CoffeeAndKlon #23: Drums For The Home Studio

This conversation was originally published on my Twitter feed.

For today’s #CoffeeAndKlon, I’ve switched instruments entirely. These are my first impressions of the Roland SPD-SX sampling pad, KT-10 kick trigger, and the PDS-10 stand.

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I know it’s cool to hate on things like Toontrack’s Superior Drummer. And yeah, it does take something away when you hear the exact same drums on every track from every band.

I don’t really have any choice in the matter though.

I’ve gone with the Roland SPD-SX because it’s the only thing I’ve got the physical space for. I can’t fit an electronic drum kit in here, never mind a real drum kit. And a physical kit would be too loud for a home studio setup.

The Roland SPD-SX Doesn’t Trigger Reliably

In person, the SPD-SX is a little larger than you might think. That makes the pads pretty easy to hit accurately, even for a hack like me. There are six main percussion pads & three trigger pads on the top row.

The percussion pads are nice to play. They fire reliably, and the 3×2 layout is nice and flexible. The velocity sensitivity feels stiff. Some of that will be my playing.

The trigger pads … are a problem. They all take a lot more force to trigger than the six percussion pads, even after tweaking in the menus. And they don’t seem to fire reliably at all.

(For testing, I’ve got the MIDI monitor open in Mainstage 3. This allows me to reliably count how many times each pad triggers. Each test run is 20 strikes from a sitting position. The SPD-SX is hip-high, and tilted at about a 30 degree angle.)

If I strike them with the tip of my sticks, they fire less than 30% of the time. One pad is noticeably worse than the others, managing around 10% trigger rate. With the same velocity strike, 100% trigger rate on the six main pads.

If I strike them about a third down my sticks, things improve. I can get up to a 70% trigger rate. That’s not enough to be usable.

So far, the only way to get 100% strike rate is to hit the trigger pads about 50% down the stick. And to hit them quite a bit harder than the percussion pads. I’m finding that difficult to do atm.

The transition between percussion pads and trigger pads requires a noticeable shoulder extension (to go from stick tip to 50% down the stick) and a grip change (a tighter grip needed to get the extra velocity). Maybe it’ll come with time?

It Needs A Lot Of Setup To Use

Out of the box, the Roland SPD-SX isn’t setup to be a MIDI controller. Nor is it setup to be a drum kit once you get it into MIDI mode. It took about 3 hours of reading & watching third-party YouTube tutorials to sort that out.

It Gets Beaten-Up Very Quickly

Dry flaky skin (like mine) sticks instantly to the rubber strike pads. Same with any dirt or dust on your sticks. If you were in the room with me, you’d think I’d had this for a year or more. It looks that worn that quickly.

The PDS-10 Stand Is A Necessary Evil

The stand is essential. Mixed feelings about it – because it’s expensive. It’s solid and sturdy, but I was annoyed by the head design. It’s single-axis, with no way to correct for an uneven floor surface. I feel the angle difference more than I see it. Wish I could adjust it.

Roland’s own website says that this stand is both cheaper and has an improved head over the previous model.

The KT-10 Kick Drum Trigger Is Very Nice

I do like the kick drum. The acoustic noise is low, the reverse throw is great for a part-time drummer like myself, and both the sensitivity and velocity detection straight-out-the-box felt spot on.

Why Am I Doing This To Myself?

This whole adventure is because I hate, loathe and detest programming MIDI drums. I’m just crap at it. I want the feel that comes from a real person striking the drums. I played drums in the early 90s. I’m looking forward to playing again.

We’ll see how it goes. Right now, I’ve got to knock the rust off, and get used to playing the SPD-SX. The layout’s very different to a real kit.

I think I’m going to end up with a hybrid approach. Tracking individual loops and fills instead of a full performance. And then using a MIDI editor to fix velocity values and missed pad triggers.

Am I going to get better drums out of it? Probably not. I’m not a very good drummer. And did I mention the rust? I should be happier with the feel, and some of the off-beat timings should be easier to capture. I’ll happily settle for that.

I hope you enjoyed this different #CoffeeAndKlon. Let me know what you do about drums for your home recordings. I’d love to hear how you’ve gone about it, any why.

CoffeeAndKlon #22: Who Needs Pedals When You’ve Got A Great Amp?

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Good afternoon! I’m a bit late with this week’s #CoffeeAndKlon. There’s a couple of reasons why. And one of them does involve the Klon.

I’ve been a bit flat for most of this past week. Delivered a couple of workshops and a talk on the Saturday and Wednesday, and didn’t have much left in the tank after that.

So Thursday and Friday, I’ve mostly been finishing off the home studio revamp. A bit of upgraded gear, and mainly about getting the gear I already have back into use.

