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OCTOBER 2016

premierguitar.com

Sound Decision

This guitar sounds so good! We hear it all the time. Its almost like players are surprised by the
rich tonality and exceptional clarity. To us, its no surprise that sound quality is what stands
out most on an Ovation. The legendary roundback design, select spruce tops and optimized
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If youre ready to make a sound decision, look no further.

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EDITORIAL
Chief Content Officer Shawn Hammond
Managing Editor Tessa Jeffers
Senior Editor Andy Ellis
Senior Editor Ted Drozdowski
Gear Editor Charles Saufley
Art Director Meghan Molumby
Associate Editor Chris Kies
Associate Editor Rich Osweiler
Associate Editor Jason Shadrick
Nashville Correspondent John Bohlinger
Nashville Video Editor Perry Bean
Digital Designer Ben Kuriscak
Photo Editor Kristen Berry
Contributing Editor Joe Gore
PRODUCTION & OPERATIONS
Operations Manager Shannon Burmeister
Circulation Manager Lois Stodola
Production Coordinator Luke Viertel
Administrative Assistant Kerri Hulse
SALES/MARKETING
Dir. of Business & Audience Dev. Ashley Atz
Advertising Director Brett Petrusek
Advertising Director Dave Westin
Marketing Manager Matt Roberts
GEARHEAD COMMUNICATIONS, LLC
President Patricia Erenberger
Managing Director Gary Ciocci
WEBSITES
Our Portal: premierguitar.com
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The information and advertising set forth herein has been obtained from sources
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Volume 21, Issue 10


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8 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

premierguitar.com

TUNING UP

Stop #&@#-ing Starbucking Us, Man!


BY SHAWN HAMMOND

ecently, I saw an article lamenting


the spread of homogenized
hipster interior-design aesthetics
to metro businesses and coffee shops
around the globe. Yknow, that spartan
look that renders a room simultaneously
modern looking and old-school through
generous use of reclaimed-wood tables,
bare Edison light bulbs, broken-in leather
chairs, and artsy chalkboards.
As I read the piece, I thought, Thats
kinda harshits not a bad look. But
as the authors rationale unfolded, I
found myself agreeing. It reminded me
of a character in Simon Pegg and Edgar
Wrights The Worlds End who described
the phenomenon of once-charming pubs
being robbed of their unique character as
Starbucking. My thoughts then turned
to similar phenomena in other areas.
When people use the word hipster,
theyre usually referring to an individuals
preferences in terms of looks, not
necessarily interior design. But either
way, Im not inclined toward hipster
bashingits a pastime thats as annoying
as the hazily defined group it slams. Even
if youre not explicitly mean, using the
H word is just a clandestine way to tear
someone down.
I will admit, though, that I find
todays preponderance of dudes with the
same profound zeal for fade haircuts,

10 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

@PG_shawnh

tattoos, fastidious beard styling, and


selvedge denim kind of interesting on
an anthropological level. And there are
parallels in guitar culture, tooperhaps
offset guitars and pristinely spacey reverbs
and delays? Dont get me wrong, though.
Like nostalgically minimalist dcor
and neo-retro personal fashion, theres
nothing bad about these gear choices
they caught on for a reason, after all!
Now, on one level, all these examples
are nothing more than cyclical fads of
the sort that have swept the world with
increasing efficiency and speed since the
Industrial Revolution. Only these days
they spread much more thoroughlyand
in the blink of an eyethanks to the
internet-shrunken planet we now live on.
So, like I said, theres nothing
necessarily bad about these things
themselves. Hell, I love Jazzmasters and
reverb! But maybe its the underlying
intellectual patterns and habits we ought
to look a little closer atand in a broader
sense, too. Have you ever met someone
whos constantly and vociferously extolling
opinions that seem like nothing more than
regurgitated conventional wisdom? Theyre
constantly taking to social media to peck
out praise and in-depth analysis of the
usual roster of guitar gods or amazing
gear weve all read about a gajillion times.
It makes me wonder if theres some sort of
guitarist groupthink going on.
Jeff Beck is the most expressive
guitarist ever because blah blah blah.
Keith Richards (or Keef, if you
want to be annoyingly sycophantic) is
the best rhythm guitarist ever because.
A 59 Les Paul is the ultimate rock
guitar because the pickup magnets.
Klon Centaurs are worth every one
of those 25,000 pennies because of the
rare third and fourth resistors, which are
NOS.
Again, its not so much that what these
dittoheads are saying is inaccurate. Many are
quite knowledgeable, even eloquent. Its just

that their recitations of traditional lore feel


so isolated and rehearsedlike they were
lifted from some dust-covered Encyclopedia
Guitarrica, circa 1995, or beaten into them
by some fascist prep-school instructor
wielding a pristine 54 Strat neck.
And, sure, these guys may not be the
same as fadsters (remember, I refuse to
use the H word), but arent they really
just the other side of the same coin?
Both crowds are Starbucking our music
with either their lack of capacity (or
courage) for thought that diverges from
their chosen sect, or their tragic lack
of awareness of anything outside their
particular monastic musical existence.
The question is not why do we like
whichever things we spend so much
time, energy, and passion heraldingits
why do we limit what we like so much?
Yes, Pauls, Klons, and offset solidbodies
are fantastic. But you do not need rare,
boutique, or trendy gear to create music
thats uniquely you. Likewise, Beck
and Richards are amazing. But you are
both fooling and criminally depriving
yourself by limiting your listening or gear
aspirations to the usual suspects from any
genre or time period.
Never forget: The ratio of individuals
with impressive intellect and artistic
capacity has been and will continue to
be constant throughout the history of
humankind. Theres a vast ocean of new
and old music to be heard, and if you
have to be pointed to a specific artist
or medium by which to expand your
universe, then, as King Arthur said to the
Black Knight in Monty Python and The
Holy Grail: You make me sad.
So be it. Come, Patsy!

Shawn Hammond
Chief Content Officer
shawn@premierguitar.com

premierguitar.com

The perfect addition to the family.


On stage, I play a normal-sized Dreadnought. And in my daily life, especially
when touring is in full effect, I play my Martin D Jr. about 90% of the time. The
convenience of it is unmatched, and as per usual with Martin guitars, it feels at
home in my hands. I am not likely to leave home without it.
Seth Avett, The Avett Brothers

D Jr. 2E Sapele

D Jr. E

THE AVETT BROTHERS


True Sadness
theavettbrothers.com

martinguitar.com/djr | #DreadNot

FEEDBACK LOOP

Something
About Esm

How refreshing [Rig Rundown:


Esm Patterson, July 2016]!
Two guitars, half-a-dozen pedals,
and an amp. Some of these
folks with two dozen guitars,
three dozen pedals on two
pedalboards, an effects rack (with
a backup rack), and four-and-ahalf amps just leave me behind.
Halfway through the 15 pedals
on the first pedalboard my eyes
glaze over and my attitude is, If
thats what it takes to sound like
them, forget it. Ill sound like
someone else. Maybe like Esm.
Rock on, Esm!
UncleRalph,
via premierguitar.com

Way cool she is when it comes


to gear! I so wish I was more
like that instead of dreaming of
$3,000 PRSes!
NoyzBoyz,
via premierguitar.com

Good to see you back, John!


Been AWOL a bit lately.
Acting like a working musician
now! Esm does seem like an
energetic, fun young lady. Its
refreshing to see someone not
caught up in the latest trick,
hottest ticket, signature series,
got-to-have mindset. Just grab

12 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

something that works, and make


some music.
Lord Byron,
via premierguitar.com

Line in the Sand

What a surprise to read Eric


Sheas comments in the August
2016 issues Staff Picks section.
I was not aware of anyone else
on earth that ever appreciated
(or, for that matter, even heard
of ) the group Sand. I was a DJ
back in 1973 when I got the
reviewcopy of this [eponymous]
LP from Barnaby Records (a
label, as I remember, that was
owned by Andy Williams).
The album never charted, but
if anyone can find it, I agree
with Eric: This is some great
music! The songWho Ya Tryin
to Foolin particular was just
tremendous great 6-string,
fantastic steel, pounding bass
drum, wonderful harmonies.
Five-and-a-half minutes of classic
country rock.
Regards,

significantly better technically


through practicing after playing
10 years [Dear 6-String Sensei:
How Do I Improve My Chops?
July 2016]. Practice, or lack of
it, has very little effect either way
after that point; probably even
after 5-7 years in most cases. A
change of approach might bring
benefits, and musical learning/
improvement goes on all the
time, or can if you let it, but the
mechanics get locked in quite
early. The good players get good
early and get good quickly; they
take it further than most. This is
the result of good initial choices
(put that down to musicality). But
they too will lock in mechanically
after just those few years. Only
a significant change of method
would then bring improvement,
e.g. picking positions/angles, more
or less legato, more or less picked
notes, etc., etc. Practice time
alone? Forget it.
Egmond,
via premierguitar.com

Swedens Swagger

This is pretty cool [Conversations


in the Key of Life Podcast Episode
5: Calling Random Swedes,
August 2016]. I cant believe
these folks from SwedenIm
ready to move. Its pretty amazing
publishing a phone number that
calls just a random person in
Sweden. I sure wouldnt want
to do that in the U.S. Think of
all the freaks and pervs. Thanks
Shawn, really enjoyed this.

Vic Hines,

BuddyMartn,

Glen Allen, Virginia

via premierguitar.com

Dollars to
Doughnuts

Ill bet you dollars to doughnuts,


as Sheldon Cooper says, that
you dont know anyone who got

Keep those
comments coming!
Please send your suggestions,
gripes, comments, and good words
directly to info@premierguitar.com.

Socialize
with Us!

@peterframpton
@premierguitar
two class acts
#music #guitarist
#RigRundown
@tommygallagher

@Fender
@premierguitar
I NEED
$$$$$$$$$$$$
@WannabeBrendon

@premierguitar
@seanonolennon
@primus Best
interview with these 2
Ive read! Interviewer
has good knowledge!
Great questions!
Enlightening
@jackhoweart

Steve Lukather is an
amazingly talented
guitarist whos been
way underrated!
His tone is off the
charts; hes up there
with every one of the
greats, and his body
of work will blow the
minds of those whove
never looked into it.
Brad Hilton

premierguitar.com

CONTENTS October 2016


p. 81

ARTISTS
81
Wakrat

Photo by Travis Shinn

Bassist Tim
Commerford discusses
his trio's jazz-inspired
new album.

90
C.W. Stoneking

The Australian switches


to a Jazzmaster after
playing a National
Duolian for 20 years.

109
Screaming
Females

Marissa Paternoster
leads her punk outfit
with ferocious riffs and
vocals that stun.

119
Deerhoof

John Dieterich and


Ed Rodriguez analyze
their heady prog pop,
unusual gear, and other
bizarre wonders.

128
Charlie Hunter

The ambidextrous
wonder on his Mike
Tyson-inspired album.

14 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

43

60

69

Stompbox
Savants

Guitar Therapy

Forgotten
Heroes:
Sonny Sharrock

Eight innovative builders


share their design
philosophies and describe
life on the cutting edge
of pedal craft.

Certified specialists
discuss their unique
approaches to using
music as an instrument
in healing.

How the father of freejazz guitar invented his


own musical language.

145
Pedal Roundup

Enter a mad, magical,


musical wonderworld
as we prod, poke, and
play 33 stompbox
monstrosities.

Im proud of the amount of music Ive been


able to contribute in Rage and Audioslave, and I
like to think Im a little bit unsung.
Tim Commerford, p. 81

REVIEWS
216 Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1
219 Panama Fuego X
222 Orange O Bass

premierguitar.com

TURN LEAD TO

Parallel ComPression | infinite sustain | 9V oPeration | miCro Chassis

WatCh Paul Gilberts offiCial Demo

PiGtronix.Com/tone

FUTURISTIC AUDIO TECHNOLOGY

On the Cover:

10
28
29
224
240
242

premierguitar.com

CONTENTS October 2016

OCTOBER 2016

Illustration by McBess

Tuning Up
Reader Guitar of the Month
Opening Notes
Staff Picks
Esoterica Electrica
Last Call

GEAR
20 Gear Radar
24 Rig Rundowns
36 Vintage Vault
40 Trash or Treasure
66 Tone Tips
214 Tools for the Task

"Firebirds are polarizers,


kinda like Rush. You either
love them or hate them,
no middle ground."

HOW-TO
98 Acoustic Soundboard
100 The Recording Guitarist
102 Guitar Shop 101
104 On Bass
106 Bass Bench
134 State of the Stomp
136 Mod Garage
140 Ask Amp Man

16 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Photo by Katarina Benzova

Tom Foreman,
Reader Guitar of the Month, p. 28

premierguitar.com

GO ONLINE

ONLY ON PremierGuitar.com
Your guide to the latest stories, reviews, videos, and lessons.

FEATURED

LESSONS
Access all of our lessons
online, for free, with
streaming audio and
downloadable, printable
notation PDFs.
Basic Bluegrass
Rhythm Guitar
By Andy Falco

Four Guys, Two Troys

Troy Van Leeuwen has the resume of an aspiring guitarists dreams. Along with his steady gig as
part of the axe trio in Queens of the Stone Age, hes logged time in A Perfect Circle and Failure,
and has participated in a bevy of other spin-off bands such as Eagles of Death Metal, the Desert
Sessions, Mondo Generator, and Sweethead.
Now comes Gone Is Gone, a bold, cinematic rock quartet that includes Van Leeuwen on guitar,
Mastodon bassist-singer Troy Sanders, At the Drive-In drummer Tony Hajjar, and film composer Mike
Zarin. Van Leeuwen sat down with PG to discuss how Gone Is Gone operates, what new guitar muscles
hes stretching in the band, and why he thinks the outfit shouldnt be described as a supergroup.
In other artist news, head online to learn about Kevin Morbys songwriting processes and
discover which guitarists influenced mandolin pioneer Sam Bush.
Click here to read these interviews and more at premierguitar.com/oct2016

TWANG 101
Swampy Blues
By Jim Lill
DIGGING DEEPER
The Other Side of Paganini
By Shawn Persinger
BEYOND BLUES
10 Twang Tips for
Workin Man Blues
By Levi Clay
CRAM SESSION
Two-Hand Tapping
By Jamie Humphries

TAP INTO OUR APPS


Premier Guitar recently launched a brand-new, totally redesigned tablet app, so die-hard guitarists have instant access at their fingertips to all the gear we cover each month. Features include a
deeper look at the guitar goodies we review, including audio, video, zoom-ins, and more galleries.
Our interactive lessons are fully notated and downloadable, and feature audio with adjustable speed
so you can choose the right practice tempo and get the most out of every session. Plus, when you
download the PG app, youll get four issues for free.
Surely you know what Snapchat is by now, but if not, you can download the video chat app to
your phone and receive our real-time behind-the-scenes footage at Rig Rundown shoots every week.
Snapchat us back at premier-guitarwe want to hear from you!

18 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Above left: Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

See More, Do More

premierguitar.com

LUMINARY QUAD
OCTAVE GENERATOR $319

GUITARDOMS
TOP TWEETS

385 OVERDRIVE $199

YOURE GONNA
NEED A BIGGER
BOARD.

JULIA ANALOG
CHORUS/VIBRATO $199

Vintage and NOS parts. Wiring on Hell's


Half Acre completed!

CONTRABAND
FUZZ $149

WALRUSAUDIO.COM

@DantzigGuitar

Sometimes you have to link together


every pedal in proximity, hit a guitar,
and just get lost in the feedback.
@AtticChild

A new baby on the way to me.


Found this 1996 pre-Heritage clean
machine on the other side of the world.
Can't wait!!
@donfelder

Notice new things in Beatles music.


How about Paul's insane bass playing
on "Getting Better"?
@kavehrastegar

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 19

GEAR RADAR
New products on the horizon.

1
3
2
5

XOTIC
XSC California
Classic

MILKMAN SOUND
The Pint

Handbuilt in the United


States, these S-style

This class-A combo

COG EFFECTS
T70 Analogue
Octave

ERNIE BALL
Expression Series
Ambient Delay

IRON AGE
Agate Stone Pick

includes onboard reverb

The largest and most

With between 50 ms and

a-kind look thanks to

and tremolo with a pair

feature-packed of Cogs

one second of delay time,

the unique properties of


the gemstone. Available

Each pick has a one-of-

guitars come with a

of 6V6 tubes running in

offerings, the T70 is a

the newest addition to the

roasted maple neck,

parallel. The 10" speaker

three-headed octave

Expression Series offers

in Jazz3 and Standard

Xotics Raw Vintage

is housed in a slightly

machine that includes an

controls for delay time,

shapes, Agate is a long-

pickups, a nitrocellulose

larger cabinet with a

effects loop, two analog

feedback, and reverb

lasting material that wont

finish, and a unique

custom Mercury Magnetics

channels based on the

level, along with a newly

damage your strings.

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transformer.

T65, and a third channel

engineered Kevlar cord

$22 street

$2,500 street

$2,499 street

that offers a rumbling

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xotic.us

milkmansound.com

sub-octave.

increased durability.

20 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

$289 street

$199 street

cogeffects.co.uk

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6
10
9

IBANEZ
Iron Label RG
Models
Made for metal, Iron Label

RADIAL
BigShot EFX

10

RIVERA
Mini RockRec

ESOTERIK GUITARS
LK27 Baritone

Keep your unused effects

SEYMOUR DUNCAN
Saturday Night
Special

Recording geeks will

Esoteriks first baritone

out of your signal chain

Featuring alnico-4

rejoice over the smallest

model is an affordable

RG adaptations feature a

with this updated version

magnets, Saturday

load box in the Rock

take on a down-tuned

mahogany body, a 3-piece

of the companys dual

Night Specials are

Crusher family. It features

rock machine. The LK27


sports a 27" scale, swamp-

bubinga-and-maple neck

effects loop. The loops can

unconventional

six different voicings, EQ

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be used independently,

humbuckers made to be a

bypass out, balanced

ash body, and a pair of

Gotoh locking tuners,

and both loops are wired

little hotter and fatter in

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Seymour Duncan pickups.

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7-, and 8-string models, as

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well as baritone.

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$699 $1,299 street

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seymourduncan.com

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PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 21

GEAR RADAR
Contd

12

11
13

14
15

11

WALRUS AUDIO
385 Overdrive

12

POSITIVE GRID
BIAS Rack

13

14

15

The Oklahoma crews

The rack-mountable

FU-TONE
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RISCHKE GUITARS
Model 263

KORG
TM-50TR

latest overdrive aims to

version of the BIAS head

Expanding on their

This handbuilt, Firebirdderived 6-string comes

Updates to the popular


TM-50 include a high-

provide the dynamic,

is aimed at pro guitarists

noiseless springs, FU-

with a korina (or red

precision tuner, metronome,


and tone trainer function

gritty, tube-driven tones

and bassists, and features

Tone adds four different

alder) body, a Canadian

of a vintage Bell & Howell

amp matching, amp

versions in various tension

maple neck and fretboard,

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385 film-projector amp.

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ability to download BIAS

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tones from ToneCloud.

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noises that come from

wound pickups.

monitoring the volume and

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standard tremolo springs.

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brightness of the users tone.

$14.95 MSRP (set of 3)

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korg.com

22 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

premierguitar.com

19

16

20

17

18

16

17

18

19

20

J. ROCKETT AUDIO
DESIGNS
Hooligan Fuzz

SCHROEDER
AMPLIFICATION
SA9-REC

KHDK
ELECTRONICS
Scuzz Box

An updated version of the

Developed with the

This germanium-

GATOR CASES
GPB-XBAK Extra
Large Aluminum
Pedalboard

FENDER
Flea Jazz Bass

companys WTF fuzz is

members of Wilco, this 20-

voiced pedal has two

Adding nearly double

Fleas iconic 61 Jazz Bass,

the newest product in the

watt, 6V6-powered head

personalities. The

the surface of Gators

this model has an offset

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is designed for recording

fuzz setting is a highly

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Everything from RAT-style

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this station can hold up to

Worn faded shell pink

dirt to Trombetta horn

situations where a more

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20 pedals and includes two

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Handcrafted in Ensenada,
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sounds are available in

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a dangerous, unique, and

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maple neck, rosewood

this dead-simple stomp.

amplifier is ideal. Plus, it

biting sound. The box

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fretboard, and Dual Pure

$174 street

comes with a direct out for

includes fuzz, volume,

pounds, and comes with a

Vintage 64 Jazz Bass

rockettpedals.com

silent recording.

deep, and tone controls.

heavy-duty case.

single-coil pickups.

$3,850 MSRP

$199 street

$199 street

$1,199 street

schroederamplification.com

khdkelectronics.com

gatorcases.com

fender.com

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 23

RIG RUNDOWNS

ESM PATTERSON
Soulful singer/
songwriter Esm
Patterson squeezed
in a quick interview
with PGs John
Bohlinger just
minutes before
her show in
Nashville. Armed
with a two-dollar
pedalboard and
Cruella, Patterson
is hitting the road
hard to promote her
latest album, We
Were Wild.
GUITARS

Top: Pattersons
manager decided it
was time for her to
step up to a more
professional axe and
gave her this ESP Ron
Wood signature model.
Due to the black-andwhite color scheme,
she dubbed this guitar
Cruella and it has
become her No. 1.
Bottom: The backup
guitar is a Squier Strat
with a matching red
headstock purchased
for $100 in Portland,
Oregon, at Trade
Up Music.

24 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

premierguitar.com

AMP

Although Patterson uses


a Fender Twin Reverb
in the studio, its too
big for touring. She
purchased this used
Mesa Boogie Studio .22
to take on the road. One
of her favorite features
is the ability to really
dial in the EQ.

EFFECTS

Patterson plugs directly


into a rather modest
pedalboard that she
built, along with her
father, with some cabinet
wood from the local
hardware store. The
board houses an ElectroHarmonix Pulsar Tremolo,
MXR GT-OD, EarthQuaker
Devices Dispatch Master,
TC Electronic PolyTune
2, and a Catalinbread
Belle Epoch. Tucked
underneath is a Voodoo
Lab Pedal Power 2+
that keeps everything
powered up.

RIG RUNDOWNS

John Taylor

DURAN DURAN
PGs Chris Kies
hangs with bass
icon John Taylor of
Duran Duran before
their headlining
gig at the Ascend
Amphitheater
in Nashville to
chat about why
he prefers stock
Peavey basses, how
he acquired his
favorite bassists
StingRay, and the
way he carves his
own signature sonic
space in the band.
BASSES

Top: Ever since the


reunion tour, Taylor has
relied heavily on this
stock Peavey Cirrus
bass. This one spoke to
him specifically for use
on their 2015 album
Paper Gods. In the
bands heyday, he often
was seen with an Aria
Pro II SB1000, and he
says these Cirrus basses
are tonally the closest
thing to those old Arias.
Bottom: Taylor says
he acquired this
Music Man StingRay
from his idol Bernard
Edwards of Chic one
morning at roughly
4 a.m. after a long
night of partying. He
hadnt toured with this
important instrument
for quite some time,
but since Duran Duran
is currently on the road
with Chic again, he felt
it was only appropriate
to honor Bernard and
bring it along.

26 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

premierguitar.com

AMP

Within Taylors rack


resides a Peavey
MiniMEGA amp that he
runs direct to the board,
a Shure UR4D+ wireless
unit, and the brain units
for his TC Electronic
G-System.

EFFECTS

All of Taylors effects,


including delays,
octaves, and drives,
originate from this TC
Electronic G-System
that stays offstage and
is triggered by his
tech Bernie.

READER GUITAR
OF THE MONTH
Name: Tom Foreman
Hometown: Grenville-Sur-La-Rouge,
Quebec, Canada
Guitar: Epiphone Firebird Studio

professional development course

knowledge is power
A w o r l d f i r s t , i n d u s t r y o n l y, p e d a l t r a i n i n g c o u r s e
A v a i l a b l e f r e e t o s t a f f a t a n y a u t h o r i z e d R e d W i t c h D e a l e r.
Contact your Red Witch Distributor for details on how to enrol.

original chrome series


For fur ther infor mation on how the professional development
cour se can benefit your business , contact: Julie Jolley Sales
Co-Ordinator training@redwitchanalogpedals.com
w w w. r e d w i t c h a n a l o g p e d a l s . c o m

Ive wanted a Firebird for as long as


Ive played guitar. They radiate cool, and I love
that Firebirds are polarizers, kinda like Rush. You
either love them or hate them, no middle ground.
In the winter of 2014, I spied a natural-wood
Epiphone Firebird Studio in Montreal for $200
Canadian. (Thats like $0.50 American, right?)
When I saw it, I was amazed. There was no hint
of its original paint. The dude even sanded the
pickguard and there werent any fret markers left
on the fretboard. This guy was thorough!
And the guitar played like a dream. Although
my inner bottom-feeder was screaming in protest,
I couldnt help myself and offered the guy more
cash, which he wouldnt take. When I asked why,
he said the guitar was a gift from his very ex-wife.
(Now I understood the sanding.) My plans for
painting the bird TV Yellow changed because
paint would cover up its story. So, with a little
tung oil, a new leather cover for the pickguard,
and a large North American Aviation decal, the
project was almost complete.
Im a huge Blackberry Smoke fan and love the
tone Charlie Starr gets from his gear. The original
Epiphone humbuckers in this Firebird were pretty
anemic and light years away from the sound I
wanted, so I had Dave Budzinski of Budz Pickups
make me a killer set of humbucker-sized P-90s.
Now all this baby needed was a name. While
I was trapped in Europe this spring after my
passport was stolen, my redneck neighbors
decidedduring a windstormthat it was
time to burn down their old farmhouse. This,
of course, set fire to the valley. I was stranded
thousands of miles away and that fire nearly
torched my house, my studio, and my Firebird.
I was a bit stressed out, but from those ashes
comes this story.
And thus, I give you the Grassfire Phoenix.
Send your guitar story to
submissions@premierguitar.com.

28 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

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OPENING NOTES

Sting

June 30, 2016


The Palace of Auburn Hills
Auburn Hills, MI
Photo by Ken Settle

The genre-bending songsmith lays


down some vintage-kissed lows
with his main squeeze, a 1957
Fender Precision that he acquired
in the 90s. The body and neck
are stock, but Sting removed the
pickguard, added a new set of
Fender tuners, and swapped the
pickup for a Seymour Duncan
Custom Shop Rev1 single-coil
based on the company's 51
P-Bass Stack.

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 29

OPENING NOTES

Joe Satriani

June 18, 2016


Val de Moine Sports Complex
Clisson, France
Photo by Christophe Pauly

Stoking the fire at Frances


massive Hellfest, Satch finds the
sweet spot on his Ibanez JS20S,
one of six signature Ibanezes
hes currently playing on tour.
Adorned with the graphics from
his breakthrough Surfing with the
Alien LP, it features an original
Edge bridge, a custom DiMarzio
alnico-8 bridge humbucker, and a
neck Sustainiac unit.

30 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

premierguitar.com

Blackstars HT Club 40 delivers a full palette of bold cleans,


dynamic crunch, and raw, high gain overdrive.
Plug in and amplify your attitude.

OPENING NOTES

Slash

July 9, 2016
Nissan Stadium
Nashville, TN
Photo by Katarina Benzova

Flanked by frontman Axl Rose,


Slash tears into Guns N Roses set
with one of two Firebird prototypes
recently built to his specs by the
Gibson Custom Shop. According to
tech Adam Day, although Slash has
always been drawn to the Firebirds
aesthetic, this distressed specimen
features the guitarist's signature
Seymour Duncan humbuckers to
get as close as possible to a Les
Paul's sonics.

32 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

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STANDARD MODELS / MAHOGANY BACK + SIDES / SITKA SPRUCE TOP

FENDER + FISHMAN -DESIGNED PREAMP, VOICED FOR EACH BODY SHAPE

DELUXE MODELS / INDIAN ROSEWOOD BACK + SIDES / SITKA SPRUCE TOP

PARLORS
PM-2 DELUXE / PM-2 STANDARD

DREAD

PM-1 DELUXE / PM

CE TOP

PARLORS
PM-2 DELUXE / PM-2 STANDARD

DREAD

PM-1 DELUXE / PM

DS

M-1 STANDARD

TRIPLE-0s
PM-3 DELUXE / PM-3 STANDARD

2016 Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.


All rights reserved. PARAMOUNT is the trademark of Jackson/Charvel Manufacturing, Inc.
FENDER.COM

OPENING NOTES

Chris Carrabba
July 3, 2016
H-E-B Center at Cedar Park
Cedar Park, TX
Photo by Jerri Starbuck

The Dashboard Confessional


frontman digs into his Nash
T-52 loaded with Lollar Special
T (bridge) and Vintage T (neck)
pickups. Carrabba picked up the
pre-owned Nash after an onstage
accident wrecked his go-to Tele,
and it quickly became his favorite,
edging out other axes in his large
vintage collection. I have never
had a guitar with such sustain or
with so much usable variation
between pickup positions, says
Carrabba.If this one ever falls
and breaks onstage, I guess Ill
just have to quit guitar.
premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 35

John Lennon and George


Harrison used their J-160Es
extensively on many of
the Beatles hits.

36 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

premierguitar.com

VINTAGE VAULT

1965 Gibson J-160E


BY DAVE ROGERS, LAUN BRAITHWAITE, AND TIM MULLALLY

ibson introduced the J-160E


in July 1954 as its second
electrified flattop guitar. It had
the look of a regular slope-shouldered
Gibson, like a J-45 or Southern Jumbo,
but was specifically engineered for
optimum use as an electric. Unlike
its predecessor, the small, cutaway
solid-top CF100E, the J-160E had a
3-ply laminated spruce top with ladder
bracing. This construction made the
guitar more rigid and less prone to
feedback when amplified.
The early catalog copy read: Country
and Western artists are particularly
enthusiastic over this full size, Jumbo flattop
electric guitarthe first instrument of its
type to be equipped with patented Gibson
adjustable bridge, permitting lowering or
raising string action.

The guitar may have originally been


intended for country musicians, but it
is better known today for its association
with the Beatles. John Lennon and George
Harrison used their J-160Es extensively
on many of the Beatles hits. The guitar
remained in production until 1978. It has
been reissued off and on since the 90s.
The 1965 J-160E pictured here has
the typical features seen that year. These
include a one-piece mahogany neck with
a 20-fret bound-rosewood fretboard
joining the body at the 15th fret, an
unbound headstock with a pearl Gibson
logo and crown inlay, double-ring nickel
Kluson Deluxe tuners, a top-and-backbound slope-shoulder mahogany body
with a laminated spruce top (the body
became square shouldered by the late
60s), a neck-position P-90 pickup with

its coil located beneath the top, tone and


volume controls, a side-mounted jack,
and a top-belly bridge with an adjustable
saddle. The 1962 catalog price was
$219.50 plus $50 for a hardshell case.
The current value for one in excellent alloriginal condition is $4,000.
Sources for this article include Gibson
Electrics: The Classic Years by A.R.
Duchossoir, Beatles Gear by Andy Babiuk,
and Gibsons Fabulous Flat-Top Guitars
by Eldon Whitford, David Vinopal, and
Dan Erlewine.
DAVES GUITAR SHOP

Dave Rogers collection is tended by Laun Braithwaite


and Tim Mullally and is on display at:
Daves Guitar Shop
1227 Third Street South
La Crosse, WI 54601
davesguitar.com
Photos by Mullally and text by Braithwaite.

Opposite page:
Originally designed for
country musicians, the
J-160E found favor with
the Beatles and other
60s rockers. Supported
by ladder bracing, the
laminated spruce top
is designed to resist
feedback onstage.
Left: Mounted
underneath the top, the
J-160Es P-90 pickup is
relatively stealthy.
Below: Memories of
a bygone era: Like car
dealerships today,
many 60s music stores
adorned instruments
with their name and logo.

premierguitar.com

We have experienced staff in each of our 270+


locations, ready to assist with same-day,
no-hassle payment on anything from
a single piece to an entire collection.

BUY, SELL OR TRADE


USED AND VINTAGE GEAR

SHOP OUR ENTIRE NATIONWIDE COLLECTION AT GUITARCENTER.COM

TRASH OR TREASURE

Fender Tex-Mex Stratocaster


BY ZACHARY FJESTAD
The shortlived Tex-Mex
Stratocaster
took its vibe
cues from
vintage Strats
and would
become the
Jimmie Vaughan
Tex-Mex
Stratocaster
after about
a year of
production.
Inset: Although
Fender doesnt
often indicate
the variation
of a particular
Stratocaster
on the actual
instrument,
there are
other ways
to determine
a Strats
background.

Q:

Hey Zach,
I have a Fender Stratocaster that I bought for my son sometime in the
1990s. He played it a few times, but moved away and told me I can
do what I want with it. (Unfortunately, he never took to the guitar.)
Its candy apple red but the only information on the guitar is Fender
Stratocaster on the front of the headstock, and the serial number
MN664280 and Made in Mexico on the back. Ive narrowed it down
that it was made in 1996, but after looking online and at the Blue
Book of Electric Guitars, Im not sure what variation of Stratocaster
this is. How can you tell?
Aaron in St. Louis, MO

A:

Hey Aaron,
The Stratocaster is
undoubtedly Fenders most
popular model of all time.
And theyve capitalized on this success
for over 60 years by producing more
than 100 variations of the timeless
guitar. Unfortunately, the type of each
Strat is not usually indicated anywhere
on an instrument, which leaves an
owner to do some research. Having
the original box/case/paperwork helps,
but here, well figure out exactly what
variation of Strat you have by using the
process of elimination.
From the introduction of the
Stratocaster in 1954 through the early
1980s, there was pretty much only one
Stratocaster in Fenders lineup from year
to year. (This made for easy archiving!)
Aside from the Mary Kaye Strat in the
late 1950s, the Antigua Strats in the late
1970s, and the 25th Anniversary Strat in
1979, there really werent any variations.
Because the 1970s Stratocasters were not
that well received, Fender was feeling the
heat by the early 1980s to return to their
golden era of the 1950s/early 1960s. So
in 1982, the first vintage-Strat reissues
were introduced (along with a few other
variations) and the Elite Series followed
in 1983. Fender was struggling by
1984, however, and Bill Schultz and his
investment group bought the trademark
from CBS in 1985.

40 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

In 1986, Fender restructured their


line entirely and introduced several new
model variations utilizing many countries
of origin to produce them. As Fender
surged through the 1990s and 2000s,
they realized that continuing to tweak the
line and introducing new models nearly
annually would help keep up the interest
in their guitars. Because there are so many
variations of the Stratocaster in existence
today, however, identifying a specific
model can be challenging.
The good news is that Fenders
serialization is very reliable. You are likely
correct that your guitar was made in 1996
(although early 1997 is possible). And
the only Mexican-made Strats offered in
1996 were the Standard Series, the entrylevel Traditional Series, the Tex-Mex, and
a Richie Sambora signature model.
The Richie Sambora signature was
only available with a humbucker pickup
in the bridge position, so thats out.
The 96 Standard Stratocaster had three
single-coils and was available in black,
brown sunburst, crimson-red metallic,
Lake Placid blue, and Arctic whitebut
not candy apple redso thats out.
The same holds true for the Traditional
Series Strats: They were only available in
Arctic white, black, and Torino red. The
Tex-Mex Strats were available in candy
apple red, and when you also consider
the 50s-style spaghetti Fender logo
on the headstock that was unique to the

Tex-Mex Stratocaster, I can


confidently say that the TexMex is what you have.
Its interesting to note
that Jimmie Vaughan had
taken notice of Mexicanmade Stratocasters in the
mid-1990s and brought the
idea of a signature model to
Fender. After striking an endorsement
deal in 1996, Vaughan collaborated
with Fenderin developingthe Tex-Mex
Stratocaster. The following year, Fender
made a few minor changes tothe model
and itbecame the Jimmie Vaughan
Tex-Mex Stratocaster, which is still in
production today. This made the nonJimmie Vaughan version of the guitar a
very short-lived model.
What makes the Tex-Mex Strat
different from a regular Strat? Its
essentially the set of Tex-Mex single-coil
pickups, jumbo fretwire, and overall
styling that mimics the Strats from
the late 1950s/early 1960s. The bodies
and necks were made at Fenders U.S.
factory in Corona, California, but were
assembled and sanded in the companys
plant in Ensenada, Mexico. The Mexicanproduced guitars from the mid-1990s
are generally regarded as being decent
instruments, but they unfortunately dont
posses the same level of collectability
as their American, Korean, or Japanese
counterparts.
Today, this guitar (with gig bag)
is worth between $325 and $400 in
excellent condition, which leaves you
with a few options: Sell it for a few
hundred bucks, store it properly with
the hope it increases in value, or play the
thing. At least someone in every family
should play guitar!
ZACHARY R. FJESTAD is author

of Blue Book of Acoustic Guitars,


Blue Book of Electric Guitars, and
Blue Book of Guitar Amplifiers.
For more information, visit
bluebookinc.com or email Zach at
guitars@bluebookinc.com.

premierguitar.com

We profile eight innovative builders


to discover their design philosophies and learn
about life on the cutting edge of pedal craft.
BY TZVI GLUCKIN

he electric guitar is electric,


obviously, and thats
what makes it special.
The acoustic guitar may
be natural and beautiful, but nothing
compares to the crushing majesty of an
amplified electricdimed, maxed, and
inducing deafness.
You know that.
But bluster aside, the electric guitar is
also infinitely malleable. Since the 60s,
when inexpensive effects hit the streets
and made modifying your guitar signal
possible, guitarists have been shaping,
crafting, and modulating their tones. Those
first pedals, like fuzz boxes and wahs,
for example, were simple but effective
tools that left guitar players pining for
more. And more was to come, especially
as technology improved and music went
digital. But research, development, and

premierguitar.com

production are expensive, so, for the most


part, the big advances were made by wellfunded companies and industry leaders.
Like youd expect.
Until now.
Parallel with the dawn of the new century
is the democratization of pedal innovation.
Basement tinkerers, experimenters, sonic
misfits, and the curious set up small,
one-man, mom-and-pop businesses.
They developed new twists on old ideas,
perfected old circuits, updated outdated
technology, reinvented forgotten concepts,
crafted newness from nothing, and radically
altered the guitar-playing landscape.
In this roundup, we profile eight
stompbox scientists. Their designs
are different, sometimes unusual,
and redefine what guitar pedals can
do. Some are boutique treasures that
emphasize appearances and look more

like art pieces than guitar gadgets.


