FRET-KING BLUE LABEL LINE 6 VENTURA SUPER 60 HB3
ISSUE 113 JANUARY 2011
GEAR ROUND-UP THE BEST BOOST & DRIVE PEDALS
DR Z Z WRECK
IN THE TONE ZONE
First UK review!
VIGIER EXCALIBUR KAOS DR Z Z WRECK PAGE HAMILTON
THE BLACK CROWES BACKSTAGE PASS
THE GIBSON L5-S
INTERVIEWED! KELLY JOE PHELPS PAGE HAMILTON AZIZ IBRAHIM
REES RAPPORT COLLINGS DS1A VOX LIL’ NIGHT TRAIN BOSS PS-6 HARMONIST LARSON BROS MAURER STYLE 1 ES STRYMON EL CAPISTAN, BRIGADIER & OLA AND MORE!
SUPERGRASS ‘RICHARD III’ ON THE RECORD UK£4.25 Issue 113 JAN 2011 OYSTER HOUSE
You don’t need a big one to have fun
The HT-1 is the perfect studio and practice valve amp. This fun-sized 1 Watt is packed with all the great tone and innovative features of the award-winning HT-5 and enough balls to satisfy. With patent-applied-for ISF (Infinite Shape Feature), speaker emulated output, stereo MP3/Line Input, plus an 8Ω speaker output it’s the perfect excuse to play your guitar. Try one today and put the fun back into playing.
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JANUARY 2011 CHARVEL
FRET-KING BLUE LABEL LINE 6 VENTURA SUPER 60 HB3
ISSUE 113 JANUARY 2011
GEAR ROUND-UP THE BEST BOOST & DRIVE PEDALS
EXCALIBUR KAOS! PLUS:
First UK review!
DR Z Z WRECK
VINTAGE VIGIER EXCALIBUR KAOS DR Z Z WRECK PAGE HAMILTON
THE BLACK CROWES BACKSTAGE PASS
THE GIBSON L5-S
INTERVIEWED! KELLY JOE PHELPS PAGE HAMILTON AZIZ IBRAHIM
REES RAPPORT COLLINGS DS1A VOX LIL’ NIGHT TRAIN BOSS PS-6 HARMONIST LARSON BROS MAURER STYLE 1 ES STRYMON EL CAPISTAN, BRIGADIER & OLA AND MORE!
SUPERGRASS ‘RICHARD III’ ON THE RECORD UK£4.25 Issue 113 JAN 2011 OYSTER HOUSE
Alexander House, Forehill Ely, Cambs, CB7 4ZA TEL: +44 (0)1353 665577 FAX: +44 (0)1353 662489 EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org WEB: www.guitarbuyermag.com
EDITORIAL Editor David Greeves email@example.com Editorial Assistant Daniel Hodgson firstname.lastname@example.org Contributing writers Paul Alcantara, Steve Ayers, Darren Edwards, Matt Frost, Paul Dixon, Hayden Hewitt, Paul Salter, Tim Slater, Sam Wise, Dan Steinhardt, Louis Thorne
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INTRO ISSUE 113
elcome to the January issue of Guitar Buyer, the first of the new year and also my last as editor. After a thoroughly enjoyable four years at the helm, it’s time for me to seek pastures new. I’d like to say a huge and heartfelt thank you to all the talented and dedicated writers, photographers and designers who it’s been my pleasure to work alongside, and particularly to my assistant Daniel Hodgson, who is also leaving having done an outstanding job. Most of all, though, I’d like to thank you, the readers, for your support, feedback and enthusiasm, the things which drive and inspire us to produce the best magazine we can. I’m very pleased to be going out on a high, with a bumper issue packed with great gear and great players. Whatever your persuasion there’s surely something here to whet your appetite, including several products that, for me, rank as truly exceptional. Strymon’s meticulous analogue-modelling stompboxes have to be heard to be believed, while the Collings DS1A is simply one the best-sounding dreadnoughts we have ever played. And for a Tele addict like me, the Dr Z Z Wreck has installed itself at the top of my most-wanted list. This serves to highlight what is both the main perk and main pitfall of this job – the words ‘kid’ and ‘candy store’ come to mind. If I could afford it, none of these jaw-dropping bits of kit would be allowed to leave the building and, if you read my review of the Fret-King Ventura, you’ll see that yet another guitar has tested my wafer-thin resolve beyond breaking point. I’m sure we’ve all had the same conversation many times, the one where we try in vain to justify the purchase of yet another guitar, amp or pedal to a loved one. It’s when the other guitarist in the band starts rolling his eyes and shooting you exasperated looks that you realise you really have a problem – “Another Telecaster? Really?” I’d love to leave you with a cast-iron comeback but, despite being professionally employed to say things about guitars, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve so far failed to find any better reply to the question “Why do you need another X?” than “Because I just do.” Fellow sufferers will understand the logic of that reply perfectly, while it will continue to baffle and infuriate everyone else. But next time you get a grilling, just remember – you are not alone.
David Greeves, Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
NEWSTRADE DISTRIBUTION Comag Magazine Marketing +44 (0)1895 433600 SUBSCRIPTIONS Subscriptions Manager Chloe Beal +44 (0)1884 266100 © Oyster House Media (UK) Ltd, 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form without the prior permission of the Publisher. Great care is taken in the preparation of this publication but neither Davenport Publishing Ltd nor the Editor can be held responsible for its contents. The views expressed are those of the contributing writers and not necessarily those of the Publisher or Editor. The Publisher accepts no responsibility for the return of unsolicited manuscripts, photographs or artwork. All rights reserved.
contents IssUe 113 JANUARY 2011
VIGIER EXCALIBUR KAOS
tHe ESSENTIALS 8 NEWS
CHARVEL The latest guitar gear from PRO-MOD around the world SO-CAL, 12 ROUND-UP: SAN DIMAS & BOOST ’N’ DRIVE PEDALS WILD CARD We check out some excellent dual stompboxes offering both overdrive and boost effects
FRET-KING BLUE LABEL VENTURA SUPER 60 HB3
88 TECH TALK: TUBESYNC BIAS ENGINE V4 Amp guru Steve Ayers checks out a new and very clever bit of kit that could well change the valve amplifier landscape forever
78 MINI TESTS
Your comments and questions, with the best letter each month winning a Boss pedal
80 TONE ZONE: EDDIE VAN HALEN
103 PAWN STARS
Four more handy accessories are put through their paces
If you want to know how to turn your sound brown, this month’s Tone Zone is the place to go
This month, we check out a fantastic overdrive/boost pedal from the Tweed amp experts at Lazy J Projects
contents IssUe 113 JANUARY 2011
tHIs MONTH’S FEATURES
tHIs MONTH’S GEAR LINE-UP
20 VIGIER EXCALIBUR KAOS 24 CHARVEL PRO-MOD SO-CAL, SAN DIMAS & WILD CARD 30 FRET-KING BLUE LABEL VENTURA SUPER 60 HB3 34 REES RAPPORT 42 COLLINGS DS1A 46 LARSON BROS MAURER STYLE 1 ES
56 DR Z Z WRECK 60 VOX LIL’ NIGHT TRAIN
INTERVIEW PAGE HAMILTON
16 PAGE HAMILTON
We chat to the heavy-rocking Helmet frontman about his other projects as well as his tenure leading the ‘thinking man’s metal band’
38 KELLY JOE PHELPS
The acoustic virtuoso talks to us about his favourite gear, his new album featuring Corinne West and his fascination with improvisation
50 AZIZ IBRAHIM & PATRICK JAMES EGGLE
We follow the commission and creation of a unique Patrick James Eggle baritone acoustic, custom built to meet the needs of guitarist Aziz Ibrahim, with input from both luthier and artist on the whole process
62 ON THE RECORD: SUPERGRASS ‘RICHARD III’
We discover how Coombes and co came up with all those low down riffs back in the golden age of Britpop
84 BACKSTAGE PASS: RICH ROBINSON
We catch up with Doug Redler, the guitar tech who takes care of Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson’s many vintage instruments out on the road
EFFECTS & ACCESSORIES
68 LINE 6 POD HD500 72 STRYMON EL CAPISTAN, BRIGADIER & OLA 77 BOSS PS-6 HARMONIST
92 VINTAGE & COLLECTABLE: GIBSON L5-S This month, we look back at the ill-fated but lavishly appointed solidbody version of Gibson’s venerable L-5 archtop, with the help of an example from 1974
sUBscRIPtIon OFFER Get YoUR FRee GIFt FRoM RotosoUnD! P14 www.guitarbuyermag.com 07
NEWS THE HOTTEST NEW GEAR AND MORE
NEWS THIS MONTH’S TOP FIVE EPIPHONE
AFFORDABLE BONAMASSA SIGNATURE
EPIPHONE PAYS TRIBUTE TO BLUES STAR
Gibson’s well-received Joe Bonamassa tribute Les Paul has proven popular enough that a more affordable Epiphone version has been released, meaning that less well-heeled players will get the chance to own a slice of the influential bluesman’s tone. This signature axe features traditional Les Paul mahogany and maple construction and a cool gold-top finish. It is also fitted with top-quality hardware, including Gibson USA BurstBucker pickups, Grover tuners, Epiphone straplocks and a locking Tune-O-Matic bridge, as well as a quality hard-shell case. Gibson Europe 00800 4442 7661 www.epiphone.com
NEW BLACKSTAR AMPS POPULAR SERIES ONE EXPANDS
The UK amp manufacturer is set to release not one but three new additions to the feature-laden Series One range. The first is the S1-50 head, which incorporates all the features of its 100-watt brother, including dual channels with footswitchable modes, ISF equalisation, an effects loop and built-in power attenuation, but with just two EL34s in the power section – much better for club and pub players. The other additions are certainly more intense experiences – two 100-watt versions of the monolithic 200-watt S1-200 with either EL34 or 6L6 valves fitted, which will bestow them with two different takes on this versatile four-channel design. Once again, Blackstar’s ISF EQ and DPR power reduction technology is featured, and with their more manageable output level we’re sure these S1-104 amps will prove very popular indeed. Blackstar Amplification Plc 01604 652 844 www.blackstaramps.co.uk
NEWS IN BRIEF FRETBOARD FRIENDLY
In this latest offering from the Lick Library, Make The Fretboard Work For You (RRP £19.99), Matthew Von Doran, a seasoned guitar tutor, instructs players on how best to utilise their instrument. This involves looking at scales, chord construction and shapes on the fretboard, all the time strengthening players’ theoretical and practical knowledge and skills. A great DVD for intermediate players in particular. www.licklibrary.com
SANYO PEDAL JUICE
If you’ve ever been annoyed by the number of wires you have to watch when it comes to gigging, Sanyo has come up with a handy rechargeable power supply specifically for effects pedals. The Pedal Juice can consistently supply 9V power for up to 50 hours and takes only 3.5 hours to fully charge. It’s water- and shock-resistant and shares its dimensions with a regular Boss compact pedal. We’re very interested indeed! www.us.sanyo.com
NEWS THE HOTTEST NEW GEAR AND MORE
As a player that is synonymous with the PRS brand, Carlos Santana has clearly earned the right to his own signature SE range guitar, and by the looks of things this axe would certainly do its American-made brother proud. The PRS SE Santana features a 24.5-inch scale length and is also the first in the most affordable range to follow the classic silhouette that his US models employ. A mahogany body is paired with a flamed maple top and a mahogany neck that features the company’s ubiquitous ‘wide fat’ profile and custom-made humbucking pickups and vibrato. Black, orange and yellow finishes are available, and the SE Santana will retail for just £749. Headline Music Ltd 01223 874301 www.prsguitars.com
Vigier guitars has released a new limited-edition incarnation of its popular GV Wood model. The mahogany/maple GV Wood features all the usual Vigier fare, including the 10/90 neck system which replaces the truss rod with a carbon insert, fantastic pickups and quality hardware throughout, but is built using a Central American mahogany body and neck with a stunning flamed maple top. Numbers are strictly limited, so be quick if you’re interested! High Tech Distribution 01722 410 002 www.vigierguitars.com
VIGIER SPECIAL EDITION GV
NEW CATALINBREAD EFFECTS ECHO AND TAP TREMOLO JOIN THE LINE
Catalinbread is one of the world’s most impressive boutique effects pedal builders, as anyone who has tried its fantastic Dirty Little Secret overdrive will contest, so seeing new stuff from this company is always a treat! The Montavillian Echo pedal is a simple delay effect which is modelled after some of the best analogue and tape-based echo units around. Regen, delay time and mix controls are standard fare, while the fourth knob, labelled ‘cut’, allows you to dial in just how much high end you want, making it rather versatile considering its simple appearance. The Stereo Semaphore is an altogether different animal, with more features than you can shake a stick at! This tremolo effect features a tap tempo footswitch with a variety of tap divide options, eight different waveforms which can be further tweaked using the ‘shape’ control, stereo inputs and outputs, and of course the usual speed, depth and output volume controls. If you’re a tremolo fan (and who isn’t?) then you’d better take a look at this one. Catalinbread Effects www.catalinbread.com
VOX TONE TEST
It seems that the guys over at Vox are very confident in their wares. Their latest offer invites players to come and try some of their gear at their local retailer, and if they don’t buy it they’re entitled to a free T-shirt! Check out the website for more information and how to claim. www.voxamps.com
PAISLEY PEDAL POWER Fans of the much-admired Brad Paisley will be excited to hear that premier US effects builder Brian Wampler has produced a brand-new signature overdrive pedal for the star. Each is made by hand at Wampler’s workshop and is identical to Brad’s own pedal in every way. The Paisley Drive costs $219.97. www.wamplerpedals.com
NEWS THE HOTTEST NEW GEAR AND MORE
NEW LAP STEEL SOLUTION FROM PEAVEY VOLT AMP CO
VOLT’S IN SYNC
NEW TECH FOR BRIT BOUTIQUE AMP MAKERS
UK-based boutique valve amp manufacturer Volt Amp Co is to offer new TubeSync technology as an option on all of its high-end D-style amplifiers. This clever extra involves an on-board processor continuously monitoring and adjusting the bias of each output valve, ensuring that they are always performing optimally, thus reducing the chance of valve failure as well as improving tone. Find out more about TubeSync in this month’s Tech Talk on page 88.
INEXPENSIVE EFFECTS BUDGET STOMPBOXES LAUNCHED If you’re looking to save some money while still satisfying your lust for effects pedals, these new offerings from Guitar Tech could be just the thing. Five different models are available, including a digital tuner, an active volume pedal and distortion, chorus and analogue delay stompers, and all are housed in a solid metal chassis and feature true bypass switching as well as some nifty features. Head over to the website for more information on each. John Hornby Skewes & Co. Ltd 0113 2865 381 www.jhs.co.uk
For guitarists who want to get into lap steel playing, Peavey has come up with a solution with this new PowerSlide instrument. Using the supplied Y strap, players can position the PowerSlide horizontally in front of them and play the instrument stood up, though a standard strap can also be used if players would prefer to use it like a traditional guitar. The single specially designed pickup is wired up to Peavey’s patented tone/mode control, which continuously varies the pickup between single-coil and humbucking operation, with high-end roll-off at its extreme settings. The looks might not be for everyone but the price is – just £269. Peavey Electronics 01536 461 234 www.peavey.com
CLASSICALLY AFFORDABLE NEW CLASSICAL STUDENT RANGE FROM FRESHMAN
Freshman Guitars has announced that it has launched a new range of classical six-stringers, with the first being specifically aimed at students. Each guitar comes with a gigbag and also features a spruce top, multi-ply binding, a hand-finished rosette, and is available in either full, half or three-quarter sizes. Not only that, but each guitar retails at under £100 – great value if there’s a young’un in your life that wants to start learning. Freshman Guitars 01355 228 028 www.freshmanguitars.co.uk
How do you take a Modern Standard like the Orange Rockerverb and make it sound even better? ..............You don’t.
Over the past decade, Orange Rockerverbs have found their way into the recording studios and onto the tours of artists from all genres. Weezer, Slipknot, The Mars Volta, Fall Out Boy…even Madonna. They’re all Rockerverb fans through and through and that said something to us. So when we decided to update the Rockerverb series of amps we knew not to touch the tone that thousands of artists had come to love. The creamy mid range, those chimey cleans, that laser-focused bottomend. They were to remain as they were: as Orange as ever. With that in mind, Orange introduces the Rockerverb MKII series and the All New 50 Watt 1X12 Combo. All the tone you’ve come to expect from our Rockerverb series of amps…now with even more features! before. The The Reverb is more controllable than ever before addition of a second pre-amp tube powering the Reverb ensures a firm, punchy sound that retains its integrity when adding just a hint of echo or a full on space-rock wallop. Increased transparency in the FX Loop – even with longer guitar cables – makes the Orange Rockerverb MKII one of the most versatile “pallet amps” in its class. Upgraded 3 Band EQ on the Clean Channel gives the player enhanced tonal control over those classic Orange cleans. Try out different power tubes on any amp. EL34, 6L6, 6550, Rockerverb MKII series amp KT88, 5881…it’s your choice! Front-facing controls on the 50 Watt 1X12 and 2X12 Combo simplify on-stage tone tweaking while adding a true vintage aesthetic. The Rockerverb 50 and 100 Watt MKII Heads, The Rockerverb 50 MKII 2X12 Combo, The All New Rockerverb 50 MKII 1X12 Combo. We didn’t change the tone. We just gave you more control.
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v i s i t
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ROUND-UP BOOST ’N’ DRIVE PEDALS
BOOST ’N’ DRIVE
Boost and overdrive are both great on their own, but put them together in a single DIAMOND J-DRIVE MK3 PRICE: £159 CONTACT: Rose Lane Music 0151 709 7171 www.diamondpedals.com
XOTIC AC PLUS PRICE: £229 CONTACT: Sounds Great Music 0161 436 4799 www.xotic.us Xotic Effects is a company rightly held in high regard by many a tonehound the world over. Not so long ago, they released upgraded, dual-pedal versions of their BB Preamp and AC Booster pedals, the latter of which we have here. Typically solid construction and quality parts are used throughout and the two circuits cover a lot of ground. Channel A is a regular clean boost/low-gain overdrive circuit with an additional tone knob and gain boost switch, while channel B deals out some fine medium-gain overdrive and has a full three-band EQ section as well as two different levels of compression. The coolest feature, however, is that unassuming switch in the middle, which allows you to stack the two channels in either direction. This means you can kick in a level boost after your overdrive or feed the overdrive side with a boosted signal for more gain and saturation.
Quality drive tones with multiple stacking options
Canadian pedal maker Diamond has long been a favourite of the GB team, and the company’s J-Drive MK3 overdrive/boost pedal is no exception. This pedal combines two completely independent circuits. The first is a simple one-knob clean boost, while the second supplies a warm, natural overdrive effect that has been voiced for Fender-style amplifiers running 6L6 or 6V6 valves in particular. Here, the usual controls for volume and gain are joined by a bright switch and a ‘warmth’ control, which works rather differently to your usual tone knob. This circuit progressively adds low-end gain while cutting it from the high-end, allowing you to achieve anything from a bright crunch to warm, valvey solo sustain. Of course, only top-quality, full-sized components are used in the J-Drive’s construction, including a Burr Brown opamp, and truebypass switching is also present.
Boutique overdrive and boost for Fender amps
KINGSLEY JESTER PRICE: $375 CONTACT: Kingsley Amplifiers www.kingsleyamplifiers.com
VISUAL SOUND ROUTE 66 PRICE: £165 CONTACT: Headline Distribution 01223 874301 www.visualsound.net Visual Sound has always been a company that does things its own way, with original looks, clever designs and more-than-fair prices, with two-in-one pedals something of a speciality. Their classic Route 66 features independent overdrive and compressor/boost effects. The first is Visual Sound’s take on the classic Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer, with an extended gain range and an additional bass boost switch for fattening things up. The compressor half takes its cues from the famous Ross compressor of yore, but is here given a much larger gain range and a defeatable tone control, should you wish to colour your sound, or indeed not, and thanks to these additions, it can also double as a great clean boost. A noise suppressor and the company’s well-liked Pure Tone buffer are also packed in its chunky enclosure.
Of course, there have been many valve-based overdrive pedals produced over the years, but most have fallen short in one respect or another. However, the Kingsley Jester stands apart from the pack, as it manages to capture the output characteristics of a stompbox and all the juicy sonic goodness of a valve amplifier’s preamp. Using two 12AX7 valves, the Jester sports two channels, each with three modes offering different voicings and levels of gain. The overdrive half of the pedal has a full three-band EQ and a gain range from mild to wild, while the clean boost side gets a lone gain control. The construction of this pedal is something to behold – the whole thing is hand-wired from top-quality components – and the tone is simply something else altogether, capable of everything from a slight boost to a saturated overdrive tone. On the downside, it is quite expensive and requires mains power at all times, but these are trifling problems when you consider what this box offers.
Awesome valve amp tones in a stompbox
Screamer-style overdrive, boost and compression in one box
ROUND-UP BOOST ’N’ DRIVE PEDALS
PEDALS pedal and the fun really begins...
CORNELL OVERDRIVE SPECIAL PRICE: £199 CONTACT: DC Developments Ltd 01702 610964 www.dc-development.com Z.VEX VEXTER SUPER DUPER 2-IN-1 PRICE: AROUND £145 CONTACT: www.zvex.com Z.Vex has always been keen to explore the wilder end of the effects spectrum, but simple booster pedals are also a large part of the family. The delightfully named ‘Super Hard-On’ booster is one of Vex’s most popular designs, boasting only a single control and a silly amount of output. The Super Duper 2-In-1 combines two of these circuits in a single pedal, each with its own footswitch, and even adds a master volume control to the second in order to allow for some overdriven tones, essentially giving you three levels of boost in total. The uses of a pedal like this are many – as a signal buffer, a clean boost or simply to kick seven shades out of your amplifier’s front end – so to have two of them available is particularly handy if you need to cover a lot of ground. The new Vexter version brings the cost down at the expense of the custom paint job and US construction, but adds an external DC power input to the equation.
Independent boost circuits with a variety of applications
The UK’s Dennis Cornell is best known for his fine handmade valve amplifiers, but he also has a bunch of excellent stompboxes up his sleeve which includes this, the Overdrive Special. This pedal offers two channels of gain plus a footswitchable boost. Just four knobs are needed, and these allow control over the gain for each of the two channels, the additional boost level and the overall output level of the pedal. A small two-way switch takes care of tonal duties, but that’s all that is required. The two channels span the entire gain range, from a clean boost to a mild crunch on channel one to a full-on roar with channel two’s gain control turned right up, and with the additional boost stage always available, this pedal has a an awful lot to offer. The gain itself is quite open in character, rather than trying to emulate any sort of amplifier in particular, making it an ideal partner to a high-quality overdriven valve amp.
Added versatility for hard-driven valve amps
CROWTHER DOUBLE HOTCAKE PRICE: AROUND £240
RODENBERG GAS-827 PRICE: £225 CONTACT: Charlie Chandler’s Guitar Experience 020 8973 1441
www.rodenberg-amplification.com Ibanez Tube Screamer-derived boutique overdrive pedals are nothing new in the world of guitars, but Germany’s Rodenberg Amplification has brought a few new things to the table with its GAS-827 dual pedal design. This pedal bolts two stand-alone Rodenberg effects together – the GAS-808 overdrive, based on the famous TS-808, followed by the GAS-707 clean boost, which offers up to 15dB of output. There are five rocker switches on the front of the pedal. Two of these boost the bass frequencies for each of the two circuits, while the overdrive half gets an extra gain boost, turning the ‘808’ into a ‘909’! Meanwhile the ‘Go!’ mode transforms the footswitches into momentary types and the ‘Bolt’ function means stomping on one turns off the other. A custom enclosure and amp-style jewel indicators add to the appeal.
The Crowther Hotcake is something of a cult favourite among rock and blues guitarists. It’s an overdrive pedal that’s capable of everything from a clean boost to a full-on distortion tone, and they’re all still made in New Zealand where their creator, Paul Crowther, hails from. The Hotcake achieves this feat by leaving your clean tone alone and gradually adding a gritty, natural drive and top-end presence – as you roll those two controls up – that sounds very ‘real’ rather than at all processed, plus an internal switch allows you to select either the blues or normal voicings for additional tone shaping. So, what’s so special about the Double Hotcake? Other than the fact that there are two of these awesomely versatile circuits housed in a single enclosure, you’re also allowed to set how hard you want the first circuit to drive the second when both are activated at once, adding yet more flexibility. Particularly good with EL84-equipped amps.
Roots, blues and rock tones with both grit and clarity
Boutique overdrive and boost with extra switching options www.guitarbuyermag.com 13
INTERVIEW PAGE HAMILTON/HELMET
HEAD TO HEAD
Darren Edwards talks to Page Hamilton, frontman of ‘thinking man’s metal band’ Helmet, record producer, movie score writer and… jazz guitarist?
f rumours are to be believed, following the buzz created by Helmet’s debut album Strap It On, the bidding war that erupted between competing record companies to sign the band became so intense that, when one label was outbid, the instruction handed down from executives to the A&R reps was simple and to the point: “Just give them a million dollars and let’s see what they say about that!” Truth or tale? Who knows, but the fact remains that the band inked a deal with the Interscope label, and their next album, 1994’s Meantime, went on to sell over a million copies. For anyone unfamiliar with the band, Helmet are a post-punk, alt rock, hardcore, industrial metal band out of New York City. That’s quite a mouthful, but hang in there – there’s more. Resembling a group of off-duty soldiers clad in civvies and on their way to a baseball game, Helmet’s brand of machine gun riffage, with its jazz-fusion undercurrent, delivered with mathematical precision and Zen-like discipline, struck a chord with all walks of life. On any given night, a Helmet audience would consist of an eclectic mix of metallers, hardcore kids, punks, jocks, alternatives, nerds, trendies, surfers, businessmen and every other
“I lIterally started practIsIng 12 hours a day and dIdn’t have any other lIfe – and dIdn’t want one eIther” breed of person imaginable. You name it, chances are they’d be Helmet fans.
