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Letter From the Editor


Is Guitar Center in the Deal Pool? Part 2


Quick Picks: The Best in New Music


Vinyl of the Month: Baby Jaymes


Live Reviews



12. Builder Gallery: A Selection of the Best User-Submitted Custom Gear, Mods & Instruments

28. SPOTLIGHT: Millipede FX (pictured) 30. Lessons from the Solder Soldiers: What musicians can learn from their makers

32. Small Business Lessons From Crash Magnetic Transducers



Black Market Custom

34. DIY Hiwatt Custom Build with Alex Paul

36. Amp Live Hacks MPC With Custom Controllers

38. Inside StudioLive AI Mixers with PreSonus’ Wesley Smith

42. Soldering Basics for Beginners 43. Making A DIY Synth: An Introduction to the TI Beaglebone Black

44. FXdoctor’s Pedalboard Troubleshooting Tool

45. Lessons on Proper Wiring & Killing Buzz

46. Tubes vs. Transformers: What Builders Should Know

48. My Favorite Axe: Sarah Blacker

SPOTLIGHT: Bohemian’s Oil Can Guitars - pg 26 PERFORMER MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 2014 3


Howdy, y’all! Holy gear, Batman! In case you haven’t noticed, this issue is dedicated to the knob-tweakers, the solder soldiers, the gear-heads, the tone junkies, the hackers, the builders and the dreamers who dared to ask, “What would it sound like if I did this?” We put out a call to the builder community, not only to show off cool pieces of custom work (pedals, guitars, pickups, electronics – man, we got TONS of cool stuff sent our way), but also to share some valuable information with our readers who might be thinking about doing some custom mods or builds themselves. We’ve got articles on proper wiring, tubes vs. transformers, DIY amp heads and so much more.

Remember, these special issues are all about YOU, our readers. We want to feature your work, your creations, your creativity. Next time we put out a call for submissions (whether it’s an art issue, a photography issue, a gear issue – whatever!) please don’t hesitate to drop us a line. Your contributions make these special issues…well, so special. And for that, we offer up a big thanks.

Volume 24, Issue 7


Phone: 617-627-9200 Fax: 617-627-9930 PO BOX 348 Somerville, MA 02143 PUBLISHER

William House Phone: 617-627-9200 EDITOR

-Benjamin Ricci, editor


Cristian Iancu


P.S. – for those interested parties, our next special issue will have a December cover date. Keep an eye on as well as our Facebook and Twitter pages as we reveal the topic and open up reader submissions in the next few weeks. Until then, just stay curled up in the fetal position in the corner of your bedroom. As long as you’re wearing that foil hat, THEY can’t get you. Yet...


Alex Paul, Amp Live, Benjamin Hanson, Benjamin Ricci, Candace McDuffie, Chris Constantino, Christopher Petro, Don Miggs, Ethan Varian, Gail Fountain, Garrett Frierson, Hannah Lowry, Ian Doreian, Joe Nunez, John Hattin, Kristen Strawinski, Lauren Moquin, Leslie McIntyre, Lucy Fernandes, Matt Ingersoll, Michael Milbert, Michael St. James, Rich Coleman, Richard McGeachin, Shawn M Haney, Taylor Haag, Taylor Northern, Trev Wignall CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS



Alex Paul, Bryan Malik, Dalton Campbell, Guillermo Quexacoatl, Jason Speakman, Rick Carroll, Rosalyn Lee ADVERTISING SALES

Kathleen Mackay Deborah Rice



Performer Magazine, a nationally distributed musician’s trade publication, focuses on independent musicians, those unsigned and on small labels, and their success in a DIY environment. We’re dedicated to promoting lesser-known talent and being the first to introduce you to artists you should know about.

Did we make a heinous blunder, factual error or just spell your name wrong? Contact and let us know, cuz we’re big enough to say, “Baby, I was wrong.”

MUSIC SUBMISSIONS We listen to everything that comes into the office. We prefer physical CDs, cassettes and vinyl over downloads. If you do not have a physical copy, send download links to attachments, please. Send CDs to: Performer Magazine Attn: Reviews PO BOX 348 Somerville, MA 02143


EDITORIAL SUBMISSIONS In the words of our esteemed forefathers at CREEM: “NOBODY WHO WRITES FOR THIS RAG’S GOT ANYTHING YOU AIN’T GOT, at least in the way of credentials. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be sending us your stuff: reviews, features, photos, recording tips, DIY advice or whatever else you have in mind that might be interesting to our readers: independent and DIY musicians. Who else do ya know who’ll publish you? We really will... ask any of our dozens of satisfied customers. Just bop it along to us to and see what comes back your way. If you have eyes to be in print, this just might be the place. Whaddya got to lose? Whaddya got?”

© 2014 by Performer Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any method whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher. The magazine accepts no responsibility for unsolicited recordings, manuscripts, artwork or photographs and will not return such materials unless requested and accompanied by a SASE.


Is Guitar Center in the Dead Pool? T

Part 2 of 2: In Which We Look at the Future of MI Retail

his is the continuation of my conversation about Guitar Center with Eric Garland (@ericgarland), Managing Director of Competitive Futures. See last month’s article for Part 1. Performer Mag: I keep seeing Guitar Center ads; everything “seems” to be just fine. Eric Garland: They’re on a media offensive. I am continually getting emails from people about GC when something horrible goes wrong, tons of anecdotal stories. Things like, “I gave them $2,500 for a Les Paul and they didn’t send it to me.” Says it’s “in stock, be there in 3 days.” They don’t send a guitar but they keep his money. It took him weeks to get his money back, and still no guitar. I’m hearing from several sources that, in addition to MUSIC group, Gibson is done with them. Les Pauls are their lifeblood. I’d look into Fender, as well. PM: You’re a strategy expert - what could Guitar Center do to succeed? EG: Nothing. Not at this debt level. In March, when they refinanced with Ares Management, they were stuffed with 6.5% to 9.3% interest on all that junk paper on the financing every month. Even analysts say they may be able to hold on, but just barely without something like double-digit growth to make a profit. But part of this is the leveraged buyout (LBO) business model. Look, Tony Ressler (co-founder of Ares) is no fool. Bain Capital lost $500 million, but they had no idea what to do with GC. He’ll make money, but not save the company, he’s not meant to do so. The way big finance works now is that there is real benefit in keeping things frozen, and sucking out the money for the debt holders. I call

it the “Parasite Economy.” It latches on and keeps sucking out, no matter whether the blood will eventually run out or not. PM: So, what’s the diagnosis on Guitar Center? EG: It’s not in the dead pool today, but let’s just say it’s very, very, wet, and there’s no lifeguard. Unless there’s change, it just doesn’t seem possible. Huge growth is needed. The shit-ton of debt was put together because they wanted to control the industry, not use it for growth. Beat up the vendors, beat up the workers, and keep out any competition, even if you’re losing money. I do know they are current with some vendors. I can’t say which, but they are important products. But, GC gives basically a dime out of every dollar, off the top, to the banker, everyday. That doesn’t pay for lights, or workers, or vendors, etc. Retail is not easy in normal circumstances, and the margins in music are small. That debt could be most of their margin. The Guitar Center brand is probably still worth something, if they liquidated. I think they could be an awesome regional player in the southwest United States. But at these levels, it will just take them too long to get to normal. Show me how you’re paying your employees more. Show me that you’re doing product development and innovation, paying your vendors. Until I see that, I tell people that they shouldn’t even buy a pick there, just in case they can’t give you change. PM: What’s the future of music instrument retail? EG: It’s murky. Sam Ash and Sweetwater are the next two on the list of retail music industry

giants, but their size is paltry in comparison, as in Guitar Center is 5 times the size. Guitar Center owns $2 billion out of a $7 billion market. That includes every church organ and kazoo. Just in popular music instruments, Guitar Center basically has the whole block. But others are coming up, using technology to facilitate growth. My pal is doing this thing called reverb. com - mostly used gear, very nice vintage stuff. The pricing is right, and the experience is nice. That is missing in retail. PM: This isn’t just a music thing, is it? Is this just part of the new American economy? EG: What I’m seeing in a lot of areas (retail especially) is that the status quo is not working anymore. I think people are starting to feel it. Like big box stores, maybe it worked a while ago, and now, maybe it just will not work, no matter what. Maybe this is the new normal. They are being propped up with debt. In a normal free market, they would have failed, closed, and we would have gotten through the pain quicker. It’s time to see what a new generation of entrepreneurs will do with this space. The quicker Guitar Center dies, and the quicker we get all of these old guys out of the way - the bankers, private equity, etc. - the better the music industry (including the music) will be. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development. PERFORMER MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 2014 5


THE CANCERS Fatten the Leeches Athens, GA (Kandy Kane Records)

CRUSHED OUT Teeth Brooklyn, NY (Cool Clear Water Records)

THE FRONT BOTTOMS Rose Bergen County, NJ (Bar None Records)

Big fuzzy hooks with power pop and ’90s grunge pouring from its veins... Ella Kaspar and Lenny Miller bare suspicious sonic proximity to female-fronted mid-’90s Sonic Youth and Gish-era Smashing Pumpkins…Properly soliciting the help from billfitting Nirvana, Hole and Soundgarden grunge producer, Jack Endino, the LP’s production binds the Cancers with a blurry, nearly-shoegaze wash of fuzzy guitars and Kaspar’s hazy, dreamlike female vocals… There’s something undeniably effortless and cool about the debut, bruiting its take-it-or-leave-it tough day sentiments (“Razorblade,” “Sick”) and cruel love posturing (“Hole in my Head” “Be Cool”)… Engineered, Recorded & Mixed at Soundhouse Studio, Seattle, WA by Jack Endino Mastered at Chase Park Transductions by Neil Warner Follow online at  Christopher Petro

The husband and wife surf rock duo is back with Teeth; the album really embraces the joy and wonder of being young and in love, reminding us to stop and enjoy the view of the waves and sunshine every now and the…“Two Lovebirds” is a standout track - an originally crafted bluesy tale taking the figurativeness of ‘lovebirds’ to a new level, even dubbing (quite brilliantly) those who don’t approve of new and young love as crows. For other tracks urging you to break free from anything or anyone threatening to break you down, check out “Riding Lightning” and “Summer Sunset.” Teeth is full of metaphors we all wish we thought of to illustrate our feelings about youth and living in the moment with the one you love... Recorded, Mixed & Produced by Franklin Russell Hoier Mastered by Paul Gold at Salt Mastering Follow on Twitter @crushedoutmusic  Matt Ingersoll

