Gigging The Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster For The First Time

Last night, Tess and I did our first gig together. Just me on guitar and her on vocals, and a very warm and generous crowd at the club we played at.

What Gear Did You Take?

I took:

  • my Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster,
  • TC Electronic Polytune clip-on tuner
  • an instrument cable
  • some spare picks
  • and the Acus One 8 amp

Did All The Gear Get Used?

Nope. The amp wasn’t needed at all. I was able to plug straight into the PA.

What Did It Sound Like?

Through the wedges on stage? Very bassy and boomy. I couldn’t really hear the top 3 strings at all. Not sure if that was down to the monitors, the EQ from the desk, or simply being drowned out by the vocals. On the plus side, I couldn’t hear all of my mistakes …

I’m told it sounded good – not great – out in the audience. Apparently, it wasn’t a ‘wow’ level of tone. I’m guessing it sounded pretty similar to what you’ve probably heard on various Acoustasonic demos off of YouTube.

Any Problems With The Guitar?

None at all. Nothing came loose (phew). I’ll check the guitar over again before our next gig, and pre-emptively tighten everything up to keep it that way.

What Was The Reaction To The Guitar?

The audience was largely filled with other musicians, and there was definitely some interest in learning more about the Acoustasonic Tele. No-one asked me what it was; it seemed that everyone was aware of it. Fender’s marketing team deserve a pat on the back for that, I’d say.

Any Lessons From The Gig?

There were a few πŸ™‚

The group on stage before us were an acoustic 3-piece, and I was properly jealous of their bass and percussion. Just an acoustic bass, hand-drum and single cymbal, but my word – what a difference it made having those.

The Acoustasonic Tele’s DI sound isn’t good value for money. Take an equivalently-priced electro-acoustic, and there’s no competition. Heck, I’m not even sure that it’d beat my wife’s PRS SE acoustic, and you can buy those for half the price of the Acoustasonic Tele.

If you’re going DI, it needs some help. I’ll be using my Acus One 8 for that at the next gig.

And, of course, as a monitor so that I can hear all my mistakes πŸ™‚

New Arrivals For March

So March has been and gone. In the end, February’s absolute deluge of available 2nd hand gear wasn’t repeated this month. But a road trip later in the month brought a chance encounter with something a little bit different …

These are my initial impressions of this month’s new arrivals. I’ll do full articles on each of them when I’ve had some time with them.

Fender American Performer Strat – Maple Board

I have two motives for buying this guitar.

My best-sounding Strat isn’t a Strat at all: it’s my American Deluxe Tele. I had the stock N3 Noiseless pickups (shudder!) replaced with a set of Twisted Tele pickups, and it gets very close to that Strat neck pickup tone. I’d just like to have that from an actual Strat. Preferably one with a maple fretboard.

(I do have an Elite Strat with the stock N4 noiseless pickups. With a little bit of help from the right pedal, they’ll give you a very nice Strat tone in a mix. They can sound a little dull outside a mix, especially if you’ve been playing true single-coil pickups first).

The second motive is all about making memories. I’m currently celebrating 4 years of starting my own business. It hasn’t been easy – and thanks to these historic times it’s about to get much, much harder – but it has definitely been one of the happier periods of my life.

Now, it just so happens that the Performer comes in a shade of blue that’s very similar to the colours I use in my business. A guitar that’ll last for decades and remind me of these moments in years to come? Yes, please.

It took a couple of hours to find a sound for me out of this guitar. I’m not sure why. This is not a deep, booming, Brian Blessed kind of Strat sound. It’s punchy, with a bit of bite, without quite straying into that Tele sharpness.

In the end, I found it by rolling the neck tone down to 7, and backing the neck volume off to around 9. Once I found that sweet spot, I didn’t want to put the guitar down for the rest of the evening.

I tell you what – being able to have both the neck and bridge pickups active at once … Fender should make that a standard wiring setup on all of their Strats. It sounds great on this guitar. I think it sounds even better on the American Performer with a rosewood fretboard.

Fender Vintage Tremolo Springs

My playing style relies on a lot of string bends, and that doesn’t fit so well with the new Strat’s floating trem. I don’t want to block the trem off by putting a piece of wood in the cavity to prevent it moving. There’s another way to tackle it.

This is a tip I got from Texas Blues Alley. I’ve used it before, and it worked well for me.

The basic idea is to replace the three stock tremolo block springs with five Fender Vintage tremolo springs. The Fender Vintage springs are lower tension, and if you use five of them, it’ll deck the tremolo and keep it decked during string bends. You can still do dives using a trem arm if you want.

Sadly, the first place I ordered from – Rich Tone Music in Sheffield – didn’t have any after all (grrr), despite their Amazon marketplace profile claiming that they do hold stock for immediate dispatch. Hopefully the next place I’ve tried will have them.

Yes, they did – and they arrived next day. Yay for retailers – Arcade Music in this case – who are transparent and honest about their stock levels.

Bare Knuckle 63 Veneer Single Coil Bridge Pickup

This is going into the new Strat. I’ve already got the matching neck and middle pickups sitting around. They were meant to go into my beloved Charvel, but I didn’t notice up front that the Charvel’s single coil routing doesn’t take standard Strat-shaped pups.