Turn The Page Helmet are the brainchild and one of many musical outlets for guitarist Page Hamilton. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, before moving to New York in his early 20s to study
jazz, Hamilton was a late bloomer in the world of guitar playing. “I started playing when I was 17, which was very late,” he remembers. “I was obsessed by Led Zeppelin and I would listen to two Led Zeppelin albums every day from beginning to end. I was a musician already, so I listened very actively – I’d have my head by the speaker and I would get inside
songs like ‘In The Light’ or ‘Achilles Last Stand’ and pick out all the parts and try to find all the guitar parts that Keith Richards talked about in some interview I’d read. I was so obsessed that by the time I picked up the guitar I got myself a teacher and told him that I wanted to learn ‘Stairway To Heaven’. He said it was too difficult, so I stopped going to him and found another guy that could teach me. He ended up turning me on to jazz and that was kind of the beginning. I just went crazy from there and literally started practising 12 hours a day and didn’t have any other life – and didn’t want one either.” Though Helmet’s audience may have waned since their heyday in the mid 90s, their music certainly hasn’t. This is once again evidenced by their latest album, Seeing Eye Dog, the band’s seventh full-length studio album in their 20-year-plus career. As Hamilton explains, when Helmet enter the studio, with regards to the music itself they pretty much have all the finished components already in place. “The music is done,” he says bluntly. “I’m not going to say 100 percent as far as the arrangements go, but I write at home and my living room is a little home work area with a bunch of guitars and music stands and a guitar preamp
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INTERVIEW PAGE HAMILTON/HELMET and pedals and my computer, so it’s this seven-day-a-week work environment. I have no television by design because I’m addicted to sport and I’d watch the highlights way too much! “So I write the arrangements on the computer, I sing, I do all the parts and then I come to the band with it, teach them the songs, and then we’ll all work on the arrangements as a band. It’s a process of chiselling away at certain parts or trying things like different drum beats, but by the time we get to the studio we are probably 85 percent of the way there.”
To the rock and metal community, it’s through Helmet that Hamilton is most recognisable, but the guitarist has many musical hats to interchange. “I have four or five different musical personalities that I have to entertain every day,” he laughs. “I love jazz and I still have this fantasy that I’ll be a great jazz guitarist one day. I’m plodding along at this orchestral thing as well; I did the instructional DVD and I also work on movies. “I think that’s why Helmet is so enjoyable for me, because I have these other things that force me to take a different approach to music and it kind of keeps you honest. I don’t want to give all that other stuff up, and I think that if I just focused on Helmet alone I would get burnt out on it. In Europe they refer to us as a cult band, but we have a following all over the world that’s fortunately big enough to keep us going.” The other musical endeavors that fill and have filled Hamilton’s days are anything but your average little side projects. As well as his varying jazz commitments, he also regularly scores films and is an in-demand guitarist, filling the vacant guitarist position in David Bowie’s band a few years ago. “The Bowie gig is a very difficult gig, because you’re talking about over 40 years of music there, which includes different guitar sounds and completely different styles,” says Hamilton. “When I started, Bowie said to me to, ‘Do what was right in the spirit of the music. You don’t have to match all those guitar styles.’ But you still have to come up with the right sound, because the sound is everything, and that was a lot for me. “I had my Helmet sound well
© Getty Images
“the BowIe gIg was a very dIffIcult gIg, Because you’re talkIng aBout over 40 years of musIc there” dialled in by then. I was utilising those colours to play my own music, and then to have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to play ‘Always Crashing In the Same Car’ or ‘Drive-In Saturday’… They’re completely different types of tunes. It was
a challenge, but it was amazing and I learnt a lot.
Keeping Score “As for scoring movies, I wish I did more,” adds the guitarist. “I do one or two a year, it seems, but I wish
I could do more because it’s really fun. Elliot Goldenthal has been hiring me since the movie Heat, and we just did a movie last fall with his wife Julie Taymor called The Tempest, which I think will come out in 2011. That was challenging, because they were taking a lot of the guitar stuff that Mark Stewart and I have done over the last ten years and were asking if I could do things I did seven years ago, which I’d have no f***ing idea what pedals or what guitar I used, or how I got that sound. I told them they were
INTERVIEW PAGE HAMILTON/HELMET driving me nuts, but they have got to know what I can do and they help me expand upon that and it’s really amazing. “I can’t even tell you how fortunate I feel to be in the same room with musicians of the calibre of Mark Stewart or T-Bone Wolk, who passed away this year, or T-Bone Burnett. Just incredible guys. The Across The Universe movie I did, we were all on that together and it was just phenomenal – this room full of heavyweights and I felt completely out of my depth, but T-Bone Wolk would come up and tell me that he had no idea what I was doing or how I was doing it, but it was so f***ing cool. I’d be looking back at him thinking, I have no idea how you know one gazillion tunes on the bass!”
Signature Six Last year, ESP produced a new Page Hamilton signature model, complete with dings, scratches and holes where the controls and neck pickup used to be. “The pink ESP signature model is modelled after my old Horizon Custom,” he explains with a grin. “It’s all beat-up, with the one pickup and one volume and a Floyd [Rose vibrato] on it, with a custom maple neck and ebony fretboard through alder body. They change a lot with weather, but I’ve found these guitars for some reason to be really stable. There’s something about the Floyd that I like – it’s a pain in the ass and more labour-intensive, but the Floyd does have a certain sound. “I’ve found those guitars to be really open and there’s all this stuff going on in the upper regions, harmonically – it’s weird. I’ve played really nice, really expensive guitars that don’t have this much life. In fact, I took my original guitar to Paul Reed Smith years ago when we were talking and they had a couple of their guitars that I really liked for certain things, but they’re a denser guitar, more dead. Paul Reed Smith and five or six people were standing around with me plugged into a Marshall with my pink guitar and they couldn’t believe it – they were convinced that it was just a fluke, a one-shot deal. But every guitar that you pick up is going to be different, and out of ten guitars you might get six or seven good ones and three or four that don’t sound right for what I do.”
Helmet: (l to r) drummer Kyle Stevenson, guitarist Dan Beeman, singer/guitarist Page Hamilton and bassist Dave Case
So what other guitars does Hamilton take out on the road? “It’s my pink signature model, and then there’s the silver signature model that came out in ’06, and that’s all I take on the road, with the exception of an ESP or maybe an LTD VB-300 Viper Baritone, which I use on ‘LA Water’. My amps are Fryette amps – he is the genius behind VHT. He lost the name to these investors in some legal thing, so I just changed the nameplate on the front of the amp and use his amps. “Those have just been a godsend and I have been using them for years now. I was turned on to him by Steve Blucher over at DiMarzio, who have been making my pickups since ’92 or ’93. Blucher designed those Air Zones for me and I wish they called them the Page Hamilton model, but I’m not a big enough guitar hero to have my own pickup! “I only use the bridge pickup with Helmet. I don’t need any neck – I do my tonal changes with pedals for solos and for noise and feedback and stuff. It’s something I developed through working with Band Of Susans. I just love pedals – I’m kind of a geek. I’ve got a beautiful pedalboard in my living room which I use on all the
movies, and then I’ve got four other pedalboards that I keep and kind of switch around depending on the gig.” Loyal to ESP when it comes to Helmet, when it’s time for Hamilton to change gear and move over to jazz, naturally he changes guitars as well. “I use a Paul Reed Smith McCarty for my jazz stuff,” he explains. It’s like a Les Paul and is really playable with a nice, solid, clean tone, whereas the ESPs are very lively. I also have a 1952 Gibson ES-175 that I like and a ’63 Gretsch County Club that I’m trying to get used to as well. It’s really cool but the upper register is kind of tight, and believe it or not I use the blue ESP Vintage Plus ‘Strat’ that I played with Bowie for some jazz stuff as well, which is kind of an indestructible guitar with a bolt-on neck. But there’s something about this McCarty for the jazz stuff that really works for me. I use all these weird voicings and stuff, and the PRSs are super-powerful.”
Jazz Obsession But despite having multiple musical personalities, Hamilton is adamant that they all resonate equally with him. “I think they are equal and I need them all,” he explains. “When
the band broke up in early ’98 and I started doing other things, the movie things started popping up, and then David Bowie called me, so I went and played with him; I played with the great trumpeter Ben Neill and my friend Joe Henry, and I loved them all, and it was really great, but I really missed the Helmet thing. “There’s just something that it does for me, and listeners of Helmet will know it’s not metal, it’s not industrial, it’s not nu-metal or whatever, it’s just this thing that’s really fun to play and it takes me to a place that no other music does. And I need that, but I’m obsessed with the jazz world. I’m constantly working at that and I must have a couple hundred chord voicings at this point in my brain and on paper. That’s what I do first thing every morning – I make my coffee and there’s the book of 251 progressions on my music stand, so these are the things that I do every day. “The Helmet thing, that’s pretty tough. Physically and emotionally draining – after rehearsals I’m just wiped. So hopefully Father Time won’t get the better of me in the next ten years and I can keep doing the Helmet thing, because the jazz thing I’m pretty sure I can do until the day I drop dead.” GB www.guitarbuyermag.com 19
REVIEW ELECTRIC GUITAR VIGIER EXCALIBUR KAOS
VIGIER EXCALIBUR KAOS PRICE £1,703
Vigier has stripped the Excalibur back to the bare essentials to create a more affordable high-performance axe with an aggressive twist. Daniel Hodgson sets out to make sense of the Kaos…
here are plenty of bespoke guitar builders throughout the world that enjoy almost rabid enthusiasm for their upmarket craft. As you will most likely be aware, many of these are based in the US, but us Europeans aren’t short of talent either, with France’s Patrice Vigier surely not far from the top of the list. Vigier has been building some of the finest guitars in Europe for a good while now, with several different designs and models meaning that there will be something in the catalogue for every shredder, rocker and fusion player. The new Excalibur Kaos that we have here was designed in conjunction with Vigier UK’s head honcho Ben Whatsley and takes a different tack from the fancier fare that Vigier is best known for, doing away with the expensive extras to produce a stripped down, streamlined, high-performance machine that has ‘player’s guitar’ written all over it. Will it be a case of less is more?
Bodies & Necks
So, stripped-back features are the order of the day here, but Vigier certainly hasn’t skimped when building the Kaos – it’s all the stuff we’d expect to find on the company’s most expensive models in terms of core construction. The body is made from two pieces of alder (although the join is undetectable) and features all of the Excalibur model’s familiar curves, including comfort-enhancing belly and forearm contours. The body has been evenly
The Kaos’ stripped back approach allows for top quality at a reasonable price
the hardware used here puts functionality first and is of a very high quality without being flashy finished in a gloss black which is, unfortunately, the only colour option, but then you don’t get a Vigier at this price without significantly limiting the options available. While it’s far from an exciting finish choice, it does fit with Kaos’s no-nonsense approach and with its target audience of players towards the heavier end of the spectrum. Four screws and a neck plate join the neck to the body Fender-style, meaning upper-fret access is just as easy (or hard) as it would be with one of Leo’s classic designs. The neck itself is certainly deserving of
much praise: a flattish D-profile has been chosen to accommodate faster playing, but it is not an insubstantial chunk of wood as we sometimes see on guitars aimed at this section of the market. Thanks to a smooth matte finish, it’s a very inviting prospect indeed. The neck has been constructed using Vigier’s proprietary ‘10/90 System’, which sees a carbon strip inserted into the alder neck where the truss rod would normally sit, with the carbon taking up 10 percent of the neck’s overall volume, sandwiched between the alder which makes up the other 90.
This is a very clever design indeed, as the carbon strip keeps the neck as straight as a die and, according to Vigier, enhances sustain and banishes ‘dead spots’, since the neck is just one solid object which is free to vibrate as it likes. The rosewood fretboard offers a roughly 12-inch radius which most players will find comfortable for both lead and rhythm playing and has been fitted with 24 medium-sized, highly polished and perfectly fitted frets, not to mention a hardened zero fret and a Teflon nut. There is a complete absence of inlays on the Kaos’s fretboard, apart from the flurry of random dots at the 12th fret which inspired this guitar’s moniker. Position markers are, of course, to be found along the side of the unbound fretboard. The reverse headstock is a new departure for Vigier and adds a twist to the guitar’s otherwise workmanlike appearance. This is painted black in order to match the body and features the Vigier logo and model name in white.
Hardware & Parts
As with the rest of this guitar, the hardware used here puts functionality first and is of a very high quality without being flashy. The headstock plays host to a set of ‘oversized’ locking tuners which, while certainly on the large side, are very good at their job. Joining them are a pair of string trees for the low E and A strings which resemble the ball ends you’d find on a guitar string and are fastened on the reverse side of the headstock – a cool little touch.
REVIEW ELECTRIC GUITAR VIGIER EXCALIBUR KAOS
EXCALIBUR KAOS Price: £1,703 Built in: France Scale length: 650mm (25.6 inches) Nut width: 42mm (1.65 inches) Body: Alder Neck: Maple, bolt-on Fingerboard: Rosewood, 300mm radius (11.8 inches) Frets: 24 medium plus zero fret Pickups: 2 x custom Amber humbuckers Controls: 1 x volume, 1 x tone, 5-way selector, momentary kill switch Hardware: Oversized locking machineheads, Vigier 2011 vibrato bridge; chrome Weight: 3kg (6.6lb) Finishes: Black only Case: Hard case included Left-handers: No
High Tech Distribution Tel: 01722 410002 www.vigierguitars.com
Vigier’s own high-quality 2011 non-locking vibrato bridge keeps things stable at the other end and performs flawlessly, with plenty more travel than you’d get from your average Strat-style vibrato. This is capable of adjustment in all the important areas and even features roller saddles in order to improve the vibrato’s ability to return to pitch, which we must say really is excellent. In terms of electronics, Vigier has opted for a dual-humbucker setup here, supplied by German pickup makers Amber. With the extra-hot Alnico-V model in the bridge and a slightly overwound Alnico-II humbucker in the neck position you might be forgiven for thinking that the Kaos is only capable of the heaviest tones, but the five-way blade-style switch gives access to coil-tapped versions of each, as well as the usual full humbucking tones and the option to use both pickups in tandem. Master volume and tone controls keep things simple in terms of the guitar’s interface. The only other talking point here is a feature that has been carried over from the popular Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal signature model – a momentary kill switch in the
shape of a small push button located just below the bridge humbucker. Very cool indeed!
Unplugged, the Kaos is certainly a clear-sounding instrument which resonates plenty, and this is carried over to the plugged-in sounds. With a clean amp a hi-fi sound is easy to achieve, though some will not appreciate the clarity if they are used to the warmer tones of a vintage instrument. Adding a little gain, however, brings the Kaos to life – these pickups simply love to be driven, and we’re happy to report that the clarity offered by its clean tone is still there in spades even with lethal amounts of gain dialled in. The pickups themselves are very responsive and react well to volume adjustment – we actually prefer the warmer almost-clean tones produced by turning the volume down and switching to one of the lower-output coil-tapped settings with our overdriven amp. The kill switch is a great addition too, and while we notice some popping when engaging it, this does little to detract from the cool machine gun sounds and stutters that it allows you to perform.
GOLD STARS Fantastic, streamlined features Top-notch construction Great range of expressive high-gain tones with added clarity BLACK MARKS Might not be the most exciting guitar at this price point IDEAL FOR… Anyone after a fantastic rock and shred machine which focuses on quality rather than extravagance GBRATING The 2011 bridge is extremely stable
The Kaos is built by hand in France
The reverse headstock is a cool touch
The Kaos certainly won’t be for those who like their guitars to double as ornaments – it’s a straight-ahead tone machine bred for only one purpose, and that purpose isn’t to sit and look pretty in the corner. The level of craftsmanship we’ve come to expect has been upheld here, with the build, fit and finish all meeting our lofty expectations with ease. We’re also fans of the slightly quirky aspects of the guitar, which nicely offset the utilitarian look of the rest of the instrument – the headstock shape, the chaotic fret inlay and the kill switch all offer something a little out of the ordinary, but the basis of the instrument has been kept free of any gimmicks. Some might feel that this is a lot of money for such a plain-looking guitar, but another way to look at it is that you’re getting the practical benefits of Vigier’s top-of-the-range guitars – including superb fretwork, the ‘10/90’ neck, Amber pickups and 2011 vibrato – at a much lower cost. We think it’s a brilliant compromise between price and performance. GB
REVIEW ELECTRIC GUITARs CHARVEL PRO-MOD SERIES
CHARVEL PRO-MOD SERIES
Charvel’s new Japanese-manufactured Pro-Mod range hints at a rocktastic return to the brand’s ’80s heyday. Hayden Hewitt dons a wig, and pants so tight they cut off the blood to his feet, and gives them a whirl…
or the longest time it seemed Charvel were set to become little more than a footnote in the history of Jackson guitars, with the once illustrious brand created by Wayne Charvel turning into the ‘lower cost’ alternative to Jackson. But when Fender bought out Jackson it decided, in its wisdom, to give Charvel another bite of the cherry and had the brand step out from behind the skirts of its bigger brother. Once again resplendent with its Strat-style headstock, Charvel came out swinging with some pricey (but oh so gorgeous) custom shop offerings, along with a really rather reasonably-priced US limited-production line. As if this wasn’t enough to keep fans of
all things ‘super-’ and ‘-Strat’ salivating wildly, Charvel has now unleashed the Pro-Mod range of guitars, promising high standards of hardware and playability but with an even more affordable price. Can these Japanese-made models stack up to their US
You won’t find anY shaved lower cutawaYs or sculpted neck heels here
counterparts, or is Charvel diluting the recipe? Let’s find out by taking a look at three of the models currently available in the Pro-Mod range: the San Dimas, the So-Cal and the Wild Card.
Bodies & Necks
Construction-wise, the three models we have here operate pretty much along the same lines, bar obvious cosmetic and hardware differences. All three feature what is, to all intents and purposes, a Stratocaster body. Comparing it to a US Strat you would have to have sharper eyes than us to spot any glaring differences here. All the curves and swooping lines are in all the
The So-Cal features a pair of Di Marzio pickups, namely the Evolution in the neck and the Tone Zone in the bridge
REVIEW ELECTRIC GUITARs CHARVEL PRO-MOD SERIES right places, creating a shape that is as comfortable as it is familiar. You won’t find any nods to modern construction here – no shaved lower cutaways or sculpted neck heels. This is vintage ‘superstrat’ territory all the way. The Wild Card, in its current incarnation (the hardware, woods and other specs for this model are set to change every three months or so, hence the moniker), features the addition of a pretty tasty quilted maple veneer which is ably shown off by the ‘dead calm aqua’ finish. This certainly adds an upmarket touch to the standard shape without being too garish. While the San Dimas (seen here in the ‘Ferrari red’ finish option) and So-Cal are largely similar, there is one major difference. The San Dimas makes do without a scratchplate, so the pickups screw directly into the body in true old-school Charvel style, and has a side-mounted jack socket just like the Wild Card. The So-Cal, meanwhile, has a Strat-style angled jack socket on the top and a single-ply scratchplate that supports the pickups and controls. The necks are where these guitars truly shine for us. In terms of profile they feel like a slightly flattened Fender US Standard neck, perhaps a touch wider in the hand. The necks themselves are fashioned from quarter-sawn maple, ensuring maximum stability, with the Wild Card enjoying a rosewood fretboard in contrast to the one-piece maple necks on the other two. Frets are of the jumbo variety, which, in conjunction with the 12- to 16-inch compound fretboard radius, ensures a smooth and choke-free performance all the way up to the 22nd fret. But it’s the
finishing that really makes them more than just a sum of their parts. Charvel seems to have taken amazing care to not only ‘roll off ’ the edges of the fretboard but to do it to the extent that the neck feels like an old friend, one you have played since the ’80s rather than a sharp, brand-new affair. Indeed, from some angles the extent of the work makes the neck look like it has been slightly scalloped at the edges. Between the excellent construction and the finishing we are left with one of the nicest-playing necks we have encountered in quite some time. Nothing feels out of place and it is just all so immediately familiar, which is no mean feat. Another welcome addition is the Stratocaster headstock. Back in the day, these were a mainstay on Charvel guitars before it adopted
putting it all together, these guitars certainlY give the impression of serious, working-man-stYle axes a rather more homogenous variant or took on the Jackson ‘Point O’ Doom’ beak. This time around, with Fender in charge, it’s obviously official, to the extent that a sticker on the back of the headstock explains that the trademarked shape is being used by express permission. Putting it all together, these guitars will certainly induce flashbacks in some and impressions of some serious, working-man-style guitars in others. Like a retro hot rod, these Charvels look fast and built for purpose, even when resting on a stand.
Hardware & Parts
Each guitar features a Floyd Rose
The fretboards feel nicely worn in
Hardware is another area that Charvel hasn’t skimped on for its import line. All three guitars feature original Floyd Rose vibrato units set, on the So-Cal and San Dimas, for downbend only (although there is a very small amount of upbend so actual vibrato isn’t a problem). On the Wild Card, there’s a fully back-routed cavity, allowing you to go completely berserk with squealing upward bends. There’s a certain feel and weight to the original Floyd that makes it very pleasing to use, and you can, of
course, go as insane as you like and still come back in tune thanks to the locking nut. All three guitars feature Grover tuners, which, as ever, do the job they are supposed to with no fuss whatsoever and a positive feel. Once you’ve stretched in the strings and clamped down the locking nut there’s every chance you won’t touch them again until the next restring, but it’s still reassuring to see high-quality tuners in place. Controls on all three guitars are very simple. The So-Cal and San Dimas feature a single volume pot and a three-way toggle switch, while the three-pickup Wild Card enjoys the same single volume pot along with a five-way switch. There are no bells or whistles here, though, no coil taps or blower switches; everything is straightforward, in keeping with the no-nonsense vibe of the guitars.
For all their similarity in construction, each of these guitars sounds quite different. Most of this is down to the pickup choices, but the construction and method of anchoring the pickups will play
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REVIEW ELECTRIC GUITARS CHARVEL PRO-MOD SERIES
PRO-MOD SERIES Built in: Japan Scale length: 648mm (25.5 inches) Nut width: 43mm (1.69 inches) Neck: Maple, bolt-on Frets: 22 jumbo Hardware: Floyd Rose double-locking vibrato, Grover tuners Weight: 3.4kg (7.5lb) Case: Fitted hard case included Left-handers: No
Price: £727.30 Body: Alder Fingerboard: Maple, 305-406mm compound radius (12-16 inches) Pickups: Seymour Duncan JB & ‘59 humbuckers Controls: 1 x volume, 3-way selector Finishes: Ferrari red (shown), snow white, black
Price: £727.30 Body: Alder Fingerboard: Maple, 305-406mm compound radius (12-16 inches) Pickups: Dimarzio Tone Zone & Evolution humbuckers Controls: 1 x volume, 3-way selector Finishes: Ferrari red, snow white, black (shown)
Price: £821.30 Body: Alder with quilt maple veneer Fingerboard: Rosewood, 305-406mm compound radius (12-16 inches) Pickups: Seymour Duncan JB & 2 x Classic Stack Controls: 1 x volume, 5-way selector Finishes: Dead calm aqua (shown)
Fender GBI Tel: 01342 331700 www.charvel.com
EACH MODEL REPRESENTS A GREAT-PLAYING, WORKMANLIKE AND FUN GUITAR an important part too. The So-Cal carries a DiMarzio Tone Zone humbucker in the bridge position and an Evolution in the neck. Tonally, this guitar seems the most ‘FM Radio’ of the three, with a smooth, warm output. Neither the Tone Zone nor Evo are shrinking violets – don’t get any ideas on that score – but, both clean and overdriven, they can seem a little ‘processed’. This isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, and the So-Cal can certainly handle the heavy stuff. Mids feel a little more scooped here, which, together with the warmer high end, gives you some wonderful shred tones and pure honey out of the neck pickup, with just enough edge in there to stop anything turning to mush. The San Dimas and Wild Card both feature Seymour Duncan’s JB
humbucker in the bridge position. The JB has a far more open and ‘shouty’ voice than the DiMarzio Tone Zone and has built a reputation with rock and metal guitarists as being the go-to pickup for quite a few years now. Plug it in and you can see why: clean, it isn’t exactly the most characterful pickup we’ve ever heard, but pile on the dirt and it bursts into life. Aggressive but adding too much compression, the JB gives a much rawer voice than the Di Marzio-equipped So-Cal, which could appeal a little more to those of you who lean towards more brutal musical styles. In the neck of the San Dimas you might expect to find a Seymour Duncan Jazz humbucker, the usual companion to a JB, but here we have a SH-1 ‘59. This may seem like an odd choice if you only go by stats, but the ‘59 provides a wide-open neck pickup tone that drips with woody character at lower gain settings but avoids any kind of mush, even with maximum gain poured on. It certainly ticks all the boxes whether you are dishing out your meaningful power ballad solo or giving it full tilt on the sweep picking. On the Wild Card model reviewed here we see a deviation
All three guitars feature Grover tuners
from the recipe with an HSS layout. Although not true single-coil pickups, the Duncan Classic Stack models fitted to the middle and neck position still give oodles of single-coil character. The only downside here is that they do seem rather unbalanced in terms of output with the roar from the JB in the bridge. Tonal versatility is obviously a bonus, but some slightly hotter pickups might have created a better balance in this case. Flipping to the neck pickup from the bridge sees a rather large drop in gain and volume – although we’d expect some of this, it seems a little too harsh here for our tastes.
GOLD STARS Excellent playability Solid build quality Exactly the tones you would expect BLACK MARKS As long as you know what you are buying into, none IDEAL FOR… The guitarist who knows tapping will always be cool and that clean sounds are for the intro only GBRATING This HSS setup is very versatile
The Pro-Mod range is built in Japan
Setting aside any rampant nostalgia, there is no doubting these guitars represent great value given their prices, and the inclusion of a quality fitted hard case just makes the deal all the sweeter. Each of these models represents a great-playing, workmanlike and, above all, fun guitar. They’re easy to get on with and very hard to put down, and that is never a bad thing. And if you do want to get all nostalgic, well, just go easy on the skintight pants – they chafe. GB
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REVIEW ELECTRIC GUITAR FRET-KING BLUE LABEL VENTURA SUPER 60 HB3
FRET-KING BLUE LABEL VENTURA
SUPER 60 HB3
With more extrovert curves than a 1959 Cadillac, the Fret-King Ventura is sure to get you noticed. David Greeves finds out if it’s best seen or heard
y now, we’d expect most of you to be familiar with Fret-King guitars, designed by the UK’s Trevor Wilkinson. The high-tech, self-tuning Super-Matic (reviewed in last month’s issue) notwithstanding, there’s a definite retro vibe to the range, but with that added twist of visual flair that Wilkinson has made his trademark. Nothing sums this up better than the outline of the Ventura, a bold shape that’s both highly original and at the same time reminiscent of the futuristic styling of the 1950s. In the time we’ve had this model for review, it has generated a great deal of comment – in fact, it’s hard to think of another guitar that has provoked such an instant reaction from every person who has seen it, though the nature of those reactions has varied a great deal. But then there’s no need to tell a designer of Wilkinson’s huge experience that guitarists are a deeply traditional lot who tend to judge a guitar as much with their eyes as their ears. “It’s very difficult to design a guitar that’s revolutionary and not have people say, ‘No, I don’t like it,’” he tells us. “The Ventura is one of my favourite guitar shapes I’ve ever done because I’m a big Jaguar fan, and you can see where it’s heavily influenced by the Jaguar and Jazzmaster. It’s one of those drawings that I’ve had on my board for years. I see it as a slightly more modernesque sort of offset guitar, and I wanted to differentiate it but still have
for your forearm. The Ventura is also very well balanced, although, with its slightly larger than average body, it does weigh a bit more than your typical Strat. The maple bolt-on neck adopts Fret-King’s now familiar ’60s-style profile, a rounded, slightly chunked up C shape that feels both speedy and comfortable. Playability is further enhanced by a rosewood fingerboard with a 10-inch radius, 22 expertly finished medium frets and medium-low, buzz-free action.
