Drive Quest pt 5

I have officially driven my spouse crazy.  She already complains that my practices are ineffective and annoying because I just play the same stuff over and over, but this time I did it on purpose!  I played the same riff through every configuration multiple times.  I was listening for any nuances and differences.  So here were the myriad of options I had available to me:

  • Fender style pre-amp with independent gain control
  • Marshall style pre-amp with independent gain control
  • F and M style pre-amps used at the same time
  • Frenzel Champ Super Sportster 3 band EQ, Master volume, and Presence control
  • Electro-Harmonix Russian Big Muff Pi fuzz pedal with volume, sustain, and tone controls
  • Electro-Harmonix American Big Muff Pi fuzz pedal with volume, sustain, and tone controls
  • Marshall Guv’Nor Plus GV-2 with gain, bass, mid, treble, depth, and volume controls
  • Boss Dual Overdrive SD-2 with Crunch and Lead channels, each with independent volume, tone, and drive controls
  • Vox Valve-Tone V810 with level, gain, tone controls
  • Warmoth strat with chambered mahogany body, maple cap, mahogany neck, ebony fretboard, bridge and neck P-Rails with triple shot pick up rings (P-90, single coil, humbucker in series, humbucker in parallel) with a volume and tone control for each pick up
  • Wolverine strat with neck, middle, and bridge single coils
  • Epiphone Crestwood ET-275 with neck and bridge humbuckers and volume and tone controls for each pick up

I’ve lost count of how many variables that is, but it becomes very difficult to keep track of everything and to switch back and forth between them all. I spent most of my time using my Warmoth project strat because of the multiple pick up configurations available.  However, I did notice a real difference between the Warmoth guitar single coil settings on the P-rails and the single coils on the Wolverine with the classic strat set up.

You will all be relieved that I did not record my testing. I did make notes about my favorite sounds, but really just tried to use my ears.  I spent a few days coming back, listening to tones I liked and then exploring other tones in comparison.  I mentioned in Drive Quest pt 4 that I have not been happy with fuzz effects.  This process of testing different pedals helped me figure out what I have not been happy with lately.  It is hard to put into words, but I think I’m most dissatisfied with the low fi synthesizer sound. It doesn’t sing to me, it is like a bad 8-bit video game sound.

Overall, I really liked the Vox, but was surprised how noisy it was when I wasn’t playing and it was turned on.  However, all the other pedals were noisy too.  Admittedly I had them all chained in a row, so I wasn’t as concerned about isolating each one entirely.  But when I just sat there not playing anything, the Vox was loud.  Almost as loud as the two Big Muff Pi’s.

So I took the loaned Vox Valve-tone V810 back to my local guitar shop.


Drive Quest pt 4

It’s funny. In looking at my past Drive Quest entries, I keep listing sounds or tones that are often an amp turned all the way up that is driven even more by a fuzz or overdrive pedal. For example, I mentioned the modern dirty blues.  The White Stripes and Black Keys are using old tube amps with fuzz pedals in front of them.  But I’m not liking what I hear in my fuzz pedals.  I’m hearing way too much fart sound and not enough singing fuzz. It just sounds too broken up and cheesy.  Too in your face.  And often too muddy.

I’m sure a big part of this is just  my inability to play.  It is also impacted by the fact that I am rarely pushing my amp.  It could also be the fact that I have an EL34 tube in my amp right now instead of the more American “fender-esque” sounding 6L6 tube.  That is one nice thing about  my amp, I can swap out a bunch of different tubes to get the “feel” that I want.  The base palette is very open depending on what power tube I put in there.

My experience with the Vox Valve-tone V810, which is really just an Ibanez TS808 clone, really made me realize that I’m not a big fuzz guy. I like the low end chug of the Russian Big Muff Pi, but not for very long. I like the buzzing power chords played on the bridge pickup through the American Big Muff Pi, but not the single string fart noise.  It doesn’t sing and sustain a la David Gilmour. It sounds too choppy or broken up.