I actually don’t mind the stock Yosemite pickups. In person, they sound a lot better than I’ve heard them on demos. It’s just that – to my ears – they’re voiced to work really well in a live mix. That’s in keeping with this guitar being a gigging workhorse. They don’t quite have the low-end that I want for when I’m just noodling at home.

Will these pickups from Bare Knuckle give me that? I honestly don’t know. I’m much more experienced and comfortable choosing pickups for Les Pauls. The writeup looks promising, especially with talk of delivering a piano-like ring. That’s a property I personally want from any Strat I keep.

Update: I discovered that the low-end was being spirited away by a (possibly faulty) reverb pedal in my signal chain. The stock Yosemite pickups do have plenty of low-end piano plonk (I can’t think of a better way to describe it). I’m still going ahead with the pickup swap, but only because I’ve already got them.

Mr Black BB-74x Overdrive Pedal

I’ve seen a few of these come up for sale since the New Year, and finally found one at a great price. But what is it?

It aims to create the tones and feel of a “legendary 18W EL-84 combo”. Given the gold and black livery, I am assuming that means the Marshall 1974x 1×12 combo – aka the “mini Bluesbreaker”. It should sit somewhere between the Keeley 1962x Overdrive and the various plexi-type pedals that I have.

This’ll be my very first Mr Black pedal. I’m looking forward to it πŸ™‚

With the new Strat, through the Origin 20H, it was okay but a little on the brittle side. Strap on a Les Paul, and this pedal rips. Of all the Marshall-in-a-Box (MIAB) pedals I’ve tried recently, this one struck me as having the thickest, fattest rhythm tone to date. No idea if it’ll record well, but in the room, it sounded fantastic. I didn’t want to stop playing.

Lovepedal Jubilee Overdrive Pedal

With the release of the new 20W Studio amps, everyone is talking about Marshall right now. And part of that conversation is about the Silver Jubilee – the amp that came after Guns and Roses and the release of Appetite for Destruction. At heart, they’re said to be a two-channel design based on the JCM800. I’ve never played the actual amp myself.

I’ve seen this pedal’s sweet spot described as the crunch channel from the Silver Jubilee amps. I’m hoping for something that sounds like a slightly more mid-forward JCM800, continuing the generational trend of smoothing off the harshness of the highs without becoming dull.

This pedal did not disappoint. Only took a couple of minutes to dial in the sweet spot, and there it is … the sound-in-my-head of 90s rock rhythm. That slightly thinner-than-you-realise, cleaner-than-you-realise rock crunch should sit and breathe so well in an actual mix. And it sounds great in the room through the Origin 20H.

It’s said that the Alexander Silver Jubilee pedal compliments this one very well – that it acts like a compressed Silver Jubilee lead channel. Makes me wish I’d picked one up in January when there were several being offered …

Carl Martin AC Tone Overdrive Pedal

I enjoyed the Carl Martin Plexitone pedal that I picked up in January. When I saw their AC Tone pedal come up at a bargain 2nd hand price, I thought it’d be a good way to dip my toe in the waters.

You can ask the folks over at AStrings, and they’ll happily (and honestly) tell you that I don’t understand the tone of the mighty Vox AC30 amp, and that I haven’t the faintest clue about how to harness it. It’s completely alien to me.

That translates to using this pedal. I thought the Plexitone was bright? Through the Marshall Origin, this thing’ll slice your head off if you’re using a Strat. Dial it back a bit, and the result is one of the most mid-forward tones that I can remember. I can’t think of another way to describe it.

It’s not my thing. And that’s exactly why I need to put some time into exploring this pedal and what it does. How else do we learn and grow?

Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret Mk3 Overdrive Pedal

When it comes to lists of the greatest Marshall-in-a-Box (MIAB) pedals, the Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret is normally at or very near the top. After the Tubescreamer, is there a more crowded market than plexi pedals? And how does this compare to some of the great pedals I’ve already been able to try over the years?

My first few minutes with it were filled with the hum of a grounding problem. Was this going to be my first faulty 2nd hand pedal? Thankfully not. Eventually traced the problem to using a TRRS cable from the pedal into the amp. Swapped it out for a normal TRS cable, and the grounding problem was solved. Phew.

It doesn’t have that immediate sweet spot that both the Mr Black BB-74x or Lovepedal Jubilee had. All the controls seem to be highly interactive with big ranges, and the key seems to be finding the right amount of mids first. I was able to dial in a very satisfying crunch rhythm tone from there.

There’s a clarity to it that’s very pleasing, with great string separation. It’s also more compressed than other plexi pedals, and it resisted my initial attempts to boost it with the Echoplex Pre. It’s possible I just need to use a different balance between the ‘preamp’ and ‘master’ controls on the pedal. We’ll see.

Nope. This pedal has very low input headroom. Even medium-output pickups can be too hot to use with it. That’s a big surprise, and for me a very big disappointment. Most rock guitars today don’t have low-output pickups.

MXR il torino Overdrive Pedal

I’ve no idea what this pedal does. No, really. I’ve never heard it in a standalone demo. It’s a pedal that I’ve seen multiple times on professional musicians’ pedal boards, and that’s enough for me to take a punt on a 2nd hand example.