Hardware & Parts The Wilkinson WVP vibrato bridge turns in an impressive all-round performance
a guitar that was comfortable and, I think, pleasing to the eye.”
Body & Neck
The Ventura Super 60 HB3 hails from Fret-King’s Blue Label range, manufactured in Korea (while the more costly Green Label guitars use Korean-made necks and bodies but are assembled in the UK). Anyone still harbouring doubts about the quality of Far Eastern manufacturing – despite abundant evidence to the contrary in recent years – should have a good look at this guitar because, from the standard of build to the quality of the materials and hardware, there’s little if anything to find fault with. The body is a two-piece, centre-jointed slab of American alder that has then been comprehensively carved into the
fluid and highly unconventional shape you see before you. At first glance, we wouldn’t blame anyone for being startled by this radical design, but there are hints of the familiar in there, with some of the curves and corners bringing elements of the aforementioned Fender Jazzmaster/Jaguar, but also the Gibson Firebird, to mind. The ‘Laguna Blue’ finish on the review model, which is faultlessly applied, reinforces the ’50s Fender vibe, vintage white with a black scratchplate being the other option available. When you actually pick the Ventura up, that initially alien shape makes a whole lot of sense. Whether seated or standing, it’s a very comfortable guitar. Thanks to extensive contouring at the front and rear, that curvy lower bout seems to wrap itself around your body, providing excellent support
Given that Wilkinson is well known for his high-quality hardware, we’re not a bit surprised to find plenty of it here, and very welcome it is too. The WVP vibrato bridge is a great design all round, with its solid sustain block, ‘Wilkinson Wave’ knife-edge pivot and push-in arm. The saddles are fully adjustable, while the thick walls of the pressed-steel bridge plate prevent any lateral movement in the saddles, which can quickly rob you of sustain. To aid accurate return to pitch, the Ventura features a neatly cut synthetic bone nut and a set of Gotoh Magnum locking tuners – the strings are locked in place from the top of the capstans, which are staggered in height to render string trees unnecessary. The pickups chosen for the Ventura Super 60 HB3 are based around the WHHB PAF-style humbuckers found in other Blue Label models, but here their output has been calibrated to suit a
REVIEW ELECTRIC GUITAR FRET-KING BLUE LABEL VENTURA SUPER 60 HB3
FRET-KING BLUE LABEL
VENTURA SUPER 60 HB3 Price: £749 Built in: Korea Scale length: 648mm (25.5 inches) Nut width: 43mm (1.69 inches) Body: American alder Neck: Maple, bolt-on Fingerboard: Rosewood, 254mm radius (10 inches) Frets: 22 medium Pickups: 3 x Wilkinson WHHB PAF-style humbuckers Controls: 1 x ‘Vari-coil’ variable coil tap, 1 x volume, 1 x tone, 5-way selector Hardware: Willkinson WVP vibrato bridge, Gotoh Magnum locking tuners; chrome Weight: 3.9kg (8.6lb) Finishes: Laguna Blue (shown), Vintage White Case: Gigbag included (Fret-King FKC200 moulded ABS hard case £149) Left-handers: No
JHS & Co Ltd Tel: 01132 865381 www.fret-king.com
neck/middle/bridge set. Each coil has three slug polepieces and three screws, in a small nod to Fender’s ‘Wide Range’ humbuckers, and they look great under nickel covers. A five-way selector switch sits at a convenient angle on the lower horn, while master volume and tone controls are joined by Wilkinson’s ‘Vari-coil’ knob. This gradually taps off one coil of each humbucker, giving continuous variation from fully humbucking down to single-coil operation.
A quick unplugged strum proves very promising indeed. There’s plenty of volume and sustain – you can feel the vibrations running up and down the body and neck – and a lively, full sound, but with a breathy, airy edge that is undeniably Strat-like. With such abundant raw materials at their disposal, the trio of humbuckers turn in a nicely distinguished performance, offering a range of superb sounds that are remarkably varied. Leaving the Vari-coil knob untouched for the moment and sticking in full humbucking mode, the three main switch positions
reinforce the Strat-y impression, but this is an altogether richer, more full-sounding take on that classic set of sounds – from plummy, mellow neck tones to the bright, incisive bridge pickup, via some muscular, well defined sounds in the middle. The open and clear PAF-style response of these pickups seems to suit the guitar perfectly, yet they’re not short of output – the bridge pickup measures around 15k! This is no metal machine, of course, but for jazz, blues, rock, country and everything in between, the Ventura is a very capable playing partner. There’s less mileage to be had from the ‘in-between’ settings until you wind back the Vari-coil pot and the familiar mixed-pickup tone gradually emerges. In truth, the Vari-coil’s effect is not completely smooth and gradual – the most obvious change in tone happens between 1 and 5, though the more subtle change between 5 and 10 will become more obvious with additional volume and gain. Set to fully single-coil, a whole new side of the Ventura emerges, with some very authentic tones that are full of twang and bite. Some of our favourite sounds are to be found
Three PAF-style pickups are ﬁtted
Fit and ﬁnish is excellent all round
GOLD STARS Superb and varied set of tones Great build and playability Effective ‘Vari-coil’ control BLACK MARKS None IDEAL FOR… Anyone seeking a versatile, vintagevoiced axe for blues, rock and country that punches well above its weight GBRATING
Locking tuners are a welcome touch
with the Vari-coil knob set between 2 and 3 – plenty of bite, but with a bit of fatness brought back in – but we’re sure other players will find their own favourites, and it’s a fantastic facility to have.
At first, we must confess that (like many of you, we’re guessing) we found this guitar’s unconventional looks a little off-putting. Since then, the Ventura has steadily worn down our resistance – with its comfortable, well-balanced body, with a superbly playable neck that’s very difficult to put down and finally with a set of sounds that are not only extremely good given the asking price but very versatile too. It’s fair to say that we’ve been completely won over, so much so that the review model has been bought and paid for and is staying right here! In terms of build, tone and playability, the Ventura Super 60 HB3 punches way above its weight. There’s no denying that looks matter, but you’d be surprised how quickly qualities like these will convince any beholder that this one’s a beauty. GB
REVIEW ELECTRIC GUITAR REES RAPPORT
Louis Thorne builds a rapport with a semi-hollow electric from Cambridge luthier Clive Rees…
uthier Clive Rees builds guitars and basses in his well-established Cambridge workshop, offering a small but ever-growing range of individual looking models that are available ‘from stock’, as well as providing all manner of bespoke custom-build options, of course. Mr Rees’s Rapport model, reviewed here, is the latest addition. It’s a Seymour Duncan-powered, semi-hollow design which also features his versatile ‘2010 switching system’ and some nice hardware. What is more, this guitar is available for rather less than you might expect.
with our only small gripe being that the guitar’s square heel doesn’t allow quite the effortless top fret access that a slimmer design might. Some decoration is afforded by the fingerboard’s lovely looking abalone dots and by Mr Rees’s rabbit logo on the guitar’s slim headstock. In keeping with the finish, these appointments are smart and well executed without being flashy.
Hardware & Parts
Body & Neck
The Rapport has a solid korina body that has been given two hollow side chambers and a single f-hole, which reduces its weight of course and should contribute to the guitar’s sustain. Interestingly, a couple of small wooden plates on the instrument’s rear reveal that the chambers have been routed out from behind, enabling the body to comprise a single piece of wood. Some gentle carving around its edges mean that this relatively diminutive guitar is very comfortable to hold, whether sitting or standing and, despite its light weight, it still balances very nicely on a strap. One reason that Clive Rees favours korina for his guitar bodies is that it takes colours well and this Rapport model has been given a warm sunburst hue, with a wax and oil finish that sits somewhere in between gloss and matt. While this guitar may lack the pristine shine of some instruments, it feels organic and ‘woody’ – after being
The Rapport is kitted out with quality hardware and Seymour Duncan pickups
The hollow chambers on eiTher side of The rapporT’s korina body have been rouTed ouT from The rear perhaps a little underwhelmed on first sight, this finish has really grown on us. The guitar’s neck is home to 22 well finished frets and has a profile and dimensions that should appeal to a broad spectrum of players, being slim but still with enough meat to get hold of. The instrument’s pau ferro fingerboard
has a compound radius, starting with a 10-inch radius at the nut and flattening out in the upper reaches to 16 inches. This means that wide bends don’t fret out at the top of the neck, even with the low action that this Rapport has been given. In fact, the playability of this instrument is generally excellent
The Rapport features a Gotoh wrap-around bridge. This allows for Tune-O-Matic style height adjustment at either side and individual intonation adjustment for each string, as well as making efficient use of the space available on the Rapport’s modestly proportioned body. As for the pickups, the review model features the perennially popular pairing of Seymour Duncan’s Jazz and JB humbuckers, but players with more specific tastes in such things should bear in mind that Mr Rees is, of course, well able to fit whatever units might be required. Knurled metal knobs take care of master volume and tone duties and their pots feel to be of a high quality. While a three-way toggle switch selects the pickups in the usual manner, a further knob controls a four-way rotary switch that provides access to a “voice character” selection that is the essence of this guitar’s ‘2010 switching system’. Besides regular humbucking operation, the rotary switch allows additional ‘single-coil’, ‘pair-coil’ and ‘triple-coil’ voices and this should provide a somewhat broader tonal palette than is the norm for
REVIEW ELECTRIC GUITAR REES RAPPORT
RAPPORT Price: £885 Built in: UK Scale length: 648mm (25.5 inches) Nut width: 43mm (1.69 inches) Body: Korina, semi-hollow (solid centre with two side chambers) Neck: Maple, bolt-on Fingerboard: Pau ferro, 254-406mm compound radius (10-16 inches) Frets: 22 medium Pickups: Seymour Duncan Jazz & JB humbuckers Controls: 1 x volume, 1 x tone, 3-way selector, 4-way rotary coil selector (single-, pair-, triple-coil, humbucker) Hardware: Sperzel locking tuners, Gotoh adjustable wrap-around bridge Weight: 3.2kg (7lb) Finishes: Violin sunburst (shown), many other options available; oil and wax finish Case: Hiscox hard case available separately Left-handers: Yes, no extra charge
Rees Electric Guitars Tel: 07889 160660 www.rees-electric-guitars.com
These seymour duncan uniTs Tread Their well-worn paTh wiTh ease a twin-humbucker guitar. A Fender roller nut provides a friction-free route for the strings to take towards the Rapport’s set of Sperzel locking tuners, arranged on Rees’s new three-a-side headstock shape. These are among the easiest to use and most reliable machineheads in our experience and their presence on this guitar is a welcome one.
On first strum, this guitar reveals a sound with a defined top end and plenty of sustain, which bodes well for its amplified performance. With the bridge humbucker selected, it is clear that this guitar
can rock out if needed. Things still sound defined even at very high gain settings and the volume pot’s smooth taper provides a useful route to cleaning up the sound a bit. The neck pickup is much more plummy and round sounding, with these Seymour Duncan units treading their well-worn path with consummate ease. Switch to single-coil mode and the Rapport shows that it can cope with these sounds with much greater aplomb than many a coil-tapped axe. The bridge is the place to go for some Tele-esque twang and the neck coil should please fans of Brent Mason’s jazzier moments, with both coils together perhaps a little less inspiring overall. As for the extra tones, the Rapport’s ‘triple-coil’ sound is the most worthy of note. By combining one fully humbucking pickup with the nearest single coil of the other, it really adds a bit of beef to the proceedings, with the pickup selector switch now providing two different sounds, in either the bridge or neck position. The bridge setting is particularly
GB VERDICT GOLD STARS Solid and dependable feel Versatile set of tones Great value for a UK-made instrument BLACK MARKS A slimmer heel would be a welcome enhancement IDEAL FOR… Those after a reliable and versatile guitar for stage or studio GBRATING The neck joint uses recessed screws
We really like the wrap-around bridge
The headstock design is brand new
good, especially with some crunch dialled into the amp, with the sound somehow a little broader and thicker. The ‘pair-coil’ setting, which lets you combine the inner or outer coils of the two pickups, also brings something extra to proceedings –though perhaps without being quite as useful – but these are worthwhile extra options that make this guitar rather a lot more versatile than most.
The Rapport feels like an instrument that has been designed with the player in mind, with its comfortably contoured body, solid hardware and enhanced switching options. If you want a handmade guitar, but don’t require a great deal of ostentation, then this Rees Rapport will fit the bill admirably. Of course, there is great scope for tailoring the design to your own specification but as an “off the shelf ” instrument, the Rapport is a versatile and great sounding guitar that represents excellent value for money. GB
Photo by Julian Piper GB113.038-041.kellyjp_2dg.indd 38
INTERVIEW KELLY JOE PHELPS
American acoustic virtuoso Kelly Joe Phelps tells Matt Frost about his favourite guitars, his new album with Corinne West and exactly how it feels when he’s overcome by the spirit of improvisation
uring the the past 15 years or so, American guitarist Kelly Joe Phelps has established himself as one of the foremost contemporary acoustic players and singer-songwriters on the so-called Americana scene. Across six solo studio albums, Kelly Joe has succeeded in fusing folk, blues and jazz guitar with beautifully crafted songwriting to devastating effect. One constant behind Phelps’ playing, no matter what genre he weaves his fingers around, is the improvisational quality he brings to all his performances, whether they be on stage or in the studio, and playing lap-style slide or regular 6- and 12-string acoustics.
Two’s Company It was only as he was turning 30 that Kelly Joe Phelps began, in his words, “to discover his own voice, his own sound”, having spent the previous 12 years immersed in live free jazz performance, and most of that as an electric bass player. His first few solo albums – starting with 1994’s Lead Me On – cemented his reputation as a leading blues lap-style player but by the year 2000 he had become “disenchanted” with lap-style
“when i perform, my eyes are closed 99 percent of the time. it’s a great place to be for an hour or three” guitar as a tool to further his creative musical journey, and so began to concentrate more on his finger-style playing. At the end of 2009, Kelly Joe’s musical world entered yet another new phase when he hooked up with Corinne West, another leading light on the US acoustic
scene, for a bit of a jam session. The duo have been playing live together, writing and recording ever since and recently released their first enchanting album, Magnetic Skyline, which revisited songs from West’s back catalogue. There was no real plan or grand design in the run-up to that initial
jam, but it wasn’t long before the pair began feeling the magic. “We’d known each other for a number of years, but just as fellow touring musicians doing our own thing and pursuing our own careers,” explains Kelly Joe. “But we ended up falling into an extensive email conversation at the end of last year and realised we had some time off at the exact same time, so we got together. And a couple of days after that, we pulled the guitars out for the first time, did that one night for fun and, a few songs into it, we thought, ‘Oh man, we could certainly pursue this if we wanted to!’ and we did. We just kept playing day after day and it kind of developed a life of its own.”
Magnetic Guitars Magnetic Skyline was recorded in lightning quick time, with six of the eight tracks recorded in just eight or nine hours at George Lucas’ Skywalker Studio in California and the other two laid down live for an Amsterdam radio session. While Corinne and Kelly Joe spent some time perfecting their vocal harmonies, Phelps’ flatpicked guitar across the sessions was again largely improvised. So what guitars do the duo play, both on stage and www.guitarbuyermag.com 39
INTERVIEW KELLY JOE PHELPS
“we just kept playing day after day and it kind of developed a life of its own” in the recording studio? “I think for that recording Corinne is playing a Martin HD-28 and at that time I was playing a Taylor model. It’s a Leo Kottke signature model, a big jumbo body thing,” says Phelps. “But, shortly after that, I started playing an HD-28. The HD-28 that she’s playing on that is one of two that I have, and in the last five months or so, we’ve been touring with both of us playing HD-28s. I bought them both new – neither one of them is old. I think the one she’s been playing I bought around 1997 or something like that and then the one that I’m playing I bought in probably 2003.”
One of Kelly Joe Phelps’ most intriguing albums is the all-instrumental Western Bell, released in 2009. While the record has been widely heralded as a virtuoso acoustic masterclass, what is even more incredible is the fact that all 11 tracks were completely improvised. “It’s something I had sort of tucked in my mind for a long time, that one of these days it might be fun to just play the guitar and let that have centre stage,” explains Kelly Joe. “But I had never really thought to sit down and write stuff for that. I hadn’t written lyrics for a couple of years and didn’t really want to and didn’t feel any motivation to. Initially, I was thinking that I would just go home and sit in my basement and just play the guitar, improvise and record it and see if, by doing that, I’d start coming up with new ideas that I couldn’t find any other way. “But really early in that process, probably after doing it for three or four days, I started listening back to what I was doing and I let my brain go to the place of thinking, ‘Maybe this is what I need and want to do for an instrumental record, rather than composing a bunch of fingerstyle guitar pieces’.
Photo by Julian Piper
It also tied in a lot of musical history for me because back in the whole decade of the ’80s, I almost played nothing but jazz music and most of that, apart from the first three or four years, ended up being various kinds of what you would call ‘free’ music, so I had a lot of experience of that musically and emotionally. “I was kind of excited and inspired by it, and I was realising at the same time that I had found another way
to combine elements that have always played a part in the music I’ve played. What I was hearing back and feeling was a folk-based music that was nothing but improvised, and I decided to not worry about it and not think about it, because it felt really creative and there was a lot of joy in it for me. [On Western Bell], from note one to the last note, there wasn’t anything that was composed. Sometimes it was literally just turning the
recording machine on and seeing what I found!” Guitar-wise, Phelps played a range of his favourite acoustics on this singular album. “I played the Gibson J-60 – that’s the guitar I used for any of the lap slide stuff,” he tells us. “And I played the Leo Kottke 12-string and the Leo Kottke 6-string, but actually strung up with electric guitar strings because I thought the tone was interesting… And then there’s at
INTERVIEW KELLY JOE PHELPS
“i felt embarassed that these guitars were sitting there not being played so i sold most of them to friends” Ornette Coleman to Doc Watson – so when a sound shows up in my head I can immediately translate it onto the guitar. “But there’s always this area right inbetween my preparation and the end result which is a non-existent place. I can’t look at it or walk over to it or think about it or anything, and that’s why I say it always feels more like this kind of benevolent gift-giver that’s standing on the other side, sort of chuckling!” least one song for sure – maybe two – where I played an old Gibson J-45 and there’s one song where I played an old Yamaha 12-string.”
Eyes Wide Shut Kelly Joe explains exactly what it feels like to hit the highs of pure improvisation on the guitar. “[Free music] is certainly untethered but it exists in this place that’s so filled with spirit,” Kelly Joe enthuses. “It’s completely off-planet and it’s just absolutely amazing. Improvisation in general has always given me that sensation and that is why I’ve ended up being the kind of musician I am – and, when I perform, my eyes are closed 99 percent of the time. “I don’t climb in there to hide from anything, but improvisational sensibility kind of opens up the door and I just walk into it. It’s a wonderful place to be for an hour, or two hours, or three hours or whatever it might be, and when you unshackle it completely, then it becomes completely spontaneously created music. I mean, the potential there is just like feeling out of body, but it’s just an amazing sort of place, like living in dreams or something… “But it doesn’t always happen and that’s sometimes a bit frustrating. I think improvised music – to whatever degree it is improvised – is always going to be a gift, a freely given gift which really, truly is the beauty of it because it’s always unexpected. There are things I can do to prepare for it and some of them are technical
things like making sure my fingers are ready to go and my hands are ready to go and that I’ve done my homework. I have to understand the language enough to carry on a conversation with it, which in my case does involve and has always involved learning as much music as I’ve had time to learn and understand it – and that’s from
Everything Phelps Kelly Joe Phelps’ 30-year-plus career in music has so far taken him through a whole host of musical genres and approaches, including free jazz – both as a guitarist and a bass player – lapslide blues, finger-picking folk and roots, pure instrumental acoustic improvisation and, most recently,
his collaboration with Corinne West. So what’s next to come from the somewhat indefinable guitarist and singer-songwriter? “I have no idea!,” laughs Kelly Joe. “The thing with Corinne is still brand new and I’m still enjoying it immensely, so I’m still pursuing that. It’s hard for me to see much beyond a couple of months ahead, but the next thing that comes out could be a duo record. That’s what we’ve been planning for early next year. Hopefully, we’ve got enough new material now that we could do it. We’re just waiting to see if we’ve actually got the money to do it, but that is definitely what we have had in mind for some time. But if we decide to do different things, then I don’t know what it’ll be, but something will be out there.” GB • For more information, head to www.kellyjoephelps.net
Kelly Joe Phelps talks us through his guitar collection, although it’s not quite as large as it once was… “I think I’ve got maybe 14 or 15 now because, over the last couple of years, I’ve been selling guitars off. Probably 12 or 15 years ago I decided I was never going to sell a guitar again because I always wished I had them back if I did sell them! So I didn’t and I ended up with maybe 30 guitars. But then I started feeling kind of embarrassed that these guitars were sitting in the basement not being played, so I sold most of them to friends. I didn’t actually put them on the market as much as I started calling guitar friends of mine and said, ‘You know, I’m thinking of moving on some of these guitars – if you’re at all interested let me know…’ “But, even though I say I’ve got 15 guitars, there’s probably five of them that wouldn’t be worth $20. I’ve got some old Harmonies that are kind of cool but in need of work, and I’ve got an old Gibson 12-string that’s really cool that needs a bit of work. I just recently sold a 1948 J-45 that was a really
nice guitar but somebody I knew ended up more in love with it than I was, so it was his… “The [Martin] HD-28s are two of my favourites for sure. I’ve got the pair of those [Taylor] Leo Kottke [signature models] – a 6-string and a 12-string – that are interesting guitars, but the HD-28s are really hard to beat in my mind. I’ve been playing them for a long time. Before that I had a D-35 that I played for years, so those Martin dreadnoughts have always been my favourite guitars, I think. “The one guitar that I have mostly set up for [lap slide] is a Gibson dreadnought, although I haven’t been playing much of that now for a long time. I don’t even know if they make it anymore. It’s a J-60, which is kind of modelled after the Martin dreadnoughts in that it’s rosewood back and sides and a spruce top, but it’s a Gibson scale rather than a Martin scale, I think. It’s a very deep and resonant guitar and it always worked well with the lap-style.”
REVIEW ACOUSTIC GUITAR COLLINGS DS1A
Paul Alcantara discovers the joys of Adirondack spruce with Collings’ toneful DS1A 12-fret dreadnought…
iewed with eyes grown accustomed to the ubiquitous 14-fret Martin-style Dreadnought (‘14-fret’ being a reference to the point at which the neck and body meet), its 12-fret sibling looks decidedly odd. As it happens, the 12-fretter constitutes the original design and it wasn’t until 1934 – two years after CF Martin had introduced its first ‘Dreadnought’-sized guitar – that the model switched to a neck with 14 frets clear of the body. In order to accommodate this change, Martin came up with the square-shouldered silhouette with which we are familiar today and, for a time at least, the 12-fret Dreadnought was all but forgotten. Interest in the original, long bodied design never completely died, however, and having built a few 12-fret Dreadnoughts in the mid’50s – no doubt in response to the American folk revival – Martin reissued the model in 1967. While for many the 14-fret dread continues to define the steel-string flattop guitar, the 12-fret version now has a loyal following among players who are prepared to trade the former’s upper register access for the latter’s superior tonal balance. Today, Martin is no longer alone in offering the old-style 12-fret Dreadnought and here we’re taking a look at a particularly fine example of the breed from high-end American guitar maker Collings.
Body & Neck
The Collings DS1A has a Honduran mahogany back and sides and a premium quarter-sawn Adirondack spruce top. This is not
The bridge sits closer to the centre of the soundboard than on 14-fret designs
luthiers regard adirondack spruce as tonally superior to sitka spruce too common a sight on a new guitar and in this instance adds £815 onto the price of the standard DS1, which has a Sitka spruce top. Prior to WWII, both Gibson and Martin used Adirondack spruce for the tops and bracing of the flattop guitars, archtop guitars, and mandolins that they built. This
timber is extremely strong, with the highest strength-to-weight ratio of all the spruces, and many players and luthiers regard it as tonally superior to Sitka spruce, which most of the big guitar companies use today. Sitka spruce, however, grows taller and straighter than Adirondack and as a result yields more lumber per tree. Its appearance is also more consistent – an important consideration today when purchasers of high-end instruments demand timber that is totally free of blemishes. (Ironically, many of the guitars that Martin built during its ‘golden’ pre-war era are constructed from timber that would no longer be deemed acceptable in terms of appearance.)
Judgement on the top’s sonic attributes will have to wait a moment, but in terms of looks we find this example very attractive, with some subtle ‘silking’ across the grain that catches the light and only adds to the appeal. Both the back and front of the body are bound in faux tortoiseshell plastic with additional black/white purfling around the top and a simple walnut back-strip that separates the two halves of the back. Details include a tortoiseshell-style pickguard, a soundhole rosette formed from alternating strips of dark wood and white nitrate plastic and an ebony belly-bridge with matching ebony bridge pins. The one-piece mahogany neck has a soft V-shaped profile with a small volute that is positioned at the base of the headstock. With the neck meeting the body at the twelfth fret, upper fret access is obviously affected as compared to a 14-fret model, though not by a lot. That’s not the only effect, however, as Collings’ Steve McCreary explained to us in a previous issue: “The extra air space [inside the body] certainly contributes to the sound of the 12-fret guitar, which I would describe as being richer. Another factor is the position of the bridge, which is closer to the centre of the soundboard on 12-fret guitars.” The neck’s neatly shaped heel is formed from the same piece of timber as the neck and capped in ebony. As on all Collings acoustic guitars, the neck is secured by a pair of bolts with only the section of the fingerboard that extends out over the top being glued down. This system makes it far easier to reset the neck – should that ever www.guitarbuyermag.com 43
REVIEW ACOUSTIC GUITAR COLLINGS DS1A
Price: £4,190 (DS1 with Sitka spruce top, £3,375) Built in: USA Scale length: 648mm (25.5 inches) Nut width: 46mm (1.8 inches) Top: Solid Adirondack spruce Back & sides: Solid Honduran mahogany Neck: Honduran mahogany Fingerboard: Ebony, 356-508mm compound radius (14-20 inches) Frets: 19 medium Bridge: Ebony, with ebony bridge pins & bone saddle Machineheads: Waverly slot-head tuners, nickel Weight: 1.58kg (3.5lb) Finishes: High-gloss nitrocellulose lacquer (body), polyester resin (neck) Case: TKL Custom hard case included Left-handers: Yes, no extra charge
become necessary – than on an instrument with a conventional glued-in neck joint. Fitted with 20 medium sized frets, the unbound ebony fingerboard is inlaid with a series of pearl dots that diminish in size as they approach the soundhole. The DS1A has a slotted headstock that is faced with ebony and inlaid with the Collings logo in pearl. Nickel-plated Waverly tuners with vintage-style metal buttons are mounted to the sides of the headstock. While the guitar’s body is finished using a traditional nitrocellulose lacquer, the neck sports a high-gloss polyester resin finish. Collings adopts this approach with all its acoustic guitars in order to avoid the feeling of ‘stickiness’ beneath the left hand that can result from the use of nitro finishes.
