MAY 01, 2009
The two of you who have followed this discussion will recall that I threatened to discuss still more effects in my arsenal next time around. I do intend to fulfil that promise this time, but next time I want to discuss some issues that get just a mite closer to the art, rather than hover above it. So, let’s dispose of the hanging threads first.
For audiophiles, distortion means any sound that is not praised in The Absolute Sound; in other words, any actual sound at all. For guitar players, distortion means the sound of an electric guitar “driven” through a valve amplifier, or some similar device for creating a more-or-less similar sound. I have a limited number of devices that accomplish that, other than actual amplifiers.
When I was a wee lad in my first band, I bought a fuzz box called a Univox Super Fuzz for about twenty dollars. It made a typical fuzz box sound like the sound on The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction; that is to say, the sound of a very large bee, but it also made a thick, syrupy sound with almost infinite sustain. The tiny wire that attached to the battery connector broke, so I took it to a music store for repair. When I went to get the pedal back, they told me they lost it and I meekly accepted my fate with no compensation whatsoever. Many years later, I noticed that one of my guitar player friends had the exact pedal that I lost. We went together to try a new boutique pedal called an “Experience” pedal. We liked it and it had some unique features. I therefore offered to buy the pedal for my friend (at approximately $175.00), if he would part with the Super Fuzz. He did, and I was thrilled. My memory did not deceive. It is indeed one of the great fuzz boxes of all time and has an octaver, similar to the one Hendrix occasionally used, built in. That is what provides the thick, almost synth-like sound. The guitar solo on Violent Heart is the only Cherry Bluestorms recording I have used it for. I also used it for a lovely fuzz bass on Ian Field’s version of Love Will Tear Us Apart. Very recently I was surprised to see two original Super Fuzz pedals in a store in Hollywood priced at $750.00 each.
As noted, I do have two vintage Colorsound pedals on the pedalboard, one of which I use for fuzz, and I have become quite attached. The fuzz is similar to the non-octaver Super Fuzz sound, but perhaps less bee-like. I also have a vintage Foxx Tone Machine, which is again a fuzz box with an octaver. I most successfully used that one on Keram Malicki-Sanchez’s song, The Hanging Tree, which was the featured song in the film, “Broken”, starring Heather Graham and Jeremy Sisto. I believe it was Ms. Graham’s singing debut. The Tone Machine enabled my Rickenbacker to emit wild, psychedelic shards of noise guitar, perhaps in the vein of My Bloody Valentine. Lovely!
As I mentioned before, I use an “overdrive” pedal as well. Essentially it is similar to a fuzz box, but intended to be more like the distortion occurring naturally when one moderately overdrives the preamplifier section of a valve (tube) guitar amp, rather than the more over-the-top electronic sound of fuzz. The MXR Distortion II has what I think is known as a lot of “soak”, that is to say a soft or slow attack. It has a fairly distinctive sound, though it does allow the sound of the guitar come through and despite the soft attack, allows for quite a lot of articulation. The fuzz box that Hendrix used primarily, the Fuzz Face (both the geranium and later silicon models…no, not THAT kind of silicon model!!), was probably unique in its ability to “clean up” when one turned down the volume on the guitar itself. Most fuzz boxes seem to be full on, full off, or dying. I considered using a Fuzz Face for quite awhile, but settled on the MXR as a more unusual sound, perhaps more tailored to my own playing and taste. I used that pedal on the recordings of Daisy Chain (rhythm guitar), Just A Kiss Away, Her Mirror Cracked, the solo on Awaken and possibly elsewhere. The other “gain stage” pedals I use are essentially transparent as I employ them, but I will mention them again here: the DOD FET preamp, the Goodrich volume and the Crowther Hot Cake.
Amplifiers often have tremolo, vibrato and/or reverb circuits in them. Less often, they have other, more exotic effects. One can obtain most of those effects in separate pedals or devices. I do not own an amp with reverb, nor do I own a reverb pedal. I quite like reverb at times, but I haven’t found the need to add that effect for “live” performance. My first amp had reverb and tremolo, but my second amp, a solid state Vox “Beatle” amp, had reverb, tremolo, distortion, a mid-range booster, a tuner (which in those days meant it emitted an “E” or “G” note!), and an effect known as “repeat percussion”. Repeat percussion is kind of a tremolo (rhythmic volume variation) with a percussive attack at the start of the wave. It sounds somewhat like the synthesizer on The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”. Years later I found a box of “new old stock” Vox repeat percussion units and bought one. These, unlike most guitar effects, plug directly into the guitar. A bit unwieldy, but a unique and underused effect. I have some unusual intended uses for mine! No, nothing to do with silicon models!
Tremolo itself comes in a variety of styles. I once had a Boss tremolo pedal that allowed one to choose a sawtooth or square wave tremolo, as well as another type, I think. It was difficult to dial in the exact speed I wanted, so I bought a Demeter Tremulator, which was a very fine pedal, but which saw little action once I got my Ibanez Flying Pan and the Line 6 modeler that included the Flying Pan model.
The last effect I’ll share with you here is pretty interesting. It is a Foxx Wa Machine. It was sitting in the bottom of a display case for many years waiting to be sold to me, the original owner! This wah wah is unique-looking in that it is covered with a red furry sort of material. It also has four different wah settings. As I understand it, Foxx had original Vox parts and built authentic AC 30s as well as other products, here in Chatsworth CA. I had a Foxx AC 30 and it was indistinguishable from a Vox, other than a plate on the back that said, “Foxx” and the solid state rectifier. Getting back to the Wa Machine, as I said, I have woefully underused wah wah, but I have developed a fondness for the Colorsound and intend to find some uses for it! My pal Gereg in The Rhythm Coffin often uses a combination of wah and delay for his solos and it is quite effective!
Well, next time I’ll wrack my brains for something interesting to say about the relationship of the tools to the art!