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.

Fender Pugilist: A Marshall-In-A-Box Pedal?

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

I’m just going to put this out there. Is the Fender Pugilist distortion pedal secretly a Marshall-in-a-Box pedal? I think there’s a case to be made.

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I bought mine when they first came out. It’s largely lived in its box since then, because its siblings the Santa Ana and The Pelt are just killer pedals.

I dug it out earlier this week to finally spend a decent amount of time with it.

When I first got it, I was running it into my trusty Marshall Origin. This time, I’ve been running it into my Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 – a great budget amp for blackface clean tones.

The Pugilist has two drive circuits inside. You can use both in ‘blend’ mode or run them into each other in series. I’ve been using blend mode, and then running the blend control either fully at ‘A’ or fully at ‘B’ like this:

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The key characteristics I’m focusing on are: – initial attack – mid-range push / aggressiveness – top-end sharpness These are things that work for me when I want the rock tones I grew up with 🙂

For me, classic Fender-style dirt growls more than it crunches, with a Les Paul. A soft attack and smoothness at the top-end (like the top-end is compressing?) are part of what I hear from those tones. The Santa Ana does that really really well.

To my ears at least, the Pugilist has a quicker attack and sharper top-end. It has bite, and it does crunchy rhythm tones for days.

The mid-range, though, isn’t as aggressive as outright Marshall-in-a-Box pedals. If I grab the Marvel Drive, for example, and compare them, there’s a noticeable difference.

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The Pugilist doesn’t push the mid range anything like the Marvel Drive does. As I turn the gain up on the Marvel Drive, the difference is less pronounced, but it is still there.

It’s really easy to make the Marvel Drive sound boxy through this amp.

The other thing about just about every plexi pedal I’ve tried is that when you switch them on, the bass by and large goes away. The Pugilist keeps the bass, and even has a bass boost too.

And I have a theory about why.

Marshall Tones For Telecaster Players

My theory is that the Pugilist isn’t an outright Marshall-in-a-Box pedal in the strictest sense. I think it’s voiced to turn a Tele into a classic rock machine, to sound quite like a Les Paul going into a Marshall.

The Tele naturally provides the upper-mid emphasis, so the pedal doesn’t need to do that itself. And the bass boost addresses the thinness of the Tele’s bridge pickup surprisingly well. Just roll back the Tele’s tone to stop the ice-pickiness 🙂

I’ve been having a *lot* of fun with the Tele through the Pugilist while writing this 🙂 Here’s the settings I’ve settled on. Guitar is the Fender Vintera 60s Modified Tele. Fattest-sounding Tele I’ve got.

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Tell you what though, as with the Santa Ana, I think it really works well with a Les Paul. Key thing for me: I love the Santa Ana into a clean Marshall. For me, the Pugilist is at its best into a Fender-style clean amp.

Have you played about the with the Pugilist? I’d love to hear your experiences with it 🙂

#SecondBite: Wampler Sovereign Distortion

This conversation was originally published to my Twitter feed.

Arrived this morning … will the Sovereign from Wampler prove to be the king of drive pedals? Spoiler alert: no. It’s a finicky pedal to dial in. Got some great sweet spots though. Let me walk you through them …

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What makes this pedal finicky? Henning covers it very well in his video review of the Sovereign.

There’s something going on in the low-end of this pedal that you can’t dial out, and that makes it challenging to use with humbuckers.

I had that problem with my first copy of this pedal, which is why I sold it a few years ago now. Just plugged this one in, and yeah, still not a great tone with humbuckers.

Brian makes great pedals. I’m not giving up on it just yet.

I’m a different player than I was when I first had this pedal. My rig is different. My guitar is different. That’s why I’m taking a #SecondBite at this, and other pedals that I’ve had and sold on.

This time, I’m starting with a different premise.

What Gear Did Brian Use?

This is one of Brian’s older circuits. Let’s assume he had limited gear back then. From his videos, looks like he mostly had Teles into Fender amps. Why don’t we start with that, and go from there?

I’m running the Sovereign straight into my Blackstar Studio 10 6L6. It has become my favourite Fender-voiced amp for #HomeTone use. I’ll try it through the Origin another time.

I’m going to use it with the Fender Vintera 60s Modified Tele that I recently got. It’s a monster for fat tones, and it’s a great Tele for a Les Paul player like me.