Guitar XS Ltd Tel: 01227 832558 www.collingsguitars.com
Vintage-style Waverly tuners are used
The Collings DS1A arrives set up with a medium action height and strung with a set of D’Addario 13 to 46 phosphor bronze strings.
Though this combination may sound daunting to those raised on Super Slinkys, the guitar proves easy to play over its entire fingerboard and, thanks to the care and attention taken in shaping and finishing the bone nut, the bridge saddle and the frets, the DS1A is buzz and rattle free even when strummed hard. Those who view mahogany guitars as lacking in bottom end
Neck meets body at the 12th fret
Each Collings is handmade in Texas
GOLD STARS Unrivalled build quality Superb materials Tone to die for BLACK MARKS None, though a 12-fret neck is probably not ideal for the player whose style requires top fingerboard access IDEAL FOR… Anyone seeking a guitar of the highest quality, for vocal accompaniment, fingerstyle or flat-picked instrumentals GBRATING
will need to think again, as the DS1A reviewed here is more than a match for any rosewood-bodied dreadnought that we have come across. But this is a long way away from the archetypal booming dread – the sound of this guitar is beautifully balanced, clear and full. And while the volume is certainly there if you strum hard, the DS1A reacts equally well to much gentler treatment and its response to playing dynamics is impressively subtle and nuanced. Taken overall, the guitar’s tonal response is remarkably even, with a solid mid range and trebles that are clear and sweet. Fingerstyle players will appreciate the model’s excellent string-to-string balance and definition, not to mention the 1.8-inch nut width (an eighth of an inch wider than that of a regular 14-fret dreadnought), but this is a truly versatile instrument that will suit flatpicking and strumming equally well.
Powerful yet tonally balanced, this acoustic is one of the best sounding D-sized flattops that we have had the pleasure to play. To what extent this results from the 12-fret neck design, the lightweight scalloped bracing or the Adirondack top is hard to determine. Suﬃce it to say that the above-mentioned combination of features conspire to produce a musical instrument that will satisfy the most discriminating of tone freaks. Can the considerable price tag be justified in these cash strapped times? Only you can answer that question, but we reckon that for those who can still afford the luxury, the Collings DS1A certainly won’t disappoint. Outstanding. GB
16 AMPS. 2 YEARS. THE SEARCH IS OVER. Some say it’s the journey, some say it’s the destination. In this case, it’s both. Brick by brick, our entire approach to amp modeling was torn apart and redesigned from the ground up. Our two-year journey finally delivered us to the tonal promised land: a set of HD amp models so advanced they offer previously unachievable realism in attack, dynamics, compression, and aggression. The amp modeling originators have revolutionized amp modeling. Again. We scoured the globe for the 16 vintage and modern amps every guitarist will covet. Full-bodied California cleans, dynamic class-A breakup, searing high-gain tones – POD HD showcases them all, in stunning HD! Plus, generous collections of legendary Line 6 effects deliver more than enough sonic colors and textures to inspire performance in every player.
The POD HD story is a true adventure. Experience the journey yourself at www.line6.com/PODHD
POD HD300 POD HD400 © 2010 Line 6, Inc. Line 6 and POD are registered trademarks of Line 6, Inc. All rights reserved.
REVIEW acoustIc GuItaR LARSON BROS MAURER STYLE 1 ES
LARSON BROS MAURER STYLE 1 ES
The new Larson Bros brand aims to recapture some pre-war guitar magic. Louis Thorne hopes to be enchanted…
s readers of last month’s issue will know, the Larson brothers were Swedish immigrants to America who built a wide range of fretted instruments in Chicago from about 1900 to 1944 under a variety of brand names, including Maurer, Stahl and Prairie State. The guitars from this period, according to vintage guitar guru George Gruhn, were some of the few that could give Martin a run for its money, and nowadays they command high prices on the vintage market. The Larson name has now been resurrected for a range of high-quality, Czech-built guitars, and while these are not slavish facsimiles of any particular Larson-built instrument, they borrow heavily from the originals for both their looks and construction. With a resolutely vintage aesthetic and relatively small production numbers, the new Larson Bros brand should have particular appeal to the traditionalist looking for something just a little different.
Body & Neck
This ‘Maurer’ model, described in the Larson Bros literature as ‘small body’, is actually quite similar to Martin 000 in dimensions, with rather more curved shoulders and a marginally slimmer waist that lend it something of a larger-scale parlour guitar vibe. However, its upper and lower bouts are very much of the expected widths, even if they appear slimmer, while the Maurer’s body is about half an inch
The rosette is understated and neat…
…as are the Maurer’s fretboard inlays
the neck’s soft v-shaped profile at the nut gradually becomes rounder as you move up towards the body shallower than the 000 blueprint. The top of this guitar is solid Alpine spruce and it has been artificially aged, which should mean that it will prove to be stable and dependable throughout this guitar’s life. The Maurer’s top also exhibits a slight outward curve. Sometimes referred to as a ‘parabolic top’, this curvature is very subtle and barely visible to the naked eye. Rather than being carved like an archtop, the top has been built ‘under tension’, with the guitar’s bracing holding its shape, the aim being to create a stronger top with fewer dead spots. Though employed by a number of manufacturers since, this is an original pre-war Larson design feature, developed to cope with
the higher tension of steel strings, which is said to contribute to the focused tone of the vintage guitars. The same technique has been used on the back, which is here made from solid mahogany, as are the sides. Note that rosewood is also available, for a little extra outlay. A cream plastic binding provides some cosmetic adornment, along with a very neatly rendered wood purfling. This is echoed around the guitar’s soundhole, with its triple-coloured marquetry apparently etched and placed by hand rather than having been laser cut. Further plastic binding is to be found around the soundhole’s inner edge, and a look inside the Maurer reveals a very neat and tidy interior.
Some of the original Larson instruments used laminate wood to brace their tensioned tops and this is also a feature of the new guitars. The idea is that stiffer braces allow for a thinner top, and here they have been scalloped (unlike on the original instruments) and fitted in an ‘X’ pattern that is a little different from the ubiquitous Martin style. In contrast to the body’s high gloss, the Maurer’s solid-mahogany neck has been given a satin finish, which feels beautifully smooth under the hand but which is perhaps slightly at odds with the rest of the instrument’s traditionalist aesthetic. A soft V-shaped profile at the nut gradually becomes rounder towards the body, and this does seem very much in keeping with the overall old-school vibe. It’s a very comfortable, playable neck that offers plenty of support to the left hand. The neck joins the body at the 14th fret on this guitar – a 12-fret model is also available – and 20 slim frets populate its ebony fingerboard, all having been impeccably seated. While we can’t say how much this guitar has been played since it left the factory, some of the upper frets on this particular instrument look as though they could do with a polish, since they are a little tarnished, but brownie points are awarded for the very neat abalone inlays that decorate the playing area and give an authentic Larson look. A square-ish slotted headstock that widens away from the nut is very much lifted from the original www.guitarbuyermag.com 47
REVIEW acoustIc GuItaR LARSON BROS MAURER STYLE 1 ES
LaRsoN BRos MAURER STYLE 1 ES
Price: £1,766 Built in: Czech Republic Scale length: 648mm (25.5 inches) Nut width: 44.5mm (1.75 inches) Top: Solid Alpine spruce Back & sides: Solid Honduran mahogany Neck: Solid mahogany Fingerboard: Ebony Frets: 20 slim Bridge: Ebony with compensated Tusq saddle Machineheads: Gotoh, vintage-style open-gear Weight: 1.9kg (4.25lb) Finishes: Natural high gloss Case: Larson Bros fitted hard case included Left-handers: No
High Tech Distribution Tel: 01722 410002 www.larsonbros.de
Maurer models, and an ebony veneer provides a very smart background for the guitar’s abalone ‘Larson Bros’ logo. A set of Gotoh vintage-style tuners takes care of tuning duties, feeling solid and dependable, while the hardware’s aged pewter-esque hue certainly looks the part. The guitar’s bridge is also ebony and houses a compensated Tusq saddle and a set of ebony pins, with the only remaining fitting to note being the guitar’s single strap button.
appreciate this guitar’s articulate voice (not to mention the spacious 1.75-inch nut width), and while the Maurer may lack a little warmth in comparison to some other high-end OMs, it makes up for this in punch and clarity. Overall, the Maurer sounds rather bigger than it actually is, with an open voice that certainly seems to exhibit some of the characteristics for which vintage Larsons are renowned: its tone is focused and clear.
On first strum the Maurer shows itself to be a lively-sounding instrument, with good top-end detail that is especially apparent when using a light plectrum. Harder strumming reveals a guitar that is capable of good dynamics, with a healthy amount of volume available – certainly more than a couple of comparison 000s that we have to hand. The low end is defined and balanced and lends the Maurer some meat without getting anywhere near boomy territory. Fingerpickers should also
Firstly we should point out that this is not, nor is it intended to be, a replica of an original Larson guitar. What the new Larson Bros company has done, perhaps rather cheekily, is to resurrect a name highly regarded by vintage guitar cognoscenti and produce a quality guitar that is very reminiscent of these old instruments in both its appearance and construction. In practice, the Maurer is a sweet, clear-sounding guitar that looks great and has been built to a very high standard, and on these merits it comes highly recommended. GB
GOLD STARS Fantastic sounds Great attention to detail Authentic, individual looks BLACK MARKS None
Open-geared Gotoh tuners work well
NEW ERA MAURER $2,725 and upwards Californian luthier Tony Klassen is one of the very few who build truly faithful reproductions of the original Larson guitars, a few of which are in his personal collection. FAITH SIGNATURE STANDARD OMC £1,549 We gave this guitar the thumbs up in issue 109. Rather more modern in looks than the Larson Bros guitars, these instruments are also made in the Czech Furch factory. BLUERIDGE BR-163 £769 This 000-style guitar from Blueridge’s Historic series will certainly appeal to those who are after a lot of traditional-looking guitar for their hard-earned cash.
IDEAL FOR… Traditionalists after a lovely guitar that isn’t a Martin clone GBRATING The ebony bridge is simplicity itself
A 12-fret version is also available
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07/09/2010 12:52 11:00 01/10/2010
INTERVIEW AZIZ IBRAHIM & PATRICK JAMES EGGLE
When guitarist Aziz Ibrahim needed a baritone electro-acoustic custom made to suit his unique playing style, he turned to master guitar maker Patrick James Eggle. David Greeves picks up the story…
ziz Ibrahim might be best known for his studio and live work with a diverse roster of artists – ranging from the Stone Roses and Ian Brown to Paul Weller, Simply Red and Asia – but as anyone who has seen one of his recent live shows will tell you, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Drawing equally on his Pakistani and British heritage, and performing in a duo alongside tabla player Dalbir Singh Rattan, the Mancunian guitarist gives free rein to an incredibly broad mix of influences. “A lot of my thought processes are always Asian,” he explains. “My background is typical Pakistani, but my musical thought process is half and half because I was born in this country. I’m just as rock ’n’ roll as the next man, but my playing is always influenced by what my head seems to understand in terms of scales, and they’re not always conventional. What I’ve always strived to achieve is a style, an individuality, and it’s all about that when you’re a songwriter and not just a player. I’ve explored so many different musical avenues only because I love music, not because I was looking for a job! I just love music – there’s so many sides to it. There’s not enough time in the day!”
Tabla For Two “After stepping down from Ian Brown,” Ibrahim tells us, “I wanted to do my solo project, but it’s pretty
Ibrahim draws on a wide range of influences when it comes to making music
“my solo project is like a White stripes from BomBay! it captures Where i’m from and Who i am” unique – it’s like a White Stripes from Bombay! But it’s got the attitude of what British music should be – it captures where I’m from and who I am. There’s only two of us, but less is sometimes more and there’s so much space for our
instruments to be heard. The tabla is a very dynamic instrument, from its high top end to the bass, which has so much depth if you allow it that space – it goes lower than a bass drum. And it worked better with an acoustic guitar, the tabla being an
acoustic instrument, so I’ve had to develop my acoustic playing.” Such a unique project – and such a unique player – demanded a very particular instrument, which not only sounded right but was able to cope with Aziz’s unusual lowered open tunings. Given that Patrick James Eggle’s workshop was just around the corner, the solution seemed obvious. “It’s not every day one of the greatest luthiers in the country moves next door to where you live, is it?” he laughs. “It just made sense to me. This was a rare opportunity to have a custom instrument made for me without losing sight of it. I could be a complete pest and pop round every day – you know, have you put fret number two in yet?!” However, deciding just what kind of guitar he wanted involved a steep learning curve. “This is the thing: I’m not a guitar builder, I’m a player,” he says. “I basically started at the beginning, as a novice, and started to learn about the whole process. Patrick gave me the tour – he showed me his wood stash, explained what’s used for what, and I got to see where and how the guitars were made and talk to the people making them. When I came out the other end, I started to get an idea of how I could get the guitar I wanted.”
Special Order Patrick James Eggle takes up the story: “When Aziz came to us,
INTERVIEW AZIZ IBRAHIM & PATRICK JAMES EGGLE
The truss rod cover bears Aziz’s name
Eggle’s trademark leaves feature here
“When you meet someone, you can generally get a feel for What’s going to get their creative juices floWing” initially he was thinking that he wanted two or three acoustic guitars, which is still an ongoing thing, and he decided he wanted to go with a baritone first. His requirements are a little different to most guitarists. Most guitarists that we sell baritone guitars to pick up that guitar as an interesting addition to their collection, or they use it as accompaniment for playing with other people. But Aziz is a little bit out there on a limb, I suppose, in the style of music that he’s playing. “We were given some pretty useful information from the start, like the tuning that he was going to be using and the gauges of strings [Aziz plays the baritone in an open C tuning with a light set of strings, including an unwound third string]. He was able to come in and try out different instruments to get
a feel for the response that different woods in different combinations give you. And for us, having heard him play was a useful thing as well. “When you meet someone, you can generally get a feel for what’s going to get their creative juices flowing, and if we work with each other we can make that happen. That’s what it’s all about,” Patrick explains. “What really gets me going is when I see a really nice set of wood and think, wow, this is going to be a playing guitar in about 12 weeks time. What are we going to do with it? How are we going to use this to get the best out of it? And then you see this thing being built and turning into an instrument. “What actually got me into this in the first place was, when I was about 15, it suddenly struck me that you could make guitars!
The rosette continues the leaf theme
I hadn’t thought about it before. What I like is actually building something that then comes alive and works. If I was into metalwork, I guess that would be an engine or something. But this business is the ultimate in that, not only do we have the creative element of it, but we then produce something that works to produce music. I really like getting our customers involved, and it’s exciting seeing them be excited by the actual process too.”
The PJE Baritone model is based around the shape of Patrick’s Saluda jumbo. “We toyed with a larger, 17-inch-wide shape and built a few like that, but in the end we didn’t think it was necessary. The Baritone is a bit deeper than our standard Saluda and, because of the longer scale length, the bridge is backward shifted a little and the bracing slightly altered to take that into account. Our Baritones are a little bit longer scale than most people’s, in that they’re a 28-inch scale length. Most people go shorter than that. The longer scale means that you can get down to low tunings without having to use extremely heavy strings, so the sound doesn’t fatten up too much or get muddy.” Besides the addition of a cutaway, a few more alterations were required to accommodate Ibrahim’s very specific requirements. “Aziz uses pretty light strings, with an unwound G, tuned down quite a lot,” says Patrick. “We had to build the guitar with a more lightly braced
In the workshop: (l to r) Patrick Eggle, Sam, Aziz Ibrahim, Frank and Rab
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INTERVIEW AZIZ IBRAHIM & PATRICK JAMES EGGLE
Every guitar starts out as a humble piece of wood
top because we needed to get more response out of the top for the work that the strings were actually doing. It just means they don’t have to work so hard to generate the same kind of movement in the body.” Patrick and Aziz went through a variety of different wood combinations before coming to a final decision. “In the end he decided on good old East Indian rosewood and a Sitka spruce top, the classic combo. Rosewood has got a very good natural bass response. I’d actually say that most of the rosewoods have quite a ‘spiky’ sound – they have natural low end, but it’s also quite a busy sound. You can hear a lot of the harmonics and the overtones that go to make up the sound, unlike mahogany, for instance, which is a more linear tone. Mahogany makes for a better recording guitar – it’s a sweeter sound, but it doesn’t have the bass response that the rosewoods have.” Meanwhile, the guitar is embellished with cocobolo binding, pearl ‘falling leaves’ fretboard inlays and a stunning rosette, featuring more leaves inlaid in maple and quilted bubinga on a ziricote background. So was the look of the guitar an important consideration for Aziz? “Well, my band philosophy was ‘look good first, smell good second, play well third’!” he laughs. “I got to look at lots of Patrick’s guitars and see the amazing things that he could do with inlays, but in the end I wanted the maple leaves – both as an organic little touch and because they’re associated with Patrick and I wanted to keep his thing going on throughout the instrument.”
Laser cutting is used to ensure the utmost precision
The top was braced to account for light-gauge strings
High On The Lows
The finished guitar certainly looks amazing, but what’s the verdict from its owner? “I’m going to write a new album with it!” says Aziz with enthusiasm. “I’m fired up by this guitar. It’s also got me looking around for things to sell, because I want another one! Once I got it, I knew I’d done the right thing with the choice of wood. There were other woods which sounded great, but I think given the size of the instrument and the actual tuning, it was right to go with more ‘conventional’ woods – by which I mean tried and tested. “With the low tuning, I needed the brightness bringing back and the snappiness of the instrument maintained – it kind of balances itself out. Now I’ve played this guitar for a while, other guitars feel like toys in comparison. It’s almost like a voice – when you hear a guy who’s got a deep voice compared to squeaky voice. Every guitar I pick up now that’s in standard E tuning just feels a bit girly, but this feels like a man’s guitar!” Patrick James Eggle is no less delighted with the result and believes that it’s a thorough vindication of the way he and his team approach a custom instrument. “For Aziz, he’s had the kind of personal input that you don’t usually get. We spent a lot of time working with him and making sure he was happy at every stage – which is what we do with everyone. When that 20 percent extra work goes in, you get 100 percent extra back – that’s what I think. Every time that you just think a little bit harder and try to make something that bit more special, it really pays dividends.” GB
Aziz Ibrahim tells us about his forthcoming solo album and his experiences touring far afield… “The album I’ve just finished is called Rusholme Rock – Rusholme is the Curry Mile in Manchester, basically – because my music represents Manchester music, which isn’t just all shoe-gazing, Smiths, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, it’s also the Chicago dance scene bursting in Manchester, hip-hop, dancehall, the reggae side and also the Asian side, which is massive. Being born in that community, it’s just part of my music and part of my soul, but it’s still rock – I’m a rock musician at the end of the day. That’s what Rusholme Rock represents.” As well as the UK and Europe, Aziz has taken his show to the Middle East and the Subcontinent, where he found a willing audience. “It’s amazing. They all want to see bands like Oasis, Stereophonics, the
Foo Fighters, Queens Of The Stone Age – they’re all into it. If you see 2,000 Libyans all clamouring for Oasis… it’s strange! They want that rock ’n’ roll factor, but on the other hand they understand Arabic-AsianEastern music because they grew up with those scales. So when I play there, I’m giving them rock ’n’ roll in a sense – we come across with that power and attitude of British music – and they love it. They don’t get enough of that. So I’m not taking coals to Newcastle – I’m giving them something new, but with an accessibility, having Eastern elements to relate to within it.” • Rusholme Rock by Aziz will be released in April on Indus Records. For more information, go to www.aziz.co.uk
REVIEW AMPLIFIER DR Z Z WRECK
DR Z Z WRECK
Arguably Dr Z’s most upmarket amp to date, the eagerly awaited Z Wreck carries some serious boutique pedigree. David Greeves sizes up the damage
he genesis of this latest Dr Z creation goes back to 2006, when Tele picker extraordinaire Brad Paisley began talking to company founder Mike Zaite about designing a new amplifier. Zaite worked with long-time friend and collaborator Ken Fischer of Trainwreck Amps to build a prototype – dubbed the ‘Z Wreck’ – but when Fischer sadly passed away at the end of 2006, that was considered the end of the project. Paisley used the amp extensively until the recent Nashville flood, which spared the original Z Wreck but ruined a number of his other amps and prompted Brad to commission two more as backup. And we should be thankful that he did, as this was the first step towards Dr Z’s decision to take the project back to the drawing board and start producing the amp for the general public. There’s considerable hoodoo surrounding Trainwreck Amps, and not just because they’re incredibly rare – Fischer completed only around 100 heads in his lifetime. They’re also held in high regard for their tonal complexity and amazing response to touch and dynamics. While this is very much a new Dr Z amp rather than any kind of Trainwreck reissue, any new amp with such a strong Ken Fischer connection was always going to generate a huge amount of excitement in the valve amp community. And considering that both Fischer and Paisley, who was intimately involved in the design of the superb Prescription ES and Stang Ray amps, are closely tied to the
Meanwhile, the power transformer (which takes AC mains power and turns it into the correct DC voltage required by the valves) has a neat trick up its sleeve. The Z Wreck’s power transformer – which, we’re told, is a new design – has been tapped so that you can switch between two different plate voltages via a switch at the rear of the amp. These settings are labelled ‘Comfort’ and ‘Speed’ (inspired, we sincerely hope, by the great Willie Dixon/Howlin’ Wolf number, ‘Built For Comfort’). The former is said to offer a softer, sweeter and altogether more vintage response, while the latter is the place to go for a stronger attack, more clarity and more headroom. Intriguing stuff. These NOS Russian EL84 valves were specially selected for the Z Wreck
history of the company, is it any wonder that Dr Z’s legion of fanatics are in a positive lather of excitement over this new amp? We’ve managed to get our hands on the very first Z Wreck in the UK to find out if it can possibly live up to expectations.
Pre & Power Amp
There’s a common thread running through many Dr Z designs, which tend to be single-channel amps with very few knobs. So it is with the Z Wreck, but as usual this apparent simplicity hides some considerable sophistication. Many people, ourselves included, believe that the most pure, direct and responsive valve tones are to be found in the most simple circuits, but the real magic is in the fine detail. Here we find a single channel
with a single input and controls for volume, treble, bass and cut. Looking around the rear, a pair of 12AX7s are used by the preamp, with a third in the phase splitter position. In the power amp, there’s a quartet of NOS Russian EL84s specially selected for the Z Wreck, while a 5AR4 rectifier valve completes the line-up. A key feature of the amp is the output transformer, which was designed by Ken Fischer for Dr Z in the early noughties. Without wishing to exceed the limits of our own technical knowledge – it’s playing through amps that gets us excited, not building them – the output transformer is the part of the amp that takes signal amplified by the power valves and in turn drives the speaker, and it’s crucial in shaping the sound and response, or ‘feel’, of the amp.
Cabinets & Speakers
In terms of looks, the majority of Dr Z amps to date have leant towards the functional, prioritising build quality and tone over any cosmetic embellishments. This is very much in keeping with the company’s aim of delivering outstanding performance at a lower price than much of the US boutique competition. The Z Wreck is clearly a special project, however, and Dr Z has fittingly pushed the boat out this time, with handwriting-style silver text, lightly figured maple panels and a custom Tolex covering dubbed ‘quantum silver’. The overall effect is very impressive, and it’s nice to see a high-quality mains lead and speaker cable, as well as head and cab covers embroidered with the Z Wreck logo, included. The head and cab come as a set
REVIEW AMPLIFIER DR Z Z WRECK and are not available separately. This may disappoint some, but they’re designed specifically to work in tandem. The open-backed cab is fitted with Brad Paisley’s favoured combination of a Celestion Blue and a Celestion Gold. These Alnico speakers are wired in series, with the higher powered Gold first to soak up the watts and the Blue second. Again, that’s what Brad does and according to Dr Z this setup provides the best results.
Z WRECK Price: £3,099 (head & cab) Built in: USA Type: All-valve head Power: 30 watts (48 watts peak @ 4 ohm) Valves: 4 x 7189 (EL84), 3 x 12AX7, 1 x 5AR4 Features: Single channel with volume, bass, treble & cut controls, ‘Comfort/ Speed’ power transformer tap switch, 3 x speaker outputs (4, 8 & 16 ohm); head & cab covers, speaker cable & mains lead included Dimensions: 232(h) x 524(w) x 241(d) mm Weight: 14.5kg (32lbs)
Z WRECK CAB
Built in: USA Type: 2x12 open back Speakers: 1 x Celestion Blue, 1 x Celestion Gold Dimensions: 546(h) x 699(w) x 254(d) mm Weight: 23.6kg (52lbs)
Peach Guitars Tel: 01376 553016 www.drzamps.com
With the Z Wreck powered up and ready to rock, from the first chord it’s clear that we’re in for a real treat. There’s plenty of Vox-y character to this amp in terms of lively top end, but the rich, full and complex mid range is really something special. Every last drop of tone is rung out of those Alnico speakers and the transient response – the clarity of the initial note attack before it blooms into natural valve compression and sustain – is simply joyous. Plugging in a Telecaster, we can see why Brad Paisley is such a fan of this amp. The bridge pickup’s brightness and twang are here, along with huge dollops of meaty mid range snarl, but the highs never become sharp or unpleasant. Perhaps more surprising is how great this amp sounds with a Les Paul – chunkier than Leslie West, but still with that astonishing bite and clarity that makes each note seem to pop and shimmer. The cut and tone controls will be familiar to Dr Z fans and work as well as ever, though in reality the core tone is so good we can’t see anyone wanting to make extensive adjustments. With the volume knob set low, sparkling clean tones abound. As volume is increased,
break-up comes on fairly quickly, but it’s a natural, organic overdrive that proves very responsive to dynamics. The Z Wreck is perhaps at its best with the volume around or a little past half way, where you can exploit its exceptional response to guitar’s volume knob. Rolling this back progressively cleans up the sound with little apparent loss in volume or high end. Even the neck pickup on our Les Paul remain clear-sounding down to 1 on the volume knob! Be aware that this is a loud gigging amp, though, and will reveal its best on stage, not at bedroom levels. The real ace in the hole is the ‘comfort/speed’ switch. Set to
GOLD STARS Truly first-class tones Flexible ‘comfort/speed’ switch Great looks and top-notch build quality BLACK MARKS None, though your bank manager won’t be happy IDEAL FOR… Anyone seeking exceptional dynamics and sublime vintage tone, Tele players in particular GBRATING The Z Wreck can handle any cab
A pair of Alnico speakers are used
‘comfort’, the note attack is a little softer, the overdrive warmer and the overall feel is one of a smooth, rich-sounding and well worn-in vintage amp. Flicking over to ‘speed’ seems to bring up the bass and treble, without losing any mids, and gives a stiffer, tighter feel. We can see this facility being incredibly useful when it comes to delivering the tone you want at the volume level you want with the particular guitar you’re using.