Others are nondescript, but hide little
monsters under the hood. All will
transform your tone, challenge your
assumptions, and afford you the tools to
make better music.
Most of our builders are based in the
U.S., although we went international
and spoke with builders in Finland
and Canada as well. We discussed their
building philosophies, standout designs,
popular pedals, the challenges and
benefits of running a small shop, and
the artists and new music their products
make possible.
Are you ready? Make sure to take
notes. Videos, manuals, demos, and
reviews are already online for most of
the pedals discussed. You might find
your missing linkor multiple links you
didnt know you were missing.

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 43

Chase Bliss Audio

1. The new Tonal Recall delay features a pair of reissued MN3005 bucket-brigade analog ICs, the same type used in the classic ElectroHarmonix Memory Man. 2. Chase Bliss chief Joel Korte at work. 3. Zach Rizer sketches plans for world domination. Or perhaps a new
circuit. 4. Chase Bliss be chillin: Holly Hansen, Zach Rizer, and Joel Korte. Im really trying to exist in a space where others do not,
says Korte of his sonic vision. 5. Warped VinylKortes first pedaluses a digital LFO to control pitch vibrato.

Based just north of Minneapolis in


Anoka, Minnesota, Chase Bliss Audio is
the brainchild of pedal builder Joel Korte.
His pedals are notable for their kitchensink approachanalog guts, digital
brains, multiple knobs and toggles, and a
bevy of DIP switcheswith no parameter
left untweakable. Im really trying to
exist in a space where others do not,
Korte says. A lot of guitar pedals want
to control the user experienceyou can
only turn the knobs so far so it sounds
a certain way. But mine are the exact
opposite of that. I dont want to control
the user experience at all. I want to give
users a canvas to do whatever they want.
Kortes first pedal was the innovative
Warped Vinyl. I had this idea to
digitally create an LFO [low frequency
oscillator] that provides a ton of control,
he says. Its called ModuShape and it lets
you make any kind of shape you want. I
wanted to hear that kind of LFO control
applied to pitch vibrato.

44 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Its a concept hes transferred to his


other pedals as well. You can control
every parameter with an expression
pedal individually or simultaneously, and
also ramp any parameter individually
or simultaneously. Its like you have a
little robot that can turn your knobs in
a rhythmic way without you having to
bend over. Some of that stuff sounds
really interesting and musical, and some
of it sounds insane. Its up to the users to
do what they want with it.
Kortes newest offering, Tonal Recall,
is a delay based on that same analog/
digital concept, and its shaping up to be
his biggest seller. Ever since I started the
company, he says, Id hear, Hey bro,
you gotta make a delay. But Korte held
off because the chip he wanted to use
the MN3005 bucket-brigade delay analog
IC used in the old Electro-Harmonix
Memory Man and Boss DM-2had
been discontinued. It was hard for me
to get excited about delay, because that

particular chip wasnt around. But last


year the chip was reissued, so I decided
to do it.
Kortes pedals are making the rounds,
but dont expect him to name-drop. Id
rather just not have an artist roster, he
says. Obviously, I love it. Im a music
fan and if someone notable is using the
pedals, I think thats amazing. But at
the same time, there are a lot of really
talented people using our products who
are undiscovered.
The companys backstory is inspiring,
too. Its named in honor of my brother,
who was killed by a drunk driver in
2007. I was going down the path of
normal lifeI was just going to exist and
not do anything that was interesting for
me. He was out in L.A. trying to be an
actor, and his death really shook me. I
realized I needed to pursue something I
was passionate about. It really felt right
to name the company after him and his
approach to life.

premierguitar.com

shape your

sound
Bose F1 Model 812
Flexible Array Loudspeaker

F1 Model 812 Loudspeaker

F1 Subwoofer

main PA for bands, DJs


High-output
and general purpose use
1000-watt, full-range loudspeaker
vertical control with
Flexible
100 horizontal coverage
flexible array provides
Unique
four coverage patterns
One 12'' woofer and eight 2.25 drivers

1000 watts of power


Two 10'' high-excursion woofers
Compact, lightweight design
mounting stand for
Integrated
F1 Model 812 loudspeaker

1 speaker. 4 coverage patterns.

STRAIGHT

REVERSE J

More information: Bose.com/f1

Hungry Robot

1. The Wash is aimed at guitarists who typically use multiple delays and reverbs to create lush sounds. 2. Junge builds every Hungry
Robot pedal in his basement. 3. The Starlite reverb pedal offers tap tempo and modulation. 4. Junges MO is to produce deep tones
with a streamlined interface. When youre onstage, you dont want a whole bunch of presets and hidden menus, he says. 5. A lo-fi
delay, the Krmn Line includes a joystick for controlling modulation. 6. I think the general consensus is most people arent using
batteries anymore, says Junge.

Hungry Robot Pedals offers deep tones


with a streamlined interface. I try to
make the user experience as simple as
possible, says owner Eric Junge. When
youre onstage, you dont want a whole
bunch of presets and hidden menus.
Different parameters are great for the
studio, but when it comes to a live
setting, you want to focus on your playing
and interact with the crowd.
Junges first pedals were overdrives
which he still buildsthough lately hes
focused on ambient tones, as evidenced
by his biggest seller, the Wash. I wanted
to simplify the board for someone who
plays ambient stuff, he says. I often see
ambient players using two delays and two
reverbs at a time to create their ambient
wash tone, and I wanted to have that
all in one pedal. A lot of people mistake
the Wash for just a delay and reverb,
which it is at its core, but what makes it
unique is the way those two interact with
each other. There are different types of

46 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

feedback loops built into the pedal, where


the reverb goes back into the delay and
that will go through the reverb again and
then into a different part of the delay.
You cant do that with patch cables. I also
wanted a tap-tempo delay that was able to
engage the super lush ambient wash tone
underneath the signal.
Junges pedals dont use a battery,
which seems to be a trend in the industry.
Ive probably sold close to 1,000 pedals
and Ive only had two people ask about
batteries, he says. I think the general
consensus is most people arent using
batteries any more. A lot of my designs
are very tight internallyI couldnt even
fit a battery into a couple of them. So my
take is, Am I going to make this pedal
bigger for the 0.1 percent of the public
thats going to use a battery?
One tight design is the HG+LG (High
Gain plus Low Gain), which consists
of two overdrive pedals crammed into
a single enclosure. The outside controls

are simple, but inside 12 DIP switches


let you make subtle changes depending
on your guitar and amp combination.
I saw with a lot of different guitarists
that the overdrive section of their board
was constantly changing, he says. They
would buy a pedal, play through it
for one or two days, and put it up on
Reverb.com. I wanted people to be able
to customize their drive by tweaking the
different diodes, tone signatures, and
gains. My hope is that whatever types of
guitars and amps theyre using, theyll find
a way to have everything mesh well.
Hungry Robot is a family affair and
the pedals are built in-house. Its all in
my basement right now, Junge says. I
do all through-hole componentsI dont
send it to a board house and have surface
mount stuff slapped on there. I wire it all
together. I do all the powder coating, all
the drilling, all the PCB assembly, and
final assembly. Even the artwork, my wife
does that.

premierguitar.com

Mantic Conceptual

1. Mantics Caleb Henning (left) and Luis Etscheid. Just hold still, Luis, this wont hurt at all. 2. The Mantic Flex Pro: part fuzz, part
envelope follower, part synth-glitch generator. 3. Henning and Etscheid founded Mantic in 2013, in Denver, Colorado. 4. Winner of the
2012 Moog Circuit Bending Championship, Etscheid (right) has deep roots in synth modding. 5. Were just a two-man operation out of
a garage, says Etscheid. Its great staying small.

Mantic Conceptual pedals are weird, and


thats a good thing. I got into circuit
bending, modding, building synth
modules, and what-have-you, says Luis
Etscheid, Mantics co-owner and winner
of the 2012 Moog Circuit Bending
Championship. It was a long-term
organic evolution of things that brought
us to a product. Etscheid founded the
Colorado company with his business
partner Caleb Henning in 2013.
The duos first pedaland their closest
to a cloneis the Density Hulk subharmonizer and low-frequency booster.
Its based on the 1995 DOD Meatbox,
Etscheid says. Thats what we started
our company on. Other than that, theyre
now all-original designs. We definitely
like to put out stuff thats unique and will

48 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

lend players their own voice, and that can


be pretty polarizing, I guess. People will
either love it or not.
The Mantic Flex Pro pushes those
boundaries. Part fuzz, part envelope
follower, part synth-glitch generator,
the Flex Pro incorporates an added mix
control, filter-range selector, and variablespeed LFO for tracking modulation.
The Flex started as an experiment, says
Etscheid. We were messing around with
a lot of different basic circuit principles,
trying to come up with something that was
reminiscent of a lot of circuit bent tones
we were getting on old keyboards, but
more controllable so that it could be used
in a musicalquote unquotecontext.
Its basically a variant of a phase-lock loop.
We spent a lot of time on the interface.

Actually, we had a 12-knob version at


one point. We built a few of those as oneoffs and sent them out to some of our
friendsSimon Francis, Adrian Belew, and
Nick Reinhartto get some feedback. You
put so many hours into something, you
have to get some outside perspective.
Mantic Conceptual is small, and
Etscheid and Henning want to keep it
that way. Its just a two-man operation
out of a garage, Etscheid says. Its great
staying small. We dont have to waste too
much of our time with management,
and we can maintain a direct line of
communication with our customers and
our retailers. We both really like talking
to and knowing the people who buy and
use our stuff. Its been really helpful for
the development process as well.

premierguitar.com

Darkglass Electronics

1. Darkglass mastermind Douglas Castro takes measurements on his first amplifier, a top-secret M900 prototype, which hadnt been
announced as of this writing. 2. The B7K is a preamp, overdrive, and 4-band EQ for bassists. 3. Kiriaki Kira Pavlidi at work. We could
not imagine any of our products without Kiriakis neat assembling and soldering, says Castro. 4. Party time in Helsinki! Although
headquartered in Finland, the company has offices in Chile and the U.S. 5. Enrique Quique Rangel solders a connection. All Darkglass
effects are built in Finland in the companys 200 square-meter shop.

Based in Helsinki, Finland, Darkglass


Electronics builds effects pedals for bass
players. Our primary goal is to tell bass
players, Be heard and be noticed, says
Darkglass CEO and founder Doug Castro.
All of our effects and preamplifiers
are about taking the bass sound to the
next level so bassists can reclaim a more
predominant role in their bands.
Originally from Chile, Castro started
playing bass at 13, but opted to focus on
electronics after high school. The first
circuit I designed was the Microtubes
B3K, which is now one of our bestselling products, he says. Once I
designed that one, everything took off
from there.
Darkglass flagship is the Microtubes
B7Ka souped-up edition of the B3K

50 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

thats available in both standard and


Ultra versions. The B7K is a preamp,
overdrive, and 4-band EQ, Castro
says. The Ultra has basically the same
preamps, but you control the distortion
separately with a second footswitch. You
also have two mid controlslow and
high midand each mid control has a
3-way selector switch.
Although headquartered in Finland,
the company is truly international. R&D
and manufacturing is done in Europe,
marketing and sales are based in Chile,
and artists relations is in the U.S. We
have a 200 square-meter shop, and all
the effects are built here in Finland,
Castro says. The metalwork, chassis, silk
screening, and laser engraving is all done
here. We try to keep it local. We get the

circuit boards from a few suppliers in


different EU countries, but all the final
assembly and testing is done here.
Darkglass artists run the gamut from
metal to pop, and include Alex Webster
(Cannibal Corpse), Tony Levin, Billy
Gould (Faith No More), Dick Lvgren
(Meshuggah), and Amos Heller (Taylor
Swift). I believe the product you make
should work for different scenarios and
should adapt to many requirements. We
focus on products that can be used by
anyone, Castro says.
But ultimately, its all about the bass.
I think bass players have always had
a very shy role in bands for the most
partespecially in rock and metaland I
would really like to see them take the lead
a bit more.

premierguitar.com

Fuzzrocious

1. Fuzzrocious pedals is a Ratajski family affair. Ryan handles electronics design and business, while Shannon (shown here) does
the paintingsometimes with the help of their kids. 2. Ryan at work. 3. All Fuzzrocious pedals are built to order. If you come to
Fuzzrocious, says Ryan, youre getting something thats made for you. It is not coming off a shelf. 4. The Anomalies delay is based
on a PT2399 chip. Each run of 25 features different artwork. 5. I examined the components of 12 or 13 of the most popular Big Muff
versions, says Ryan of the Muff-inspired Feed Me EQ/preamp/tone-shaper. We put those on rotaries and added some more as well.
6. When you order a Fuzzrocious pedal, you have three options for artwork: painted by Shannon, painted by her kids, or both.

Ryan Ratajski and family are Fuzzrocious


pedals. Everything has grown organically
for us, he says. We make sure were
helping bands out and making things
people enjoy. My wife, Shannon, does all
the hand painting. I do the designing,
soldering, internet, and everything else.
Even the kids get to help outpeople
commission them to make their art on
the pedals.
Fuzzrocious pedals are customizable
and some are variations on classic circuits.
One example is Feed Me, an innovative
take on multiple variations of the Big
Muff. The tone stacks in those old Big
Muffs are different, Ratajski says. Thats
why some people are like, Civil War is
the best, or Black Russian is my favorite.
I examined the components of 12 or 13
of the most popular Big Muff versions.
We put those on rotaries and added some

52 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

more as well, so you can dial in all the


classic tone stacks. There are over 20,000
combinations you can get tone-wise.
Ratajski also enjoys collaborating. He
teamed up with Electro-Faustus to create
the Greyflya combination of his Grey
Stache Fuzz with EFs Blackfly. We
hooked up at NAMM last year, he says.
A mutual friend brought us together.
They loved how their Blackfly sounded
through our Grey Stache Fuzz, and we
agreed. You can pluck the springs, scrape
them, twang them. You can tap the box
and yell into it. Its a piezo mic, so you
can create noise with it. When you add
that fuzz, it exacerbates everything thats
going on with your sound.
Ratajskis most extreme pedal was
the Zuul, which is currently on hiatus.
That was an oscillator that was semiblended with your clean signal into a

drive circuit, he says. It went from super


hummingbird speed to a super low click.
When it went even faster it would get
into crazy oscillation behind your signal
and you could tune it to a pitch. Thats
something we are going to bring back in
the future in a new way.
From his current line, the big seller is
the Demon. The Queens of the Stone Age
guys embraced the pedal and talked about
it a lot, he says. That was the impetus to
really skyrocket the sales for that pedal. Its
by far our best-selling pedal.
But regardless of how many they sell,
all Fuzzrocious pedals are built to order.
If you come to Fuzzrocious, youre
getting something thats made for you.
We start production when your order
comes in. It is not coming off a shelf. You
are getting something from soup to nuts
thats been handmade just for you.

premierguitar.com

3Leaf Audio

1. A selection of 3Leaf pedals, which are all built in Washington State. 2. 3Leaf founder Spencer Doren. 3. Named for session bassist
Tim Lefebvre, the Octabvre is inspired by the Boss OC-2 and Mu-Tron Octave DividerDorens two favorite vintage octave pedals.
4. Designed to respond to playing dynamics, the Doom fuzz produces sounds reminiscent of vintage synths. 5. Tone is totally
subjective, says Doren, but my pedals definitely work best for the sounds Im trying to get. 6. The Wonderlove is a modern take on
the classic 1972 Mu-Tron III.

Seattles 3Leaf Audio crafts innovative


variations on offbeat themes. I have my
own aesthetic in terms of the visual look
and feel, says founder Spencer Doren. I
usually think I can make something that
sounds betterat least for my purposes
than other things on the market. Tone is
totally subjective, but my pedals definitely
work best for the sounds Im trying to
get. It turns out these pedals resonate with
other people, too.
Doren is self-taught and learned his
craft tweaking older pedals. I had this
old pedal, the Lovetone Meatball, that
existed in the 90s, he says. I loved it
because my musical heroes used it, but
the pedal was really hard to use. I tried
hacking it up. I tried to make it sound
better, make it a little simpler, and that
evolved into its own thing, which is how I
got started.
One of Dorens most intriguing pedals
is the Octabvre, named for bassist Tim
Lefebvre. Tim is a really great bass

54 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

playerhes currently on tour with the


Tedeschi Trucks bandbut Ive known
him from before that gig, Doren says.
Id see him play at the 55 Bar in New
York with Wayne Krantz, and theyd do
this experimental, weird jazz. Tims tone
was based around the old Boss OC-2,
which is my all-time favorite octave
sound. The original idea for my octave
pedal was that I wanted something that
would let Tim do his thing and be able
to cut the dry signal without having to
bend down to turn off the dry knob. I
would see him do that live. The pedal
has a footswitch labeled sub, which cuts
the dry signal. The other idea behind the
Octabvre is that one side of the tone knob
is basically the Boss OC-2, and the other
side is based around the Mu-Tron Octave
Divider, which is my other favorite octave
pedal. It combines these two tones from
these two vintage effects into one unit.
3Leaf s most popular pedal is the
Proton, which is one of two envelope

filters he makes. I get emails from people


all the time asking, Will this make me
sound like Jerry Garcia? Doren says. I
think thats more technique than anything
else, but my pedal can certainly help.
Bootsy Collins is also a fan of the pedal.
At one point, Bootsy was using three of
my Protons. But I dont know what he is
using at any particular time, because he
goes through a bunch of gear. His original
setup back in the day was three Mu-Trons
chained together. He would split his
signal into three parts and run each one
through an envelope filter with different
settings and then recombine them.
3Leaf Audio is a small local shop, and
outsourced work is kept in Washington
State. It makes it easier to communicate
with these people when they are nearby,
he says. They can ship stuff to me in a
day, so it is really easy. Ive got a shop here
in Capitol Hill, where I do testing, final
assembly, box everything up, and make
sure it is good.

premierguitar.com

Cusack Music

1. Based in Holland, Michigan, John Cusack and his team build pedals under the Cusack brand and for other brands. 2. The Cusack crew
at work. 3. My philosophy is that when I design something, I design it from an engineering standpoint, says Cusack. I go through
the theoretical first, then I lay out a circuit board. 4. One of Cusacks innovations is the Never Off Seriestiny pedals without on/off
switches that are designed to work with loop-switching systems. You already have the bypass in your loop system and now weve
saved all that space, he says. 5. Cusack recently bought Mojo Hand Fx and will be releasing new pedals under that brand as well.

Solid engineering, not tinkering and


experimentation, is the foundation of
Michigan-based Cusack Music. When I
first started, I used the phrase reality in
tone, says Jon Cusack, the companys
founder. At the timethis was 2002
everybody was talking about carbon
film resistors and that you had to have
it handwired or it wasnt going to sound
right. As an experienced engineer, I was
like, 95 percent of this is bull crap; its all
marketing. My philosophy is that when
I design something, I design it from an
engineering standpoint. Theoretically,
what kind of resistor is going to work best
in this circuit? What kind of capacitor is
going to work best in this circuit? How
am I going to get what I want for a sound
out of this? When Im doing the design
process, I go through the theoretical first,
then I lay out a circuit board.
Cusack doesnt make clones, except for
his first pedal, which was based on a Tube
Screamer. I did a clone as the very first
one because I wanted to get a handle on
everything else, he says. What enclosure
am I going to use? What kind of power
jacks? What kind of pots? Whats the
drill pattern going to be? I was like, The
first go around, lets worry about the
mechanics of how this thing is going to

56 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

be assembled. So I took one piece out of


the equation, which was coming up with
the circuit, because everything else was
from the ground up. From that point on,
everything else has pretty much been a
from-scratch circuit.
Some circuits venture into the absurd.
The Tap-A-Scream was an April Fools
joke, says Cusack. Somebody on a
forum somewhere said, When are you
going to come out with a tap overdrive?
So I built a prototype and announced it
on April Fools Day thinking, Okay, this
will be funny because I actually built a
prototype. But then I had a dealer order
10 of them. People who use it get what
it does and they find some pretty cool
applications for it.
Another innovation is the Never Off
Seriespedals without on/off switches
that are designed to work with loop
systems. I work with quite a few touring
guys and they are always asking for
smaller and lighter, Cusack says. Mark
Lee from Third Day said, I need a board
thats really small, one I can fly with as
carry-on, and its got to fit on a Pedaltrain
Mini. I thought we could start with our
Pedal Board Tamer programmable pedal
looper, and then take our individual
pedals and put them in a tiny box

without a bypass in thembecause you


already have the bypass in your loop
systemand now weve saved all that
space. With the Pedal Board Tamer and
Never Off pedals, he now has a complete
analog pedalboard, but with the digital
aspect of having presets, too.
Cusack also has an outstanding track
record partnering with other manufacturers,
although lately hes been pulling back.
What we realized is that we really love
interacting with the other buildersthey
are all friends and we hang out at the
showsbut it took the focus off our goal,
which was the Cusack Music products. In
the last three months, I had to learn to say
no. Im still helping people as I can, but I
am not doing full-blown designs anymore
for anybody. It had been three years since
I released anything with my own name
on it. But that said, Cusack Music has a
slew of new offerings on the horizon. We
released the Pedal Cracker a few weeks ago.
It is going to be shipping in two weeks. We
bought Mojo Hand FX and are planning
to release new pedals under that brand. We
paired up with AJ Peat Guitars and were
releasing a whole pedal line for him. Were
still working on multiple brands, but they
are brands that either we own or that are
close friends who we have tight ties with.

premierguitar.com

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Union Tube & Transistor

1. I think of everything in the world of distortion and fuzz as being a spectrum, says Union Tube & Transistors Chris Young. 2. As
reflected in his workshop, old-school, military-spec construction is at the heart of Youngs designs. That came out of my years of doing
repairs, he says. How can we make these as bulletproof as possible? 3. All UT&T circuit boards are secured by the same screws that
fasten external badges. 4. No-knob Bumble Buzz pedalsa collaboration with Jack Whiteshare the bench with Swindle stomps, which
occupy a sonic space between overdrive and fuzz. 5. Young's tidy workspace belies his passion for aural dirt of all kinds.

Hailing from Vancouver, BC, Union Tube


& Transistor specializes in dirt. I think of
everything in the world of distortion and
fuzz as being a spectrum, says co-owner
Chris Young. You start off with a clean
boost. From that you go to a Micro Amp
and then to a Tube Screamer, overdrive,
or a Klon or something. At the end of
that spectrum is the beginning of the
RAT spectrum. The end of the RAT
spectrum is the beginning of the fuzz
spectrum. I want to have stages, so I can
go from mild amp-like characteristics into
a better version of a Boss DS-1, a RAT, or
a stack.
With business partner Kirk Elliott,
Young builds a line of unique and
virtually indestructible boxes. That
came out of my years of doing repairs,
Young says. How can we make these
as bulletproof as possible? We always
color code our wires and we dont

58 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

mount switches or anything that has the


possibility of breaking the circuit board
onto the circuit board itself. That badge
you see on the face of the pedal? The
four screws that hold that badge in place
secure the circuit board as well. The way
our stuff is designed, you can step on the
jack and break it, but youre never going
to hurt the circuit board.
Union Tube & Transistor is best
known for their no-knob collaboration
with Jack Whites Third Man Records.
We sent Jack a More pedal a number
of years ago, says Young. White used
the pedal on Sixteen Saltines and for
the vocals in Im Shakin on his 2012
Grammy-nominated release Blunderbuss.
Most people, when we send them
stuff, we never hear anything. But Jacks
people started communicating with
us right away. Jack really likes this.
Would you think about installing one

of these in one of his guitars? After


some discussion back and forth, Third
Man Records flew Young to Nashville to
discuss collaborating on a new pedal. I
brought a handful of things that we made
and a handful of things that were ideas
for new devices. He picked the sound
of something he liked and the look of
something elseit was a no-knob unit
without any controls on it; only an on/off
switch. The result is the Bumble Buzz,
an unorthodox, muscular octave fuzz that
PGs Charles Saufley called the Howlin
Wolf of fuzzes.
Union Tube & Transistor have a few
interesting ideas on the horizon, but for
now their primary focus is distortion.
Everything has been gain stages and
fuzzes, Young says. Im not against
doing other stuff, but the problem often
becomes, If it exists already, it's hard to
do the me-too thing.

premierguitar.com

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DS800B PERCUSSION TABLE


< Gear Not Included >

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The secure and stable DS800B Percussion Table safely


accommodates all of your gear keeping it accessible at all
times. Add the MS533B Mic Stand and you are ready for
the stage, the studio or practicing at home.

Six-String
Solace
Premier Guitar talks to certified music therapists
across the U.S. about their specialized approaches to
using guitar as an instrument of healing.

ver the course of just two


months, guitarist Tom
Peterson from Cincinnati,
Ohio, was diagnosed with testicular
cancer and lost both his job and the
unborn child that he and his wife
had been expectingtheir first. The
one bright spot that year came at
Christmastime, when Peterson received
a special gift from his family: a PRS
Mira that has since become the prize
of his guitar collection for reasons
difficult to quantify.
You never think that this inanimate
object is going to have such a mental
connection with you and get you

through your darkest hours,Peterson


shared inPGsConversations in the Key
of Lifepodcast (Episode 3: Guitar as
Therapy, June 2016).
I cant tell you how many
timesespecially dealing with the
post-traumatic-stress aspect of things,
when the triggers come aroundthat
Ive just picked up the Mira, laid
on my back, and plunked around
on it. Nothing in particular just
me and the guitar. When you feel
like your body cant move on to
do anything else, it seems like the
musicthat connectiondrives you
just for that brief moment while youre

contemplating that next string bend.


You forget everything else.
But beyond the scores of untold
private battles like Petersons, where
music becomes both shield and weapon
against encroaching darkness, there are
many other instances where guitar has
played a more oblique role in therapy,
whether through 6-string stars playing
benefits for rehab centers, selling their
instruments and donating the proceeds,
or, in Eric Claptons case, both.
Anecdotes and superstars aside, the
guitar has found a more institutional
place in the healing process through the
relatively new field of music therapy.

Illustrations by Ben Kuriscak

BY MICHAEL ROSS

premierguitar.com

I work with people with eating disorders, and often they have a series
of verbal defenses that shield them from how theyre feeling. When we do
music-based experiences, many of those defenses fall away and they have an
emotional reaction to the musiceven when they try not to.
Dr. Robert Krout
Roots and Branches
To get an overview and history of music
therapy and understand the guitars place
in it, we chatted with health professionals
who administer this treatment on a daily
basis. One such person is Dr. Robert
Krout, professor and director of music
therapy in the Meadows School of the
Arts at Southern Methodist University in
Dallas, Texas. Krout also teaches guitar
online and has taught at the National
Guitar Workshop, as well as guitar
workshops around the world.
Music therapy as a profession
started in 1950, explains Krout.
You use music-based experiences in
the relationship with the therapist to
help achieve desired health outcomes,
whether they be physical goals,
social rehabilitation, helping with
developmental issues, and so on.
Krout notes that people are usually
referred to a music therapist by a
psychiatrist, nurse, social worker, or health
insurance company. The therapist then
conducts a comprehensive assessment
to see if the referred individual might
benefit from music therapy. The patient
doesnt necessarily have to be able to play
or sing, says Krout, but the therapist
would assess whether music might be
beneficial for them based on their needs,
and also based on how they respond to
music either actively or passively.
Potential music-therapy beneficiaries
run the gamut from parents anticipating
an addition to their family to individuals
whove recently lost a loved oneand
all sorts of related situations in between:
Krout works with expectant mothers and
couples in Lamaze training, using music
to help with the timing of contractions.
He also works with patients who are
nearing the end of their lives or are in

premierguitar.com

hospice care. Music therapy can also


help bereaved siblings, spouses, children,
grandchildren, and other survivors with
grief healing. Meanwhile, music can often
stimulate forgotten memories or buried
emotions in patients with Alzheimers or
cognitive impairments. Music therapy
can also be a great way to communicate
with children on the autism spectrum,
especially those who are nonverbal.
The work that Dr. Krout and others
are doing with music therapy is often
effective where other forms of therapy
have come up shortfor instance, with
clients who lack the verbal skills to
benefit from talk-based therapy. Further,
it can often make inroads with patients
who have highly developed verbal skills
that have, for one reason or another,
proved an impediment to treatment.
I work with people with eating
disorders, and often they have a series
of verbal defenses that shield them from
how theyre feeling, says Krout. When
we do music-based experiences, many of
those defenses fall away and they have an
emotional reaction to the musiceven
when they try not to. We can sometimes
use that emotional reaction to take the
discussion deeper into some of the issues
theyre facing.
Music therapy has been found to be
very helpful in treating post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD), particularly that
suffered by troops returning from combat.
Thanks to George Hauerwhose
organization Operation: Music Aid
supplies thousands of musical
instruments to recovering
military and armed forces
personnelwe chatted with
music therapist Bobbi Blake
about her experience working
with veterans at a VA medical

center in Connecticut. She began by


explaining that music therapy had its
beginnings in the U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs system after World War II.
They found when they played music
for the veterans it was very helpful in
calming them down and soothing them,
Blake says. They started to investigate
it more, and that began the musictherapy research in the 50s. There has
been extensive research ever since. Now,
theyre doing neurological work on how
music affects the brain. In working with
veterans with PTSD, Im trying to use
music to help engage their coping skills
and self-expression.
Like patients with eating disorders,
PTSD patients often have a hard time
expressing the multitude of profound,
overwhelming feelings bubbling just beneath
the surface. They can become socially
isolated or be fearful of being around other
people, crowds, and trying new things.
Bringing them together to play music
is a wonderful way to have them be with
other people in a safe place and learn a

Dr. Robert Krout


from Southern
Methodist
University
(center) poses
with a class that
includes specialneeds students
at the Hope
Town School on
Elbow Cay island
in the Bahamas.

skill thats going to help them with anxiety,


mood swings, and relaxation, she adds.
Music therapy can play an important
role in treating those with substance
addictions. Paul Pellinger, one of the
founders of Recovery Unplugged (a
Florida-based rehab center), uses music
to engage clients in different ways.
For example, the center organizes live
performances by famous musicians, who
share stories and songs related to their own
issues with drug addiction and alcoholism.
The program incorporates music
as early as the pre-assessment process.
Before being accepted, a prospective
client is asked about his or her favorite
genre of music. If they say, classic
rock, Ill ask if there is a particular song
that describes their life, says Pellinger.
When I pick them up [to bring them
to the center], I have that song playing

62 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

in the van. Right away, rapport


is established and they feel heard
versus being yelled at. When they
get to our facility, we dont have to
deal with a two-week adjustment
to the new environment.
Like people with PTSD or eating
disorders, many addicts have trouble
accessing their emotions. But music can
often be a gateway through those mental
walls. Identifying what you think or feel
is an obstacle for most people in general,
and its especially difficult for addicts
but I guarantee you somebody has
written a song about it, Pellinger says.
We often let song lyrics be the catalyst
to verbalize whats going on. Were using
music not only to engage the clients, but
also to make recovery more of a payoff
than using drugs. If you look at [a scan
of ] the brain after somebody takes a hit

of crack cocaine, it lights up


similar to how it does after hearing a
simple chord change.

Guitar in Therapy
When music therapy began in 1950,
it traditionally employed piano as the
accompanying instrument. But at the
same time, electric and acoustic guitars
were becoming mainstream instruments.
Guitar gained more popularity and
began to be used, in part, because it was
portable. As a teacher of guitar, Krout has
a unique view on the instruments special
place in music therapy.

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Recovery
Unpluggeds
two centers
in Austin,
Texas, and Fort
Lauderdale
hold music
workshops
with prominent
musicians,
and provide
a recording
studio at each
center to allow
clients to make
music while in
treatment.

Clients of different ages and needs are


very attracted to the guitarthe look of
it and sound of it, he says. Ive worked
with emotionally disturbed teenagers who
normally would not have any reason to
relate to me, but if I walk in with a Fender
Stratocaster, they relate to that. So the
guitar can be used as the go-between. I
do a lot of songwriting for music therapy,
and the acoustic guitar is a musical
instrument I can hold while sitting across
from the client. They relate to the guitar,
which creates a therapeutic space, and
then we can safely do other things with
singing, lyric discussion, or songwriting.
With autism, it might be the way the
guitar smells. A person with a psychiatric
syndrome might have played guitar when
they were younger, before the disease took
over, and they connect to that.
To maximize effectiveness, Krout
adapts his choices of instrument and
songs to the background of the patient.
For example, if a patient is a baby
boomer, he may rely on the guitar-based
music of the 60s. Meanwhile, if radio
hits from the 1950s were the soundtrack
of his nursing-home patients youth,
Krout might use Buddy Holly songs as an
emotional connection.
The guitar also figures prominently
in Blakes work with the Connecticut
VA health system. Perhaps the countrys
best-known nonprofit working with
veterans via the 6-string is Guitars

64 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

for Vets, which provides a free guitar


and lessons to veterans through local
chapters set up all over the country from
its base in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In
contrast, Blakes Six Strings for Soldiers
program is much smaller and locally
focused, with more of an emphasis on
the music-therapy side than on the
guitar-centric aspects.
With an instructor, the primary
concern is about instrumental skills, like
teaching someone how to play chords,
rhythms, or notes, she says. Im more
concerned about how playing guitar is
helping them with their coping skills
and stress.
Blake says one of the most rewarding
parts of working with Six Strings for
Soldiers is that patients use what theyve
learned when they return home. If they
start to get anxious, they pick up the
guitar and it calms them. She also finds
that even small improvements in learning
the instrument quickly reward patients
with increased self-esteem.
Within four weeks its possible
to teach somebody how to play some
I-IV-V chord songs, says Blake. And to
accomplish that is very exciting! Guitar
is, of course, very complicated to play
wellas any instrument isbut for a
beginner its very accessible. It can be
particularly effective with isolation issues.
Its empowering for socially isolated
and fearful PTSD patients when they
walk around with a guitar, because its
like walking a dog. People say, Thats a
nice dog or What kind of dog is that?
Similarly, they say, You play guitar? The
patient may then say, Well, Im learning,
and it encourages a conversation.
Meanwhile, Pellinger from Recovery
Unpluggedwhich has centers in
Austin, Texas, and Fort Lauderdalehas
yet another perspective. As the centers
name implies, acoustic guitar figures
prominently in its treatments. Three or
four guitarists work full-time with the
program. One of the musicians on staff is
Richie Supa, a songwriter who has worked
with Gladys Knight & the Pips, Bon
Jovi, and Aerosmithand who performs
acoustic sets of songs about addiction and
recovery for Recovery Unplugged patients.

But Recovery Unplugged clients dont


just consume music, they can also make
it. The centers offer musical workshops
where Supa and other staff members
help interested patients learn to create
songs or take their guitar playing to
the next level. Recovery Unplugged
even found a way for clients to take
their musical experiences home after
completing treatment by providing a
recording studio where patients can
create soundtracks of their stay. The
soundtracks can be any combination
of prerecorded songs theyve chosen,
performances theyve witnessed, or tunes
theyve performed or written.
When they leave our facility, we
dont just give them a certificate and coin
and tell them not to drink, and to go to
meetings, Pellinger says. We give them
earbuds and an MP3 player. Music is
used as a catalyst for recovery, whether to
help them be grateful, call their sponsor,
or remember the consequences of using.
For instance, Richie Supa wrote a song
called I Got This. Thats one of the
things addicts say when someone asks
for their car keys because they are in no
shape to driveGo away, I got this.
The song was on the soundtrack of a
client who graduated from our treatment
center. He was on his way to use drugs
instead of going to a meeting. He was
thinking, I got this, when the song
reminded him he didnt have this and
should go to a meeting.
Of course, Recovery Unplugged
isnt the only music-therapy center
that celebrates the unique attributes of
flattops. SMUs Krout finds that acoustic
guitar can work especially well with
certain patients because of the physical
vibrations they feel through the back of
the instrument.
With an electric guitar, the sounds
are coming out of a speaker across the
room, he explains. Sitting across from
a person with an acoustic guitar, it is
the vibrations that actually connect us
in that moment and create the shared
therapeutic space.
Despite that advantage, Krout often
uses electric guitars as well. I worked with
Fender for a number of years to bring

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the electric guitar into music therapy, he


says. We were trying to introduce music
therapists to more contemporary sounds
by using electric guitar.
Even so, not everyone relates to
guitaracoustic or electric. Krout says
the instruments popularity has fallen
off a bit with younger patients in recent
years, as it has become less the currency
of popular musicespecially in the inner
city, where rap and hip-hop are often the
music of choice.
With teens, often I will work from
an iPad using GarageBand. I use loops
with hip-hop, electro, and techno types
of sounds, Krout explains. But many
times they want to be doing something
active, and even if they hadnt [previously]
thought about being a guitarist, if Ive
got a guitar and they see me playing
along with a GarageBand track, it might
be attractive to them. Im working with
a young man now from India who is
into Bollywood movies and soundtracks.
Were working on guitar with very simple

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chords in the context of a huge Bollywood


arrangement. It may just be guitar chords,
but it feels like Bollywood to him.
Get Involved
For guitarists wanting to explore career
alternatives that involve music and guitar,
music therapy is a path worth considering.
Therapists must meet educational and
clinical training requirements set up by
the American Music Therapy Association
(AMTA). Graduates must take and pass a
comprehensive exam administered by the
Certification Board for Music Therapists
in order to become certified music
therapists (MT-BC), which qualifies them
to work as a member of treatment teams
in schools, hospitals, or nursing homes.
You dont have to be a doctor or
go to medical school, though you will
learn about some medical conditions
in a music-therapy program, says
Blake, who achieved certification in
the aforementioned manner. Its music
training combined with psychology.

She adds that, just as medical doctors


often specialize in certain areas, music
therapists can, too. I work at a VA
hospital with veterans. Other therapists
work with the elderly, kids with autism,
pain management, people who are
developmentally disabled, and so on.
Depending on what you choose as a
specialty, you may need advanced training
to be able to work with that population.
According to the AMTA, music
therapists must have a bachelors degree
or higher in music therapy from one
of AMTAs 72 approved colleges and
universities. They must also complete
1,200 hours of clinical training. Some
states also require a license for boardcertified music therapists.
Premier Guitar readers know the big
and small ways in which playing guitar
and listening to music can be therapeutic.
The admirable work of music-therapy
practitioners like Krout, Blake, and Pellinger
is but a small sample of how the instrument
we love is helping countless others.