The Front Bottoms’ fans are the type who are devoted enough to show enthusiasm for anything the band puts out there, and Rose shows that this trust comes with good reason. The EP fine-tunes some old and unreleased songs of gritty honesty and delivers them in a way that any fan of a broody sing-along can respect. “Lipstick Covered Magnet” envelops this spirit with a yearning to be understood despite fear and self-doubt. Named after drummer Mathew Uychich’s grandmother, Rose stands as the first installment in a series of EPs honoring each band members’ grandmothers. Recorded by Tim Panella & Erik kase Romero Mixed by Chris Smith & Sean Rolie Mastered by John Marshall Smith at JMS Mastering Follow On Twitter @TheFrontBottoms  Lauren Moquin

QUICK Here you’ll find the best new music our writers have been digging this past month. For full reviews and to stream tracks and videos from the artists featured on these pages, please head to Enjoy! JACK WHITE Lazaretto Detroit, MI (Third Man Records)

LEE BAINS III & THE GLORY FIRES Dereconstructed Birmingham, AL (Sub Pop)

Whether an exhibition of crushing riffs or heartrending balladry, add smirkingly poetic, rapid-fire lyrics and the song becomes decidedly Jack White… The reality is that Lazaretto is far from an imperceptible effort – originating from the ingenious mind of a man who is anything but invisible. This is White’s Wonderland, or Underland: never minimalistic, occasionally creepy, often nonsensical but always distinctively literate. It is a vibrant realm where he is free to showcase his many incarnations – from Appalachian balladry to refreshing Americana to Gothicism and everything in-between. The LP’s standout track, and also its grooviest, is undoubtedly “That Black Bat Licorice.” Emotionally potent, Lazaretto solidifies White’s status as an ever-evolving rock ‘n’ roll great.

Thick, crunchy and soulful Americana roots rock with driving guitars and growling melody-backed vocals…Sub Pop’s recent acquisition of the snarling Birmingham four-piece is admittance to ferocity and distortion-clad, nearly-punk guitars by the bucketful. Imagine the heyday of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s blue-collar anthems charged with the Stooges’ flickering energy…Heavy, bold riffs reign through hooked-filled melodies and casts singer Lee Bains’ southern swagger within a powerful framing. Bains delivers like a rock god and his songs aren’t just listenable, they’re anthem upon anthem of riff-lined sexiness. Dereconstructed is kind of album that inspires one’s son to pick up an instrument and forge a garage rock band intent on rattling walls and scaring neighbors….The most original rock release of the year. Recorded and Mixed at Battletapes, TN by Tim Kerr and Jeremy Ferguson Follow on Twitter @TheGloryFires  Christopher Petro

Produced by Jack White Engineered & Mixed by Joshua V. Smith Follow on Twitter @thirdmanrecords  Julia R. DeStefano 6 SEPTEMBER 2014 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

MEDESKI SCOFIELD MARTIN & WOOD Juice Brooklyn, NY (Indirecto Records) Experimental jazz-funk masters Medeski Martin & Wood have teamed up with evil guitar genius John Scofield for the combo’s third studio release as a quartet. Exploring sounds ranging from vintage B3 funk to atonal acid-dub, Juice will surely satisfy fans of the group’s intrepid approach to improvisation. MSMW enthusiasts will also be pleasantly surprised by inspired renditions of classic rock songs including “Light My Fire,” “Sunshine of Your Love” and a powerfully delicate reading of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”  Follow on Twitter @MMWBand  Ethan Varian

PAWNS OR KINGS Pomme de Terre St. Louis, MO (Self-released)

SHIPS HAVE SAILED Someday EP Los Angeles, CA (Self-released)

Spontaneous, charming, adventurous indie candy pop…Onward Chariots, an enticing group from Brooklyn, has created delightfully engaging indiepop glory in the sounds of Take Me to Somewhere. Romantic and charming, the first two tracks of this little EP leave you dizzy with joy. “It Doesn’t Even Matter” is honey-spun fun, followed by the amiable “Vacation,” churning with harmonies and horns that spell early New Pornographers. A record full of splashing sunshine through the leaves of a summer forest, you can hear and enjoy gorgeous synthesizer keys, horns and trumpets, jangly guitars, riveting bass and percussion backgrounds and compelling, free-spirited harmonies throughout. Such a blast!

Fitting in nicely with the neo-folk-bluegrass-mountain-sounds revival movement, this three-man band from the Ozarks produces a sound that is saturated and beautiful. Pomme de Terre features a lot of acoustic guitar and airy vocals. Throughout the album, you’ll hear skillfull picking and few (if any) electric instruments. The band likens themselves to groups like Of Monsters and Men, and this seems to be the most accurate comparison. Slip these guys into a playlist of Dallas Green/City and Colour tracks and they’ll fit right in. Add some Mumford & Sons in there, and it’ll be banjos galore. Needless to say, if you’re a fan of any of those artists, you’ll find a new love in these guys.

Recorded & Mixed by Jesse Gander Mastered by Heba Kadry at Timeless Mastering Follow on Twitter @onwardchariots  Shawn M. Haney

Produced By Pawns or Kings & Ben Bigelow Follow on Twitter @PawnsorKings  Hannah Lowry

The LA-based alterna-pop group’s debut EP is the perfect soundtrack for living life and overcoming struggles…Like many debuts, Someday doesn’t stick to one specific formula, instead exploring a variety of sounds and themes. “Midnight” is an epic trance/ pop track with skyscraping choruses, but then bandleader Will Carpenter gamely turns it down a notch on the acoustic “Clouds.” Carpenter uses his passionate, Johnny Rzeznik-like vocals to great effect throughout...Thematically, Carpenter encourages listeners to live life to the fullest, particularly on the pop/rock title track, with its theme of living for today even when your mistakes ring like a clarion bell. Bottom line: Someday is a well-crafted debut. Produced by Morgan Taylor Reid & Will Carpenter / Mixed by Morgan Taylor Reid, Billy Schleifer, and Scotty Lund Mastered by Brian “Big Bass” Gardner Follow on Twitter @ShipsHaveSailed  Brian Palmer


ONWARD CHARIOTS Take Me to Somewhere Brooklyn, NY (Self-released)


UNITED NATIONS The Next Four Years New York, NY (Temporary Residence Ltd.)

WILL DAILEY National Throat Boston, MA (Wheelkick Records)

Combining the gentleness of a mother’s hand to a fresh-faced newborn and the serenity of genial birdsongs, Exile On Earth imbues peacefulness with weathered-heart wisdom...From the breathy comfort of the opener, “Dark Lullaby,” to the abating chords and ocean waves of “Receding,” the record exhibits melodic finger-picking with an innocence and personable aspect that feels as if you’re experiencing the songs first-hand, privately sitting on your bedroom floor. As the tracks sway past, one calmly into the next, the album’s imagery drifts by dainty optimism and personal repair, and utilizes lacy progressions and tasteful percussion to capture a level of frailty reserved for artifacts and broken hearts…Though the album takes detours through desolate territory, the LP’s underlying benevolence casts off the brief fog of doubt - a clarity shown through delicate instrumentation and blooming poetic imagery. Engineered, Mixed & Mastered by Scott Simon Follow on Twitter @Stella_InClouds  Taylor Haag

Unabashedly raucous screamo flirting with chaos… If The Next Four Years is supposed to be satirical, that message is more or less lost from the first second album opener “Serious Business” begins. What follows is a non-stop barrage of aggression that walks the line between screamo and metal very delicately, resulting in a collection of songs that come off like high-powered jolts of electricity. Loud guitars play wild and loose and almost compete with each other at times, while blast beats go on in the background like machine gun fire. Fans of Thursday’s Full Collapse will no doubt be thrilled to hear Geoff Rickly go back to his roots, shrieking along with the chaos… It may be unclear what United Nations’ goals are as a band, but by the time the record ends, you probably won’t care. You’ll just want to hear the whole thing again.

Will Dailey is an immensely talented Boston-based singer/songwriter. After years of doing the major label thing and feeling creatively held down, Dailey recently left to pursue the independent route. His latest album, National Throat, celebrates his newfound creative freedom. The record shows off a mix of Dailey’s songwriting abilities; from the big choruses in “We Will Always Be a Band” to the banjo-driven “Higher Education,” he graces us with his versatility and rock-solid songwriting abilities. All in all, National Throat is an impressive addition to Dailey’s growing catalog and gives us great hope for where his music may lead in the future.

Follow on Twitter @TheOfficialUN  Rich Coleman

Engineered by Pat DiDenso Executive Produced by Jon Derek Croteau Mastered by Dave McNair at Dave McNair Studios Mixed at Q Division Studios Follow on Twitter @willdailey  Benjamin Hanson PERFORMER MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 2014 7


The new 45 from the soulful, sexy Baby Jaymes radiates a funked-out Oakland vibe the second the needle touches down on wax. BJ’s retro-infused take on the 50 Cent track “21 Questions” plays out like a beach-n-brews arrangement you might expect if G. Love took a stab at the song. The bass thumps, the vocals are sure to make panties drop, but the harder-edged essence of the original is still floating just underneath the surface. It’s an interesting (and somewhat unexpected) cover of a now-classic hip-hop staple. B-Side “The Visit” is a more traditional R&B number, complete with horns and silky guitar flutters and chord passages. Jaymes is seemingly channeling an ’80s-era Michael Jackson on the vocals, but it (thankfully) never reaches the level of full-on cheese; it works well for the track and rounds out the record nicely. [Editor’s Note: the Bandcamp version of the single contains bonus tracks not found on the vinyl release.]

