New Arrivals For September 2019

August was another really slow month on the second hand market, and things didn’t pick up for September. Instead, I’ve ended up concentrating on the first guitar of my #PlayAlternative series.

Vintage V100 Lemon Drop Guitar

Vintage are a UK brand, who specialise in making their take on big-brand guitars for the budget end of the market. The V100 Lemon Drop is based on Peter Green and Gary Moore’s famous 59 Les Paul – the one that Kirk Hammett owns and gigs atm.

It’s the exact guitar Adam played in this video:

It’s the first guitar I’ve bought for my #PlayAlternative challenge, and fingers crossed it will become the benchmark to measure all the other alternatives against.

Boss GE-7 Graphic Equaliser Pedal

In person, through my rig, the Vintage Lemon Drop doesn’t quite sound like a Les Paul. It has a bit more of a modern, mid-scooped tone, with deeper lows and brighter highs. Through modern-voiced amps, it’s probably a good voicing for its target audience.

I was curious. How can I make it sound close enough to a Les Paul that no-one will know or care? A pickup swap is the obvious thing to try (see below), but that’s expensive, and possibly beyond the budget of someone who would be looking at the Vintage Lemon Drop in the first place.

But a Boss pedal would be firmly in-budget. Can the venerable GE-7 alter the tone enough? I decided to buy one to find out 🙂

Sigil Pickups Bluesman Snakebite PAF Humbuckers

Once I decided that the Vintage Lemon Drop was a keeper, I really wanted to hear how it would sound with a great set of PAF-like pickups. What happens if you take a set of pickups intended to be an upgrade over Gibson’s Custom Shop pickups, and drop them into (possibly) the most shafordable Les Paul knock-off available in retail stores?

There’s plenty of great UK-based pickup makers out there, including Monty’s Guitars and OX4 Pickups to name two I’ve been delighted with in the past. If I was playing regular gigs with Les Pauls, they’d all have OX4 pickups in them.

For this project, I wanted to go back to Canada’s Sigil Pickups.

David made the Bluesman 57 Ltds that went into Ghost (my 2015 Gibson Les Paul Custom). He was a delight to deal with, and the pickups were simply fantastic. They completely transformed that guitar. I always told him that I’d buy the pickups for my next Les Paul from him … and haven’t bought a humbucker Les Paul since.

He’s greatly expanded the range since 2015, and these Snakebite pickups caught my eye. If you haven’t come across it before, Snakebite is Joe Bonamassa’s #1 vintage Les Paul. It’s a phenomenal-sounding instrument, even amongst original Bursts. A set of pickups that can chase that tone should be perfect for this project.

More details – and actual sound clips of these! – will follow. For now, all I’ll say is that these pickups sound so good, the guy who installed them for me kept the Sigil Pickups business card, because he wants a set for himself.

#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.

#CoffeeAndKlon 14: Sans Klon

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Good morning! I hope you’re having a great weekend. And, if you’re here in the UK, enjoying the unseasonable bank holiday weather. Got another #CoffeeAndKlon for you this morning. Only there’s no Klon today …

Today’s Coffee

Before I get into pedals: coffee. We’re just drinking the last of this Vietnam coffee this morning. It’s pretty mild, easy to drink, with a nice burnt aftertaste. The kind of thing it’s nice to have as a break from more distinct coffees, I feel.

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We’ve got to go shopping for coffee again soon. Local supermarkets, for whatever reason, have almost stopped stocking whole-bean coffee these days. We’re lucky to have Cortile Coffee here in the market.

Anyways – pedals.

Why No Klon?

And this week, I have a confession to make: my Klon’s sat on the shelf gathering dust atm. Because I’m *still* exploring these two Wampler pedals I got at the start of the month. And because I stuck the Amber Drive in front of them.

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This is my second Amber Drive.

The Pedal That Inspired #SecondBite

Years ago, I was looking for a pedal that would help me get a great lead tone. The demo Mike Herman did of this is still one of the best tones I’ve ever heard in a pedal demo.

In person, I couldn’t get *close* to that tone. Probably could have done with Brian Wampler’s advice on pedal demos back then:

Disappointed, I moved it on … but that failure nagged at me.

When the chance came to get another one at a great price, I decided to try again. It became my very first #SecondBite pedal. But the results were no better second time around … until a week ago.