What more can we say about this magnificent amplifier? We’ve been thoroughly impressed by every Dr Z amp we’ve reviewed, and this is no exception. In many ways, the Z Wreck feels less like a new amp and more like the concentrated distillation of everything Dr Z is about – simplicity, superb vintage tone and the kind of dynamic response that makes you feel like your hands, the guitar and the amp are one. At over £3,000, it’s undeniably expensive (though this does include the brilliant 2x12 cab with premium Alnico speakers) but if any amp is special enough – and can make the player feel special enough – to justify this outlay, then the Z Wreck certainly can. And how! GB
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14/12/2010 22/11/2010 11:08 12:14
VOX LIL’ NIGHT TRAIN & V110NT CAB PRICE
Daniel Hodgson checks out the latest mini valve head from Vox that’s small on size but potentially big on tone
ompact valve heads have now been around for long enough that even the concept’s biggest detractors have had to accept that they’re here to stay. Vox joined the fray not so long ago with the chrome-grilled Night Train, a 15-watt head switchable to 7.5 watts, which received generally positive acclaim. But even 7.5 watts can still be too loud if you’re solely a bedroom player, so while the Night Train caters well for club and
pub guitarists, something smaller is in order for those who want to drive those valves at home-friendly sound pressure levels. So how does a 2-watt version of the Night Train grab you?
Construction & Features
The Lil’ Night Train looks very similar to its older sibling with its chrome cage and cream knobs, but at approximately half the size and
less than a third of the weight of the original Night Train, it’s an awful lot smaller – think two-slice toaster and you’re in the right ballpark. However, picking it up betrays this item’s intentions – its all-metal construction feels solid enough to reassure us. Two 12AX7 valves are used in the preamp, with a low-gain 12AU7 supplying the 2 watts of power, and underneath the chrome cage things look nice and neat. The control layout has been kept simple. For a start, there’s no standby
switch, just a regular power toggle, and a single instrument input. Gain and master volume controls are joined by both treble and bass EQ knobs, and these can be defeated by switching the voicing from ‘bright’ to ‘thick’, thereby boosting gain. The idea is that the bright setting is where the traditional Vox valve sounds exist, while the thick setting supplies some pure, unadulterated valve overdrive. The back panel is even more sparse – the power socket is joined by
REVIEW AMPLIFIER VOX LIL’ NIGHT TRAIN & V110NT CAB a 3.5mm headphone output, which can also be used as a line-out, and a single speaker output that caters for both 8- and 16-ohm loads without any need to change settings, although the Lil’ Night Train’s output is reduced to 1.5 watts when paired with an 8-ohm load.
Cabinets & Speakers
Now, we here at Guitar Buyer are ﬁrm believers that a good cabinet can vastly improve the sound of smaller ampliﬁers, making them sound much bigger than they really are, though this does hinder in the practicality department. The V110NT 1x10 compact cabinet that forms the second half of the Lil’ Night Train ‘Set’ is anything but big, with dimensions that only just about accommodate the internal 10-inch custom Celestion driver it houses. It feels fairly solid and is neatly ﬁnished in black vinyl and a black, vintage, Vox-esque diamond pattern grille cloth, though its weight and dimensions are such that we suspect it will turn in a fairly restrained performance. Vox also includes a decent-quality speaker cable in the set, which is a welcome surprise.
Plugging in one of Vox’s own Series 33 singlecut electrics, we ﬁnd that the Lil’ Night Train does indeed have plenty of volume on tap, with very little apparent background noise, though it’s just about quiet enough to allow you to crank it without annoying the neighbours. That said, anyone in your living room will certainly know someone’s rocking out upstairs. Starting with the bright setting, we ﬁnd some of that Vox-ey chime, though even with the valves cooking we’re in no doubt that this is a small ampliﬁer. The gain control has loads of dirt on tap, but we by far prefer the overdrive sound created by turning up the master volume control and setting the gain knob fairly low, which allows for some much more expressive playing. However, the overall sound is always rather short on low end. Flicking over to the thick setting, we ﬁnd a much thicker, fatter and dirtier tone, which while being much less polite than the sounds we coaxed from the bright switch position, is much more enjoyable.
LIL’ NIGHT TRAIN HEAD
THE THICK SETTING’S POSITIVE TRAITS ARE MADE ALL THE MORE APPARENT BY PLUGGING INTO A FULL-SIZED 1x12 CAB Here, the tone stack is taken completely out of the equation, so we have just two controls to contend with. The gain control, as before, is best set fairly low – even at 9 o’clock on the dial things are rather dirty – with the master volume turned up to around 3 o’clock. This produces a much more dynamic playing experience, and will render your guitar’s volume and tone controls much more important. The thick setting’s positive traits are made all the more apparent by plugging the Lil’ Night Train into a full-sized 1x12 Vintage 30-loaded cabinet, with great rock tones coming thick and fast.
There are many players who rarely get to (or want to) play outside their home, and for those people we think the Lil’ Night Train would be a neat little way of producing some real valve overdrive without the need for hearing protection. While the bright setting is lacking in fullness, we found the thick voicing more than capable of producing some great classic rock sounds, especially with a full-sized cab. If you’re in the market for something small and relatively inexpensive, check it out. GB
Price: £281 (head & cab), £223 (head only) Built in: China Type: Mini valve head Power: 2 watts @ 16 ohms, 1.5 watts @ 8 ohms Valves: 2 x 12AX7, 1 x 12AU7 Features: Single channel with gain, treble, bass & master volume controls, bright/thick switch (defeats tone controls), headphone/line-out mini jack output, 1 x speaker output (8/16 ohms), speaker cable included with head & cab set Dimensions: 117(h) x 222(w) x 177(d) mm Weight: 2.2kg (4.85lb)
VOX V110NT CABINET
Price: £105 Built in: China Type: Closed-back 1x10 cab Power: 30 watts @ 16 ohms Speaker: 1 x 10-inch Celestion VX10 Dimensions: 300(h) x 420(w) x 160(d) mm Weight: 5.3kg (11.6lb)
Korg UK Tel: 01908 857130 www.voxamps.com
GB VERDICT GOLD STARS Neat little package Just the right volume for bedroom players Some good, raw sounds from ‘thick’ voicing BLACK MARKS ‘Bright’ setting isn’t quite as inspiring Speaker cab’s size holds it back IDEAL FOR… Bedroom players after some raw, rootsy valve tones on a budget
GBRATING A fun size portion of rock ‘n’ roll?
The matching cab is quite small
ON THE RECORD SUPERGRASS ‘RICHARD III’
ON THE RECORD
SUPERGRASS ‘RICHARD III’ Legendary producer John Cornfield gives Matt Frost the lowdown on Supergrass’ menacingly brilliant 1997 riff stomper, ‘Richard III’
xford indie rock ‘n’ roll trio (and later four-piece) Supergrass first burst onto the UK music scene back in 1994 when their debut single ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ caused more than a bit of a stir among those in the know, although it narrowly failed to secure a Top 40 chart placing. However, follow-up single ‘Mansize Rooster’ hit number 20 and 1995’s ‘Lenny’ reached number 10, duly paving the way for the band’s debut album, I Should Coco, to take the Britpop era by storm, peaking at the summit of the UK album charts. ‘Alright’, the fifth single to be lifted from the LP, became one of 1995’s standout summer anthems – both in the UK and the US – firmly cementing the band in the wider public consciousness. Over the course of the next 15 years, Supergrass would release a further five superb studio albums before sadly disbanding in 2010. For this month’s On The Record, we dig back to 1997 single ‘Richard III’, taken from the boys’ sophomore platter In It For The Money. The track is dominated by a menacing axe riff courtesy of frontman Gaz Coombes, and is wholly characteristic of Supergrass’ penchant for fusing hook-driven rock with melodic pop sensibilities.
“They had The riff beforehand and Then They jusT jammed around iT and evenTually knocked iT TogeTher”
Bang On The Money
While I Should Coco was produced by Sam Williams, Supergrass chose to get more closely involved in the production process for In It For The Money, although they did enlist …Coco engineer John Cornfield as co-producer. The band once again returned to Sawmills Studio, a stunning rural retreat in Cornwall set in a tidal creek on the banks of the River Fowey. Here they recorded off and on for a period of about 12 months. John Cornfield, whose credits include Muse, New Model Army, Oasis, Robert Plant, the Stone Roses, the Verve and XTC – to name but a few – fondly recalls the creative recording techniques he and the group dabbled with during
the album’s creation. “It was absolutely brilliant fun!” he enthuses. “We did it during the summer and sometimes I had stuff set up outside – we built tents out there [to shield the microphones] and recorded. They played outside on the lawn, using the creek ambience and, yeah, we used every trick in the book! It was a shared responsibility really. If they thought it was good and I thought it was good, it would go. If I was like ‘Oh, hang on, I’m not sure about this,’ we’d try something else. It was always very much a co-production. Everybody was sticking in their two pennies’ worth. They’re all very proactive and they were just really, really productive sessions.”
Although Supergrass – singer and guitarist Gaz Coombes, bassist Mick Quinn and drummer Danny Goffey – did have a few rough ideas when they began the In It For The Money sessions, many of the
songs were crafted and effectively written in the midst of the studio’s beautiful riverside environment. “They had some sketches, some riffs, various bits and pieces which they then just kind of jammed, and they came in with absolutely no lyrics, which was normal for them,” explains John. “They all had ideas of roughly what the songs were about but, when they were running the backing tracks, they would just sing melodies and complete bollocks – no words, as such – and then we’d sit there and try and work the words out from what was sung, get an idea of it and it would slowly develop. It was very much a three-way thing, you know, because if one of them didn’t like the lyrics then it wouldn’t go.” The same song-writing approach also applied to ‘Richard III’, which ended up being the only album track to retain its working title. “All the working titles of the tracks were the names of kings,” says Cornfield. “We had ‘Louis XVI’ and all that sort of stuff, but
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ON THE RECORD SUPERGRASS ‘RICHARD III’
Coombes is pictured here with one of his Burns guitars, while bassist Mick Quinn wields the vintage Ibanez P-Bass copy that was so crucial to his signature sound
“because iT was on 24-Track Tape, you couldn’T jusT add layers ad infiniTum which i Think is quiTe healThy” Less Tracking ‘Richard III’ is actually the only one that stuck as a king’s name. And it really was another one they kind of jammed out. “They had the riff before – I think Gaz came up with it – and then they just went in and jammed around it and eventually knocked it together, got some lyrics on it and maybe a couple more edits here and there… so it was all very much fly-by-wire. But, yeah – it’s a great, cracking track with great cross-rhythms going on. Sonically, I struggled a bit with it on the mix with various bits and pieces but, all the same, it just kind of rocked out and it was like, ‘Here we go… this is great!”
In It For The Money was recorded with a 24-track Otari MTR-90 tape machine and a Trident Series 80 console, which is still the main Sawmills board today. Because of the restrictions of recording to tape, John Cornfield believes there are probably less guitar overdubs than you might think running through ‘Richard III’. “I think we tracked the main riff and I think we had a harmony part in there at one point,” he explains. “It’d be hard to tell because it was all on 24-track, so we didn’t have infinite layering possibilities. It all had to fit within the 23 tracks – because the timecode was on 24 – so everything had to fit in the space.
Back in those days, you were forced to make decisions because you were on tape. You couldn’t just sit there layering ad infinitum, which I think is actually quite healthy and something that’s gone by the wayside a bit these days.” Gaz Coombes has used a wide variety of guitars during his career, including a Burns Custom Legend, Fender Telecaster Deluxe and Telecaster Plus, and Gibson ES-335s, Les Pauls and SGs. Unfortunately, Cornfield can’t remember exactly what guitar(s) Gaz Coombes played on ‘Richard III’. “I think Gaz had quite a few,” he says. “He’d got some Burns guitars, his Tele, his Strat, but I don’t think we were using any Gibsons at the
point. I think the Goldtop came into it when we did the third album – I don’t think we had it during In It For The Money. But he’s got millions of the bloody things now! When we did the third album, it was just like, ‘Man, how many guitars do you need?’. He was just sort of jumping around from one thing to another. He was always doing that.”
Amp-wise, Gaz could also be found gear-hopping throughout the Sawmills sessions. “Gaz had his old Sound City amp and I think he had a [Fender] DeVille,” explains Cornfield. “And we’ve got a [Fender] Twin here that we were possibly messing around with and a Marshall – an old JCM800, you know, a pure valve one, without any of the busy bits on that they put on them nowadays. You had two inputs and four valves. We’ve still got it now. Fantastic amp.” Cornfield captured Coombes’
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axe tone with a combination of a vintage Neumann U87 microphone and a Shure SM57. “Most of the time, we were using a 57 and an 87 and just moving around trying to find the best speakers and the best sweet spot for them, and using the two of them together,” John says. “57s always give you the bright edge, whereas you get a lot warmer sound off the 87, so it kind of filled in the bottom end. The two together always just seem to be a good combination.” At the time, Gaz Coombes was also keeping his effects to a minimum. “It was mainly wah-wah [as with the solo on ‘Richard III’] and I think it was just a Jim Dunlop Cry Baby if I remember rightly – you know, classic, the real deal. And he had a [ProCo] Rat going quite a bit, from what I remember, but most of it came from the amp and Gaz’s riffs really.” A Sharma rotary speaker also occasionally came into play. “We had this old wooden Sharma cab that you can hear on a lot of the organ stuff,” says John. “It was a transistor one but it was just so dirty and f**ked that it sounded brilliant, so that got on there on a few guitar parts as well.”
Initially, Supergrass bassist Mick Quinn began recording with a completely different rig than the one he’d used on the band’s debut album I Should Coco, but it wasn’t long before John and Mick chose to ditch the new gear. “During the first album, Mickey had this old Ibanez bass and a Carlsbro transistor amp,” recalls Cornfield. “It was a funny little thing with sliders – you’d slide about four or five buttons on it. It was a horrible little thing really, with probably about 20-25 watts on it or something. But that Ibanez and that amp, together with the way Mickey played, was the sound. “When we started to get into the second album, he had all this SWR gear, I think, and a new bass and one thing and another and I was going, ‘It just doesn’t sound like you any more, Mickey!’. So he phoned somebody up to go and pick up his old amp that was sitting in a warehouse somewhere, got his little Ibanez bass down and actually used that for most of the album again!”
ON THE RECORD SUPERGRASS ‘RICHARD III’
Still A Fan
Having engineered Supergrass’ first chart-topping first LP and co-produced the second, John Cornfield would also go on to co-produce their third, self-titled long player, released in 1999. Cornfield still remains a massive fan of the band, and before they split up earlier this year still rated them as being one of the best live bands out there. He has nothing but the fondest recollections of his time working with them. “I have memories of all the good times and they just make me smile, to be honest,” enthuses John. “The other night, actually, we went up to see Phosphorescent and The National up in Bristol and, as we were driving back, there was a friend of mine in the back that texted in to whoever’s on Radio 2 at that time of night – I think it was Janice Long – and he said, ‘There’s six of us driving back to Cornwall. John Cornfield’s in the car and can you play him anything by Supergrass?’ And she said, ‘Well, yeah, here we go then, it’s ‘Pumping On Your Stereo’ [the 1999 single that reached number 11 in the UK] – you should remember this one, John!’ And I was, like, ‘Yeah!’ – I was just really rocking out in the front!” GB
John Cornfield explains why sawmills studio has proved suCh an inspiration to the many top artists who’ve had the opportunity to write and reCord there… Sawmills Studio (www.sawmills. co.uk), where Supergrass recorded their first three albums, is one of the most picturesque and atmospheric recording locations in the UK, if not the world. Opened in 1974, the main building is an actual 17th century sawmill and can be found on the western banks of the River Fowey in its own private creek, a mile from the sea in South Cornwall. “It’s such a chilled place and you haven’t got the distractions of London clubbing and all that sort of stuff,” he tells us. “You haven’t got people just dropping in every five minutes and slowing you down. You just get on with it here and just kind of lose yourself in it. It’s very inspirational, where we are. It’s cut off and it’s a beautiful spot, and it just gives people time to think and really just get their heads into it.
“I always find recording in London is a distraction because there’s too much going on, there’s too many people dropping in and out all the time. Just as you’re getting into the flow of it, something’ll happen, like, ‘Oh, yeah, we can’t find Fred because he’s still in a club somewhere and he hasn’t come home yet!’ There’s a lack of external distractions here because there really aren’t many places to go out on the piss. Everybody tends to stay, you get a few crates in and, basically, they just live in and live it and breathe it.”
REVIEW EFFECTS LINE 6 POD HD500
LINE 6 POD HD500
The latest floor-based Pod ushers in a new era for the digital-modelling pioneers. Tim Slater is so HD-ready…
igh-definition is a current buzzword that is synonymous with recent advances in video technology, but now the term has found a new music-related focus thanks to Line 6. According to the company, HD modelling represents a significant development with regard to improving the elusive ‘feel’ factor that even some diehard digital-modelling fans still insist doesn’t translate as convincingly in the live environment as it does in the recording studio. Line 6’s new HD series – comprising the flagship Pod HD500 and the more compact HD400 and HD300 – boasts 16 new ‘HD’ amp models designed to emulate the familiar roster of classic valve amps plus, interestingly, three examples of desirable hand-wired valve exotica: the Dr Z Route 66 Bogner Uberschall and the Divided by 13 JRT 9/15 to be precise. Line 6’s wares are still considered the benchmark for digital-modelling products, but the timely arrival of these new HD processors may also have been spurred on by the recent efforts of rival manufacturers – most notably the Fractal Audio Axe-FX – which have raised the bar, significantly, closing the gap in performance between real-life valve amps and high-quality digital processing technology. Will the new HD series see Line 6 retain its crown? We’re checking out the top-of-the-line Pod HD500 to find out.
Construction & Features
The HD500 acknowledges that while the classic kidney-shaped Pod was initially designed as a
The usual amplifier controls are here, making it very easy to dial in your tone
The hD500 acknowleDges ThaT MosT line 6 users are gigging guiTarisTs who wanT These sounDs on sTage studio tool, the majority of Line 6 users are gigging guitarists who want to take their studio-quality audio on stage with them. The HD500 reflects this courtesy of a clean but no-less-rugged design that feels roadworthy, weighing in at a little over 4.5kg. The steel chassis presents a spacious layout, with seven chunky knobs emulating the typical controls that one would expect to find on a modern amp (drive, a three-band EQ, presence, volume and a master volume), a treadle foot controller and four smaller knobs that adjust various effect parameters, with a large backlit LCD screen displaying the selected patch and various parameters during editing. Two banks of heavy-duty footswitches are laid out on their own separate tiers, with a pair of footswitches on the far left which
scroll up and down through the banks of presets. The middle four switches on the lower tier select each of four available presets in each bank, with the final switch on the lower tier’s right side selecting the on-board tuner and also functioning as the tap tempo input for delay and modulation effects. The top tier lets you select individual effects – there’s a huge selection culled from Line 6’s M13 and M9 Stompbox Modeler units – via the four middle footswitches, while the furthest right-hand switch activates the on-board 48-second looper. Incidentally, the HD500’s footswitch layout can be reconfigured so that the lower four footswitches can select effects rather than patches – so, for example, if you are using the HD500 as an effects board you can add extra effects into the signal path. The plethora of connections laid
out across the rear panel includes an effects loop send and return and an external expression pedal input for extra hands-free control over various effect parameters, which can be assigned to the pedal via the HD500’s extensive signal routing. There are stereo XLR outs and an S/PDIF digital output, plus a low-Z microphone input whose signal can also be routed through the DSP so that some extra sparkle can be added to a vocal if required. The overall impression is that the HD500 can be as simple or as complex as you like. It can serve as a very capable conventional multi-effects board, but in true Line 6 style the HD500 is also equally at home plugged into a computer via the USB connection, whereby the pedalboard can act as a multi-channel audio interface and free software lets you access updates and directly edit and store custom patches. Another interesting feature is the inclusion of Variax and Line 6 Link sockets that synchronise the HD500 with a Line 6 Variax guitar and the company’s new DT50 amplifier. This suggests exciting potential for HD500 as the hub of an impressive Line 6-based rig – if the player is so inclined, there’s the prospect of having everything there at his feet, right down to changing virtual guitars to suit any given song at the click of a footswitch.
It’s very easy to get a bit overawed by the HD500’s imposing physical dimensions, which are easily matched by the vast choice of sounds contained within its sturdy chassis. However, as with all Line 6 products, the balance struck between high-tech wizardry and
REVIEW EFFECTS LINE 6 POD HD500
LINE 6 POD HD500
Built in: China Price: £409 Type: Digital multi-effects processor with HD amplifier models Features: 16 HD amp models, 16 speaker cabinet models, 100+ effects models (up to 8 at once), tuner, 48-second looper, expression pedal, 12 heavy-duty footswitches including tap tempo, auxiliary input, stereo headphone output, unbalanced L & R outputs, stereo FX loop, XLR mic input, XLR balanced outputs, mini-jack CD/ MP3 input, MIDI in, MIDI out/thru, S/PDIF digital output, USB 2.0, Line 6 Variax socket Power: 9V AC adaptor only (included) Dimensions: 77(h) x 546(w) x 270(d) mm
Line 6 UK Ltd Tel: 01327 302700 www.line6.com
GB VERDICT GOLD STARS Good build quality User interface surprisingly simple Tons of great effects and amplifier models, plus a handy looper
user-friendly simplicity leans strongly in favour of the type of user who wants to plug in and go more or less immediately. Indeed, Line 6 confirms that, for all its sophistication, the HD500 is designed with fun in mind, though with enough tone-tweaking tools on hand to keep the most demanding tone hound happily engaged for millennia. Those that like to delve deep will also love it. Effects are an area where Line 6 has traditionally excelled, and the HD500 has the power to inspire. Throbbing dance/rock-hybrid grooves are back-to-back with gritty vintage tube amp simulations, but Line 6 seems to have sussed how to combine generally mundane effects like tremolo and reverb with pitch-shifting, reverse delays and other more unusual sounds to create some stunningly beautiful futuristic patches that wouldn’t sound out of place on the soundtrack to an episode of Dr Who. If, however, your tastes run to the more conventional, then the amp models present a generous amount of standard overdriven and clean tones. The digital models of familiar amplifiers like the Marshall JCM800 and various ancient Fenders not only sound very realistic but they also respond to adjustments in EQ, gain and volume settings in the same way as the original target amplifiers, which makes editing patches feel more natural, faster and easier than you might otherwise think. The HD500 is a convincing argument in favour of the swiftness and versatility of the digital medium, but it also illustrates how the HD500 is capable of simple, rugged, generic, clean and overdriven sounds. Indeed, preset sounds are helpfully grouped in set lists, which aids visualising the most useful locations to store
specific sounds in the memory banks. Presets can be arranged in any order – a bit like virtual fridge magnets – so you can place presets to match your band’s set list in real time or just keep track of your favourite settings for studio work, for example. The on-board looper feels similarly intuitive – cool-sounding loops can be put together quickly with absolutely zero reference to the manual – but with no on-board drum machine to automatically synchronise the looping process, it can be a bit tricky to tempo-match one or two different layers, particularly if they already feature preset delay effects.
The microscopic attention to detail that is poured into each and every aspect of the HD500 sees this unit retaining the plush organic feel and easy programmability of its siblings in the Pod family, but there is also a reassuring chunkiness and familiarity conveyed by the pedalboard format. So, with all this in mind, does high-definition modelling make any discernible difference to the overall sound quality? Without an older Line 6
The footswitches incorporate LEDs
processor to compare with the HD500 in a back-to-back test, it’s hard to confirm with absolute certainty that high-definition modelling sounds significantly different to previous generations of Line 6 amp modellers, but the HD500 is still a truly formidable tool with amazing potential. We can state beyond any doubt that the HD500 leaves nothing to chance when it comes to helping you sound exactly as you want to sound, with virtually no limits. This, along with the very agreeable price, makes this device very tempting indeed. GB
BLACK MARKS It’s an improvement on previous Line 6 models, but it isn’t a huge leap forward IDEAL FOR… Anyone looking for an all-in-one solution for effects and amp models in an easy-to-use, gig-ready package GBRATING The user interface is very friendly
Like the M-series stompbox modellers, the HD500’s looper is loads of fun
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REVIEW EFFECTS STRYMON OLA, BRIGADIER & EL CAPISTAN
OLA, BRIGADIER & EL CAPISTAN A new bunch of stompers from the US of A claim to have conquered the digital/analogue divide. Dan Steinhardt eagerly investigates
nalog versus digital: for years it’s been implied that we guitarists must pick a side and defend it until our last breathe. There’s no end of great boutique pedal builders around these days, all plying their trade in time-honoured analogue tradition, while digital modelling has been mostly left to big companies with even bigger R&D budgets. Those two worlds have collided, however, under the name of Strymon, who are happy to tread the line between the analogue and digital camps. Their pedal range could only have been created by a group of people completely obsessed with luscious, organic tone, but also well aware of the limitations of analogue technology and the advantages digital processing can bring. We’re looking at three of their latest offerings: the Ola dBucket Chorus & Vibrato, the Brigadier dBucket Delay and the El Capistan dTape Echo.