I like the smoother drive of the Vox. Perhaps I’ll prefer the Ibanez Tubescreamer TS808 more than my noisy Boss SD-2 Dual Overdrive.  Perhaps I’ll like it more than my “good for classic rock power chords” Marshall Guv-Nor Plus GV-2.

I also read in my September 2011 copy of Guitar Player all about fuzz that in the old days, each guitarist used one dirty pedal to get their sound.  James Santiago said,

For a long time, if you were a Hendrix guy, you had just a fuzz. For blues it was the Tube Screamer, for modern rock it was a Boss DS-1, and so on.  Now we see players that want to create with all those colors and more in the same rig.

I guess I’m turning into more of a “blues” guy, less of a Hendrix guy, and less of a modern rock guy.  But I certainly want to create with all those colors and more in the same rig.  How do you create your colors with your rig?

Drive Quest pt 3

So the real first step (now that I’ve got my pedalboard dismantled) is to figure out what I want to sound like. That quest for tone that so many guitarists have begun, yet so few have finished.

This is not a small first step. I’ve posted many examples of inspiring tones, but here are a few different tones I want to have available when I play.

    • Blues: less Stevie Ray Vaughn and more B.B. King. More smooth Stormy Monday-esque T-bone Walker.
    • Modern Blues: I love a lot of the sounds the White Stripes and early Black Keys make.
    • Punk: Not a chugging metal, but a nasty nasally tone heavy on the treble while still keeping a balance of bass
    • AC/DC, early Led Zepp: Pure rock and role, but not muddy. Sounds very warm, which is probably more because they just use the natural warm tubes driven past regular expectations anddon’t use effects
    • Jon Spencer: Seems to be THE combination of blues and punk for me.

    There are a lot more examples out there. More importantly I’m happy to say that there are a few tones that I hear in my head that aren’t just blatant attempts to rip off someone else’s great tone.  So I will continue to play with this stuff and post more soon!

    Drive Quest pt 2

    It’s been a week since my last post, but this isn’t really a confession. In that time I have been having a wonderful time with family. I have played the guitar. I have enjoyed life.  I have not finished putting together my thoughts on what overdrive/distortion/fuzz effects are right for me.

    In pt 1 of my Drive Quest I mentioned that I am not happy with my current sound. So the first step is to gather all my options. If this were a really cool blog or a blog that attracted any real attention, I’m sure I could get lots of different options to try.  But it isn’t.  However, I must admit, I did get to use the Vox ValveTone V810 for free thanks to the kindness of my local guitar shop.

    Let’s get started.  I’ve got my Russian and American Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi’s. I’ve got my Boss SD-2 dual overdrive. And I’ve got my Marshall Guv’Nor Plus GV-2. Line them all up into my Frenzel Champ Super Sportster and I can have a shoot out!

    There’s just one thing. The Big Muff’s are really considered fuzz boxes. The Boss SD-2 has “crunch” and “lead” modes. And the Guv’Nor Plus is either a distortion or an overdrive.  I don’t know and I don’t know which ones I should be using for the sounds I want to achieve.  So the quest continues…

    EC Project Guitar – Complete

    The hardware replacement project for my friend, EC, is complete.  And I did not take any final pictures.  Bummer!

    But, the guitar itself sounds good and plays well…more importantly, EC is happy with it.  He likes the look.  He likes how it plays.  He will report to me in two or three days when he’s had a chance to plug it in and really explore it.

    The great thing about this project has been putting new life back into a guitar that had a lot of sentimental value.  This was his very first guitar. His Dad purchased it for him.  He had played it for years and in many locations. It has the dings and scratches of many a bar fight/gig.

    He knows the contours of the body. He knows the contours of the neck.  He knows the fretboard.  He knows this guitar, but now it has new guts. It looks even cooler than when he first got it.  I hope he enjoys it for many years to come!

    And since he is a friend, I will have more pictures soon.  Maybe even a soundbite or two?!?

    EC Strat Project – NUT

    I replaced the nut on my friend’s strat. This was the final part of this project so it is now done!