Using The Wamplers To Shape The Tone

In Mike Herman’s demo, the Amber Drive has this thick, raspy mid range thing going on. Into any of my amps, the mid range is thin and disappointing. And it has a nasty top-end that I don’t want to listen to – ever.

Messing about with the Tumnus in front of the two Wampler pedals, I noticed how the EQ was being shaped. More mids, and a loss of high end. Sounds like just what the tone doctor ordered for the Amber Drive 🙂

And there it is. If I run the Amber Drive into the Tweed 57, I get pretty close to the tone from Mike Herman’s demo. As close as a hack like me can hope for, anyways 🙂

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And it’s dead quiet too. Two pedals stacked into each other, and practically no noise to speak of. Even with single coils.

Given how noisy and crappy our domestic electricity is here in the valleys, that’s a big win for me.

Pairing With Guitars

It’s a bit clichéd perhaps, but right now I’m preferring Amber Drive into Tweed 57 for a Telecaster, and Amber Drive into Black 65 for a Stratocaster. And the Black 65 on its own for great clean tones.

But what about a Les Paul? The La Grange sound – the classic ZZ Top guitar sound – is Strat into a cranked plexi, right?

Les Paul > Amber Drive > Black 65 > Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 gets you right there.

With the caveat that I haven’t tried this yet, I think I’d use this rig w/ the Black 65 for recording rhythm, and swap to the Tweed 57 for lead tones. To my ears, that’s what would work best if you went with a Les Paul.

One of the things I love about both these tone stacks is how percussive it is. Palm-mute the low strings, and there’s none of that hard rock/metal attack. It’s pretty blunt, in a good way.

And that gives me a bit of a dilemma.

What Happened To The #DesertIslandRig?

I thought I had my desert island rig nailed down. And I still do, for guitar and amp. But the pedals in between? I’m going to have to spend some serious time comparing the Amber Drive stack w/ my original choice now. Never thought I’d be saying that a month ago!

So there you have it. That’s why there’s currently no Klon on my little practice board. Have you had an experience where a pedal you’d given up on suddenly came to life, all because you plugged it into something different? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Have a great rest of your weekend!

#CoffeeAndKlon 13: Where To Get Advice From

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Good morning! I’ve got something on my mind that I want to share with you, in this week’s #CoffeeAndKlon.

But first, coffee. Because coffee always makes my day better. I’m drinking Jamaican Blue Mountain today. It’s got absolutely no bitterness to it at all. A special coffee as a rare treat.

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So, what’s on my mind this morning? I want to share my opinion on where to get advice from, both about guitars and gear, and about how to use them. It’s been bugging me for awhile now.

I think that the best people to get advice from about guitars and gear are professional musicians who also do their own recording and producing. There’s a wonderful community of them on YouTube.

Folks like Pete Thorn, Shawn Tubbs, Rhett Shull, Tim Pierce to name but four to get you started. Alongside folks like Henning Pauly, Shane from In The Blues, and of course That Pedal Show.

That list is very much just the tip of the iceberg. If you start there, you’ll come across so many others who you can learn from. It’s a great time to be into guitars and music.

Internet forums and Facebook groups can be great sources of learning too. I learned a lot about the Les Paul from there, and it really helped me discover that low output, vintage-voiced pickups are my thing.

Forums and groups are a mixed bag. It can be difficult to tell the good advice from the posturing, and you need a thick skin to deal with the pros who really don’t like home players at all.

It takes ego to perform on stage, and it’s not always accompanied by kindness.

Guitar shops can great places for advice too. There are some great shops out there, where they don’t care why you want a guitar or how well you can play. They want you to walk out with what’s right for you, even if that means you walk out empty-handed.

These are exactly the shops I’ll tweet about, and give shoutouts to whenever I can. Not just because I think they’re fantastic and deserving, but because I’ve had more than my fair share of the other types of shop too.

On the flip side, you also get:

  • shops where the sales staff have targets to hit and specific gear to shift, and
  • shops who treat home players very differently to gigging musicians

Thankfully, they’re dying out, and not a moment too soon.

And don’t overlook product demos from manufacturers either. They’re often showing you how they intended a piece of gear to be used. That’s important. A lot of gear disappoints because folks try to use it for something it was never designed for.