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 65

TONE TIPS

Echo and the Dirty Amp


BY PETER THORN

ome of the questions Im most


often asked have to do with pedal
and effects order. What should
come first? Last? In the middle? Do I
need a buffer? Do I need an amp with an
effects loop and what effects should I run
in the loop? These are questions that can
only be answered with general guidelines,
because there really are no rules. This
is supposed to be artistry, right? Guitar
rigs (and guitarists) are like snowflakes,
because no two are the sameand thats
a wonderful thing.
The general approach with delay
or echo effects is to place them after
distortion or gain devices. If your amp
is a multiple-channel modern affair with
preamp and master volume controls, odds
are it has an effects loop as well. Effects
loops were purposely created to place
time-based effects like delay in them.
This is because time-based effects can
sound out of control and muddy when
run before distortion. So, much of the
time, delay in the loop is the way to go.

the same. And when I tried to mimic the


syncopated skip in the chorus Am to
G chord change with my right hand, it
just didnt sound correct. Once I realized
there was a 300 ms echo with one repeat
slapping back throughout the entire song,
however, everything came into focus!
Similarly, theres a clearly audible echo
bouncing back on the main rhythm riff
in the chorus of On Fire. The echo is
very dynamic because its running into a
distorted amp and it gets louder or softer
depending on how hard the guitar strings
are attackedpart of the fun and magic
when running an echo this way.
Joe Walsh. Another great example
can be heard in the James Gangs The
Bomber from 1970. In it, Joe Walsh
douses his guitar solos with a healthy dose
of long tape-echo via an Echoplex set with
plenty of regeneration (feedback). This is
way before effects loops, so running a delay
into the front of an amp was really the
only way to go, and its obvious that the
substantial echo at least partially dictated

A little-out-of-control and a bit of mud in your tone is


sometimes just what the doctor ordered.
Except when it isnt the way to go.
A little out-of-control and a bit of mud
in your tone is sometimes just what the
doctor ordered. Many classic recordings
by revered guitarists were made while
running echo or delay into a distorted
ampwith legendary results.
Eddie Van Halen. Eddies early sound
was achieved by cranking every knob on
his late-60s Marshall Super Lead to 10.
It goes without saying that there was a
hefty amount of distortion, but Eddie
successfully ran an Echoplex EP-3 into
the front end of his amp that significantly
enhanced his tone and the guitar parts he
played. For the longest time, I couldnt
quite understand how he played the parts
on Aint Talkin Bout Love. The main
arpeggiated-chord sequence sounded pretty
close when I played it, but it wasnt quite

66 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

the way the solos unfold. Along with fuzzes,


wahs, phasers, etc., readily available echo
devices were new and exciting in 1970.
Guitarists like Joe embraced the technology
and its fascinating to listen to how the gear
influenced the creative process.
Making It Work. There are a few loose
guidelines to follow when running echo
into a distorted amp or overdrive/distortion
pedal. First: The tone of the echo repeats is
crucial. Tape delays and analog echo units
have limited fidelity and tend to roll off
the top end. This treble roll-off becomes
more pronounced with each repeat and the
attack is also softened with each subsequent
repeat. All of this helps the delay blend in
with the guitars core tone. If the delay is
too clean and bright, it can tend to obscure
and cloud the dry tone, and the result
is often unpleasant. If you dont have a

real-deal tape echo or an analog delay, try


a digital unit with simulated analog or
tape settings like the Boss DD-7 or Line
6 Echo Park. Or try a digital unit like the
Boss Space Echo, Strymon El Capistan, or
MXR Echoplex that is specifically meant to
replicate a tape delay.
Make sure you start with the mix and
feedback controls set low. The mix control
is critical here, and youll usually want to
keep it just above its minimum setting.
Keep in mind that if you make changes
to your amp settings that result in more
or less overdrive, youll have to adjust the
echos mix control to compensate.
Creativity Is Key. In my opinion,
the coolest thing that can result from
running echo into a dirty signal is that it
might affect the way you play and write.
Just like Joe Walsh, Edward Van Halen,
and many others, you might create parts,
songs, and solos that wouldnt have been
the same sans echo or with echo run
in the cleaner fashion (post distortion).
Dont ever be afraid to try patching your
effects in an unconventional way. You
might just stumble onto something epic.
Until next month, I wish you
good tone!
PETER THORN

is an L.A.-based guitarist who has


toured with Chris Cornell, Melissa
Etheridge, Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi, and
many others. He released a solo
album, Guitar Nerd, in 2011. Read
more at peterthorn.com.

Photo by Jim Summaria

There was a time


when running a
delay into the
front of a dirty
amp was the
only real option,
and players like
Joe Walsh used
it to great effect.

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FORGOTTEN HEROES
Unsung Players Who Shaped Guitar as We Know It

SONNY SHARROCK

How the father of free-jazz guitar fought for his uncompromising vision and
changed the landscape of improvisation by inventing his own musical language.

Photo by John Soares

BY TED DROZDOWSKI

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PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 69

onny Sharrock, whose guitar


playing harnessed the explosiveness
and beauty of a summer
thunderstorm, recorded Seize the Rainbow
in 1987. By then, hed been doing just
that for more than two decades, using his
guitar as a prism to reflect his glorious,
Technicolor vision of music and life. Along
the way, he helped invent free-jazz guitar.
The flautist and bandleader Herbie
Mann, who employed Sharrock and
his then-wife Linda in the late 60s,
referred to the unfettered guitarist as my
Coltrane. And, indeed, Sharrocks own
awakening as a musician happened as a
teenager when he heard John Coltranes
performances on the immortal Miles
Davis album, Kind of Blue. Although it
took until 1966, when he was 26 and
playing with Coltranes sax-wielding
friend Pharoah Sanders, for the light bulb
that illuminated his approach to ignite.
I remember the very day I learned
to play out, Sharrock told me when
we first met in 1988. Pharoah had this
technique of overblowing the horn. It
sounded like very fast tonguing, like a
buzz saw. I tried to copy it by trilling
on the guitar and found that I could get
a huge sound, but more human, like a
voice. Then I tried to stretch it by pulling
strings and bending notes, and that was
the beginning.
The end came too soon. After decades
of struggleeven leaving performing
and recording to work as a chauffeur
and a music therapist for mentally
challenged childrenSharrock died just
as the worlds doors were fully opening
for him and his music. Three years after
releasing 1991s majestic Ask the Ages,
a graceful, expansive, and clamorous
return to the 60s free-blowing aesthetic
that had inspired his beginningsan
album that ended up on major jazz and
rock critics top 10 lists and propelled
Sharrock toward stardomhe was on the
verge of signing his first major-label deal.
To prepare for that milestone, he was
exercising at his home in Ossining, New
Yorkthe small city in the shadow of
the notorious maximum-security prison
called Sing Singand dropped dead
from a heart attack. He was 53.

70 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Sharrock left behind an amazing


legacy of recordings. As a sideman, hed
played on Miles Davis A Tribute to Jack
Johnson paired with John McLaughlin,
and he made seven albums with Mann,
including the influential Memphis
Underground. He also played on Sanders
1966 classic Tauhid, Wayne Shorters
innovative Super Nova, Don Cherrys
Eternal Rhythm, and discs by Ginger
Baker, Roy Ayers, soul/avant jazz-fusion
band Brute Force, and new-wave avantfunk outfit Material, among many others.
Before his 80s re-emergence, Sharrock
had recorded two albums as a leaderhis
1969 debut Black Woman and 1970s
Monkey-Pockie-Booand cut 1975s
Paradise co-billed with Linda Sharrock.
When he returned to full service, he did
it with passion, making seven albums
from 1986 to 1993, ranging from the

all-solo instrumental Guitar to the


blithe, melody possessed Highlife to the
soundtrack for the cartoon Space Ghost
Coast to Coast. He was also a member
of Last Exit, perhaps the wildest bunch
of free-improvising gunslingers to ever
take a stage, along with bassist/auteur
Bill Laswell, drummer Ronald Shannon
Jackson, and reedman Peter Brtzmann.
Theyd never played together until
Laswell summoned them to a festival
in Kln to perform and simultaneously
record an album in February 1986. In
Last Exit, Sharrock delivered some of his
most furious, unpredictable solosoften
employing the solid Stevens bar he used
for slide to conjure the kinds of sounds
one would expect to emit from the
gates of hell. (And the Pearly Gates, too,
because Sharrock had a gift for creating
angelic melodies.)

Photo by Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos

In mid-flight
during a
1992 concert,
Sharrock fused
energy and
intellect into
a breathtaking
dialog with
his audience.
Note his T-shirt,
from a Last Exit
performance
at Johnny Ds
in Somerville,
Massachusetts,
on February 2,
1990, one of the
bands three U.S.
performances.

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This year, Takamine pays homage to this thunderous
instrument with the introduction of the EF75M TT.
The guitar marries solid Madagascar rosewood back and sides
to a premium Sitka spruce thermal top for a mature, played-in
voice. It is lovingly appointed with striking abalone purfling and
flame maple binding. Stealthy TLD-2 electronics allow clear
amplification without interrupting the guitars classic lines.
Truly a breathtaking instrument with sweet, balanced tone.
Limited to 100 pieces worldwide.

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for more information, contact The ESP Guitar Company, 10913 Vanowen St., North Hollywood, CA 91605

800-423-8838

By the Horns
The great American improvising guitarist
Henry Kaiser bought his first guitar
and slide the day he heard Sharrock on
Sanders Tauhid. Kaiser went on to play
with Sharrock (and scores of others),
and recently released the tribute album,
Echoes for Sonny, with fellow Sharrock
cohort and guitarist Robert Musso.
He summarizes the late genius thusly:
Sonny was the kind of guitarist who
comes along once in a generationif
thatas special as Hendrix, Django,
and B.B. King. A magical person. No
one has made a more original statement
on the instrument. Sonny had as much
heart as B.B. or Carlos Santana. He stood
in the middle of what was happening
in black jazz in the 60s, socially and
politically, and in the beginning of free
jazz. Without Sonny Sharrock, there is no
Vernon Reid, no Sonic Youth so many
things people have embraced musically.
And his slide playing is
unprecedented, Kaiser continues. Its
technical and non-technical at the same
time, so it was accessible to me the
moment I heard it. Just how original
was he? Well, if you look to B.B. King,
first there was T-Bone Walker. For Jimi
Hendrix, youve got the influence of
Curtis Mayfield and Muddy Waters. For
Sonny, there aint nuthin. Hes the first
guitarist with his footprint on the moon.
Sharrocks Earthly arrival was on August
27, 1940, in Ossining, where he spent
much of his life. Dads full name was
Warren Harding Sharrock, Jr., after my
grandfather, but he never liked that name,
says his daughter, Jasmyn Sharrock. The
stories of the 29th presidents affiliation
with the Ku Klux Klan were a thorn, and
Sharrock quickly adopted what his family
called him as his handle.
His first musical obsession was vocal
groups, like the Moonglows and Orioles.
The greatest thing Id seen until then
was Red Ryder and Little Beaver on
their horses, Sharrock recalled, but
these groups were the hippest. They had
matching suits, did coordinated steps,
and they sounded incredible. At 14, his
baritone singing earned him a spot with
an integrated group of neighborhood kids

72 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

SONNY SHARROCKS Sonic Workshop


The sonic secrets of Sonny Sharrocks 60s and 70s career are largely
lost, although in photos and videos from that era hes always seen with
a Yamaha hollowbody that appears to be a lawsuit ES-175. He talked
about using distortion pedals then, but didnt specify a model. He
played through a Fender ampoften a Twin Reverb.
By the time of his 80s renaissance, hed gone to solidbodies and
played at least two 70s Les Paul Customs: the Black Beauty he favored
and a dark cherry model. In Japan with Last Exit, he had the action on
one Les Paul set incredibly high, Musso recalls. He said that after he
practiced on that guitar, he could really blaze on the one with the lower
action. His amps were 50- or 100-watt Marshall heads plugged into
Marshall 4x12s. For Ask the Ages, he rented a 50-watt Marshall head
from SIR and used a Dunlop wah pedal.
Sharrock employed the neck pickup almost exclusively, and had
ordered a black Les Paul with only a neck pickup from Gibson, says
Musso. He passed before it was delivered. I asked Gibson what happen
to it, and they werent sure.
There was one other item Sharrock wouldnt take the
stage without during the 80s and 90s: his red sneakers.
He said they brought him luck.

who called themselves the Echoes. The


other guys were a lot older, but Id just
pencil in my moustache and go right on
into the club.
A few years later, in 1959, he was
listening to Symphony Syd, the hot
jazz DJ on New York Citys WJZ, and
heard Kind of Blue. I saw Miles band
that summer and I was gone from that
moment on, Sharrock recalled. He
began a lifelong obsession with horns and
drums. But I couldnt afford either, and I
had asthma, so I knew I couldnt play the
saxophone. His consolation prize was his
first guitar, which he purchased in 1960,
and he split Ossining for Boston and the
Berklee College of Music in 61.
There were 26 guitarists enrolled,
and I was ranked 25th, he recounted.
Then the 26th guy left and I was at the
bottom. He didnt stay much longer.
Armed with the basics of music theory,
Sharrock moved to California in 1962
and lived in a trailer with several other
struggling musicians while trying to
pick up gigs and sessions. But not before
suffering one more indignity.

I got into a band


and we worked
for just one night
at a coffeehouse in
Cambridge, he said.
Sam Rivers and Tony
Williams were in town and
decided to sit in, and they destroyed
us. He laughed and shook his head.
They played Milestones at a tempo Id
never realized existed!
Ultimately, he found his musical
home in mid-60s New York City.
When I got there, I ran into Sun Ra
on 125th Street and I asked to study
with him. He said, Come by. So I went
to his place and Pat Patrick, Marshall
Allen, and all these heavies from his
band were there, and Sun Ra showed me
two movies. That was the extent of the
lesson. Real weird! But while I was there,
they got a call from [Nigerian drummer
and bandleader] Olatunji about a gig.
I heard Pat say, Yeah, Ive got a guitar
player here. I thought, He cant be
talking about me. Thats how I ended up
working with those guys. They were very

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nice to me, because I didnt know what


the hell I was doing.
So Sharrocks bona fide apprenticeship
on the bandstand and in the studio
began, including the important work
with Sanders that set him exploring
dissonance, distortion, slurred licks,
and skittering, screaming slide, as well
as melodic excursions inspired by horn
players, classical music, and blues. His
tone grew darker, richer, and bigger, and
would continue to do so throughout his
career as he upgraded gear and further
defined himself. He also began using
distortion pedals, so he could compete
with the sound of an overblown tenor sax.
Clearing the Room
Sharrock was recording and performing
with reed player Byard Lancaster when he
got a telegramhe was so broke that he
didnt have a phoneasking him to call
Herbie Mann.
Mann fused jazz and pop, and
had been among the musicians whod

popularized the bossa nova in the States


during the early 60s. He sold a lot of
records across a spectrum of listeners. He
also had broad tastes and was looking for
a connection within his own music to the
free jazz sounds that were exciting him.
Soon, Sonny was getting the spotlight
once at every Mann concert, and he was
joined there by vocalist Linda Chambers,
who hed later marry, when she was also
hired for Manns group.
Id reached a point where I wanted to
have some contrast in the band, Mann
told me in 1988. His audience had not.
The reaction was often hatetotal
hate, Mann said.
Sharrock remembered a gig with
Mann at a Florida jazz festival. It was
at a marina, and all these people came
in yachts, he said. In the middle of
Herbies set, Linda and I came out to do
Black Woman.
The song was the title track to
Sharrocks debut album, the result of a
deal Mann has brokered with the Atlantic

Records subsidiary Vortex. They all sailed


away, the guitarist recalled, chuckling.
Decades and an upswing in his
popularity didnt necessarily change all
audiences. When he and Henry Kaiser
took the stage to play duets at an Italian
jazz festival in 1987, following the staid
Modern Jazz Quartet, the audience was
like a tidal wave, Sharrock recounted.
We cleared the room instantly. My
[second] wife, Nettie, cried, because shed
never seen anything like that before. He
laughed, gently. I said, Cmon, thats
nothing! Do you want me to clear out
the ushers, too?
Humor was another of Sharrocks
trademarks. And his friends and
bandmates loved him for his wicked oneliners and playful skewerings. It was as
if I was on a laughing-gas high, recalls
Pheroan akLaff, one of the two drummers
in Sharrocks juggernaut Seize the Rainbow
band. If we went on the road, there
would be continuous Don Rickles-style
jokes hurled about you from the moment

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PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 73

of airport check in until we said goodbye.


In fact, I dont ever remember him saying
goodbye, unless it came in an insult. That
was his way of expressing love.
His daughter Jasmyn also loved
Sharrock for his playful spirit. Dad was
by no means the disciplinarian among
her parents. He encouraged her to dance
as they listened to music together, and
took her on frequent excursions into
New York City. The time he spent in
Manhattan shaped him as a young man,
she says. He wanted me to experience
the heartbeat of the city, and because of
that I became a city rat as an adult and
have never lived in the suburbs.
At our first meeting, I asked Sharrock
how he felt about his decades of struggle.

His reply: Ive been trying to sell out for


years, but nobodys been buying.
And despite Sharrocks avowal to find
a way for the terror and the beauty to
live together in one song, there was also
humor in his music. It was woven into the
grinning, peppy melody of Blind Willie,
a sweet n droney composition on his first
album, and the chipper themeand even
the titleof his Seize the Rainbow tune
The Past Adventures of Zydeco Honey
Cup. He also laughed and joked with
his audiencesoften with pointed wit. A
video from a 1988 show at the original
Knitting Factory, his New York home base
in the 80s, features this song introduction:
This is dedicated to the South African
government, the Israeli government, and

those brothers that are gonna git yo ass on


the way home. Its called Stupid Fuck.
But he had nearly a decade of
hurdles to clear before becoming a
darling of the downtown Manhattan
music scene. Driven to experiment with
pop due to lagging record sales and
gigging opportunities, he and Linda,
an astoundingly potent vocalist who,
like Sonny, worked in sheets of sound
rather than conventional language, made
the album Paradise. Sonny declared it
a disaster, and the disc headed straight
to the cutout bins. Today, Paradise is
appreciated for its beauty and riskiness,
but the guitarist considered the album on
Atlantics Atco subsidiary a self-betrayal
of the creative aesthetic hed forged.

SANTANA TALKS SHARROCK


Given Sonny Sharrocks relative obscurity and the
iconoclastic nature of his music, its surprising to hear
a high-profile artist like Carlos Santana work one of
Sharrocks tunes into his sets. Nonetheless, Dick Dogs
from Seize the Rainbow is occasionally a hard-rocking
highlight of Santana concerts, and Carlos says his solo
for Bliss draws straight from the well.
I was ready to do a tour with him, record with him,
and then he left us, Santana explains. We talked a few
times on the phone after he found out I was fully into
him, and he was such a gentlemen and very gracious
and encouraging. To me, he was a tornado when he
played and he left an imprint with his melodies, of
course, but I was also into the energy.
The guitar legend says he first heard Sharrock on
Wayne Shorters 1969 fusion classic Super Nova. The
next year, Santana caught Sharrock live in Montreux,
playing with Herbie Mann. He had a big fro and a fringe
jacket and was laying into it, and I was, like, Dang, this is
a very radical dude! I couldnt take my eyes off of Sonny,
because when he went into his solo it was like Coltrane
and Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, John Gilmore, Pete Cosey,
and Larry Young all togetherinterdenominational
intergalactic music. It was a thing of beauty. I remember
a lot of people got up and left because they were not
ready; their minds were, like, 110 and he was 220. I was
like, This is the shit! Sonny Sharrock and [P-Funks]
Maggot Brainthat was a new way. So refreshing to
hear something so different from Queen, Hendrix, Jeff
Beck, or Led Zeppelin, but at that level of mastery.

74 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

So Santana sought out Sharrocks recordings,


discovering a consistent boldness of tone and
purposethe latter expressed, particularly, in numbers
like Black Woman and Portrait of Linda in Three
Colors, All Black, which were rallying calls for AfricanAmerican empowerment and identity, and for pure,
heart-expressed sound.
If you want to get a tone like Sonny Sharrock or
Stevie Ray or John McLaughlin, you have to be really
willing to die. Right now, right here, Santana relates.
It aint no pedals that are going to give you that sound.
It aint no amplifier. It aint no guitar. If you could see
like a psychic that going for that next note or that
particular solo, you might be checking out then fuck
it, you check out. It means that much to you. SonnyI
would call him a liberator. If you really listen, artists
like that can liberate you from your own fear. Hes like
Coltranehes the cosmic lion. And when he roars he
wakes people up from the nightmare of feeling limited
and unworthy.

YOUTUBE IT
Carlos Santanas version of Sonny Sharrocks Dick Dogs is off the chain. Watch
Carlos get rad with Stevens bar slide at
5:50and wail like a banshee on his Paul
Reed Smith signature model throughout.
YouTube search term: SANTANA - SONNY
SHARROCK - KAISER GOLD SOUNDS 1996 - SP

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Far right:
Last Exit was the
wildest bunch of
free-improvising
gunslingers
to ever take a
stage. From left
to right: Peter
Brtzmann,
Sonny Sharrock,
Bill Laswell, and
Ronald Shannon
Jackson.

We cleared the room instantly. My wife, Nettie, cried,


because shed never seen anything like that before.
I said, Cmon, thats nothing! Do you want me to clear
out the ushers, too? Sonny Sharrock
I worked hard to be me, he declared.
I like drums and I like Coltrane. People
used to get mad at me because Id get
hired for a gig and Id say, I aint gonna
play chords. Thats guitar. Im a horn
player. I just play a fucked-up horn.
In 1978, he put down his horn
at least in public. He and Linda got
divorced and he moved back to Ossining.
I worked with disturbed kids for a while,
which was very demanding, he said.

76 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Then I got a job as a chauffeur. Not a


bad gig, but not what Im supposed to
do. He also remarried, to Jeanette Hill,
and they had Jasmyn.
Thankfully, Bill Laswell knew what
Sharrock was supposed to do. Hed fallen
under Sharrocks spell in his early teens.
In high school, when we first heard
him, it was on Herbie Mann records,
Laswell says. When Sonnys solo came
on, wed pick the needle up off the

record to see what was wrong. It sounded


like the guitar exploded. At age 15,
Laswell hitchhiked from Michigan to the
Newport Jazz Festival and saw Sharrock
play with Mann. He made a great
impression on me, Laswell recalls.
The bassist/producer caught one of
Sonny and Linda Sharrocks final gigs in a
small club after moving to New York City
in the late 70s. He also got Sharrocks
number. In 1981, he used it, inviting
Sharrock to come play in the punk
clubs as a guest with his band Material.
Sharrock also played on the groups debut
album, Memory Servesa gloriously
fractured mix of rock, free improv, and
funk grooves.
While his own star rose as a producer
for Mick Jagger, Fela Kuti, Peter Gabriel,
and others, Laswell dedicated himself
to nurturing Sharrocks comeback,
producing Guitar and Seize the Rainbow,
and organizing Last Exit. And Sharrock,
thus encouraged, assembled a quartet
around the rhythm section of drummers
akLaff and Abe Speller, and bassist Melvin
Gibbs, whos gone on to play with the
Rollins Band and currently co-leads the
ambitious jazz group Harriet Tubman.
Seize the Rainbow was unprecedentedly
hard-rocking jazz: less ornate and overtly
virtuosic than the Mahavishnu Orchestra
and other volcanic fusion outfits, while
more rooted, basic, and expressiveat
least until Sharrock took off on one of
his slide solos that seemed destined for
Pluto. Live and on album, he drove his
guitar to unpredictable places, and yet,
within the framework of a few carefully
selected notes, could return to a songs
core melody in seconds and with perfect,
logical balance. It was breathtaking.

Top left: Photo by Paul Robicheau

Right: When
Sharrock
traveled to
Japan, he took
two Les Paul
Customs. One
had extremely
high action, for
practice. The
other was set
close to the
neck, for speed.

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The Pinnacle
By 87, Sharrock was playing a Les Paul Custom
through a Marshall half-stack, sidestepping
the hollowbody jazz guitars and Fender amps
hed used in his earlier work, opting for more
volume and tube gain instead of an overdrive
pedal. Id come back from England, producing
Motrhead, and I told him about using
Marshalls real loud, and he got into it, says
Laswell. When we got to Japan with Last Exit,
he had a whole wall of Marshalls and hed gotten
his black Les Paul, and that was his sound. But
his sound, even via that classic combination
of guitar and amp, was uniquely liquid and
colorfula thick, sweet sonic syrup that could
suddenly leap like lava.
Laswell also turned guitarist and engineer Robert
Musso on to Sharrocks music. Musso mixed and
engineered Seize the Rainbow and most of Sonnys
recordings that followed. He also drafted Sharrock
to record and gig with his own band, Machine
Gun, and they became running buddies.
He used slightly different guitars and amps
every time I recorded him, Musso recalls.
Sometimes Id use an SM57 and sometimes a
Sennheiser MD 421 on his amp, and hed use Les
Pauls and wah-wah pedals set in certain positions
to get the tone he was looking for. No matter
what he did, it was Sonny and it sounded great.
For Gibbs, Seize the Rainbow was one of
the most memorable album sessions hes done.
When Sonny started playing around town
again, I started following him until he hired
me, says Gibbs, whod just quit playing in
Ronald Shannon Jacksons Decoding Society.
I remember one gig where I said, Let me just
play some shit and see what Sonny does, and I
played wild and he just kinda smiled like, yeah,
I got you, and played it back at me. Playing
with him helped me figure out who I was.
After a handful of shows with Sharrock,
Gibbs was instructed to be at Electric Lady
Studios at 7 on a night in May 1987. We
couldnt have spent more than two hours
recording, he recalls. We recorded Dick Dogs
first, and I was still kind of fuckin around with
my headset during the take, and Sonny was like,
Thats great. On to the next song. I thought,
Oh, were not fuckin around today! When we
were done, I looked up at the clock and it was
like, Shit! 10 oclock!
The seven-song Rainbow was edgy, accessible,
and adventurous at the same time, and it
introduced Sharrock to the rock world as

premierguitar.com

well, earning him a new audience


that continued to expand for the
remaining years of his life.
Live in New York, cut at a 1989
Knitting Factory show, came next.
It was followed by Highlife, which
features Jasmyn and her dad on the
cover and is Sharrocks most melodyfocused albuma calculated effort
to boost his audience even more as
he worked toward a grand vision of

recapturing the glories of 60s free


jazz in the studio. Touring behind
this succession of albums and hitting
the stage and studio with Last Exit
kept accumulating the capital he
needed to realize that vision. A set of
guitar duets with Nicky Skopelitis,
who worked regularly with Laswell,
called Faith Moves was next. And
then Sharrock reached goal in 1991
with Ask the Ages.

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 77

FACTOID
After Sharrocks death in 1994, the Black Rock Coalition
held a memorial concert in his honor in New York Citys
Central Park. This booklet was produced for the event.

With Laswell producing and Musso


engineering, he entered Laswells
studio with free jazz giants Sanders and
drummer Elvin Jones, and Charnett
Moffett, a 24-year-old bass wunderkind
who nailed the vibe of elder statesmen
like Paul Chambers and Percy Heath.
The result was a musical perfect storm.
In six tunes, Sharrock built a sonic
bridge between his own past and future,
supported by big, buttery guitar tones
that boldly laid out succulent, easily
digestible riffs. The guitar and horn
unison head of Promises Kept, the
loving melody of Who Does She Hope
to Be? (written for Jasmyn), and the
riveting, intense Many Mansions were
the work of an artist whod tied together
all the elements of his soul.
Sharrock set the scene for cutting that
last, magical tune: Pharoah was in the
glass booth on one side of the room.
Charnett was on the other side. I was
out on the floor sitting across from Elvin
laying down the drone, and I flashed
back. Looking at him and hearing him
up close, it was suddenly the first time I
saw him back at Birdland with Coltrane.
And I lost it. I totally lost the tune,
because he was playing such a deep, deep
groove. I went into a total fan thing and
forgot about being a musician, because
it was just too good. You can hear my
mistake on the record, too, because I
wanted to keep that.
Sure, the sound of Ask the Ages
was something hed begun sculpting

78 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

in 67, but, Sharrock explained, it


wasnt complete at that point. Now it is
complete, and its ready to be heard. And
today its ready to be heard again. Late
last year Laswell reissued Ask the Ages on
his M.O.D. Technologies label, and its
still stunning and full of heart.
The album gave Sharrock wings. He
toured more, and he felt that his playing
continued to improveas odd as that
sounded to us knocked-out acolytes. And
then, he died. Leaving so much fantastic
music unmade.
I remember him saying that after his
grandmother told him he should go to
church, he told her, No grandma you
should listen to John Coltrane, says

akLaff. His generation had that clarity.


Him, Carlos Santanathey each have
the depth of spirituality as their most
earnest goal, and to reach it through their
instruments and share it with others.That
came out in Sonnys playing.
The biggest thing I learned from
being around my dad is to never
compromise who you are, say Jasmyn
Sharrock. Integrity is the first word that
comes to mind. My dad never changed
who he was regardless of who was
around. He stood up for what he believed
in: doing the right thing and being a kind
person. It sounds corny, but he believed
if you do the right thing, then things will
work out. He was always a class act.

YOUTUBE IT
Since Sonny Sharrock died a full decade before the dawn of the YouTube/
smartphone era, there isnt a wealth of visual records of his performances.
But these three clips sample his creative arc.
Here, Sharrock plays an Italian TV appearance with one of Herbie
Manns Memphis Underground-era groups. Sharrock is playing a Yamaha hollowbody guitar through a silverface Twin Reverb, and cuts
loose at 1:45 with flurries, slurs, and trills.
YouTube search term: Herbie mann with sonny sharrock 5 tet

Linda and Sonny Sharrock led their own band for this performance
of Peanut from Black Woman on the French TV show Jazz Session.
Sonnys dynamics, note choices, and chordal outbursts are totally
unpredictable, and yet, his and Lindas interplay display their thenshared vision at work.
YouTube search term: Sonny Sharrock live October 3, 1970. Jazz
Session French TV. mp4

And heres Sharrock on stage at the original Knitting Factory in 1988


with his double-drums Seize the Rainbow band. He comes out of
the gate ripping, alternating between flurries of notes and warm
melodies. At four minutes, bassist Melvin Gibbs steers the tune into
funk. And when Sharrock breaks out his slide after six minutes, all
hell breaks loose!
YouTube search term: The Sonny Sharrock Quartet Stupid Fuck

premierguitar.com

PORTRAITS

IN TONE
The great thing about the RK5 Fly Rig is that I now have my ideal
pedalboard with the effects I use most, which is reverb, delay and
overdrive, in a tiny little box that I can literally put in my backpack. So
Im carrying my guitar rig, for the most part, in my backpack.
What makes the RK5 so different from the standard Fly Rig is the
overdrive circuit. This is something that Andrew [Barta, president of
Tech 21] and I spent a good 6 months designing --going back and forth,
trying to verbalize what audio qualities I wanted. And finally we came to
what we call the OMG section.

Actual size: 11.5l x 2.5w x 1.25h Weight: 18.6 oz.

The thing thats really cool about it is Andrew put in the SansAmp. And
what that enables you to do is literally revoice any amp. I can plug into
a really clean amp and get my sound the same way I can plug into a
dirty amp and get my sound. So you can get a great sound live through
an amp, and, if the amp goes down, by using the Sans-Amp, you can
literally plug right into the PA and get a fantastic guitar tone.
Beyond putting the RK5 in front of an amp, you can also use it direct. I
took this pedal into the studio for The Winery Dogs Hot Streak record.
Theres a song, in particular, called The Lamb, with a middle solo
section where you can really hear the Tech 21 RK5 direct.

Photo by Michael Mechnig

So this pedal is very versatile, its very convenient, extremely reliable,


built to perfection. -- Richie Kotzen

The Richie Kotzen OMG Signature Overdrive


is also available as a stand-alone pedal.

DESIGNED AND MANUFACTURED BY TECH 21 USA, INC.

THE
POWER
OF
NOW

Photo by Travis Shinn

BY FREDDY VILLANO

Bassist Tim Commerfords new in-your-face trio,


Wakrat, is on tour opening for his other band,
Prophets of Rage. He describes tracking the bands
eponymous debut and how the intense, jazz-inspired
music is making him play better than ever.
PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 81

im Commerfords new band,


Wakrat (pronounced wokrat),
recently staged a protest in
London in response to the Brexit
vote, where they attempted to establish
the Republic of Wakrat by planting a
flag in Parliament Squares center. Last
year Commerford lit himself on fire in
Future Users Mountain Lion video.
Back in 2000 he climbed the stage scaffolding at the MTV Video Music Awards
in objection to Limp Bizkit winning the
Best Rock Video award over his thenband Rage Against the Machine. Simply
put, Commerford is a fierce, honest individual who wears his heart on his sleeve
and likes to shake up the establishment.
From RATMs Killing in the Name,
with its Fuck you, I wont do what
you tell me! call-to-arms chorus to
Wakrats recently released second single,
Generation Fucked, Commerford
always seems to be in a band with a
strong message. Though youd think it
takes a certain amount of acumen to
launch an activism-motivated musical
act, Commerford insists hes never had
any preconceived notions of what hes
going to do musically or otherwise.
Opportunities present themselves,
whether its Rage Against the Machine or
Future User or Wakrat, he says. Its just
about going in a new direction.
Despite such uncalculating
methodologies, Commerford has already
captured lightning in a bottle twice in his
careerfirst with RATM and again with
Audioslave. His muscular, riff-oriented
bass lines with RATM, the foundation of
songs like Bombtrack, Killing in the
Name, Bullet in the Head, and Calm
Like a Bomb, have become such a part
of the canon that they are as commonly
played in music stores by aspiring bass
players as Stairway to Heaven or
Enter Sandman are by young guitarists.
With Audioslave, there was less social
commentary, but the music was no less
potent. Commerfords playing on Show
Me How to Live, Like a Stone, and I

82 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Am the Highway is more nuanced, the


ultimate lesson in refinementless is
more to the nth degree.
Last year Commerford launched a
series of music videos (and ultimately
an album via iTunes) under the banner
of Future User, mixing EDM, prog,
and his deft bass playing into a sound
he dubbed progtronic. It was a less
high-profile, but equally compelling,
studio-only project, exploring different
genres of music than what hed previously
been associated with, and it revealed a
lot about Tims influence on his other
outfitsthe overall fierce attitude and
socio-political messages behind RATM
are present in songs like Mountain
Lion and Clockwork, for example.
Im proud of the amount of music Ive
been able to contribute in Rage and
Audioslave, and I like to think Im a little
bit unsung, he says.
Now comes Wakrat. Structurally, its
a completely different animal from any
of Commerfords other bands, but it still
features whats becoming his indelible
imprint. The grooving, mammoth bass
tone is unmistakable, but instead of
channeling hip-hop grooves through the
lens of hard rock, on Wakrat Commerford
takes on jazz-inspired odd-time signatures
and plays them with a punk-rock attitude.

In songs like The Number and Nail in


the Snail, his bass snakes its way through
frenetic timing, providing a melodic
counterpoint to the mechanical precision of
guitarist Laurent Grangeon and drummer
Mathias Wakrat. Upon first listen, it
would seem that the bass is the catalyst
for the music, but its actually Laurent
and Mathias, both French nationals, who
generate most of the material.
Wakrat was not an idea of mine,
Commerford candidly admits. It was
just being in the right place at the right
time. So much of music and being a
successful musician is luck, and I just
got lucky. Despite this humility, Wakrat
proves yet again that Commerford has
been one of the most forward-thinking,
influential figures in the bass community
over the past three decades.
As he prepares to hit the road with the
newly formed Prophets of Rage, its an
especially big moment for Commerford,
as Wakrat will play an opening set on
the tour. Its proving to be a welcoming
challenge for the bassist, who will also
sing in Wakrat while playing technically
difficult bass lines. In a couple of
months, Ill be the best bass player Ive
ever been, he says. Im never going
to be Jaco, but Im going to be the best
Timmy C ever.

Photo by Travis Shinn

On Wakrat, Tim
Commerford
played his
Lakland
Joe Osborn
Signature bass
strung with
Rotosound Tru
Bass black nylon
flatwounds.
The ones Paul
McCartney
used, he says.
Its a cool
sound.

premierguitar.com

Subtly Very
Different
The 594 is the best new guitar
Ive played in years. It has a
vintage heart and soul but
without the technical
limitations that usually come
along with an old instrument.

2016 PRS Guitars / Photo by Marc Quigley

John Mayer

McCarty 594
The 594 has subtle but significant differences from past McCarty models. The obvious changes are the new
position of the pickup selector, the 58/15 LT (low turn) pickups with coil taps and a knob layout that feels like
home to a lot of players. To find out what else we changed to make this guitar feel and sound like a worn-in
vintage instrument that plays in tune and delivers modern reliability, visit our website. www.prsguitars.com

Wakrat is Tim
Commerford on
bass, and French
transplants
Laurent
Grangeon on
guitar and
Mathias Wakrat
on drums.