It’s got two modes – a boost, and an overdrive.

The boost mode has plenty of output, and by balancing the gain and master controls on the pedal, it got the Origin 20H cooking nicely. It sounds like it adds a lot of colour to the tone. I’ll need to compare it against some dedicated boost pedals to form an informed opinion.

As a rhythm tone, the overdrive has a nice balance between crunch and smoothness all at the same time. It’s the kind of sound that I believe will sit nicely in the mix. It won’t stand out – and sometimes, that’s exactly what’s required.

Can it take on lead duties? Although it’s a bit compressed, it doesn’t add anything like as much sustain as I expected. When I’ve got time to sit with this pedal for longer, I’ll try slamming it with a dedicated compressor to see if I can get it to sing.

Suhr Riot Distortion Pedal

After getting Suhr’s Shiba Drive recently, I wanted to pick up a Riot pedal too just to complete the set. I like the idea of having the Shiba Drive as a rhythm pedal (doing the Tubescreamer thing of pushing an amp), and using the Riot to kick over into lead tone territory.

I’m expecting both of these pedals to sound really good into the Synergy Plexi module that I also picked up recently πŸ™‚ Alas though, I won’t be able to make it sound anything like as good as Pete Thorn does. I just don’t have his talent.

Running it straight into my Marshall Origin 20H – a clean amp – I liked this pedal a lot more than I was expecting to. I had Joyo’s clone many years ago, and that didn’t do much for me. It’s a nice thick tone that made me think of the MXR il diabolo that I picked up recently.

Red Llama Overdrive Clone

This is another of the many clones from the same hobbyist who made my favourite boost pedals (and those fuzz pedals from last month). I like the quality of his work so much that, whenever I see something from him that I don’t already have, I’m always tempted.

I must admit though that I’d never heard of the Red Llama Overdrive, and had to go and google it. Way Huge are one of those brands that have completely passed me by. Not a brand I’ve tried, and not a brand that people I know ever seem to talk about.

This is the kind of pedal that suits Les Pauls to a T. Roll back your volume to make this pedal growl. Go full blast for a thick, heavily-clipped, violin-like lead tone. It has a very satisfying wide frequency range, with plenty of bass and that 3D-like upper mids and presence.

Gibson Custom Les Paul Special w/ Maple Cap

I’ve been travelling for work, and I found this particular guitar hidden away in a little shop up in Leeds. I was on the hunt for a 2nd Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster to be my backup / alternate-tuning guitar for the upcoming gigs. Certainly wasn’t planning on buying another Gibson this year.

So what convinced me to bring it back with me? Well, it’s a bit unusual, a bit different to the Les Pauls I’ve seen and played before.

This one’s a Custom Shop model made in 2017. It’s got two P90s – I’ve never had a guitar with that combination before. Normally, LP Specials are all-mahogany. This one has a maple cap, although you wouldn’t know it just to look at it. And it’s got the same neck profile as a Les Paul Custom – perhaps my favourite neck profile of all.

I’m hoping to pair it up (for recording purposes) with Ghost – my 2015 Les Paul Custom – and with Morag – my 2018 Ragh Guitars RPJ. I’m a great believer in finding guitars with complementary tones. Fingers crossed that I’ve done exactly that.

Back home and through my rig, and the tone surprised me. With the factory strings, the tone was bright and harsh in the room – not at all the thick mid-rangy monster that Morag is. Changing the strings (I put a set of NXYL 10-46s on it) tamed the harshness nicely. Still a bright – dare I say vintage – tone? Reminds me of how my Les Paul R0 sounds compared to a modern Les Paul Standard.

I’m left with a question for myself: do I keep it stock, or do I swap out the Gibson Custom P90s for a set that’ll sound a bit different? A decision I’m not making this month.

Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster – One Month In

I’ve had my Acoustasonic Telecaster for just over a month now. How am I getting on with it? Here’s my personal experience so far …

It’s Been On A Podcast

If you want to hear for yourself what it sounds like, go and have a listen to Episode 4 of the AStrings podcast. Andrew and Adam do a great job of discussing it, who it’s for, and what it’s good for.

You should subscribe to the podcast anyways. You won’t find a friendlier guitar shop here in the UK. (They’re my local shop, and I’m a very happy repeat customer of theirs.)

I’m Using It At Rehearsals

I bought it to be a gigging instrument. I wouldn’t have bought one otherwise. It’s replaced my Taylor T5z as my main fake-acoustic guitar.

Tess (our vocalist) loves the live sound of the Acoustasonic through the Acus One 8 acoustic amp. Hopefully people’ll love the sound of it when we gig it too. I’m quietly confident.

Use A Good Amp

I think the amp choice is important to get the very best out of it.

Most of the YouTube demos that I’ve seen have used Fishman acoustic amps, Fender acoustic amps, Boss acoustic amps, or gone DI into PAs of one kind or another. To my ears, the Acus One 8 is a noticeable improvement over all of those amps. That holds true for electro-acoustic guitars, and it’s just as true for the Acoustasonic Tele.

As for the YouTube demos where they run the Acoustasonic Tele through an electric guitar amp … just don’t.