All this has been on my mind because of where the HomeToneBlog.com fits into the landscape. Because I’ve realised that I’m uncomfortable when I’m asked for advice about gear.

Like the vast majority of people who play guitar, I play at home for fun. I have a day job, and this is one of my hobbies. I have recently started gigging, but again it’s just for fun. I’m definitely not a pro at all.

I’m very much a confidence player. If I’m not happy with the sound, my playing goes to pot. Always has. Even from the very early days of playing, I’ve always been after guitar tones that help me deal with that.

When I started sharing my experiences with gear here on Twitter, I realised that I know a lot of people just like me. Only difference between us is the variety of gear that I get to spend time with.

People started asking me questions about gear, because they saw me talking about it. And that became the HomeToneBlog.com. A community specifically for us home players.

The blog’s all about opinions formed from hands-on experience with guitars and gear. Not trying to review gear for anyone else other than me.

It’s personal, and it’s meant to be.

And if it helps you, that’s great 🙂

But if I am talking about a piece of gear that you’re interested in, please use what I’ve said about it as a starting point only. Go to the folks I’ve mentioned earlier in this conversation. Look at what they can make the gear do, and how they would use it.

And if you want to do what I do, and share your experiences with your fellow home players, I’d love to have other people also writing blog posts for the HomeToneBlog.com.

If you’ve made it to the end, do let me know. And I hope you have a great rest of your weekend.

#PlayAlternative: The Search Begins

#PlayAuthentic … Or Else!

By now, you’ve probably heard of Gibson’s notorious #PlayAuthentic PR and legal stunt.

If you haven’t … basically, Gibson published (and then pulled) an official video saying that the only authentic Les Paul is one made by Gibson, and that they were coming after other people who make similar guitars. Very shortly afterwards, there was a lot of publicity about them suing the owners of Dean Guitars, and then their failure to trademark aspects of the flying V body shape in Europe.

It was the beginning of a PR nightmare that’s still continuing to this day, as the new Gibson management continue to lurch from one PR misstep to another.

There’s been some backlash, especially in the form of ridicule. As always, there’s been some folks loudly declaring that they’ll never buy another Gibson, but mostly it’s served to knock the shine off the mid-2019 relaunch of the Les Paul.

Is Only A Gibson Good Enough?

In the midst of all this, Gibson’s been using another PR slogan: “Only A Gibson Is Good Enough”. It started under Henry J, and is still in use today by the new management team. You’ll often see it on their Instagram photos.

When the #PlayAuthentic thing blew up, it got me thinking about this slogan. Do Gibson really make the best Les Paul-type guitars? Or are there perfectly good alternatives out there if (for whatever reason) you don’t want a Gibson. Are there better Les Paul-type guitars out there?

I know the answer is yes because I own a couple of them. But are there more?

Self-Confessed Les Paul Fan

Let’s not pretend otherwise: I absolutely love my Gibson Les Pauls. They’re not my desert island guitar, but I’m more likely to be playing a Les Paul of some kind than anything else on most days.

I’ve never agreed with all the Internet claims that Gibson has only (or mostly) been making poor quality guitars for years now. There have been increasing design mis-steps since 2015, coupled with pricing themselves out of the market and the self-destruction of their dealer pool … but that’s different to saying that they have been doing a bad job of constructing and finishing guitars.

I’ve lost count of the number of Les Pauls I’ve played since 2012. Many of them haven’t been for me, but every single one of them was well made and perfectly usable as an instrument.

And whenever I’m in a guitar shop that stocks Les Pauls, I’m always trying what’s hanging on their wall, to see if they’ve got anything I want to add to my collection.

So why am I publicly looking for alternatives?

So Why Look At Alternatives?

For now, Gibson seems to have wound its neck in a bit, and calmed down on the whole #PlayAuthentic front. If that changes, and they become lawsuit-happy, I’ll want to vote with my wallet and take my money elsewhere.

But even if things stay as they are now, there’s another good reason to start looking into what else is out there …

I love trying out gear that’s new to me. It’s my way of learning more about what’s possible … and more about the gear that I’ve already got and already love.

But today, if you asked me what I would recommend instead of Gibson Les Paul, I wouldn’t be confident enough to recommend anything right now.

So here’s what I’m going to do.

