Choosing A Gibson Les Paul

Yes, Gibson the company has a knack for bringing bad publicity on itself (to put it mildly). If you want to boycott them, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a Les Paul. There’s still plenty of great second hand Les Pauls out there to choose from.

Either way, there’s a lot more to buying a Les Paul than simply clicking ‘Buy Now’ on an online store, or buying one from your friendly local guitar store. And, in my experience, the same advice applies to Les Paul-like guitars made by other companies too.

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Second Bite: Fender’s Tre-Verb Pedal

I bought one of these last year, and first time around, I didn’t get on with it at all. Although I planned to, I never actually sold it on. With the country in lockdown thanks to the 2020 pandemic, I’m not going to be selling it any time soon.

So, I dug it out and put it back on the board for a bit. Am I going to be just as disappointed second time around, or am I going to actually like it this time?

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First Impressions: Kinman Impersonator 54 Noiseless Pickups For Stratocaster

Back in November 2019, I picked up a set of Kinman pickups from Knighton Music Centre. I’d taken my wife there so that she could look at their impressive range of acoustic guitars, and while I was there, I spotted a promo poster for Kinman pickups.

I didn’t even know you could get these in the UK.

I bought a set, brought them home with me … and then they sat on the shelf here for several months. I’ve finally had them put into my Strat. What do I think of them? Read on to find out.

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First Impressions: Danelectro Big Spender Spinning Speaker Pedal

I’m a huge fan of the Danelectro Billionaire series of pedals. I’ve now got all of them except the tremolo pedal, and I’ve been delighted with the sound quality of each and every one of them.

This isn’t the last pedal to arrive before the pandemic lockdown, it’s just the last one for me to put onto the board and spend time with. How did I get on with it? Read on to find out.

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First Impressions: Xvive Sweet Leo Overdrive

Earlier this month, I picked up the Xvive Golden Brownie Distortion pedal (a JCM 800-in-a-box pedal), and I really liked it (once I got my head round it!).

With everything that’s going on right now, I wanted to buy something from my local guitar shop to try and support them, and it was my good luck that they had Xvive’s other dirt pedal in stock.

I’ve had a couple of hours with it so far. Here’s how I’ve gotten on with it.

tl;dr

The Sweet Leo Overdrive, designed by Thomas Blug, is a Tweed-in-a-Box (TIAB)-type pedal. Other notable TIAB-type pedals include the Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD), the Honey Bee family, Wampler’s (now discontinued) Tweed 57, and Fender’s MTG.

Unlike its sibling the Golden Brownie, the Sweet Leo seems to work great with non-Strat guitars too – although beware of the Growl control, which I’ve been calling the Smear control when I tried it with non-Strat guitars.

It’s a very low gain pedal. The main sound characteristics are the softest initial note attack that I’ve come across in a TIAB-type pedal, and most of the energy seems to be in the mids. I suspect it’ll work best in a live mix or recording, especially for lead playing – but you might want to boost it for that.

What Is It?

The Xvive Sweet Leo Overdrive pedal is a Tweed-in-a-box (TIAB for short) kind of pedal. That, on its own, is music to my ears. Over the last year or so, I’ve been learning that the “tweed sound” (whatever that is) is very much my thing.

It’s part of a series of pedals designed for Xvive by noted gear designer (and official Strat King of Europe) Thomas Blug.

What Does It Sound Like?

The first thing I noticed was just how clean this pedal is. It’s very much a low gain pedal. I would have to check to be sure, but right now, I can’t think of another TIAB pedal with this little gain.

In that respect, it’s the exact opposite of Mad Professor’s hugely disappointing Little Tweedy Drive.

Even with the gain approaching 2 o’clock, my Strat sounds only very lightly driven. With a Tele or a Les Paul, there’s a bit more dirt at the same setting, but a long way from any sort of lead territory. I really like it.

The other thing I immediately noticed was just how soft each note sounds. The general over-simplification is that Marshall-in-a-Box (MIAB for short) pedals give you sharp attack and lots of crunch, while Tweed-in-a-Box (TIAB) pedals give you less attack and more of a growl kind of thing.

Well, this pedal certainly has less attack. Even with the Tele, the attack of each note was very soft, very rounded. Again, I’d have to check, but I can’t think of any other TIAB-type pedal that has this soft a note attack.

What Does The Growl Control Do?

I think something got lost in translation (sorry, Thomas!). The “Growl” control should have been labelled the “Smear” control, because that what it does: it smears the sound as you wind it up.

Sorry, I’m not trying to offend at all. It’s the sonic equivalent of smearing vaseline all over a camera lens.

To my ears, what it’s trying to do is fatten up the guitar tone, and make the attack more aggressive. It does this by introducing a bit of a “smile”-type EQ curve, I think.

It’s especially apparent with my Strat’s bridge pickup. There’s some boosting going on that makes my Strat sound a little fizzy (not great from a line noise perspective, tbh) and a little chunkier. If you think your Strat sounds a little wimpy for rhythm work, this might be what you’re looking for.

With the humbuckers on my Les Paul, or my Tele’s bridge pickup, I’m not (yet) sold on what it does. The Tele doesn’t need the treble boost that the Growl control provides, and my Les Paul ends up with far too much boomy bass frequencies.

I’m sure that I just need a bit of time to find the Growl control’s sweet spot on a guitar-by-guitar basis.

Compared To Bearfoot FX Honey Bee?

Bjorn Juhl’s Honey Bee series of pedals is right up there in the pantheon of legendary pedals. If you’ve previously decided that you didn’t like the Honey Bee, Tweed-like pedals aren’t going to be for you (except maybe The Big Tweedy Drive …)

The Sweet Leo sounds good. The Honey Bee sounds great. Although they do sound similar, side by side it’s no competition.

