most raunchy tone that the pedal can  produce without going over the top (which it can), and this is the result:

Overall Impression

This is a fantastic pedal! Even with the misgivings I have with its size and construction, there’s no denying that the tone it produces really moves me.

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Barron Wesley Guitars Alpha Summary: From new luthier Russell comes an amazingly affordable custom guitar that’s a joy to play, and has a unique sound without losing that classic tone that you’d expect from a PAF-equipped guitar.

Pros: All hand-made. I’ll estimate its weight to be around 8 lbs, so it’s easy on the shoulder. Position of the neck is perfect, making it easy to get into the high frets. Tung Oil finish is wonderful, giving the wood a real natural feel.

Cons: This is just a nit, but it would’ve been great to have independent volume controls for each pickup.

Features

  • Scale length: 25″
  • Frets: 22 (medium)
  • Color: Natural
  • Top Wood: Quilted Maple
  • Back/Neck Wood: African Mahogany
  • Finish: Hand-rubbed Tung Oil
  • Fingerboard Cocobolo Rosewood
  • Nut Material: Bone
  • Bridget TonePros AVT II
  • Pickups: Manilus Vintage/Modern PAF+
  • Controls: Master Volume / Push-pull Master Tone for coil splitting / 3-way Toggle
  • Tuners: Gotoh Magnum Locking
  • Build Completion: April 2011

Price: < $2000 (Yup, that’s right. A handmade guitar for less then 2 large)

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 ~ I’ve been testing out the guitar for the past couple of days, and it is a player, that’s for sure. This is just a super-comfortable instrument, and I could see myself logging several hours with it!

There’s always room in this world for someone who’s good…

About 25 years ago, I got kicked out of college for a year to get my act together. It wasn’t that my grades were bad, it was that I had three consecutive quarters of minimal progress, so my dean told me to take a break. When I was ready to come back, the dean was reluctant to let me back in. I was dumbstruck. “Why won’t you let me back in?” I asked him.

He replied, “Because as you know, I see you perform all over town. I’m not sure that the sciences are right for someone with your passion and talent in the arts. My son was in the same boat you’re in now and I told him, ‘There’s always room in the world for someone who’s good.’ He left his major, went with music and he’s now playing his horn in Les Brown’s Band of Reknown.” Long story short, I ended up getting back in and completing my coursework in Biology; didn’t do me much good as I’m now almost 20 years into my software engineering career. But those words have stuck with me since, and I’ve used them as a battle cry for both myself and others who may have doubts in their abilities.

Enter Russell LaRoche of Barron Wesley Guitars. He’s a newcomer to the luthier scene, and has only formally been in business since the beginning of this year. He’s the epitome of the saying that there’s always room in the world for someone who’s good, and I think he’s onto something with his guitars. If the model I played is any indication, I have no doubts that he should see some success.

Fit and Finish

There’s really nothing like a handmade instrument. Even though I don’t play my own handmade “Goldie” any longer, there’s a certain “mojo” in the look and feel of a handmade instrument, and the Barron Wesley Alpha has tons of mojo on tap. The quilted maple top is to die for! And though finished with oil and not lacquer, it still retains that three dimensional quality. Personally, that Tung oil finish is sexy as hell!

For those unfamiliar with Tung oil, it is the oil that comes from the nut of the tung tree, and is what is generally called a “drying oil” in that it cures and hardens upon contact with air. It also ages very well, and doesn’t darken over time, making it a perfect finish for fine woods. It is also used as a sealant for marble to protect the stone. For wood, it gives it that satiny, wet wood look. I love it! I imagine that the finish will wear, and unlike lacquer, will be susceptible to scratching, but the cool thing is that the finish can be re-applied (not sure how often, but I don’t anticipate that it would need it that often).

Russell’s attention to detail in the finish of this guitar was spot on. No crooked or uneven joints; everything fits well together. The guitar also “feels” sturdy, though it’s probably only about 8 lbs. in weight. This is a guitar that could be gigged with on a regular basis.