The #PlayAlternative Plan

When I’m out at guitar shops, I’m going to start looking at what Gibson / Epiphone alternatives are out there. If I find something that I think will be a good choice, I’m going to buy it so that I can spend enough time with it alongside my Les Pauls to form a solid opinion.

That way, I can put these guitars through the rig I know best, and really get to know them.

I’ll write blog posts on them as I go – just like I do with all the pedals I buy – looking at why I bought them, how I get on with them with various rigs, and ultimately if I feel they’re worth an entry on the #PlayAlternative list.

There’s going to be alternatives out there that I personally wouldn’t buy – just like I’ve passed on the vast majority of Les Pauls I’ve tried over the years. That’s down to personal preference. You can go to other blogs – and almost any forum – if you want to read trash-talk about brands or guitars. I’m going to try and find a way to discuss these guitars that’s also fair to the people making them, and to the people selling them.

And there’s going to be plenty of guitars out there that I wouldn’t buy because I don’t think they’re close enough to be considered a viable Les Paul alternative. I might maintain a list of these (if I’ve tried them in person), just for reference, mostly noting what they’re missing compared to a Gibson Les Paul.

What Makes A Les Paul, Other Than The Name?

So what am I looking for? What are the features on a Les Paul that make it a Les Paul?

Vintage-voiced dual humbucker or equivalent: A Les Paul typically has two humbuckers, two P90s, or a single P90 in the bridge. Gibson has used a range of humbucker flavours over the years, but the quintessential humbucker for a Les Paul is one that’s attempting to recreate the magic of the old PAF pickups.

Independent volume and tone controls: on a Les Paul, each pickup normally has its own volume control and tone control. This control layout is an essential part of the Les Paul experience. Most of the great Les Paul tones come from working these controls in tandem with the 3-way pickup selector.

24.75 Inch scale length: an important part of playing a Les Paul is the feel, and that comes (in part) from using a shorter scale length than Fender does on Strats and Teles. It doesn’t have to be exactly 24.75 inches, but it does need to be in the ball-park.

Tune-o-matic bridge: the shorter scale length moves the bridge closer to the centre of your body, making it easier to play closer to the bridge, and to use your right hand at the bridge to control string noise and string muting. The Tune-o-matic style bridge is a big part of making that easy and comfortable to do.

Low action: Les Pauls feel great to play because they come with a much lower action than your average Fender does. Combined with the shorter scale length, they just feel like they take less effort to play.

What Isn’t Quite As Important?

What about the other things that make up a Gibson Les Paul? Are any of those must-haves for my #PlayAlternative recommendations?

Tone woods: a Les Paul Standard is a mahogany neck, mahogany body, maple cap, and rosewood fingerboard. Are these all essential? After all, it’s a formula that Gibson itself keeps deviating from. Two of the best Les Pauls I’ve ever owned used different woods, as does my Desert Island guitar.

Nitro finish: most manufacturers today use a poly finish of some kind, rather than the nitro finish that Gibson Les Pauls are famous for. Is it an essential part of the Les Paul tone? After all, PRS don’t use nitro finishes, and they make some of the greatest tone machines around today.

What matters, at the end of the day, is the quality of the tone we can get out of any alternative to a Les Paul. Does it sound like a Les Paul when we play it?

Flame maple cap: playing a Les Paul isn’t just about the tone; it’s also about the iconic look. I’m guilty of that: I went out hunting for a Les Paul specifically on looks. For many people, the pretty maple tops are a big part of that look. But, while I’m an absolute sucker for great looking wood, I’m very happy playing Les Pauls that don’t have a very flamey maple cap.

The single-cut body shape: a second part of the iconic look is the body shape. It’s synonymous with rock-n-roll like no other. Many people are going to feel that a guitar isn’t a Les Paul alternative if it isn’t a single-cut shape. I get that.

The headstock: there’s something about the shape of the Les Paul headstock that completes the iconic look of a Les Paul. Many people won’t buy an Epiphone because Gibson won’t let them use the same headstock shape.

But that’s the thing: the only way to get a 100% Les Paul look is to buy a Gibson Les Paul. Any other guitar is going to look different in some way or another.