The Sovereign shines with the Tele’s bridge pickup. Suddenly, all that low-end from the pedal … just works. It fills in the overall sound really nicely. Definitely a sweet spot.

What about P90s? If I dig out my red Special (pun intended – sorry Andrew!) Les Paul w/ P90s, it’s an interesting story. This guitar lacks the mid-range thickness that I associate with P90s.

That’s a good thing in this case.

First thing to point out – have to play on the bridge pickup. Even in the middle position, the pedal’s low-end thickness doesn’t suit. These aren’t hot pickups, but I still had to roll down the volume and tone to tame the harshness.

And there it is – a Tele-ish tone that I suspect would work well in a mix with my Tele. That’s a big win for me. I love being able to pair things up for recording.

You can probably tell that I’m warming to this pedal as I go along. I’ve already got gear that suits my normal Les Paul. Having something that suits other guitars gives me options I may not have had before.

But I Love My Les Paul

So, with everything I’ve learned, let’s throw a Les Paul Standard at it. Again, bridge pickup only, and rolling back volume and tone to tame the pedal a bit. I found that harder to dial in. Too easy for the pedal to sound harsh.

Thing is, I’m not a bridge pickup player. One of the reasons I love Les Pauls is the tone from the middle position. Roll neck volume down to 4, switch to middle position. Bring bridge volume up to get the dirt back, then tone up to find the right bite.

That’s a much nicer sound than where I started from 2+ hours ago 🙂 Can’t see me picking this over other pedals for my Les Paul. When I want to use the Tele though, this might become a go-to for that.

What Else?

I’ve had no success stacking this pedal (so far). It’s dead quiet – stunningly so. That’s not the problem. Everything I’ve tried in front of it has made the pedal sound worse.

So yeah, that my #SecondBite at using the Wampler Sovereign. I hope you found the process interesting. Let me know what you think.

Changing Pickups Part 2: A Nice Surprise

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed. You can find Part 1 here.

Well, the green Strat is back, and the result has been quite the surprise.

Quick recap: Fender Player series Strat, which I’ve really taken a shine to. Dropped it off @astringsuk yesterday to replace the stock pickups with a (mismatched) set of 63 Veneers from Bare Knuckle. Wanted a more vintage Strat tone.

First off – these pickups definitely deliver that vintage Strat tone. There’s a much bigger difference between the stock Fender pickups and these 63 Veneers than I expected. Might be too big a change? Still getting used to it.

The bridge pickup is really nice. The stock one was very usable, this is even better. It’s got more low end than I’m used to from a Strat bridge pickup, and I really like it.

IIRC, one of the things John Mayer wanted from the Silver Sky was a bridge pickup that wasn’t all treble. This bridge pickup delivers that.

I’m still experimenting with the right height for the neck pickup. Struggling to put my finger on why it’s not quite right for me atm.

However, I don’t really care … because position 4 (neck + middle pickups together) has turned out to be a fantastic surprise. It’s basically the clean tone I had decades ago, before I swapped the stock pickups out of my Charvel. Wasn’t expecting that.

Kristi can tell you better than me how deeply I’ve regretted losing that particular sound, and how I’ve been searching for it ever since. And now I have it again … or at least close enough to fool my memory 🙂

So yeah, these pickups are a keeper 🙂

Changing Pickups: Part 1 – Why?

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Just dropped the green Strat off for a pickup swap. I was going to wait until I could do a before-and-after demo, but honestly I’m not a very good (or musical!) player. You’re not missing out.

I think the pickups that Fender use in the Player Strats make sense, if you assume it’s a budget guitar aimed at newer players. They’re a little more mid-rangey than the classic Strat sound, a little hotter, and quite forgiving.

I’m dropping a (mismatched) set of 63s from Bare Knuckle into it. Originally bought bit by bit for other guitars, but for various reasons never got fitted.

Pickup swaps are always a bit of a gamble. Until you try them, you never know if they’ll suit that particular guitar, and your rig, and your playing style.

Pickup swaps in Les Pauls seem to be the worst. Raven (my Sig-T) took 5 different sets until I finally found ones that worked in that particular body. All great pickups, just a difficult guitar.

Why swap pickups at all? Why not stick with the stock pickups in a guitar?

Honestly, if you’re happy, stick with them. It’s your guitar. Don’t swap pickups just because others do.