To my ears, the Honey Bee sounds fuller: each note produces a wider range of frequencies. The Sweet Leo sounds more focused: much more about the mids, with less presence and less low-end.

Now, please do bear in mind that I’ve been playing pedals from the Honey Bee family for many years now. They’re my go-to sound, as it were. I’ve only had the Sweet Leo since mid-afternoon today. I’m still learning how to dial it in.

Final Thoughts

For sixty quid, the Sweet Leo Overdrive is a quality pedal. If I was gigging electric guitar, I’d be tempted to leave the Honey Bee safely at home and use the Sweet Leo instead.

It’s mid-focused nature has me curious. I want to try this pedal out for Strat and PRS lead duties. I suspect it’ll sit quite nicely in an overall mix. Sadly, I can’t try this today. I’ll have to report back when I have.

First Impressions: Anasounds Element Spring Reverb Pedal

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This is a bit of a difficult First Impressions for me to write. After years of everything being in the same place in the room, I’ve recently moved everything around. I’m still getting to used to how everything sounds in its new location – and in my new listening position.

Anyways. The Anasounds Element has just arrived, and I’ve had a couple of hours with it through my rig. Here’s my very first impressions of this pedal.

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Studio Diary #19: Improving The Vibe

My Studio Diary is where I talk about my experience with my home recording setup. You’ll get the good along with the bad. And today, I’m definitely addressing the bad.

It’s Not Working For Me

When I did the home studio gear upgrade last year, all I did was swap out old gear for the replacements. I didn’t change the location of anything in the room. The amps and cabs are still sat in exactly the same place they’ve been sat for most of the last decade.

I can’t explain it in any other way: it just hasn’t felt right.

It’s not a problem with the gear. It all works, and it (mostly) achieves what I set out to do. It has been easier than ever to explore what new (to me) pedals can do. I think I’m finally happy with the quality of the recorded sounds, especially since adding the Torpedo CAB M last month.

And yet, other than band rehearsal, I’m not recording music at all any more. As the saying goes, that does not bring me joy. It needs fixing.

The Emphasis Is Wrong

I honestly don’t care if you think this is all a bit silly. This is my creative space, and it needs to work for me.

Let me explain what the room’s like.

For the past five years, my desk has been in a corner of the room. It’s a practical place to put a desk, especially in a small room that’s used for multiple things. It’s where I sit and work in my day job, and it doubles as my main recording / listening station on evenings and weekends. My studio rack, amps and cabs sat against the rest of that wall and another wall, with the third wall taken up by much-needed storage. The final wall was left empty otherwise there’d be no space in the room at all.

Being sat in the corner of the room has finally gotten to me, I guess, especially as it is the far corner from the door. It’s a very small room, so it’s never going to feel spacious. It just doesn’t feel open any more. It makes me feel hemmed in.

As I’ve gradually built up both the gear I use for work and my guitar gear, the gear has been taking over the room. Apart from the stuff that’s gone into the studio rack, it’s all odd and awkward sizes. It’s turned into quite the sprawl, with a lot of dead space.

I’ve ended up with my four 1×12 cabs being the focal point of the room. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen photos of some of the amps stacked on top. The rest of the amps ended up on a very pretty FJÄLLBO storage unit from IKEA, with the Acus acoustic amp and Roland SPD-SX just awkwardly on the floor.

The solution, for me, has been to move (almost) everything around in the room.

Time For A New Layout

First and foremost: the focal point isn’t the amps and cabs any more: it’s now my desk. It’s still up against a wall, but it’s now placed centrally, and close to the door. This has delivered immediate improvement.

The room immediately feels open.

Why is that? It’s because this room’s not quite a square. I’ve moved my desk to be on the shortest wall. That puts my back facing the empty wall I mentioned earlier. That creates a feeling of more space – even though I’ve used this as an opportunity to add a second desk for my day job.

I’m not quite ready to add some proper studio monitors, but at least when I do, I’m happy that they’re going in a better location than they would have last year.

It took a whole day to empty the room, build the new desks, and move everything back in. And by move, I mean finding places to dump things. A lot of the gear isn’t wired back up yet. It’s going to take a bit longer before I’m ready to do that.

Nothing Comes For Free

One consequence of changing the layout is that the amps and cabs can’t be sprawling any more. They need a proper home. Specifically, I need some new furniture to sit them on, so that I can stack them out of the way.

Amps and cab dimensions are, by and large, still stuck in the era of imperial measurements. Much of normal life has moved on, and modernised to the metric system. That’s especially true of furniture, especially because so much of it is imported.

That alone makes it really hard to find shelving and storage that’s a good fit for amps. They’re either too small, or (like the IKEA unit I’ve been using for the last 18 months) you end up with a lot of dead space. And hence the sprawl that I’m trying to address!

There’s a couple of other problems too:

  • The space I’ve got for my amps is a bit of an odd size at 62 cm wide and 120 cm high. Anything bigger won’t physically fit, and anything smaller would be too small for my amps and gear to fit on. I haven’t found any furniture to fit those dimensions.
  • To save costs, most furniture isn’t made from wood any more, and just isn’t strong enough to hold even a small combo like the Blackstar Studio 10 6L6. You should have seen how bowed my old desk was when I took it out of the room, and that hasn’t had anything as heavy as an amp on it.

I’m left with two choices, really: either I find someone who can make what I want to my spec, or build something myself.

I haven’t done any woodworking since the mid 80’s, and I’m an utter novice at anything involving DIY. So naturally, I’ve gone with the second option …