Made in America: one of the big appeals of a Gibson Les Paul is that it’s made in the USA. America doesn’t have a monopoly on making great instruments, and it’s unlikely we’ll find many viable alternatives that are American-made. If you want to #PlayAlternative, you have to be open to playing something made somewhere else.

My Final Criteria

Away from the guitar itself, what other criteria am I going to use to help me in my search for a #PlayAlternative list of guitars?

Try-before-you-buy: I wouldn’t buy a Gibson Les Paul without trying it first. For me, the magic of a Les Paul is about finding the ones with their own distinct voice. Practically, that means that any Les Paul alternative has got to be hanging on the wall in a music shop that’s within travelling distance for me … which is basically any music shop here in the UK.

That does rule out Thomann’s in-house brand Harley Benton, along with several other brands that are only available through Thomann. If you’re comfortable buying a guitar without hearing it first, there’s plenty of YouTube videos from Thomann themselves, the Guitar Geek and Henning Pauly on the alternatives you can get from Thomann.

If we manage to stop Brexit, maybe I should celebrate by going shopping at Thomann’s store? 🙂

Current production model: I’m not comfortable recommending a guitar if you can’t get it yourself. I think it’s easier to satisfy that if I only look at guitars that are brand new and still being made.

Does that disqualify boutique guitars, which are typically one-off instruments or made in small batches? I’m going to say ‘no’, because boutique guitar makers are often at the forefront of making the very best tone monsters today.

It does disqualify second hand instruments. As a general rule, a recent factory-made guitar is normally better made than one from (say) five years ago, especially if the factory is in Asia. Year on year, they’re getting more experienced in how to build instruments, and getting better at how to consistently build them.

By all means, if you like something I recommend but want it cheaper, do look at second hand examples.

Price points: this is an area where we can try and improve on Gibson’s current range. One of the things I love about Fender is how they make perfectly fine instruments at a range of prices – especially more affordable prices.

So let’s see if I can find anything to recommend at similar prices to Fender’s main lines here in mid-2019:

  • Fender Player – around £550
  • Fender american-made – starts at £1000-£1200
  • Top-of-the-line factory made, non-limited edition – between £1800-£2000
  • Custom-shop money: £3000+

That last one is there to basically cover anything that’s boutique or PRS 😉

Especially at the budget end, I’m expecting to have to mod the guitars (pickup changes, for example). These price targets have to cover all the costs of any mods too – parts and labour.

What’s On Your #PlayAlternative List?

I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to build up my list. It’s definitely going to be a work-in-progress kind of thing.

To help me get started, what do you think should be on the list of guitars for me to go and look at? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

#CoffeeAndKlon 12: The Tumnus As Drive For Early Wampler Pedals

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Sorry that I didn’t do a #CoffeeAndKlon this morning. I had the coffee, and then had to go out to run an errand that couldn’t wait.

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Here’s one of the two pedals that I’ve been teasing you about this week: the Wampler Tweed 57. Currently being boosted by the Tumnus mini-klone. Thanks to @matthew_darcy for recommending the Tweed 57 to me.

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Too soon for me to say a lot about this pedal. I need to A/B it against the Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD for short), the Little Tweedy Drive, and the Honey Bee too. And I need to find out what I can stick in front of it as a boost.

Tell you what, it sounds great with the Tumnus in front of it. The Tumnus is a klone that’s become popular as an outright drive pedal – which is how I’m using it here.

I’ve gone for both pedals with just a small amount of breakup, and the Tumnus at unity volume to avoid slamming the front of the Tweed 57. Together, the result is a nice crunchy rhythm tone with a pleasing amount of dynamics.

I’m running this into the Blackstar Studio 10 6L6, which is currently basking in the evening sunlight.

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This is the amp that was playing up a couple of weeks ago.

“Bring it back to the shop,” said Andrew on Thursday, “and we’ll send it back to Blackstar if we can’t fix it ourselves.” The amp must have overheard, because it has worked PERFECTLY since he said it.

As long as it continues to behave, it’s staying put for now. As much as I love the Marshall Origin, I’m currently on a run of pedals that work best into a blackface-voiced amp. Speaking of which …

Here’s the other pedal: the Wampler Black 65. Once again, being boosted by the Tumnus with the exact same settings as before.

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It’s fascinating how differently this reacts to the Tumnus. Unlike with the Tweed 57, the Tumnus isn’t producing more drive out of the Black 65. All it’s really doing is shaping the EQ.