At the heart of that is the Synergy amp system I got way back in February last year. It’s at the opposite end of the scale from the home-tone amps I normally talk about here.

Since getting wired up again, I just can’t stop playing this thing: the Synergy 800 module. Designed by Dave Friedman, it’s the classic JCM 800 sound that I grew up with.

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And when you push it with a Klon that’s setup as a clean boost? Les Paul heaven right there. And I haven’t been able to put it down.

Then I had a thought: I’m a pedal guy at heart. How well does a pedal hold up against proper amp filth? That’s where the rest of today has gone 😀

Our contender this afternoon: the JRAD Animal. On its own, this pedal isn’t the most exciting sound in the world. Boost it, and man does it come to life. A bit like a real JCM 800 to be honest.

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After a bit of experimentation, I’ve ended up running it into Synergy’s TDLX: a blackface-style clean amp. I tried running it into the 800 module setup as a clean amp. Didn’t like it at all, and it made A/B testing a pain.

Oh, and I’m using the exact same 1×12 cab loaded with a Celestion G12-M Creamback for both amps. It’s a speaker that brings out the Marshall in everything I run into it. More on that in the long-overdue Marshall Origin One Year On review.

How does the Animal do? It sounds great. It feels great to play. And there’s plenty of satisfying crunch if I boost it with the Klon. There’s a couple of key differences though.

There’s something deeply satisfying about the mids of the real amp that I can’t dial in using the pedal. The pedal setup has crisper highs and crunch, and deeper lows which are addictive in the room. I wish I could borg them together.

The other difference is noise. The pedal setup is picking up so much more string noise than the real amp does. An indicator that the pedal setup is amplifying the treble frequencies much more than the real amp does.

I’ve just switched over to the Marshall Origin for the first time today. Man, this amp loves drive pedals. And I have serious ear fatigue after listening to the pedal setup for most of the afternoon.

I’ve just switched over to the Marshall DSL 20HR. Still learning how to use this amp. Had to really go wild with the dials, as you can see in the photo. Man, it sounds really good too.

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To finish off – and by now, I’m a long way away from trying to match the JCM 800 sound – what about the boosted Animal into a Vox? Here’s my settings on the Mini Superbeetle. Like the DSL 20HR, an amp I’m still learning.

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Through the G12-M Creamback, it’s not a sound I would go for. Stick it through a Celestion Blue though, and that sounds really really good. The mid-range might just be the best of the bunch. Makes me want to add an EQ unit to my studio to tame the top-end though.

(Suggestions for an affordable, rack-mount EQ unit most welcome!)

Now I’ve got real amp filth on tap again, am I going to give up pedals? No. The Klon into the Synergy module sounds fantastic, and feels great to play. And so does the pedal into the other amps, just in a different way.

And for me, that’s what it’s all about, at the end of the day: having a palette of sounds to choose from and experiment with. I’m not a one-sound kind of person.

I’ve worked for three companies that had a strong singular colour for their brand. Going into the office to see a single colour everywhere all day, every day for years … it’s not me. And I’m the same about sound.

I’ve spent the whole afternoon on this, and my ears need a rest. I’ll tell you what though: no matter the amp, it sounded better when boosted with the Klon.

Have a great rest of your weekend, and let me know what questions you have for me about today’s #CoffeeAndKlon 🙂

CoffeeAndKlon #21: Fender Elite Strat And A Klon

This conversation was originally posted on my Twitter feed.

Good morning! It’s a (rare!) sunny day here. I hope it’s nice wherever you are too. For this week’s #CoffeeAndKlon, I want to talk about how I’ve been using my Klon these past few days.

Coffee Has Already Gone

I’m afraid that my coffee this morning has long gone. Yesterday was an 11 hour day at work, and I don’t think my coffee touched the sides on the way down today!

We’re drinking coffee beans sold as “Mexican Lion Boy” from @CortileCoffee here in the beautiful Welsh Valleys. It’s a single-origin coffee, and it’s a very easy drink indeed. It’s one of our favourites, and a great contrast after the Sumatran coffee last week.

Classic Klon Usage

So … back to the Klon. It’s been quite a while since I’ve talked about the Klon itself. And I think that’s mostly because I only use it in one specific way: as a clean boost. I never said that I was imaginative or creative in how I use pedals 🙂

Normally, I use a Klon as a clean boost for guitar solos.

The Klon’s characteristic mid-hump has the effect of lifting a guitar out of the mix. It’s a really easy way to add a bit of mojo when you’re recording something.

The exact same settings on the Klon can be used to make a completely clean Strat sound even better. Which is what I’ve been doing this week.