The Unplugged Sound Isn’t A Positive

Acoustically, it’s loud. It also sounds horrible unplugged, and at rehearsals we ended up cranking the amp a bit to drown out its own natural sound. That ended up being too loud for Tess (our vocalist) to sing over without help.

I think we’d all be happier if version 2 of the Acoustasonic was as quiet as a regular Tele when unplugged.

I’ve Settled On Two Sounds

The guitar offers 10 different positions for sound. (I’m not sure they’re actually 10 different sounds, but that’s for another day). I run the ‘mod knob’ about halfway, and switch between position 4 for strumming, and position 3 for finger picking.

It’s good that there’s other sounds in there. That’ll help other people playing through other amps.

I’m not sure the electric pickup’ll get much use though.

There’s Been A Couple Of Issues

It’s the very first edition of the instrument, and I got one of the first 10 in the country. Of course there’s going to be problems.

First off, if anything at all is loose on the guitar, it’s unusable. Anything rattling at all causes the onboard Fishman modelling to break down into a harmonic mess. And, unfortunately, I’ve had things come loose on mine. Repeatedly. I’m hoping that I’ve managed to tighten everything up by now, and that it isn’t being shaken loose from simply playing the guitar.

If it is the natural vibration from playing that’s making the pickups and knobs come loose, that’ll be a fundamental flaw.

Secondly, the neck is a little too unfinished. The neck feels like I’m holding MDF, and that’s not a good feeling at all. My fretting hand feels like it’s been Imhotep’d by the end of a couple hours of playing.

In between rehearsals, I’ve started reaching for a Strat or regular Tele instead to practice on, because of the neck. The string spacing is close enough that going back to electric Fenders isn’t an issue at all.

I’m going to find something to treat the neck before we start gigging. Crimson Guitars will almost certainly sell some kind of oil or finishing product that’ll sort it out.

The Launch Pricing Has Left A Bad Taste

At the time of writing, the Acoustasonic Tele is being advertised for around Β£150 less than what I paid for it. The catch is that it’s out of stock everywhere, with no date for when the next batch will arrive. And at least I actually have one in my possession.

Still, that’s a big price drop within 1 month.

I almost titled this blog post “Fender, You Owe Me Some Money”. It’s left a bad taste.

Now, there is a growing problem here in the UK of retailers advertising out-of-stock items at reduced prices, just to game the Google rankings. It’s unethical, but it doesn’t seem to actually be illegal atm. So, it could be that. And if it is, it would be great to see Fender quietly have a word with their dealers over it.

If Fender really have dropped the retail price, then it’d be nice to see Fender to offer some sort of gesture to the folks who supported them when all the YouTubers at NAMM were dismissing the Acoustasonic Tele.

I paid full launch price for it because I had an immediate need for it. I don’t regret that. It’s much better choice for gigging than using my Taylor T5z. Precisely because it isn’t a better guitar than my T5z.

It’s A Working Instrument

It’s a guitar for someone who prefers to play electric guitars, is gigging or recording, and who needs acoustic sounds. If anything happened to it at a gig, I’d feel the financial pain, but (out-of-stock issues aside) I wouldn’t be losing a unique instrument.

All the tone comes from the onboard Fishman modelling unit. That makes it an eminently replaceable guitar (financial pain aside).

If you’re someone who hunts out the best sounding examples of guitars, that might seem to be a real negative. It’s not, and this guitar probably isn’t for you.

It’s exactly what you want from a gigging guitar.

What’s Next?

I’ll write another blog post about the guitar once it’s seen a couple of gigs.

Troubleshooting The Mad Professor Silver Spring Reverb Volume and Tone Drop

Today, I’m going through my guitar pedals, making sure there’s no old batteries forgotten in them. Along the way, I ran into a bit of a surprise regarding my Mad Professor Silver Spring Reverb pedal. Let me explain …

Checking Out An Old Neunaber Slate

I have a grab-and-go pedal board. It hasn’t been used for a while, so I thought I’d take all the pedals off, check that they still work, check for old batteries, and pack them away for now.

One of the pedals on there is an old Neunaber Slate. It’s a programmable digital pedal. You can download different reverbs, delays, and modulations onto it. You can also plug an add-on ExP controller into it to give you 4 banks of effects.

The Slate used to be Neunaber’s flagship product. At some point in time, it got renamed to be the Expanse. Sadly, it looks like it’s been dropped from the lineup recently. UK resellers don’t list it any more. The desktop app hasn’t been updated in 18 months.

Anyway, dropped or not, it should still sound great. And it’s true stereo, which means it’ll be a great option in the f/x loop of my dual-Synergy rig. So I decided to chuck it into the f/x loop of my Marshall Origin 20H to make sure it works.

Swapping Out The Pedals

Normally, I have the Mosky Blue Delay and Mad Professor Silver Spring Reverb in the f/x loop. They’re both always-on, set-and-forget pedals. And I’ve been very very happy with the sound of both.

I swapped out the Mosky for the Neunaber. It worked, which is what I cared about. I noodled through it for a bit. I really enjoy its tape emulation delay mode. When I’m recording, the Universal Audio Echoplex is my go-to delay f/x. The Neunaber’s is every bit as enjoyable.

Then I took the MP Silver Spring out, so I could try some of the Slate’s reverbs out. Good job I did.

