CoffeeAndKlon #18: Covering All The (Amp) Basses

This conversation was originally published on my Twitter feed.

Good morning! Hope you’ve been having a great weekend. I’ve got another #CoffeeAndKlon for you today, and it’s all about guitar amplifiers.

But first: coffee!

Today’s Coffee: Mexican

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This morning’s (much needed!) coffee is a batch of Mexican beans from the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve.

I think it’s got a very inviting taste – an easy coffee to neck. A bit more bitterness in the aftertaste than coffee chains serve (this is a good thing).

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It’s definitely a coffee that I’d have again, and one I’d happily serve to guests. It’s sold by Bantam Beans, and we found it in our local Sainsbury’s. And by the time I’ve finished writing and posting this, that cup will be very empty 🙂

Why *Did* I Buy Another Amp?

So … amplifiers. I was in @astringsuk yesterday to pick up a Marshall DSL20 HR. While I was there, Adam asked me what my thinking was behind getting this particular amp.

It’s a really good question.

There’s two parts to this: my approach to amps in general, and then the DSL20 HR in particular. Let’s start with amps in general.

I’ve now got 5 “affordable” amps in my collection:

  • Blackstar Studio 10 6L6
  • Boss Katana 100W head
  • Marshall DSL 20HR
  • Marshall Origin 20H
  • Vox Mini-Superbeetle

Between them, they cover all the classic amp tones for players on a budget.

And they all deliver good tone at home volume levels.

Tones We Can All Afford

Many great pedal demos that l watch online use fantastic amps. Amps that many home players simply can’t afford. Amps you’re not going to find in your local guitar shop.

And even if you did get one, they’re not amps you can use at home volume levels.

Why do they do this? Because it’s fantastic to play through really great amps – and it helps the pedal shine to its full potential. *thinks wistfully about the DRRI that got away …*

That DRRI got away because it wasn’t an amp I could use at home. Physically didn’t have the space for it, and there’s no way I could ever have cranked it enough to bring it to life.

And that’s the whole point of this little amp collection.

When it comes to electric guitar, I’m a home hobbyist. When I talk about electric guitar, it’s with friends who are also home hobbyists. And when I answer questions about gear, I want to be able to talk about amps they can get for themselves if they want. And use at home.

And – even more importantly – I don’t want to talk about stuff I haven’t used, or setups that I haven’t tried. The online forums are full of folks who already do that. And that’s where the DSL 20HR comes in.

Vintage Guitar Tone Is An Acquired Taste

It’s fair to say that the Marshall Origin is an amp that plenty of folks don’t like. It isn’t what they expect, because it isn’t a plexi. It doesn’t work how they expect, because it’s a clean amp. And there’s no sense picking a vintage-voiced amp if you’re after modern tones.

The DSL 20HR is the flip-side of the coin.

It delivers modern tones. It has a separate gain channel that delivers heavy rock and metal tones. It’s the home amp for anyone who doesn’t like the Origin, and who can’t afford the Studio line of amps.

(In my brief testing, Marshall’s line of Studio amps are just far too loud for home use. If you want one, budget for an Ox Box or a Waza Tube Expander too.)

I’ve been recommending the DSL amp to anyone who wanted Marshall but didn’t like the Origin. There was a bit of push-back, with folks rightly saying that I didn’t have one of my own.

So now I do.

I’m looking forward to testing pedals through the DSL 20HR. Especially boost pedals, now that I can run them into a dirty amp.

There’s another reason too.

At some point, I’ll finally get back to profiling with the Kemper. And when I do, I can make profiles of pedals through all the classic tone stacks 🙂

That’s my thinking behind my choice of amps, and why I’ve finally added the DSL 20HR to the collection. Whatever pedals I have – or get in the future – they’ll sound great through at least one of these amps. And I’m going to have a lot of find finding out which.

What about you? Are you a single-amp kind of person? What do you play through? And are you interested in me starting to talk about the Kemper regularly? Let me know.

CoffeeAndKlon #17: Fretboards And Tonewood

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Good morning! Hope you’re having a great weekend. And, if you’re that way inclined, that you’re starting your Sunday with a great cup of coffee.

This week has been all about pickups for me. Because the new pickups for the Vintage Lemon Drop arrived 🙂 I dropped everything off at my local guitar shop on Thursday, and I imagine it won’t be too long before I get the guitar back to play with.

I have a theory as to how it might go. I’m excited to see whether or not it holds up to the test. To explain the theory, I need to provide a bit of context …

Low Output Pickups Bring Out The Guitar’s Character

With Les Pauls and equivalent, I have a strong preference for vintage-voiced, low output pickups. These are often described as PAF or PAF-like pickups on forums – the legendary pickups found in original 58/59/60s Les Pauls.