Construction & Features
Each of these pedals uses a powerful SHARC DSP processor, running algorithms specially crafted for each unit. Meanwhile, the input and output stages are analogue and use top quality components to make sure your tone is kept intact – your dry signal isn’t converted to digital when the effect is engaged. Each pedal is housed in a stunning anodised enclosure – electric blue for the Ola, emerald green for the Brigadier and gunmetal grey for the El Capistan. All three share the same physical layout, with five knobs and two toggle switches apiece. The Ola sports standard speed and depth controls as can be found on most modulation devices, while
A powerful SHARC DSP chip is at the heart of these analogue-emulating pedals
that Strymon haS deSigned Such a powerful bunch of pedalS to work on a Standard 9V Supply iS incredible the mix control lets you blend the dry and effected signals, allowing you to generate anything from subtle modulation or a full-on warble. The tone control adjusts the EQ of the effected signal from warm and lush to a bright shimmer. Three effect types are available: standard, single-line chorus, a multiple-line chrous and a pitch vibrato. The second mini switch can be used in conjunction with the final ‘ramp/env’ control to either set the speed at which the effect’s depth ‘ramps up’ when activated or to allow your playing dynamics to influence certain parameters when the envelope option is selected. Both the Brigadier delay and the El Capistan tape echo share the usual delay pedal controls of delay time, repeats and mix, and both also have tone and modulation controls, though this is where the real difference are to be found. The Brigadier features a ‘bucket loss’ control, to dial in everything from
a high-fidelity analogue delay to a downright dirty one, with each repeat becoming more grainy and distorted than the last. It’s modulation control presides over both speed and depth and should help to cop those timeless Memory Man tones. The El Capistan’s tape age control is much more subtle, and allows players to roll off the top end while introducing some loss of fidelity, just like real tape would over time. The wow & flutter control introduces irregularities in the simulated tape machine’s speed, resulting in a unpredictable and very natural-sounding modulation tone that will be familiar to anyone who’s used a tape simulator before. Each pedal gets a pair of footswitches, with the right hand switch bypassing the effect in each case, while the left hand side is dedicated to tap tempo for both of the delay units. The Ola, on the other hand, gets a handy ‘favourite’
switch, allowing you to recall a preset on the fly. A separate favourite switch can also be purchased for use with the Brigadier and El Capistan, at the expense of their expression pedal inputs. Otherwise, plugging an expression pedal into either delay gives you hands-free control of any parameter you choose. Each pedal has stereo outputs, with the Ola also sporting stereo inputs. Both the Brigadier and El Capistan feature extra functions, accessed by holding down both footswitches. The Brigadier offers a filter-style tone control and a +/-3db boost, but the El Capistan allows access to a whopping five additional parameters, including the low end contour of the repeats, the bias of the modelled tape machine, the number of impurities on the tape’s surface and a really handy spring reverb level control, as well as the +/-3db boost. Despite this incredibly rich feature set, each pedal is fairly intuitive to use, with perhaps a slightly steeper learning curve where the El Capistan is concerned. Each pedal draws about 250mA and can be powered from a standard 9V DC adaptor, and they can be daisy chained without any issues. It might not sound it, but this is a really big deal – the fact that Strymon has designed such a powerful bunch of pedals to work on a standard 9V DC supply is nothing short of incredible.
Sounds – Ola
We found we could easily dial in a great sound from each of the Ola’s three modes, with the multi mode standing out as the most fun, considering that we could cop similar (albeit wonderful) tones from the single and vibrato modes using other stompers. To create an incredible studio-quality chorus
REVIEW EFFECTS STRYMON OLA, BRIGADIER & EL CAPISTAN
OLA, BRIGADIER & EL CAPISTAN Price: £279 each Built in: USA Power: 9V DC adapter only (included) Dimensions: 44(h) x 102(w) x 114(d) mm
Type: Analogue chorus & vibrato simulator Features: Speed, depth, mix, tone & ramp speed/envelope threshold controls, chorus/multi-chorus/vibrato mode switch, normal/ramp/envelope mode switch, preset footswitch, stereo inputs & outputs
Type: Analogue delay simulator Features: Delay time, bucket loss, repeats, modulation & mix controls, +/-3db boost & tone filter secondary functions, short/medium/long mode switch, quarter/dot/triplet tap division switch, tap tempo footswitch, switchable analogue buffer, mono input & stereo outputs, expression pedal/preset switch input
EL CAPISTAN ECHO
Type: Tape echo simulator Features: Delay time, tape age, repeats, wow/flutter & mix controls, spring reverb level, low end contour, tape bias, tape crinkle & +/-3db boost secondary functions, fixed/multi/ single tape head switch, 3-way mode switch, 20-second tape-style looper, tap tempo footswitch, switchable analogue buffer, mono input & stereo outputs, expression pedal/preset switch input
MusicPsych Ltd Tel: 0207 697 9226 www.strymon.net
effect using a mere pedal is a real treat. Within minutes we’re grateful for that favourite switch – just one of these tones simply isn’t enough, and being able to switch between two completely different modulation effects is a godsend when playing live. The sheer quality of tone on offer here is remarkable. Every time we turn a dial or flick a switch we’re presented with a totally usable sound. Some are funkier than others, but every setting has a certain musical edge to it that is usually reserved for the most expensive digital, and indeed analogue, gear.
with standard delay controls and a modulation knob that adds a chorus effect to the repeats only. The bucket loss control basically enables you to dial in the quality of the repeats, and in combination with its secondary function as a tone control, you can dial in practically any analogue delay tone you want. Sonically the Brigadier is right on the money. There is no hint of congestion as is present on some other digital delays – it sounds big, and can be dialled in very easily indeed. From very old and primitive to complex and sophisticated, the Brigadier does it all with no hint of sterility.
the pedal a tweakability factor that borders on the ridiculous. The built-in reverb sounds just like the reverb on the old Roland RE-501 Space Echo (yes, we can be that specific) and the ability to adjust the low end contour and tape bias are really the icing on the cake. Which must make the tap tempo switch the candles on top! Sat next to our trusty Hiwatt Custom Tape Echo, a superb sounding machine itself, we find the El Capistan can certainly hold its own. The difference in quality between the two is slight, and although the Hiwatt has the edge, the remarkable thing is that at this point we’re actually splitting hairs between a 9V effects pedal and a real tape delay. Nothing else, in our experience, has even come close.
There has been an awful lot of hype online about this pedal, but we are very aware of the amount of misinformation that is out there on the web. With the preconceptions cleansed from our ears we spark up the El Capistan to be greeted by nothing less than one of the best delay pedals we’ve ever heard, analogue or digital. Some recent tape delay simulators have left us wondering if the designer had even heard a real one, but with this thing the only conclusion is that the designers are nothing short of a tape delay obsessives. The natural ‘wow and flutter’ modulation caused by the subtle changes in tape speed has been replicated perfectly, and sounds so close to the real thing it’s eerie. The ability to also alter the age and condition of the tape to this degree is previously unheard of – certainly to anything like this standard – and we’re still only scratching the surface. Even without the El Capistan’s secondary functions it would certainly rank as one of the best we’ve heard, but these extras give
Sounds – Brigadier Sounds Great analogue delay pedals have a special place in our hearts, from – El Capistan the Memory Man to the old Ibanez AD80 and everything in between. And the Brigadier is capable of sounding very, very close to every one of them. It does this by understanding the inner workings and function of old ‘bucket brigade’ chips and allowing you to control the performance of these virtual devices. The results are simply stellar. Of all the pedals here this one is perhaps the most intuitive to use,
GB VERDICT GOLD STARS Incredible tones Unbelievable power and flexibility Solid build quality BLACK MARKS None IDEAL FOR… Everyone. Even if you don’t play guitar, we’d still advise you get at least one! GBRATING Each pedal sports stereo outputs
There’s no hiding the fact that we were genuinely surprised by the outstanding quality of these pedals. And it’s as much about the little things as anything, like running off a standard 9V supply, their compact size or being able to use an external expression pedal. They look fantastic too, but what’s inside is even more beautiful. The Ola gives us everything we could want in a modulation device, from a lush shimmer to a deep warble, while the Brigadier allows us to access all those great old analogue delay tones in a powerful and flexible package. However, the standout performer has to be El Capistan. The effort that must have gone into creating this pedal is simply staggering, and while we acknowledge that there is a certain something that only a real tape machine has, the El Capistan delivers where countless others have not. Simply put, it is now the one to beat. Full marks to Strymon, we can’t wait to see what they come up with next. GB
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REVIEW EFFECTS BOSS PS-6 HARMONIST
Sweet harmony or an off-key performance? Daniel Hodgson checks out Boss’s latest tone-bending tool
oss pedals are in use throughout the world by guitarists playing every single stage size and genre imaginable, and have been responsible for some of the coolest and most original guitar effects ever created. In recent years, the company has made a clear move away from the analogue technology of old and into the realm of digital signal processing. While this might potentially upset fans of classic delay, overdrive and modulation effects, there’s no doubt in our mind that it is a very good idea when it comes to such advanced applications as pitch shifting and intelligent harmonising. The brand-new PS-6 Harmonist should be right up our street, then.
Construction & Features
There’s very little to talk about here in terms of construction, and when it comes to Boss that’s a very good thing indeed. The company’s ubiquitous, indestructible enclosure is here painted an attractive metallic blue and features a five-way mode selector as well as three rotary controls on its top panel, each of which changes its assignment depending on the mode. The first of these is a continuous type and is usually used to determine the wet/dry balance of the pedal’s output, while the remaining pair are notched – the shift/harmony knob allows access to the 11 settings for each mode, while the key control is used by just the harmoniser and ‘S-bend’ functions. For the most part, each of these functions is clearly displayed on the PS-6’s control panel. On this pedal, both major- and minor-scale harmonies can be selected for any key in the chromatic scale. One of the new additions to the PS-6 is the
inclusion of three-voice harmonies, of which this unit sports four variants, including +3d and -4th and a handy organ-like +1 octave and -1 octave setting. To get any of these to work, however, it is imperative that your guitar is well intonated and accurately tuned to concert pitch. From here on in, the Harmonist’s effects get a little more intuitive. The pitch shifter mode is a simple two-knob effect – simply adjust the wet/dry blend and how far you want to shift the pitch up or down, from a semitone to a full octave. The Detune effect is much more subtle, as it only allows slight variations in pitch to the dry signal, which can make for some cool chorus effects. This goes from a tiny 5 cents up or down to a rather more noticeable 20 cents, and there are three settings that cater for both up and down movement concurrently. Finally, the S-bend setting allows for some really crazy shifting sounds. Here, the balance and key knobs are redesignated as rise-time and fall-time controls and the footswitch changes to momentary operation, while the shift knob allows bends from as low as -3 octaves to a window-shattering +4 octaves, as well as some wacky vibrato-tinged options to boot. Many of these settings have cool stereo applications if you’re using two amplifiers – particularly the ‘three-voice’ options – and of course, an expression pedal can be plugged in to create some crazy-but-classic whammy-style bends. Another useful feature is the included manual – if you’re new to all this you’re going to be using it quite a bit.
To start with, we make sure our PS-6 is getting the clearest possible tone to work with, feeding it with some low-output humbuckers and a little transparent compression to boot,
though we find that the PS-6 generally tracks reasonably well even without these considerations. The tone of the pedal is generally good but very noticeably ‘digital’, with some of that metallic ‘ping’ present at almost every setting. While the Detune effect is perfectly palatable, we find the Pitch Shifter and S-bend settings to be by far the most useful and easy to use, the latter offering wild pitch bends with that cool ramping feature that a Floyd Rose bridge could only dream of, while the former proves incredibly easy to dial in via increments of one semitone – much more useful than a continuous control. The harmoniser settings are rather more tricky, perhaps. Intelligent they might be (though they do on occasion get a little confused – playing cleanly and in tune is essential), but as much fun and as easy to dial in as the rest of this pedal? Perhaps not. That said, those who are willing to put the time in to learn the intricacies of these effects will be well rewarded, particularly by those impressivesounding three-voice settings.
Pitch shifters and harmonisers have always been and, we suspect, will always be a fairly niche area when it comes to effects pedals, not least because of the steep learning curve when coming to use them – ‘plug and play’ guitar toys they are not. But the PS-6 manages to make all of this as painless as possible, thanks to its streamlined control layout. While the harmoniser settings will take some getting used to, the pitch-shifting effects are refreshingly easy to dial in, making this pedal almost as accessible as the much-loved Digitech Whammy. If playing with pitch is a big part of your style, you could do a lot worse than Boss’s latest offering. GB
BOSS PS-6 HARMONIST
Price: £149 Built in: Taiwan Type: Pitch shifter & intelligent harmoniser Features: Controls for balance/ rise time, pitch shift & key/fall time, 5-way mode selector with S-bend, Detune, Pitch Shifter, Major & Minor harmoniser modes, stereo output, expression pedal input Power: 9V battery or 9V DC mains adaptor (not included) Dimensions: 59(h) x 73(w) x 129(d) mm
Roland UK Tel: 01792 702701 www.roland.co.uk
GB VERDICT GOLD STARS Range of subtle and wacky pitch effects Stereo operation and expression pedal input Usual Boss build quality BLACK MARKS Rather ‘digital’-sounding IDEAL FOR… Those after a compact pitch-shifting solution with a variety of cool effects GBRATING
REVIEW MINI TESTS
MXR / PLANET WAVES / MARKONE / FUSION
MXR CAE MC-403 POWER SYSTEM
Price: £309 Contact: John Hornby Skewes & Co Ltd, 0113 2865 381, www.jimdunlop.com
layers with elaborate pedalboards or rack systems will know of the nightmare that awaits when it comes to powering all their little toys at once, but MXR, in partnership with the legendary Bob Bradshaw, might have a neat solution in the Custom Audio Electronics MC-403. This is a high-quality power supply packaged in a solid and professional-looking single rack unit enclosure. The MC-403 is capable of powering 16 different devices, including two highcurrent 9V AC outlets. The other 14 outlets supply DC current, eight at the standard 9V, four at 18V, which is great for some overdrive pedals as well as many esoteric effects from days of yore, and finally two with adjustable voltages. These two adjustable outlets each have a pair of switchable ranges, the first
allowing for a slight boost or drop in voltage from the standard 9V, or else a boost of up to 15 volts, depending on how the mini trim pot is set, which will certainly help to power some of the more exotic stompers from the likes of Radial Engineering and others. In use, each of these outlets is as quiet as a mouse, thanks to the toroidal transformer used and the fact that each single outlet is individually isolated and filtered, not to mention short-circuit protected. The only problem we can find is a simple one, but certainly worth considering: the maximum current supplied to each output is relatively low. For example, the Strymon effects reviewed on page 72 and the
Eventide ‘-Factor’ pedals all require a fair bit more DC power than the MC-403 can provide to any one of its 9V outputs, and some popular AC-powered units such as the Line 6 M9 stompbox modeller and Kingsley valve overdrive pedals, which both
require a full ampere of alternating current, are also unlucky. In short, this is a great unit, but be sure to check your power requirements before you buy. GBRATING
PLANET WAVES PICK RYTE TRAINING PICKS 5PK Price: £4.49 Contact: D’Addario UK, 0191 300 3000, www.daddario.co.uk
icking up a plectrum to play guitar is something we’ve all done so many times that it feels like the most natural thing in the world. But bad habits can easily creep in, especially if you’re concentrating on other things. Planet Waves, a company that seemingly has a clever little device for just about every practical guitar-related problem, has recently released these ‘Pick Ryte’ training plectrums, which claim to help players learn (or rediscover) the correct way to hold a plectrum for optimum performance. These are packaged in sets of five, and so far in only one gauge – medium to hard. Each surface has a raised ridge, one positioned perpendicular to the pick’s centre line about two-thirds of the way down and labelled ‘thumb’, while the other sweeps from one corner
down to the opposite side and is meant to take the outside line of your index finger. In use, these Pick Ryte plectrums certainly give the right idea of where your fingers should be positioned, but we find them to be a little awkwardfeeling. When we start to play we become aware of just how much we actually vary how we hold our plectrums – quite close to the edge for accurate flatpicking and single-note plucking, but perhaps a little further back when strumming relaxed chords, thus allowing the plastic to bend more. Another thing we find when strumming is how the finger guide strengthens the pick against bending, just like a backbone, thus giving an even stiffer performance to strummed passages – perhaps not ideal for a rhythm guitarist. While experienced guitarists
will most probably baulk at the idea of these picks, preferring instead to let the way they hold their plectrums for different applications contribute to the shaping of their tone, we think
this is a great product for beginners, keeping them on the straight and narrow until they start to get a feel for such things. GBRATING
REVIEW MINI TESTS
MXR / PLANET WAVES / MARKONE / FUSION
MARKONE AUDIO SWITCHBOX
Price: £89.99 Contact: MarkOne Audio, www.markoneaudio.co.uk
arkOne Audio is a UK company that has recently entered the music industry fray with one intention – making things that little bit easier on us musicians. The SwitchBox is a small, handcrafted unit which is designed to allow players to swap between input sources – in our case, most likely three different guitars – and route them all to one amplifier without any annoying clicks or pops occurring in the process. The box itself is a quality Hammond-style metal affair that has been coloured black with a pink typeface. A single footswitch, which is used to cycle through the three inputs, sits on top, while the trio of instrument inputs and single output sockets are located at the back of the unit, along with the Boss-style 9V DC input (the SwitchBox can
also run off an internal 9V cell). Roman numeral-shaped channel indicators on the unit’s top light up blue to show which input is currently selected, and very cleverly this pedal detects when one of the inputs is not in use, thus allowing you to toggle between the two that have jacks plugged into them. In operation, the SwitchBox works wonderfully, with, as promised, no unwanted noise when switching input channels. The only thing that seems ever so slightly odd is the fact that the input plugs are labelled in order right to left (in true effects pedal style), while the indicators go left to right on the enclosure’s top, as you would read them, meaning when you select the first input, the indicator that is furthest away from it is the
one that lights up – this isn’t so much a problem as a minor peculiarity, and otherwise this is a superb, handmade unit at
a competitive price. GBRATING
FUSION F1 ELECTRIC GIGBAG, LAPTOP BACKPACK & SMALL BACKPACK
Price: £109, £59.95 & £43.95 Contact: Aria UK Ltd, 01483 238720, www.fusion-bags.com
e were pretty impressed by the top quality on display when we reviewed the mid-priced Fusion F3 gigbag at the beginning of last year, but while very nicely put together and smart-looking it might have been, it’s with these top-of-the-range products from the F1 range that the company hopes to make the biggest impact. There are several gigbags in the range, as well as several other smaller carrying solutions perfect for packing up laptop computers or microphones – or a change of clothes should you be travelling straight from work – and each has been manufactured to a very high quality and with a variety of trim options: lime green and orange are two of the other alternatives. High-density foam
padding is used throughout in order to protect your guitar, and a hard-wearing, waterproof polyester material is used for the outer shell of each. As you would imagine, there are plenty of storage pockets for you to organise your stuff into in each of the bags, so you should have plenty of room to store everything you’ll need. Strapping on the gigbag in particular is rather comfortable, with the well-padded and fully adjustable straps making almost any load easy to bear, and the clever ‘flow system’ – which allows air to circulate where back meets bag – means you won’t need a shower after power-walking to your rehearsal space. However, the main talking point here, besides the overall high quality, is the clever ‘Fuse-on’
system that Fusion employs, which allows you to quickly and securely attach any of the smaller carry bags, such as the two shown here, to any one of Fusion’s F1 (or, indeed, F2) guitar gigbags via heavy duty Velcro straps, for an all-in-one solution to travelling with a whole load of your equipment from one place to another. Of course, you can use each part of the system separately, which greatly adds to the overall value if you do decide to get the whole set. A little pricey, but we can’t find anything we don’t like about the F1 range. GBRATING
TONE ZONE EDDIE VAN HALEN
EDDIE VAN HALEN Hayden Hewitt rolls up his sleeves and tackles the legendary tone of one of the all-time greats... It would be hard to believe that anyone reading this magazine isn’t familiar with a certain rock guitar icon called Edward Lodewijk Van Halen. Born in 1955 in Holland, Eddie would go on to become one of the most influential rock guitarists of our time, with his band Van Halen knocking out more hit singles than you can shake a stick at, along with producing riffs and lead lines that have both frustrated and inspired musicians the world over. Originally, the young Eddie started off playing piano but it wasn’t too long before he decided on being a drummer, while his older brother, Alex, took up the guitar. After noticing Alex was somewhat more adept on the drums, a young Eddie decided he would try playing the guitar a little. Thankfully for us that was the most important decision he ever made. Van Halen (the band) was originally known as Mammoth. Only when the frontman to end all frontmen, Dave Lee Roth, joined up did they become known by the surname of the two brothers, after Roth proclaimed it sounded “cool”. The release of their first, self-titled album in 1978 brought instant recognition for the young guitarist. While the album went on to sell in excess of 10 million copies, the instrumental track ‘Eruption’ literally blew the doors off the rock guitar establishment. It’s hard to understand in this day and age, when there seems to be a virtuoso in every music shop, but the world really hadn’t heard anything quite like Eddie before.
© Getty Images
his month we are actually going to tread a slightly different path with our Tone Zone. Firstly, rather than one particular track, we are going to concentrate on the classic Van Halen tone, which covers the first few albums. Secondly, the sheer weight of myth surrounding exactly what gear Eddie used (and more importantly, what he modded) makes a really accurate breakdown of what was used in the studio virtually impossible. That being said, we can certainly look at what we do know – or think we know – as a leaping off point as well as a chance to poke at some of those myths.
the weight of myth surrounding exactly what gear eddie used makes an accurate breakdown impossible Eddie’s current rig is a million miles away from the early gear list. Whereas today he uses the plush EVH Wolfgang guitar and the ferociously high gain EVH 5150 III amplifier, in the early years he favoured slightly more humble fare. On the first album his guitar was the original “Frankenstein”, which cost him somewhere in the region of $200 to put together. The body and
neck were actually factory seconds from Charvel (but manufactured by Boogie Bodies – not an important fact, but we just like the name). Pickup-wise – the guitar only had the one – it seems to be a toss up between being a pickup from a 335 or possibly an early Seymour Duncan modelled on a DiMarzio Super Distortion. To our ears it sounds closer to a Gibson pickup.
TONE ZONE EDDIE VAN HALEN
‘ERUPTION’ Van Halen
There were no Floyd Rose trems around at that point, so a Fender-style vibrato bridge was installed and Eddie would go to great pains to help it stay in tune, employing tricks like lubricating the nut and strings along with boiling the strings for 20 minutes before playing (the latter for tonal reasons too, apparently). For amplification, he turned to a 100-watt Marshall Plexi. It’s here the serious myth making begins. Eddie has long denied there were any serious modifications to that amplifier and that the only change was the use of a Variac, which is a device used to moderate voltage supplied. The Variac was set to around 90 volts, which means the amp should run a little quieter (purely subjective when you are talking about 100-watt Plexi’s) and hotter in terms of gain. This would certainly go some way towards explaining why, if you plug straight into a stock Plexi, you don’t get the overdrive and sustain you can hear on the first Van Halen LP. Rather, you get a solid wall of hard, uncompromising note which wraps tightly around your face. One major aspect of the tone on the record was that the guitar signal was reamped using the live reverb room in the studio. This too would have gone a considerable way to creating the sheer scale of sound. If you want an example of the difference reverb can make to your perception of how easy your guitar is to play grab an acoustic and play it in your room then go
The instrumental “warm up” that made just about every rock guitarist sit bolt upright and listen in the late ’70s. After listening, they promptly made for the woodshed. The bar had been raised.
into a bathroom (or better yet hallway if you live in flats) and then have a crack. See how much easier that feels? Lastly, a quick look at effects. Research shows EVH used an MXR Phase 90, an Echoplex, an MXR Flanger and most tantalising of all “EQs”. Could the use of EQ pedals have enhanced the gain on the Marshall by hammering the front end? It would make sense to think so. Again, it’s no high-gain tone by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s certainly a lot more on tap than you can find with a stock Plexi, even using a Variac.
Your Gear & SettinGS
Getting that EVH ‘brown sound’ has been something akin to finding the Holy Grail for many guitarists. The sound in your head doesn’t always match the reality and trying to nail the tone you hear on the album is probably
‘EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!’ Women and Children First quite different to trying to nail the tone you hear live. That being said, this is the Tone Zone so we are going to have a damn good try. Firstly, what gear? Yes, a ‘superstrat’ with a humbucker in the bridge would be ideal when paired with a Plexi and all the other original equipment, but it will also be crushingly loud and you will certainly eat through the valves while playing with your Variac. We need some more realistic options here. Starting with guitars, you are definitely going to want a humbucker-equipped axe. Single-coils simply won’t cut it here if you want to get really close. If singles are all you have we would recommend cutting out some top end and boosting the mids a little. If your humbucker is a monster output shred pickup, you will
A cheeky full-steam-ahead rock tune dripping with quality guitar work and tone as well as dripping (possibly literally) with Dave Lee Roth histrionics. Quality!
An obvious choice? Possibly. Synth driven? Definitely. Awesome solo and stupidly catchy? No doubt about it. The band’s biggest mainstream hit remains a whole lot of fun.