BASSES
Music Man StingRay HH (Wakrat)
Music Man StingRay HS
(Prophets of Rage)
Lakland Joe Osborn Signature

AMPS
70s Ampeg SVTs (four)
Ampeg SVT-2PRO (for distortion)
Ampeg 8x10 cabinets

EFFECTS
Homemade overdrives
Marshall The Guvnor
Dunlop 105Q Bass Wah
Aphex Punch Factory
MXR Phase 90
Custom ABY amp selector

STRINGS
Ernie Ball Slinky Bass (.050.105)
Rotosound Tru Bass RS88LD black nylon
(.065.115)

84 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

How challenging is it nowadays to


launch a new, original band like Wakrat?
Its never easy to play original music. Its
always going to feel uncomfortable. Back
when Rage first played, and we were
mixing metal and punk with hip-hop,
no one else was doing that, but we never
worried about it. We just did it because
we liked it and it worked out. I feel that
same uncomfortable feeling in Wakrat.
This music is like nothing else thats
happening right now. Are people going
to dig it? If they dont, thats fine. Every
single song is full of cursing and if people
dont like that, the lyrics are for them.
Thats how I feel. In Pigs in a Blanket

the chorus is, Fuck with me and Ill kill


you all. I love that.
How did you meet Laurent and Mathias?
Through Zack de la Rocha. Mathias owns
a restaurant in Eagle Rock and Zack lived
right next to it. He knew that Mathias
rode mountain bikes and said I should
ride with him, so I did. I got to know
him and I started inviting him over to my
house for Thanksgiving and Christmas,
and the next thing you know hes telling
me hes a drummer. I never really took
him seriously and then one day he came at
me with some music that he and Laurent
had recorded. It was actually greatit
reminded me of the punk music I grew up
on like Bad Brains, Fugazi, and Helmet.
It also delves into jazz, which I love. I was
blown away by the intricacy of the time
signatures and the heaviness of it and how
different it sounded.
Why is the band named after Mathias?
Its sort of like Van Halen or Fleetwood
Mac or the Police. Stewart Copeland
formed the Police and I believe his
signature style on the drums shaped
the sound of that band. And Mathias is

Photo by Travis Shinn

TIM COMMERFORDS GEAR

Is it important to you that your music


is socially relevant, lyrically speaking?
We have a wide spectrum of song
topics, but they all come from the heart.
Generation Fucked is sort of about the
world we live in today, but its really inspired
by reading Platos Allegory of the Cave and
feeling like, Wow, thats the world we live
in. Were chained in a cave and were seeing
shadows on the wall and were not really
seeing whats behind those shadows. Maybe
we dont even want to know.

premierguitar.com

exactly the same. His signature drum style


shapes the riffs and the music we play. Its
his brainchild. He put the band together.
Did you immediately hear how you
would insert yourself into what was going
on musically?
No. I couldnt really wrap my head around
it at the start. I would listen to it, but it was
super hard for me to figure out. I initially
record the music in pieces using Pro Tools.
I would play it for Laurent and Mathias
asking, How do you guys feel about this
part for the verse? I did the vocals in
the same way. After doing it that way, we
learned to play the songs as a band and
I was able to sing and play them. I then
said to Laurent and Mathias, Now that
we know these songs, we should play them
authentically and honestly and record them
from start to finish, sing them from start
to finish. So we rerecorded the music and
thats what were now putting out. Its hard
to play, but I figured it out.
So, you rerecorded the entire record?
Yeah. I was able to sing the songs on our
demo recordings, which were a half-step
higher [the video for Knucklehead features
music from the demo version], but I would
blow my voice out every time. I wouldnt be
able to talk for a couple of days afterward.
And then when we went to play them live I
quickly realized the key signatures were too
high. Now we detune a half-step, so we do
dropped D tuning down to C#. Bringing
it down that half-step really made it a lot
easier to sing.
Were you able to finesse other aspects of
the music by that point?
Mathias is a machine on the drums, so
his parts sound just as good on the demo
as they do on the record. But I think that
Laurent and I were actually able to dial in
our tones a little bit more. Initially when
Laurent and Mathias wrote the arrangements
they didnt have a bass player. Laurent plays
a baritone guitar, so a lot of the bass in their
music came from the guitar, which was a
blessing sometimes. I could play higher parts
and feel like the low end was covered, but
then other times, when I wanted to rock as
a bass player, I felt like he was stepping on

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 85

Born in France, Laurent Grangeon wanted to play guitar,


but the music industry there just didnt inspire him. It was
airtight, closed, and pretentious, he recalls. So I just left.
He set out with nothing more than a bag of belongings, his
guitar, three nights booked in a hotel, and no permanent
address. He chose the U.S. as his destination simply because a
lot of the music he was listening to at the time came from the
States. Los Angeles, the city he now calls home, was basically
a random choice. The rest is history, he chuckles. Though
he and drummer Mathias Wakrat are both from France, they
actually only met for the first time in L.A. 10 years ago, at the
restaurant Mathias owns. We do have a lot of similarities
we took the same type of route in a way, says Grangeon.
Grangeon cites the Police and Bob Marley as early musical
favorites while he was growing up, but he didnt start playing
guitar until he was in his early 20s. He eventually got into
the Cure and Depeche Mode, then into the Manchester
scene, specifically the Stone Roses. Later on came the
Pixies and Seattles grunge era, but he says that sounds,
not bands, are essentially what drew him to the instrument.
I wasnt really into any one type of music in particular,
he says. I was just into soundeffects pedals and gear.
Grangeon has employed all kinds of effects over the years,
including phasers, delays, and chorus pedals, but relies more
heavily on ring modulators and filters to help craft Wakrats
voluminous soundscapes. They just sound different and the
opportunities are endless when you use them properly.
At the heart of Grangeons setup is what he refers to
as his tri-amp rig. I have a Rivera that is always my
backbone, he explains. Its just a mean, crunchy, punchy
sound with nothing on it. Then I have two other amps
where I send all kinds of different effects. His effects are
a combination of analog and digital gear, but live he relies
on an RJM Mastermind PBC as his main controller. I use a
lot of MIDI because of the tri-amp setup and I like to recall
effects at any time without having to tap dance. The RJM
simplifies everything.
Aside from the obvious impact effects have on their
musical identity, speed is another key element of Wakrats
sound. Laurent emphasizes the songs are powerful because
the band is tight. We own the click, he says. You cant
be fluctuatingup-tempo music has to be super tight or it
doesnt sound right. And they dont just record to a click, but
rehearse with one, too, often playing around with tempos,
even speeding songs up until theyre too fast and not
grooving anymore. Its just a curiosity, he says about driving
tempos to their brink. If we have a good groove well try it
faster just to fuck with it to see how it sounds. Sometimes it
even grooves better and sometimes it doesnt, but you have
to try to know. We are definitely driven by fast music.

86 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

LAURENT GRANGEONS GEAR


GUITAR
Music Man John Petrucci BFR6

AMPS
Rivera Knucklehead Reverb 100
Ampeg B42X
(modded by Tim Commerford)
Fender Bassman 50
(modded by Tim Commerford)
Bogner 4x12 cabinets with
Celestion Vintage 30s

EFFECTS
Fulltone Bass-Drive Mosfet
DigiTech Whammy (5th Generation)
Electro-Harmonix Stereo
Talking Machine
Line 6 M13 Stompbox Modeler
RJM Mastermind PBC Programmable
Pedal Switcher

STRINGS & PICKS


Ernie Ball Power Slinky (.011.048)
Ernie Ball Baritone Slinky (.013.072)
Dunlop 1 mm Tortex

Photo by Travis Shinn

Wakrat
guitarist Laurent
Grangeon puts
his pedals to
the metal.

me. We were able to weed that out and better


find our place in the music.
This is your first time singing lead and
playing bass, correct?
I did a little project before [Future User],
but this is the first time Ive ever tried to sing
and play live, and actually do it honestly and
bring it out. Its interesting how being a bass
player and trying to sing can make you a
better singer and being a singer and trying to
play bass can make you a better bass player.
No doubt its from learning when to breathe
and discovering other little tricks. I do a lot of
practicing singing and playing, and the other
day I just discovered a new little trick. I did a
pull-off and thought, Oh, I can breathe right
here and that makes it easier for me to sing
this next part and play that part. Its a puzzle
and I like puzzles.
When youre not playing live, how do you
stay in shape, musically speaking?
I play unamplified all the time. I just use my
electric bass and pluck the strings hard enough
to be able to hear myself acoustically. Thats
the way Ive always done it and Ive always felt
it has benefitted me.
Does pulling double-duty on your
upcoming tour with Wakrat and Prophets of
Rage present any unique challenges for you?
I have 40 songs that I have to know and have
my head wrapped around completely. Ive
never had to think about that much music
going into a tour, so thats required a lot of
home-time practicing, singing, and playing.
What differences between the two bands can
people expect when they see you live?
I dont think they step on each other,
physically or musically. My brain is challenged
to play Wakrat music. With Prophets, its
more of a physical thing. Its more like an
aerobics class. Its jumping around, whereas
with Wakrat Im on the mic the majority of
the time. They feel totally different. Tempos
are different. Styles are different.
Describe your right-hand technique and
how you attack the strings.
I grew up using three fingers. I was into
Duran Duran, Rush, and Iron MaidenI
love Steve Harrisand for me, playing those

galloping parts required three fingers. So


back then I used three fingers all the time.
[Editors note: Steve Harris uses only two fingers.]
Then when I got playing with Rage, I was
more diehardI felt like it was more solid
to play with two fingers. So with Rage I did
everything with two fingers. And now with
Wakrat, the tempos are too fast for me to
be able to do it with two fingers, so I had to
bring the third finger out of retirement.
So, if youre playing four-note patterns with
three fingers, does that mean you land on a
different finger for each downbeat?
We dont do any galloping triplet parts in
Wakrat. Its all fast 16th-notes, so Im leading
with a different finger every single time. Thats
the thing I focus on. At the end of each riff
I know what finger I should land on and if
I dont, I know I did something wrong
that and breathing. I know when I should
be taking a breath for singing and when I
should be landing on my index finger, and if
everything works out accordingly, thats how it
should be. And if it doesnt work out like that,
Ive done something wrong.
It must be challenging to sing and play
fingerstyle bass parts. Most singing bassists
seem to use a pick.
For some reason its easier for me to play
intricate parts using three fingers and sing
over the top than it is to play those same parts
with two fingers. I dont know why. I see guys
who play bass with a pick and sing. The pick
is more of a percussive tool. There are not a
lot of bass players playing with their fingers
who are singing. Its like an extra appendage or
something, like having three arms and two legs.
What basses did you use on the record?
I recorded Wakrat with Lakland Joe Osborn
Signature jazz basses strung with Rotosound
Tru Bass black nylon flatwoundsthe ones
Paul McCartney used. Its a cool sound
and I was planning on using that live, but
somewhere along the way I got approached
by Ernie Ball to play Music Man basses. I love
Bernard Edwards and Louis Johnson and I
grew up playing StingRay basses, but I hadnt
played one in a long time. So Ernie Ball gave
me one and it sounded perfect. I love the
way it feels. I did make some modifications. I
used a Dremel and ramped the pickup screw

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 87

Are you using flatwounds live?


No. Im using roundwounds. Theyre more
raw-sounding. It gives the overdrive a little
more fur and fills in the blanks a little
better. And they stay in tune much better.
What about amps? Are you still
using Ampeg?
I have four 70s Ampeg SVTs and several
SVT-2PROs for the overdrive. Theyre
tube heads that have a gain and drive
knob on them.
Youve become kind of synonymous
with using distortion on bass.
I never used distortion on bass until the
first Rage record. I used a Marshall The
Guvnor pedal with one amp. When we
made the second Rage record I decided I
needed to have an amp just for bass and
then another amp that comes on when
I use distortionit adds to whats there
instead of the low end dropping out. And
that led me into ultimately tinkering with
pedals and just geeking out.
Youre kind of notorious for tinkering
with your amps, too.
I love old Ampeg SVT heads. I absolutely
love them. And the cool thing about
them is that they all sound great, but
they all sound different. And its because
they were handmade with those old GE
tubes, which have a signature sound. So
I would get some Sovtek tubes, some
Groove Tubes, and some GE or Sylvania

88 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

tubes and experiment with each brand


to see what difference they make. And
then I discovered that 30-watt tubes
actually sound way different than 35-watt
tubes, and I didnt even know I could put
35-watt tubes in until I did it.
Did you have any prior knowledge
of electronics?
I took some electronics classes in college
and I can get my way around resistors and
different things. I was just experimenting.
I have a couple of distortion boxes that I
made. I Frankensteined parts from different
pedals into one pedal and every time I go
to make a record I always try to exclude
that pedal. And when I do, it sounds
good, but then Ill put that pedal on and it
sounds better, so I end up using it [laughs].
What inspired you to use distortion in
the first place?
I initially started using distortion because
I hate the sound of rhythm guitar. I never
wanted Tom Morello to go back and
put rhythm guitar underneath his guitar
solos. I just think that sounds like heavy
metal and I just dont like it. And so, I
use overdrive to sort of take the place of
the rhythm guitar. With Rage it was the
fifth member and with Wakrat its the
fourth member. Its the invisible rhythm
guitar player that hypes everything up.
You studied jazz for a while. What impact
did that have on your bass playing?
I learned how to work my way around
the neck using the modes. I played
upright with fingers, as well as a bow, and

I was pretty authentic, using the whole


side of my finger. I realized how much
of a sport it was and how much muscle
it takes. Its a hardcore thing to do. I
havent played the upright in a while and
I couldnt break it out right now and just
start playing. I would quickly get blisters
up the side of my finger. Thered be a
long period of relearning the instrument
because its just so athletic.
Did you study any artists in particular?
I love 60s bebop jazzMiles Davis, Eric
Dolphy, Pharoah Sandersand I look at
John Coltrane as the greatest musician
that ever lived. Ill never be a player
like that, but I can appreciate it. There
have been parts in Rage songs, like the
beginning of Bulls on Paradethats
just lifted from Coltranes My Favorite
Things. I was like, I can alter that a
little bit and make it super heavy. There
are a lot of things like that that Ive taken
from jazz. Now here I am in Wakrat
where most of Mathias patterns are really
jazz-oriented. So, thankfully I have some
understanding of it.
What advice do you have for that
kid out there whos in his or her first
band or whos about to pick up an
instrument?
Get together with your friends, with
people you respect and are inspired by,
and play music. If theyre not the best
players that doesnt mean thats not the
best choice. Its not the best players
that make the best bands; its the best
chemistry that makes the best bands.

Photo by Travis Shinn

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Tortured
Spirits

&

Two
Microphones
After pairing his backwoods vocal
drawl with a National Duolian for
20 years, C.W. Stoneking switches
to a Jazzmaster and primitive tube
combos to project a haunting,
primal, and fantastically unique
take on American Delta blues
through his Australian filter.
BY BILL MURPHY

90 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Photo by David McClister

premierguitar.com

rop a needle on a dusty old jazz


or blues 78 from the 40s, and
youll get an inkling of how it feels
to hear C.W. Stoneking for the
first time. Fever visions of sweaty juke
joints, late-night rent parties, and uptown
nightclubs packed with lindy hoppers rise
up from the black shellac grooves like heat
from a Mississippi highway, invoking all the
promises of mystery, romance, redemption,
and revenge that have drawn blues players
to the guitar for more than a century.
But this particular singer-songwriter
isnt just duplicating the sound and style
of a bygone era. A small-town native of
Australias remote Northern Territory,
Stoneking grew up in a household that
encouraged musical curiosity. His fathers
record collection was an eclectic mix that
ranged from early blues to classic 50s
gospel, inspiring the youngster to pick up
a guitar, teach himself some songs, leave
high school, and start busking on the
streets of Sydney. Along the way, in open
rebellion against the ubiquity of late-80s
pop all around him, hed so idealized and
internalized the very idea of the Blues that
he stumbled onto a signature all his own.
I was hanging with different people,
and some older guys who were musicians,
Stoneking recalls in his laid-back Aussie
drawl. I gradually got deeper and deeper
into blues, and it pretty much became
what I was into all the time. Then there
were aspects of it that I hunted down, and
they led me into other types of music
things that had some parallels, like old
calypso out of Trinidad, and a lot of old
gospel records, too.
He tried out the electric guitar and
taught himself the banjo, but when
he bought his 1931 National Duolian
resonator, he had the soundand the
volumehed been seeking. He was barely
30 when he recorded 2005s King Hokum,
which, in songs like Handyman Blues
and Shes a Bread Baker, captured the
stark, haunted, and howling spirit that
first drew him to the music of Charley
Patton, Son House, Skip James, and so
many other heroes. Three years later, he
came out with Jungle Bluesa concept
album that merged elements of hoodoo,
vaudeville, old-time radio dramas, sea

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 91

shanties, New Orleans-style ragtime, and


even Appalachian bluegrass, all with a
sizzling-hot horn section to top it off.
Onstage, Stoneking cuts an eccentric
profile, to say the least. Clad head-to-toe
in immaculate white cotton, with blackaccented bowtie and greased-back hair,
he resembles a young Richard Widmark
right off the set of a Hollywood noir.
Blues purists might be tempted to write
him off as an imitator or a huckster, until
it becomes apparent that this music is an
integral part of who he is. And he means it,
right down to his white buck shoes and his
hand tattoos (on his right hand, the names
of his sons, Atticus and Ishmael). Sure,
there are hints of Tom Waits and even
Screamin Jay Hawkins and Cab Calloway
in some of Stonekings sound and theatrics,
but hes an outright original whose time is
firmly rooted in the here and now.
His fifth and latest album, Gon Boogaloo,
released in 2014 in Australia and just
recently in the U.S., deepens the narrative.

92 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Shortly after he recorded Jungle Blues,


Stoneking decided to revamp his sound yet
againthis time by plugging in. He found
what he needed in the Fender American
Vintage reissue of the 65 Jazzmaster, but
it took some adjustments to make it work.
Stoneking had barely touched an electric
guitar for more than 20 years.
One of the hallmarks of Nationals is
they have barely any sustain, he explains.
Theyre all attack and no sustain, which
is what Ive found to be challenging going
through the electric, where it has much
more presence. So everywhere I looked,
people were telling me how Jazzmasters
have no sustain, and I thought, Maybe
this is the guitar for me. They also do
well with heavy-gauge stringsmore to
keep the vibrato system in check, so it
doesnt get too sloppy. On my National,
I play .016s or so, but I dont go quite so
heavy on the electric because I do want
to bend the strings. And thats when I
started to fiddle around with it.

First, he had the guitar retrofitted


with true-to-50s vintage pickups by Don
Mare in Long Beach, California. Then
he started familiarizing himself with the
whammy setup, which helped him begin
to simulate some of the horn parts hed
arranged for Jungle Blues. In the midst of
that, he discovered a new sound that was
very close to a Hawaiian slack-key guitar.
The vibrato system actually became
a big part of my playing, he says. Lots
of stuff I make with the horns will have a
slightly slurred front end on the notes. So
I found it gave everything a slight bit of
slurring on the front, and that seemed to
take the character a little closer to what it
was like being played by a horn section.
Plugging into an old Harmony 306A
combo thats prone to overheating,
as well as a custom 16-watt combo
built from the guts of an antique Bell
& Howell film projector, Stoneking
recorded Gon Boogaloo in two days
with a full band: bassist Andrew Scott,

Photo by Kane Hibberd

Stoneking rigs
his Jazzmaster
with heavy
strings to help
reduce sustain
and give the
instrument a
responsiveness
thats closer to
his resonator.
Meanwhile,
he uses the
vibrato arm
to imitate the
slurring sound
of the horns
on his previous
recordings.

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drummer Jacob Kinniburgh, and backing


singers Vika Bull, Linda Bull, Maddy
Kelly, and Memphis Kelly. Amazingly,
they tracked everything live to a 2-track
Ampex tape machine using only two
microphones in the roomjust about
as lo-fi as you can possibly get in this
age of laptop symphonies. The decision
wasnt entirely by choice [see Paleo
Recording: Capturing Gon Boogaloos
Primitive Vibe sidebar on the right], but
Stoneking and his bandmates made the
most of the situation by trying different
takes from different positions in the
roomessentially using mic bleed and
the room sound to their advantage.
Some of the guys were more nervous
about it than I was, he laughs. But I
thought we could do it, and I think we
pulled it off. Doing it on the fly like that,
theres always gonna be some shortcomings.
If we would have had a bit more time,
we probably could have ironed out some
things, but I was happy enough with it,
and recording was quite enjoyable.
From the spooky dancehall jump cuts
of The Zombie and Get on the Floor
to the loping tiki-style strains of On a
Desert Isle and the Carib-calypso groove
on The Thing I Done, Gon Boogaloo
switches gears with a mesmerizing,
hypnagogic effect. And against the
backdrop of Stonekings fascination with
New Orleans voodoo tradition (on the
albums cover shot, his face is painted
to resemble a sorcerers skull), each
song comes across as exotic, mysterious
and oddly psychedelic, no matter how
familiar and earthbound its bluesy
foundation might be.
Its funny, because the first time I
rode through Mississippi, it didnt look
anything like the mental image I had,
Stoneking says, ruminating over the
strange mosaic that inspires his music.
It looked like a cut-down jungle
this weird, hallucinated oil painting
of greens. It was very fertile, and not
anything like the arid, twisted, ancient
landscape I thought it was, which I came
to realize was completely Australian. So
in some ways, I feel like I just took that
sound and understood it through an
Australian filter.

94 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

PALEO RECORDING

Capturing Gon Boogaloos


Primitive Vibe
With his band only available for two days to
record the 12 songs on Gon Boogaloo, C.W.
Stoneking already had his work cut out for him. So
when he walked into Sound Recordings Studios
(just outside Melbourne, where he now lives) and
was told by engineer Alex Bennett that the 4-track
machine theyd intended to use had broken down the day before, he
feared the sessions might be jinxed.
First time I met him, Stoneking chuckles, he had an 8-track
machine there that hed already told me was a piece of junk, but we
started plugging into it anyway. We were checking out mics, and I
was having difficulty getting a guitar sound that I liked with a close
mic on the cabinet. I kept moving it further away until it was so far
across the room, I was like, Well, how much bleed am I getting into
my vocal mic?
Stonekings Jazzmaster actually sounded better bleeding into his
old RCA 77-DX ribbon microphoneand, he discovered, so did Andrew
Scotts double bass. By then, they were down to just a couple of
overhead mics on the drums when Bennett suggested they could switch
the setup over to a more reliable Ampex 351 1/4"-tape 2-track machine.
We did a pass of a song and it sounded a million times better,
Stoneking notes. It was a pretty minimal songone of the ballads
but I was like, Okay, lets just do it like this and well figure it out as
we go. So we pretty much built the band around the RCA, and I sang
into another microphone. [Authors note: The vocal mic was a vintage,
Soviet-made tube condenser, much like those used by radio announcers.]
Wed do a pass of each tune and have a listen back, and then just
position everybody. The amps and the drum set stayed where they
were, but for songs with acoustic bass, sometimes wed have to
reposition him or the singers to get the right mix.
As primitive as it sounds, the setup turned out to be crucial to the
overall atmosphere of Gon Boogaloo. The only way to mix was
to do it on the fly, using mic position and the room itself: with the
guitar, for example, sounding overdriven and upfront on The Jungle
Swing, or with the background singers clear and present on Good
Luck Charm and more submerged into the rhythm section on Get
on the Floor. And then, of course, because overdubs werent an
option, it meant going all-in and committing to each performance.
I think the energy takes over, Stoneking says, but in terms of
the old sound, I think it works because we kept it pure. For instance,
the old tube condenser mic that I sang into would overdrive when
I shouted into it, like some of Little Richards rock n roll records.
I was like, Yeah, lets keep it. That sounds pretty good. And then
I guess theres the tape compression, but we didnt add anything,
really, to the sound. It was very purejust performing straight to
tape. Bam, thats it!

premierguitar.com

without doing anything, whereas the electric


seemed like a lot of work to make it sound
good. Theres a hundred bad sounds and
a couple of good onesfor me, anyway.
But by the same token, it was a lot of fun
and very rewarding, because I was starting
to really feel Id been missing it a bit. I was
working with horn players, and I would
write a lot of the horn partsand they were
great improvisers as welland here I was
clunking along in the background. And I
thought, Well, you have ideas for music,
so when you make it up, just find a way
that you can play it, too, and then youre
speaking your own language. Im still
pretty sloppy, but Im getting there [laughs].
Are there particular electric guitar
players who influenced you, especially
after you got back to it?
Well, when I first heard the Mintons
[Playhouse] recording of Charlie
Christian playing Swing to Bop, I
just thought it was really good. I liked
the dissonance in there, but its still

strongly rooted in blues. I didnt really


have any musical understanding of
how he was achieving it, but I guess I
looked into some thingslike some of
his diminished sounds. Then I tried to
find out where you can put a diminished
tonality in a song. Id have a dominant
seventh chord, and Id start to make very
basic substitutions. I did that a little
with the banjo on Jungle Blues. But you
know, its a very small handful of tricks.
Basically, Im trying to get to a very cheap
rendition of what I heard on that song
that was giving me a thrill [laughs].
Gospel groups were an inspiration,
too, like the Sensational Nightingales,
the Harmonizing Four, or the Soul
Stirrerspeople like that. Those were the
main influences. And then again, because
I was used to having horns, small bits of
my songs are inspired by what I think
a horn section might sound like. Get
on the Floor has some of that in the
bass and guitar, and also in some of the
background singing.

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One of the biggest changes for you on


Gon Boogaloo was the switch from
National resonator to Jazzmaster. Can
you talk a little bit more about that
transition?
Yeah, [2008s] Jungle Blues was all
National and tenor banjo. It was difficult,
because I hadnt really played the electric
guitar since I was about 18, except for
maybe about six months when I was, like,
21 and I played in a little local group in
the country. And even after all that time,
I had no desire to go back to anything
like what I played before, so it was a
steep learning curve all the way around.
I wasnt in any practice shape whatsoever
for improvising as an instrumentalist
or using moving chord voices or singlestring stuffnot at all. And then just
with the tonal difference of the electric
guitar, I sounded very bad for probably a
good year-and-a-half. I was very sloppy.
Occasionally Id hear a friends band, and
Id think maybe I should really stick with
acoustic. The National just sounds good

TH

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PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 95

C.W. STONEKINGS GEAR


GUITARS
Fender American Vintage 65 Jazzmaster
1931 National Duolian Resonator
Gibson ES-330
Gretsch G6128T Duo Jet

AMPS

C.W. Stonekings
latest album,
Gon Boogaloo,
is an original,
prismatic
vision of blues,
calypso, ragtime,
and other
American music
from the 1920s
to the 40s.

How about your songwriting process


was it any different for this album?
I usually have my guitar in my hands
when Im doing things. I tend to get little
pieces of melody and, for some reason,
when it comes to the vocal line, its as if
Im talking in tongues in some weird way.
Ill be forming shapes of sounds with my
mouth. Im sort of just muttering, but
the shapes that I form tend to have some
musical correlation inherent in them.
And often when Im doing that, I have
some sense of what it is I ought to be
talking about. So its kind of frustrating,
because I get these things, I cant let go,
and Im painted into a corner. I have these
half-formed words with particular vowels
or consonants here or there, and I have
some definition in mind, but then to put
that all togetherits weird. Its a strange
thing, but that happens a lot with me.
You mentioned Get on the Floor,
which is such a great jam. How did that
come together?
Well, I made up that chorus section
and that verse, and I didnt really have
anywhere to go with it. I often have songs
like thatwhere I have one piece, and I
dont know how to get in or out of it, or
how to expand on it. I carried that around
for a long time. I cant really remember
how I came up with it, but there were
various little pieces of inspiration. I
remember hearing Billie Holiday with
Count Basies band doing that song
Swing, Brother, Swingit has this great
intro where the band just explodes into

96 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

the song. How Get on the Floor opens


is a rough nod to that feeling.
Then you have The Thing I Done,
which has a bit of an old rocksteady,
reggae feel to it.
Sometimes it sounds like an old Jamaican
thing to me, but, honestly, Im really
not acquainted with that music. Ive
been more into pre-40s calypso out of
Trinidad, but in the case of that song, it
was much different when I was halfway
through doing it. I change stuff around
a lot, turn it every which way and see
what else is in it, and one afternoon I
just had my tape recorder rolling. I was
adjusting the melody and singing it in
a minor key, and then I started playing
that upbeat rhythm and found a spark of
electricity. Often its just fooling around
that sometimes gives the impression that
Im more historically aware of these styles
than I actually am, you know what I
mean [laughs]?
How about On a Desert Isle? It has
an implied Hawaiian slack-key sound.
Thats actually the opposite of what Id
started with, too. At first I was playing
this lazy little upbeat thing, then I got
rid of that and it just sounded sort of
country for a long time. Then much in
the way of my Jungle Blues album, I made
the horn part and I started to hear little
moving bits in between. This is when
I was getting into using the vibrato on
the guitar, and sweeping and swooshing.
I started to piece together small bits of

Harmony 306A
Custom 16-watt Bell
& Howell film projector amp
Lil Dawg ChocoPrince

EFFECTS
Paul Cochrane Tim
Way Huge Aqua-Puss

STRINGS, PICKS & ACCESSORIES


Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Swing
flatwounds (.013.053)
Thomastik-Infeld George Benson
flatwounds (.014.055)
John Pearse Resophonic Pure Nickel
Wounds (.016.059) for G tuning
Dunlop Ultex Jazz III XL picks
Roys Own Nickel-Silver fingerpicks
Dunlop metal thumbpicks
Boss TU-2 tuner

moving chords, and I just kept going.


Somewhere along the line it started to feel
like it could be reminiscent of a Hawaiian
guitar. I wouldnt begin to know the
names of the chords, but its probably
only got four chords in it. Its just moving
melodies, I guess, and trying to find small
chord forms that carry that melody.
That comes through on Tomorrow
Gon Be Too Late. Melodically, that
seems like it might have come to you
fully formed.
That one was much more a simple sort of
thinga little like Smiley Lewis or Fats
Domino. Its hard for me to remember
now, but so many of them go through a

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lot of things. That was another one that,


for some time, had a Caribbean flavor
and then I flattened it out much more
into a New Orleans R&B-sounding thing.
Like I said, I fool around with them a lot
before I arrive at what I decide to keep.
Can you talk about the overall aesthetic
that youve developed on your past
records, and specifically on Gon
Boogaloo? Theres a spooky, almost
Screamin Jay Hawkins thread that
youre following.
As far as the theme of the record, I
suppose I got quite depressed with the
state of the world. Sometimes you want
to wallow in that, and Im not effective
in that role. It took me quite a few failed
attempts to get myself straight on that
understanding. Then I tried to make
a party record, but carrying some of
that weight. I suppose I was thinking
aboutI mean, you look back through
history at the Christian Gnostics, when
they were burning heretics, and they had

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this very dim view of the physical world,


like they were trapped in a very imperfect
creation or something. I guess theres
some of that in songs like How Long
and The Thing I Done.
Mama Got the Blues isnt inspired
by that so much, but I can think of a
hundred definitions that would suit various
people around the world in different
predicaments. And I guess the obvious one
for the spooky thing is The Zombie,
which is really just a weird juxtaposition
between a campy sort of dance craze and
the horror of pretty much everything
[laughs]. Its just dressed up in this smiling
skeleton wonky dance thing.
So its a weird party record, but
weighted with dread?
It was a real undertaking to achieve that. I
needed to be satisfied in doing something
about it, but I didnt want to be didactic.
I needed a different way in, so thats
where I ended up. I guess the cover says
something about that too in some way.

Youve also talked about the Australian


filter that you bring to your
interpretation of American blues, but
other musical styles, too.
Well, I guess a lot of the music that
I enjoy listening to, especially with
a lot of Caribbean and African field
recordings, has a very dry quality to it.
It reminds me a lot of the music that
Id hear as a kid with old Aboriginal
fellas, singing and clacking boomerangs
togetherthis dry, clicking percussion
that has a thread of that feeling. That
stiches up a lot of the stuff that Im
into. Its almost unconscious, where that
took its root in me, from the experience
of growing up in that place. So I think
I found a sonic representation of the
blues in that and, mistakenly I guess, I
thought it was the same thing. And like
I said, I didnt really start to become
aware of it until I drove through the
[American] South for the first time.
After that, suddenly it all started to
piece together.

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 97

ACOUSTIC SOUNDBOARD

Why Buy Vintage?


BY RICHARD JOHNSTON
A 1939 Martin
D-18 (Photo 1)
in good, original
condition will set
you back about
$25,000, or you
could opt for a
contemporary
D-18 Authentic
1939 (Photo 2)
thats built to the
same specs as
the originaland
have money left
over for a pretty
nice car or a hell
of a vacation
with the cool 20K
youd be saving.

henever I talk to other guitar


dealers, there is one topic
bound to come up if sales
of vintage guitars is mentioned. Its a
variant of young people just dont buy
vintage. And what usually follows is a
list of the reasons why nobody under the
age of 40 will buy a pre-war Martin or
a 50s Stratthings like nobody wants
what their parents thought was coolor
theyd rather buy 10 Teiscos. I have my
own theory, however, and while it may
not sit well with vintage-guitar collectors,
its probably good news for guitar makers
and guitar buyers alike.
If youre a guitar fanatic who happens
to own a time machine, turn the
Wayback dial to the early 1970s when
the vintage guitar market was still in
its infancy. Next, lets go out searching
for guitars and start with an affordable
acoustic model that was widely available,
like a Martin D-18. You find and play
a new D-18, but you also play a used
one from about 30 years earlier.No
comparison, right?The new D-18 has
heavy braces, and while sounding okay, it
lacks the volume and sparkle of the older
one. The older one is lighter in weight
and has a number of cool features that
Martin discontinued years earlier.
Sure, the old D-18 was more expensive,
but the stretch wasnt enough to leave you
living in your car. For players loyal to the
Gibson brand, the choice would be more
obvious since even a J-45 from the early
50s would bury Gibsons 70s version
before you got past the first chord. Plus,
the difference in price wasnt much at all.
Shopping for an electric guitar in the
same era would yield a similar experience.
You just couldnt find a new Fender
or Gibson that was made as well or
sounded as good as a version from only
10 or 15 years earlier.A new tri-bolt 70s
Strat compared to one from 59?The
differences on the new versionall
negativewould make for a very long
list. The choice was clear back then:
You bought a vintage example of an

98 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

instrument instead of a new one if


you were critical about how your
guitar sounded, not because it was a
better investment.
Fast-forward about 20 years,
however, and things had changed
dramatically. As the acoustic guitar
market heated up in the 1990s
(remember MTV Unplugged?),
manufacturers scrambled to come up
with reissues of their earlier models
that would satisfy the players left
behind by skyrocketing prices for
clean, vintage guitars. And with
the flood of info made available by
numerous books, new user forums,
and specialty websites, those reissues
kept getting upgraded with more
and more accurate materials and
specifications. Using Martins venerable
D-18 as an example: First came the
D-18V (part of a whole series of
V for Vintage models), but that was
soon superseded by the D-18 Golden Era,
which had an Adirondack spruce top. After
only a couple of years in the spotlight,
the D-18GE was in turn surpassed by
the even more accurate (and expensive)
D-18 Authentic, which offered hide-glue
construction, among other things.
But a funny thing happened on
the way to achieving more perfect
reissues of guitars made decades ago.
Manufacturers discovered that once
they were geared up to make guitars
with vintage features, instruments with
most of those details werent any more
expensive to produce than the modern
versions theyd first started making
decades earlier. As a result, the better
neck shapes and retro binding and inlay
began showing up on standard models.
Using the D-18, again, as an example,
Martins standard D-18 was given most
of the features that had previously been
reserved for the D-18V by 2012. Similar
improvements trickled down to Les
Pauls, Strats, and other iconic electric
models. With very few exceptions, most
standard guitar models marketed by

1
2

2010 or so were noticeably better than


the same model from 25 years earlier.
As a result of this evolution, the
contemporary guitar shopper is far less
likely to be blown away by how much
better a vintage guitar sounds when
compared to a new one. And lets not
forget about the prohibitive price-tag
hurdle with older models. Can you
blame someone for being on the fence
about taking a five-figure guitar to an
open mic? When that more narrow
margin in the quality of both sound and
appearance is combined with a far greater
margin in the price of a clean, vintage
example compared to its new equivalent,
is it any wonder that so many younger
buyers are apparently asking themselves,
Whyshould Ibuy vintage?
RICHARD JOHNSTON
co-founded Gryphon Stringed
Instruments with Frank Ford
in 1969. He later shifted from
repairing vintage guitars
to writing about them, and
has contributed to dozens of
magazines and several books,
the most recent being Inventing
the American Guitar. He
appraises musical instruments
for Antiques Road Show on PBS.

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THE RECORDING GUITARIST

The Fabulous Focus Knob

Click here to hear


soundclips.

BY JOE GORE

rarely write about wiring mods here


because my friend and colleague
Dirk Wacker does such a superb job
covering that topic in his Mod Garage
column. But Id like to share one mod
that Ive found incredibly useful for
recording: a basic bass-cut control. I call
it the focus knob mod because that
sounds cooler than bass cut, and its a
good description of what it does.
Low Energy. Why cut bass? Dont we
want to sound as beefy as possible?
Sometimes, yeah. But trimming bass
is one of the best ways to shape and
focus tonesparticularly distorted ones.
Cutting bass within a guitar circuit is very
different from lowering the bass knob on
an amp or removing lows with board EQ.
Low frequencies disproportionately drive
pedals and amps. When you remove lows
upstream from your pedalboard, tones get
brighter and cleaner. Youre changing the
timbre as well as the tone.
When tracking, its useful to be able
to fine-tune your lows as well as your
highs directly from the guitar. If youre
recording overdubs or doubling parts,
the focus control can help you find the
perfect sonic footprint for your part.
With clean tones, these bass cut settings
are subtle, even imperceptible. But with
distortionwell, stand back!
Check out the audio clip that
accompanies this story online. It features
the same riff played repeatedly on the
bridge P-90 pickup of a parts guitar. In
the first few iterations, nothing changes
except the bass-cut setting. (The last few
phrases add a bit of treble cut and/or
volume cut along with the bass cut.)
Were not simply altering the tone that
emerges from the guitar. Were changing
the way downstream gear responds. The
effect is especially pronounced when using
touch-responsive gear such as small tube
amps and transistor-based gain effects like
Fuzz Faces and Rangemasters. But its also
useful in other contexts. It can even be
effective with modeled amps and effects.

100 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Fig. 1

Cutting bass within a guitar circuit is very


different from lowering the bass knob on an
amp or removing lows with board EQ.
Low-Frequency Fixation. Some lowtuned and 7-string metal players make
good use of the low-cut concept. Lowtuned strings can exert so much energy
that they crowd out higher frequencies,
making tones mushy. Ironically,
chopping bass sometimes makes low
riffs feel deeper, heavier, and more djenttastic. But bass cuts are relevant for any
guitarist who loves distortion, not just
metalheads.
A bass-cut circuit is so powerful a tool
that its odd to me that so few production
guitars employ one. Yamahas recent
Revstar model is a welcome exception.
(Yamaha calls it a dry control. You can
find other variants online by googling
tight tone control mod.) I included
several takes on the idea in PGs 2014
Three Must-Try Wiring Mods feature.