Follow on Twitter: @BabyJaymes

“Soulful re-working of 50 Cent track highlights new 7-inch” Baby Jaymes 21 Questions b/w The Visit

Oakland, CA (Ret-Tone Recordings/Ghetto Retro Music)

Recorded by Rob “GKoop” Mandell Size: 7-inch Speed: 45rpm Color: Coke Bottle Green/Clear Vinyl Units Pressed: 500


REVIEWS Follow on Twitter: @Newportfolkfest

Rodrigo y Gabriela

Newport Folk Festival Jenny Lewis

Newport, RI - July 25-27, 2014

Mavis Staples reigns supreme as Jack White decimates the stage.


he 2014 Newport Folk Festival proved to be an experience that soared beyond seeing bands live; it served as the backdrop for some of this year’s most memorable music moments. Ryan Adams proved that once again he’s perfectly poised to make another comeback, Jack White stomped the festival grounds before

Mavis Staples

by CANDACE MCDUFFIE / photography by JASON SPEAKMAN effortlessly decimating the stage, and Mavis Staples unquestionably reigned supreme. Newport Folk sold out before the lineup was even announced, which proves that festivals hoping to achieve the same caliber of promise as NFF have a lot to learn. Some of the weekend’s best frames are captured on this page.


Ben Booker



Lavish Green

Mountain Vibe Music Gathering Blue Mountain Event Center - Wilseyville, CA July 25-26, 2014 An intimate musical oasis; the perfect answer to overblown corporate summer fests.



ake the things you hate about music festivals, the overpriced beers, the thick untenable crowds, the commercialization that chips away at authenticity year after year. Strip them away and you might find yourself at Mountain Vibe Music Gathering. There’s a palpable sense of community and togetherness that permeates everything at Mountain Vibe, bringing folks back every year to an intimate celebration of music, camping and Off road driving. Mountain Vibe turned five this year, and celebrated that milestone by finally becoming the festival it was always meant to be. From its inception in the Tahoe forest to a brief detour in the Reno desert, Mountain Vibe struggled in the past to find an identity beyond its location. Years of fine tuning, hard work and luck paid off in spades as the Blue Mountain Event Center in Calaveras County provided the most perfect home, and transformed itself into an intimate city of tents and RVs for a raucous weekend of debauchery. Perennial headliners Forrest Day hold the distinction of playing every year since the beginning, and it showed so clearly through the enthusiasm and devotion of the crowd during their blistering two-hour set. Gatherers sang and danced as one undulating mass of joy and freedom. The rest of the lineup featured many more returning faces: Lavish Green, Planting Seeds,


by JOE NUNEZ / photography by ROSALYN LEE

Gigantis, Swoon, Arden Park Roots, Radiokeys, 7eat9 and more. These Vibe veterans welcomed newcomers like Overland and BullyWest, who won over the crowd with a welcome blast of fresh new music. As always, some of the most compelling entertainment happened around the fire pit, or in the tent city, as disparate musicians and friends created myriad random jams. Even the less musically inclined felt encouraged to grab a tambourine or smack a djembe, free of judgment.

Follow on Twitter: @mtnvibemusic


The KillTones Record Release Party

article by LUCY FERNANDES photography by RICK CARROLL

The Drinkery Cincinnati, OH July 25, 2014 Near-psychotic vocals and explosive, fearless performances.


he latest album from The KillTones (Raw.Animals.Dance) was the occasion for a blowout party at the Drinkery. The strong, nine-song effort definitely earned the resulting enthusiastic celebration. The show was also being filmed, so audience members had been encouraged to arrive in wacky animal costumes, adding to the already festive atmosphere. Skinny glow sticks were provided at the door for fashioning into colorful neon-like bracelets and necklaces. The group really took advantage of the energy created by the close proximity of the stage to the crowd, as each amped up the other during the set. Front man Clinton Vearil can hold his own with any of today’s best lead singers. Fearless, and at times jumping down into the melee at his feet, he exhorted their response with his muscularly supple yet pinpoint vocal delivery. Part blues, part rock strut, and all performer: he wailed, shook, persuaded, screamed, and testified his way through some

powerhouse material. Guitarist Josh Pilot was no slouch either, as he ripped into some intense buzzing, searing licks in accompaniment. The strong rhythm section of Ray Redmon on drums and Randy Proctor on bass rounded out the bill. They have one BIG sound. The KillTones are no simplistic, one-trickpony band, either. Precise starts and stops, and builds and releases throughout their arrangements kept the listener engaged and hanging on with anticipation. Two of the best songs of the night included “Shapeshifter,” a heavy power-blues offering featuring Vearil’s near-psychotic vocals and laced with ominous dual guitar and bass lines, all of it riding over hammering drums; and “Love I Need,” an explosive blues scorcher. Both tracks are on the new album. Much to their credit, the KillTones easily kept the place packed and hopping until the bar’s late night last call. They’re worth checking out as they tour in support of this release.

Follow on Twitter: @thekilltones





I’ve been building my own instruments and musical items for close to 5 years, but this is my first guitar. It was built this year. WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE:

The sound was specifically chosen to satisfy what I felt was missing from my previous guitars. I ended up with something very full sounding, with a nice, natural resonance and warmth I haven’t felt before in an electric COOL FEATURES:

Follow on Twitter: @robotgraves

Classic Fender offset shape, but with a rarely seen semi-hollow cut. The mahogany neck wood and body wood added a great bass end depth. INTERESTING BUILD NOTES:

You would be surprised what a CNC machine can create, or which companies just buy their necks from proven manufacturers. Looking at what exists in the world and using that as a basis helped me know what I wanted in the build. LESSONS LEARNED:

1. Never cut a corner on your dream build. Spend the money, and make the guitar you want, not something “close.” 2. D on’t build anything you don’t want (or need) to. I bought the neck, and I’m glad I did. 3. D on’t be afraid to bring it to a tech for help. 4. S and until your arms fall off, and then sand some more. PRICE:

$2,500 URL:




Haramis Guitars

Chemistry is not always predictable; expect the unexpected. I never set out to make guitar hardware, but I was showing a custom guitar to a leading instrument hardware manufacturer. He liked the guitar, but he LOVED the knobs. I never expected that.



I’ve been building guitars for over 15 years and making custom hardware for about 4 years. MODEL NAME:

I named my hardware line Art Parts Hardware because I treat every piece like a piece of art. My signature knobs are called Nebula knobs. I can make custom knobs for guitar, bass, amps and effects pedals. The knobs don’t make a peep, but I’ve been told they will improve your tone and mood :)


Set of two custom knobs in any color is $16.00. No extra charge for custom colors. URL:


My signature Nebula knobs, with all the random swirled colors, can feature different colors that complement one another. I can make them glow in the dark and also glow under stage lighting. INTERESTING BUILD NOTES:

Follow on Twitter: @haramisguitars & @mattharamis

Every single knob is unique and handmade. I never know exactly what they will look like until they are taken out of the molds and polished. PERFORMER MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 2014 13



Chase Dawes

The Cthulhu image with glowing red eyes [editor’s note: Lovecraft rules!]



A year and a half.

Some of the best sounding pedals can be simpler circuits



Call of Cthulhu (2014) TYPE:

Plexi-Style Distortion Pedal WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE:

Very much a Marshall sound – it can do a JCM 800 to a Marshall JTM.



$125 URL:

Follow on Twitter: @DawesAudio



In EC Pedals for about 3 years now, in general we’ve been building pedals for about 10 years :) MODEL NAME:



Night Journey Reverb - it’s a sparkly yet very warm reverb guitar pedal which is also good for bass, keyboards and even vocals. YEAR BUILT:


The “Tone” knob really acts as a “sparkly” addition to the mix; you can really hear the reverb trails standing out in the mix! INTERESTING BUILD NOTES:

The pedal feature audio grade capacitors, SMD resistors, Neutrik jacks and more top-of-the-line components. Like all of our pedals, they are all built like a tank with the highest quality parts we can find. LESSON LEARNED:

Never think that the first prototype will be the final version :) PRICE:

$169 URL:

Follow on Twitter: @ECPEDALS




Since 2012. MODEL NAME:

FAR FUZZ I to VI (2013)


The germanium transistors used give an amazing amount of low-end frequencies, no bassist required. A self-oscillation can be always over the notes or only when no notes being played. INTERESTING BUILD NOTES:


“Velcro” fuzz with infinite feedback. Treble guitar notes sound an octave lower. Massive sound for power chords and pure feedback solos, either gated or with self-oscillating tails.


My cheap solder overheats many components (transistors, capacitors, etc) making every pedal remarkably unique, even with identical components.

After building and using many pedals, I came to realize that it is best to hard-set most of the typically “adjustable” values permanently. If you make a small batch of pedals, just choose a unique sound you can be identified with, instead of trying to please every possible player with multiple knobs. PRICE:

Not trying to sell. URL:

Listen at



6 years. MODEL NAME:

WWII Tribute Guitar (2014) WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE:

It eats O.D. pedals for breakfast. COOL FEATURES:

100% hand made, with an aluminum top and hand-carved aluminum hardware. INTERESTING BUILD NOTES:

Neck and body are recycled wood; body is a ’70s pine table and the neck is maple 3/4-inch flooring. LESSON LEARNED:

Aluminum is a great building material. PRICE:

NFS (at the moment)




About 15 years MODEL:

The PBA-1 Filterbox YEAR Built:

2009 (originally), 2014 (modded further) WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE:

Heavy crunch, bandwidth limiting, fuzzing, squealing (thanks to the onboard “Crash Sync” circuit), and splatting.


The filtering and gain stages were pulled from an old piece of lab equipment, found years ago at Wacky Willy’s (RIP) here in Portland. I rehoused them in a rackmount box, added a DI front-end (built from a Craig Anderton circuit) and crammed in a small collection of simple tonebending circuits. LESSON LEARNED:

If you see a cheap piece of surplus gear that has “Hz” markings on it in the audible range, grab it – even if you’re not exactly sure what it does at the time. COST TO BUILD:


Diode clipping is switchable - pre/post the high and lowpass filters, which completely changes the character of the distortion. Switchable crappy output transformers provide even more extreme coloration.


About $60 in parts (lots of surplus/spare parts in this one) URL:

Follow on Twitter: @leighmarble


Masterbuilt Amplification BUILDER NAME:

Steve Bassett

Like adding an extra preamp tube and a MOSFET boost to your amp. Capable of very heavy but smooth distortion. It loves old Marshalls and of course our “Iron Head 100” amplifier series. COOL FEATURES:


7 Years.

It is an 18 volt hybrid of a silicon MOSFET boost with a 12AX7 tube. It has a Heat or “Standby” switch to keep it ready.