TONE ZONE EDDIE VAN HALEN
want to dial back your guitar volume considerably – smooth and compressed sustain is not what we are after here. Indeed, we’ve had some of our best results using guitars loaded with PAF-style pickups and usually featuring a maple neck and fingerboard. For amplification there are a ton of options available. Forgoing the modified Plexi idea, you could always run whatever amp you have clean and turn to one of the ever-growing collection of “brown sound in a box” effects pedals. While none of these are 100 percent accurate on their own, and all obviously dependant on the rest of your rig, we have enjoyed great results with the Wampler Pinnacle and the Brown Sound In A Box 2, but there are many good pedals on the market worth a try, including one called the Kaden Brown Creeper. For modelling amps, we would suggest you choose a Plexi model (obviously) and a 4x12 cab option. Set your MXR Phaser model (or equivalent) to slow, dial in some hefty reverb, and then boost the front end with an EQ pedal model (with only a very shallow smiley face on the EQ) or an actual pedal just to push the amplifier over the edge into overdrive. Your echo settings should range from subtle to
© Getty Images
van halen has a very relaxed playing style, even when he’s pounding it out
rather swamped depending on the track you want to cover. If you have a tape echo modeller in there they do tend to be a little warmer. Suggesting an EQ here is difficult because so much is dependent on what pickups you are using. Start with all at 12 o’clock then slowly dial in a little more bass and mids. Once you think you have the low end where you want it simply add treble to taste. EVH ran his Marshalls with everything on full but doing that on a modern
amplifier or modelling amp may not achieve the desired effect. If you use modelling software you can really go to town. Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig is particularly cool for getting and EVH tone, if only because you can alter Variac settings on the Plexi models to help get the core tone rock solid. The added flexibility of routing your effects and sheer choice of things like EQ can also help you fine tune the sound to get really rather close to the EVH recorded tone. If you want an example of this, search for “Dweezil Zappa Guitar Rig Eruption” on YouTube – he manages to nail it with an SG! There is one final ingredient here, and perhaps the most important. There is an old saying about “tone being in your fingers”. While we think that’s nonsense (do your fingers have overdrive and a mid control?), the actual idea behind it isn’t, because phrasing most assuredly is in your fingers. No matter how close you get the tone, if you play, for example, ‘Running With The Devil’
using the same technique you might use to play a Metallica track, it simply won’t work. If you look at videos of Eddie playing, you can see he has a tremendously relaxed style, even if he’s really pounding it out. Ensure your left hand flows across the neck rather than making sudden jumps, let your right hand relax and really feel the strings under your pick (remember EVH is an amazing rhythm player too – copping that with a tensed up bicep and a vein pulsing in the middle of your forehead is going to make life much harder) and most importantly, enjoy it. Did you ever see EVH play without a big grin on his face? Space doesn’t permit us to cover every aspect of getting that ‘brown sound’ and even if it did there would be no guarantee you will sound just like EVH, simply because of all the variables. That being said we think the information here will be a great leaping off point, and we can certainly guarantee you will have a blast trying to get there. GB
fro LABLE my NO Mus our lo W ic St cal ore
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BACKSTAGE PASS DOUG REDLER/RICH ROBINSON
DOUG REDLER/RICH ROBINSON OF THE BLACK CROWES Matt Frost chats to Doug Redler, personal guitar technician for Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes
ince graduating from the University of Miami with a BA in music and business back in the late ’80s, Doug Redler has built up a mouth-wateringly impressive CV as a touring technician and tour manager. Doug’s career began back in ’87 when an old friend, guitarist Jeff Thall, asked him if he fancied being his guitar tech for a Bryan Ferry tour. Redler naturally jumped at the chance, and since that early invitation he’s gone on to ply his trade for a host of big names, including the B-52s, David Bowie, Counting Crows, Dixie Chicks, Echo and the Bunnymen, Peter Gabriel, Goo Goo Dolls, Katy Perry, Paul Simon, Steve Stevens/ Billy Idol and Tom Tom Club. Doug has also studied at Bryan Galloup’s School of Guitar Building and Repair (www. galloupguitars.com) in Michigan, an experience that he believes has helped him immeasurably. For the last few years, Redler has spent much of his time alternating his teching priorities between two acts – k.d. lang and The Black Crowes. “It’s funny how I go from the loudest band in the world to possibly the quietest band in the world!” Doug Redler laughs. “With k.d. I can’t even plug a guitar in while she’s singing because everything’s so quiet during the show, but then the Crowes are so loud… Even on their acoustic set
Doug takes care of Rich’s favourite guitar – a Gibson ‘62 SG reissue with a custom reliced ﬁnish by NYC’s Cobra Guitars
I have to tune the acoustic guitars in another room sometimes! You’ll see me hiding in hallways or in a production oﬃce, trying to tune in between songs, hoping nothing goes wrong onstage!”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of The Black Crowes’ debut album Shake Your Money Maker, and the band are currently
in the midst of celebrating this benchmark with an extensive jaunt across the States, billed as the ‘Say Goodnight To The Bad Guys’ tour. Sadly, this tour could well be the southern rockers’ last as they have announced an “indefinite hiatus” following December’s final six dates at the Fillmore in San Francisco. In the meantime, Doug Redler certainly has his work cut out. “The first set is an acoustic set of
greatest hits,” he explains. “Then, after an intermission, they come back and do an electric set, so sometimes they’re playing about three and a half hours a night, which isn’t always easy for an old guy like me, but the fans stay ’til the very end! It’s a long day for me and a long set, and that’s on top of a soundcheck and the load-ins and load-outs. We put in about 12- to 13-hour days.” When Doug first hooked up with
BACKSTAGE PASS DOUG REDLER/RICH ROBINSON
TONE THE CROWES
Although Rich Robinson doesn’t tend to OD on eﬀects, he certainly takes quite a few on the road with him. His custom eﬀects rack was built by Rack Systems in LA and contains the following pedals:
Rich Robinson takes a whole load of vintage guitars out on the road with him
“OUR RELATIONSHIP HAS GROWN A LOT OVER THE YEARS AND WE’RE BOTH REALLY COMFORTABLE WITH EACH OTHER.” the Crowes back in 2001, he was initially employed as both the bass tech and as guitar tech for ex-lead guitar man Audley Freed, but it wasn’t long before he moved over to work with Rich Robinson as his personal technician. “Rich is pretty much an entire band in himself,” says Redler. “We have about 30 guitars on the road! But he’s great and really lets me do what I want to do, you know. He trusts me enough to pick which guitar he’s going to use for what song. Our relationship has grown a lot over the years and we’re both really comfortable with each other. Rich is just really a nice, quiet, shy guy. He prefers that I kind of take charge and do what I want to do so he doesn’t have to worry about it. His line is basically, ‘Whatever you want to do, Doug – just do it!’”
Altered Images For the Black Crowes’ acoustic sets on the current tour, Rich Robinson’s main guitars are a Guild D-55 6-string, a Guild F-512 12-string and a Martin D-18 from 1961. Discovering Fishman’s Aura ‘Acoustic Imaging Technology’ has been a revelation for Doug Redler. “We were having a lot of trouble with the band’s acoustic sets,” explains Doug. “It’s acoustic, but the only person playing acoustic guitar is Rich! We were having a lot of issues with getting his guitar loud enough onstage to compete with the bass and Luther [Dickinson’s] electric guitar and the drums and the keyboards and percussion and everything like that. It’s been a tough road, but finally I spoke to the people at
• Way Huge Aqua-Puss MKII analogue delay • Way Huge Fat Sandwhich fuzz • Way Huge Pork Loin overdrive • Way Huge Angry Troll boost • ISP Decimator G String noise suppressor • Voodoo Lab Micro Vibe rotary simulator • Tone Freak MelloTremo tremolo • Mojo Lucky 13 • Moog Moogerfooger 12-Stage Phaser • H&K Rotosphere
Fishman and they hooked me up with the Aura pedal. “We sent a few of our guitars to them and they put the Fishman Matrix pickup in the guitars, recorded them and then modelled the guitars for the Aura pedal so we had them in the library. It really fattens the guitar up and it makes it feel more alive, rather than just having an acoustic guitar with a pickup under the saddle and a feedback buster in it. “Rich is also using in-ear monitors on the acoustic set, so he hears everything a lot better. We blend the guitar sounds with the modelled guitar and keep it a little heavier on the modelled side. It’s a pretty interesting and deep process and it’s making my life a lot easier out here, so thank you everybody at Fishman!”
Rich also uses two Fulltone Tape Echo units and a Fender Tube Reverb, usually placed on top of the eﬀects rack, as shown above. The following pedals sit onstage at his feet: • Axess Electronics FX1 MIDI foot controller • CAE/Dunlop Wah • Roland FV-500L volume pedal • Rocktron Celestial Delay • DigiTech Whammy • Line 6 Delay
Treasured Relic Doug Redler is packing around 20 of Rich Robinson’s favourite electric axes into three mobile Black Crowes guitar vaults for the ‘Say Goodnight…’ tour. They include a Trussart SteelPhonic, a Zemaitis Disc, a Zemaitis Metal Front, a ’69 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, a ’67 Fender Telecaster Custom, a Fender Mary Kaye Stratocaster, a Fender B-Bender Telecaster, a Danelectro 12-string, an Ampeg Dan Armstrong Plexi, a ’63 Gibson ES-335 and four Gretschs – a ’67 Country Gentleman, a ’63 White Falcon, a 2010 Black Falcon and a ’58 Streamliner. Robinson’s main guitar, however, is a Gibson ’62 SG reissue and it’s had something of a makeover. www.guitarbuyermag.com 85
BACKSTAGE PASS DOUG REDLER/RICH ROBINSON
Rich uses a Vox AC30, a Reason SM50 and an active subwoofer on stage
Doug has studied at Bryan Galloup’s School of Guitar Building and Repair
“It was just one of those guitars where the guys from Gibson brought it down for us and Rich said immediately, ‘I love this guitar, I wish every guitar felt this right!’” says Redler. “But the guitar’s a ’62 reissue and it still looked very new and Rich said, ‘Is there any way to age this guitar to make it look old?’ “A very good friend of mine who I grew up with has opened up a guitar shop in the East Village of New York City called Cobra Guitars and they make relic-ed guitars there. He’s pretty secret about how he does it. I know there’s belt sanders and coffee grounds involved and a bit of shellac, but he just hides out in his shop and does it. So while we were in New York I brought Rich’s favourite guitar down to those guys and let them beat it up. It looks like the guitar got its ass kicked! But we took it out of the case and Rich loved it right away.”
Effects & Cables
The Dream Gig
Although there are quite a few pedals on Rich Robinson’s effects rack, he uses them pretty conservatively. “Most of Rich’s sound is really the amplifiers,” Redler confirms. “He’ll take in an overdrive or a distortion just for a little more volume or for slide. He likes to use the [Way Huge Effects] Pork Loin and the Fat Sandwich together a lot for volume and slide, and he uses the Angry Troll pedal for leads, but most of his rhythm sound is just him through the amps. Then he lowers his volume using the volume control on his guitar when he wants a cleaner tone. He has a lot of effects but he’s not a big ‘effects guy’. He does use the tape echoes [a pair of Fulltone Tube Tape Echo units] a lot, though, so there’s a lot of Pink Floyd-y things going on with those during the jams.” For Rich Robinson and The Black Crowes, using wireless is a definite ‘no-no’. “It’s a very purist band,” explains Doug. “Using in-ear monitors in the acoustic set is a pretty giant step for these guys, for them to do something like that. I make Rich’s guitar cables. We don’t use anything store-bought. I make them out of Belden 8412 cable.”
It’s clear that Doug Redler is really going to miss working with The Black Crowes when they embark on their “indefinite hiatus” following their upcoming San Francico gigs midway through December, but he certainly won’t be betting against them returning to the live stage at some point in the future, no matter how far away that might eventually occur. “This is a dream gig for me and I’m really going to be sad when it’s over,” he explains. “It’s really going to be tough to top this one musically, and we also all have a lot of fun out on the road. The band’s playing better than ever, they’re having fun out there, and it’s really musically fulfilling. To top this? I don’t know how I’m going to do it. k.d. lang is amazing musically and personally, but to go out and rock every single night like The Black Crowes do… The only other band like that would be Led Zeppelin! But I figure, in a couple of years time, I’ll get a call again. I’ll probably be in a rocking chair somewhere and Rich is going to call me and he’s going to go, ‘Hey, you old f***, do you think you can do it again?’” GB
Rich Robinson has long favoured Harry Joyce amps and on previous tours could often be spotted plugging into two 50-watt Harry Joyce heads with two 4x12s. However, the volume’s come down
a tad for the current tour, necessitating a change in amplification. “The band made a conscious effort this year to bring down their stage volume and we started with a Vox AC30 head and a 2x12 cabinet, and then we had a 65 Amps Royal Albert, which was a 45-watt head and a 2x12 cabinet,” Doug explains. “But I was in a music store in St Louis and the guy working in the store said, ‘You’ve got to hear this amp, you’ve got to hear this amp!’ And I said, ‘Yeah, everyone wants to play an amp for me, I’m sure it’s a great amp but…’ And he said, ‘Just listen to it!’ I said, ‘I don’t want to hear it…’ and I’m walking out the store and he played it… And I said, ‘Wow, bring it over to the gig!’ and I put it up on Rich’s rig. “It’s a Reason SM50 head, which is 50 watts, with a Reason 2x12 cabinet. We took away the Royal Albert and it’s been his favourite amp ever since. We use that and the AC30 both on together at all times, and since he doesn’t have the two 4x12s behind him, we’ve got an ISP Vector SL Active Subwoofer to give Rich the feel under his feet that the big rig used to provide for him.”
TUNING TIME Robinson plays in a variety of tunings, though open G (DGDGBD) is a favourite. All his electrics are set up with GHS Sub-Zero Boomer 10–46 gauge strings, while a variety of GHS strings are used for the acoustics. Doug Redler favours Peterson tuners and has an AutoStrobe 590, a StroboRack and a StroboFlip. He also packs a secret restringing weapon in his workbox.
“I string about six to eight guitars a day,” says Doug, “and lately, if I get a break during the show, I’ll string a guitar. I find I can usually string one guitar per song and I have a DeWalt drill with a guitar-stringing bit on it. It really cuts the time in half. A lot of guys don’t like it but I couldn’t live without it. It’s really cool. With the amount of guitars I do, it saves time and it also saves wear on my arms!”
GB TECH TALK engineer_90x127mm_en:DigiTechSpezialist 08.03.10 15:17 Seite 1
A 1964 Vox AC30: an amateurEngineer repair has Electronics meant that the orange wire is only just Warwick/Framus looking for an electronics Engineer, familiar with the touching the theis tag board… sometimes! design and construction of electronics for the Guitar and Bass market, including but not limited to Amplifiers and effects units. The person should have a solid education in the fields of Tube, Solid state and Digital technologies.
A further requirement is command of Computer Software for design production and manufacture of PCB's preferably Altium Designer. The applicant needs to be a Guitar and/or Bass Player. The position involves executing new designs and modifying and documenting existing ones, of electronics for Guitar and Bass. This includes Amplification systems effect units, digital applications that relates to how these instruments will be played and used in the future such as computer interfaces and onboard electronics.
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PCB, the downside being that complex amps with large-scale integration and layered boards cannot be built this way. This is not a problem for simple amps, but when you add modelling or digital effects boards to an amplifier it becomes impractical.
FIXING DRY JOINTS Dry joints are the repairman’s worst nightmare because they can sometimes be very hard to find, especially as the faults they cause can be intermittent. It is not unusual to find several dry joints on an amp. When servicing an amp, I personally will always check the risky areas for dry joints if I have the circuit board out of the chassis – places that have heat applied to them, like valve bases and wire-wound dropper resistors, and large components such as filter caps. I use magnifying goggles and back-light the PCB to find the dry joints. I look for the telltale ring around the component lead and crystalline solder. Once I have found a problem joint I mark it with a red sharpie pen and then re-solder all the dry joints in one hit. Some particular amp models are more susceptible than others to dry joints in specific areas, and in the trade we call this type of problem a ‘stock fault’. For instance, a Joe Bloggs 100W XCL head might be prone to the bias trim pots having dry joints on the 114 www.guitarbuyermag.com
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TECH TALK TUBESYNC BIAS ENGINE V4
The latest new model out of Maryland takes PRS in an interesting new direction. Daniel Hodgson investigates… This month, our resident amp tech Steve Ayers, aka The Ampguy, takes a look at a revolutionary new piece of gear that claims to automatically adjust the bias of your valve output stage...
THE AUTHOR Steve Ayers, aka The Ampguy (www.ampguy.co.uk), has been repairing guitars and amps for over 35 years. If you have a problem that needs solving, email your question to Steve via firstname.lastname@example.org
fter looking at the importance of correctly biasing your amp’s output valves in last month’s column, this time I’m looking a brand-new technology that claims to do exactly that, and more besides. Developed by a British firm called KBO Dynamics, The TubeSync Bias Engine V4 is designed to adjust the bias to a preset value and keep it there for the life of the valve. Straight out of the box, this kit looks the business. With a black anodised aluminium case, two buttons, three sockets, four LEDs and an earth terminal, the V4 has an understated air of professional build quality about it. This particular model works only with valves that have octal (or eight pin) bases, such as the EL34, E34L, 6L6, 5881 and KT66 among others. A version for the EL84 type of valve is currently in development. The system itself is modular, comprising the V4 module, a choice of either two or four ‘interceptor’ connectors (depending on whether your amp has two or four output valves), and a footswitch for activating the half-power feature, more of which later. The V4 is priced at £289 for the four-valve version, with the optional footswitch coming in at £29.99 This kit has been available for a while now in the form of a tech-fitted installation that goes inside your amp. However, this version is unique because it fits on the outside of the chassis and no holes are made in the chassis to mount it, so it is completely removable with no signs of it ever being installed. This also means you can fit it to another amplifier when you change amps.
FITTING THE KIT After ensuring that the amp has fully cooled, we
The TubeSync system is simple to fit and could save you time and money while protecting your amp
removed the back panel of the amp to access the output valves. These are the larger valves in there. The ‘interceptors’ plug into the valve base and then the valves plug into the interceptors. These are marked 1, 2, 3 and 4 and need to be in the correct order so that the V4’s fault diagnosis features can correctly detect a failing or faulty output valve, as indicated by the four ‘fault’ LEDs on the top of the unit. The interceptors have a Molex connector that is plugged into the V4, which
THIS VERSION IS UNIQUE BECAUSE IT FITS ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE CHASSIS AND NO HOLES ARE REQUIRED TO MOUNT IT
TECH TALK TUBESYNC BIAS ENGINE V4
These four LEDs indicate which valve is at fault
Bias is either user programmable or set to 30mA These ‘valve interceptors’ sit between the power amp valves and their valve bases and monitor current
automatically knows if a two- or fourinterceptor loom is installed. The only other connection required at this stage is an earth wire, which must go to a ‘true’ earth not a ‘virtual’ earth. I put it underneath a screw on one of the valve bases of the Marshall 100-watt head I used to test the system. The unit can be mounted using the supplied industrial Velcro or a bracket that comes with the V4. I opted for the Velcro, which is very strong and does not involve drilling any holes that would depreciate the value of this classic amp. While on the subject of classic vintage amps, one of the nightmares facing an owner is the failure of an output transformer due to a bad valve. ‘Plexi’ Marshall and Fender Bassman amps’ output transformers cost a fortune – if you can even track one down – and the value of the amp plummets if the transformers are anything but original. Well, fear no more, because the V4 will shut the output stage down long before any damage is done and will even tell you which valve is faulty. The whole installation job took less than ten minutes, and looked very neat and unobtrusive.
HOW DOES IT WORK? The V4’s interceptors isolate the amplifier’s original bias circuit, allowing the TubeSync unit to generate its own. The current passing
THE WHOLE INSTALLATION PROCESS TOOK LESS THAN TEN MINUTES, AND THE V4 LOOKS VERY NEAT AND UNOBTRUSIVE through the valves is monitored and the V4 applies the correct bias voltage to the grids to enable 30 milliamps of current to flow at idle in the standard setting. There is a custom setting that an approved TubeSync technician can set for you using the Bias Engine software on a PC or Mac, and this can give you the choice of biasing your amp a bit hotter or colder. For example, I measured the current flowing through this 100-watt Marshall prior to installation and it was around 34mA for each valve. As I liked this sound, I set the V4’s custom setting to this value. The V4 is constantly checking for problems in the output stage and the moment it detects a fault it reacts. In the case of a four-valve output stage, it will isolate the faulty valve and its opposite number so that the circuit remains balanced. You can carry on playing with the remaining two valves at a reduced power until
Half power mode can be actived via a footswitch
such time as you can stop to replace the bad valve, and that’s the beauty of this unit – you only need replace the bad valve, not the whole set as you normally would. The footswitch has a warning LED telling you that there is a fault. You then check the V4 to see which LED is lit and once the faulty valve has cooled, just put another one in and away you go! The V4 sets the bias on the replacement valve so there’s nothing more you have to do – there’s no need to take it to the repair shop to have it set up, as TubeSync has done the work already.
MIXING IT UP I wanted to see how the V4 coped with a known bad valve, and luckily I had a matched quad that I had fitted to a Marshall TSL100 www.guitarbuyermag.com 89
TECH TALK TUBESYNC BIAS ENGINE V4
I TRIED TO BREAK IT BY PUTTING EXTREMELY BROKEN VALVES IN THE AMP, BUT THE V4 JUST MADE THEM WORK! days before. One of the quad would not bias and had what is known as ‘thermal runaway’, which is when the valve ‘red plates’ (the plate, or anode, glows a bright cherry red) and draws huge current. This will eventually take out the HT fuse or the output transformer if left switched on. I had expected the V4 to shut down the faulty valve and its opposite number and illuminate the fault LED, but surprisingly the amp ran fine! What was happening? I spoke to Andy Fallon at TubeSync and we came to the conclusion the V4 was controlling the bias so well that it would not allow thermal runaway to occur, which is very impressive indeed. By this point, any initial scepticism about the V4 was starting to disappear and I was getting very excited about the possibilities of using different valves in the amp, so I took the E34Ls out and put a quad of totally mismatched 5881s in. Again, the current read 30 mA on each valve when set to the standard setting and the amp sounded great. So what about four entirely different valves? I tried it with a KT66, a 6L6, a 5881 and an E34L, and the amp not only worked but sounded great as well. This means that you can get a different sound just by changing your output valves – the possibilities are vast.
HALVING THE POWER Another feature is the half-power option when using four output valves, which is controlled by the optional footswitch. The setting on the impedance selector needs to be halved if using this option for more than a short while, for maximum efficiency and good output matching. The V4 has a button labelled ‘share the wear’ and when this is depressed the output valves are alternated and thus the wear is shared and the valves will wear out evenly. This is quite clever and not only allows you to turn your 100-watt amp into a 50-watter, but also one with two different types of output valve – you could install a pair of EL34s and a pair of 6L6s, for example. I tried this and the difference is very noticeable, and I liked the fact that I had two distinct tones from the same amplifier. The only downside to this is that it only applies to four-valve power sections. With a two-valve amp you won’t have the option of running at half power in the event of valve failure either, but the TubeSync module will shut the amp down before damage is done and tell you which valve is at fault. If you stop playing, the V4 will put itself into
Very few amps allow you to mix and match output valve types, but TubeSync can make any 100-watter do it!
a standby mode after two minutes. The bias current then drops to a preset level, set to 20mA at the factory. This will lengthen the life of the valves by as much as 40 percent. As soon as the first note is hit, the current is back up to the running level of 30mA or the custom setting. A by-product of this is that the carbon footprint of your amp is reduced by around 20 to 30 percent, so you could do your bit for the planet as well! There is an RJ45 connector on the V4 which is used in conjunction with the Bias Engine software to access certain information, such as the history of the valves, running time with or without audio, fault conditions and so on. It also allows a qualified tech to adjust the custom bias value and the standby bias value. These settings can be for all valves or they can be individually set for different values for each valve. This may seem a strange thing, but I personally think that a slight mismatch in the output valves will sound better than perfectly matched ones.
CONCLUSION So what does this TubeSync system mean for the average guitarist? Well, the impact could be quite considerable, in that, with the V4 installed, you don’t have to buy matched sets of valves any more and you can quickly get your amp working again if you lose an output valve during a gig – it takes only moments if you have a heatproof glove. This equipment is unique – there’s nothing else remotely like it
out there – and in my opinion is excellent value for something that does so much, although most of what it does is quietly done in the background and you never know it is doing it. I can see the TubeSync V4 being used in two distinct ways. Firstly, you could view it as an insurance policy – it will save both time and money in the long run and the worry and expense of catastrophic output stage failure is virtually eliminated, as is the embarrassment of a gig being ruined by output valve failure (so long as you remember to take spare valves!). It could be a godsend to gigging guitarists at all levels, from pubs to stadiums, who need reliability and the ability to carry out running repairs on the road. The second use will be for the guitarist who wants to experiment with different types of output valve without having to put his amp into the repair shop every time he wants to change them. If I’m honest, I have to say that part of me wanted this equipment to fail miserably – because it does us poor amp techs out of work! – but I just couldn’t fault it at all. I tried to break it by putting extremely broken valves in the amp, but the V4 just made them work properly. Damn you TubeSync! GB • Tubesync is kindly oﬀering Guitar Buyer readers a special deal! If you pre-order from the Tubesync website (www.tubesync.co.uk) and use the special code ‘GB2462’ you will qualify for a 10 percent discount!
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VINTAGE & COLLECTABLE 1974 GIBSON L5-S
Launched in the early 1970s, the lavish L5-S solidbody was not a success. Has this Gibson model been unfairly maligned? Paul Alcantara finds out
he L5-S was introduced in 1973 as a solidbody counterpart to Gibson’s long established L-5 archtop. Arguably the first luxury solidbody jazz guitar – the L5-S cost $910 at a time when a Les Paul Custom retailed at $660 – this no expense spared creation ultimately failed to capture the guitar buying public’s imagination and was discontinued in the mid 1980s. Here, we look back over the model’s history and re-evaluate its significance, with help from an eye-catching 1974 example.
the gibson l5-s cost $910, at a time when a les paul custom retailed at $660
Although at first glance the single-cutaway L5-S appeared similar to a Les Paul, its body dimensions were in fact significantly different. Both wider and shorter (13.5 by 16.25 inches, as opposed to the Les Paul’s 12.75 by 17.07 inches), the L5-S boasted a carved top and back, resulting in a rim depth of just one inch (by comparison, a Les Paul measured a full 1.75 inches at the rim). More fundamentally, while the Les Paul employed a mahogany body with a maple cap, the luxurious L5-S was all maple.
Like most examples, this L5-S is formed from three pieces of figured maple
To underline the guitar’s up-market status, Gibson pulled out all of the stops, with multiple black/white plastic binding around the top, the back, the fingerboard and the headstock. Other details included a maple (rather than plastic) control cavity cover and gold-plated hardware. Like its hollowbody counterpart
the L-5 CES, the L5-S had a five-piece neck (three maple sections separated by two thin mahogany laminates), an ebony fingerboard with a pointed end and large block position markers, and a headstock that was inlaid with an L-5-style ‘flowerpot’ motif. The tailpiece, too, resembled that of the L-5 CES, with a contrasting
silver-plated centre insert and ‘L5-S’ engraving. While most of the Les Pauls that Gibson built in the early 1970s had rather plain tops, the L5-S was constructed from highly figured maple. Indeed, the quality of the timber used is probably the reason why Gibson chose to leave the guitar without a pickguard. While the model’s curly maple top harked back to the glory days of the late 1950s, the majority of examples displayed a three-piece construction – in contrast to the traditional Les Paul’s bookmatched, two-piece top – with a broad central area flanked by two narrower side sections. At first, the L5-S was only available in a Cherry Sunburst finish that was applied to both the front and back of the body as well as the neck. www.guitarbuyermag.com 93
VINTAGE & COLLECTABLE 1974 GIBSON L5-S prove popular and, as a result, the L5-S switched to Gibson’s new ‘Super Humbucking’ pickups in 1974. The change to humbuckers may account for a brief spike in sales – 555 units were shipped in 1974, an increase of 358 units over the previous year’s figures – but from this point on, sales declined more or less on a yearly basis, with just 117 units shipped in 1979 (according to Gibson Shipping Totals by Larry Meiners, published by Flying Vintage).
The headstock features a lavish ‘ﬂowerpot’ inlay, taken from the L-5 archtop
the low-impedance picKups did not proVe popular and the l5-s soon switched to humbucKers Super Humbucking The L5-S was initially equipped with a pair of low-impedance pickups similar to those fitted to the Les Paul Personal and Professional solidbodies that Gibson had introduced in 1969 (the same pickups appeared on the Les Paul Jumbo and, later, the Les Paul Recording solidbody and the semi-solid Les Paul Signature model). Based on the low-Z
pickups that guitarist Les Paul had been using since the mid 1950s, these units offered a wide ‘hi-fi’ frequency response that Gibson may have regarded as appropriate for a solidbody jazz guitar. However, the L5-S began shipping in 1973, a time when most players were more concerned with overdriving an amp than capturing Les Paul’s ultra clean signature sound. Gibson’s low-impedance pickups did not
Electric luxury: even the control cavity cover is made from figured maple
Meanwhile, Gibson had provided the L5-S with an affordable sister model. Launched in 1973 and priced at $505, the L6-S was developed, along with the lightweight L9-S bass (renamed the Ripper bass in 1974), by musician/guitar designer Bill Lawrence. It featured a 24-fret neck – a first for Gibson – highly versatile electronics and, like the L5-S, a maple body and neck. Its body outline was similar to that of the L5-S but without that guitar’s carved top and back. Carlos Santana, who championed the L6-S for a time said of the model, “I think of a guitar as a
The Santana-endorsed L6-S, as advertised in 1974
colour but this L6-S is like a rainbow”.