Oh my. All of sudden, the tone is much richer. A lot more bottom end, fatter mids, clearer highs. There’s a volume increase – the signal’s now at unity. I hadn’t even realised that there’d been a volume drop until now.

What’s going on? Is my Mad Professor Silver Spring Reverb dropping the volume and sucking the life out of my tone? How can I troubleshoot it to find out?

Troubleshooting Steps

Whenever I’m troubleshooting, I follow a guiding principle: isolate to eliminate. The idea is to remove possible causes one by one, and see what happens.

First step – let’s make sure that the Origin 20H’s f/x loop isn’t somehow responsible. I took out of the f/x loop, and ran it in front of the amp. No improvement.

Next step – let’s pop the back off. Any internal trim pots that might be responsible? No, but there was an old battery in there from when I bought it. I removed the battery, and ran it entirely from my external power supply. No improvement either.

Could my external pedal power unit be responsible? Odd as it may seem, incompatibilities do crop up from time to time, even when the power supply is rated for the voltage and current a pedal wants. I popped a fresh battery in … and still no improvement.

At this point, as far as I can figure, the only common remaining factor is the pedal itself.

Next Steps?

The Mad Professor Silver Spring Reverb is a respected pedal. People who know what they’re on about recommend it. Retailers who can’t afford to sell gear with a high return rate stock it.

If the volume drop and tone-loss was a fundamental design flaw, I’d expect to find complaints about it on YouTube, and/or on the usual forums. So far, I’ve drawn a blank.

I did get this pedal second-hand. There’s the possibility that it has been damaged at some point in its life. Maybe it’s from a bad manufacturing batch, or an old revision of the circuit. Maybe key components have simply failed with age.

I’m going to email the folks at Mad Professor to get their advice. Maybe it’s possible to send it in for a check and a repair? I’m going to find out.

Remember, it’s a 2nd hand unit, so if Mad Professor comes back and says there’s nothing they can do to help, that’s the risk you take when you buy 2nd hand gear. If you want guarantees, always buy new.

Final Thoughts

I’ve had the Mad Professor Silver Spring Reverb as an always-on pedal since I got the Marshall Origin 20H at launch in April 2018. I can’t say whether it’s been affecting tone and volume since day one, or whether this is a problem that’s happened at some point since I got it.

Either way, I need to go back and revisit everything I’ve tested through my Marshall Origin 20H. Starting with my Fender American Performer Strat and the new pickups I ordered for it yesterday …

New Arrivals For February

February has been a very strange month for gear.

The Winter NAMM announcements are over, and now we wait for actual stock to appear in the shops. Some items – like Marshall’s new Studio line of heads, combos and cabs – have arrived quickly (and largely sold out just as quickly). Other pieces – not so much.

eBay started slow, but in the middle of the month, there was a lot of great gear up for grabs at surprising prices. I was expecting most people to be waiting for the “free for private sellers” changes coming at the start of March. I was wrong.

Here’s a list of everything I’ve picked up in February, along with my initial impressions. I’ll write up a full article on each of them once I’ve had a bit of time with them.

Mad Professor Stone Grey Distortion Pedal

I love Mad Professor. By far, they’re my favourite obtainable pedal brand. Many of their earlier offerings were designed by the legendary Bjorn Juhl (of BJF / BJFE fame), and they’re all designed with ultra-low noise floors and ultra-high headroom inputs to support stacking pedals together to find your own tone.

Even so, when I plugged it in for the first time, I was surprised at just how dynamic and responsive this pedal was. It’s billed as a high-gain distortion pedal for modern metal, but in seconds I’d dialled in a lovely light drive tone that really suited single coils and P90s.

I can see this pedal getting a lot more use than I’d planned on.

Mad Professor Golden Cello Pedal

With this pedal, I’ve definitely reached the point where I’m now buying early Mad Professor pedals to complete my collection. It came up on eBay at a great price for a Mad Professor pedal – possibly because it came sans original box πŸ™

One thing I didn’t realise when I bought this pedal: they don’t make these any more. Looks like they weren’t a great success first time around. But a niche sound can still be a great sound in the right context.

I’m really looking forward to comparing it with the Bluebird Overdrive pedal that has been on my pedal board for several years now. Both pedals feature a built-in delay, and are aimed at lead tones. Maybe – just maybe – they’ll work out as complementary lead tones for recording?

Mad Professor Mighty Red Distortion Pedal

I’ve had one of these before, and flipped it (in part) because I was just getting into the whole vintage-voiced thing – pickups and pedals alike. I’ve picked up another one because it completes my collection of early-era Mad Professor drive pedals.

It’s Mad Professor’s entry into the whole EVH / “brown sound” world, that slightly hot-rodded JCM800 tone from the days of hair metal (and my youth!) Like many of these kinds of pedals, it’s somewhat a one-trick pony. Doesn’t mean you can’t have a lot of fun with it though πŸ™‚

Plugged it in, and I’ll be honest … not feeling the fun. It’s a pedal that needs dialling in, and today’s not the day to spend on that.

Barber Electronics LTD Overdrive Pedal

This caught my eye because it isn’t a pedal brand that I recognise.