The Elite Stratocaster Has Noiseless Pickups

On the back of Fender announcing their new Ultra range of guitars to replace the Elites, I dug out my Elite for a bit. It hasn’t had as much use since I got the Player Strat earlier this year. That’s a story for another day though.

One of the reasons I have the Elite are the N4 noiseless pickups. They’re an absolute godsend if you want to record clean guitars in a very sparse mix, and you’re powering everything off a dirty, noisy electricity supply.

They also work surprisingly well into a rig that’s mainly voiced for Les Pauls. Not as important to me today, but it definitely was back when I got my Elite.

Compared to the great-sounding single coils in the American Performer, the N4 pickups in the Elites have:

  • a bit more low-end
  • stronger low mids
  • rolled-off highs

… and my Elite is an early one with a rosewood board, which accentuates the differences more.

I like the extra low-end. It’s a characteristic that I went after when I chose the new pickups for my Fender Player Strat. I like my low-E to go *plonk* and not *plink*.

The stronger low mids – combined with the rolled-off highs – can make the N4s sound different – and can be muddy if you don’t adjust for it. I suspect Fender switched from rosewood to ebony boards part-way through the Elite’s lifetime to help offset this.

I’ve been using my Klon to bring the best out of the N4s in my Elite Strat. The mid-hump of the Klon deals with any mud from those low-mids really nicely. And the treble boost makes the N4s sound a little more alive.

The Klon Makes Everything Sound Better

I’m delighted with the results. Best way I can describe it is that it sounds more like a Strat tone after it’s been mixed. And, of course, it’s dead quiet too. I get more noise from my Les Paul on really bad days.

In the room, just practicing or noodling around for fun, I do prefer the single coils I’ve put in my Player Strat. Thanks to some advice from Andrew @astringsuk, that guitar sounds really good. I can see me choosing Elite + Klon for recording though.

The Elite isn’t the only guitar where I’ve got noiseless pickups. I’ll do a follow-up on the decade-old set of passive EMGs in my old Charvel, and how the Klon helps there too.

And I *might* go and find out what the new pickups in the Ultra are like through a Klon … (that Texas Tea finish is very alluring …)

Anyone else using the Klon in this way with noiseless / stacked single-coil pickups? I’d love to hear how you’re getting on too.

CoffeeAndKlon #20: Giving Up Gear (That You’re Not Using)

This conversation originally appeared on my Twitter feed.

Good morning! This week’s #CoffeeAndKlon is a day late … because Kristi and I went to the UK International Guitar Show yesterday. Today, I want to talk about giving up gear. As in, letting go of gear you’ve outgrown or stopped using.

Today’s Coffee … Is My All-Time Favourite

First: coffee. Lots of coffee today, because at work I’ve got an immovable deadline coming up. A second cup of Sumatran, my favourite coffee. I’m going to pay for this later!

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Sumatran coffee is very dark, very bitter, and very strong. It’s an all-out coffee assault, and definitely an acquired taste. I normally can’t handle 2 cups of it in a single day. But I’ve missed it, and I forgot to photograph my first cup earlier 🙂

I could happily rotate between this and Rwandan coffee all the time. Which reminds me … I can’t remember the last time we had Rwandan. It’s a lot harder to get hold of than it used to be. I haven’t looked into why.

Letting Go Is Hard

So … giving up gear. Yesterday, we drove all the way from Wales over to London to visit the UK International Guitar Show*. And in the boot, I took a couple of guitars to trade.

*subject for another day!

(Just for clarification: I didn’t take the gear to the guitar show to trade. I swung by a major guitar shop on the way home to trade them there.)

I’m terrible about letting go of gear. Well, guitars in particular. Amps and pedals, I’ve moved on. I wouldn’t say ‘happily’, but definitely much more easily than guitars. I don’t feel the same attachment. Guitars though …

Part of it is definitely fear … fear of the guitar not surviving delivery to its next owner. The idea of killing a guitar genuinely fills me with dread. They’re more than tools to me.

That’s why I took these guitars to a major retailer to trade. I’d get a lot more selling them privately, but I struggle with the stress that brings. This way, I know the guitars are going to safely make it to the next person who needs them.

Another part of it is a sense of loss. I (try to) seek out guitars that have their own voice. Trading away one means never hearing that voice ever again. I find that hard.

What Did You Trade?

Yesterday, I traded away my Taylor T5z. It’s stunning to look at, and (imho) the best sounding T5z I ever played or heard. A hybrid electro-acoustic with the neck carve and playability of a Les Paul. Great for anyone who doesn’t like acoustic guitars.

It played an important part of my recent musical life. It was the guitar I bought to start the band. Found it up in Glasgow in 2017, and it was the first acoustic-like guitar is played where I still sounded like me.