I also don’t use much gain. Why? Go and really listen to the guitars on Appetite For Destruction – the greatest rock album ever made. There’s a LOT less gain on those rhythm guitars than you might have realised.

Why’s that important? Throw hot pickups on a guitar, and throw enough gain in the signal chain, and the individual character of the guitar can completely disappear. As Pete Cottrell shows in this video:

So, low output, vintage-voiced pickups into a low-gain signal chain … that’s the situation where the interaction between guitar and electronics is the most noticeable. Electronics. That means the pots and caps too, not just the pickups alone. I’ll come back to that 🙂

Given all that, my theory is that a pickup swap cannot radically change a guitar’s tone. Better pickups simply bring out more of the guitar’s character. They can tame aspects, and emphasise aspects, but fundamentally they’re amplifying, not creating.

They also do very important things like affect compression, string separation, pick dynamics, feedback characteristics, and more. For today, I want to stick with tone characteristics.

Does It … Bark?

In particular, I’m interested in finding out what the mid-range will be like after the pickup swap. That’s where the stock Vintage Lemon Drop differs from a Gibson Les Paul, tone-wise. Am I going to get that Les Paul bark at last?

My suspicion is that I won’t.

That fretboard? It might look like rosewood, but I’m not 100% sure that it is. I’ve checked the Vintage Guitars website this morning. They don’t say what it is at all.

Any Les Paul Custom owner who’s rocking PAF-like pickups in it knows that you get a great sound, just not the classic bark of a Les Paul Standard or 59 RI. The only meaningful difference? The fretboard wood.

Of course, this experiment may be inconclusive. PAF-like pickups can be amazing in one guitar, and sound dreadful in the next. All because of that interaction I mentioned earlier. And, as Joe Bonamassa once pointed out, the pots are a big part of that.

I don’t plan on changing the pots in the Lemon Drop. Once I’ve finished this experiment, I am going to put the guitar back to being 100% stock. It’s going to become the baseline that I compare all the other #PlayAlternative guitars against.

How Good Are The Wilkinson Pickups?

But before I do … anyone interested in what happens if we put the pickups from the Lemon Drop into a Gibson Les Paul 1959 Historic Reissue?

Seems a great way to hear these pickups at their very best 🙂

New Arrival: Sigil Pickups Snakebite Humbucker Set

David @SigilPickups made the pickups that are in Ghost, my Les Paul Custom. I said at the time that I’d buy again from him, and I finally have 🙂 Really looking forward to hearing how these sound in my 59 RI.

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But first, they’re going into my #PlayAlternative base line guitar, the Vintage Lemon Drop. For science. Is it worth putting the very best pickups into a cheap-as-chips knock-off? Enquiring minds want to know 😉

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I’ll also write up a blog post about Les Pauls and pickups at some point. Probably right after I finish the Marshall Origin One Year In post (which was due back in April …)

#CoffeeAndKlon 16: Boosting With A Graphic Equaliser Pedal

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Good morning! I hope you’re having a great weekend. Got another #CoffeeAndKlon for you this week. I hope you enjoy it.

Today’s Coffee

Coffee this morning is an Ethiopian wild coffee from the Yayu Forest Reserve. It’s the kind of mild coffee that’s perfect if you’ve got guests who are occasional coffee drinkers.

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I was hoping to be drinking Sumatra coffee this morning – my absolute favourite – but the Yayu Forest didn’t run out yesterday as I’d hoped.

I could have just had a 2nd cup, I know. I’m finding that one cup of coffee a day is the best way for me to enjoy it. The Sumatran will still be there tomorrow 🙂

So pedals. What do I have for you this week?

#DesertIslandRig

The #DesertIslandRig is still on hold. I will return to it. It’s just that those two Wampler pedals have really got me rethinking it. So far, in the room, everything sounds better when one of those pedals is last in the chain.

It’s important to change your mind when you learn something new.

My final opinion is on hold until I’ve recorded with this signal chain. I’ve got some work to do to get my home recording setup wired up again. I unwired it all last September when I bought some new furniture for the room … and I haven’t wired it back up yet.

(That’s also what’s holding up the Marshall Origin 1 Year Review. At this rate, it’ll be the 2 Year Review!)

Anyway, I’ve got another boost pedal to talk about today.

I Picked Up A New Boost Pedal

When it comes to boosts, I’ve talked about Klon, klones, treble boosters, and clean boosts. There’s another type of boost that deserves a mention: the equaliser pedal. Like the venerable Boss GE-7:

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I picked one up last week, for my #PlayAlternative guitar challenge. I’m using it to help the Vintage Lemon Drop sound closer to my Les Paul.