A quick bit of research suggested that this discontinued pedal is a low-gain overdrive that folks either absolutely love or are totally ‘meh’ about. Sounded like it could be my thing, so I chucked in a minimum bid amount and left it at that.

I’m so glad that I did. It took a couple of attempts to dial it in (it didn’t like my V30 speaker, but it absolutely loved the Celestion Blue) and there it was. A wonderful, clear, articulate mild overdrive tone. Absolutely perfect for the kind of rhythm riffs I play of my Les Paul. And it sounds fantastic with a Strat too.

When I’ve got time to devote to this pedal, I’m very curious about how it compares with the King of Tone (is it the perfect complementary tone pedal?) and how it takes boosts in front of it. I’m also wondering what it sounds like in the boost role too.

Kemper DI Box

I have a love/hate with my Kemper. Back in 2017, I called it one of my 3 worst purchases of the year (along with the King of Tone!), and I promptly went out and bought a dual-amp Synergy rig as soon as they were available here in the UK.

So what am I doing buying Kemper’s own DI box for a unit I should have flipped 12 months ago?!? I ask myself that every day …

Kemper units are in professional recording studios world-wide. They’re a tool that many professional guitarists use. I feel that I can’t just ignore that, that all these folks who rely on the Kemper to pay their bills do so for a very good reason. If I want to understand guitar tone better – if I want to get better at producing great guitar tone – getting better results out of the Kemper is one way for me to learn.

Hyperion Clone Fuzz Pedal

This (and the other fuzz pedal I’ve snagged this month) also belongs in the “why are you spending more money on things you hate?” category.

It’s not that I hate fuzz, it’s just that I’ve never enjoyed playing through the kind of raspy, broken-speaker kind of fuzz tones that people buy fuzz pedals for. I’ve always gone for the fuzz-as-overdrive tones (Velvet Fuzz, The Pelt) up until now.

Meathead Clone Fuzz Pedal

One reason for picking these pedals is that I’ve had clones from this guy before, and I’ve loved each one of them. The drive and boost pedals I’ve already got are well put together, have zero noise issues, and sound every bit as good as American-made (and priced!) boutique pedals.

I might not get on with these two fuzz pedals, but I’ll know it’ll be me, and not the construction of the pedal. And that’s important. These two pedals are an affordable way for me to explore something I know little about and haven’t gotten on with previously.

OKG (One-Knob Gain) Boost Pedal

I got this from the same guy who made the two fuzz clones listed above. He also made the Little Pink Wonder (my name for it!) boost pedal that I absolutely raved about last year on Twitter. Whether or not I like the tones, all his pedals seem to be well made using quality parts. I’ve no hesitation in trying out anything he puts up on eBay.

I don’t know what pedal this is based on. I believe it’s meant to be different to the LPW boost I already have. If it’s actually the same circuit, honestly I win either way. The LPW boost is so good I would be very happy to have a spare in my collection.

This OKG boost (my name for it) is different from the LPW boost. It doesn’t sound like a full-frequency boost like the LPW does. Through the Blackstar Studio 10 6L6, the sweet spot gives this wonderful vintage vibe: crunchy on chords, clear (and a little thin) up the dusty end of the neck.

I dug out my MXR Echoplex Pre to compare it against, and whilst I can’t say for certain that the OKG is a clone of this style of circuit, there isn’t much in it to my ears. The MXR is a little warmer, a little sweeter on the top-end, but that’s not to say the OKG boost sounds bad. I think you could use both for complementary tones when recording.

It’s definitely not an EP Boost clone. This is the first time I’ve compared the EP Boost to the MXR Echoplex Pre, and I was surprised at how different they sound. That’s certainly food for thought.

Ibanez Mini Tubescreamer Pedal

This is another pedal that turned up at a really great price on eBay this month.

I picked this up because I don’t own a genuine tubescreamer atm. I’ve got a few pedals that are based on the tubescreamer circuit, but not an actual TS pedal. It’s going to be interesting to compare them, and see whether the genuine article can push the pretender off my pedal board.

The first thing I’m going to do with it? Strat + ZenDrive + TS. That combo normally sounds very special indeed.

Xotic SL Drive Pedal

I’ve had one of these before, and ended up flipping it. So why have I gone back to it? It certainly isn’t for nostalgia’s sake.

Whenever I can find them at great 2nd hand prices, I’m going to revisit pedals I’ve had before to see whether I can get on with them better now that I’ve improved my rig. (This all started with the Mad Professor Amber Drive …)

This time around, I found it much easier to dial in. It seems to react well with the Marshall Origin’s brightness and insane input headroom. It still seems to work best for driving rock rhythms, rather than more laid-back styles.

I’m looking forward to spending more time with it.

Keeley 1962x Pedal

It’s hard to get one of these for a great 2nd hand price. They’re quite sought-after, and rare enough that they might only be one going on eBay at a time – a perfect storm if you have one to sell in normal times!

Robert Keeley is a legend in the guitar pedal business. It’s past time that I finally got one of this pedals. And this gives me yet another Marshall-in-a-Box flavour to add to the palette of tones.

Online, everyone raves about the KT88 mode of this pedal. Tell you what, though, I’m loving the KT66 mode with a Strat and the gain dialled back. I don’t think my Strat has ever sounded better.