I swap pickups either because I don’t like the originals, or because I’m looking to change the character of the guitar in some way.

I started swapping the pickups on Raven, for example, because the stock Gibson pickups sounded too shrill and ice-picky. Raven’s quite a bright guitar, and it needed pickups that would tame that.

With the green Strat (it doesn’t have a name yet), I’m swapping the pickups because I want to get closer to the Strat sound in my head. I want to make a guitar I like even better.

I’ll let you know what I think when the guitar’s back 🙂

First Impressions: Fender Vintera 60’s Modified Telecaster

This conversation was originally published to my Twitter feed.

I picked up one of the new Fender Vintera ‘60s Modified Teles today. I don’t care that it’s made in Mexico. It’s a good guitar.

I grew up with Strats, and fell hard for Les Pauls about 7 years ago. Teles – I’ve never understood. Will this one finally change that?

When we were kids, Teles were the choice of kids who played rock-n-roll … Status Quo, stuff like that. They had fat necks and you could drive a bus underneath the strings – at least, that’s how I remember them!

The neck on this doesn’t feel fat to me – but my tastes in guitar necks have definitely shifted in the last 12 months. The action is higher than I’m comfortable with, but quite low for a Fender.

The main thing to talk about with this guitar is tone.

It’s got an unusual amount of low-end output for a Tele – more than the two USA Teles I’ve owned. Makes for a warm sound, yet not muddy at all.

There’s plenty of clarity and cut too, with good dynamics and good string separation. The attack has definition without sounding too sharp. Might be soft for a Tele? Not experienced enough to say.

I’m finding the bridge pickup a little weak compared to the neck pickup. In position 2 with the S1 switch on, that makes for a surprisingly good dirt rhythm tone. Huh. S1 switching not a gimmick for a change!

Let’s quickly compare them to the Twisted Tele pickups I have in my American Deluxe. (The Elite is the equivalent model in the current Fender lineup.) Two very different guitars with very different pickup sets.

The Twisted Tele pickups are designed to make a Tele sound more like a Strat. As a result, there’s less mid-range, and more presence to the tone. If a Tele could wear a tux, this one would.

By comparison, there’s a lot more mid-range and rawness to the Vintera (to my ears at least). And thump. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. There’s a weight to the notes that works well. If this one wears a suit, it’s with a cudgel in one hand 🙂

Right now, I think the pickups are excellent, and I can’t see me wanting to change them. They sound great on their own, and should provide a great complementary tone to my American Deluxe.

I’ve no idea if other examples will sound like this, or whether I got lucky with this one. It’s the only one they had. I’ve not been able to compare it to others. If what I’ve said piques your interest, make sure you try one before you buy.

With this, and the Fender Player series too, Mexican-made Fenders are well worth a look. They’re not the badly made, lifeless planks of wood that they once were. And they stand up well against USA-made Fenders.

New Arrivals For May 2019

At a recent post-gig band rehearsal, we decided that I needed to start adding effects to my acoustic rig. The plan this month was to build out a full acoustic board – one that’ll run into the amp for shows, and also directly into a PA for open-mic spots.

Sadly, my timing’s off, and the pedals I’m targeting for the acoustic board have been out-of-stock every time I’ve gone shopping for them. In the meantime, there’s been a few unexpectedly good bargains crop up on eBay, so I grabbed those instead.

Here’s a list of all the new gear that arrived in May, along with my first impressions of each item. I’ll do a detailed writeup about each piece of gear when I’ve had a bit of time with it.

Fender Player Stratocaster, in Sage Green

I admit it – it was the unusual colour that grabbed my attention. There aren’t too many of these in sage green kicking around these parts. This particular one has one of the better-looking pau ferro fretboards – nicely-cut figuring, and very little red in it.

What kept my attention was the playing experience. The neck profile is really comfortable for me, and the satin finish means there’s nothing grabbing my hand and stopping it moving around. It reminds me a lot of the necks on the old American Special line, it’s that good.

The reason I brought it home? It sounds much better than I was expecting. It’s not a dead plank of wood like the Mexican Strat I bought back in the 90s. Dial the volume and tone down a bit to take the edge off the pickups, and it’s a very usable Strat sound.

To my ears, those pickups are a little bit bite-y, and there’s a little bit more mid-range compared to the classic American Strat sound. They’re very usable, and that extra mid-punch works well if you’re predominantly playing through a dirty amp or through drive pedals.