Quality tools and components require deep pockets. Ventilate well when soldering. Buy in bulk. Learn the right way to machine aluminum. Buy a professional “name brand” drill press with the laser sight. PRICE:



Stone Groove Tube Overdrive Distortion Pedal (2013)

to stop feedback and “switch popping.” I have sold almost 50 units so far with no returns.


It took years of experimenting with different tubes, silicon amps and wiring configurations



Mercy Seat Effects



The name and graphic were supplied to me by my friend for whom the pedal was being built.



3 years. MODEL NAME:

The A/Braham (2014)

Each amp can have a couple different ways for the channels to be changed and reverb to be engaged. I initially wired the LED the opposite way so that the LED would engage when the reverb was off rather than on. It was quickly fixed, of course.


A/B/Y switch, amp channel and reverb switch



Rather than having three separate pedals to flip between two amps and/or an amp’s channel and reverb, this single pedal does it all! 20 SEPTEMBER 2014 PERFORMER MAGAZINE


Follow on Twitter: @Mercyseatfx


Arkham Sound [editor’s note: is this the second Lovecraft reference in the builder’s gallery?]


Like James Jamerson! It’s a standalone preamp based on the classic 1960s Ampegs. COOL FEATURES:



About five years. MODEL NAME:

The Octling (2014)

Designed to run into a big solid state power amp for vintage sounds at higher volumes… or just right into a studio mixing board/ interface.


A 5” x 7” chassis is TINY!! A real ship-in-abottle design, but I wanted to keep them cute. PRICE:




Octal preamp tubes can be very noisy, but totally worth the effort to find the quiet ones. They sound so robust!


Tube Bass Preamp




Telenator Musical Electronics LLC BUILDER NAMES:

Bob Feather & Mike Mascagna HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING THIS:

As individuals, many years. As a company, 7 years. MODEL NAME:

Limited Edition CuNiFe TYPE:

Wide Range Humbucking Pickups YEAR BUILT:

Currently in production WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE:

It sounds identical to the very best vintage original you’ve ever heard. COOL FEATURES:

CuNiFe Threaded Magnets that adjust under each string, allowing for perfect volume balance. INTERESTING BUILD NOTES:

Telenator is the ONLY company in the world with threaded CuNiFe magnets. LESSON LEARNED:

When this project started, several people were quick to dismiss it as being impossible. We learned that with enough hard work and tenacity, anything is possible. PRICE:

Our pickups and modifications start at $85, with several price points up to $450. URL: 22 SEPTEMBER 2014 PERFORMER MAGAZINE




6 years. MODEL NAME:


Almost everything. COOL FEATURES:

18 effects in one pedal! INTERESTING BUILD NOTES:

The MEGAPEDAL was built for artist Kroak in the UK. He picked out all the effects and designed the graphic. In short, he designed it, and we built it! LESSONS LEARNED:

Since this was the second time we’ve built one, I had the process pretty much down. The big things I learned from the last time had to do with the effect of too much capacitance on the power supply, as well as how to build complex things in a simple way. PRICE:

N/A - it’s too much of a pain to build (I might build another one for $5,000) Follow on Twitter: @VFEpedals



Follow on Twitter: @blackmarketcstm

Follow on Instagram: @BlackMarketCustom



Handcrafting One-of-a-Kind Cabs For All Tonal Tastes

lack Market Custom was started by two friends and bandmates in 2008. Myself (Chris Constantino) and Chark King had been toying with the idea of custom cab building for a bit and eventually decided to go for it. We figured with my cabinetmaking and woodworking skills paired with Chark’s knowledge of guitar and bass as well as his vast understanding of everything electrical, we’d be able to offer a superior product that sets a new standard for quality craftsmanship, sound, appearance and durability. During the early years of Black Market we worked our butts off around our day jobs. We would sell cabs for under cost just to build up our portfolio and most nights were spent building cabs in my parents’ garage. We would go to shows, blast off emails and network as much as possible in our spare time until finally we were able to leave our day jobs and focus all of our efforts on Black Market.  Since day one our company goals have always been simple: offer the best product possible, never cut corners, and never be afraid to think out of the box.     Since then we’ve been fortunate enough to have moved out of my parents’ garage to a fully-equipped, 2,000 sq. foot warehouse in Massachusetts where all of our products are manufactured to this day.

Black Market Custom



Upcycling Discarded Oil Cans to Build Six-String Works of Art




ohemian Guitars was built on the dream of creating a guitar that looks as good as it sounds - and isn’t out of your price range. Naturally, that was going to involve some handiwork. So we found a way to upcycle existing materials to create something completely new in the market. Then we used the money we saved to reinvest in the future, by partnering with foundations that focus on music education for kids (check out our Far. Out. Fridays program and you’ll see what we mean). All of these efforts led us on an amazing journey, and led us to something that we couldn’t have expected. They don’t just sound amazing and look fresh; the birth of Boho brought a completely new sound to the world of guitar music. That alone makes it all worthwhile. HOW THEY’RE MADE – SOURCING MATERIALS One of the coolest things about our guitars comes from all the sourcing, love, and hard work that goes into them. For our Vintage Series guitars, we get creative. Materials are collected from around the country, coming from Ebay, used instrument stores, pawn shops…you name it, we’ve probably given it a go. From the pickups to the necks, we bring the parts from discarded instruments back to life. One of our new goals is to begin shaping necks out of reclaimed wood. The bodies of our Boho Series are made from melted down scrap metal. PRODUCTION This is a collaborative effort done by hand, with the assembly streamlined down to a science. Like so many things, most of the heavy lifting is actually in the prep work. We sand, stain, hand paint the necks, cut and shape the cans, and wire the pickups ourselves.

Follow on Twitter: @bohemianguitars

Once everything is assembled, it is time to set up the instrument. The setup portion of the build is the most critical as it requires incredible precision and careful engineering. If one part is even a millimeter off, the guitar won’t stay in tune and it can affect sound quality. Because of the nature of the instrument, we spend additional time focusing on grounding the electric currents. The beauty of it is that each guitar is truly one-of-akind, with unique materials and lots of personal attention and care. The Boho is made for you, and captures a sound unlike any other.

we know what an electric guitar sounds like. Magnetic, enchanting, larger-than-life. But the unique materials we use take it a step further. The electromagnetic properties of the pickup in a Bohemian guitar interact not only with the metal strings, they also resonate throughout the entire hollow, metal body of the instrument. Given the magnetic fields exerted by the pickup, it makes sense that any reactive metal that moves within that field is going to cause a reaction from the magnet. The double interaction of metal reverberating on metal creates a unique, harmonically rich tone found only in a Boho. The inner basswood skeleton in the body balances out the intensity of the electric elements, creating a bright tone that other guitars can’t achieve.

THE BOHO SOUND It’s something about the interaction of the hollow, metal body interacting with metal strings, amplified by the electromagnetic properties of our pickups. It’s…electrifying, and soulful.

Bohos have a way of taking on the voice of their musician, exploring a wide tonal range. Bohemian musicians like G. Love and the KOOKS can’t get enough of this unlikely gem. We have a feeling you’re going to feel the same.

In a traditional wooden electric guitar, the pickup interacts with the stings to create…well,



Millipe A

lifelong love of music, guitars, art, and electronics has evolved into a passion for building guitar pedals. Every pedal Millipede makes is individually handmade and assembled. No two pedals are alike. Each one is personally  tested for sound and build quality.  The vision at Millipede FX is to blend art and music together to create a personalized guitar pedal as individual as your music. Rather than offering generic looking, massproduced pedals, the goal is to create artistic, eye-catching and stylish guitar pedals that look as good as they sound. The inspiration for the graphics on the pedals comes from sources as diverse as nature, retro nods to the history of modern music, through to homages to the beautiful lines of the guitar itself. Visit for more information, photos and audio/video demos.

‘SUMMER’S DAY DELAY’ – ECHO/DELAY GUITAR PEDAL The Summer’s Day Delay – Echo/Delay Guitar Pedal is hand crafted to give your tone that classic rich, warm and spacious analog delay sound. The pedal features stylish and contemporary inspired graphics. With an extremely flexible three-knob layout that controls Time, Echo and Dwell allowing you to create thick, lavish, and dynamic sounds. Offering the tone shaping potential for everything from the dark and haunting to crisp and epic! With the Millipede FX – ‘Summer’s Day Delay’ - Echo/Delay pedal you can create soundscapes that are only limited by your imagination!

‘OLD CROW’ TREMOLO – TREMOLO GUITAR PEDAL The rhythmic raising and lowering of volume, is one of the oldest and most classic guitar effects. The Millipede FX – ‘Old Crow’ Tremolo will transport your tone from subtle, warm volume changes to a rapid, stuttering tremolo vibe. Featuring Speed, Depth and Volume controls to dial in your perfect tone and to give you a headsup, visual indicator of the speed of the effect the top LED will flash the same rate as the tremolo! Also featuring an inbuilt, switchable buffer, this amazing circuit allows you to hear the true voice of your guitar cut through the mix. The Tremolo and Buffer circuits can be used together, independently or bypassed entirely allowing for maximum flexibility – this really is a two in one guitar pedal! The Millipede FX – ‘Old Crow’ is one of the most versatile tremolos available, so fun and inspiring that you won’t want to turn it off!...



‘THE UNDERGROUND’ – TUBE – BOOST/ DISTORTION GUITAR PEDAL ‘The Underground’ – Tube – Boost/Distortion pedal by Millipede FX employs a vacuum tube at its heart to bring a natural richness, shimmer and sustain to your tone. Now you are not limited only by the tones you can dial in with the controls and switches on-board, but you can physically change the tube itself to suit the sound!! The tube is socketed and can be swapped in and out and experimented with. For example a 12AT7/ECC81 is perfect for mid-gain applications, 12AX7/ECC83 for higher-gain and the 12AU7/ECC82 for all around performance. ‘The Underground’ takes its styling cues from the old-school tube amp heads of yesteryear and is fitted with ‘Gain’, ‘Tone’ and ‘Master Volume’ knobs on the side of the enclosure. It also features both a capacitor and diode selector switches for various tone combinations.