Playability

In a word: Awesome. The neck shape is much like a 50’s Les Paul neck, so I was right at home with it. Mind you, if you don’t like that deep C, then Russell can probably shape it to your specifications.

The cocobolo rosewood fretboard is a dream. Though harder than Brazilian and Indian rosewood, to me, it feels like ebony as it has a lot of oil content, but with a rosewood texture. This makes it VERY easy to move around the fretboard.

The body shape is also perfect, and it is super-easy to get into the high frets. I like the 25″ scale length as well. It’s very close to a Les Paul, so again, I felt right at home playing this guitar.

How It Sounds

Of course looks and playability mean nothing if the guitar doesn’t sound good, and this is where the guitar absolutely shines. The Manilus Vintage/Modern PAF+ pickups are a bit more aggressive than traditional PAF-style pups, but that’s okay. It’s clear that this guitar was meant to rock. But being that they are PAF-style pups, they have that honk and a bit of bite to them that’s absolutely pleasing to the ears. In fact, the tone reminded me of my ’59 Les Paul re-issue, but with a deeper tone.

Here’s a clip I recorded of it. The rhythm riff was played in the neck pickup, and I played the lead in the bridge pickup with the ‘bucker tapped to get a slightly spanky single-coil tone. My Timmy pedal provides the drive for the lead, and both tracks were played through my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe in the clean channel – completely clean, mind you. I added a bit of spring reverb from the amp to each track.

Man! What a sweet sound! In fact, I had been playing the guitar over two hours before I decided to record that track. In fact, the main riff has inspired me to write a new song. You gotta love how a great instrument can sprout the seeds of creativity!

Overall Impression

Fantastic guitar from a new, talented luthier. It’s a great combination!

For more information, check out the Barron Wesley Guitars web site!

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EWS Little Brute Drive

Summary: Proving the old adage that “big things come in small packages,” the EWS Little Brute Drive is an absolute distortion machine, capable of mild crunch to face melting distortion. Don’t let the “drive” in the name fool you. This ain’t an overdrive – but who cares? 🙂

Pros: Though it has output level and treble controls inside the enclosure, the pedal is set to unity gain, so no need to mess with output volume. You just set the gain knob where you want it, then turn it on. It’ll instantly turn your guitar a fire-breathing dragon!

Cons: None. Absolutely none.

Features

  • Single gain knob. All the way left gives you about the max overdrive of a soft OD pedal like the Timmy. All the way right is evil – very evil – distortion. 🙂
  • True bypass
  • Runs on either a 9V battery or 9V power supply (I use a 1-spot).

Price: ~$129 Street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ I could barely pull myself away from playing this evening to write this review! I was having way too much fun with this pedal!

I have to admit that I haven’t been too much into distortion pedals in the past, but since I got a Strat, none of my overdrive pedals could give me the kind of creamy crunch that I love for playing rock songs. It’s not a problem with my Les Paul, and though my new Strat does have some higher-output pickups, it’s still not the kind of gain that a Les Paul produces. So I figured that I’d try a distortion pedal. Enter the Little Brute Drive.

After watching some very good videos and listening to some sound clips of the pedal, I knew it would do the job. I wasn’t mistaken. This freakin’ pedal has more gain than anything in my arsenal. I was amazed that at even with the gain all the way down, it was more than the gain that my beloved Timmy produces! But the even cooler thing is that even at the highest gain setting, note separation is incredible! I was concerned about that because my past experience with distortion pedals is that they get really muddy and compressed at high gain settings; not the LBD. The distortion is tight, but it never gets muddy, and the EQ response is pretty flat to boot.

Fit and Finish

Though it is diminutive in size, it’s built like a tank, and it is definitely gig-worthy. It has a nice red powder coating – almost like a warning that this thing breathes fire!