I am going to change the pickups at some point. I mostly use a Strat for clean tones, and I think this guitar more than good enough to justify the cost of dropping a set of after-market pickups into it. In fact, I’m enjoying this Strat so much it’s getting the set of Bare Knuckle pickups that were ear-marked for the American Performer …

Gigrig Cinco Cinco Patch Bay

I need to tidy up my cabling a bit. I’m planning on building a little practice pedal board (which is where incoming pedals will get tested), and a second little pedal board for my acoustic gigs.

With two amps to test pedals against – and two pedals to stick into the effects loop whenever I want to switch amps – it’s all a bit messy atm. I find that I’m not switching amps as much as I probably should, and when I do, I never move the cables for the f/x loops.

I’m hoping this is where adding a patch bay will make things easier. I’m just waiting for the pedal boards themselves to arrive in stock so that I can cable everything up and find out.

PedalPatch Solderless Cable Kit

I’ve been using the Planet Waves / D’Addario solderless cable kit for years, for making patch cables for my main pedal board. It’s cheaper than the stuff you’ll see featured on That Pedal Show, and for home use it’s perfectly reliable.

The one and only downside is that no-one could ever accuse it of being a compact or low-profile solution. The jacks are big (the original ones even bigger), and the cable is pretty thick. I’m looking to make a couple of small boards this month. I could use an alternative.

PedalPatch are a UK company that I first saw advertising on Facebook. Their kits are even cheaper than the D’Addario ones, and look small and compact. I thought I’d pick one up and see how I got on.

Mixed results, I’m sad to say.

The first couple of cables I made sucked tone away. Specifically, there was an audible loss of high-end frequencies. The symptom? Seems to be when you pop the shield cap onto the jack. If it takes force to get the shield cap in place, that cable won’t sound right. I found that I had to make sure that the cable was firmly in the jack and bent the full 90 degrees at the right spot so that the cap just dropped into place.

With solderless kits, I expect to make the odd cable badly, and doesn’t carry any signal at all when I plug it in. A cable that isn’t dead, that just loses some of the signal spectrum … I found that really put me off. Can’t put my finger on why it’s any different to making a dead cable, but somehow to me it is.

For my gigging board, I might just say sod it and order the proper stuff from Gigrig. I do not want to have any problems at all with that board.

Pedaltrain Nano+ Pedal Board w/ Soft Case

I’m looking to build two boards this month: one for home, for tidying up where I test incoming pedals, and another for my acoustic gigs. Both need to be very compact. The testing board needs to fit in a 19 inch space, and the acoustic board is another thing to carry to/from gigs, so the smaller the better there.

Pedaltrain’s Nano+ boards are nice and small. But are they maybe a little too small for what I’m doing? The two problems are placing the power, and placing the patch bays I bought earlier for this project.

The acoustic board is the easier one. I can’t guarantee easy-to-access (or clean) mains power at a gig, so the whole board needs to run off of batteries. Pedaltrain do a rechargeable power supply called Volto, which fits underneath the Nano+ board. Earlier versions had mixed reviews, but the new Volto v3 appears to have finally cracked it. No space for the patch bay though atm.

Problem with the testing board is that I use Friedman’s 10-port power supply for testing pedals. It’s worth every penny to know I can run just about any pedal that takes 9v without trouble – even a power-hungry beast like Fender’s Tre-Verb. There’s no way that’ll fit on the Nano+, and neither will the patch bay.

This board doesn’t need to be able to travel; it just needs to sit there and help me keep that area tidy. I think I’m going to snag a 1U rack shelf, sit it under the board, and then put the power supply (and the patch bay?) at the back of the shelf.

Well, when the 1U shelf arrived, I discovered another problem: the Nano+ doesn’t fit on a 1U shelf. It’s just slightly too long to do so. How did no-one think of that when the Nano+ was designed? I’m going to have to come up with a more creative solution.

JRAD Archer Ikon Klon Klone Pedal

This one completes the family line-up: silver Archer, gold Archer, white Archer. It gives me another flavour of klone to try with different types of guitar. Am I going to enjoy this one as much as I did the silver Archer, or am I going to be as disappointed as I was with the white Archer?

I’m glad to say that I’m definitely not as disappointed as I was with the white Archer pedal.