Keeley Oxblood Overdrive Pedal

Is it another in a long line of klones, or just a really great dirt pedal from the legendary Robert Keeley? It’s certainly pitched as a pedal that can kick both your Tubescreamer and your klone off your board. It can also act as your main dirt pedal too, something those other pedals aren’t so good at.

Klon klones (and their rivals) interest me a lot. I like pedals that shape the overall tone in interesting ways, as long as they stack well with whatever’s next in the signal chain. It can be as subtle or as over-arching as you want. And, increasingly, the klones are often even better as the main dirt pedal than they are doing the Klon thing.

Quickly testing it out on its own, it seemed to suit the bridge pickup of my Strat better than it did the neck pickup. Switching over to humbuckers, I was surprised at how similar they all sounded through the Oxblood. That might be a very useful thing if you’re gigging and changing guitars mid-set.

Exact same settings through my Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 and the exaggerated mids from the Oxblood sound just right with a Les Paul. More experimentation needed!

Keeley Super Phat Mod Pedal

It’s rare to see Keeley drive pedals going 2nd hand (other than the D&M Drive). I couldn’t believe my luck when a third one came available at a great price.

When it comes to low-gain pedals, the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver pretty much defined that whole genre. It’s a pedal that’s been modded to death (including by Keeley), cloned to death, and rivalled almost as much as the Tubescreamer itself.

With the Super Phad Mod, Keeley have taken their original mod for the BD-2, and made it a full pedal in its own right. I’ve seen people talk about this as the ultimate BD-2-style pedal, so when one came up at a great price, I couldn’t resist my curiosity.

I plugged it in, and struggled with it a little. The drive control is clean, and then within a hair it really isn’t clean at all. With my Strat, I just couldn’t find the sweet spot on my first go. Switch over to my McCarty 594, and it was a completely different story.

Keeley El Rey Dorado Overdrive

That’s right … sneaking in at the very end of the month is a fourth Keeley drive pedal. And it’s YAPP (Yet Another Plexi Pedal) to add to my collection.

I remember when these first launched in the hand-wired format as an exclusive to Riff City Guitar. They’re now available in factory format, as it were. I haven’t seen many turn up on the 2nd hand market recently, but doing my research before buying this 2nd hand unit, it seems there’s no shortage of stock of brand new items at aggressive discounts. Make of that what you will.

What am I expecting? A one-trick pony that’ll rival the JHS Charlie Brown v2 as a JTM 45-in-a-box. One-trick because it’s widely reported to have very limited adjustment ranges.

Yeah … it’s incredibly limited. The gain starts at crush-your-soul and only needs a nudge to go into smoother-with-mud territory. The tone is either covered-in-blankets or brittle-as-can-be; if there’s a sweet spot in between, it’s so small that I can’t find it. And this is with vintage-voiced, low output pickups!

However … dial it in just the other side of covered-in-blankets, then roll back both volume and tone on the guitar, and there’s a really nice crunch tone waiting for you. I’ve had more fun with a Strat rather than a Les Paul so far. I think I need to stick something in front of it (an EQ pedal perhaps) to get the very best out of it.

JRAD Tim Pierce Overdrive

This is a pedal I’ve been after ever since it was launched.

Tim Pierce’s YouTube channel is one of the very best for learning how a professional musician approaches his craft. He’s played on more hit records than you can shake a stick at – and he’s been doing it for decades, one of the best indicators that he really knows why things work.

This pedal doesn’t disappoint. Right from the go, I was able to dial in a great fat clean sound for my Strat. It was warm, dynamic, articulate. I can easily see me using this and the Keeley 1962x together on tracks.

JHS Morning Glory v4 Drive Pedal

The Morning Glory isn’t just JHS’s biggest success, it’s also one of those pedals you’ll consistently see folks put on their “legendary pedal” list. A lot of folks lump it in with klone pedals, although it isn’t sold as a reproduction of the most infamous circuit in pedal land.

Hardly any of these pedals this month arrived in boxes. This is the first time I’ve received a pedal sent in a recycled takeaway meal container though!

I’ve only tried it as a main drive so far – I don’t have things wired up to try it as a Klon-style boost atm. It took a few minutes – and some swapping back and forth to compare it with other pedals – before I found a tone I liked.

With the tone knob above 10 o’clock, my rig sounds brittle and plagued with electrical noise from the mains. Turn it down to 9 o’clock, and all the life gets sucked out of the signal. Find the sweet spot, though, and suddenly it’s other pedals that sound brittle or harsh.

Very interesting.

Wampler Pantheon Overdrive

The Analogman King of Tone (KoT) is as famous for its unusual ordering procedure and lengthy waiting list as it is for how much Dan of TPS loves his. Just like the Klon before it, this kind of demand and hype has created a market for people to bring their own take on this sound to market.

After being down on my KoT for a long time (it was in my Top 3 Disappointing Purchases of 2017), I’m finally at a place where I really like the KoT. So when a friend borrowed mine to help him decide if he wants one for himself, it got me wondering what the KoT alternatives sound like. And the same night, a 2nd hand unit turned up at a price I was happy with. Fate? Coincidence? I’ll take it either way.

Holy smokes. From the very first chord, this thing impresses. There’s something about the tone – and I can’t put my finger on it atm – that just sounds quality. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Some pedals sound raw. Some sound focused. This just sounds like a million dollars.