‘PISTACHIO SUNDAE’ – MINI BUFFER GUITAR PEDAL Long cables and multiple pedals will degrade your signal and starve your tone of top-end sparkle. The Millipede FX - Pistachio Sundae Mini Buffer is designed to remove this signal loss, ensuring that your tone is unaffected by your cables or pedal chain. The Pistachio Sundae Mini Buffer has a tiny footprint on your pedal board measuring a mere 2.24” L x 2.04” W x 1.05” H, leaving ample space for your regular effects pedals. The circuit is built on a modern PCB for maximum reliability and tone quality. The buffer can be turned on or off via the heavy duty 3PDT built in switch, although once you hear the difference in tone, clarity and sparkle you’ll want to keep it on all the time!



Injecting Beauty Into Custom FX Casings

‘ROAD TRIP’ –REVERB GUITAR PEDAL The Millipede FX - ‘Road Trip’ –Reverb Guitar Pedal is built around the Digi-Log digital reverb unit, proving the ‘brain’ for the sumptuous reverbs available at the turn of the controls. Using a simple, single knob control this compact digital reverb delivers sounds that take you from the subtle ambiance of a room or hall to the haunting reverberation of church or cathedral! With Millipede FX’s ‘Road Trip’ Reverb pedal you’ll be able to inject the character and warmth of a vintage reverb to your tone.

The warm sound of a 12AU7 vacuum tube can take your sound from bluesy style boost right through to heavy, harmonic distortion! PERFORMER MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 2014 29


Lessons From The Solder Soldiers What Musicians Can Learn From Their Makers


usic, and the way we make it, is everchanging. Technology has opened the playing field for makers to turn their ideas into reality faster and at a lower cost than ever before, and as a result there are now more guitar pedals, software synths, FX plug-ins, boutique guitars, analog synths, and drum machines than ever before. It’s not just technology, though, but a culture of openness, support, and enthusiasm that has enabled the boom of creation. Here are a few lessons musicians could learn from the people making their tools. FOLLOW YOUR PASSION - MONEY’S NEVER GUARANTEED Every pedal maker I’ve ever met started in their spare time while working another job, and none of them started doing it because they thought they could get rich. They started building pedals because they thought it was cool, and made it a full time job once enough people started saying they wanted one, too. There are many pedal makers who never make it their main source of income, and most of them are okay with that. 30 SEPTEMBER 2014 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

DON’T FEAR A NICHE We live in a big world, and only a very small part of it is needed to make a company or band sustainable. By finding their niche, companies like Qu-Bit Electronix, Twisted Tools, and Metasonix have been able to thrive and innovate. They prove that there is an audience for the forward-thinking, but only for those courageous enough to find them. BE MORE OPEN Most makers, like many musicians, are self-taught and love encouraging others to start learning. Guitar pedal maker Devi Ever posts her schematics and parts lists online for anyone to use and sells BIY (“Build-it-Yourself”) kits that just include the parts for a pedal. Giving away her intellectual property gives her greater interaction with customers and expands her community, who can spread the word about her great products. It also allows casually interested people to learn more about what she does. Bands that release remixes, sample packs, share their favorite tips and tricks can likewise gain new

GET INVOLVED WITH YOUR COMMUNITY Fans of bands and brands alike love getting personal attention and will keep coming back for more. Audio Damage, a software and Eurorack module maker, is very active on social media, posting and responding to fans, the casually interested, and other makers. This drives traffic and interest in their site and products and, combined with great customer service, leaves everyone with a great impression of the company.


audiences and influence the next generation of musicians simply by sharing some knowledge.

MAKE FRIENDS OF THE ‘COMPETITION’ It’s hard to find ill will in the maker community. Spend time on any maker’s Facebook page or Muff Wiggler forum and you’ll see that the people behind each brand openly use and recommend products from their “competitors.” This is because most makers have realized that music doesn’t get created in a vacuum, and have embraced the fact that personal music rigs made from many sources are the best way to suit individual needs. If a competitor’s synth sounds amazing through my FX rig, it behooves me to let my fans in on the secret. Similarly, if I find that another band fits perfectly into a playlist with my band, letting people know helps expose both bands to new audiences and gets more listens for both of us. FINAL THOUGHTS Every musician should to go to a maker fair or tech meetup at least once to experience the DIY builder and hacker culture. In contrast to the stereotype of lonely, isolated geniuses working in dark basements, makers are usually friendly people who are excited to share their knowledge and passion with all who will listen. Spending time around enthusiasm is contagious, and that’s a bug worth catching. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Garrett Frierson wrote the ‘Meet Your Maker’ monthly column in Performer Magazine for three years. He has a BA in Music Electronic Production & Design from Berklee College of Music and currently works as an engineer and producer in New York City. PERFORMER MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 2014 31


Follow on Twitter: @crashpickups

Follow on Instagram: @crashmagnetictransducers

Daring To Be Different in the Aftermarket Pickup Community Or, Why Crash Magnetic Transducers Won’t Be Producing Standard ’54 Strat Pups Anytime Soon…And Why That’s An Excellent Thing For Guitarists


for coils and this is going to be really, really, really brilliant.”

Whilst not universe-meltingly different to the normal pickups that fit in normal guitarholes, at Crash Magnetic Transducers we make pickups that differ a little more from standard than most. I made two decisions when we started winding coils: 1) Not to make pickups quite the

For some reason the market didn’t immediately submit and the roadblocks, well they were numerous. Aside from the difficulties in getting unique parts made from obsolete materials and in what industrialists would call agonizingly small runs, the main hurdle we’ve had to get over is trust. I say this in realization that every one of our customers has taken a leap of faith buying pickups from us - there have been no grinning Clapton endorsements, no cleanly-designed quarter-page adverts and no YouTube videos of a torso reviewing our coils through amplifiers no one can ever

same as anybody else, and 2) To build a pickup that fits a particular type of guitar only if we had a worthwhile design. It meant our product line would grow slowly with our own creations rather than rapidly knocking out family favorites like The 1954 Vintage Stratocaster Pickup and its daring cousin The Vintage But Also Hotter Stratocaster Pickup.

afford. Our small-but-growing customer base saw a picture on Instagram and took a chance on something cool. What’s more, in a little over six months of selling pickups to the planet we’ve not had a single sale we weren’t expecting – every guitarist got in touch first and talked it over, and a lot of the time ended up ordering something we were right in the middle of designing.

What a great marketing strategy! “The guitar world must be numbed-out after sixty years of Alnico 5 wrapped with 42 AWG. I’m going to make the world a better place for guitarists to live in, and they’ll all be ecstatic! I have so many ideas

So what do we, the stubbornly independent winders, draw from this? Well it turns out that if you push people away (consciously or unconsciously) by divorcing yourself from all their points of reference, or by choosing the least catchy brand name possible it takes a lot of groundwork and one-to-one time to explain why your stuff is totally excellent. And you know what? That’s absolutely fine. I love knowing the first names of all our customers and what guitar their pickups are getting plumbed into. I’m not sure I’ll ever get tired of packaging a set up and seeing a picture of it a few days later unwrapped on someone’s desk in Germany or Canada or Portland or Essex.

“It takes a lot of groundwork and one-to-one time to explain why your stuff is totally excellent. And you know what? That’s absolutely fine.”



he trouble with doing something ‘out there’ is most folks are quite happily ‘in there.’ It’s warm, there’s ample seating, and attempts to coerce your fellow humans to pay good money for the privilege of getting up out of their comfy chairs is normally met with a sharp upturn of the nose and a polite “I’m actually all right here, but thanks”.

to the end there might only be a handful of people there waiting for you... but those guys really want what you make and that’s what makes this the best job going.

I’ve found the path to winding a unique and distinctive pickup is a steep one, and when you get PERFORMER MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 2014 33


Lessons Learned From Crafting Custom Hiwatt Clones* *Plus Practical Tips for Fellow Builders



When I finally had all the parts, it really only took time, and a lot of Internet judo. There is so much more going on than one would initially imagine. Builders take a lot of time making sure to hide as much of the complexity as possible, and end up with a really clean looking amp. Amateur builders get exposed by their impatience and inexperience and it can be easily seen in a messy amp - especially if there is a problem and you have to take parts in and out, and get lazy. I took my time, perhaps sometimes even too much time, but I ended up with something I am proud to call my own. After finishing, let me impart the following pieces of information: • YOU ARE DEALING WITH HIGH VOLTAGE. This isn’t some kiddy game of Operation, these are voltages that will leave entrance and exit wounds and kill you dead. Don’t play around with electricity. • Get wire strippers. A utility blade is going to get old fast! • Take time. Don’t have a deadline, and don’t rush anything. You need to keep it clean, or it will get difficult fast, and your chances of finishing the project drop dramatically. • Be prepared for it to not work. You will make mistakes. You will have to address them. • Practice that Internet judo.


fter blowing up a Marshall and an Orange, I decided it was time to get a more bulletproof amplifier. My life kind of took a turn when I decided to build my own amp. A certain type of person is required for that sort of thought. Maybe I took apart too many VCRs as a kid, or CD players. Maybe you did as well. So after 20 some odd years of taking things apart and putting a couple of things together for a change, it seemed to make sense to make an amp. I called my dad with questions about what to build. The guy had amps and guitars my whole childhood. I remember the house shaking from riffs, and I knew he was just the man to call. I told him about some kits I had been looking at. Some were small wattage, and others were full clones of commercial amps. He suggested a Hiwatt DR103 (if anyone knows it, it has massive respect in the guitar community). I had been doing my reading, research, planning, and agreed with the choice. I wasn’t into the small watt amps.

AX84 had decent documentation, and a community dedicated to helping amateur builders, but the price seemed unreasonable for something I would never play live. I went full 100 watts, with a kit from Ceriatone. I had enough experience with previous projects, that I felt pretty confident.

“Amateur builders get exposed by their impatience and inexperience and it can be easily seen in a messy amp.”

