APRIL 26, 2009
It is difficult to believe, but there are those amongst you who have encouraged me to go on!!
Well, perhaps this is one of the more fun parts. As you will recall, I discussed some of my guitars and related topics last time around and promised to speak about my amps and pedals this time around.
If reactionaryism was a religion (and recognizing that some religions are reactionary!), I would be non-orthodox… a Sunday-driver of adherents… a “Jack” Mormon of sorts. That is to say, although I love gear and have a fondness for the “vintage” stuff, I am not a fanatic. The core group of my effects and sounds are truly of a ‘60’s vintage, however I have embraced some of the advantages of the new century.
Working my way from the guitar down the cable to my pedalboards, I’ll act as tour guide.
You’ll note that I said, “pedalboards”. Those of you who were lucky enough to see The Cherry Bluestorms at El Cid very recently may have noticed even more little lights onstage than usual. As it happens, I have had a little A/B switch in my pedal drawer for untold years, awaiting its momentous debut and its moment finally came! I was searching around for a Oberheim Voltage Controlled Filter pedal, or one of the ones Oberheim made for Maestro, with no luck. I was determined to use the synth-like effect on one of our new songs, despite the fact that those pedals are rare and expensive. Then I realized that Line 6 probably modelled it in their Filter Modeler. They did! Not as sexy, perhaps, but much more live gig friendly, as the pedal is programmable and just happens to have about 15 other models in it, for a fraction of the cost. Oh, you just knew there was a catch! First, I have no room on my pedalboard. Okay, I would just set it next to the pedalboard and it would be the last in the chain. After all, it’s “true bypass”. Unfortunately, the pedal increases the volume and has no input or output volume or gain controls. Therefore, I had to segregate it from my other pedals. My solution is to plug my guitar into a TC Electronics Chorus/Flange/Pitch Modulation pedal, which I use as a splitter (in the “off” position), since it has one input and two outputs. I then plug one output into pedalboard number one, from which output I plug into the “A” input of the A/B switcher. The other output is plugged into the Line 6 pedal, from which output I plug into “B” of the A/B switcher. The A/B switch goes directly to the input of my amp. So, when I hit the “A” switch, my signal path goes through pedalboard number one and on to the amp. When I hit “B”, it goes only through the Line 6 Filter Modeler and on to the amp. Of course, you realize that in order to achieve this one sound at the correct volume level I had to utilize the pedal itself, the TC Chorus and the A/B box. Then there is the power supply for the Line 6 pedal. This necessitated “pedalboard number two”.
Pedalboard number one is a kind of work of art in itself. Dave Friedman, the fabled guitar effects wizard helped me design it and he built it, primarily utilizing the pedals I was already using. Aside from the effects themselves, Dave designed an ingenious system utilizing Voodoo Labs Midi and non-Midi switches as well as Voodoo Labs power supplies. The idea was to give me a palette of pedals in a “true bypass” matrix (meaning that the signal does not pass through any of the pedals unless they are actually in use) and in which I could programme “scenes”. That way, I would not have to sing, play and step on several pedal switches at the same time. The Voodoo Labs switchers work marvellously well for this. I can easily deviate from a “scene” at a given time, adding or subtracting a pedal at will. I can also reprogramme the scenes quickly and easily, even during a performance. The order of the pedals is set, but this is not a drawback for me.
The first pedal on the board is a Colorsound Supa Fuzz/Wa/Swell from the ‘60’s. It is a wonderful pedal, but it has one drawback for live performance: the fuzz has no separate gain/volume/tone controls. This means, that like the Line 6 modeler, you are stuck with the level you get, whether it is louder or softer than the level you started with or will be changing to. Still, the wah is really great and doesn’t have that issue. Colorsound are one of the original effects companies in England. Their storied history is intimately mingled with Vox Amplifiers by blood relation and by having their shop next door to the original Vox/JMI.
Next is a dedicated passive volume pedal made by Goodrich. Then comes a DOD FET preamp pedal. I always tell people that the great thing about that pedal is that it does nothing! That is to say, for an inexpensive pedal that I got about 25 years ago, it is amazing at boosting or diminishing volume transparently with no substantive change in level of distortion. How it achieves that without overloading the input stage of the amp is a mystery to me. It most likely does it, but it does it in a minimal and pleasant way. The board also has a boutique pedal made in New Zealand by the former drummer in Split Enz, called a Hot Cake. It is designed to go all the way from a clean boost to heavy distortion. I use it as a clean boost like the DOD, but it is dedicated to a second Colorsound Supa Fuzz/Wa/Swell, this one with all the required controls for the fuzz. That works out great, as I prefer the wah on the other one and the fuzz on this one. Not that I use wah much. I do use fuzz on Baby, You’re A Rich Man, the solo on Daisy Chain, Fear of Gravity and on the forthcoming To Love You Is A Crime, as well as our version of The Bee Gees’ “Words”.
After the wah, fuzz, volume and boost pedals, there is one more “gain stage” pedal. I use an MXR Distortion II for most of my overdrive sounds; that is, not totally clean and not full-on fuzz. I like the MXR because it provides a more aggressive sound than a purely clean tone, but still allows a great deal of articulation.
Following the MXR is a vintage Electroharmonix Small Stone phaser. I use an Ibanez Flying Pan phaser sound on the board for a very deep flangey sort of phase, but I use the Small Stone for a similar but subtler phase.
After the Small Stone there are two Line 6 modelers: a modulation modeler and a delay modeler. I should point out that I actually own the original analogue pedals (including the Flying Pan) that were modelled for the settings I use in the Line 6 pedals. So why “cheat”? First, The modulation modeller provides me with 4 accessible, programmable, footswitch-operated effects at one time and the delay modeller provides three. That is to say, they both have more onboard models, but only one can be used at a time, operated by a limited number of footswitches. Therefore, I save considerable space. Secondly, as noted, these pedals can be programmed, which means that the exact settings can be recalled. Thirdly, one of the effects I use is a Fender Vibratone, which is actually a speaker cabinet with motors in it to rotate a diffuser, giving a unique sound utilized by The Beatles and others. I have the cabinet, but I don’t enjoy carrying it much! It happens that I really like to record clean sounds with the Vibratone, for instance on “Departure”, but am quite happy with the Vibratone model for the more distorted or saturated sounds. I actually used it for all of the guitars on Awaken. Lastly, there are sounds, such as the backwards delay I used on “Here”, that are not available in “vintage” pedals. All of this would be a moot point if the models weren’t very good, but in my opinion they are.
After an exhausting journey down the highways and byways of my pedals, switchers and routers, my guitar signal arrives at the amp. In my case, this is usually a 1964 Vox AC 30 Top Boost Twin. The Top Boost section is an additional set of tube-powered tone controls in the “Brilliant” section of the amp. Most AC 30’s like those made famous by John Lennon and George Harrison, are “combo” amps, meaning that the amplifier itself is in the same cabinet as the speakers. Those cabinets are “open backed”. The “Twin” is a separate amplifier “head” model with a matching closed back speaker cabinet that looks much the same as the combo cabinet. The AC 30 is famous for its “jangly” sound, as well as being the amp that Brian May and The Edge use for their unique sounds. I sometimes use mine with a straight 4 x 12” Marshall speaker cabinet circa 1968 or so. That was the combination I used on Daisy Chain. The other amp I frequently use is a 1960 Ampeg Jet. It is only about 15 or 18 watts with one 12” speaker, but it has a mighty sound. I recall using that amp in the studio on Violent Heart and Awaken, amongst others.
There are even more lovely colors that didn’t make it to the pedalboards! More on those next time!