How It Sounds

Make no mistake: This is NOT a low-gain pedal. It is meant for crunch and face-melting. So if  you’re looking for something milder, best stick with an overdrive pedal. But if you’re looking for lots of gain and sustain AND clarity, this is a pedal that will do the job in spades.

I recorded a couple of quick clips to demonstrate the pedal. I had the gain knob set to noon on both clips. I used a Barron Wesley Alpha with humbuckers – though I played both clips in split coil to at simulate a single-coil guitar, and I used my Fender Hot Rod purely clean. With the first clip, I do a comparison riff. The first part is the guitar with no effect, then I switch on the LBD. The second clip is just me noodling.

Yowza! I really had to have a much lighter touch on the fretboard playing this pedal, and since the guitar I was playing is so resonant, I had to mute the strings I wasn’t playing because the pedal picks up EVERYTHING! It’s incredible! And to think that I was able to get that kind of gain with the gain knob set at noon!

Overall Impressions

I love it. ‘Nuff said. The sustain, the drive, and most importantly the note separation and clarity make this pedal a winner.

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SWR California Blonde I

Summary: This amp is a classic and loved the world over for its great sound.

Pros: Great acoustic sound, but it’s versatile enough to use as a clean amp for solid-body guitars.

Cons: This is a nit: It’s heavy at 50lbs.

Features:

  • 120 Watts
  • Speakers: 200 Watt 12″ and a 25 Watt high-freq tweeter
  • Instrument Input Jack
  • Stereo Input Jack
  • Tuner Out Jack
  • Balanced Mic Input Jack
  • Gain Controls with LED Overload Indicator and Pull Phase
  • Aural Enhancer Control (Channel 1)
  • Two independent channels
  • Two independent effects loops with independent effects blend knobs for each channel
  • On-board reverb – it’s nice and subtle

Price: ~$300 – $600 Street (if you can find one)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ I’ve used this amp in a variety of settings, and with a variety of guitars, and it has NEVER let me down. The sound is rich and full, no matter what guitar you put in front of it, but it doesn’t take away from the natural tone of the guitar.

My first exposure to the California Blonde was through a church bandmate who would use it for our services. My initial impressions of the amp were NOT good, mainly because this guy just doesn’t take care of his gear. The knobs were scratchy and the jacks were loose and would occasionally crackle. But one thing was for sure: When he had it working, it had a great tone. I was always impressed by the sound of that amp, and REALLY impressed by its ability to project – it is a LOUD amp.

SWR now has a second edition of this amp, and the original is no longer available, but I got mine through my friend Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps who acquired one from an estate sale. He had a bunch of gear to sell, and one of the items was this classic California Blonde.

I wasn’t planning on getting an amp at the sale. I just wanted one of the many guitars he had, and ended up getting my gorgeous Strat. But just for shits and giggles, I checked out the amps. The ‘blonde immediately caught my eye (blondes have a way of doing that to me 🙂 ), so I asked Jeff if we could hook it up. Luckily I had my acoustic in the back of my SUV so I could give the amp a proper test. So we hooked it up, powered it on, I strummed a chord, turned to Jeff and said, “I’ll get this too…” I did play through it for about 15 more minutes to really go through its controls, but from having to adjust my buddy’s ‘blonde in the past, I was pretty familiar with the amp.

Since I purchased it, I’ve used it with my acoustics, as a clean amp for my Strat (and using a distortion pedal with it – it rocks), and just last night, I used it for its intended purpose: as my guitar amp for my outdoor gig, using my Gretsch Electromatic. As I mentioned above, no matter what I’ve thrown in front of it, this amp has delivered the goods.

Fit and Finish

Despite the amp being several years old, it has withstood the test of time. That’s a testament to how solidly built this amp is. Even my buddy’s amp – despite being mishandled – was still rock solid. My amp was and is in absolutely pristine condition. This thing is built like a tank. The enclosure, though made with a combination of plywood and particle board is THICK. Chrome-plated corner protectors adorn all the corners (this amp was made for gigging). No stray joints here folks, the build quality is fantastic.