But this time, the goal is maximum


simplicity. Mods dont get much easier
than this.
Were going to insert a small capacitor
and a 500k pot between the output
from your pickup selector (or volume
knob) and the output jack. The lower
the capacitors value, the deeper the
bass cut. With the pot on 10, theres
no bass cut. As you lower the pot,
bass is progressively removed, with the
maximum-cut setting defined by the
caps value. (It doesnt matter if your
other pots are 250k rather than 500k.
The 500k option works great regardless.)
A Spot for a Pot. But first, you
need a spot for the pot. You can usually
repurpose a pot on three- and four-knob
guitars, unless your style relies on having
independent tone control per pickup. If

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it doesnt, you can rewire one pot as a


global tone control. (If you dont know
how, check out the free diagrams at
Seymour Duncan or Guitar Electronics.
(And if youre new to soldering, check
out PGs 2015 Soldering 101 article.
Fig. 1 shows how simple this mod is.
Heres a step-by-step walkthrough:
Either de-solder your hot output wire
from the output jack, or just snip it
in the middle if theres enough spare
length to reach the new pots lugs.
Strip the ends of the wires.
Push the wire leading from the volume
pot (or pickup selector) through lug
3 of the new pot, along with one leg
of the capacitor. (Remember, when
the pot is viewed from the rear as in
the diagram, lug 3 is on the left.) The
capacitor orientation doesnt matter
either lug will do. Solder the two wires
in place.
Three wires will meet at lug 1, so its a
good idea to thread them all through
the lug before affixing them. Insert

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the second wire from the capacitor, as


well as the wire leading to the output
jack. (If you previously de-soldered the
wire from your output jack, cut a new
length of wire to reach from lug 1 to
the jack.) You also need a short jumper
wire between lugs 1 and 2. (You can
probably just thread the capacitors
second leg through the two lugs, or do
the same with the wire leading to the
output jack.)`
Solder the three wires together at lug 1,
and solder the jumper wire to lug 2.
Voilyoure done! (No grounding
is necessary, so dont bother soldering a
ground wire to the back of the pot.)
Customize Your Mod. Should you
use an A500k (audio taper), B500k
(linear taper), or C500k (reverse-log
taper) pot? Its a matter of taste. They
all produce the same sounds; its just
a matter of how those sounds are
distributed across the pots range. With
an A100k, you must rotate the pot
relatively far for dramatic bass cuts. With
a C500k, you hear the effect early in

the pots rotation. A B500k splits the


difference. I like the C500k feel, but the
big electronics supply houses dont stock
that part. Youve got to order from a DIY
stompbox specialist like Small Bear or
Mammoth Electronics. But really, its not
a big deal. Most guitar pots are audio
taper, and you may already have a spare
A500k lying around. Thatll do.
The .002 F pot specified in the
diagram is a good starting point. If you
want a greater maximum bass cut, scale
down to a .001 F. For a less dramatic
maximum cut, go with a .003 F or .004
F. Pay close attention to those decimal
points and zeroes! These capacitors are far
lower in value than the usual guitar caps.
A .002 F is less than 1/20th the value of
a typical .047 F tone cap.
As configured in the diagram, the
new pot provides maximum bass at 10
and minimum bass at zero. If your pot
behaves the opposite way, just move
the lug 3 connections to lug 1, or viceversa. Or you can deliberately reverse the
orientation if you want tones to get less
bassy as you advance the pot.
The material the cap is made from
doesnt matter. Mylar, ceramic, tantalum,
and paper-in-oil all sound the same here.
Use whatever is available and inexpensive.
(Whatever you do, dont waste money on
magic tone caps.)
I hope you find this mod as useful as I
do. If you dig it, too, check out the more
sophisticated versions in the Must Try
Mods article linked to above. Or dont
this simple version will definitely get the
job done!
So until next time, keep on modding!
(Sorry, DirkI just had to pirate your
Mod Garage tag line.)

The capacitors
value is crucial
for this mod, but
the material its
made from is not.
Use whatevers
convenient, and
dont blow money
on magic caps.

JOE GORE has recorded and

performed with Tom Waits, PJ


Harvey, Tracy Chapman, Courtney
Love, Marianne Faithfull, Les
Claypool, Flea, DJ Shadow, John
Cale, and many other artists. Joe
has written thousands of articles
about music and helps develop
music tools for Apple and other
clients. He blogs at tonefiend.com.

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 101

GUITAR SHOP 101

Touch-up a String Nut with Super Glue


STORY AND PHOTOS BY JOHN LEVAN

n my previous column (Using Super


Glue in Guitar Repair, September
2016), we explored techniques for
using fast-acting adhesive to seat frets
and secure a string nut. Were not quite
done with this topic, but before we put
super glue to work on another project,
please take a moment to review the safety
tips I outlined last time around. As I
mentioned before, super glue can be your
best friend or worst enemy, so before you
start slinging the cyano, its important to
refresh your memory of these crucial dos
and donts. Right? Thought so.
String nut touch-up. Super glue
is handy for making small repairs to a
guitars finish. Heres an example: Most
guitars have a little finish at either end
of the string nut to create a smooth
transition between the edge of the
fretboard or binding and the nut itself.
But after replacing the string nutlets
say youve upgraded from a plastic nut
to one made of bonetheres usually
a small edge or drop off where the nut
meets the fretboard (Photo 1). As you
may recall from our prior column,
super glue is available in a variety of
thicknesses. To smooth out the transition
between the nut and where it joins the
fretboard, you can fill that area using a
few drops of medium viscosity or gelformula super glue.
But wait, theres more! Its common
for the binding on older guitars to turn
yellow over time. Stewart-MacDonald
sells an amber-tinted formula that
matches this aged look nicely. (Stew-Mac
also offers tinted super glues in white and
black, which can come in handy for other
finish touch-up projects.) If your guitar
has binding, using tinted medium super

glue will accomplish two goals: Youll


fill the edges around the ends of the
replacement nut and help it blend in with
the binding.
Assume the position. First, place the
guitar on its side so the neck is horizontal
to the workbench and one end of the nut
faces up, the other down. To prevent an
electric guitar or bass from tipping over,
I use a quick release clamp on the body
to stabilize it. Because acoustics have a
thicker body, theyll typically stay in place
without a clamp. Balance the guitar on its
tuner keys, not the neck, and use books
or small boxes to support the guitar as
it rests on it side. (In our shop, we use
leather bags filled with buckshot for this
and other stabilizing tasks.)
Make sure the area around the edge of
the string nut and binding is absolutely

level, because you dont want the glue


to pool on one side of the nut edge and
create more work for you later. A bubble
gauge comes in handy here.
Apply the glue. This is where you don
your safety glasses. Once the guitar is stable,
put a few drops of super glue on the end
of the nut and let it dry (Photo 2). You
only need to apply enough glue to cover

Make sure the area around the edge of the string nut and binding
is absolutely level, because you dont want the glue to pool on
one side of the nut edge and create more work for you later.

102 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

premierguitar.com

the side of the nut and binding to build a


smooth surface where they join together.
A medium formula of glue, which is what
we recommend, will take several minutes
to dry. If you want to speed up the drying
process, you can spray super glue accelerant
on it. Weve used GluBoost and NCF
Quick brands in our shop, and they both
work great.
Having a well-ventilated workspace
will reduce accelerant fumes and
minimize eye irritation. At the shop, we
run a small fan to keep the air circulating
when using super glues and accelerants.
Tip: Accelerants can cause what we call the
Swiss cheese effect. This happens when you
prematurely spray the accelerant on the glue.
It causes a chemical reaction that results in the
glue bubbling up into a white foam, which

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forces you to scrape away all the glue and start


over. To avoid this, wait several minutes before
blasting the glue with an accelerator. A little
patience will save you a lot of time.
File it down. When the glue is dry,
use a miniature file to gently file away
any excess (Photo 3). Do this carefully
to avoid damaging the original finish
around the nut and binding. The object
of the exercise is to file the glue flush
with the nut and binding without
disturbing the surrounding surfaces.
Sand and buff. Next, lightly sand the
glue-covered area with 600 grit paper to
feather it to the edge of the fretboard or
binding (Photo 4). Now gently sand it
with 1500 grit paper to smooth out any
scratch marks. Finish this job using extrafine buffing compound and a polishing

cloth (Photo 5). I use Planet Waves Restore


for this last stage, but you can find other
buffing compounds at auto stores or online.
Now step back and admire your work,
which should look similar to Photo 6.
After flipping the guitar over on its
opposite side, position and secure it
(remember to keep the neck perfectly
level), and then repeat the process for the
other end of the nut.
And thats itanother task completed,
thanks to super glue.
JOHN LEVAN has written five

guitar repair books, all published


by Mel Bay. His bestseller, Guitar
Care, Setup & Maintenance, is
a detailed guide with a forward
by Bob Taylor. LeVan welcomes
questions about his PG column
or books. Drop an email to
guitarservices@aol.com.

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 103

ON BASS

Get Over Your Tone


BY VICTOR BRODN
Photo 1:
Maneuvering my
not-so-skinny
fingers onto the
23rd fret for a
simple minor
7th chord was an
unexpected and
challenging new
experience.
Photo 2:
Positioning
the body of
this Warwick
Dolphin Pro 1
a little further
off my hip than
I would with a
more traditional
bass helped put
the notes right
where my muscle
memory wanted
them to be.

e all have our tonal


preferences. Those preferences
often come from years of
playing different styles and different
equipment, and arriving at the conclusion
that weve finally found our own thing.
This is obviously a great developmental
building block for who you are as an
artistan essential thumbprint of sorts.
And quite a few world-famous bassists
will tell you that its a good thing to be
known for one instrument and have it
be your visual and sonic trademark. This
is great advice that holds lots of obvious
validity, but I personally reached a point
where I felt the need to challenge my own
taste in tone.
After years of getting frequent
compliments on my tone, I had lost
a little bit of my curiosity about new
gear and different equipmentthings
that were purposefully designed to do
something very different than the gear
Id long been leaning on to provide the
bread and butter of my sound. (The
go-to instruments for most of my work
have been Fender-style basses with bolton necks and passive electronics.) So I
started gradually, by first changing the
size and wattage of the drivers in my
speaker cabinets. I also began trying
string brands that werent in my group
of beloved, usual suspects. And most
recently, Ive been experimenting with
basses that are not what Im used to.
One such bass is the Warwick
Dolphin Pro 1 I had on loan for the last
month. This model features just about
everything I normally dont favor in an
instrument. Still, I made sure I used it
in every bass playing scenario possible:
a rehearsal, a small bar gig with floor
monitors, a large show on tour with
in-ear monitors, a full-scale Nashville
recording session, a TV taping, and in
normal practice sessions at home.
The shape of the Warwicks body is
completely non-traditional, so the weight
of the bass was distributed differently
and its contact surface with my body/

104 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

ribs felt totally different. I had to alter


my stance onstage as well as my strap
length. I also had to alter my left-hand
fretting approach by looking at the neck
more and relying less on normal muscle
memory. The notes simply werent located
where I was used to finding them. (This
doesnt happen when switching between
Fender-style basses, since the shape
and feel is so similar between them, no
matter the brand.) The exercise certainly
brought me out of my comfort zone; I
didnt go for quite as many fills above the
12th fret. But anything that makes you
rethink techniques youve been using for
a long time, prompts attention to detail,
and provides the slight fear you had as a
beginner? Well, thats a very good thing.
In practice sessions at home, I
discovered that playing a 26-fret
instrument instead of one with 21 or 22
frets presented some other options for
adventure. The chord shapes I often use
around the 12th and 15th frets did not
work above the 20th fret. I have what is
commonly known as bass player fingers
(i.e., not skinny), so some of the chords
I normally hit easily took some serious
Tetris-like skills to fit on the smaller
frets. Sitting down and practicing on a
bass without a traditional bottom horn
was also a challenge until I figured out
how to properly balance the instrument
on my knee.
The nature of playing a neck-through,
more-modern-sounding instrument
made with dense, heavier woods is that
the attack is faster than every bass Ive
ever been used to. I feel like if I play
with a soft attack on a more traditional
bass, the notes come out softly and
slowly, which is one of the reasons many
people prefer those instruments. They
are dynamic. Its like driving a car with a
lot of horsepower under the hood, but
you have to really push on the gas to
make the car screamand it still takes
a second to kick in. When playing this
new-to-me modern bass, I felt like the
punch and immediateness of the attack

happened even when I didnt play very


hard. Its kind of like trying not to push
the accelerator too hard in a Ferrari while
sitting in rush hour traffic.
We all make our instrument choices
based on appearance, genre, feel, and
tone. The style of instrument I used
to widen my tonal horizons is most
often used in modern metal or fusion.
So, heres my challenge for you: If you
normally play, say, modern metal or
fusion, do what youre not supposed to
do and grab an old short-scale Gibson or
Hofner. New doors can open by getting
over your tone and trying something
different, even if it is for just a short time.
Happy experimenting!
VICTOR BRODN is a Nashville

bassist and producer who has


toured and recorded with more
than 25 major-label artists,
including LeAnn Rimes, Richard
Marx, Casting Crowns, and Randy
Houser. His credits also include
Grammy-winning albums and
numerous television specials
on CMT and GAC, as well as
performances on The Tonight
Show and The Ellen DeGeneres
Show. You can reach him at
vbroden@yahoo.com.

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BASS BENCH

Alternative Strap Systems


BY HEIKO HOEPFINGER

106 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

remove your instrument, youll look like a


mountaineer who has strayed off course!
Even if these multi-strap systems cure the
problem of neck-heaviness for most players,
the rotational forces we discussed in the
previous column remain, and a stressed and
sensitive back may not like that at all.
Instead of trying to secure a two-point
system, consider a one-point connection
that doesnt use any of the traditional
strap buttons, but adds a new one right at
the center of gravityor better yet, even
a bit toward the neck to create a slightly
upward playing position.
Not everyone wants to screw a new
mounting plate with a strap button
to the back of a prized bass, so several
manufacturers offer non-destructive ways
to attach a single-point system. Some
of these variations use a sucker head or
double-tape Velcro to connect the bass to
the strap. Youll need to decide for yourself
whether such an approach will work to
securely hold a heavy bass for the duration
of a long (and possibly energetic) gig.
Perhaps like me, youd prefer to trust a
solid, wood-mounted screw with this job.
Deliberately mounted, a single-point
system should yield a perfect hanging
position, although your plucking hand will
be slightly off-center from your body, and
you wont feel quite as connected to the bass
as with a two-point system. The single-point
system is back mounted, which creates a
tendency for the bass to flip over, but you
can easily counteract this by attaching the
button higher and closer to the bodys edge.
While were at it, its worth
mentioning the Boomerang strap
system from the creative mind of Ned
Steinberger. This back-mounted system
has a one-point connection, a pivoting
friction hub, and two adjustable arms
that attach to a classic strap. The idea
here is less about fighting back pain, but
rather about letting you freely rotate the
instrument to several playing positions.
So what about back pain? One obvious
way to successfully reduce it is to not rest
any weight at all on the shoulders. A cousin

of our bass, the Chapman Stick, is held by


resting the instruments complete weight
on a hook that slips behind your belt. A
small neck strap keeps the instrument
in balance. Two-handed tapping usually
requires a more vertical fretboard position,
and Emmett Chapmans system brilliantly
accommodates this technique. This type of
attachment doesnt serve some bass styles
slapping, for examplebut it radically
relocates weight off the shoulders.
In these days of tight jeans, not
everyone uses a belt, and some players
also prefer to keep the functionality
of their trousers strictly separate from
their 12-pound bass. Which brings us
to special waist belts (Photo 1) that
are designed to hold the instrument in
position while resting all its weight on
your hips. A potential drawback: This
approach requires adding another strap
button, typically located on the lower
horn, as shown in Photo 2.
Of course, this solution will only work
if your bass has a long enough lower horn
to fight neck-heaviness. But if it does,
and youre plagued by severe back pain,
adding one more strap button should be
a no-brainer. A waist belt offers one of
the few ways to free your shoulders from
the instruments weight.
HEIKO HOEPFINGER is a

German physicist and long-time


bassist, classical guitarist, and
motorcycle enthusiast. His work
on fuel cells for the European
orbital glider Hermes led him to
form BassLab (basslab.de)a
manufacturer of monocoque
guitars and basses.

Photos courtesy of slingerstraps.com

n my previous column, we explored


how and why playing bass can create
back pain, especially if the instrument
is heavy and unbalanced (The Gravity
of Back Pain, September 2016). We saw
how easy it is to determine an axes center
of gravity and riffed on a few strategies
for dealing with an unwieldy instrument.
Lets continue investigating this subject
and look for more ways to avoid or reduce
back pain beyond buying a wide comfort strap. Some of these systems are
intended to help reduce back pain, while
others are designed to get your instrument
into a desired playing position.
When fighting neck heaviness, its
obvious that moving the upper strap
button is the way to go. The simplest idea
is to attach the strap at the headstock,
as many acoustic guitarists do. The
instrument will no longer be neck heavy,
but theres a price. For starters, the
significantly modified hanging position
places your plucking hand further away
from your body. Also, having your bass
dangling in front of you can leave you
feeling very unconnected with your
instrument. This loss of connection is
mainly due to the straps increased length.
And if you let go of the bass, theres a slight
tendency for it to flip overnot good.
But other alternatives exist. For
example, there are several systems that add
one or more vertical straps to the classic
two-point version. While some (not all)
of these are successful in balancing the
weight on both shoulders, they always
change the way the instrument hangs,
forcing you to adapt to a new playing
position. Thats why some manufacturers
incorporate additional horizontal chest
straps to hold the instrument in place.
Unlike the headstock-attached acoustic
guitar variant, these straps are very
short, and this creates a stronger sense of
connection to the instrument.
Yet there are drawbacks to the multistrap systems: Theyre harder to adjust
and put on, and they make it tough to
shift your playing position. And when you

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Bob the Goldfish


never felt more at home
www.neunaber.net

Photo by Lance Bangs

Robot Killers

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Jersey punks Marissa Paternoster


and King Mike Abbate of Screaming Females
demonstrate the destructive capabilities
of a well-placed fuzz, a spasmodic riff,
and vocal lines perennially set to stun.
BY TZVI GLUCKIN

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 109

MARISSA PATERNOSTERS GEAR


GUITARS
G&L S-500 w/ Seymour Duncan
Hot Rails bridge pickup
G&L S-500 (stock)
Fender Telecaster

AMPS
70s Sunn Concert Lead head
Sunn 212LH cab

EFFECTS
TSVG Hard Stuff Boost
Earthbound Audio Supercollider
Boss DD-6 Digital Delay
MXR Phase 90

STRINGS & PICKS

Screaming
Females
leader Marissa
Paternoster,
whose go-to axe
is a G&L S-500,
started playing
guitar at age 14.
Her raw, energyfueled solos
and emotional
songwriting
were informed
by a love for riot
grrrl bands like
Bikini Kill, but
also rock bands
like Smashing
Pumpkins.

eople always want to talk


about the red knobs,
says Screaming Females
frontwoman Marissa Paternoster of her
favorite 1970s Sunn Concert Lead head.
It has a really cool cabinet with recessed
speakers, and it makes every sound
person who looks at it freak out because
they dont know what to dobut all you
really have to do is put a microphone in
front of it. Its rad. Its super loud, and it
sounds great.
Despite preferring to broadcast her
cranium-rattling riffs, frazzle-fuzzed
licks, and incisively clean chord work
via the notoriously loud Sunn and a
couple of go-to G&L S-500 solidbodies,
Paternoster is no picky gear junkie.
Likewise, though she boasts formidable
chops born of countless hours of gigging
(and jamming to Nirvana, Pixies, and

110 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Bikini Kill records as a teen), Paternosters


also no fan of shreddingat least not in
the context most guitarists view the term
in. I kind of hate that stuff, she says
of run-of-the-mill guitar gymnastics. It
sounds like a robot is playing the guitar.
What does do it for Paternoster and
Screaming Females bassist King Mike
Abbate is anything that dovetails with
the New Jersey natives punk roots, DIY
work ethic, and Paternosters distinctive
vocalswhich can be sweetly demure but
are usually delivered with a frenetic, fullthroated sneer.
The Females came together in 2005
in New Brunswick, New Jersey, when
Paternoster, Abbate, and drummer Jarrett
Dougherty were students at Rutgers
Universityalthough Abbate admits, I
only went to Rutgers because Marissa
and Jarrett were already going there and

I wanted to keep playing in the band.


After honing their sound playing together
in basements and punk houses, the trio
self-produced their first album, Baby
Teeth, in 2006. Since then theyve released
five more LPs and an EP, and toured
extensively, opening for iconic bands
like Dinosaur Jr. and Garbage. Along
the way theyve collaborated with such
studio legends as Steve Albini (Shellac,
the Pixies, PJ Harvey), Butch Vig
(Nirvana, Sonic Youth), and Matt Bayles
(Mastodon). Their 2015 release, Rose
Mountain, was included on many yearend best-of lists.
We recently spoke with Paternoster
about her musical heroes, her one
experience with formal music traininga
university course she describes as being
more like mathand the transformative
powers of punk.

Photo by Farrah Skeiky

GHS Boomers strings (.009.042)


Dunlop Tortex picks (.88 mm)

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CONTROL

Programmable switching system with eight loops


(supports expression pedals & stereo loops)

Onboard memory for storing external control


parameters such as delay time for each patch

Analog circuit design to protect your pure tone

Completely customizable pedal


function assignments

Flexibility routing with the ability to change the


pedal order and create parallel effect chains

B o s sU S . co m

"KING" MIKE ABBATES GEAR


BASSES
Rickenbacker 4003
Peavey T-40 w/
Rickenbacker electronics

AMPS
70s Acoustic 220 head
Acoustic 2x15 cab w/ Peavey Black
Widow speakers

EFFECTS
TSVG Hard Stuff Bass Boost

STRINGS & PICKS

Paternoster
and Abbate
have played
together for
over a decade,
and the guitarist
says she cant
imagine playing
with another
bassist. Live
hell play some
octaves or some
chords so that it
doesnt sound
like the world
fell out from
under us when I
solo, she says.

When did you start playing guitar?


I started playing when I was 14-ish. Im
29 now, so Ive been playing for a while.
My dad had a guitar. I started listening
to rock n roll and he suggested that he
might be able to teach me some of the
Nirvana songs that Id been listening
toTheyre really easy. He did, and I
just took it from there.
Who else were you listening to?
When I first started listening to rock
music, it was Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I
really liked the Pixies all throughout high
school. Once I got into the Pixies, I started
listening to pretty much everything Kill
Rock Stars [indie label that first signed
Bikini Kill] had ever put out. That led me
to K Records [Beck, Modest Mouse], 5RC
[5 Rue Christine, a dormant subsidiary of
Kill Rock Stars], a lot of riot grrrl music,
early contemporary feminist music like

112 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

queercore, and all kinds of twee stuff. I got


into weirder music as I grew older, but at
first I was listening to mainstream radio
rock, like Smashing Pumpkins and stuff.
You have formidable chops. Did you
take lessons?
No, Ive never taken a lesson. I took
Intro to Music Theory at Rutgers. They
had two different classes: One was Intro
to Music Theory for people who are
practicing musicians, and one was more
like a math class for people who arent
practicing musicians. I took the one that
was like a math class. I was also a totally
lazy, piece-of-crap student, because all I
cared about was playing rock music. So I
dont remember any of it. Thats the only
[theory] class Ive ever taken.
Did you spend time learning solos or
songs off records?

Before I had people to play with, I would


usually just put on CDs that I liked and play
around with them while I listened to the
song. I went to a Catholic school that didnt
have any kind of arts or music program,
but there was a math teacher who had an
extracurricular music club. We would meet
in the afternoons once a week and jam. He
was really into music that I absolutely hated,
like Phish and Medeski Martin & Wood,
but he was a really good person and cared a
lot about the kids who came to music club.
Thats how I learned to play my instrument
with other people, especially people who
had disparate influences, werent judgmental,
and just wanted to play music with other
people because its fun. He taught me a lot
in that regard.
Did you listen to shredders at all?
No. I kind of hate that stuffit sounds
like a robot is playing the guitar.

Photo by Farrah Skeiky

GHS Bass Boomers (.045.105)


Dunlop Tortex picks (.73 mm)

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Rumbling Male
Screaming Females low-ender King Mike Abbate discusses the challenges
of keeping up with frontwoman Marissa Paternosters riffing, as well as the
28-year-old bassists unlikely hero from the 1980s new wave scene.

Who are some of your bass influences?


Starting out, it was definitely Paul Simonon from the Clash.
His stuff was always really fun to playthere was a lot of
movement, but at the same time it was also pretty simple.
A lot of the patterns he uses are regular ol rock n roll patterns. But Graham Maby, who played bass with Joe Jackson
for a bunch of years, is probably my all-time favorite bass
player. His playing is absolutely incredibleI cant imagine
ever being as good as he is.
What do you like about his playing?
It is super melodic and super intricate while still staying
tasteful. Hes never doing too much but at the same time
he totally shreds. I see a lot of bass players who are totally
amazing and could play circles around anybody else, but
you put them in a band setting and it feels like too much.
I feel like Graham could outplay anybody, but he always
finds a way to suit the song really nicely. Every once in a
while hell go nutsespecially if you listen to the live stuff.
Its not often that anyone really likes to hear a bass solo,
but he can do it tastefully.
Do you play with a pick, your fingers, or both?
Every once in a while I'll play with my fingers if I want a
little bit less attack, but I mostly play with a pick. I started
out playing with my fingers, but when we started the band
we had this five-hour practice and by the end of it I had
a massive blister. I switched to a pick and never stopped
using it. My playing and my sound has evolved since then
to the point where using a pick just makes the most sense.
Plus, when I got a Rickenbacker I found that it was harder
for me to play with my fingers, because there was nowhere
to rest my thumb. But I liked the sound enough that I didnt
really careI was down to just use a pick. Plus, a pick looks
cooler, man! [Laughs.]
In the studio do you mike your amps or go direct?
Weve done a little of both. On [2012s] Ugly, I went
through my amp and stuck a mic on it. For Rose Mountain,
I didnt have my setup but I had something close. But I

also switched it upI played through an Ampeg SVT. I also


played through a Verellen Meatsmoke, a vintage Acoustic
similar to mine, and a Fender Bassman. I also went direct
on a couple of things. We tried out a lot of different
sounds for the bass, and thats the first time we ever did
anything like that.
What is your sonic role in the band, especially when
Marissa takes a solo?
Going back to Graham Maby, Ive always really liked melodic bass playing. A lot of times Im still doing my melodic
thing and it ends up chaotic with so much stuff going on
at once, but I think at certain points its what makes our
band special. I try not to stray too far away from that. Other
times, when I feel its getting too cacophonous, Ill lay back
and plunk along on the roots.
I started playing chords a bunch of years ago, but Ive
recently started trying to get away from that because it
tends to sound really muddy. Also, right around when I
discovered that I could play chords to fatten up the sound
and fill it out, the Dinosaur Jr. comparisons came in. I was
like, I guess I should check out Dinosaur Jr. But it depends
on the song: Sometimes Ill play a melodic bass line over
a guitar solo if it seems like it fits. Other times Ill play the
chords. I recently got an overdrive pedal, and its the first
time Ive had a pedal in my setup. On songs where I would
normally play chords, lately Ive been kicking on that pedal
and playing the root instead of playing three strings at a
time and making it sound muddy.
When you play chords, what chord voicings do you play?
Sometimes power chords, sometimes octaves, and other
times the root, third, and seventh. I dont know much about
theory, but sometimes I play other things.
Speaking of Dinosaur Jr., you toured with them a few years
ago, right?
Yeah, weve done a couple of shows with them. Once we
were compared to that band, they became one of my favorite bands for quite a while. I was listening to their stuff all
the time, so it was really cool getting to play with them. At
the same time, it made me hyperaware that these comparisons were being made, so I tried to stray away from that
sound a little bit.
Did you try out Lou [Barlows] rig? He uses a ton of amps,
just like J [Mascis].
NoI have no desire to play through a rig like that!
[Laughs.] Thats just gratuitous. Im fine with what I
play through.

Photo by Farrah Skeiky

King Mike Abbate has known Marissa


Paternoster since high school. At the time, he was
actually a guitarist, but she inspired him to switch to bass. I
watched Marissa play and thought, If I want to play with this
personwhos just incredible at the guitarI might as well
not play the guitar. So I got a cheap bass and started plunking along, trying to learn something different. Since then
Abbate has forged a style thats powerful, yet melodic and
tastefuland a great fit for a power trio.

What really got me into solos was probably the


Smashing Pumpkins early stuff. Most of the
music I grew up on was really just punk music
and didnt have very many solos at all. My favorite
band was Bikini Kill, and I cant even think of a
song of theirs that has a guitar solo in it. I really
love Neil Young and Crazy Horse. I suppose the
first Pearl Jam record has a lot of lengthy solos
in it. I wanted to play like that, but it seemed
unattainable. Once I started listening to punk, I
began to understand that I could be in a band.
Up until I started listening to riot grrrl I was like,
This music is for grown men. I cant do this stuff.
Not for me.

on that record [Castle Talk]. For our


latest record, Rose Mountain, we flew
to Seattle to record, so I didnt have
my amplifier. But Matt got me a
smaller Sunn combo and a Fender
Twin that I could use. There werent
a ton of options. I think its better
to know what you like, find a really
good-sounding version of it, and
have it available to you. That way,

youre not endlessly scrolling through


this vast sea of options. You have
what you know, you depend on it,
and you can pick and choose from
that little pool.
Meaning you have a handful of
go-to sounds you choose from,
depending on the song?
Yeah. I like trying new things and

So punk made it accessible?


Yeah. It made it seem like it was something that
belonged to me or could belong to meor I
could be a part of that community. Thats the music
that made me really want to play guitar, which is
weird, I guess, from a shredding standpoint.
What are the pros and cons of being in a trio
and being the only guitarist?
Ive never known anything else. Ive only been
in one other bandwe had a keyboard player,
and I was a kid. I hated having to play with a
keyboard player. I felt I had no control and I
guess, especially back then, I wanted to have a
lot of control. Now Im so used to the setup that
we have: Not to sound cheesy, but Mike and I
have an unspoken chemistry. I am so comfortable
playing along with him. I really cant imagine what
it would be like to have somebody else playing a
keyboard or another guitar. Id probably freak out.
How do you keep the bottom from falling out
when you switch from rhythm to lead?
Mike and I are loud as fuck. We are a very loud
band. He also sometimes will play bass chords
live instead of just playing root notes. If you
listen back on albums therell be root notes and a
rhythm guitar, but live hell play some octaves or
some chords so that it doesnt sound like the world
fell out from under us when I solo.
Do you record with the same gear you use live?
We recorded our first album ourselves, so there
werent many options. I just had my amp and my
stuff. Later, I was interning at a studio in New
Jerseyit was a barn on the side of the highway
and they had a lot of weird old amps and pedals
from the 80s that flew under the radar. I tried a
lot of different fuzz pedals, delay pedals, and amps

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PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 115

Photo by Farrah
xxx
Skeiky

116 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

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experimenting with sounds, but Im very


trepidatious about adding too much or
indulging too much. I try to do what
the song might demand instead of doing
what I want all the time. I would love to
put a million guitars on every song, but
it just doesnt make sense. Its a little too
self-indulgent, I think.
Do you like to vary your tones from
track to track?
We think of albums as paintings: You
want them to have exciting moments
or embellishments that really catch
your eye, but you also want to be able
to step away from it and see the whole
composition united. We try to have this
sense of continuity so that everything
holds together welllike, We made
this album, these songs belong together,
and you should listen to it in this order.
But all the while there are going to be
little embellishments, much as a painter
might add a splash of color in a certain
part of a painting. I wouldnt want to

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fatigue our listeners by having the same


thing happen over and over again, but
there has to be sonic continuity or else
theyre going to be like, What the fucks
going on with this album? Every song
is totally different. There is a place
for that, too, but Im not sure if thats
something Im interested in doing
right now, at least.
Do you ever experiment with guitars
other than your G&Ls?
I have a Fender Telecaster I like using for
heavier stuff. The neck pickup sounds
super cool in dropped D. But for the
most part I just use my G&L S-500sI
dont think Ive ever used anything else
except for a Tele and the G&Ls.

Do you feel its important to grow and


push yourself in different directions as
a guitarist?
Weve been on tour consistently for quite a
while now, and playing every night certainly
is a great way to push yourselfI definitely
feel like Im getting better at playing guitar.
Im going to spend most of this month
working on demos and trying out new
pedals to see if I want to keep them in my
rig. Other than that, I try to play every
day and either record something or write
a song. My concern lies a lot more with
songwriting than shredding. Even though I
do play guitar a lot, its not my goal to play
fast or do something technically impressive.
I like to write songs or write sonic passages
that resonate with people emotionally.

YOUTUBE IT

Marissa Paternosters impeccable vocals and ferocious riffing are the


crowning glory in the Screaming Females 2013 Record Store Day collaboration with Garbage on the Patti Smith song Because the Night.
YouTube search term: Garbage & Screaming Females - Because The
Night (Official Video)

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 117

Introducing the HollowTop


Featuring a unique spruce-topped resonance chamber.
Engineered and hand-crafted for exceptional tone.

ColeCraftGuitars.com

118 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

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Super Colliders
Deerhoofs King Crimson- and John Cageinspired brothers in guitars, Ed Rodriguez
and John Dieterich, analyze their heady prog
pop, signature Eastwood axe, and bizarre gig
playing for world-class physicists.
BY ALEX MAIOLO

Somewhere at the
intersection of punk,
art rock, free jazz,
and pop is a special
place where Deerhoof
comfortably resides. Satomi
Matsuzakiwho moved to the U.S.
in 1995, had no band experience, and
found herself in Deerhoof just two weeks
latersomehow manages to combine
vocal duties, solid bass playing, and
calisthenics. And drummer Greg Saunier
is a master of economy who can do more
with a kick, snare, and single cymbal
than many accomplish with a vast kit.
But guitarists John Dieterich and
Ed Rodriguez are the bands conjurers.
They write parts that complement and
antagonize each other, often changing
course on a dime. Not only do they

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explore any part of the guitar that makes


soundemploying behind-the-bridge,
above-the-nut, and beyond-the-22ndfret techniquesbut they can also
execute lateral runs and speedy doublestops that go head-to-head with revered
shredders. Theirs is a style thats virtually
devoid of clich.
Dieterich joined the band in 1999,
nine years before Rodriguez, but theyve
been playing together for decadesand
thats apparent within minutes of seeing
them at work. A Deerhoof show is a jawdropping display of creativity and chops,
but more than that, its just fun. One of
the hardest-working bands in indie rock,
theyve released, on average, almost an
album per year since their 1997 debut,
and they count among their fans artists as
diverse as Phil Lesh and Annie Clark (aka

St. Vincent). This year, Eastwood Guitars


is even producing a Deerhoof guitar
model that was designed with the help of
Rodriguez and Dieterich.
The San Francisco-based quartets
17th and latest release, The Magic, finds
them tapping into their most avant-garde
tendencies while still leaving room for
rockist riffs and allowing Sauniers love
of the Rolling Stones to peek through.
Right before they hit the road to play
dates in the U.S. and Europe, we spoke
to the bands 6-string duo about their
genesis as players, how they generate
their unique tones, the upcoming
Eastwood model, and playing in one of
the most off-the-beaten-path venues one
could imaginethe Geneva, Switzerland,
facility that houses the worlds most
powerful particle collider.

In the Deerhoof
jam space, Ed
Rodriguez goes
for a volume
swell on his
Strat-style axe.

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 119

Although
Deerhoofs
John Dieterich
uses a variety
of instruments,
his mainstay is
a 1961 Gibson
Melody Maker.

You both started out playing keyboards.


When did you switch to guitar?
Ed Rodriguez: My dad was a great
guitarist. We lived in Waukesha,
Wisconsin, the home of Les Paul. I
started out playing organ and wasnt
even thinking about guitar. One day, at
13, he signed me up for guitar lessons,
took me to a pawnshop, and bought
me a Japanese Les Paul copy for $50. I
eventually stripped it, and the neck is
twistedbut I still have it! I was hooked
early. I decided I wanted to be Hendrix,
so of course I needed a wah pedal. My
dad bought me a Memphis Auto Wah,
which, of course, is totally different, but I
didnt know at the time.
John Dieterich: From 4 to 8 years old,
I played piano. My brother decided he
wanted a bass for his 15th birthday.
I was four years younger and wanted
to do anything he did. I decided I
wanted a guitar, so our parents rented us
instruments. I got a Hondo Les Paul copy.
Im left-handed, so I was playing it upside
down, while my brother was playing his
the regular way, and I thought, Oh,
crapI got the wrong kind! It was really
awkward at first, but now I cant even
attempt to play the other way.

120 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

When did you first hear music that


made you want to become a lifer?
Rodriguez: I never dreamed of doing
anything elseeven as a little kid I was
playing organ at nursing homes. When I
started writing on guitar, my teachers told
me that it sounded a lot like Robert Fripp.
So I went and picked up a copy of [Fripps
1979 solo debut] Exposure. The first song
on that record is kind of a joke. Its just a
basic 12-bar blues jam. I was like, This
is what they think I sound like? This
sucks! This isnt what I sound like at all!
I threw it in a drawer and about a year
later I listened to the rest of the record and
thought, Holy shitFripps amazing!
Then I bought some King Crimson,
and it was all King Crimson for me for
years. When I was 15, I read an article on
Derek Bailey called The Godfather of
Experimental Guitar, so I looked him up.
Then I learned about Sonny Sharrock.
I got a John Cage book when I was 14
and it completely blew my mind, though I
hadnt heard his music. Then, when I was
16, I went to a performance of his Child
of Treewhich was amplified plants. As
in, mics ... attached to a guy ... touching
plants. I was sitting in the auditorium
thinking, This fucking sucks so bad.