    The first step was removing the old plastic nut. I first ran a razor blade along the top and bottom of the nut to cut through any glue. I was careful not to damage the wood. I then used a rubber mallet and a small jeweler’s flat head screw driver to slowly break the old nut free of the glue underneath it and work it out of the nut groove. I switched back and forth between each side to do this as evenly as possible. It worked like a charm.

    Then I used the razor blade to get all the old glue out and make the nut groove as smooth as possible (all without gouging the wood or expanding it. The new TUSQ nut requested by my friend fit perfectly.

    Then it was just a matter of checking the string height at the nut (I used my trusty old feeler gauges. It is a bit high at .028 inches, but my friend likes a higher action.  Based on my readings, Fender sets their nut height at about .020 inches.

    After I was comfortable with the set up, I took it off, layed a line of glue down the nut groove and placed the new nut in. I then used a damp rag to wipe away excess glue. Then I put the strings back on and tuned to standard pitch, wiping away excess glue as it squeezed out of the edges.

    I finished by checking neck relief, string height, pick up height, and letting the glue dry for the next 24 hours while I sleep and go to work.

    Drive Quest pt 1

    While at my local guitar shop the other day, I saw a Vox Valve-Tone V810.

    These pedals were discontinued around 2000 and from what I can find online were a pretty good Ibanez TS808 clone. The only problem is I haven’t played an Ibanez “Tube Screamer” TS808, let alone a clone. I believe Santana uses one. And I’ve read about the difference between the TS8 and the TS9 (just take a look at Analogman and you’ll see quite a bit of info).

    So, once again, the guys at my local guitar shop told me to take the pedal home to play with it. So I did and the next round of entries are the result of that simple little act.  I may repeat myself and I may not make any sense, but this is one of the things I’ve been doing in my free time over the last few weeks.

    A big part of this is really all about how cool this pedal looks. I just plain like the looks.

    But there is also a subconscious reality that I am currently not very happy with my current pedal board set up. Right now I have an American Big Muff Pi running into a Marshall Guv’nor plus GV-2. I explored these and which order they should go in here.

    But I haven’t been totally satisfied. So I’m looking forward to trying this Vox Valvetone V810.  I hope you enjoy this little trip with me.

    Positive Feedback

    As I mentioned before, I have almost completed assembly of the white strat project for my friend, EC. I strung it up and finally did an initial set up without replacing the nut.  The strings are a bit close to the frets on the first few frets, but it still plays well. But I’m still going to replace the nut to get the benefit of the TUSQ product and its because that’s what my friend wants!

    I took the fully functional guitar over to him this evening to get his opinions on the initial set up.  He loved it!  He said he was shocked with how good it looks.  He likes the action a little higher (I had set each string to 3/64ths at the 17th fret while holding the string down at the first fret).  So I’ll probably go up to 5/64ths. I still have to do the intonation, but I’ll wait until after I replace the nut.

    My friend kept remarking on how good it looked and how much the gold hardware brings out the aged figuring in the maple neck.  After a while he handed the guitar back to me and said he was getting a little misty. This was his first guitar ever. His Dad had purchased it used and he had played it everyday for years. He had been in a small blues band and played little bars. He started explaining how the different knocks and scraps had happened. One was from getting hit  with a Heineken beer bottle. Another was blocking a punch from an audience member. He kept telling stories and commenting on how the new hardware had just breathed new life into his guitar.

    I must admit it was good to hear all this. I always worry that my enthusiasm for this stuff is all me. I worried that he was doing this out of a sense of obligation to our friendship and that he wished he could’ve found a way to get out of it once he’d mentioned it to me and I took off with the idea.

    I still worry, but my mind is much more at ease.

    He likes it, he really likes it!

    EC Project – Close but no Cigar

    I am very close to finishing my friend’s Squier upgrade.  I’ve got it working (and it sounds pretty good already), but I’m not done.

    Last night I got the tuning machines in place and strung it up, only to realize I had wired the pick up selector switch in reverse.  I got the bridge pick up and nothing else. So I sat down at my desk with my soldering iron and patiently re-did everything on the switch in the right order.

    I put it all together and played it. Not bad!  I still have to do a final set up, but then it is done and ready to be returned to its owner.  Hopefully he’ll like it as much as I think he will.