The tilted control panel is an absolutely nice and convenient touch, allowing for quick access to the knobs. This is much better than the Genz-Benz Shenandoah 150 upright that I’ve played that has a flush control panel. Makes it hard to adjust. The metal speaker grille on the ‘blonde demonstrates again that this amp was meant to be gigged.

The only nit that I have with the amp is that at 50 lbs, it’s really heavy. But that’s understandable and forgivable considering the thick wood of the cabinet and the magnet of the 200 Watt speaker, which must be pretty big (I haven’t taken off the back panel). I’ll trade weight for ruggedness any day; besides, that’s what hand carts are for! 🙂

How It Sounds

The California Blonde has a rich, deep tone, but as I mentioned above, it doesn’t take away from the natural tone of the guitar. And though I mentioned that the amp is loud, the cabinet really disperses sound at a wide angle, creating a three-dimensional effect that makes the sound seem to float in the air.

I used it outdoors at my gig yesterday, and it was fantastic! I ran chorus, delay and reverb through the loop, and I have to say that the effects blend knob is a god-send, allowing me to mix as much or as little of my board signal into the dry signal. Because of how the amp disperses sound, I used very little reverb, and many times just had it off. For ambient tones, I used my MXR Carbon Copy delay set to a mild slap-back. That seemed to work best with the amp.

The tweeter’s effect is subtle, but a very nice addition indeed, as it provides just a touch of shimmer to the tone. I tried the amp with the tweeter switched off, and just turned it back on because I wanted the shimmer. With a Strat, the tweeter is a necessity in my opinion.

Last night, I started out running my guitar signal only through the amp, but then later added some signal into my Fishman SA220 PA so I could get even better sound dispersal. The line out is great on this amp, and reproduces the signal very true to the original. In fact, when I’ve used this amp at church, we run it right into the board, and the sound is very nicely balanced.

Overall Impression

This amp is a workhorse. I really couldn’t be happier with this amp. It totally delivers the goods for me!

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Paul Cochrane Timmy Overdrive

Summary: Others boast transparency, but the Paul Cochrane Timmy overdrive is one of the very few transparent overdrives I’ve ever used, and to me it is the best OD I’ve ever owned!

Pros: Super-simple to dial in a great tone for the guitar you’re using. Bass and Treble cut knobs make all the difference in the world with respect to dialing in your tone!

Cons: None.

Features:

  • Separate Bass (pre-distortion) and Treble (post-distortion) cut dials
  • Gain knob to control amount of clipping
  • Volume/Boost to control output gain
  • Three-way clipping switch to choose between two types of symmetrical clipping (up, middle) and asymmetrical clipping (down)

Price: $129 direct (twice as much on ebay if you don’t want to wait 6 months)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ I’ve only played with this for a little over an hour this evening, and already I’m in love with this OD pedal! You know me, I love OD pedals, but this one was well worth the wait. I can confidently say that this will NEVER leave my board.

Like many, I had heard of the Tim and Timmy pedals from Paul Cochrane, but I had never played one. I had only heard accounts online, then heard one in action at a concert. After speaking with the guitarist (Dylan Brock of Luce), and hearing him rave about the pedal, I finally got around to ordering one from Paul Cochrane back in October 2010. I finally got the pedal today, and it is hands-down the best damn overdrive pedal I’ve ever played in my life – and I’ve played a lot of them.

I now have only two overdrive pedals on my board: My trusty Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2, and now, my Timmy pedal. They will never leave my board. The Abunai 2 is much more of a distortion pedal than an overdrive and I love the color and compression it adds to my signal. The Timmy, on the other hand, is truly transparent. It takes your tone and give you more of it. And while other pedals will give you a midrange hump or scoop your tone, the Timmy lets you dial in (actually cut out) the amount of bass or treble you want in your signal.