His actual music is great, but his


concepts are what completely changed
how I looked at things.
Dieterich: Same for meI read
Cages Silence: Lectures and Writings,
his other books, and many interviews.
I loved how he was always reiterating
everything: He had his spiel, and you
got pounded with it.
Rodriguez: Yeah, and all these
quotes like, Two people making the
same music is one music too many.
He taught me that its better to do
something nobody else is doing. I really
connected with that.
Dieterich: At 11 or 12, I was very
introverted about playing guitarI
didnt want to share it. It wasnt for other
people. Eventually I started playing with
my brother and his friends. I was hearing
Black Flag for the first time, as well as
whatever was on the radio. My first year
of college, I joined the BMG music club
and I picked music based on either the
cover or the description. I ended up with
things like Captain Beefheart and the CTI
Sampler: Masters of the Guitar compilation.

Photo by Tim Bugbee/ Tinnitis Photography

It was really inspirational to see


Duane Denison play ridiculously
stiff, brittle, un-bluesy stuff. It
wasnt supposed to feel good. It
wasnt supposed to be emotional.
It kind of made your skin crawl.
John Dieterich

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The last song on it was Mahavishnus


The Dance of Maya, which was very
Crimson-esque, and I first heard King
Crimson around the same time. But
I was also seeing bands like the Jesus
Lizard. Shred music was everywhere, so
it was really inspirational to see Duane
Denison play ridiculously stiff, brittle,
un-bluesy stuff. It wasnt supposed to feel
good. It wasnt supposed to be emotional.
It kind of made your skin crawl. That
was the first time I saw a guitar player do
that. In fact, the aspect of McLaughlins
style that I like is that it can be stiff.
They were two of my big influences.
Dieterich: If you want to talk about
life-changing guitar players, for me, it
was seeing Ed for the first time in his old
band Behemoth.
Rodriguez: This was pre-internet days,
so we didnt know there was another
Behemoth in Sweden [laughs].
Dieterich: We were both living in
Minneapolis at the time. I went to a
show, and it was the first time Id ever
heard music like that. Ed was instantly

Rodriguez,
shown here
onstage with a
prototype of the
bands Eastwood
signature guitar,
reveals a simple
pedalboard trick
that serves the
band well: We
put our tuners
last. We have
so much stuff in
our music where
we need to stop
on a dime, so we
use our tuners
as a total mute.

my new favorite guitar player. I was


terrified, but I thought, I have to meet
these people because this is my only
chance of getting to play music that I
like. We ended up playing together in
Colossamite and Gorge Trio.
You two seem to have a brotherly
connection. Is there ever a feeling of
brotherly competition, too?
Dieterich: I was very intimidated by
Ed for a long time. I think he was
much further along in developing his
playing style. Seeing Behemoth for
the first time made me think about
music in a different way, but I didnt
know how to approach it. I had been
improvising, but I didnt know that it
was actually a thing people did outside
of jamming in your room, by yourself.
It was nice to finally meet people who
were further down the path that I
desperately wanted to be on.
Rodriguez: I felt inspired when we
met. We started working on music
together immediately. I heard a definite

voice in Johns playing. Its great


when you find common ground with
someone.
Dieterich: Especially when its
something thats not specific or
something you can labelits a kind of
aesthetic affinity thats much deeper.
Rodriguez: Our sense of rhythm and
how we look at tension and release
are similar. Its very natural for us to
complement each other. We know
how to stay out of each others way. It
sort of gives the impression of one big
guitar instead of two guitars. A very
common thing when were playing live
is, Ill think, Man, what Im playing is
really cool! And then itll change, even
though what Im doing with my hands
hasnt, and Ill realize it was John doing
something really cool. I cant even tell
us apart a lot of the time!
John, these days youre in Albuquerque,
and Ed, youre in Portland. Greg and
Satomi are both in New York. So how
does the writing process work?

ED RODRIGUEZS GEAR
GUITARS
Custom Dean/SurfLeaf parts guitar
Eastwood EEG Deerhoof prototype

AMPS
Quilter 101 Mini Head
1x12 Polytone cabinet
with 75-watt Carvin speaker

EFFECTS

STRINGS & PICKS


010.046 string sets (various brands)
Dunlop Jazz III picks
Boss TU-3 tuner
Cioks DC5 power supply

122 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Photo by Zane Roessell

Catalinbread Naga Viper


Catalinbread Octapussy
Catalinbread Belle Epoch

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Dieterich: We write separately, pass around


MP3s, then meet to put it all together.
Rodriguez: The only consistent thing about
Deerhoof is that there has been no writing
system that has lured us into a comfortable
space. Part of how we stay so interested is
we constantly reevaluate everything. When
we were writing The Magic, we didnt really
spend much time together. On some of our
records I cant tell you whether I played on
a certain song or if John played all the parts.
Gregs guitar demos might end up on final
mixes. Were really good with making the
best out of the situation were in. People are
often shocked that we dont live in the same
city, but I feel like we barely skip a beat.
You spend a lot of time together on the
road, so maybe that helps?
Rodriguez: Yeah, but wed have these
situations where we would go on tour for
months, have a week break, come back,
play, and it would feel like everything
just disappeared.
Dieterich: Whatever was there wasnt
there anymore.
Rodriguez: We would have to dig a little
bit to get it back, but now I feel like its just
a small layer of dust, not six feet of dirt.
You know, when bands live in the same city
there are real challenges, too: Theres the
one person who always cancels practice, or
you all end up going to a bar or a movie,
instead. But were actually going to New
York to practice in a week and were not
making plans with anybody else we know.
Were 100 percent there for the band. Well
wake up, eat together, play, and enjoy it,
because we miss each other and we know
that its precious. Also, were a group of
deadline-oriented people.
John, you usually play a Gibson Melody
Maker, a guitar not commonly associated
with intricate music. Do you have to fight
with it a little?
Dieterich: I had never played an instrument
that had that kind of neck and I just fell in
love with it. I sat down and played it and
was like, This is what Ive been looking
for! That said, our soundman has gear
we use sometimes, and Im fine with it. I
feel a little sad saying this, but I dont feel
connected to a particular instrument. There

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PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 123

We travel in a minivan, because it saves


money. Theres the band, our sound person,
and all of our gear, including our merch.
Its insane. Its a jigsaw puzzle.
John Dieterich

JOHN DIETERICHS GEAR


GUITARS
1961 Gibson Melody Maker

AMPS
Pearc G2r solid-state head
1x12 cab

Although he
favors the
neck pickup,
Dieterich
shown here
with a singlelipstick-pickup
offsetsays
his 200-watt
solid-state
John Pearse
amp helps him
get a bright,
cutting sound.

EFFECTS
Fairfield Circuitry Barbershop
Millennium Overdrive
Shoe Savior Machine
DOD/Shoe Looking Glass overdrive
EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander
EarthQuaker Devices
Disaster Transport Sr.

STRINGS & PICKS


011.050 string sets (various brands)
Dunlop Max-Grip .88 mm picks
Boss TU-3 tuner

are classical musicians who play a single


instrument their entire lives. I admire
that kind of intimacy. Greg makes fun of
me because every guitar I play Im like,
Wowthis things awesome! This is the
best guitar Ive ever played! I tend to do
that with a lot of different things, like
food and whatever [laughs].
Ed, can you talk a bit about your
trademark pink guitar?
Rodriguez: I put it together from
partsI had an idea and just went for
it. I wanted a colored neck, so I got a
Dean Custom Zone for $90 on eBay
and took the neck off it. I reshaped and

124 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

mostly. Dan Pearce made solid-state


amps in the late 80s. I got mine used in
95 from some guy in Madison. Its two
channels at 100 watts, or you can bridge
them for 200. Its a really great amp. It
has parametric mids. Its best feature is
a presence knob. When I hear our old
recordings, Im a little bummed because
I didnt really know how to use the amp
yet. I just made the most ear-crushing
sound possible. What Im going for
now is a little more articulate and I can
control it better.

painted the headstock and put different


tuners on it. The body is by SurfLeaf. I
emailed them with specs and they made
it for something like 80 bucks. The
pickups are BG Pups. I spray-painted
the covers. Its got one 3-way switch and
one volume knob. I like to keep things
as simple as possible. Its been smashed
by the airlines more than once.

Ed, what amp do you use?


Rodriguez: I just switched to a Quilter
101, which I love, but up until recently Ive
been touring with an Orange Tiny Terror.

John, you often have a neck-pickup


sound, but its also really bright.
Are you actively using the tone and
volume controls of your guitar or is
that coming from somewhere else?
Dieterich: Its coming from the amp,

Tiny Terrors are amazing, but dont


have much headroom. If you hit a
boost, they dont get louder, they just
distort more. Was that a problem?
Rodriguez: It could be, at times.
Were very big on arranging, so if we

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have a moment where I might need to boost,


the rest of the band will be quieter. Were all
about dynamics. Were also really big on using
whichever guitar setup will bring out a part the
most. If I played a part on the record and I cant
cut through with my live setup, John may end
up playing itand vice versa. It was really eyeopening when John and I were first trying to
figure out setups, by the way. We got a bunch
of different cabinets and speakers, and swapped
them around. I ended up with a 75-watt Carvin
speaker in a Polytone cabinet. It sounds great.

mute. Well have huge feedback or a


super-loud part, and then we can just
cut it clean.
Dieterich: The EarthQuaker Bit
Commander. Since its also going DI,
I can get into really huge synth-bass
stuff. At least two people a night ask,
How the hell did you do that? Ive
probably sold 100 of them [laughs]
seriously! Sometimes Ill add another
pedal to my board, like an Octavia

[by Roger Mayer], just for feedback.


I used to do that with a [Crowther
Audio] Hotcake, but Ive broken a
few over the years.
Rodriguez: I always use an Octavia
for my distortion. A few weeks ago I
met with the people at Catalinbread,
which is based in Portland, where
I live. I really like their Octapussy
octave fuzz. When I roll off the low
end, its like a perfect bright synth,

You guys like to keep it compact. At one point


werent you touring with ZT Lunchbox amps?
Dieterich: Yeah, we did at least one tour where I
was. Were you doing it too, Ed?
Rodriguez: There was one tour where I was
running a MIDI setup through the ZT, but I
abandoned that MIDI thing. If anyone makes a
tiny amp, theres a pretty good chance well end up
trying it, thoughanother cubic foot of space in
the minivan is always welcome!
Dieterich: We dont really have a choice with our
business model. We travel in a minivan, because
it saves money. Theres the band, our sound person,
and all of our gear, including our merch. Its
insane. Its a jigsaw puzzle.
Rodriguez: We dont want to pay for extra bags
when we fly, so when were in Europe well bring
our heads and rent cabinets. A big part of us being
able to operate with this as our livelihood is trying
to save as much money as possible.
Do you normally play in standard tuning?
Rodriguez: Yes, I think its the most natural. Its
interesting to get what people may consider nontraditional sounds out of that tuning.
You both often explore dissonance. Is that a
concerted effort or is that just where you go
naturally?
Dieterich: I think its pretty natural.
Rodriguez: When I write for Deerhoof, I have
to try really hard to make it less dissonant. My
tendency is just stacked secondsas dense and as
clashing as possible. With that thought in mind,
Im always trying to space out the intervals.
Are there any secret weapon pedals on
your boards?
Rodriguez: A simple one is we put our tuners last.
We have so much stuff in our music where we need
to stop on a dime, so we use our tuners as a total
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PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 125

and when I roll the bass up it turns into


psych-like fat buzz. I missed the whole
boutique pedal explosion, mainly because
Ive always been broke. For so many
years the prices werent that competitive.
I thought, Either I can get this Boss
distortion for, like, $90 or buy this other
one for $400. Of course, Id always prefer
to have something custom, but I couldnt
afford that. Now its great that the cost
gap has really narrowed.
How did you end up partnering with
Eastwood?
Rodriguez: Weve had offers from
boutique guitar companies, but I could
never afford those instruments without
an endorsement. I dont know if I have
this kind of sway with anybody, but if I
do then I dont want to motivate some
kid to save up $2,500 to buy a guitar
when Ive never paid more than $450 for
one. We met Mike from Eastwood when
we played at the All Tomorrows Parties in
New York around 2009. He sent me the
[Airline] Tuxedo, John got a Classic 12,
and Satomi got one of the basses. I played
that Tuxedo forever and completely loved
it. After that tour, I continued playing it,
because it just worked with everything.
When the La Isla Bonita tour started,
I built the pink guitar because I wanted
to have a whole new vibe going. Mike
sent an email asking why I dropped
the Eastwood. I told him I like to
switch things up every once in a while,
especially for a new record. He said hed
love to see us playing Eastwoods again,
and offered to make a Deerhoof guitar.
He suggested using one of their existing
guitars as a starting point. I was looking
through the models that he had, and
noticed the Ampeg scroll bass. I asked
him, Is it possible to make a guitar on
that body, because that would be fucking
badass. He thought it was a great idea,
and their designers drew out the plans.
Initially the wiring was different, but
then we got the idea for a bass roll-off.
A lot of the times when we do backline,
one of our issues is theres too much low
end in those big cabinets. We used to
bring EQ pedals to try to clear up some
of that mud.

126 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

YOUTUBE IT

This December 2014 performance captures Deerhoofs energy


and unpredictability. Theres some Robert Fripp in John
Dieterichs opening riff, but by the two-minute mark its all about
signal destruction, pealing harmonies, and sputtering chaos.
YouTube search term: Deerhoof We Do Parties (Live in Tokyo)

Dieterich: The pickup options are great,


too. When were touring, about half of
the venues have bad electricity. So you
basically cant use single-coils. Its really
useful that this guitar can be used in
single-coil mode, where the pickups
sound killer, but in humbucker mode
they still sound really good and theyre
completely noiseless.
There are some pretty unconventional
guitar sounds on The Magic that seem
to be the product of studio decisions.
Are there any youre particularly
proud of?
Dieterich: I like the guitars on Model
Behavior a lot. Its a very thin, outof-phase sound from a homemade
guitar I made from Sonex parts [from
the short-lived 1980s Gibson budget
line]. I ran it through a DI into an
old tube preamp, with no additional
EQ, compression, or anything. The

pickups were made by Aron Sanchez at


Polyphonic Workshop, who is amazing
and plays in a great band called Buke
and Gase. Theyre very hi-fi sounding,
full-frequency, under-wound pickups.
How did you guys end up playing
amidst the machinery at the Large
Hadron Super Collider in Switzerland
last year?
Dieterich: It was just weird fate. Greg
has another band with our soundperson,
Deron Pulley, and they were playing a
show in New York. After it, I was talking
to this physicist, James Beacham, and
he said, I have this dream of bringing
Deerhoof to the Large Hadron Collider
where I do work. I was like, Okay,
amazing. I never actually expected it to
happen, but then he got in touch! It was
this incredibly unlikely thing that nobody
believed was going to happen ... until the
day it did.

Photo by Tim Bugbee/ Tinnitis Photography

A dapperlooking
Rodriguez
onstage with an
Eastwood Airline
Tuxedo, which
he says, Just
worked with
everything.

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PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 127

BY ADAM PERLMUTTER

128 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Photo by Andy Laviolette

How a monster musician fine-tuned his ability to play bass,


guitar, rhythm, and melodiesand tell one-linersall at the
same time. And copped his new albums title from Mike Tyson.

premierguitar.com

n an evening in June, I sat in the back room of McCabes


Guitar Shop, the famed store and performance venue in
Santa Monica, California, waiting to see Charlie Hunter
play with his trio. Hunter strolled casually onto the
stage and plugged into two amplifiers. He joked with
drummer Scott Amendola and cornetist Kirk Knuffke while he
warmed up a little on his custom Jeff Traugott guitar.
As Hunter also warmed up the audience with some witty
observations delivered with impeccable comedic timing,
he maintained an infectious groove on his instrument. His
presentation was so low-key that it took a minute to register that
he was pulling off the impossible: improvising single-note lines
while accompanying himself with complex chords and an expert
funk bass lineall while talking. It was kind of freakish.
Hunter, 49, has been regaling audiences with his uncanny
guitar counterpoint for two decades. He rose to prominence
in the 90s while a member of the Disposable Heroes of
Hiphoprisy, a Bay Area political hip-hop group, and T.J. Kirk,

which interpreted the music of iconoclastic musicians Thelonious


Monk, James Brown, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
Since his solo debut, 1993s Charlie Hunter Trio, Hunter has
been sharpening his conception on his specialized 8- and 7-string
instruments, which include both bass and guitar strings and
pickups. The way Hunter approaches his unusual axes is no mere
party trick: hes both a singular guitarist and bassist in one, and
every note he plays is very clearly in service of the groove.
For his 18th albumthe curiously titled Everybody Has a Plan
Until They Get Punched in the MouthHunter leads a killer brassheavy quartet comprising trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, cornetist
Knuffke, and drummer Bobby Previte. This team of improvisers
uses the blues as its operating system to create whats both an
enjoyable and deep listen.
Back home in New Jersey after the McCabes gig, Hunter
called and told Premier Guitar about the balancing act involved
in playing his current hybrid 7-string, the other tools of his trade,
and, naturally, the supreme importance of the groove.

Opposite Page:
Despite his
seemingly
effortless
mastery, Charlie
Hunter says,
I compare
the difference
between playing
a standard guitar
and mine to
the difference
between driving
a racecar and
a truck.

You have to deal with


the time, first and
foremost. The groove is
whatll get you through
everything else.

Photo by Ken Settle

On your latest albumand in


generalyou play a pretty nonstandard
instrument. Can you describe it?
The guitar Ive been playing for a while
was made by Jeff Traugott. [Editors note:
a luthier in Santa Cruz, California, who
mainly makes steel-string acoustics.] Its got
seven strings, but its not a normal 7-string
guitar. The lower three strings are like the
lower three of a bass, except tuned up a
minor third. The remaining four strings
are like the middle four on a guitar and
are also tuned up a minor third. From low
to high, thats GCFCFB%D.
Your instrument requires two separate
amps. Which ones do you prefer?
I only own two guitar amps and I keep
one on the East Coast and the other on

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the West Coast. I have a Carr Rambler


that I got made into a class A/B instead
of class A, and I really like that. The
regular Rambler is an incredible amp that
you cant go wrong with, but because
of the way my guitar is tuned, it makes
sense to have an amp that delivers more
of the percussive and less of the sweet.
For the West Coast, I have a
Rambler chassis that actually houses a
Carr Impala, with the master volume
removed because I dont need that.
Sometimes those amps get swapped and
the West Coast becomes the East Coast
and vice versa. Both are absolutely
great amps, and Ive never had anything
resembling a problem with either one.
For bass amps, Ive got exactly the same
East-and-West-Coast thing happening. Like

with my guitar amps, I only own two, but


theyre both the same: Mesa Walkabout
heads with stock 1x15 cabinets.
You have a remarkably pure sound. Do
you use any effects at all?
Im in a phase where I just go straight into
the amp.
How did you develop your contrapuntal
approach to the guitar?
I started playing drums when I was a kid,
and then I played a lot of guitar, of course,
for many years. After high school, when I
was a street musician in Europe, I played
acoustic bass and was definitely the low
man on the totem pole [laughs]. At the
same time, I was really into players like
Joe Pass, Tuck Andress, and a lot of the

Hunters delight
in performing
on his 7-string
Jeff Traugott
axe is evident
in his concerts.
The instrument
has a Bartolini
bass pickup and
a Lollar guitar
pickup, and
employs bass and
guitar strings.

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 129

CHARLIE HUNTERS GEAR


GUITARS
Custom Jeff Traugott 7-string
with a Bartolini bass pickup
and a Jason Lollar guitar pickup

GUITAR AMPS
Carr Impala
Carr Rambler

BASS AMPS
Mesa/Boogie Walkabout heads with
Traditional Powerhouse 1x15 cabinets

STRINGS & PICKS


DAddario Nylon Tape Wound sets
(bottom three strings: .065, .085, .105)
and single nickel DAddario electric guitar
strings (.012, .016, .026, .036)

old country-blues guys. I started from


there and played a regular 7-string for a
while until the early 90s, when Ralph
Novak made me an 8-string guitar, which
essentially had the lower three strings
of a bass and the upper five of a guitar.
I recorded a bunch of records for Blue
Note on that one. My concept was just
to try to blaze on everything all the time,
because I was in my 20s, and thats what
your concept for everything is at that age.
How did you evolve into the less
blazing and more thoughtful musician
you are today?
Over the years Ive been changing the
tunings and trying to arrive at a much

130 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

more personal style. The longer I play, the


farther away it gets from being a guitar and
bass in one, and the closer it gets to just
being its own thing. I think I realized, like
five or six years into it, how much effort
it would take to get to a point where my
instrument wouldnt be an embarrassment
to play. Im almost 50 now, and Im finally
feeling like Im getting to a place where
I really like what the instrument does
the whole counterpoint thing and how
independent parts work together. Time and
groovethats what it does best and thats
whats most satisfying to me.
When I play my instrument right,
nobody even notices that its unusual
[laughs]. The only problem is that we live

in a society that values flurries of notes and


pyrotechnical effects. I dont mean to say
that in a bitter way, because Im not bitter
at all. I feel sincerely lucky that in this world
where everything has so been donewhere
most instruments have been impacted by
the thousands and thousands of musicians
whove played them incredibly wellI have
this tiny, tiny little corner where I can wake
up every morning and get down to brass
tacks. Even though the boulder is getting
pushed on my head every day, I dont mind,
as Ive developed something a little different.
You mentioned experimenting with
tunings. Do you change tunings to
make it easier to play certain things?

Photo by Ken Settle

It took decades
of dogged
determination
for Hunter to
fine-tune his
concept, starting
on drums,
then playing
6-string, and
then working
as a bassist on
the streets of
Europe before
finding his voice
on hybrid 8- and
7-string guitars.

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Actually its harder [laughs], since Ive


increased the overall tension on the
instrument. Ive been playing with
the tuning I have now for the last 10
years or so. Because of the range of the
instrument, theres always going to be a
compromise. Youll never get quite the
bass sound of a Fender Precision or the
guitar sound of a classic Fender or Gibson
in the same instrument. Because theres
so much tension on the neck to begin
with, you need to be careful not to put
too much more, since youll have to work
harder to get a good tone. I compare the
difference between playing a standard
guitar and mine to the difference between
driving a racecar and a truck.
Tell us more specifics about finding
a balance between scale length and
string gaugeand bass and guitar
soundson your instrument.
A Fender bass has a 34" scale, and for
years the bass strings on my instrument
have had a 29" scale. Now, a low E on

premierguitar.com

a 29"-scale neck is just kind of sad.


The intonation is bad and theres not
that much punch to it. You can always
use heavier bass strings to fatten the
sound, but then things can become too
tubby-sounding and the guitar strings
get choked out such that the guitar loses
punch and warmth.
I tried to find the scale length and
tuning that leave me with the least amount
of compromise. In tuning up the bass
strings a minor third, I lose three bass
notesE, F, and F#. At first, I thought
that would be the biggest compromise, but
I really dont miss that. I like the character
the bass takes on when tuned up. And the
other thing youll compromise on is that
the guitar can be slinky-sounding, but if
you put on heavier strings, youre looking
at an instrument with well over 200
pounds of pressurenot something the
instrument or I can live with.
When you improvise, do you conceive
of music as independent horizontal

lines or as vertical chunks? What are


your secrets to creating the illusion of
multiple instruments?
You have to deal with the time, first and
foremost. The groove is whatll get you
through everything else. So as long as you
really have the time going, then you can
get enough note combinations down to
pick and choose from at any moment. You
need to have realistic expectations of the
instrument as well. Youre never going to
have the linear beauty of a horn on it
thats not going to happen. Many guitarists
are informed by horn-like concepts, but
in a lot of ways, thats working against
the instrument. Youre not going to have
the harmonic complexity of a keyboard
instrument, either.
But the thing you can do on guitar
thats so cool is occupy a certain space
between linear and rhythmic playing where
all this vernacular comes out. You can hear
it in everything from bossa nova to country
bluesin players like Mississippi John Hurt
and Blind Blake, or the music of Joseph

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 131

Coming up in the Bay Area, I was exposed to so


much music with blues rootssoul, funk, and
R&Band now its in my musical DNA.
Spence and, later on, Joe Pass, Tuck Andress,
and Ben Lacy. Even Wes Montgomery
occupies that exciting territory.
Getting back to your question, because
of the nature of the instrument, I have to
develop things in a real non-linear way. The
contrapuntal stuff comes together when the
groove lets it happen. Another thing is that
on guitar you want to shred, and that makes
you tend to want to play opportunistically.
But to make something happen thats
largely musical on my instrument, you have
to go against that opportunistic way of
playing. You have to keep a groove going as
well as you can and take it from there.
Youre known for your impeccable sense
of time. Did it come naturally to you
or is it something that has required a
lot of practice and maintenance?
I think its something anyone can work on,
especially if you have a head start. Growing
up in an environment where there was
so much rhythmic music, I did have a
head start. You can certainly develop killer
rhythmic chops, but it can be a lot of
work. Like anything else you do, the more

132 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

the betternot just by working with a


metronome, but by playing with people
who are much better than you.
Everybody Has a Plan Until They Get
Punched in the Mouth is a great title
for a record. Is it a specific reference,
or something random?
Its just a Mike Tyson quote that I liked.
I thought, Why not use it as the title
for a record?
Are you a boxing fan?
You know, I did it for a while when I
was a kidquite terribly. Ive got a lot
of respect for boxers, but Im not really
much of a fan anymore. Im more of a
baseball fan, to be totally honest.

Talk about the overall strategy behind


the recordand what it was like to
work with your co-conspirators.
The idea behind the record was that
you have these guys with a lot of jazz
information, but we decided to think of
the ensemble more in terms of a blues
band with improvisers in it. Bobby
Previte and I go back a long ways, and
Curtis Fowlkes and I do as well. Kirk
Knuffke is a new musical acquaintance.
I just love his playing and where hes
coming from musically. I really wanted
a brass sound for this album, and it
worked. Its got that certain sound and
sensibility. I called the right people, and
it turned out pretty darn good, I gotta
say [laughs].

YOUTUBE IT

Watch Charlie Hunter and his studio band recording No


Money No Honey for his new album, Everybody Has a Plan
Until They Get Punched in the Mouth. This performance
perfectly captures the heart of his style, as he alternately
drives and rides the groove while playing clean melodies
and solos on his Traugott 7-string hybrid. Hunters first solo,
at a little over a minute in, is stone blues.
YouTube search term: Charlie Hunter No Money No Honey

Photo by Andy Laviolette

The group that


cut Charlie
Hunters new
album (left to
right): cornetist
Kirk Knuffke,
drummer Bobby
Previte, Hunter,
and trombonist
Curtis Fowlkes.

premierguitar.com

Big Bills Blues has a lovely


unaccompanied intro on which you
really delve deeply into the blues. Talk
about what the blues means to you.
The blues is really the foundation for
everything I do. Coming up in the Bay
Area, I was exposed to so much music with
blues rootssoul, funk, and R&Band
now its in my musical DNA. The blues is
really what the guitar is all about, for me.
On tracks like (Looks Like) Somebody
Got Ahead of Schedule on Their
Medication you can hear a hint of
outside playing. Where does this
come from?
So much of that comes from listening
to people like Lester Bowie and Arthur
Blythethat kind of AACM [Association
for the Advancement of Creative
Musicians] sensibility. And I guess maybe
it just comes down to trying to get as
much vocabulary together as you can
vocabulary you get from listening to those
records and playing with those people,
which just kind of creeps into your music.
Though the album was cut in a studio, it
has a live vibe. How did you record it?
We set up in a big-ass room in a really nice
studio that used to be a church in Hudson,
New York, and we just played. That was it.
So there werent any overdubs or edits?
I think on one song maybe theres an edit
in terms of we liked the head better on
one take and the body of it on another,
but thats about it. I dont even think
there were any fixes on itat least I dont
remember any.
And you were all in one room?
Yep, we were all in one room. Thats the
way to goby far my favorite way to
record. When you spend the majority of
your time playing live and jelling with
the musicians in your group, then you
go into a studio and do what works best
for the engineer, every little move you
do to separate the instruments hinders
your ability to communicate with other
musicians and takes away incrementally
from the vibe. Im happy to sacrifice
fidelity for vibe any time.

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 133

STATE OF THE STOMP

Say Yes to New Sounds


BY PHILIPPE HERNDON

y the time you read this, election


season will nearly be over. Your
social media feed will have gone
from infuriating to entertaining, as the
algorithms figure out which side youre
on and cultivate a soothing stream of
preferable information and easy laughs
at your opponents. Youll have tuned out
that crazy relative you dont agree with
while forwarding and sharing all the stuff
your like-minded buddies will appreciate.
By the time November comes around,
youll wonder how anyone could be voting for the other side, as youll hardly ever
see or know anyone who does.
In a lot of ways, we dont even need
the computers to do this much work for
us. Confirmation bias results from our
tendency to retain information favorable
to our beliefs and discard information
that isnt. When we wish for something
to be true, we only collect evidence
that fits our beliefs, while ignoring
information that could challenge the
premises weve cherry-picked to fit our
preferred conclusions.
I once had a fascinating exchange with
a young guitar player who insisted that
he had all the gear he would ever need.
He was using a guitar with single-coil
pickups, a couple of low-gain drives,
multifunction delay and reverb units,
and a clean amp. He told me of his
intention to seriously pursue a career as
a performing musician who could also
pick up session work in a studio. Perhaps
within his frame of reference, he was
correct. He had the gear of the artists and
genre that he admired. Hed observed
what his heroes used, how they sounded,
and what it took to get thereand hed
acquired the tools to replicate those
outcomes. Premise: Ill only need to do
this. Conclusion: This is all Ill ever need.
I just shook my head, because, when
I saw his setup, his notion of a session
recording musician seemed laughable.
I recalled being asked by different
producers for all manner of sounds that
such a basic setup simply couldnt do.

134 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Need to play like


Skip Pitts in Theme
from Shaft? You
better have a wah
(and one with a clean
potentiometer). Get
asked for a Run
Through the Jungle
part? Youll need
tremolo, for a start.
Those Jerry Garcia
squawking sounds
require an envelope
filter. Those crackedspeaker Beatles leads will demand a
spitty fuzz. Something like a slow
Hendrix feel means getting a Uni-Vibe
warmed up. That Rage Against the
Machine siren-y thing requires having
a Whammy in your backpack. An 80s
rockish thing means you better get Van
Halen sounds with some hard-clipped
distortion. And when they ask for some
whoosh or swirl, you might need a
take or two to figure out if theyre asking
for Have a Cigar phasing or Andy
Summers chorus/flanging.
I bring all these examples up to point
out how essential these distinctive sounds
are to these kinds of performances. I had
the pleasure of meeting Jacques Charbit
from Jacques Stompboxes at his shop in
Marseilles years ago. He chatted with me
very persuasively about his take that tone
is as important as content with regards
to electric guitar. If you hand a classical
piece to a classically trained pianist, one
could reasonably expect to hear a quality
rendition of the work that conforms to
expectations. But if you ask someone to
play something like Foxy Lady on an
electric guitar without loads of unruly
fuzzy greatness, they might as well be
playing it on a ukulele.
Those effected sounds are as vital and
evocative to our ears as the notes and
arrangements. We can only imagine how
important they were to the writers and
players. When you hear Mayonaise,
you can hear Billy Corgan and James Iha

almost playing across the phasing. Check


out the way Jack White seems to stiffen
his delivery on Little Cream Soda
to conform to the glitchy harmonized
output of his pitch shifter. Find a live
version of Bridge of Sighs to hear
how the throb of the Uni-Vibe seems
to not only affect Robin Trowers parts,
but the sway of his bandmates rolling
behind the beat in the rhythm section.
Those are effects that do more than
change the sound; they have also changed
the content, and that content simply
wouldnt be the same without them.
We all can look at what we already have
and like, and tell ourselves over and over
again that its exactly what we need. But in
the spirit of fighting confirmation bias, try
seeking out evidence thats contrary to those
beliefs. Be on the lookout for sounds in
songs you enjoy that you currently cannot
achieve, listen to challenging music outside
of your preferences, and give yourself the
chance to pursue those sounds and awaken
something previously unheard in your own
playing. Theres a world full of music out
there made with gadgets that are designed
to make sounds you simply cannot create
otherwise. Put them to use.
PHILIPPE HERNDON is the
founder and chief product
designer at Caroline Guitar
Company. One day he might
actually get around to making
a guitar. He likes pretty much
any British TV series that
Netflix recommends for him.

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MOD GARAGE

Strat-PRS Crossover Wiring


BY DIRK WACKER

xactly 10 years ago, I wrote


my first column for the
publication that evolved
into Premier Guitar, and as you can
imagine, this is a landmark for me. To
celebrate this decennial anniversary,
Ive cooked up something special. Fair
warning: This is a complex mod, so
it may not be for everyone. But even
though the wiring resembles a circuit
from the Apollo 12 mission, its worth
the work if you dream of having a
vast sonic palette at your fingertips.
The goal of this wiring is to create
two independent switching stages:
a standard Stratocaster setup mated
with a typical PRS scheme. This
Strat-PRS crossover will give you
the best of both worlds in one guitar.
Overview and considerations. For
this project, you need a guitar with three
pickupsneck and bridge humbuckers,
plus a middle single-coilwired to a
special 5-way switch and master volume
and master tone controls.
To get the required HSH
configuration, you can take an existing
dual-humbucker guitar and add a
middle single-coil or replace a Strats
neck and bridge single-coils with
humbuckers. For most guitars, this will
necessitate body routing (a job for a
pro) as well as a new pickguard.
A few other things to bear in
mind: While its possible to use
single-coil-sized humbuckers, youll
get the best results using standard
humbuckers with a middle single-coil.
In particular, its the PRS tones that
benefit from this pickup mix.
Although the middle pickup can
be any standard single-coil of your
choice, both humbuckers must have
4-conductor wiring. If you have
traditional 2-conductor humbuckers,
you can either convert them to
4-conductor wiring or simply replace
them with modern 4-conductor types.
I suggest considering the latter, because
converting a 2-wire humbucker to a

136 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

4-wire design entails removing the cover, and this exposes the extremely delicate coil
wires. In this state, its easy to damage the pickup. Unless youre comfortable with such
an operation, take the pickups to your local tech or send them to a pickup manufacturer
and ask them to do the conversion for you. Again, the safest option is to use stock
4-wire humbuckers, which are readily available from dozens of companies.
Also, when wiring two pickups together and splitting a humbucker, its easy to get lost
in all kinds of out-of-phase issues when you mix pickups from different makers. To avoid
inadvertent phase problems, I highly recommend using all three pickups from the same
manufacturer. This will ensure that both the polarity of the magnets and polarity of the
individual coilsand this is especially critical for the humbuckersare correct in relation
to each other. (In future columns Ill go into this topic in greater detail and show you how
to avoid any phase troubles right from the get-go.) If you intend to combine pickups from
different companies, contact the manufacturers service departments and explain what you
want to do so they can guide you through the pickup selection process.
The nitty-gritty. For this mod, youll need a 5-way switch with four, instead of the
standard two, independent switching stages. The open-framed version of this switch is
available from Fender as a 5-way Super Switch, but there are also PCB-based versions
of this switch. To find out more about these switches, read Introducing Fenders 5-Way
Super Switch and Exploring Fenders 5-Way Super Switch at premierguitar.com.
This project also requires an additional switch to toggle between standard Strat and
PRS modes. You can either add a 4PDT mini-toggle switch or replace one of the pots
with a Fender S-1 push/push switching pot. I opted for the S-1 to keep the control
layout as clean as possible, but if you want to install an additional switch instead,
search for The Fender S-1 Switching System on the PG website. There youll find the
S-1s switching matrix, which you can convert to your 4PDT switch.
Another item youll need for this project is a 500k-ohm resistor. Any type and wattage
will do; I use a 1/4-watt metal film resistor because its small and easy to work with.
Both the master volume and tone pots are 500k, a value that makes sense for the
PRS mode. For the Strat mode, we have a neat little trick Ill show you in a moment.
As for the tone cap, a standard 0.022 F value will work fine. If you want a little less
capacitance, try a 0.015 F or 0.01 F value. Either will work great for the Strat mode.
If you want, you can also incorporate the typical PRS treble bleed network between the
volumes input and output to keep the high-end alive when rolling back the volume.
This will work for the Strat mode as well, but not perfectlygive it a try and see what
you think. The official PRS method is a 180 pF cap only wiring.
The following chart details the 10 pickup selections in our crossover wiring scheme.

5-way Super Switch

S-1 Up (Strat mode)

S-1 Down (PRS mode)

bridge inside coil

full bridge humbucker

middle + bridge inside


coil in parallel

full bridge humbucker +


neck outside coil in parallel

middle

full neck + bridge


humbuckers

middle + neck outside coil


in parallel

neck outside coil + bridge


inside coil in parallel

neck outside coil

full neck humbucker

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Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

The Strat mode yields five classic


single-coil tonesbridge, middle,
and neck pickups solo, plus a pair of
dual-pickup settings. For the latter, the
humbuckers are split and the active coil
is wired in parallel to the middle singlecoil to achieve the Strats signature cluck
in positions 2 and 4. Depending on the
humbuckers, this can work quite well.
Pushing the S-1 down gives you
the switching matrix of a modern
PRS equipped with two humbuckers.
Position 4 sounds similar to a Telecasters
middle position, with bridge and neck
single-coils in parallel, and when you
add that to the available Strat and full
humbucker settings, you have a lot of
tonal possibilities.
Hookup tips. Because there are so
many wires to connect, I recommend
approaching this in two stages. Start
by soldering all the jumper wires on

138 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

the 5-way Super Switch (Fig. 1) and


the S-1 pot (Fig. 2). Its much easier to
solder these wires before mounting the
components in the guitar.
Notice the additional 500k resistor on
the S-1 switch, soldered between the switch
and the lug that will ultimately connect
to ground. This is a cool little gimmick
to get a more classic Strat tone. Heres the
lowdown: A standard Strat has three 250k
pots, yet here we have two 500k potsa
configuration that gives the middle singlecoil more highs than were used to hearing
on a Strat. By adding this 500k resistor in
parallel, the middle single-coil will sound
like its in a 250k environment when the
S-1 is in Strat mode.
Fig. 3 is the full schematic. I used
Seymour Duncans color codea
standard for such drawings. If youre
using pickups from a different
manufacturer, simply convert the

color code of the wires, following the


manufacturers instructions. To keep the
schematic as clean as possible, whenever
multiple wires lead to the same spot, I
combine them in the drawing. In such
a complex wiring, its very easy to mix
something up, so be patient and work
methodically. Go one step at a time and
double-check each connection.
Next time, well begin investigating
pickup parameters to learn how to
interpret them and what they can tell us
about a given units sound. Until then ...
keep on modding!
DIRK WACKER lives in Germany

and has been a guitar addict since


age 5. Hes also a hardcore DIY-er
for guitars, amps, and stompboxes
and runs a website on the subject
(singlecoil.com). When not
working at his guitar workbench,
he plays country, rockabilly, surf,
and flamenco. Contact him at
info@singlecoil.com.