If I try to use the Tumnus to boost the Black 65, the Black 65 just farts out. It seems to have sod all input headroom. A common characteristic of all of Brian’s early designs that I’ve tried.

That doesn’t mean that these early Wampler pedals are to avoided.

All the ones I’ve tried sound great, esp with the bridge pickup of a Tele. Just need to accept how they seem to work, and go with it instead of fighting it.

With the Tweed 57 and Black 65, I’m hoping that I’ve got two great drive voices for the Blackstar. It’s a nice little rig, and I’m going to have a lot of fun exploring it further all this week 🙂

#CoffeeAndKlon 11: Tuners Are Interesting After All

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Hello, and thank you for reading this. I’ve got another #CoffeeAndKlon for you today, as I continue to walk through my desert island guitar rig.

Coffee this morning is Monsoon Malabar, from our local shop Corrine Coffee. It’s very smooth, very mild. Kinda similar to Costa Coffee’s regular coffee, I’d say.

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Before I go any further, I just want to let you know that all my conversations about guitar gear are all archived up on hometoneblog.com. If you like this kind of stuff, there’s plenty more up on there for you 🙂

t’s going to be quite a short #CoffeeAndKlon today, because I’m going to be talking about tuners. Drive, fuzz and modulation pedals get all the love, all the attention. Without a good tuner, though, it’d all sound horrible.

The pinnacle of guitar tuners are those made by Peterson. Folks like Wampler have said they don’t see the point in making a tuner, because of just how good the Peterson tuners are. Until recently, though, they weren’t that easy to get here.

If you are interested in one, Andertons currently has one in stock. Here’s the link: https://andertons.co.uk/peterson-strobostomp-hd-compact-strobe-pedal-tuner-pt-stomphd… (It’s not an affiliate link.)

So what about headstock tuners? The kind you just clip onto a guitar’s headstock when you need to tune up? They’re really convenient.

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If I’m thinking of buying a guitar, I’ll normally have one of these in my pocket when I go into a store. Guitars go out of tune when they’re sat in a store. I’ve found you can’t rely on staff tuning the guitar for you, or even having a tuner available for you.

If I’m gigging, I’ll have my headstock tuner with me … as a backup.

We use a couple of alternate tunings in our set, and we found that it took longer to retune with a headstock tuner.

That’s why I use a tuner pedal these days.

I prefer this Korg tuner pedal. It’s called the Korg Pitchblack Advance. It’s fast, accurate enough, true bypass, with a really big display. I’ve used it on a dark stage for a gig, and was very happy with it.

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It also runs off a battery for *months* at a time – great for gigging with. I practice pretty much every day, got band rehearsals most weeks, I never unplug the lead when I’m not using the guitar, and the battery has just started its 5th month in the pedal.

The battery thing is important to me. Because we do small gigs with an acoustic guitar, I can’t guarantee that there’s convenient power available for a pedal board. I don’t have to worry about that with this pedal 🙂

Let’s quickly go back to the true bypass thing. It matters to me for two reasons.

First off, when I’m gigging, I’m playing an acoustic guitar. I’ve found that a surprising number of guitar pedals suck tone from an acoustic guitar, even though there’s no audible problem with an electric guitar. True bypass seems to avoid that.

Secondly, when I’m at home using an electric guitar, some of the pedals I use don’t like being behind any sort of buffer pedal. Electrically, they want to interact directly with the guitar’s pickups and pots. A true bypass pedal definitely sorts that out.

So yeah, I’m delighted with this pedal. Had it since the start of April, and it’s been great for me. The Korg Pitchblack Advance is the tuner that I’ll use in my desert island rig.

That ended up being much longer than I thought it would 🙂 What do you use for a tuner? And why? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences, so that I can learn from them. Thanks for reading, and have a great rest of the weekend!

New Arrivals For August 2019

The plan this month was to finally buy a nice rack for my home studio, so that I can get the Synergy amp wired up once again. That didn’t go so well. Silver linings and all that though …

I found a rack that I liked on DV247’s website, paid for it … and later that day received an email from them asking for almost 30% extra money before they’d ship it. Now, the regulations on selling online are clear: you’re not supposed to do that. So yeah, that purchase fell through.