I haven’t spent much time with Archer Ikon; really I’ve just plugged it in to make sure it wasn’t DOA. It’s not immediately obvious to me how it’s different from the silver Archer pedal. I’m going to have to sit down and A/B them both to work it out.

JHS Angry Charlie v2 Overdrive Pedal

I’ve had JHS’s Charlie Brown v2 pedal for years now, and I like how it sounds through my Marshall Origin. Where the Charlie Brown is aimed at the JTM-45-in-a-box kind of sound, the Angry Charlie is more the JCM-800-in-a-box thing. That sounds like two complementary tones that’ll go nicely together into a ToneStack. And I’m all about finding complementary tones 🙂

This pedal has gotten me thinking … is it the only drive pedal out there that targets the JCM 800 sound? Everything else I’ve ever tried either does the Plexi thing, or one of Marshall’s older / vintage / boutique amps.

I need to A/B this pedal against the JRAD Animal and my Synergy 800 amp.

Bearfoot FX Honey Bee Overdrive Pedal

Bearfoot FX is a company you might not of heard of. And, I’ll be honest, part of me wants to keep it that way, so that I’ve got more of a chance of finding their pedals at a good price on the second hand market.

They used to make hand-wired versions of Bjorn Juhl’s (of BJFe fame) legendary designs. That partnership came to an end recently, which can only mean that second hand prices of their pedals are going to continue to climb. I’ve already seen some examples going for King-of-Tone-on-eBay prices!

The Honey Bee Overdrive Pedal is considered to be one of Bjorn Juhl’s finest designs. I’ve already got the Uber Bee, which I love, and the Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive, which is related but reportedly does have its own sound.

Fender Tre-Verb Digital Tremolo / Reverb Pedal

This one is very much an impulse purchase. I’m really enjoying using the Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 for clean tones. It isn’t a Fender Deluxe-Reverb Re-issue (DRRI), but it’s close enough for me. Can I turn it into a poor-man’s DRRI by adding the Tre-Verb’s emulation of the DRRI’s tremolo and reverb to the amp’s blackface-like clean?

First time I plugged it in, it sounded so much like a wet-only signal that I spent a couple of minutes hunting for some kind of ‘wet-only’ toggle switch on the damn thing. Turned out the order of the mono and stereo input jacks is different to what I’m used to, and I’d plugged into the second jack by mistake.

I’ve found this a challenging reverb to dial in. In that respect, it’s definitely like the reverb I remember from a DRRI! It’s so easy to nudge the Blend control just a hair and lost the sweet spot that seems to be around 9 o’clock. I wonder if this pedal will shine better in a wet-dry stereo rig?

In the end, this pedal didn’t stay on my practice board very long. I’m just too used to modern designs which keep the original dry signal and blend in the wet signal behind it. That doesn’t make this a bad pedal. It’s just all personal preference.

Gigging The Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster For The First Time

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

What Gear Did You Take?

I took:

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

Did All The Gear Get Used?

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

What Did It Sound Like?

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

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

Any Problems With The Guitar?

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

What Was The Reaction To The Guitar?

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

Any Lessons From The Gig?

There were a few 🙂

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

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

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

And, of course, as a monitor so that I can hear all my mistakes 🙂

New Arrivals For March

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

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

Fender American Performer Strat – Maple Board

I have two motives for buying this guitar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fender Vintage Tremolo Springs

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

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

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

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

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

Bare Knuckle 63 Veneer Single Coil Bridge Pickup

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

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

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

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

Mr Black BB-74x Overdrive Pedal

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

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

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

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

Lovepedal Jubilee Overdrive Pedal

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

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

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

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

Carl Martin AC Tone Overdrive Pedal

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

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

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

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

Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret Mk3 Overdrive Pedal

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

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

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

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

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

MXR il torino Overdrive Pedal

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

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

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

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

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

Suhr Riot Distortion Pedal

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

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

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

Red Llama Overdrive Clone

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

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

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

Gibson Custom Les Paul Special w/ Maple Cap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster – One Month In

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

It’s Been On A Podcast

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

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

I’m Using It At Rehearsals

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

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

Use A Good Amp

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

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

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

The Unplugged Sound Isn’t A Positive

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

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

I’ve Settled On Two Sounds

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

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

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

There’s Been A Couple Of Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Launch Pricing Has Left A Bad Taste

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s A Working Instrument

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

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

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

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

What’s Next?

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