Snouse BlackBox Overdrive 2

This pedal is another take on the bluesbreaker circuit. It isn’t as famous as Analogman’s legendary King of Tone, and it isn’t as widely-stocked as Wampler’s new Pantheon pedal (I don’t believe there’s any retailer in the UK who stocks it), but it does have its fans.

The bluesbreaker (BB) circuit was originally a Marshall design, yet (to my ears) the King of Tone is at its best through a mid-scooped Fender-style amp. I’m half-expecting the Wampler Pantheon to fall into that category too. Where will this pedal fall?

Well, I lost a whole evening playing this through my Marshall Origin 20H and a Strat. Even started coming up with some new licks whilst I was doing so. That’s always a good sign!

Empty Cardboard Boxes

One of the downsides of getting a 2nd hand bargain is that the pedal often arrives without its original box. And boxes are really handy.

The box doesn’t just keep a pedal safe from dust, it also makes it much easier to stack a collection of pedals up on a shelf out of the way. Plus, when the time comes to move these pedals on to their next lucky owner, the box offers added protection against the modern postal experience.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find anywhere around here that sold suitable boxes for keeping pedals in. So I found somewhere that makes boxes to order, and that will do so in small quantities. I’ve got 25 plain white boxes (20 standard pedal size, 5 large pedal size) on their way from Italy, and if I got the dimensions right, I’ll soon have all my loose pedals packed away πŸ™‚

On the dimensions side … mostly right. Turns out a couple of the pedals I’ve picked up recently have protruding jacks that I hadn’t taken into account. I have managed to get them all into these boxes, but I would probably add a few extra millimetres to length and width next time.

The boxes themselves … very white, very glossy, and quite thin card. They’re definitely not as sturdy as original pedals boxes are. But for keeping the dust of the pedals – and making them much easier to stack on the shelf – they’re perfect.

There’s something to be said for having all the pedals in boxes of a standard dimension. It’s a bit like switching to pedals with top-jacks. Maybe I should get some more, and get rid of all the original boxes I already have?

Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 Amp

If you’re part of the Les Paul player community , you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only amps launched at NAMM are Marshall’s new 20W studio amps. It’s all anyone wants to talk about – or wants to bash, depending on whether or not they believe that Marshall stopped making “proper” amps back in the 70s. That’s Internet forums for you!

Blackstar also released some amps, including a line of simple (1 preamp value, 1 poweramp valve) 10W combos aimed at home volume players like myself. There’s 3 amps in the lineup – the KT88 (which I haven’t seen in the wild yet), the EL34 (does the Marshall thing) and the 6L6 (which does the Fender cleans thing).

I’ve been looking for an amp that does exactly this for the last couple of years. I’m delighted that someone has finally made this kind of amp, aimed squarely at someone like me. My only question is: why isn’t it Fender doing so? Oh, and why does nobody make something like this as an amp head?!?

In person, the Studio 10 6L6 stands out for its extended range: there’s plenty of low-end (perhaps a little too much?) and good clear highs. Dial in your volume, switch to the neck position on your Strat, and there it is – that clean tone that no Marshall will give you.

Oh, and Les Pauls absolutely rock through this thing with a pedal.

And, it has to be said, some pedals just sound better through this amp. American pedal designers predominantly play Telecasters or Strats through Fender amps. It shouldn’t be a surprise if some of their pedals suit a Fender-style clean tone more than the mighty mid-range roar of a dimed Marshall.

That’s why I wanted both styles of amp to hand. Yes, I’ve already got this through the Synergy rig, but (for reasons I’ll go into another time) it’s not a rig I want to run all the time. I’m really enjoying being able to switch between this and the Marshall Origin when exploring different pedals.

My Strat is getting a lot more playing time too.

Synergy Plexi Module

Exactly 12 months ago, I went over to Peach Guitars and built out a dual-amp Synergy rig to be my pedal platform for the next 10-15 years. It’s soddingly expensive to buy into – especially for a dual-amp setup – but by the time you’re up to 3 or 4 different preamp modules, you’re way ahead of what it would cost to own all of the original amps they’re based on.

I’ve had the Metro Plex module right from the very beginning, and it’s one of my favourite amps for dirt. I used it in last year’s “Is It Plexi Enough?” challenge involving the Marshall Origin, and everyone loved the sound of it. Synergy do their own-branded Plexi module too, and I’ve always been curious about what the differences are between the two. Just not curious enough to buy one brand new.

One finally came up on the 2nd hand market over here. I don’t believe that there are many Synergy users in the UK atm – in part because the stuff was out of stock for most of 2018 – so not only are 2nd hand pieces rare, there’s only a small pool of people around to bid on them.

From the get-go, I was surprised. The Plexi module sounds much more like the Marshall sound in my head than the Metro Plex does. And I absolutely love my Metro Plex. Just like with Synergy’s 800 module, I bet you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between this and an actual equivalent Marshall in a blind test.

One thing’s for sure. Because I’ve got this and the 800 module, I can’t see me buying either of Marshall’s new 20W Studio amps. With my Synergy rig, I’ve already got those tones covered. In that respect, Synergy lives up to its promise.