Volume and Gain are pretty standard, so no need to go into those features. What makes this pedal special are the EQ knobs. Both are cut knobs. Fully counter-clockwise, they let in all the bass or treble. As you turn the knobs clockwise, they cut out. It’s a little backwards, but it makes sense once you start messing with the pedals. Paul says he made these like that because of the taper of the pots and doing it in reverse avoided dead spots.

The bass knob functions pre-distortion or before the clipping circuit. Other pedals dial out bass at a fixed level to avoid the bass being too muddy. The Timmy allows you to dial in as much or as little bass as you want. The treble knob functions post-distortion. Again, other pedals have treble set at a fixed point after the circuit to avoid fuzziness. The Timmy lets you dial in as much or as little as you want. The net result is a finer level of EQ control than I’ve ever experienced with an OD pedal, and those two knobs make that pedal very special for me.

I thought I was done with Overdrive pedals…

I actually thought I was done with Overdrive pedals for the most part, and instead started relying on my clean boost and occasionally would fire up my Abunai 2 to add some color and compression to my tone. But that all changed when I got my latest Strat. Even though the Kinman pickups and the X-Bridge pickups have more gain than stock Strat pickups, even cranked, they don’t have enough gain to get my vintage Plexi-style amps into their sweet spot – even with the amp cranked. For instance, I had to use my clean boost and/or my Abunai 2 this past weekend to push my amp into its sweet spot.

The clean boost works great in giving me the gain I need, but it doesn’t give me much sustain. The Abunai 2 gives me sustain, but it colors my tone and adds compression (I like that only for certain situations). Enter the Timmy. With the Timmy, I can get the gain boost I need to push my amp into its sweet spot, and with its clipping circuit, I can get a bit of sustain – but without the compression, which is HUGE for me. Mind you, this is all for a Strat. It’s a completely different story with my Les Pauls, as they have plenty of gain on tap, and have LOTS more natural sustain than a Strat. With a Strat, you always need some help. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just it is what it is.

With the Timmy, I think I’m now all set for OD pedals for awhile. Notice I didn’t say I was done… 🙂

I know, I normally do some description of how it looks and how it’s built, but suffice it to say that the pedal’s built solidly, and the purple finish is cool. ‘Nuff said. It’s how it sounds that is important.

How it sounds…

As Paul explained to me six months ago, the Tim and Timmy were designed to be transparent overdrives; that is, they take your tone and give you more of it. Though the signal path does include a clipping circuit, unlike other OD pedals, the Tim/Timmy circuit doesn’t add any color. In any case, here are a couple of clips.

In both clips, I have my Aracom VRX22 set up in its drive channel with the master and and volume knobs set to about 1pm each. With a Les Paul, cranked up in its bridge pickup, this will give me a sweet overdrive tone with lots of harmonics. With a Strat, these gain positions set it at the edge of breakup, and I have to really dig in to get distortion out of the amp.

The first clip is just a raw recording switching between just the Strat cranked up in its bridge position, then playing the same thing with the Timmy engaged. I did add a bit of extra volume to the Timmy so I could make sure that the amp got pushed into its sweet spot. Give it a listen:

The next clip is a re-recording of the song that I used for my Strat review. This time, I play the first part with the raw Strat, then in the second part add the Timmy to finish the song:

Overall Impression

In my mind, there’s nothing not to like about the Timmy. When Dylan Brock said to me, “Man, I just love my Timmy pedal,” I really couldn’t understand what he was talking about at the time. I now understand, and I mentioned above, the Timmy will never leave my board.