Wiring diagrams courtesy of singlecoil.com

Even though the


wiring resembles
a circuit from the
Apollo 12 mission,
its worth the work if
you dream of having
a vast sonic palette at
your fingertips."

premierguitar.com

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 139

ASK AMP MAN

Upping the Gain on a Super Reverb


BY JEFF BOBER

Hello Ask Amp Man fans. Well, this month I thought Id do something a bit
different. Instead of answering a reader question, I thought Id make one up myself! I
mean, why not? I write and read my column as well, so that makes me a reader, too!
Heres my question to me.

Q:

Hello Amp Man. I have two 70s Fender Super Reverb amps, and while
I dont want to do anything crazy to them, Id like to know if theres a
quick mod I can do to one of them to make it different from the other.
Maybe get a bit more gain or drive? I dont like a lot of hyper-gain or
scooped mids and am more of an old-school rock n roll kinda player,
so what can I do?
Sincerely,
Jeff

A:

Hi Jeff, and thanks for


writing. Okaysomething
old school and simple. I
have just the thing. I actually did this
as an experiment the other day to see
what would happen, so Ill pass along
the results. I wanted to see if there was
a really down-and-dirty way to cascade
the two channels of a Super Reverb to
get more front-end gain from an amp
that really doesnt have much, so lets see
what happens.
The initial modification I tried was to
take the output of the first gain stage in the
normal channel and feed it to the input of
the vibrato channel. The easiest way to do
this was to disconnect the wire from the
wiper of the volume pot (middle terminal)
in the normal channel and connect a new
wire from there to the input of the vibrato
channel at the junction of the input
resistors, which are attached to the input
jacks (Fig. 1). Okay, lets see what happens.
Turn the amp on, set the tone controls
on both channels to the mid-point, plug
a guitar into the normal channel, and
bring up both volume controls slowly. The
volume of the normal channel is now the
pre-amp control.
The result? A bit more drive in the
front end, but not as much as I wouldve

140 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

expected. But wait, the signal is being


loaded down by the input resistors,
whichwith nothing plugged into the
vibrato input jacksare connected to
ground. Quick solution: Plug a blank
1/4" plug (no cable connected, just a
raw plug) into the #1 input. This will
open the switching contact and remove
the resistive load to ground. The result
is definitely a bump in gain, but lets see
if we can do something different and get
more gain.

The next attempt will use both gain


stages of the normal channel. This
starts with removing the new wire we
installed and reconnecting the volume
wiper to its original connection. Next,
well access the output of both stages of
the normal channel before it enters the
phase inverter and output section of the
amp. This is quite easy because the wire
is handily accessible and long enough to
use to complete the mod. Find the blue
wire indicated (Fig. 2a) and disconnect
it from the resistor. Next, connect it to
the same pair of resistors in the previous
modification (Fig. 2b). Now lets see
what we have.
With the same settings as before, there
is substantially more gain. Enough to put
it into metal territory? Far from it. Is it a
great-sounding overdrive? Not really, but
after twisting knobs for a few minutes
(Fig. 3) with my P-90 equipped Tele
plugged in, I found myself playing early
Santana licks, because it actually sounded
very similar to the early Carlos tone.
Unless I was in a Santana tribute band,
its not something I would use all night,
but it was a fun little experiment.
You could even make this switchable
if you like. Simply install a SPDT (single

Fig. 1

premierguitar.com

WARNING:
All tube amplifiers contain lethal voltages. The most dangerous voltages are stored in electrolytic capacitors, even after the amp
has been unplugged from the wall. Before you touch anything inside the amp chassis, its imperative that these capacitors are
discharged. If you are unsure of this procedure, consult your local amp tech.

Fig. 2a

Fig. 2b

Fig. 3

pole double throw) switch in the amp


somewhere and connect the signal wire
from channel 1 to the center terminal.
Next, connect a wire to one of the
remaining terminals and attach the other
end to the two input resistors. Connect
a wire to the last terminal on the switch
and attach it to the original location of
the normal channel signal wire.
There you have it. Stock when
you want it to be, with the option of
a raunchy-yet-cool overdrive if you
need it. Personally I prefer it to the

premierguitar.com

push-pull master volume boost feature


that showed up on Twin Reverbs and
the like in the late 70s. And you get a
few more benefits. For one, you have
two sets of tone controls: one that
controls the tone in the early stages and
one set for the later stages. And, if you
have a single-button footswitch, you
can connect it to the #1 input of the
vibrato channel and, as before, with the
plain jack lift the signal loading from
the input resistors for a gain/volume
boost. Just make sure the wire on the

footswitch is shielded. Pretty cool, and


while its not for everyone, hopefully
it will make an amp thats just sitting
around or needs a bump a bit more
interesting. Enjoy!
JEFF BOBER is one of the

godfathers of the low-wattage amp


revolution. He co-founded and was
originally the principal designer
for Budda Amplification, though
he launched EAST Amplification
(eastamplification.com) in 2010.
You can catch his podcasts at
ampsandaxescast.com or email
him at pgampman@gmail.com.

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 141

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EVE R Y T H I N G I S G E T T I N G A L I T T L E

The Ibanez OD850 may look like an overdrive pedal, but turn up thatsustain knob and
things may start toget a bit fuzzy. The fabled effects pedal, resurrected from the '70s
withthe originalpedalboard-friendly size, a modified tonestack forsmoother high-end
frequencies andsaturation so overwhelming, it may cause flashbacks.

FEATURES

Made in Japan | 100% Analog Circuitry | All-metal Housing


True Bypass Switching | Original Narrow Box Design

Illustration by McBess

- PLAYTIME IN -

premierguitar.com

Step inside a mad, magical,


musical wonderworld as we prod,
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PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 145

- fuzz/Distortion -

MORGAN PEDALS
NKT275

BY CHARLES SAUFLEY

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

Editors note: The original version of this reviewand the associated ratingswere
based on the assumption that the pedals transistors were, in fact, authentic new-oldstock Newmarket NKT275 components. Presently, we cannot verify, either through
conversations with Joe Morgan himself or the transistor supplier, that the components in
question are genuine Newmarket-branded NKT275s. While we found that the pedal sounds
superb regardless of transistor type or pedigree, we lowered the Value rating to reflect
the potential use of a less rare and less valuable transistor type. In doing so, this put the
pedals cumulative rating below the threshold required to receive our Premier Gear award.

It also broadens the range of colors you can


extract just by changing the relationship of
fuzz and volume controls on the pedal, and
the tone controls on your amp and guitar.

Fit for Fatness


Theres not much to see if you open up the
back of the Morgan. The circuit board is
flipped over, concealing the transistors at
the heart of the pedal along with the other
components (which are few in a Fuzz Facestyle pedal). The pedal feels exceptionally
sturdy, though, and extra-effort design and
construction measures are evident in the
enclosure-mounted jacks and clean solders.
The Morgan can be powered by a 9V
battery or an AC adapter.
The Morgan NKT275or rather, this
particular Morgan NKT275 (germanium
transistors often exhibit minor but noticeably
different sonic qualities)is slightly on the
darker side of the germanium Fuzz Face
spectrum. This is no bad thing. For starters,
the duskier voice has a slight mellowing
effect on classic, Fuzz Face-associated setups
like Stratocasters and EL34 and EL84 amps.

Legendary Fuzz
Morgan lives up to many Fuzz Face
legends, but it dispels othersand in very
welcome ways. That myth you always heard
about Fuzz Faces only sounding right at
maximum fuzz and volume? Well, with
those same controls at noon, the Morgan
sounds tough, fat, and even a bit civilized.
Using a 68 Bassman and a Stratocaster at
these settings, the darker tonality is easy
to hear. It may not be an ideal setting for
a dense, loud band mix, but its a killer
fuzz voice for chugging rhythm parts and
Cream-style riffsespecially when doubling
or harmonizing with a bass.
Notch both controls up to about 2
oclock and the harmonic picture widens.
You hear and feel more high-mid presence,
and guitar volume dynamics are more
expansive. Wide-open single-coils and
humbuckers at these settings generate fuzzy,
growling, but detailed chord images. Yet it
only takes a little guitar volume attenuation
to move from fuzzy to full-spectrum
overdrive sounds. Easing back another
notch or so yields a burlier and slightly
compressed version of the amps clean tone.
Id also venture that it made my silverface
Bassman feel a lot more like a tweed one.
Players who insist that full-throttle is
the only way to run a germanium Fuzz

n certain days, a good


germanium Fuzz Face or Fuzz
Face clone can make you want
to throw every pedal you own out the
window. Built right, theyll deliver scathingto-singing fuzz, rich overdrive sounds, and
sparkling near-clean tonesall with a little
twist of the volume knob on your guitar.
The Morgan NKT275 is an excellent
germanium Fuzz Face clone. That means
lots of the dynamic interactivity that marks a
great original Fuzz Face, plus a little unique
coloration that both Fuzz Face traditionalists
and players new to the circuit can dig.

146 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Face-style pedal will feel vindicated knowing


that the Morgan sounds thrilling with
both controls at maximum. Chords clearly
reveal constituent notes and show off a
tough, complex excitability in the low-mid
range. Lead tones from the treble strings
are crystalline and searing, and sweetly
fuzzy on the thicker strings. Both sounds
are intoxicating with a spot of analog delay
(circa 70 Gilmour fans take note).
The Verdict
Though there are just two knobs on the
Morgan NKT275, youll be knocked out
by the many colors you can extract from
a few different settings, your amp, and
your guitar. If youre crafty, the Morgan
can stand in for a fuzz, overdrive, and
clean boostsaving cash and floor space.
The old-school approaches to dynamics
enabled by the Morgan NKT275 are not
for every player. But Morgan deserves
heaps of praise for building a germanium
fuzz thats dynamic enough to make such
experiments a possibility.

$199 street
morganamps.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Dazzling dynamics.


Tough, high-quality build. Big, fullspectrum fuzz sounds.
CONS None.

premierguitar.com

GIBSON CUSTOM
Les Paul Custom
With Figured Top
Tri Burst
111645263

Les Paul Custom


With Figured Top
Aqua
111645248

Les Paul Custom


With Figured Top
Iced Tea
111645289

S E E T H E S E I N S T R U M E N T S A N D M O R E AT G U I TA R C E N T E R .C O M / P L AT I N U M

- fuzz/Distortion -

STONE DEAF
Kliptonite
BY MATT HOLLIMAN

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

he Stone Deaf Kliptonite is onepart overdrive and one-part fuzz.


Or it can be 1/4 overdrive and 3/4
fuzz. Or 3/4 overdrive, 1/4 fuzz. The point
is, this dastardly box can deliver many shades
of distortion and turn on a dime thanks to
its innovative mirror mix control. Better still,
it has an inventive EQ section that helps
Kilptonite move from skuzzy, crumbling,
gated fuzz to more traditionally musical
overdrive sounds. The relative extremes and
the control you have over them make the
Kliptonite a blast and a great creative tool
when you need alternative dirt textures.
Sharing the Road
The Kliptonite is substantial and drips
cartoon-spooky flair. The size and slanted
faceplate evoke 60s fuzzboxes. Some may
lament the large dimensions, but it means
easy access to the 9V battery door, which is
mounted on the left-hand side of the unit.
A 9V barrel adaptor may also be used.
The faceplate is home to two switches:
on/off and fuzz/klipped. Fuzz/klipped is
used to switch between the mirror image
fuzz/overdrive ratios. An LED changes
from green to red depending on which
blend youve selected, and you set the
ratio using the mirror mix knob. Fuzzy
drive sets the overall amount of gain. The
potent but simple EQ section, meanwhile,
is comprised of the freq knob, which
dials in frequency emphasis in a range
from 35 Hz to 6 kHz. You can fine-tune
the intensity (or Q) of the selected
frequency using the center-mounted
rotary bandwidth knob. Turning clockwise
yields a thinner tone similar to a cocked
wah. Turning counterclockwise results in
progressively fatter low-end response. The
cut/boost knob can add or subtract up to

148 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

20 dB of boost and the balance parameter


helps match your line level with this cut/
boost setting. Finally, theres an expression
pedal jack (it only works with the Stone
Deaf EP-1, which is not included) that
can be used with the bandwidth control to
create wah- and phase-style effects.
Double Matinee
With the fuzzy drive parameter to its
minimum position, Kliptonite yields a very
thin fuzz tonelike an outsized, angry
mosquito or a robot on the fritz. At these
settings, some notes higher up the neck
barely sound through the clipping effect
unless you really dig in. You get a bit more
sustain by bringing up the drive to 9 oclock,
but even here, deep bends that would
sustain on, say, a Big Muff, collapse upon
themselves. You hear some of this clipping
behavior throughout the entire sweep of the
fuzzy drive, though you definitely get a little
more sustain at the highest gain settings.
One important thing to keep in mind is
that the other controls influence both sides
of the mirror mix, so cranking up the mid
freq for an overdrive-heavy mix makes the
fuzz tone more mid-heavy, too. This can be
a help and a hindrance. Its great to have a
certain continuity between the two mixes as
you switch between more radical clipping
textures mid-solo. On the other hand, a lot
of folks that want to exploit the Stone Deafs
radical clipping tones may want equalization
shifts that are radical and different, and for
that youll need the expression pedal. If you
dont need extreme tone shifts on the fly,
you can still craft radically different tones
via creative use of the bandwidth and freq
controls. Pushing the bandwidth control to
fatter, bass-focused extremes adds real meat
to the fuzzy bonesperfect for a serving

of dusty desert rock. Reducing the peak


resonance also focuses your attack, if you
want the narrow intensity of a Mick Ronson
cocked-wah lead. These effects are most
pronounced and perhaps best experienced
on amplifiers with a lot of headroom.
The Verdict
Rocking with the Kliptonite is a satisfying,
if sometimes hairy, experience. The extreme
tones the pedal delivers can make it difficult
to tame. But scads of tonal options make
exploration of the pedals deeper capabilities
well worth the time. Kliptonite isnt really for
fuzz traditionalists who favor a predictable
Big Muff or Fuzz Face tone and use little
else. Where those pedals are smooth and
creamy in many settings, Kliptonite wails
with a spitting, shattered bark. Yet the mirror
mix and impressive EQ features still make
Kliptonite capable of dancing between styles
as disparate as classic rock and jagged metal.
The $205 price tag is not small, but neither
is the range of distortion you can extract
from this well-built, creatively executed, and
unexpectedly musical dirt machine.

$205 street
stonedeaffx.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Aggressive, unique fuzz tone.


CONS Mirror mix limited by
shared EQ controls.

premierguitar.com

- fuzz/Distortion -

TOETAGS ELECTRONICS
Toe Bender MkII
BY SHAWN HAMMOND

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

oetags Electronics new Toe Bender


MkII is a moderately priced homage to the legendary Sola Sound
Tone Bender Professional MkII made from
66 to 68 and most famously associated
with Jimmy Pages reedy early Zep work.
Big Shoes, Medium-Sized Toes
From the MkI to the MkIV and beyond,
original Tone Benders had folded-steel
or sand-cast-aluminum enclosures
approximately the size of an adult apes
foot. Inside, they often featured now-rare
Mullard OC75 or OC81D germanium
transistors soldered to a spare circuit on a
small stripboard. Meanwhile, Toetags Toe
Bender is about two-thirds the size of 60s
unitsstill gargantuan next to most modern
pedalsand its tidy, point-to-point-wired
circuit uses three new-old-stock (NOS)
germanium transistors (of Japanese and
German origin), an NOS Russian paper-inoil tone capacitor, and about 10 other beefy
analog components on a roughly 1 1/2" x 3"
piece of fiberboard. Though its not visible
in the companys online photos, our review
unit also sports an internal trimpot that
Toetags J.C. Royer says adjusts the bias and
gating characteristics of the attack control.
Dynamic Digits
While testing the Toe Bender with a Les
Paul Traditional with 57 Classics, an
Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX with
Manlius Goat Masters, and a Squier Vintage
Modified Jazzmaster and Tele Custom (the
former with Duncan Antiquity I pickups,
the latter with Curtis Novaks), I found
that unity gain is achieved with the pedals
level knob set between 9 and 10 oclock,
depending on how much dirt you dial in
with the attack knob. Past that, level gooses

150 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

the openness and complexity of the fuzz


effect, similar to hitting the front end of a
cranked tube amp with a boosted signal.
Besides piling on gain, attack also
functions as a tone control of sorts,
producing a fairly saturated and full but nottoo-tubby sound at minimum, and gradually
adding more mids, treble, and nastiness as
you turn it clockwise. The flattest mix is
somewhere around noon. Past that point,
the pedal seems to add more mids than
treble and saturation becomes increasingly
corpulent in a way that fans of classic-toned
stoner metal will appreciate for its ability to
cut and sound old-school. In fact, one of the
Toe Benders greatest feats is how it can be
beefy or thin and scuzzy (more on the latter
in a sec), yet its still hard to make the pedal
sound harsh or ice-pick-yeven with a Tele
or Jazzmaster bridge pickup.
As I expected, moderate to high knob
settings conjured howling garage-rock leads,
or haunting, sustaining David Torn-style
soundscapes where feedback overtones
float like wailing ghosts on the repeats of a
cranked reverb or delay. But what elevates
the Toe Bender above much of the fuzz
field is its touch-responsiveness at lower
settings. With level and attack below noon,
you can lightly pick a power chord and
get grinding lardaceousness thats still very
articulate, then, in the next breath, hamfistedly attack a riff to get a compressed,
gloriffically fizzy splatter. And the lower you
set attack, the more contrast youll hear.
My favorite setting, level at 10
oclock and attack at minimum, yielded
full-spectrum meanness with medium
pick attack, while a tight pick grip and
relentlessly bludgeoning downstrokes
resulted in squashed, snotty brashness that
made riffs through my baritones neck

pickup sound like a fantastically frazzled ol


P bass. Thats something most fat-sounding
fuzzes simply cant generatealmost like
a middle ground between an aggro Muff
and a Fuzzrite. Some players might object
to how heavy attack at lower knob settings
can squish the signal to volumes lower
than what you hear using moderate or light
attack. But as a reverb junkie I loved that I
didnt need to lower the super-spaced-out
hall setting on my Subdecay Super Spring
Theory in order to prevent soundscapes
from being smudged into an incoherent
mess that rabid pick attack normally elicits.
The Verdict
Plenty of fuzzes on the market serve up
cascading waterfalls of doomy feedback,
but if you prize picking nuance and a
mix of burly and splatty, the Toetags Toe
Bender MkII is a unique take on a classic
recipe thats worth checking out. Best of
all, its more affordable than many of the
most exacting Tone Bender replicasand
considerably less than vintage specimens.

$225 street
toetagselectronics.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Authentic Tone Bender MkII


sounds. Fantastic touch sensitivity.

CONS Unnecessarily large.


Adapter jack not standard.

premierguitar.com

STR I KE

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- fuzz/Distortion -

SKREDDY
Rover

BY CHARLES SAUFLEY

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

kreddy Pedals is renowned for


ace-sounding reimaginings of
classic Fuzz Face and Big Muff
circuits. And Marc Ahlfs handbuilt stomps
are coveted, in no small part, because
of his ability to discern and execute the
minute differences between classic versions
and variations. So when a designer with
Ahlfs ears introduces an affordable, U.S.built line based on partial surface-mount
construction, you can bet the move will be
greeted by excitement, apprehension, and
everything in between.
As it turns out, Skreddys new Rover fuzz
is a great case study in why surface-mount
circuit board phobias are unwarranted. Its
a versatile, silicon-transistor-driven, Tone
Bender MKII-inspired fuzz thats flexible,
colorful, and capable of unique sounds
that deviate from same-old Tone Bender
templates. Better still, it makes Skreddytuned sounds and quality available at a price
more in line with mass-produced fuzzes.
Clean, Mean, and Streamlined
The guts of the Rover are predictably
simple. The resistors and most of the
capacitors are surface mounted, which
enables a lot of the cost savings. But
the transistors that are the heart of the
circuit are through-hole mounted. (Quite
tidily, I might add.) In/out jacks and
the footswitch are fastened to their own
dedicated circuit board, insulating the
main circuit board from the bumps and
bruises that come with stomping on a
switch. But each component feels rock
solid, and the Skreddy seems nothing less
than totally road worthy. If theres any
complaint about the all-business vibe of
the Rover, its that the gunmetal paintjob is a little too anonymous looking. A

152 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

splash of color that reflects the explosive


sounds inside would probably also make
the Rover easier to see on a dim stage.
The control set is typical for a fuzz.
Attack corresponds to fuzz level and level
is a master volume. Wool is a tone control,
although it often has the feel of a bass boost/
cut control rather than a high-pass or lowpass filter.
Bending Bender Rules
If you have any experience with vintage Tone
Benders (or any of the very good clones),
itll be easy to hear the sonic influence of the
MKII and MKIII, and, to a lesser degree,
MK1.5 circuits. (The latter is closely related
to the Fuzz Face.) As Tone Bender purists
will immediately note, the Rover is silicondriven rather than germanium-based like the
original Tone Benders. That results in a few
profound differences in sound and feel. But
its the similarities that are most immediately
striking and pleasing.
For starters, the Rover is dynamic and
responsive to guitar volume attenuation in a
way that feels very germanium-like. It wont
get sparkly clean at low guitar volumes
especially in woolier tone settings. But it will
generate beautiful, purring overdrive more
akin to what youd expect from a germanium
fuzz. And there is a wide range of very nice
low-gain tones available at lower fuzz and
volume settings. The wool control expands
this palette considerably. Wooly settings are
great for meaty, trucking, overdriven rhythm
tones. Airier settings conjure a combination
of muscle and jangling high-mid harmonics
that sound huge with a semi-hollow.
While the Tone Bender pedigree is easy
to hear, fuzzier tones are not strictly Tone
Bender-like. In addition to the MKII sounds
that make up the Rovers essence, there are

lots of low-mid-rich and corpulent Muffy


colors that evoke everything from Rams
Heads to Sovteks, depending on where you
set the wool control. On the least wooly side
of the spectrum, the output takes on more
than a hint of silicon Fuzz Face heat.
One of the best things about the Rover
in general is the range of the fuzz control
and how musically it interacts with the wool
control. The highest fuzz settings have a
trace of fizziness and a very Tone Bender-like
explosive reactivity thats most at home with
humbuckers and neck single-coils. But you
dont have to roll the fuzz too far back before
the pedal changes shades and the fuzz tones
become more contoured.
The Verdict
Given Skreddys knack for pinpointing
the sonic minutiae between marginally
different classic fuzzes, its almost strange to
play a Skreddy fuzz that inhabits so many
characters. But when you combine that
versatility with the accessible $149 price, the
Skreddy becomes a very appealing option for
the fuzz voyager who wants a taste of it all.

$149 street
skreddypedals.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Multi-dimensional fuzz tones.


CONS Can sound sizzly at highest
gain levels.

premierguitar.com

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- overdrive -

ASPEN PITTMAN
Duo Tonic
BY YOEL KREISLER

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

uitarists and audiophiles agree


that a vacuum tube can really
sweeten an audio signal chain.
Putting tubes in a pedal is also an easy
way to enhance its marketability. Hype is
one thing, though. Making a pedal that
sounds good and genuinely and creatively
leverages the potential of tubes is quite
another. Aspen Pittmans tube-driven
Duo Tonic boost/overdrive/distortion
audibly delivers on the potential of tube
power in a pedal.
Two Channels from a Tube Guru
The Duo Tonic is the first pedal from
Aspen Pittman Designs in San Fernando,
California. (For those who recognize
but cant quite place the name, Aspen
Pittman is the author of the muchrevered The Tube Amp Book.) It is a dualchannel boost/overdrive/distortion pedal
based around two sub-miniature 6502
pentode tubes, similar in size to the ones
found in compact pedalboard amps and
preamps, including the BluGuitar Amp1
or the Effectrode Fire Bottle.
The tube side has an almost amp-like
feature set, providing a 3-band EQ along
with a master volume, tone, and gain
control. It remains relatively clean even
when pushed, and its maximum-gain tone
sounds a bit like a Deluxe Reverb at the
edge of breakup, with a focus on the highs
and high-mids. It can get a little shrill
with brighter guitars and pickups, so it's
wise to make full use of the pedals tone
and treble controls.
The second side is based around a
JRC4558D, the op amp associated with
TS-style circuits. While including a Tube
Screamer-style drive might seem run-ofthe-mill, the tones it helps generate are

154 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

far from it, thanks in


part to the way it works
with the tube channel.
By itself, the tube side
of the Duo Tonic isnt
especially colorful, but
that can be a very good
thing for a preamp-style
pedalespecially when
youre trying to maintain
the essence of a good
guitar/amp comboand
it has the mix of clarity
and edge that vacuum
tubes deliver so well. Clean tones are very
hi-fi, with a hint of midrange warmth
and a fair bit of high-end snap. When
the solid-state circuit pushes the tubes,
however, the overdrive and distortion
sounds become very complex in both
upper and lower harmonic registers. These
can be very Dumble-esque. But you can
also generate deep, complex, Klon-style
low-gain overdrive tones. In fact, my ears
prefer the Duo Tonics sounds in Klonstyle modes.

feel bigger and fatter. Better still, that hi-fi


sheen accentuates all the right frequencies
and stays intact when you stack the two
channels. If you enjoy tone sculpting and
can afford it, the Duo Tonic is a preamp/
overdrive thats not to be missed.

$349 street
aspenpittmandesigns.com
Tones

The Verdict
The Duo Tonic puts a lot of tone-shaping
potential at your feet. Both channels are
independent, which is a huge plus in my
book, and I really enjoyed running the
different sides of this pedal with different
guitars into different pedals. And while
both sides can sound a little hi-fi or
monochromatic when run independently
with some guitars and amps, running the
two channels together might find you
giving thanks to the tone gods. It makes
dark Les Pauls creamy and thick without
sacrificing clarity, and makes bright
Stratocasters and Telecasters sound and

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Clear Dumble-to-Klon


overdrive and distortion tones
enhanced by tube section.
Independent channels. Very
articulate and hi-fi sounding.
Decently priced compared to other
tube overdrives on the market.

CONS Hi-fi clarity can mean lack


of color when the channels are
operated independently.

premierguitar.com

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The Bluetooth word mark and logos are registered trademarks owned by Bluetooth SIG, Inc., and any use of such marks by Optek is under license. Bad Moon Rising 1969 by Creedence Clearwater Revival. aAll Rights Reserved.

- overdrive -

DR. Z

Z-Drive
BY JASON SHADRICK

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

he engaging simplicity of a
single-channel amp can be
both immensely satisfying and
somewhat limiting. For some, a powerful,
loud box with decent headroom and a
carefully curated pedalboard can serve
nearly any musical situation. Dr. Zs first
step into the pedal market, the Z-Drive,
is a powerful ally for expanding that plugand-play simplicity without being paralyzed
by choices. The good doctor has made a
name on building rock-solid, no-frills amps
that walk the line between Vox, Fender,
and Marshall. Its that approachtaking
inspiration from a few different sources
that makes the Z-Drive an abnormally
useful dirt box. In a fit of brilliance, Dr.
Z realized that he needed some help
in crafting the Z-Drive, so he reached
out to Jamie Stillman and the crew at
EarthQuaker Devices. The result is worthy
of both brands and combines a few distinct
distortion flavors with an easy-to-use setup.
Red Light, Green Light
The Z-Drive isnt a full-on two-in-one
pedal. Think of it as adding a pair of
channels to your amp. Each channel
has independent gain and level controls,
along with a cut switch. They share a
3-band EQ. The EQ is a bit of the secret
saucemore on that in a bit. The overall
layout of the pedal is tidy and clear. You
have one footswitch to engage the pedal
and the other moves between the green
(germanium) and red (mosfet) modes.
Speaking in general terms, the green
channel gives you low-to-medium levels
of breakup, and the red channel offers a
thicker, classic rock-style flavor. Combine
those with a clean amp and youre able to
cover some serious tonal basses.

156 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

The germanium channel is powered


with some NOS diodes, so my
expectations leaned toward a more
vintage-sounding vibe. Armed with a
Telecaster and a Les Paul, I found this side
of the pedal to be crisp and airy with plenty
of subtle nods to some classic blackface
Fender tones. With the Tele, the fear of
head-cutting treble was tamed with the EQ
and I found the response to my picking
style and volume changes actually felt like
I was playing through an old, crankedup tube amp. It was rather easy for me
to move from Stones-y, edge-of-breakup
stabs to a straight-up clean boost with
surprisingly minimal tweaks to the pedal.
Big, Bold, and Bright?
One of the interesting wrinkles of the
Z-Drive is that the signal passes through
the EQ first, before splitting off into each
channels gain and level controls. This
allows the level of gain to change a bit
with the EQ. It was especially notable
when I plugged the Les Paul into my
Fender Deluxe. If youve played any
of EarthQuakers pedals, you are likely
familiar with the myriad levels of dirt,
grit, and sludge that the Akron shop can
produce. To my ears, the red channel
is classic EarthQuakerfull of life and
harmonic richness. With the Les Paul, the
red channel felt a bit dark, but had a rather
defined and slightly compressed high end.
Normally, Im not a fan of bright switches,
but each channel on the Z-Drive is armed
with a rather smart variation. In the up
position, you get a fuller, bass-heavy sound;
the down position boosts the mid and
treble frequencies. I found myself preferring
the down position on both channels
especially with PAF-style humbuckers. It

allowed the overtones to come through


a bit more and gave my Deluxe some
distinctly Marshall-like qualities. The
nuanced interactions between the EQ and
the gain stages are the real stars of the show
and make me wonder how they would
sound if they could be stacked.
The Verdict
If youre running out the door to a gig
or session, or even unsure about what
backline you might be confronted with,
the Z-Drive would be a trusty tool to
have on your board. With two rather
distinct channels, it was able to move from
crunchy rhythms and modern alt-country
dirt to bombastic 70s leads that live just
this side of being oversaturated. Add in a
wonderfully thoughtful boost/cut toggle
and you end up with quite a bit more than
just a two-headed overdrive.

$275 street
drzamps.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS A ton of volume and gain


options. Harmonically rich overdrive.
Useful cut switch.

CONS Channels arent stackable.


Probably not enough gain for
metalheads. A bit on the spendy side.

premierguitar.com

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premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 157

- overdrive -

SUPRO

1305 Drive
BY YOEL KREISLER

CLICK HERE
TO WATCH A
REVIEW DEMO
of this pedal.

any casual guitarists and music


fans can identify the sound of
a Marshall or Fender ampor
at least they think they can. Fewer would
dare try to pinpoint the sound of a Supro.
But as Jimmy Page can famously attest,
Supros can deliver tones every bit as heavy
and evocative as those other iconic amps.
Old Supro amps sound distinctly
Americanyou might even say Southern,
with a deep, warm mid-forward tone
complemented by crisp, edgy highs, and
an almost swampy low end. The Supro

1305 Drive is an attempt at capturing a


Supro amps alternative American amp
sound in a pedal, without the help (or
hassle, depending on how you look at it)
of vacuum tubes.
Tricky Topology
While many overdrives effectively take
the place of a hot preamp in an amplifier,
the Supro Drive is designed to replicate
the performance of an amps entire
topologyfrom preamp to phase inverter
to output transformer. While this is far
from a new idea, the company claims the
Supro Drive delivers its intrinsic Suproness via the use of a custom-made
output transformer in the signal path.
When you stomp on the Supro
Drive, you certainly hear the glassiness
and the big, warm wash of low-mids

158 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

that you might associate with a hefty


transformer. And the transformer
voicing switch on the front, which
toggles between bold and rich, switches
between different winding ratios in the
transformer itself. A wider midrange
emphasis comes via the bold setting.
Coupled with aggressive gain control
settings, it generates tones that are hairy
and primitive in the very best way.
Switching to the rich setting generated
highs that were a little more piercing
and prominent, and de-emphasized the

midrange. To my ears, the difference


between the two tones is not unlike the
difference between a 2x12 and a 1x12.
A 2x12 will typically sound bigger and
wider, and a 1x12 can sound both more
ragged and more focused in a given
frequency. In rich mode, I found myself
reaching for the tone knob to roll off
some of those more ragged highs, but
its a subtle controlparticularly in
rich mode.

that makes vintage Valco and Supro


amps so desirable. The tone control is a
little too subtle to dial out some of the
most pronounced highs in rich mode,
but that shouldnt dissuade a player
whos comfortable with using guitar tone
control attenuation or likes leads that cut.

$219 street
suprousa.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design

The Verdict
If youre chasing deep Americana tones
swampier than a midsummers night in
the Delta, look no further than the Supro
Drive. The pedals inventive mimicry of
power-tube distortion and the onboard
output transformers characteristics
deliver much of the midrangey grunt

Value

PROS Very cool, primitive dirt with


plenty of warmth and hair. Mimics
power-tube distortion immaculately.

CONS Tone control is too subtle.

premierguitar.com

The Neo
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Find out more

celestion.com

- overdrive -

DOD

Looking Glass
BY DAVID VON BADER

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

he DOD brand returned under


the DigiTech umbrella in 2013
with reboots of some of its
most revered effects. Since then, theyve
broadened their horizons, reviving 90s
obscurities like the Meatbox Subsynth and
Gonkulator Ringmod, and building all-new
units like the Looking Glass Overdrive.
The Looking Glass is the product of
a collaborative effort with Shoe Pedals
designer Christopher Venter. The result is
a flexible, responsive boost and overdrive
with lots of transparency and headroom.
Its a great match for players that prize
low-key-yet-potent drive tones, but dont
want to obscure whats good about their
guitars and amps. Its also the kind of
pedal that can make lackluster rigs sound
much more substantial, alive, and colorful.
Down the Rabbit Hole
Looking Glass is a class-A, FET-based
circuit. The pedal features the usual
volume and gain controls, and a toggle
switch that enables selection of two
voices. In the toggle-down setting, the
pedal functions much like a clean boost.
The up setting provides more gain.
An input filter knob helps tame bright
guitars or introduces woolier textures
ahead of the gain stage. But the bulk
of the considerable EQ-shaping power
comes via the clever concentric bass
cut and treble knobs. Like the input
filter, the bass cut function subtracts
bass content in the signal before it hits
the pedals gain stage, which keeps the
summed signal, and the low-end output
in particular, tight, focused and airy. The
treble knob adds top-end presence as
you need it. There are also two internal
dipswitches, which raise the Looking

160 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Glass input impedance slightly so it


will work better with buffered pedals or
particularly bright signals. Considering
the pedals small footprint, its extremely
feature-rich and functional.
Toneful Reflection
Looking Glass is very adaptable, and it
was easy to dial in cool sounds no matter
what guitar and amp I threw in the mix.
The pedal has an almost uncanny knack
for magnifying and accentuating the
best qualities of rigs. Its also extremely
sensitive to adjustments in pick attack.
In clean boost and low gain modes,
Looking Glass adds a pleasant bit of
compression, sparkle, and presence thats
magical for pared-down rigs. When I used
it to goose a stock Fender Pro Junior,
paired with a P-90-loaded Telecaster,
Looking Glass added a three-dimensional,
shimmering quality to the tone. With
the Pro Junior set for mild breakup,
the Looking Glass coaxed it into thick,
crunchy overdriveadding a cool layer of
harmonic activity with touch-sensitivity
and dynamics. With a dirty, cranked
Marshall JCM800-style amp and a Les
Paul, Looking Glass added a touch of
compression that had little adverse affect
on the pedals intrinsic dynamics. The
very effective treble section of the EQ also
made it easy to dial in an extra-searing lead
tone that sailed above the mix without
getting shrill.
With higher gain, the Looking Glass
transparency maintained a very amp-like
feel. I never felt disconnected from my
guitar or amp, or out of control. This is
the kind of amp-transforming power that
touring players love when confronted with
bland backline gear or the need to move

between low-power, low-gain rigs and


higher-gain setups night-by-night.
The Verdict
In designing the Looking Glass, DOD and
Christopher Venter prioritized transparency
and tones outside the TS and Klon sphere
of influence. The focus on the former, in
particular, makes Looking Glass agreeable,
adaptable, and easy to tweak from rig
to rig. In short, its a backline players
dream OD. Better still, it delivers all this
versatility at a cost thats a fraction of many
boost/overdrives with comparable range.

$149 street
dod.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Fantastic sounds. Easy to


dial in. Extremely versatile.