Before I could find and order an alternative from somewhere else, some of the remaining pedals from my bucket list turned up for sale. Interesting (to me) pedals have been hard to find at prices I’m willing to pay all summer long. Having three come along at once was an opportunity I’m glad I didn’t have to pass up.

Wampler Plextortion Drive Pedal

Earlier in the year, I picked up a JHS Angry Charlie to go with my JHS Charlie Brown. It got me thinking: are there any other pedals out there that chase the JCM 800 sound? And this is the only other pedal I could think of.

Brian doesn’t make these any more, and second hand examples are currently pretty rare. (Not the rarest, as we’ll see shortly!) During a summer of slim pickings, it was great to see this turn up for sale.

The pedal arrived just after the second heatwave we’ve had this summer, and it’s been too hot to do anything that a quick dead-on-arrival check so far. It sounded good. I’ll update this when I’ve been able to give it a decent amount of time.

Wampler Black 65 Drive Pedal

The second of my three bucket list pedals is another Wampler, and one I’ve owned before: the Black 65. I had one of these as a Christmas present from my wife, in 2012 I think? I can’t remember why I sold it. Maybe I will once this one has arrived 🙂

Since Brian stopped making them, these have become quite sought after. On Reverb, second hand examples often go for more than they originally cost (!!) I’m glad to say that I didn’t pay anything like that for this one.

I don’t need it to give me Fender blackface cleans; I’ve got that covered with the Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 amp. I’m hoping that this’ll give me a nice dirt tone for that amp. I’ll update this once I’ve found out.

Wampler Tweed 57 Drive Pedal

Aaaaand the third of my bucket list pedals this month is another Wampler, and perhaps the rarest of the bunch. Weirdly, though, it doesn’t command the same high prices that the Black 65 does according to Reverb. Reading around, it looks like it’s quite the marmite pedal.

This is a very recent addition to my bucket list. It only got added because of my bitter disappointment with the Mad Professor Little Tweedy Drive. My mate Matt saw my tweets about the Little Tweedy Drive, and told me that the Tweed 57 is perhaps the most accurate pedal for that small Fender amp sound.

I’ll update this once I’ve had a play with it.

Danelectro Billion Dollar Boost Pedal

I was seriously impressed with the Pride of Texas pedal that I got last month. I’ve been keeping an eye out for more pedals from the Billionaire range. Second hand examples are pretty rare, so I was delighted to snag a boost pedal from the lineup for a good price.

First impressions? I like it a lot.

I ran it into the Wampler Tweed 57, and tried it out with my beloved 80’s Charvel super-strat. It took seconds to find a setting that gave me a fatter clean sound that also added back in some top-end. Neck pickup heaven.

I haven’t tried it as a traditional boost into a cranked amp. I’ll make sure I do that test, and then post an update about it.

New Arrivals For July 2019

This month has been a month of two very different stories: guitars and pedals.

On the guitar front, I’ve been very fortunate to find a couple of guitars that blew my socks right off. Proper love-at-the-first-note through an amp fairytale stuff. Fairytales don’t always have a happy ending, mind, so do check back in the months ahead to learn whether these do (or don’t)!

Pedals have been much more of a mixed bag. Good deals have been hard to come by this month, with a lot of people chasing a smaller pool of 2nd hand gear. Maybe it’s the summer months, or maybe it’s the renewed uncertainty here in Britain atm? Either way, I hope things pick up.

I’m doing something a bit different this month. Rather than try and squeeze my first impressions into 3 or 4 paragraphs (to keep these ‘New Arrivals’ posts short), I’ve started breaking them out into separate posts that I’m linking to from here. It gives me a bit more space to talk about each piece of gear. Do you like it? Or do you prefer the ‘all-in-one’ format I’ve been using up to now? Let me know in the comments below.

Auden Artist Bowman 45 OM Acoustic Guitar

We did another small gig at the end of May – a 20 minute slot at a new open-mic night up in Malvern. I took the Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster, and ran it straight into the PA. I did not enjoy the sound at all, and on the drive home I made up my mind to see if I’d be happier with a traditional acoustic guitar.