When it was finished, it was certainly worth it. Stepping back, now, about two years later, and finally finishing the enclosure, I feel like I’ve only uncovered the tip of the iceberg of true handcrafted amplifiers. For the future, I’m working on improving the design slightly, sourcing everything and building a modified DR103 with Black Market Custom. I want to be able to provide people with something indestructible and hand made. After making my first, I found what I wanted to do with my life. Be wary, building an amp may change everything you know about music.



article by AMP LIVE photo by DALTON CAMPBELL


Mixing Old-School Quality with New Technology

Hacking MIDI Controllers to Create Drum Machine/ Guitar Hybrids I

n 2001 I started bringing my Ensoniq EPS sampler keyboard on stage to make freestyle beats. It came about in part because as a DJ and producer, it’s always a challenge to be interesting on stage and keep an audience’s attention. But, it was also something born of necessity. I

After a while, I got restless and didn’t feel like using the normal factory controllers that everyone else had, so I thought it would be cool to combine the old analog I loved with the new digital that I was learning. It was mixing old school quality with the new technology.

interesting on stage. People trip out on it. I can also play it very expressively because the guitar neck has a touch strip and button that help trigger sounds and actions. The goal is to use it as my main controller, eventually rocking a full show with the MPG!

“I got restless and didn’t feel like using the normal factory controllers that everyone else had. I thought it would be cool to combine the old analog…with the new digital.” didn’t necessarily have the super scratching skills like a DJ turntablist or the keyboard chops of my musician friends, but I knew there was something different I could bring to the stage by continuing to incorporate a part of the show that was “off the grid.”   Eventually, around 2003, I replaced my old sampler keyboard with the MPC2000 drum machine so I could do live beats, but I began to see that neither of the machines could hold as many sounds as I wanted.   They were also not as quick to load up sounds as I needed.   At that point, I began producing with various computer programs and also the controllers that went with them.  So eventually I transitioned to using computer controllers on stage instead the analog machines; it was easier and simpler.  

Because I have always thought differently and tried to imagine different ways of tweaking anything in my path with regards to music, I knew that I would need to work with a company that felt the same. I looked around and met with a few different companies, but when I met with  DJ Tech Tools, we immediately had chemistry. They totally understood my idea and were down to help me construct the controllers.   So for some time DJ Tech Tools sponsored  my custom MIDI fighter controllers, an MPC2000 custom computer controller, and a drum machine guitar that is an MPC with a guitar neck on it. It’s also called the MPG. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Amp Live is an American alternative hip-hop producer and DJ from California. He is also one half of the duo Zion I.

Follow on Twitter: @AmpLive

The MPG has gotten the best response out of my custom controllers because it looks very PERFORMER MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 2014 37


Inside the Developm PreSonus StudioLive 38 SEPTEMBER 2014 PERFORMER MAGAZINE


pment of the ve AI Series Mixers An Interview with Wesley Smith, Product Manager article by BENJAMIN RICCI




ditor’s Note: Recently PreSonus sent us one of their new 16-channel (badass) StudioLive AI Series mixers. We tried reviewing it, and ultimately couldn’t. Not because there weren’t good things to say about it, but because there was far too much to try to jam into a typical 400-word review. That’s when we hooked up with Wesley Smith, one of PreSonus’ resident gurus (otherwise known as a Product Manager, if you want to be “business-cardy” about it). She gave us the lowdown on the AI Series from conception to completion, including all the amazing tasks it can handle in just one small, affordable unit. So we begin… Can you give us a bit of background on the development of the new StudioLive AI Series of mixers? We started out looking to extend the legacy StudioLive line to come out with a 32-channel frame size. And while we were working on that, our recently deceased CTO [Bob Tudor] stumbled on a really cool platform, which is the active integration stuff. This allows us to do much more advanced networking. Part of the problem we were stuck with with the legacy line was that the kind of integration we wanted with our software couldn’t quite get us from where we were to where we wanted to go. Mainly because our mixers were running one platform and the software was on another. So to get that next-level integration, everything needed to be on the same framework. The next hurdle was that our legacy StudioLives couldn’t support direct network. So if you wanted to remote control it, you had to connect them to a

not a virtual or modeled version, it’s actually Fat Channel running on the computer. So those are the types of things we were able to do. Can you explain some of the benefits of network integration and how you can control the board remotely, even from your iOS device? There’s several benefits to the user. The most obvious is now being able to connect your iPad to the mixer, and that means front-of-house can be whereever you play, or wherever you need it to be. So for the gigging musician, who may have to run things from the stage, it means you can [make adjustments] on your iPad and not have to run to the mixer to make those same adjustments. So a basic example would be the ability to have your drummer literally control the FOH mix from his seat. Exactly, or in the case of my former band, my bass player had a wireless bass rig. And he’d go out in the

“The biggest reason to look at the AI series is that it’s not just a mixer, it’s a complete audio performance solution.” computer and use the computer as the network hub via Firewire to get to the legacy mixers. These were the problems we wanted to solve. How did you go about solving these issues? Bob found the OMAP chip, which is what we’re using now. It not only allows for a ton of processing, it’s also a Linux-based computer. So we’re now able to do direct networking. The mixers can generate their own IP addresses and pop up on the Internet and pop up on the network. We were also able to use the same framework as our software, which allows for things like integrated virtual soundcheck that we have in Capture now; so Capture [editor’s note: this a PreSonus’ simplified digital audio multitrack recording application, designed especially to work with StudioLive mixers] actually remote controls the mixer and saves “mix scenes” with the audio sessions. And then in Studio One [editor’s note: PreSonus’ DAW] we have Fat Channel – it’s 40 SEPTEMBER 2014 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

audience, listen around and tell me where to make adjustments. So in this case, he could now have an iPad on a stand and make the adjustments right there [on-the-fly]. So as far as end users are concerned, who do you see this most geared towards? Touring bands or live engineers? It’s for everybody from contracted sound companies to gigging bands. Figure a gigging band has a PA system, they have a recording system at home (because no one’s booking studio time anymore), they have to buy a DAW to record into, they have their audio interface, and then if they’re doing any sort of live mixing they’ll be running their own monitors, too. Those are all things that bands invest in – so by the time you buy a 16-channel audio interface and the mixers and PA system and monitor rig, you’re well over the cost of a StudioLive mixer.

That’s important to clarify. There may be some sticker shock from bands who perhaps don’t realize all the things this board can do and how much it would cost to buy all the components separately that they’d need. You’re not buying five or six different units and pieces of software to handle all these things. That’s right, and there’s a lot of “me too” products out there. But they don’t provide the integrated experience that StudioLive provides. Because Studio One is designed to work with a StudioLive mixer. Capture is designed to work with a StudioLive mixer. There’s direct networking. You just scan for networks and it pops right up, or connect an Ethernet cable. It’s that easy. Even selling the shows – after you record in Capture, you open your Capture sessions in Studio One, you do your final mixes and upload directly to your Nimbit store and start selling right away. As a musician, this really helps because you’re learning one ecosystem to handle all of your band’s sound applications. So there’s not a huge learning curve involved in figuring out how five different companies’ systems are supposed to jive together. That’s a really good point, especially just setting up an interface to work with a DAW, which can be complicated. You have to figure out audio I/O setups and it can be a major headache. If you record in Capture it self-configures. The other thing for a gigging musician is the ability to play with backing tracks. [Editor’s note: at this point in the conversation, we go down the rabbit-hole to reminisce about our respective times spent performing industrial music in the ’90s and using DAT machines as the pinnacle of technology in our respective setups. Point being, things would have been much easier had StudioLive existed back in the day]. The cool thing with the audio interface built-in to the StudioLives, is that they’re continuously bidirectional and they’re one-to-one. Some other digital mixers with recording capabilities, you have to record things in banks of eight. Or play back things in banks of eight. So if you wanted to play back a stereo drum loop and a click track you know, you can’t just patch three channels into the board – so that’s what’s really unique with the StudioLive workflow. If you do want to incorporate

your computer into live performance, you literally press a button and that audio is streaming back to your mixer. Imogen Heap plays with the 16, that’s how she runs all her MIDI stuff. We’ve had hands-on time here with several manufacturers’ systems, but if I’m an artist looking at different options, can you give me a quick rundown of what I’m looking at with the StudioLive AI series as opposed to say, the Mackie DL line, which also has iPad integration? Ours has a full-featured control surface, which is one thing the DL line really doesn’t. They rely heavily on the iPad mixer, which is totally fine in a lot of circumstances. But sometimes it’s really nice to just grab a fader and have control over that. The biggest advantage that we have over the DL line is less from the iOS standpoint and more from the connectivity standpoint – specifically how many analog connections you would get. It’s got much more robust connectivity. As far as iOS in general with the AI mixers, our goal was to make it as easy to network a mixer as it is to network your iPad. And with the iOS apps, we have a term around here called “battle ready” interfaces. We didn’t want to shove a whole mixer onto a remote app, because you already have a full tactile interface control surface to use. What we wanted to provide in SL Remote [and QMix, the wireless personal aux-mix software for iPhone/ iPod Touch] were all the tools you’d need to mix remotely. So fader levels, all the Fat Channel adjustments, routing, aux mixes, graphic EQs – you already have access to those really easily. And at the same time, when you go to the iPad or iPhone, we wanted to strip down that experience to a more focused set of functions. I’d actually like to talk about some of the fx, too. A lot of the built-in fx we’ve seen on mixing decks (especially reverbs) have a tendency to be digital and phony sounding. But the fx on the Studio Live AI boards are quite good. With the AI mixers, without a doubt, you get the most processing of any mixer at those price points. So if we start with the Fat Channel – for every input and aux-mix (including your four internal effects mixes), you get a hi-pass filter, a full-featured gate with Key Filter, a full-featured compressor, a parametric EQ and a limiter. And then on every sub group and main bus, you get all of that except for the hi-pass filter. You just have a ton of different filters and processing. And it’s not like if you turn on one you lose another. You don’t have to make those compromises.

we tried to keep it simple. We didn’t want to shove it full of choruses and flangers and tremolos, you know? Just the effects you’d use in a live situation, like reverbs and delays. Those are on the mix buses – so if you want a reverb you’re not losing an aux mix. Those buses also get Fat Channel, which I think is why people like the reverbs so much on the AIs. You can add a little compression or EQ and really dial it in. If you do need distortion or other effects for vocals, let’s say, you have an insert point on every single channel and you if you want to use up one of you aux buses you have two stereo effects returns. So you can use those for effects returns or keyboards, if you just need some line-level inputs. Are there any differences between the 16, 24 and 32-channel AI boards other than the number of channels? It’s mainly the number of inputs – but the biggest difference is that the 32 has all parameters accessible from the control surface. As you go up the line, you also have more aux mixes. The 32 has 14 aux mixes, the 24 has ten auxes and the 16 has six auxes. So bottom line, if you were talking directly to a consumer, and had 30 seconds to tell them about the AI series, what are the key features for them to remember? I think the biggest reason to look at the AI series is that it’s not just a mixer, it’s a complete audio performance solution. We sell solutions. It’s the only mixer that allows you to do everything you need to do in a live environment, a recording environment, and to mix, master and market your material to your fanbase all in an integrated experience. We call it “riff-to-release” here.