By cutting the lows in the right place, and boosting the mids in the right place, I can crudely* make the Lemon Drop sound a little more vintage-voiced.

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*I say crudely because there’s only 7 bands to adjust. By necessity, they’re quite broad, and it makes for a bit of a blunt tool.

To my ears, “vintage-voiced” means prominent mids, with the energy firmly in the upper-mid range of the tone. Does the GE-7 achieve that for the Lemon Drop? I’ll let you know when I do my write up for the guitar 😉

Btw, That Pedal Show has done several shows on using EQ pedals to shape the tone. Find them on YouTube 🙂

The GE-7 is on the board for another reason.

The Eighth Slider

I’m also using it as an overall boost pedal too. Because there’s an eighth slider on the Boss GE-7. It controls the overall signal volume:

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In this case, I’m using that eighth slider to turn DOWN the guitar volume, just a little bit. An anti-boost, if you like. There are two good reasons why.

I’m using the GE-7 to boost the mids of the guitar signal. That gives the tone a little more of a vintage character. It also has the effect of making the guitar sound louder, and that needs to be balanced out.

My rig is voiced for vintage-output pickups. Turning the Lemon Drop down just a little bit makes it sound much sweeter through my rig. The effect is to present a cleaner signal to the first drive pedal.

Compared to other boosts, a graphic equaliser gives you more control – if you want to shape your guitar signal.

Other boosts are a better choice IMHO if you want to affect how your dirt pedals or amp react to your guitar tone. They’re more musical than a GE pedal in that role.

What Do You Use?

So that’s my thoughts on using a graphic equaliser pedal as a boost pedal. What are your experiences with one? Good? Bad? Do you use a different EQ pedal? Share your experiences, so we can all learn 🙂

Hope you have a great rest of your weekend! Catch you next weekend for another #CoffeeAndKlon, and checkout the hometoneblog.com for more home guitar playing talk 🙂

#CoffeeAndKlon 15: First Impressions Can Be Wrong

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Good morning! I hope you’re having a great weekend so far. What’s on my mind for this week’s #CoffeeAndKlon? I want to talk about how a first impression doesn’t always stand up to scrutiny.

Today’s Coffee

I’m already most of the way through my coffee. It’s the last of the Jamaican Blue Mountain. If you normally drink darker roasts, esp ones with that delicious burnt after taste, give Blue Mountain a go. It’s a complete contrast, in a good way IMHO.

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We’ve been shopping for coffee during the week. Found a couple of roasts we haven’t tried before. And then, when we were putting the coffee away in the cupboard, we found a bag of beans hidden away at the back that we’d forgotten about 🙂

On The Board Atm

Here’s my practice / test board atm. I’m still using the Tweed 57 and Black 65 as tone shapers. One or the other has been on the board ever since they arrived in August. I’m currently trying them with other drive pedals, and I’m still loving the results.

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It’s not pedals that I want to talk about this week though. There’s a story behind my decision to buy a Vintage guitar, and I think it’s worth sharing.

Are You Sitting Comfortably? Then I’ll Begin …

Yesterday, I bought a new guitar for my #PlayAlternative challenge: a Vintage Lemon Drop. It’s a (very) budget / shafordable Les Paul knock-off. Over here, it’s probably the cheapest singlecut guitar you’ll find in the stores.

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I first played a selection of these guitars what – about two months ago? – when they first came into stock. I really didn’t like them.

Then, just over a week ago, we were listening to the @astringsuk podcast in the car. They did a blind tone challenge, between Adam’s Blues Master Les Paul and one of these Vintage guitars.

And I got it wrong.

In a blind tone comparison, I couldn’t identify the (lush!) Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul from the shafordable Vintage Lemon Drop. That convinced me that my first impression of these guitars was wrong, plain and simple.

It also reminded me of a piece of advice that Brian Wampler had shared up on his YouTube channel.

Brian Wampler put out a video recently where he tried to make a great point: get the gear in your own hands and find out for yourself. Because recordings aren’t the same as your guitar through your rig, played by you.

The interesting thing here is that it was the recording that convinced me to get this guitar – NOT trying one in person.

Isn’t that the exact opposite of what Brian said?

I don’t think Brian’s advice is wrong. It’s just that sometimes there’s a gap between what you can get out of a piece of gear in a shop, and what that gear can actually do. Sometimes, you need a recorded demo to show you the potential.

So that’s the backstory to how I came to buy a Vintage Lemon Drop for my #PlayAlternative challenge. And why it’s going to be a few months before I talk about how I’m getting on with it.

I hope you enjoyed it.