To be honest, I’d already started looking around for an acoustic guitar back in April, just after the first two gigs we did. I think there’s a difference between a recorded guitar tone and live guitar, and I think it matters for the kind of gigs we’re doing. The problem is that I don’t get on with acoustic guitars. They commonly have low, flat frets (which I find difficult to intonate well on), and normally when you plug them in, the magic goes away.

I’ve got a lot more to tell you about the Auden … but I haven’t been able to gig it yet. Once I have, I’ll feel a lot more confident about my opinions.

Fender Vintera 60s Modified Telecaster

This is what happens when I pop round to AStrings to take a look at new arrivals!

Earlier in the year, when I got my Fender American Performer Strat in Lake Placid Blue to celebrate a personal anniversary, I also took a look at the American Original Tele (also in Lake Placid Blue) that they had in stock … and I kinda warmed to it. I thought they’d make a nice pair together, but I took too long to make up my mind about it, and the guitar sold in the meantime.

The new Vintera (‘VINTage ERA’) guitars are Mexican-made homages to what Fender guitars were like in the 50s, 60s and 70s. I don’t want to say they’re a poor-man’s Fender Original, because I think that does them a big disservice.

Are they period-correct in appointments and sound? I’ve no idea, sorry. Do they sound good, and are they enjoyable to play? Very much so. The one I’ve bought had more magic than some USA Teles I’ve played. That’ll do me nicely.

Here’s my first impression of this excellent new Telecaster.

Mad Professor Big Tweedy Drive Pedal

I’ve made no secret of just how much I love the drive pedals that BJFe designed for Mad Professor. They are consistently some of the best sounding – and best stackable – pedals that I’ve ever had the pleasure to use. And I think that I have all of them in my pedal collection here at The Hermit’s Cave.

That partnership came to an end some time ago, and since then, Mad Professor has been launching new pedals that (presumably) are entirely their own design. I’m curious to discover … did the magic leave the building with the BJFe deal, or will these post-BJFe pedals stand up well against their older siblings?

The real problem with answering that question is getting hold of them. Twimble-family pedals have been turning up on the second hand market for a few years now, but the other drive pedals are still extremely rare, making good value deals even harder to find.

Follow this link to read my first impressions of the Big Tweedy.

Mad Professor Little Tweedy Drive

Like the Big Tweedy Drive, Mad Professor’s Little Tweedy Drive doesn’t often turn up to buy second hand. And I’m kinda settling on the sound of small tweed-like amps as part of ‘my’ sound, the more I think about what would go into my desert island rig.

It turned up on the same day as Danelectro’s Pride of Texas, and by popular demand, I compared them both together.

Long and short of it, though, is that the Little Tweedy Drive has a characteristic that almost ruins it for me. Follow that link for the full details.

Wampler Sovereign Distortion Pedal v2

Before I discovered and fell in love with the pedals that BJFe designed for Mad Professor, I used to have a few Wampler pedals. My wife and I both loved the demo tones we found on YouTube. In person, though, I really struggled to get tones I liked out of them, and eventually I gave up on Wampler and moved all the pedals on.

A lot has changed (for me, and my rig) in the years since, and when the right deal comes along, I’m picking up the pedals from back then to try them again. I’ll turn the results into a series of posts called ‘Second Bite’.

IIRC, the Sovereign was the very last Wampler pedal I tried back then. I was looking for a pedal to help me craft a good lead tone. I failed. Will I fail a second time?

Here’s my thoughts on my #SecondBite at this pedal.

Lovepedal JTM Drive Pedal

A lot of the non-BJFe pedals that I love (like the Tchula, and the Speaker Cranker), are all descended from the Electra Distortion circuit. I’ve had such fun with them that I’m always on the lookout for other pedals from the same family tree. It’s a bit like collecting TubeScreamers 😀

If I’ve got this right, the Electra Distortion was a module that could be fitted into an Electra guitar in the late 70s. It seems to be a really simple circuit that pedal makers have found to be very flexible and versatile. Lovepedal in particular are said to have based many of their designs on this circuit over the years.

I’m expecting the JTM to be a bit like the Big Tweedy Drive: more of a foundation pedal than a traditional overdrive pedal. Something to act as a base layer to shape the tone, if you like. Sounds like the perfect pedal for me to feature in #CoffeeAndKlon once it’s here 🙂

Here’s my first impression of the Lovepedal JTM. There’s a lot to like, when it’s boosted by the right pedal.