Follow on Twitter: @PreSonus

As far as the internal effects processors, PERFORMER MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 2014 41


Soldering Basics for the Absolute Beginner



oldering is a method of using a conductive material (solder) to connect a wire with another device, such as another wire, a 1/4 inch plug, a guitar pickup or a circuit board. Solder is a metal alloy with a relatively low melting point; you can think of it as conductive glue. Electronics solder is usually composed of some combination of lead, tin, copper and/or silver. Cable or pickup problems that can be solved by soldering occur when an internal connection has been physically severed, either at the solder point in the connector or further along in the wiring. For example, if the connections in your cable’s plugs appear undamaged but the cable has a visible kink or abrasion, then this is probably where the wires have been broken. Unbalanced instrument cables, such as guitar cables, are among the simplest to repair, so if you’re new to soldering, they’re a great place to begin. UNDERSTANDING YOUR CABLE When you unscrew the metal cap over the 1/4 inch plug (the connector), you’ll find two wires, one bare and one insulated. In an undamaged cable, the bare wire (the ground) will be soldered to a metal tab that connects to a piece called the sleeve. This tab is crimped to the cable housing, serving as a strain relief. The insulated wire (the conductor) is attached to a smaller tab near the center of the connector, which joins with the connecter’s tip. The insulation prevents the two wires from touching, which can cause shorts. Each wire must be attached to its respective tab for the cable to function. 42 SEPTEMBER 2014 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

CLEANING AND PREPPING Problems arise when one or both of these wires becomes disconnected from its tab. In some cases these wires require very little clean up and can be re-soldered to the tab without much fuss. However, if a wire has become frayed or broken in a way that it cannot form a solid connection, you’ll need to cut both wires and start fresh. To begin, use cable cutters to cut the cable just past the strain relief. Use a sharp knife to remove about an inch of cable housing, taking care not to damage the shielding, which often contains the ground wire. Use wire strippers to strip just enough insulation from the conductor wire to form a solid connection with the tab.  Uncrimp the strain relief with either a flat screwdriver or a sturdy pair of pliers. Try not to bend the crimp too much; you will need to use it later. Before reattaching the wires to the tabs, you’ll need to remove any old strands of wire from the tabs. Do this by heating the old solder with a soldering iron until the solder begins to melt and then using a set of pliers to pull away the remaining wire. When using the soldering iron, it’s helpful to remember that the sides - not the tip - will be hottest. Use some kind of clip or jig to hold the connector in place while you work and avoid touching the connector with your bare hands; you’ll be surprised how fast heat from the iron can transfer to the plug. Keep the tip of the iron clean by wiping it periodically on a damp sponge. Avoid touching the soldering iron to the plastic insulation. MAKING THE CONNECTION To begin forming the new connection, use the iron to heat both the tab and the wire. Once these

surfaces are sufficiently hot, you can usually melt a bit of solder by holding the solder wire next to the iron, where the tab and the wire meet. This will help you avoid a cold solder, a common soldering mistake that occurs when the wire and tab are not sufficiently heated and solder is simply melted on top of the wire. Use only as much solder as needed to form a solid connection, and keep the surface as flat as possible. This can be a frustrating process at first, as solder hardens quickly once heat is removed and flows readily when heat is reapplied, sometimes making it difficult to get it to lie flat. You can use clips to hold the wire against the tab to help ensure a flat surface. When you’re satisfied with your connection, let the solder cool for a few minutes and then give it a gentle tug to make sure it holds. Next, test the cable to see whether the problem has been resolved.  If all goes well, use pliers to reattach the strain relief to the cable. FINAL THOUGHTS Don’t be discouraged if your first attempts are less than pretty; soldering is a hands-on skill that takes practice and patience to master. Other audio cables, such as XLR and TRS cables, are made more complicated by additional wires and configurations that vary by manufacturer. As the connections become more complex, it becomes increasingly important to understand the purpose of each connection, a topic beyond the scope of this basic introduction. To learn more about making and repairing audio cables, we highly recommend John Hechtman and Ken Benshish’s text, Audio Wiring Guide (Focal Press).


he BeagleBone Black is a powerful and lowcost computer the size of an Altoids tin, and can become a DIY synth or effect unit. It can run Linux, a free and open-source operating system. With Csound, a real-time audio synthesis engine, custom synthesizer and effect programs can be designed and executed. While a USB audio interface can be used with the BeagleBone Black, the dedicated audio expansion board (an ‘audio cape’) is recommended to keep the single USB port free for MIDI devices. A powered USB hub is another option. [Editor’s note: Csound is easy to learn but beyond the scope of this article. Helpful starting resources are appended.] The following steps will guide the user through preliminary setup. This article assumes the user is working on a Mac computer and has some familiarity with the terminal. While there may be many similarities for Linux, Windows users will in some cases need to find alternate ways of accomplishing these steps. Got to to download a Linux distribution image. Flash it to a microSD card with a USB adapter: xz -dc debian-wheezy-7.2-armhf3.8.13-bone30.img.xz | sudo dd of=/dev/ DISKNUMBER bs=1m DISKNUMBER can be determined by looking at the output of: diskutil list After it’s finished, slot the card into the BeagleBone Black. Plug an Ethernet cable into the BeagleBone

Black and into a router. Plug a FDTI adapter into the BeagleBone Black’s six-pin header. One can be purchased from Sparkfun ( The header on the Sparkfun adapter will need to be bent so that it forms a ‘T’ to get it onto the device. Apply power to the Beaglebone Black while holding down the ‘boot from micro SD’ button above the card slot. Open up a terminal window, and use the screen command to log in with the credentials below. screen /dev/tty.usb* 115200 login: debian password: debian Run the following commands: sudo su apt-get upgrade apt-get update apt-get install csound apt-get install alsa-utils apt-get install vim Once these steps are followed, the user is able to start coding synthesizers and effects with Csound, and execute them on the BeagleBone Black. Any connected class compliant audio and MIDI devices are available to Csound. Ideas include a custom drum machine triggered by a MIDI pads, or a standalone synth unit using subtractive, FM, additive, or waveguide synthesis methods. Custom effects can be created. In addition to unique delay and reverb effects, Csound offers advanced possibilities including phase vocoding, convolution, granulation, formant shifting, and control with chaotic models. These effects and synths could be controlled by MIDI as well as input audio. Factoring in the BeagleBone Black’s capacity for input sensors through its GPIO and ADC


Hacking the TI BeagleBone Black to Make Your Own DIY Synth & FX pins makes for some extremely interesting musical possibilities. If further instruction is desired on how to create synthesizers and effects with the BeagleBone Black the article “BeaglePi” in Issue 18 of the Csound Journal is highly suggested reading: beagle_pi.html. In addition to the BeagleBone it provides detailed instructions for the Raspberry Pi. This article will further guide the user in advanced audio setup, code optimization, and standalone operation of their DIY synth or effect. ADDITIONAL CSOUND RESOURCES FLOSS Manual: Csound Reference Manual: html/ index.html The Csound Book: Csound Journal: ABOUT THE AUTHOR Trev Wignall, 22, is a violinist and music technologist. His interest in music technology originates from a desire to greatly expand the expressive range of the electric violin. Hacking and building with open source hardware and software also enables Trev to create multifaceted music performances that involve sonically reactive video and lighting. An avid lecturer, Trev has given talks and seminars on synthesis, embedded systems and electronic performance at Berklee, The Governor’s School of North Carolina, and the 2013 International Csound Conference. He writes and performs electronic music, and in his spare time he enjoys learning about the natural and social sciences.




How a Pedalboard MultiTool Can Troubleshoot Tonal Changes in Your Signal Chain


s a pedal tech for FXdoctor I often get calls from musicians asking for advice on their setup. Tone is certainly subjective and explaining why something sounds better can be as futile as debating a favorite color. Applying theory combined with technical specifications is a great start to a properly designed rig, but there is a point where trusting your ears is far more important than knowing why it should be good. The reason for making the box seen here was to have an all-in-one device that allows me to easily demonstrate how changes in the setup will affect the tone.

chain. However, there are cases where I’ll flip the switch and the sound suddenly becomes dull, dark, and lifeless. Typically these rigs have poor quality cables, long lengths of cable, or vintage pedals with poorly designed bypass schemes. From this point it’s a matter of breaking down the rig into smaller sections and identifying which component is the source of the problem.

buffer will take a high-impedance guitar signal and convert it to a low-impedance signal, which is more resistant to outside influences like cable capacitance. Even the best quality cable can start to load down the tiny amount of energy that a guitar’s pickup can produce. Users often hear their guitar sounding much brighter and lively since it is no longer being loaded down.

BOOST Some pedals on the market suffer from a volume drop when activated, which makes

BIAS This is a passive resistance circuit that is designed to reduce the effects of a pedal loading down another later in the signal chain. This is useful with sensitive fuzz and wah pedals that aren’t interacting properly with other parts of a rig.