We used it to start exploring our sound. It was the guitar we used to choose our gigging amps. A good 50% of the set at our first gig was written on it. And it was up there on stage at that first gig.

Since then, it’s largely been a case queen.

Our gigs have taught us that a traditional acoustic guitar works best when playing in small rooms like pubs and cafes. Spaces where the audience can feel and react to the guitar’s unamplified tone.

It was incredibly important as a catalyst and a bridge. And once we’d crossed that bridge and gone full-acoustic, its journey with us was done.

Driving home last night, I didn’t feel any regret at moving the Taylor T5z on. The only regret I had was that I hadn’t been able to trade away the other guitar I’d taken along too. That inspired me to write about this today.

When Gear Serves A Bigger Purpose

Despite all the gear I talk about on here, the band has been my main musical focus for all of 2019. And the gear I use in the band has all been about serving the band’s needs better. When the Taylor no longer did that, I was alright in letting it go.

Why did the other guitar come back with me? I couldn’t get the trade-in price I needed for the next set of gear for the band. That one, I will need to sell privately. Stress be damned.

Having the band as the main focus of my music has *forced* me to start treating guitars as tools. Even though the band is just a hobby. Even though we’re not trying to become professional musicians.

It’s going to take a quite a bit longer for me to actually get comfortable with that though …

Thanks For Reading

If you’ve enjoyed this week’s #CoffeeAndKlon, please do let me know. And I’d love to hear what you think about hanging onto gear vs trading it away.

CoffeeAndKlon #19: Make Time For Your Passions

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Good morning folks! I’m back with another #CoffeeAndKlon for you. This week, I want to step away from gear (for once!) and talk about time … the time we have for music.

Today’s Coffee is El Corozo

I’m currently drinking the last of the El Corozo. There’s a new coffee shop that’s opened up opposite the Apple Store down in Cardiff. Been past it a few times – it’s been a bad summer for Apple and reliability – and finally remembered to pop in and check it out.

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I’ve mixed feelings about this coffee.

It’s a decent coffee, with a nice amount of bitterness in the aftertaste. A definite step up on the kind of coffee most shops brew for their customers. And much much nicer than the coffee I’ve been drinking from the hospital coffee shop.

The only reservation is the price. It’s quite a bit more expensive than similar, Fairtrade-certified coffee from other shops.

Do try it. If it’s the taste you’re after, I’m sure it’ll be worth it to you. It’s all personal preference after all.

It’s Time To Talk About … Well, Time!

So … time. Last month was a bit of an anniversary for me. It’s now 30 years since I first started playing electric guitar. Over the years, there’s been periods when it was important, and years when it was neglected. But it’s always been the one constant in my adult life.

At the end of the day, it’s just a hobby. It doesn’t put food on the table or keep a roof over our heads, and frankly, we’d starve pretty quickly if I tried to be a professional musician. That doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

I don’t know why YOU play music at home. You’ll have your own reasons for it. And I’d love to hear what they are.

For me, it’s sanity. It’s no coincidence that many of the periods where music was important are also the times where my professional life was getting me down.

During those times, I’d always retreat to my guitar and write. Not very well, I grant you, but it was the doing that kept me going. Having an outlet is an important safety valve for the human soul.

It took me a long time to learn that music could be about joy too. I remember going through a particularly nasty work situation several years ago, and constantly wondering “why am I writing music that sounds happy?”

That confused me. I didn’t understand it at all. At the time, it made me question whether I really was unhappy with what was happening in my professional life. Was it my way of telling myself that I should put up with it?

No. I’d simply learned to enjoy music for the sake of it. It had happened so gradually that I hadn’t realised.

I’d finally found the guitar that suited me – the Les Paul – after decades of avoiding them. I’d found the kind of tone I’d been seeking in valve amps, after many years of digital disappointment.

Such a roundabout journey, I hadn’t noticed I’d arrived.

Time changes perspective. Spending time on something – a guitar, a pedal, an amp, or music itself – gives YOU time to grow. After all, any piece of gear is pretty static. It doesn’t really change. It’s your approach to it that needs to change.

And music is only brought to life by the arrangement you come up with, and the performance you find within yourself.

At least, that’s where I am with things today.

I think we all need that one something in our lives. That one passion, regardless of aptitude, ability, or the need to monetise it. For me, it turned out to be music. And gear I guess 🙂

It has to fit around the rest of your life – work, family, friendships. Whatever it is, when you find it, you’ll know. Because you won’t be complete without it.

None of us have infinite time here. Make time for your passions. If nothing else, it makes the time we have that much easier.

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 🙂

#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!