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Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster
Summary: Finally a Strat that I love to play. This one has been upgraded with Kinman pickups and an L. R. Baggs Ctrl-X X-Bridge pickup.Features:

  • Alder Body with 3-Tone Sunburst Finish (my favorite Strat Color)
  • 1-piece Maple Neck
  • 22 Frets
  • Rosewood Fretboard with Abalone Dot Inlays
  • Nut appears to be synthetic tortoise shell – very cool!
  • Locking Tuners
  • L. R. Baggs Ctrl-X Drop-In Tremolo/Bridge Replacement
  • Kinman Noiseless Pickups
  • 8.5 lbs

Value: ~$1500-$2000

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Wow! What a tone machine! The Ctrl-X pickup has tons of gain on tap, and will give you plenty of crunch when you need it! The Kinman Noiseless pickups really smooth out the tone, and flatten the significant midrange that tends to be in stock Fender pickups.

I love estate sales because you can find some real gems. A friend of mine happened to get a bunch of stuff at an estate sale recently, and picked up this fine specimen of a Strat. What drew me to it initially was the 3-tone burst, which I love. Of course I had to try it out, so we hooked it up to a cheapo amp, and I couldn’t believe my ears! I was expecting that typical bright Strat sound, but what issued – even from that cheapo amp – was a much smoother tone. The tone definitely spoke “Stratocaster,” but it was in another dimension. Of course, I had to take it home with me to bring into my studio and to gig with this weekend… 🙂

For me, I had all but lost hope with Strats. I just couldn’t find one that really appealed to me. But with the changes in this particular Strat, I’ve regained my faith. This is an absolutely killer guitar!

Fit and Finish

The previous owner tragically passed away a few years ago, and the dude was a total gear nut! As a result, he just didn’t play his gear all that much, and so the guitars that were in his collection were in absolutely pristine shape. This particular Strat has the most signs of usage, but there is absolutely no major scratches, and just a tiny ding on the neck. Other than that, the guitar is perfect. The rosewood fretboard is in particularly great shape, and still retains a gorgeous sheen. The abalone dot inlays are a great touch. Here are some pictures:

Playability

Unlike a lot of Strats that have really narrow nut width, this Strat’s 9.5″ nut radius is perfect. The neck is a gentle C and even with my short fingers, I have no problem reaching the lower strings high up on the fretboard. The shape of the neck is simply terrific, and provides a nice balance between solid-feel and speed. I could play this guitar for hours and never get tired. It’s really a player’s guitar.

How It Sounds

As I mentioned above, it sounds like a Strat, but it has a much smoother tone. This is due to the Kinman Noiseless Pickups that replaced the original “noiseless” ones on the stock Strat (don’t have the stock ones, but don’t want ’em). This Strat also has tones of sustain, which really surprised me. It’s not on the order of a Les Paul, but it sustains a lot more than other Strats I’ve played in the past. The Kinman pickups also add a lot of depth and complexity to the tone, picking up subtle harmonics that give the tonal presentation a real 3-D effect – it’s almost reverb-like. How cool is that?

On top of that, the original owner replaced the tremolo with an L. R. Baggs Ctrl-X system. This adds yet another pickup to the bridge that has all sorts of gain; very humbucker-like, but retaining the single-coil characteristics – there’s just more of it. The Ctrl-X system is cool in that you can switch between going fully magnetic to blend with Ctrl-X or fully Ctrl-X. The full-on Ctrl-X is great for soloing!

To demonstrate the gain differences, here’s clip I recorded this morning (actually, the two clips were included in my previous article that I wrote this morning). But here’s the first:

Finally, here’s the quick song that I recorded this morning that has the rhythm part in fully magnetic mode in the 4th switch position (neck/middle). The lead is played in the first position with the Ctrl-X system:

Both clips were recorded using my Aracom PLX18 BB Trem, a fantastic 18-Watt Plexi clone. I was originally going to record with my Fender Hot Rod because the guitar sounded great through it. But my problem with Strat tone came from switching to vintage Marshall-style amps like my PLX that have lots of midrange. Strats just didn’t sound right to me with these amps. But this one blew me away!

Overall Impression

It’s difficult being a gear freak and having so many avenues to evaluate great gear. I have to have this guitar. Period. It’s completely changed my view of Strats!

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