“This box has been very helpful for identifying some common issues plaguing complicated setups.” BYPASS The first test I run is to place the entire pedalboard (or device being tested) into the true bypass loop of this device. When bypassed, the signal passes from input jack to output jack without any change in tone; this is our baseline for what the guitar should sound like. When the switch is flipped the loop becomes active and the signal flows into the pedalboard. A properly designed pedalboard will have minimal change in tone when put into the signal 44 SEPTEMBER 2014 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

them almost unusable in a live setting. The boost switch on this box activates the same boost circuit that we install into pedals to fix this problem. This allows users to test the circuit before committing to modifying their pedal. It also works well for driving signals into devices not designed for a passive instrument. BUFFER A buffer is often the counterpoint to true bypass in a debate specific to pedalboards. A

This box has been a really fun project as well as being very helpful for identifying some common issues plaguing complicated setups. The response has also been overwhelmingly positive from the curious musician and tinkerer who wants to invest some time experimenting with their rig and dispelling the rumors surrounding the ideal setup. ABOUT FXDOCTOR FXdoctor is a custom effects shop located in Boston, Massachusetts and specializes in building, modifying, repairing, and maintaining guitar pedals. For more info, visit


ne of the worst noises to be encountered on a pedalboard is a constant buzz. Most often this buzz is caused by insufficient grounding, simply because the builder didn’t pay too much attention to a very common problem: ground loops. Add a non-isolated power source and the pedal becomes basically unusable. A ground loop is created when two or more grounded circuit nodes share more than one path together. When I started building and looking at schematics, I did not pay attention to proper grounding at all. I just connected all grounds together in a way that was the easiest for me. It worked on some pedals, but some got that constant buzz that many of us are so annoyed from. This happened because ground loops don’t ultimately cause a buzz, but they can become a problem when unwanted noisy currents flow inside the pedal, which can be noisy power supplies or alternating magnetic fields caused by transformers. Since transformers are rarely used in pedals, it’s very likely that the power supply is the source of the buzz. There are a few ways to prevent your pedal from any unwanted noise by getting rid of ground loops. One way is the use of a technique called “star grounding.” Star grounding is achieved by designation of a special terminal, which is used as the main ground point for the system. You simply connect all ground points of your pedal to this point. In some schematics this is either hard to achieve or becomes non-functional at one point (imagine connecting ten or more cables to one single point). This can be solved by using multiple ground stars and connecting those together. Inside my pedals you will find two stars: the first one is a copper plate for the pcb and the second one the input jack. By using this technique I am able to avoid ground loops and to keep any unwanted noise out of my stompboxes. You have the choice between solid and stranded wiring. Which wire you use is basically a matter of taste as long as you choose a diameter that is big enough (I use at least 24AWG). I chose solid wire for three simple reasons: 1. I can use a wire with a slightly smaller diameter and get the same current carrying-capability as I would get with stranded one. 2. It’s just handier to me in aspects of routing and soldering. 3. I think it looks cool when all cables are right angled and perfectly installed.


How to Wire Properly & Avoid Buzzing in Your DIY Electronics article by MARC WIDMAIER of OHMLESS PEDALS

“Since transformers are rarely used in pedals, it’s very likely that the power supply is the source of the buzz.”

Follow on Twitter: @ohmless PERFORMER MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 2014 45


An Esoteric Exploration of Tubes, Transformers, Tone & Transcendence


ere audio output transformers “so good,” why does not even one tube amp use two, three, or even ten, for “killer” tone made completely out of this world? It’s because the sonic magic comes from the tubes, not their ubiquitous audio output transformers, which are mundane, necessary evils used to translate the tubes’ high-impedance to relatively low-impedance speakers. LOST IN TRANSLATION Traditional audio output transformers always homogenize the sound, limiting the power translated and its tonal characteristics - like a large filter that can never be turned off or adjusted. Since practically no one has ever played tubes without this significant veil, essentially all ideas of “good tone” -- and what begets it – are inescapably jaded by wire-wrapped, black-art metal bulks. Causal superstitions relating “good tone” and traditional magnetics are incorrect as may be readily dismissed by adding any 1:1 transformer(s) between any amplifier and its speaker: The tone is always worsened, audibly and measurably; adding big metal filters never improves tone*. Moreover, mythical associations between good tone and “limited bandwidth” may be instantly dispelled by playing guitar while 46 SEPTEMBER 2014 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

wearing gloves, through a telephone, with tape or gum on strings, or with a pillow pressed against the speaker. The “bright” switch itself, that extreme overloader of high frequencies found on many amps, seeks tonal improvement by dramatically over-compensating the substantial high-end roll-offs imposed by large, intrinsically dull speakers. While this may be subject to taste, many teachers, mavens and artists consistently insist that ‘good tone begins clean’ ...and ‘clean’ connotes broad, unlimited, undistorted: if pre-corrupted with distortions and limitations, where can tone ultimately go? APOTHEOSIS OF TONE GAGA, the Guitar Artists Guitar Amplifier, eliminates all traditional power and audio magnetics and uses advanced power conversion and other patented innovations (specifically not massively paralleled power tubes) to uniquely convey maximum tube tone and to attain what has previously been elusive: the verifiably purest-possible tube performance and a stunning “clarity of tone” that unleashes cleaner cleans, dirtier dirties, and a more natural, most-musical ecstasy. By removing all the audio-frequency magnetics from between tubes and speakers (and elsewhere), GAGA gets musicians closer to their magical, musical truth.


Bias collapse and overload hangover vanishes; articulation, even if mired in total distortion, retains per-note responsiveness. Power tube and pre-amp tube overload characteristics are changeable and convey completely. This must not be misconstrued as “hi-fi,” “overly analytical” or “sterile”; rather, GAGA amplifies a more faithful muse, conjuring truer tone from instrument and playing, ensuring tighter, fuller interactions among tubes, speakers, instruments and musicians - savoring, not obliterating even the finest and most delicate nuances. All manner of sonic signatures and various overload and distortion flavors can be subsequently explored and added to taste. Made with top-quality components true to audiophile standards (per its esoteric pedigree) GAGA allows for thoroughly enjoying various tubes, instruments and playing. And, with well over 1.6 million possible “tube cocktail” combinations available by plug-n-play mixing a few dozen types of tubes, GAGA can be like getting a new amp, every day, for the next several thousand years. On many levels, in many ways, there is nothing else even remotely like GAGA. These are big claims, so let’s examine what good tone looks like and how, in part, GAGA does its magic.

TUBE TALK The chart above shows idealized 300B vacuum tube transfer curves, basically a near-perfect representation of amplification; notice how clean and distinct the lines are. Toward this, all pure amplification fundamentally aspires. The middle image shows the performance of a pair of 6L6 power tubes applied in the patented circuitry used in GAGA. Notice how similarly clean and distinct the diagonal lines are, indicating clarity of tone, with no phase skew and faithful, true timbre. The final image shows the same pair of 6L6 output tubes driving a high-quality audio output transformer in a traditional amplifier circuit. Some of the problems with transformers are evident. The looping distortions of the diagonal lines are caused by the transformer’s magnetizing current, visually indicating audible smearing. The large horizontally oriented loop is the result of a mixture of the onset of core saturation and hysteresis, a major source of audible istortion that manifests as “munge” or “f lub.” Notice also that the slope of the diagonal lines has changed, invariably upsetting naturaltimbre, nuance, and “air”.

This article is adapted from the detailed and sourced organic white-paper at http:// which examines a) how audio output transformers negatively affect tone and performance b) presents various data, gathered over long periods and across genres, that consistently relate purity and excellence c) shares research into how and why GAGA gets musicians closer to their true tone and d) details simple but conclusive listening and performance tests using any amp. Made for discerning musicians, GAGA is a new kind of tube guitar amplifier, fundamentally unique among all others, and while new isn’t always better, sometimes it is. We welcome musicians seeking to explore previously unattainable tube tones, to enjoy all the best of what tubes can do with none of their traditional drawbacks; take a look, listen, and play. Hearing and measuring is believing; playing is proof. For more info, please visit www.

* “... adding big metal filters never improves tone” but exchanging a smaller transformer (that is insufficient to support the magnetic field required to accurately convey lower frequencies) for a larger one generally improves low-frequency performance, but at the expense of greater phase skew and power loss at high-frequencies. Wide-band audio output transformers are notoriously difficult to make, tend to be costly, and still suffer various unavoidable anomalies - much better to eliminate them altogether and let the tubes shine and play forth. PERFORMER MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 2014 47






‘Female Performer of the Year’ in the New England Music Awards (2012), Boston-bred and based Sarah Blacker plays ukulele, guitar and sings a unique version of singer/songwriter pop called “Sundress Rock.” Her music has been placed on MTV as well as in Subaru and Align CreditUnion TV commercials.  MAKE & MODEL

2014 DiDomenico Guitars custom original (more info at Acoustic/electric custom guitar made of Sitka Spruce on top, Indian Rosewood on back, and Mahogany on the neck with mother-of-pearl inlay, and ebony tuning pegs/saddles. I call the guitar “Joni.” CUSTOM BUILD BACKGROUND

Tony DiDomenico found me through one of my favorite fans in rural New Jersey. He wanted to support one special musician, and after listening to many submissions, blessedly, he chose me. He came to shows and watched how I played live, listened to me play in his shop, found out what I most loved about my current guitars and how they sounded/felt/played, and included features ergonomically designed to match my body and playing needs. It’s the nicest things I’ve ever owned, and truly, the perfect guitar for me. I’ve written 15 songs, and toured nationally with it since March (when I first got it). WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE

Bright but deep, much bigger than its size, loud unplugged, and crisp and bass-y when plugged in. Got a favorite instrument you’d like to share? Email us at


A fall-away instead of cut-away, mother-of-pearl inlay where the neck meets the body with my “SB” logo and feather designed by my brother, an LR Baggs pickup system, ultra thin body and neck, and rounded back for bigger sound (think violin), and wooden “feather” where the strap lock sits on the neck.


Follow on Twitter: @sarahblacker


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New i-Series. New song.



Tracked on her iPad® with new Capture™ Duo. Beamed wirelessly to her laptop and mixed with Studio One® Artist. Available for sale to her fan base the same day via Nimbit®. The iOne and iTwo are the only 96kHz USB 2.0 interfaces with a seamless suite of easy-to-use software that encourages your creativity. ©2014 PreSonus Audio Electronics., Inc. All Rights Reserved. iOne, iTwo and Nimbit are trademarks or registered trademarks of PreSonus Audio Electronics, Inc. Capture and Studio One are trademarks or registered trademarks of PreSonus Software Ltd. All other marks are property of their respective holders. Except any smudges you get on this magazine. Those marks are solely your property.

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