By late 1975, the large L-5-style tailpiece that had been a feature of the L5-S since its inception was dropped in favour of a regular stop tailpiece, lending the guitar a rather more conventional appearance. Maple and Tobacco Sunburst finish options were added to the existing Cherry Sunburst the following year and, in 1978, the stop tailpiece was replaced by Gibson’s new TP-6
THE GIBSON TP-6 TAILPIECE
The ‘fine-tuning’ tailpiece added to the L5-S in 1978 Available in either a chrome- or gold-plated finish, the Gibson TP-6 fine-tuning tailpiece utilised a set of six hinged ‘jaws’ to hold the string ends. A simple screw adjustment could then be used to raise or lower the jaws, thus moving them forward or back by very small increments. This allowed to the guitarist to ‘tune down’ – something that, according to Gibson, was tricky when using
regular machine heads. The Gibson catalogue stated, “Most guitarists will agree that, while it is fairly easy to ‘tune up’ a guitar, to sharpen the pitch of the string to the required amount, it is very difficult to flatten a string to the correct pitch.” A similar approach was later adopted in the design of the locking vibratos from the likes of Floyd Rose and Kahler that appeared in the late 1970s.
The TP-6 allowed for very fine tuning adjustment via six small screws
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VINTAGE & COLLECTABLE 1974 GIBSON L5-S
GIBSON L5-S TIMELINE BODY
The L-5S had a single-cutaway solid maple body with a carved top and a contoured back. Details included seven-ply black/white top binding, three-ply back binding (with a black line on the side) and a maple control cavity cover. The body was 13.5 inches wide, 16.25 inches long and 1 inch deep.
The five-piece neck featured three maple sections and two mahogany laminates
WHILE THE ’70s ARE REGARDED AS A LOW POINT FOR GIBSON, EXTRA CARE WAS TAKEN WITH HIGH-END MODELS tailpiece with fine tuners (see box on previous page for details). Around the same time, the Tobacco Sunburst finish was dropped in favour of Fireburst. In its final incarnation (introduced circa 1980), the L5-S was distinguished by the addition of a ‘Posi-Lok’ strap button and Gibson’s ‘Crank’ button machineheads. Designed by luthier Roger H. Siminoff and manufactured by Schaller, these tuners incorporated a flip-out handle that was intended to facilitate rapid string winding. By mid 1982, the Tobacco Sunburst and Fireburst finishes had been discontinued, with available options for the L5-S now including Vintage Cherry Sunburst, Antique Natural and Antique Sunburst. The L5-S does not appear on Gibson’s January 1984 pricelist, though the company may have continued to ship remaining stock into the following year (unfortunately, post 1979 Gibson shipping totals are not currently available). As a footnote, a short run of L5-S guitars equipped with
a single pickup, two knobs and a coil tap, were issued in 2004.
Typical of its era, the 1974 Gibson L5-S pictured here is equipped with a pair of ‘Super Humbucking’ pickups and a large L-5-style tailpiece. It sports the ‘tomato red into mustard yellow’ Cherry Sunburst finish that collectors, somewhat uncharitably, refer to as “Clown Burst”. The three sections of maple from which the body is constructed are clearly visible in the pictures, as is the figured timber used for both the body and the neck. Note the fancy flamed maple control cavity cover at the rear, the large rectangular ‘wide travel’ Tune-O-Matic bridge and the fingerboard’s elegantly pointed end. Unfortunately, the ‘Custom L-5’ legend engraved on the bell-shaped truss rod has faded and is now barely visible. While the 1970s are generally regarded as a low point in Gibson’s history, extra care was taken in the construction of high-end models like the L5-S, the Citation and ‘The
The guitar’s five-piece neck (three maple sections with mahogany laminates) joined the body at the 17th fret. Its bound (five-ply with a black line on the side) 22-fret ebony fingerboard had a pointed end and was inlaid with abalone block position markers and shell fingerboard side dots. The bound headstock was inlaid with the Gibson logo and an L-5 style ‘flowerpot’ motif in abalone and fitted with a set of gold-plated individual machineheads. The laminated bell-shaped truss rod cover was engraved with the ‘Custom L-5’ legend. The guitar’s scale length was identical to that of the Les Paul, at 24.75 inches, while the nut width was a full 1.96 inches.
The L5-S was originally fitted with a pair of low-impedance pickups, which had gold-plated metal covers and an embossed ‘Gibson’ logo. Electronics comprised four knobs: individual tone and volume controls for each pickup; a three-way toggle switch positioned just above the controls; and a front mounted jack socket. The toggle switch accessed the bridge pickup, the neck pickup or both pickups in tandem.
Hardware included a ‘wide travel’ Tune-O-Matic bridge built by Schaller and an L-5-style tailpiece with a contrasting silver-plated centre insert (otherwise, all metal parts were gold-plated) and ‘L5-S’ engraving. The model was not fitted with a pickguard.
Gibson Shipping Totals by Larry Meiners, published by Flying Vintage).
By mid 1974, the low-impedance pickups had been replaced by Gibson’s ‘Super Humbucking’ pickups.
Though Gibson’s 1975 catalogue only lists the Cherry Sunburst finish, accompanying pictures show both Cherry Sunburst and ‘Maple’ (natural) versions. In late 1975, the large L-5-style tailpiece was replaced with a regular stop tailpiece.
By mid 1976, the L5-S was available in a choice of Cherry Sunburst, Maple or Tobacco Sunburst finishes.
In 1978, the Tobacco Sunburst finish was dropped in favour of Fireburst. The model was now available in Cherry Sunburst, Natural (previously referred to as ‘Maple’), Antique Sunburst & Fireburst finishes. By mid year, the stop tailpiece was replaced by the TP-6 tailpiece with individual fine tuners.
The 1980 catalogue mentions “Deluxe gold-plated individual machineheads with the exclusive Gibson ‘Crank’ button” and “the new ultra-safe Gibson ‘Posi-Lok’ strap button”.
By mid 1982, Tobacco Sunburst and Fireburst finishes were discontinued. Available finishes now included Vintage Cherry Sunburst, Antique Natural and Antique Sunburst.
The L5-S does not appear on Gibson’s January 1984 pricelist.
The L5-S was initially only available in a Cherry Sunburst finish.
Though the L5-S was first listed in mid 1972, no guitars were shipped until the following year, when 197 units left the factory (according to
VINTAGE & COLLECTABLE 1974 GIBson l5-s
GIBSON L5-S BUYER’S GUIDE There are five main variations of the original L5-S, with no one version being markedly more valuable than another. Though the earliest model with low-impedance pickups is probably the most distinctive, the majority of players are likely to prefer later versions equipped with humbuckers.
3: Late 1975 to mid 1978
1: 1973 to mid 1974
4: Mid 1978 to 1980
2: Mid 1974 to late 1975
5: From 1980
Low-impedance pickups, a large L-5 style tailpiece and a Cherry Sunburst finish.
‘Super Humbucking’ pickups, a large L-5-style tailpiece and a Cherry Sunburst finish.
Aside from the inevitable gold-plating wear, this L5-S is in superb condition
had it gained the endorsement of a high-profile rock guitarist, the l5-s might have fared better Les Paul’, most of which are hard to fault in terms of build quality. Though Gibson had deemed solid maple bodies too heavy when developing the Les Paul back in the early 1950s, the guitar featured here weighs in at a surprisingly modest 3.8kg (8.37lb) – lighter, in fact, than many Les Pauls of the era. In terms of playability, the L-5S feels reassuringly familiar, with a Les Paul-like 24.75-inch scale length and a full 1.69-inch nut width. The control setup is also
identical to a Les Paul with individual tone and volume controls for each pickup and a three-way toggle switch that is positioned just above the knobs. Access to the upper frets is marginally superior to that of a Les Paul, thanks to a neck-to-body junction at the 17th rather than 16th fret.
Back in the early 1970s when Gibson unveiled the L5-S, the
‘Super Humbucking’ pickups, a regular stop tailpiece and, from mid 1976, a choice of Cherry Sunburst, Maple (natural) or Tobacco Sunburst finishes. (For a detailed look at finish variations, see the Gibson L5-S Timeline on the previous page.)
Specifiactions are as above, but with the addition of the TP-6 fine-tuning tailpiece.
As above, but now fitted with ‘Crank’ button machineheads and a ‘Posi-Lok’ strap button.
The L5-S version 3: note the regular stop tailpiece and ‘Maple’ finish
luxury solidbody guitar was a concept yet to be invented, and with a $910 price tag – around $4,400 in today’s money – the model was firmly out of the reach of the average guitarist. Jazz legend Pat Martino and Kevin Peek of the band Sky were among the small number of professional players to embrace the model and although it remained in the Gibson catalogue until the mid 1980s, sales were disappointing at best. Had the model gained the endorsement of a high-profile rock guitarist it might have fared better. Today, an L5-S can be found for little more than the price of a 1970s Les Paul Custom, despite the fact that far fewer were built (according to Gibson Shipping Totals by Larry Meiners, 1970s
production for the original L5-S totalled 1,813 units, while 50,605 Les Paul Customs were shipped during the same decade). A listen to the recordings that Pat Martino made in the mid 1970s suggests that Gibson achieved what it set out to do with the L5-S. “I had already worked with Gibson for quite some time, since the ’60s, and finally, through endorsement, they gave me the L5-S, the solidbody L5-S, as the first artist to bring it out in public,” he recalls. “I did that with Joyous Lake, the fusion group that I had out at that time. That was really a wonderful experience.” GB • Thanks go to Rumble Seat Music (www.rumbleseatmusic.com) for the loan of this month’s featured instrument
LETTERS JANUARY 2011
WRITE IN AND WIN A BOSS PEDAL! Please send your letters to the editor to: Letters, Guitar Buyer, Hunters Lodge, Kentisbeare, Devon, EX15 2DY. Alternatively, you can email us at email@example.com. Please note we may edit letters for length.
Another set of opinions, comments and questions from you, the guitar-hungry masses...
PLAYING BY NUMBERS Hopefully one of you well-read guitar boffins can help me to understand exactly why my 20-watt Marshall valve amplifier is so much louder than the 85-watt Fender Deluxe 85 solid-state combo I have lying around. Surely output power measured in watts would be consistent from amplifier to amplifier, regardless of how that power is generated? I have noticed, however, that my nice Marshall 2061X head sounds much better when it’s turned right up – something that I never quite appreciated until I got a decent valve amp! I’m running it through a Celestion Vintage 30-loaded 1x12 cab if that makes any difference? Greg Manson, Wigan There are several factors at play here, Greg, and each of them will contribute somewhat to the overall volume difference that you’re hearing between your two amplifiers, but the short answer is yes, valve amps are generally
much louder than equivalentwattage solid-state amps! The first thing to note is that an increase in output power does not have a direct effect on the level of sound we hear – 20-watt amps aren’t twice as loud as a 10watt amps. In fact, 100 watts is roughly twice as loud as 10 watts! The second thing to take into consideration is the speaker that you’re using. An efficient speaker, such as your Celestion Vintage 30, which many mid- to high-priced amplifiers (particularly valve amplifiers) come equipped with, will convert more of the power that it is supplied into sound – the cheap speaker your Fender 85 is probably loaded with will be much less efficient and hence not sound as loud. It’s almost like having a leaky hose – you need to turn the tap up further in order to get the same amount of water out of the other end. As it happens, fitting an inefficient speaker is also a great way to attenuate an amplifier that’s too loud!
PEERLESS AND PROUD Great magazine! I particularly liked the write-up on the Collings I-35 in an old issue dated February 2008 I rediscovered under a pile of mags – sounds like an amazing guitar. As I can’t afford one of these, I recently decided to upgrade my Peerless Monarch with a new Johnny Smith floating pickup from Lollar, who are featured on the second page of your wonderful review. Lollar’s US office was really helpful via email, which resulted in my ordering the pickup
through Charlie Chandler’s shop in Kingston. These guys are second to none when it comes to advice, skill and enthusiasm, and fitted this little beauty as soon as it arrived. Charlie had previously fitted a tone control – a strange omission on this Peerless model – but these two modifications have resulted in an archtop guitar that in my opinion must compare to the best! I play it through a Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster into my Polytone Mini-Brute and the sound is truly magnificent,
Finally, we come to one last important consideration, and that is the different ways in which wattage is measured for solid-state and valve amplifiers. Transistor-based solid-state amps are rated at their maximum output – in other words, the amount of power output with the volume control maxed – while
a valve amplifier’s output is calculated at the point where the power stage is operating cleanly, before any distortion starts to creep in. This, as I’m sure you’re aware if you’ve been cranking your Marshall, is at roughly 3 or 4 on the dial, though some louder Fender-style amps, in particular the venerable Twin, can make it up to 6 or 7 before distorting. Valve amps can often add another 50 percent of their stated wattage when the volume control is wide open and sometimes even more, not to mention a whole load of extra harmonic content that serves to thicken out the sound quite a bit. Of course, many players are missing the point of a valve power section if they’re not going to turn it up, as it’s driving the power amp that offers that sought-after compression, sustain and rich distortion, so we think you’ve got the right idea with your 20-watt Marshall!
whether playing jazz or blues. All in all, these are truly worthwhile upgrades, and as I bought the Peerless direct from the manufacturers at a guitar show three or four years ago, the total expenditure has been more than reasonable and has resulted in a truly superb, unique guitar that punches way above its weight, which I pick up in preference to my 1959 Gibson ES-175. Believe me, that astonishes even myself! Anthony Gilsenan, Surrey
FINDING YOUR MUSE I really enjoyed last month’s loosely Muse-themed issue. I’ve been a massive fan of the band right since they first started out, and to tell you the truth, I only decided to start playing the guitar after seeing them in concert.
While I don’t quite have the three and a half grand required to buy one of those lovely Manson signature instruments, I have got the signature MBK humbucker it featured fitted to my Mexican Tele, and it absolutely rips! True, it’s not great for any clean tones, but when it comes to distortion, all I need is that guitar and a Z Vex Fuzz Factory and that unmistakable Muse tone is right there in my hands. Thank God we Brits have truly got a noughties guitar hero to be proud of in Matt Bellamy! Simon Worthington, via Email
Thanks so much for the great feature on analogue delay pedals – I’ve been looking to pick one up to go with my Boss DD-7 for a while now as I really enjoy the analogue emulation that it provides, but of course, price is always a problem. While many of the pedals on display were a little out of my price range (and that’s a bit of an understatement, I can tell you!), there was one that jumped out and slapped me across the face as being phenomenal value for money – the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Boy. A quick browse on the Interweb and £115 later and I’m the proud owner of this fantastic pedal, but the best bit of all is also the worst! The
pedal sounds fantastic but it is certainly what I would call a different ‘flavour’ to the DM-2 model on my Boss delay, so now I’m out looking for a third echo pedal that will be able to do that specific sound too! My bank balance isn’t going to be very happy with you, Guitar Buyer, but it’s alright, I’ll have a word… Sam Ryan, London
GB LETTER OF THE MONTH
QUALITY CONTROL There’s no doubt that the standard of build of low- and mid-priced electrics has improved massively in the last 20 years, as demonstrated each month in the glossy reviews in my copy of Guitar Buyer. My first guitar was a three-inch-thick plywood Strat-a-like donkey of a guitar – same as most old farts my age. Thank goodness those days are gone! One thing that still annoys me, though, is the lack of care and attention that you still see from some brands and retailers. Last week I popped into my local guitar store to have a mooch about. There on the wall was a Gibson Les Paul with a substandard paint job which had
clearly bubbled along the neck/ body joint on the upper bout of the guitar. This is a guitar from one of the premier manufacturers in the world, selling at over a grand, with a paint job worse than my old sh*tocaster and hanging on the wall of a well-known guitar retailer. Something’s gotta be wrong there, innit? While I was there I thought I’d have a quick twang on an Epiphone Les Paul that caught my eye. Well I’m buggered – the first three frets on the B and E strings all fart out the same raspy note. You couldn’t even play a chord on the thing. I swiftly handed it back to the lad who gave it to me and highlighted
this to him. I got a blank look and a mumble for my trouble and it went straight back on the wall for some other poor sod to get it for Christmas. This is not the norm, I know, but it doesn’t take much for a store to check a guitar is up to scratch and playable before they try and flog it to an unsuspecting punter. Imagine if you went for that tempting Internet deal and got a duffer through the post which you had to try and send back! Standards of guitar building have improved, and yes, you can get seriously good bang for your buck these days, but beware – there are still some turkeys out there. Try before you buy! Kev Murray, via Email
Kev’s letter wins him one of these pedals!
www.guitarbuyermag.com www.guitarbuyermag.com101 18
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PAWN STARS LAZY J CRUISER
LAZY J CRUISER
Who better to design a high-quality amp booster than a man who makes high-quality amps? Daniel Steinhardt takes a pleasure cruise with Lazy J
any of you will no doubt already be aware of the Lazy J amplifier company, which is currently making some truly remarkable amps right here in the UK. Jesse Hoff, the man behind these amps, is also a big fan of pedals, specifically booster pedals. Over the years he has been working on and refining a unique OD/booster designed to integrate seamlessly into the front of an amplifier working at a variety of levels. When I heard about it I had to get one for myself to try it out, and let me tell you, this thing rocks! The ‘Cruiser’ has a number of independent gain stages that work together to give you a huge variety of tones – everything from pristine clean boost, to edgy rhythm, to balls to the wall rockin’ out.
The knobs are for (from left to right) input gain, OD gain, OD compression and master volume. With the OD gain turned off, it actually disengages the OD component from the circuit, so using the input gain and master volume you can set up a beautiful boost, from something completely transparent to something that will add a bit of ‘hair’ to the clean tone. The input gain knob is also a really great way to match different guitars, so you can always count on
consistent results. Turn the OD gain up and it engages this part of the circuit, which interacts with the input gain and compression controls. There are three very usable preset levels of compression, which helps you match the pedal to the style of amp you’re using. These different compression levels are the key to getting the pedal working with your amp at specific volume settings. For example, if your amp is operating at high levels and is already compressed, being able to turn the pedal’s compression off is fantastic and gives the tone the cut it needs to be heard through all that valve ‘squash’. On the flipside, if you’re using an amp with loads of headroom, just turn up the compression and those wonderful ‘amp working hard’ tones are at your fingertips, so you can specifically voice the pedal for your rig. The combination of the switchable compression settings and the fact that the pedal has been voiced so well means that Jesse has been able to do away with the standard tone control. This gives the Cruiser its wide open tone and does amazing things for its dynamic range. However, you do need to be happy with the core tone of your amp, as this is what the pedal is working with, but if what you’re plugging into is great, this will simply make it greater.
How Much Should I Pay?
Jesse makes these in small numbers, each one meticulously tested to ensure perfect and consistent operation, and they are available direct from www. lazyjprojects.com for £199. Not every amp manufacturer that sets out to make a great pedal achieves great results, and only a handful have ever come up with anything like this quality. The pedal itself is completely unique, sounds incredible and deserves nothing less than full marks. GB
Dan Steinhardt has a 200Gb hard drive instead of a brain, where he stores endless effects and electronics knowledge. He’s the main man at TheGigRig Ltd (www.thegigrig.com) and we’re honoured to have him contributing to the magazine.
It’s sImple to advertIse here, just call one of our advertIsIng staff for prIces on 01884 266100 or emaIl: neIl@ oysterhousemedIa.co.uk
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V&C 1959 Gibson ES-330
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OCEAN COLOUR SCENE & PAUL WELLER
ROUND-UP ON THE RECORD
COLLINGS SOCO DELUXE CUSTON MATT SCHOFIELD V&C 1959 GIBSON ES-330
OASIS & BEYOND
GLENN TIPTON & K.K. DOWNING
EPIPHONE LES PAULS JOHN 5 DR Z JAZ 20/40
JADEN ROSE SINGLECUT PR GUITARS SGR STANDARD FARIDA CT-60 VINTAGE V1200N LAZY J J20 WHIRLWIND ROCHESTER PEDALS WAY HUGE AQUA PUSS
UK£3.95 Issue 106 JUNE 2010
ELECTRO-HARMONIX MEMORY TOY DELAY
RICKENBACKER 660 BIFFY CLYRO DANELECTRO DC59 MODIFIED
VINTAGE & COLLECTABLE Gibson Les Paul Signature
VANQUISH LEGEND CLASSIC PLUS VOLT AMP CO OVER-DRIVE SUPER RR ORANGE TINY TERROR HARD WIRED EDITION CELMO SARDINE CAN COMPRESSOR ZILLA SPEAKER CABINETS GEARSKINZ AMP CASES ARIA A19C-200N MOON 0003 AND MORE!
UK£3.95 Issue 104 100 APR Dec 09 2010 OYSTER HOUSE
GB104 Cover 1dg.indd 1
Sounds Great Music .............................87
Strings and Things .................................3
JHS ..................................................33, 71
Vintage and Modern Guitars ............. 95
Line 6 .....................................................45
Warwick ......................................65, 107
London Bass Guitar Show ...................99
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TONE ZONE STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN
VINTAGE ICON THOMAS BLUG MICHAEL KELLY HEX DELUXE HAGSTROM SWEDE TREMAR BRISTOL BY BLUERIDGE BELCAT TUBE-20R TC ELECTRONIC RH450 MXR BLACK LABEL CHORUS EVENTIDE PITCHFACTOR IRON GEAR PICKUPS HEADWAY EDB-1 AND MORE!
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IAN DURY ‘SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL’
VALVE TONE AT LOWER VOLUMES
UK£3.95 Issue 103 2010 100 MAR Dec 09 OYSTER HOUSE
EXCLUSIVE! PRS 305
FENDER CUSTOM SHOP
RECREATING THE LEGENDARY SHADOWS STRAT ON THE RECORD
ANNIVERSARY BRUCE WELCH FROM SKIFFLE BANDS TO SUPERSTARDOM
LYNYRD SKYNYRD ‘SWEET HOME ALABAMA’
ARIA FA-77 EKO CAMARO BBE EFFECTS FRET-KING YARDBIRD SEAGULL ACOUSTICS FRESHMAN APOLLO 2 EFFECTRODE TUBE DRIVE ZZGUITARWORKS BIGSBY MOUNTS AND MORE!
UK£3.95 Issue 101 JAN 2010
PAUL STANLEY & TOMMY THAYER
SHADOWS 50TH ANNIVERSARY FENDER CUSTOM SHOP PAUL STANLEY & TOMMY THAYER
ISSUE 101 JAN 2010 £3.95
REVIEW 25th Anniversary Custom 24 INTERVIEW Paul Reed Smith VINTAGE & COLLECTABLE PRS Guitars
ISSUE 101 JANUARY 2010
WIN! ZILLA LINE 6 SPEAKER CAB SPIDER IV
GJ’s Guitars ........................................... 91
ROUND-UP VIBE PEDALS
25TH ANNIVERSARY PRS 25th ANNIVERSARY CUSTOM 24 PAUL REED SMITH INTERVIEW VINTAGE & COLLECTABLE PRS GUITARS
Peavey .................................................... 4
XOTIC EFFECTS AC & BB PLUS
The Who ‘My Generation’
VOX VR COMBOS AC30VR & AC15VR
ON THE RECORD
Peach Guitars .....................................102
UK£3.95 Issue 105 100 MAY Dec 09 2010 OYSTER HOUSE
ISSUE 103 MARCH 2010
Jangle all the way!
CASE J1 VIGIER GV ROCK INDIE SHAPE FRESHMAN OPEN PLAINS VOX AC15 CUSTOM DIAMOND PEDALS BOSS ME-25 CURTIS NOVAK PICKUPS STETSBAR PRO II VIBRATO AND MORE!
PRS SE TORERO
ISSUE 104 APRIL 2010
Oxford Guitar Gallery ...........................76
RICKENBACKER 660 & DANELECTRO
Charlie Chandler ...................................76
TONE ZONE JIMMY PAGE
1964 FENDER PALOMINO
THE DOORS ‘SPANISH CARAVAN’
RICHARD THOMPSON ‘THE CALVARY CROSS’
THE MAKING OF BRITISH STEEL
VINTAGE & COLLECTABLE
ON THE RECORD
CAN THE STAR OF UK BLUES BREAK AMERICA?
EPIPHONE LES PAULS
SOCO DELUXE CUSTOM
Barnes & Mullins .....................23, 67, 83
G&L ASAT DELUXE BIGSBY
ISSUE 105 MAY 2010
ISSUE 106 JUNE 2010
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1975 IBANEZ ICEMAN
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Merchant City Music ............................75 www.guitarbuyermag.com 105
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BUDDA SERIES II SUPERDRIVE V-20 & SUPERDRIVE 45 112 ALSO REVIEWED NEXT MONTH:
HAGSTROM SUPER SWEDE TREMAR P-90 & SWEDE SE P-90 JADEN ROSE SERIES 2 WASHBURN WD30SCE & WG55SCE ZT AMPS ACOUSTIC LUNCHBOX MXR CUSTOM COMP, MICRO FLANGER & MICRO CHORUS ELECTRO-HARMONIX GERMANIUM 4 BIG MUFF PI
NEWS ROUND-UP MINI-TESTS UNSUNG HEROES TONE ZONE TECH TALK PAWN STARS AND MORE!
INTERVIEWED! GINGER/THE WILDHEARTS LESLIE WEST SIMON MCBRIDE ON THE RECORD The Kingsmen ‘Louie Louie’ BACKSTAGE PASS Dave Grohl/Foo Fighters VINTAGE & COLLECTABLE Fender Paisley Telecaster
FR_DiabloSupremeX_McKnight_Rose_210x297_en:Layout 1 19.11.10 11:20 Seite 1
FRAMUS DIABLO SUPREME X CUSTOM SHOP
Framus Diablo Supreme X Custom Shop made for Paul Rose For information visit the Custom Shop Gallery at www.framus.de, and read more about Paul Rose at www.paulrose.co.uk
n german ei
Framus Diablo Supreme X Custom Shop made for Blackbyrd McKnight For information visit the Custom Shop Gallery at www.framus.de, and read more about Blackbyrd at www.blackbyrdmcknight.net
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Warwick Music Equipment Trading (Hailsham UK) Ltd. • “Cortlandt” George Street • East Sussex BN27 1AE • Great Britain Phone 01618 390 666 • Fax 01612 146 161 • E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Headquarters: Warwick GmbH&Co.Music Equipment KG • Gewerbepark 46 • 08258 Markneukirchen / Germany • E-Mail: email@example.com Branches: Shanghai / P.R.China • Dübendorf / Switzerland • Praha / Czech & Slovakia Republic • Warsaw / Poland • New York / USA Visit us on the World Wide Web: www.framus.de • www.framus-vintage.de • www.war wick-distribution.de
Guitar Buyer is a magazine dedicated to all that's new and exciting with guitar gear. News, reviews and features designed to help you unders...
Published on Feb 11, 2011
Guitar Buyer is a magazine dedicated to all that's new and exciting with guitar gear. News, reviews and features designed to help you unders...