CONS None.

premierguitar.com

- overdrive -

NUNOMO

Limbo Overdrive
BY PAUL KOBYLENSKY

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

n theory, any good, transparent


overdrive pedal should enhance rather
than transform the sound of your
rig. Thats why they call em transparent,
right? Essentially, the low-gain Limbo
Overdrive is a transparent overdrive pedal.
Its extremely touch sensitive and amp-like,
so you can imagine a lot of what Limbo
sounds like with your own rig. But feel
is what really sets most top-tier overdrive
pedals apart. And this is where the Limbo
packs something a little different and
immeasurably useful.
Built to Roam
The Limbo Overdrive is well built. The
footswitch feels rugged, the chassismounted pots feel stout to the turn, and
the metal chassis will be as durable feeling
as anything else on your pedalboard. The
all-analog circuit can be run at 9 to 12
volts for a little extra headroom if you
want it. There is no battery option, which
may be a bummer for some players.
Controls include a familiar
complement of volume, drive, and tone
knobs for dialing in grit and output.
And each of those controls has great
range that makes the pedal musical in
many applications. Limbo has plenty of
output on tap to run as a clean boost.
As a stand-alone overdrive, it delivers
everything from bluesy breakup to
cranked vintage-style amp wailing with
all its got. The pedal is also responsive
to picking dynamics and gets clean when
you attenuate guitar volume.
The tone knob works much like
the passive controls in a guitar or an
old blackface Fender amp. All the way
up, you get straight, unadulterated
overdrive signal. Rolling it back cuts

162 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

high-end content. But to the Limbos


credit, it never sounds muddy. And it
was particularly helpful for taming the
top end of a Telecasters bridge pickup
without sacrificing cut and definition.
The Limbo also works wonderfully
when stacked with other dirt devices.
The Nunomo became a singing sustain
machine with a push from my Voodoo
Lab Sparkle Drive Mod pedal. Running it
in front of my 5-watt, class-A Blackheart
BH5H amp and a preamp pedal set
at the edge of breakup added more
harmonic content and weight to single
notes and chords.
Variable Voltage Means More Feel
Additional keys to Limbos dynamic
sound and feel are two knobs labeled
positive and negative, which control the
pedals clipping voltages and whether the
clipping is symmetrical or asymmetrical.
While the physics behind symmetrical
clipping can be tricky to explain (and
deserves its own story), the sonic effects
of various settings are much more
obvious. Clipping becomes sharper when
you turn the dials counterclockwise,
and softer when you turn the dials
clockwise. I also found that with the
knobs pulled all the way back, the pedal
sounds much more open and airylike a
high-headroom amplifier. Every picking
nuance becomes more pronounced, and
highs have more sparkle and clarity.
Rolling the positive and negative knobs
all the way up results in a more rounded,
warm, and compressed quality, better
suited for thick lead tones. These knobs
are a rewarding and intuitive way to dial
in the perfect response for your playing
style. And can shift the character of your

amp in sometimes subtle but still very


tangible ways.
The Verdict
Many of us already have great overdrive
pedals that were very fond of, but leave us
wanting just for a little more compression,
top-end clarity, or a bit more headroom.
The Limbo rarely, if ever, left me longing
for more of those attributes. And while the
pedals low-gain transparency means metal
heads and other aggressive tone fiends
may be left underwhelmed, its hard to
imagine any other players who wouldnt be
intrigued by Limbos wide-open overdriveshaping potential.

$140 street
shop.nunomo.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Huge array of overdrive


tones. Easy-to-dial-in response
and feel.

CONS No battery option.

premierguitar.com

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- time based -

CAST ENGINEERING
Casper Delay
BY MATT HOLLIMAN

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

t a glance, CAST Engineerings


Casper digital delay looks like
a lot of old-school, 3-knob
delays. And even when you power it up
in a dimly lit room and experience the
visual pleasure of the eerily glowing backlit
knobs, theres little to suggest that its
different than any simple digital delay.
But Caspers echoes seem like the product
of thoughtful circuit tweakingclean
without sounding characterless. And with
a feedback pot that allows adjustment of
the self-oscillation threshhold, it often feels
very analog.
Glowing Promise, Hidden Powers
When you click Casper on, the knobs
become enshrouded by nebulous babyblue light. Otherwise, its simple as a
delay can be: no tap tempo, no LCD
screen, and no presets. The three knobs
control delay time, repeats, and effect
level. Caspers I/O jacks are mounted on
the crown of the box, so you can cram
the pedal easily onto a crowded board.
Removing the backplate enables access
to the 9V battery compartment (theres
also a 9V jack on the crown) and the
internal feedback sensitivity trimpot. This
hidden control, in many ways, shifts the
personality between more or less digital.
At the full-counterclockwise zero position,
the Casper becomes virtually oscillation
resistant, enabling you to leverage the
units clean, transparent digital voice and
create more detailed musical passages at
high delay and feedback times. As you
twist the trimpot clockwise, Casper starts
to feel twitchier, more unhinged, and
more like a vintage Ibanez AD9 or Boss
DM-2 analog delay, with their touchy,
hard-to-nail oscillation thresholds.

164 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

A Transparent Spirit
Caspers repeats may be clean, but they
are not sterile. Repeats are clear, defined,
and communicate a lot of detail, and the
box is much more transparent and less
noisy than analog Boss or Ibanez delays.
Caspers maximum delay time range
is 700 ms, which is relatively short
by todays digital delay standards and
comparable to the maximum delay times
of modern analog units like the Moog
Minifooger and Boss DM-2w. Some
players may miss the extra expansive
echo times. But the narrower control
range makes it much easier to dial in
the settings you need on the fly. Slapback sounds are available with the delay
and repeat controls at around 9 oclock.
Turning the delay time control to 1
oclock generates repeats at about 300
msa great starting point for subtle, setand-forget, Gilmour-stylingsespecially
when you situate the level in the lower
half of its range.
The tweakable oscillation threshold
enables a few cool tricks, too. My favorite
involved maximizing the oscillation
sensitivity, diming the level and repeats,
and dialing up a short delay. When
you hit a note at these settings and
step on the bypass switch, you generate
a more-or-less instantaneous wall of
self-oscillation, which you can silence
dramatically when you hit the bypass
switch again.
The Verdict
With 700 ms of available hang time, the
Casper is far from the most expansive
digital delay. And its simple controls
mean a lot of complex delay patterns
are off limits. The headroom and

transparency, however, are exceptional.


The just-right dose of filtering adds
near-analog glow to the repeats. And the
control set has a very easy-to-navigate
analog feel. The result is an approachable
delay with plenty of clarity to rise above a
dense musical mix.

$199 street
cast-engineering.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Warm, not-too-sterile


clean tones. Cool glowing controls.
Intuitive, manageable control range.

CONS Short maximum delay for a


digital unit.

premierguitar.com

D Pl Wihu I!
Distributed in USA by:

Musical Distributors Group (MDG)


Phone 866-632-8346 | www.musicaldistributors.com

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- time based -

HUNGRY ROBOT
The Wash
BY JOE GORE

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

hat do you get when


you plug a delay pedal
into heavy reverb? More
often than not, a big, ugly mess. But as
configured on Hungry Robots the Wash
pedal, delay into reverb creates a nice,
pretty mess. And thats the whole point.
The Wash was explicitly created for players
who enjoy conjuring ambient uh
washes of sound.
What Big Knobs You Have!
The Wash resides in a king-sized enclosure
(approximately 5.5" by 4.5" by 1.5")
with imperial-sized knobs. That may
make it too much of a space hog for some
pedalboard curators, but the ergonomics
are excellent. Its easy to toggle the
footswitches that activate the delay and
reverb effects and the tap-tempo switch
without whacking the wrong control.
Meanwhile, nimble-footed players can
probably turn the big knobs with their
feetespecially the central reverb-level
knob, which is a tad taller than the
surrounding knobs. (The large format
seems to be a deliberate design choice.
Judging by the size of its circuit board, the
Wash could easily have been stuffed into a
smaller box with humbler knobs.)
Like the hand-painted enclosure,
the interior work was clearly executed
by a human, not a robotdespite the
manufacturers name. Interestingly,
Hungry Robot opted for large-format
through-hole components, even though
the effect is digital. The core processor
is also humongous: Its a Belton Brick
from Accutronics. The soldering is
solid, and the jacks are attached to the
enclosure, not the circuit board. Its highquality work.

166 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Echoes in the Dark


The Washs leftmost knobs
and switch control the delay
circuit, which can be used
independently from the reverb section.
There are standard level and feedback
controls, but no dedicated delay-time knob;
the tap-tempo switch covers that. Theres
also a jack for connecting an external taptempo switch. The delay tone is a very good
analog simulation that suggests attentive
study of analog echoes. Theres a lot of treble
roll-off, similar to what you encounter on
a vintage bucket-brigade delay. Maximum
delay time is a hair over one second.
Theres no attempt to mimic bucketbrigade distortion (the way successive
echoes grow noisier as well as quieter),
but thats not necessarily a criticism. In a
blind-listening test, Ill bet many players
would choose this simulation over the real
deal with its real noise. And its hardly an
issue with slapback and other short delays.
At those settings, the Washs delays sound
convincingly and attractively old school.
Wash Me in the Water
Naturally, the real fun starts when you
activate the reverb section. The result isnt
the same as patching your delay pedal
into a reverb stompbox, since only the
darkened wet delay signal is reverberated.
The resulting wash is far less chaotic than
it would otherwise be. In addition to the
central effect-level knob, the reverb section
includes controls for reverberation time
and the rate at which individual echoes
dissolve into reverb soup. (While you can
use the delay section without reverb, you
cant have reverb without delay.)
The results are lovely. Between the
delay and reverb sections and their simple

but effective controls, you can create not


only impenetrable reverb swamps, but also
subtle animation, slowly evolving textures,
harmonically relevant backdrops for your
unwashed signal, and other such stuff
that dreams are made of.
The Verdict
According to the pedals documentation,
the Wash accomplishes the arduous task of
creating an organic, below-the-mix wash.
Normally this requires stacking three or
four reverb and delay pedals at the end of
your chain.Fact check: 100 percent true!
With its innovative signal path, attractive
medium-fi sound, and easy-to-grasp
controls (see what I did there?), the Wash
can generate many complex and compelling
spatial effects. Its sure to delight ambient
playersor any guitarist who enjoys the
occasional walk on the wet side.

$259 street
hungryrobotpedals.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Innovative. Lovely ambient


textures. Solid build. Easy to use.
Fair price.

CONS Not much smaller than Latvia.

premierguitar.com

- time based -

NEUNABER TECHNOLOGIES
Immerse
BY JASON SHADRICK

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

ver the last few years, pedal


makers have toyed pretty
ingeniously with the sound of
spacemaking reverb ever more musical,
organic, and at times, unreal. Neunabers
Immerse does each of these things. And
though it probably has more reverb-shaping twists and turns than the average player
needs, reverb addicts will rejoice over the
amount of sounds this stomp can produce.
Neunaber not only improved on the
secret sauce that made the Wet reverb
sound so good, but added seven new
reverb flavors into the mixalong with
smart design elements that keep the
learning curve shallow.
Rockabilly Ruckus
Covered in text and graphics that highlight
the relationships between functions,
Immerse looks busy. The functionality is
easy to grasp, however. The center knob
switches between modes: wet, hall, plate,
spring, shimmer a, shimmer b, +echo, and
+detune. Depending on the mode, the
knob in the lower right adjusts modulation,
pre-delay, shimmer, and reverb level. The
remaining controls handle depth, level,
and tone (which becomes a delay time
control in echo mode). There are many
more sounds in the Immerse than can be
covered in this review. Discovering the
deeper capabilities is half the fun, though.
Working from unexpected settings and
tailoring those sounds to your needs is a
rewarding process.
The mixture of a warm, enveloping
reverb mixed with a dose of delay is a
classic formula that everyone from the
Edge to Albert Lee has used and abused.
Its also a specialty of the Immerse in
+echo mode. This mode combines the wet

168 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

reverb algorithm with delays between 50


and 720 ms in length. Like a lot of oldschool echo boxes, you need to dial in the
tempo of the repeats by ear (there is no
tap tempo functionality). The breadth of
sounds in this setting alone made me yearn
for some sort of preset function. Most of
the soundsparticularly the basic echo
settingsare satisfying to work with. With
the delay time at 9 oclock, the depth at 1
oclock, and the level at 2 oclock, I got a
convincing, organic-sounding rockabilly
slapback tone. It lacked some of the
imperfect charm that analog lovers treasure,
but considering the wealth of options
in the other modes, a barely perceptible
digital edge seems like a fair trade.
Rolling in the Deep
I love a good spring reverb, so I plugged my
Telecaster into my Fender Deluxe and dialed
up just a hint of effect in the spring setting.
The first thing I noticed is how even the
sweep of the level control is. Ive encountered
a lot of Fender reverb-emulating effects that
go too deep too quickly. With the Immerse,
I was able to be very subtle and very specific
about how much reverb I dialed in. The
low cut control helped me refine the tone
further by weeding out muddiness in the
effected signal.
Some of the nicest sounds come via
the shimmer options. Both shimmer A
and shimmer B create softly attenuated
synth-style backings that dance around
your fundamental tones. These church-like
settings sit alongside your original signal
like a soloist in a tabernacle choir who
is never out of tune, so I set up a looper,
laid down some synth-style pads, and let
my inner Bill Frisell weave introspective,
melodic riffs over the top.

The +detune
mode is fun too. You
have to crank the
level significantly to bring the effect to the
fore. But once you do, the almost queasy,
pitch-shifting effect becomes a cool melodic
tool. The only bummer is that you cannot
control the intensity of the pitch shift.
The Verdict
Immerse is an impressive reverb tool.
Lush, beautiful reverb tones lurk around
every corner and with the smartly
designed interface, there are many
more options than the five-knob setup
would lead you to believe. Better still,
Immerse can move from purely practical
to indulgent with easeproviding the
basic spring tones I need for everyday
use with more experimental settings I
can use in my home studio. Even if you
dont lust over classic surf tones, ambient
shoegaze waves, or ethereal sonic settings,
the Immerse is a strong ally if you like
control over the space in your sound.

$225 street
neunaber.net
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS All the reverb tones


you likely would ever need.
Wonderfully useful echo controls.

CONS No presets or expression


control.

premierguitar.com

Ibanez
Fender

Gretsch

G&L

Guitarras
Varietus
Stellar Gear for
Guitar Players

Vox
The Center of the Gear Universe

800 - 356 - 5844


fullcompass.com

Yamaha
Line 6

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Pro Audio Video Lighting Musical Instruments

8/8/16 10:45 AM

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 169

- time based -

EARTHQUAKER DEVICES
Avalanche Run
BY CHARLES SAUFLEY

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

s far as I know, EarthQuaker


Devices new Avalanche Run is
not designed to emulate a classic
tape delay. But few digital delays deliver
the tactile immediacy or time-warping
potency of an Echoplex or Space Echo
as satisfyingly as the Avalanche Run. Its
bubbling over with cool, digitally enabled
features like reverse delay and reverbs
long enough to bridge the space between
planets. But with switchable expressionpedal functionality, wide control ranges,
and a clever tap-tempo switch, it beckons
you to dabble in echo manipulation of the
most experimental sort.
Twister Central
The Avalanche Runs top four knobs
time, repeats, tone, and mixgovern the
delay circuit, while the lower two black
knobsdelay and mixare for reverb.
The two white knobs are rotary switches:
The left one assigns a parameter to the
expression pedal (not included), and the
right one selects delay subdivisions in
quarter-note, dotted-eighth, quarter-note
triplet, eighth-note, eighth-note triplet,
and 16th-note patterns. But its the little
toggle thats the key to the Avalanche
Runs multiple personalities. It switches
between an impressive reverse delay,
standard digital delay, and a swell delay
that functions like an auto-volume pedal.
Avalanche Run can also operate in stereo.
Mountains of Sound
Fans of EarthQuakers elegantly utilitarian
Dispatch Master will be at home with the
Avalanches basic delay and reverb textures.
Analog purists may argue that the delays
are relatively sterile. But that didnt detract
one bit from my enjoyment of a Telecaster,

170 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

a Bassman, and a little slapback and shortdecay reverb. In fact, the almost-negligible
coloring of the repeats and reverb allowed
more room for the guitar and amp voices.
When I did perceive a touch of digital
sharpness in the repeats, I could easily
add a touch of analog-style haze with
the delay sections tone control. Its also
worth noting that the delay and reverb
blend very naturally. This cohesiveness and
the basic clarity of repeats are significant
factors when you stack echoes and sounds
in the pedals more extreme settings.
Outer Limits
Avalanche Run gets pretty out there before
you even get to the reverse, swell, or
expression-pedal functions. For starters, the
zero-to-two-second delay range is insane.
It can generate everything from sub-ADT
microdelays all the way up to Echoplexlike, sound-on-sound effects. The former
sounds amazing for overdriven leads and
heavy reverb settings. The latter is beautiful
for languid, freestyle psychedelic picking.
If youre into the second alternative, I
recommend getting an expression pedal.
Depending on which parameter you choose
to control, you can use the space in extralong delays to dramatically alter reverb or
delay mixes, or ride the repeats to create
rhythmic waves of echo. Expression-pedal
control of delay time can generate warped
bird-call and hyperspeed-to-dead-stop
Doppler effects that sonically approximate
a projector running backwards and
forwards at constantly variable and wildly
different speeds. Another bonus: Holding
the tap-tempo switch down generates
self-oscillation, so if you can put two feet
to work, the collage of textures you can
fashion becomes downright demented.

Any potential weirdness in standard delay


mode multiplies tenfold in the very naturalsounding reverse mode. But it isnt just
about heavy-handed hallucination effects.
Low decay and mix settings deliver more
surreal versions of the motion you get
from modulated echoes, animating simple
arpeggios and spacious leads. Elsewhere,
reverse mode excels at Kubrickian
distortions of time and space. The
shortest repeat times deliver metallic, ringmodulated tones that are extra trippy with
heaps of reverb, while longer repeat, delay,
and mix timeswith aggressive reverbare
the stuff of ambient/shoegaze dreams.
The Verdict
The Avalanche Run can be a lot of
things to a lot of people: space-ambience
generator, tape-echo stand-in, and riff
machine. Its thoughtfully designed
and deeply musical, and it reveals a
seamlessness between functions and
sounds that can make the most arcane
features feel full of potential.

$295 street
earthquakerdevices.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Powerful, functional and


natural sounding.

CONS Side-mounted expression


control.

premierguitar.com

- time based -

MXR

Reverb
BY CHARLES SAUFLEY

CLICK HERE
TO WATCH A
REVIEW DEMO
of this pedal.

nless youve been marooned on


a island, you may have noticed
that we are mired in a reverb
arms race. Around the globe, pedal weirdoes are tweaking algorithms to create
the most distantly spacy, authentically
springy, and perfectly plate-y reverbs.
Dont get me wrong, I love the
extreme, unnatural, and super-authentic
sounds they cook up. But how do
more practical players get in on the fun
without devoting whole seasons to a user
manual? The answer may be MXRs new
Reverb, a sample platter of reverb tones
including convincing spring emulations
to cosmic-scale echoesall in a compact,
three-knob package.
Bouncing Auf Bauhaus
Compared to many modern reverbs that
cover this much ground, the MXR Reverb
looks austere. The gunmetal enclosure and
three-knob array seem designed to reassure
players that this pedal is as approachable
and utilitarian as a toaster.
The knobs are a familiar and
conventional set: decay, tone, and mix.
The key to the wider universe within the
MXR Reverb is the tone knob, which
doubles as a push-button voice selector.
Pushing the button illuminates one of
the three LEDs in ether green or red. The
colorand LED that is illuminated
indicate which voice youve selected.
One note of warning: Youll need a light
touch when making tone adjustments.
The switch is sensitive and its easy to
accidentally switch voices.
Shoot the Tube, Space Mod!
The voices are familiar variations of what
are now common reverb types in the digital

172 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

reverb sphere. Plate, spring, and room


emulations are self-explanatory. Mod adds
pitch and phase modulation to the plate
reverb sound. Epic combines reflections
from multiple modulated reverbsan
effect not unlike watching light bounce off
fragments of mirror. Pad adds octave-up
and/or octave-down content.
Befitting a reverb pedal with very
functional aims, the plate and spring
reverbs are very good. The spring
reverb betrays its digital origins rarely
(usually at high tone and mix settings)
and sounds good on the receiving end
of gnarly fuzz tones that make other
digital reverbs sound like crap. It tucks
in nicely behind a dry signal at low levels
and handles extreme surf sounds with
graceparticularly when you darken the
tone. The plate reverb is also very good. I
enjoyed darker settings with short decay
times and an aggressive mixa nice zone
for lo-fi, garage-Spector tone textures.
Of the two modulated reverbsmod
and epicI used the former most. The
extra kinetic energy adds a dreamy, drifting
layer to spacious chord progressions and
lazy, moody lead passagesespecially
when used a little lower in the mix. The
colliding modulated reverbs of the epic
setting are less elegantgenerating high
harmonic tone shards in longer decays that
hint at digital origins. This texture is more
effective in a band context, however, where
ride cymbals and bass undercurrents soften
sharp harmonic edges.
The harder, more angular reverberations
of the room reverb are less satisfying, but
provide a great blank slate for percussive
delays and tremolos. Without other effects,
short decay and mix settings in room
mode evoke the less-than-charming space

of an empty apartment. More extreme


settings, however, create very big spaces,
with a minimum of additional color, for
other effects to work within.
Enjoyment of the pad reverb depends on
how you relate to the phenomenon called
shimmer verb. But the cool thing about the
MXRs version is that high or low octaves
can be used in equal measure or dialed to
one EQ extreme or the other, enabling you
to sculpt a focused, expansive sound. I liked
the effect in dark, low-mix settings. But
if you dig the ethereal, floating, angels-onhigh sonic sensations of high-octave reverb,
the MXR delivers it in plentitude.
The Verdict
MXRs Reverb isnt the wildest, spaciest,
most radical, or most hyper-accurate digital
reverb. But it may well share the crown
for the most practical if youre a gigging
guitarist that has to cover many moods and
inhabit multiple musical settings. Its easy
to navigate (if a bit twitchy), its intuitive,
and it has real range that enables extreme
subtlety with a quick twist.

$199 street
jimdunlop.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Simple. Nice plate and


spring emulations.

CONS Touchy mode selector.

premierguitar.com

- time based -

IBANEZ

Analog Delay Mini


BY CHARLES SAUFLEY

CLICK HERE
TO WATCH A
REVIEW DEMO
of this pedal.

love analog delay unabashedly. Along


with a good fuzz, its probably the
only effect I couldnt live without.
Over the years Ive put up with the hassles
of maintaining a Maestro Echoplex and a
less-than-optimally-space-efficient Deluxe
Memory Man to indulge my analog echo
fixations. So when cool compact analog
delays like the Carbon Copy, MF Delay,
and DM-2w hit the market at reasonable
prices, I rejoiced. Ibanezs new Analog
Delay Mini takes those reasons for
celebrationlow price and small sizeto
even more affordable and tinier extremes.
The even-better news? It sounds fantastic.
Tank Tough
Once I get over the cuteness of tiny
pedals, I start to imagine accidentally
crushing them in a state of performance
overzealousnessor worse, turning
an ankle stumbling over one in some
spectacular stage injury incident. The AD
Mini is still small enough to feel unsteady
underfoot if you dont have it securely
Velcroed or otherwise tethered to a board.
But you can forget about other incidental
damage. The Japan-built AD Mini feels
as tough and solid as brass knuckles. The
only points of vulnerability might be
the small knobs used for the repeat and
mix controls, although they are basically
quite sturdy. Mostly the little Ibanez
feels destined to last as long as one of its
tough-as-nails forebears.
Rough and Ready Retro Repeater
Bucket-brigade-driven analog delays
looked like an endangered species when
big manufacturers of BBD chips started
to wind down production. Thanks to
companies like Coolaudio, though, good

174 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

BBD chips are available again, enabling


reissues of classic delay and modulation
circuits as well as entirely new devices.
Coolaudios work helps drive the AD Mini
in the form of V3208 BBD chips. But
while these chips are found in many new
analog delays, that doesnt mean the AD
Mini sounds just like the rest of the pack.
Like any of the most desirable
vintage analog delays, the AD Mini
generates repeats that degrade as they
are regenerated from one BBD chip to
the next. This effect, typically heard as
a progressive darkening of repeats,
is a big part of analog delays appeal.
To many ears, it sounds more natural
and organic, tames the harsher side of
vintage-style fuzz, and adds a cool haze
to modulation effects.
The AD Minis repeats degrade in
all the most preferable ways. Theres a
smooth contour to each fade that never
sounds excessively distorted or clipped
even at the longest repeat settings. But
the AD Mini also has a very tasteful
sheen of extra top-end clarity that, while
miles from digitals sterility, adds air and
definition thats an asset in the context of
spacy, meandering leads and rhythmically
driven delay passages. Like many newer
analog delays, the AD Mini effectively
doubles the 300 ms maximum delay time
of vintage stalwarts like the Ibanez AD9
and Boss DM-2. The extra delay time
dovetails nicely with the extra air and
top-end presenceespecially when gain
pedals are in the mix. It also highlights
the very nice sensitivity and taper of
the controls, which enable fine-tuning
of delay times and repeats (great for
dialing in rhythmic delays) and smooth,
controlled oscillation swells.

The Verdict
Whether youre a dyed-in-the-wool analog
echo devotee or new to the effects charms,
the Analog Delay Mini is a supremely
satisfying way to experience the nuanced,
organic, and musical possibilities of an
analog circuit. Its beautifully built, sounds
amazing, is fun to use, and is a flat-out
steal given what vintage dealers ask for
original analog delays. If you can get past
its diminutive footprint, its worth every
pennyand then some.

$99 street
ibanez.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Killer vintage analog tones.


Solid as a freaking rock. Sensitive
controls with very nice taper.
Awesome value.

CONS None, if you secure it


correctly.

premierguitar.com

THE P A N O R A M I C .
TAKING TRUE DIMENSIONAL SOUND
TO A WHOLE NEW D I M E N S I O N .
Now all that wide, warm stereo sound of a genuine Magnatone is available in a lighter,
compact 2x10 solid pine speaker cabinet. The Panoramic Stereo is powered by two pair
EL-84 tubes, 15 + 15 watts, and Varistor Pitch Shifting Vibrato that we pioneered over 50 years
ago. Add a deep and lush Accutronics reverb, tremolo, and you have infinite combinations of
tone possibilities at your fingertips. This is the amp with the big sound thats easy to carry. Also
available with 1x12 external speakers. Magnatone Panoramic Stereo.
The latest dimension in True Dimensional Sound.

MAGNATONEUSA.COM

Magnatone LLC 2016

- time based -

EMPRESS
REVERB
BY YOEL KREISLER

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

hough its as common an effect


as youll find, reverb can be a
divisive subject. Many guitarists
cant play without itrelying on the air
and space it provides to enliven flat guitar
and amp tones. Others hate the way it can
muddy dynamics. One of the beautiful
things about the new Empress Reverb is
its potential to appeal to reverb fans and
skeptics alike. Its an impressive, all-in-one
reverb solution with sound-shaping potential beyond obvious applications and the
ability to sound great in modest doses.
Smart Layout, Easy Navigation
The Empress cornucopia of features and
presets could make heads spin. But the
control set is very thoughtfully and sensibly
laid out and easy to navigate, which
minimizes a potentially formidable learning
curve. That said, keeping the manual at your
side for first experiments is a very good idea.
The 12 modes on this pedal (Empress is
developing more, which can be uploaded
via an SD card) represent a cool mix of
classic and modern textures and a few of
Empress own unique creations. The I/O
complement includes stereo and mono ins
and outs and a multi-function control port
that can be used for an expression pedal,
external tap tempo control, external audio,
or MIDI connectivity. You can also save
up to 35 presets.
Sweetly Spacious
The majority of sounds reveal a lot of
attention to detail but never feel overengineered, gimmicky, or excessively
complicated. Classic sounds such as
spring, plate, hall, and room are authentic
and easy to dial in. Some classic settings
sounded cleaner than their analog or

176 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

real-world inspirations. But thats not all


bad when adding ambience to clean tones.
Stranger, more unnatural reverb effects
are where the Empress really flexes its
muscles. There are shimmer octave-reverbs
and modulated reverbs that sound especially
fantastic at high modulation rates. Each
setting can be further tweaked through
variable-function controls that are cheekily
labeled thing 1 and thing 2. Classic
spring modes, for example, feature three
sub-modes. On the bright spring setting,
thing 1 controls rattle decay and thing 2
controls rattle levelsettings that replicate
the mechanical aspects of an actual spring
reverb. If we move to the overdriven
spring sub-mode, thing 1 controls rattle
decay and level, while thing 2 controls the
amount of break-up. Its an impressive bit
of extra tone-tailoring power. Thing settings
can get wacky in modes like beer, where
thing 1 controls the glitch speed (or the rate
at which the filter moves between high- and
low-pass filters) and thing 2 controls glitch
tone (the time the reverb tail spends in
either high- or low-pass filter mode).
I love reverse reverbparticularly when
decays open and flower slowly and peak
in volume and resonance just before the
primary signal. The Empress reverse reverb
is subtler than many, lacking some of the
dramatic flowering and resonance I prefer,
but it works well with stacked effects, and
many players will love its gentle contours
in slower, more ambient settings.
Empress own reverb creations are a
ton of funparticularly the ghost, lo-fi,
and beer modes. The ghost mode is very
vocal sounding and excellent for dark
and spooky ambient textures. Lo-fi, with
its subtle-to-swervy pitch modulation,
sounds a bit like a broken spring reverb

or a really crusty Binson Echorec. Beer


mode, meanwhile, is an awesome gatedglitch-filter reverb that makes your guitar
sound like an aggressive synth pad.
One peculiarity in the Empress design
worth noting is a tendency to boost
signal a touch. My Real Tube overdrive
seemed louder than usual when situated
in front of the Empress. And while this
might be a desirable quality for a lot of
players, it could be an issue for folks who
use multiple gain pedals simultaneously.
The Verdict
The Empress Reverb is best suited for players
willing to devote time to concocting fine
textures. There are lots of sounds on tap, and
while you can easily get great tones from the
classic reverb simulations, Empress rewards
the kind of player who enjoys investing a
weekend probing every possibility. Players
that arent interested in such exploration will
probably not be able to justify the price.
But those that relish digging deeper will
likely find the combination of versatility and
intuitive navigation worth the investment.

$449 street
empresseffects.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Intuitive operation. Classicto-wild sounds.

CONS Relatively expensive.

premierguitar.com

PLAY LONGER
PLAY LOUDER
PLAY HARDER
www.bourns.com/proaudio

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 177

- modulation -

BOSS

CE-2W Waza Craft


BY CHARLES SAUFLEY

CLICK HERE
TO WATCH A
REVIEW DEMO
of this pedal.

nce upon a time, I was an antichorus reactionary. Then one day


a very trusted engineer suggested
an original Boss CE-2 on a 12-string track
I was recording. I scoffed. I protested. In
the end, I relented. Because just a touch of
magic from that little blue Boss really did
add a bit of extra kinetic energy to a tone
already brimming with harmonics and color.
I was impressed. And if I didnt become a
full-bore convert, I began to tinker with the
effect a lot more oftenvery subtly, usually.
But I learned to love the possibilities of faux
Leslie and even the compositional value of
Johnny Marrs and Peter Bucks classic 80s
textures. (They almost beckon you down
the path toward chord arpeggio melodies.)
Boss new CE-2W, a reimagining of the
original CE-2, lacks none of the magic that
made the original so surprisingly and simply
effective. Yet it adds additional voices that
expand its utility onstage and in the studio.
Baby Blue Brick
The Japan-built CE-2W (previous Waza
pedals are all Taiwan-built) wears the
same light blue paint job that marked its
antecedents. The additional features on
the Waza version make the pedal busier
looking than the original CE-2, which, in
its minimalist, 2-knob guise, is the essence
of Boss design elegance. Aesthetics aside,
the new functionality is all upside.
Like most of the Waza Craft pedals, the
CE-2W features a small slider switch in
between the knobs. Its the key that unlocks
the best of the new features. In the left, or
standard, position (marked S), the CE-2W
approximates the voice of the original CE-2.
In the center position, the pedal goes further
back in time, to the CE-2s predecessor: the
CE-1. The right position activates a vibrato

180 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

circuitno doubt another nod to the


original CE-1. Unlike the CE-2, the CE-2W
also features stereo outputs.
Gettin Woozy with Waza
Just like that original CE-2, which revealed
to me how chorus can illuminate a track
in small measures, the CE-2Ws standard
mode is capable of great subtlety. In the
first third of its range, the depth control
yields chorus textures subdued enough to
be subliminal in a multi-instrument mix.
When soloed, though, these CE-2W sounds
possess a very organic and classically analog
sense of extra motion. The next third of the
depth controls range reveals the CE-2Ws
most classic and familiar voices: 80s-tinged
chorus textures that, at the faster rates, feel
icy and regular in their undulations. At
slower rates, they take on a metallic-smooth
phasing that invites jazzy chord balladry and
sounds killer with a dose of fuzz out front.
The CE-1 mode is deeper, queasier,
and at certain settings seemingly just a
little murkier. For fans of more menacing,
in-your-face chorus tonesKurt Cobains
Polychorus sounds, for instancethis
setting is the ticket. Its also a great contrast
to the standard setting and different enough
to sound like another pedal entirely.
The vibrato effect is, perhaps, the most
unexpected addition to the CE-2W, and it
doesnt sound at all like some marketingmeeting-driven afterthought. While it
lacks some of the Boss VB-2 and VB-2Ws
pulsing, woozy otherworldliness, it can be
every bit as transformative. At lower depth
and rate settings it feels and sounds like
yet another alternative chorus voice with
a touch of pitch shifting. In middle-range
settings it tends to take on the sound of a
metallically tinged rotary speaker. In fact,

with a little clever EQ at a mixing desk, I


wouldnt be surprised if it would fool some
folks as a stand-in. High depth settings
will likely hold less appeal for trad-minded
chorus users. But for fans of the VB-2s
more alien capabilities, these sounds will be
a cherry-on-top addition to the CE-2Ws
already wide modulation palette
particularly the space-drunk, nitrous textures
of low-rate and high-depth combinations.
The Verdict
The CE-2W is a well-executed, thoughtfully
designed analog modulation tool that can
please many masters. The subtle-to-extreme
range of classic chorus tones that are
available between the standard, CE-1, and
mellower vibrato modes can cover the needs
of the most obsessed chorus tweakers. The
addition of the vibrato makes it possible to
imagine the CE-2W as the only mod pedal
youd ever need for the stage. And if, like so
many of us, youve spent your guitar playing
life wary of the chorus effect, this classy and
kooky modulator may be the one to show
you the light.

$199 street
bossus.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Classic-but-varied chorus and


vibrato tones.

CONS None.

premierguitar.com

- modulation -

SEYMOUR DUNCAN
Catalina
BY MATT HOLLIMAN

CLICK HERE
TO WATCH A
REVIEW DEMO
of this pedal.

ts been interesting to watch Seymour


Duncans effects line grow. Pedals
like the Vapor Trail Analog Delay
strike a nice balance between practicality,
simplicity, and thoughtful, performancecentric extra features. The new Catalina
analog chorus fits the same moldthanks
in large part to the inclusion of the
intriguing expression mode, which
enables a player to shape the chorus effect
with picking dynamics.
Spinning Knobs, Swirling Modes
The Catalinas blue-sparkle finish makes
it look a little like your Uncle Ricks
vintage jet boatwhich is awesome. The
nameplates font also looks like a badge
from an early-60s Pontiac Catalina,
enhancing the units personality. Once the
effect becomes active, the top LED lights
up bright blue. Engaging the expression
feature illuminates the threshold knob.
It glows blue if you select soft mode,
which increases chorus level in response
to a softer pick attack, or green for hard
mode, which has an inverse response to
pick dynamics. The single toggle switch
allows you to change between hard and
soft modes, and turning the threshold
knob clockwise increases the sensitivity to
pick dynamics. The remaining five knobs
control rate, depth, delay, mix, and tone.
Catalina can only be powered with a
918V barrel adaptor.
Express Yo Self!
Its easy to get really satisfying chorus
sounds from the Catalina. With delay,
mix, depth, and rate controls at around 2
oclock, the Catalina takes on rich, deep,
and fluttery rotary speaker characteristics.
Some chorus effects do the Leslie trick

182 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

less well than others. But Catalina is a


more authentic-sounding stand-in than
most. The tone control also proved
invaluable for giving the chorus more
presence, which was useful when I was
using my dark and bassy Les Paul/
Fender Twin combination. At higher tone
settings, the Catalina also took on many
of the bright and detailed characteristics
of my favorite Boss CE-2. At darker
settings, the Catalina does a great job of
adding deep undulating movement to
low frequencies, which can also be used,
to some extent, to mimic microphone
emphasis on the lower horn of a Leslie.
The expression mode adds real value
to the Catalina and is a great solution
to the problem of chorus effects that
can bury picking nuance and sound
all-enveloping. The soft mode will be
especially appealing to players that like
Pixies- or Nirvana-style quiet-to-loud
dynamicsamong many other potential
applications. I used the effect in a song
that moved from light picking to chunky,
heavy rhythms, and the responsiveness
and smooth transition between moreand less-present chorus was impressive.
The threshold control helps tailor the
dynamic response to your sense of touch.
But theres another benefit: The threshold
control can also be used to make the
pedal more responsive to particular
pickup types. The single-coils from my
Fenders benefitted from higher threshold
settings. And my preferred dynamics
stayed consistent as I moved from singlecoils to humbuckers, as long as I set the
threshold control accordingly.
The expression control also helps
fine tune the Catalinas compatibility
with other effects and enables more

extreme settings on the pedal itself. My


favorite? A choppy, heavy fuzz mated
to the Catalina with all controls (save
for threshold) at maximum settings,
which resulted in a lightly bubbling and
fuzzy picking pattern punctuated by a
dementedly undulating lead tone. Its
hard to overstate how nice it is to have
this control over a modulation effect just
through pick attack.
The Verdict
Classic chorus tones are easy to get from
Catalina. But its the pedals dynamic
capacity that makes it special and more
practical and appealing for stage use.
The $229 tag is on the higher end of the
spectrum for a mass-produced chorus.
But for a lot of gigging chorus users,
the expressive flexibility will be worth
every penny.

$229 street
seymourduncan.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Great tones. Expression


mode is awesome and works very
well with other effects.

CONS No battery option.

premierguitar.com

Introducing

A New Fresh Sound by Swart.

The

Powered by 2 x EL84 @15 watts


Reverb/tremolo/tone

Swart

AMPLIFIER COMPANY

swartamps.com

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 183

- modulation -

KEELEY

Mod Workstation
BY YOEL KREISLER

CLICK HERE
TO WATCH A
REVIEW DEMO
of this pedal.

obert Keeley has been a


boutique-pedal scene fixture
since making his mark with an
excellent take on the Ross Compressor
circuit. In the last few years, Keeleys
productivity exploded, putting him in
the running for the busiest builder in the
business. His offerings are increasingly
eclectic, as evidenced by the 30 MS
Automatic Double Tracker and Bubble
Tron Dynamic Flanger Phaser. Now,
the Mod Workstation, with eight digital
modulation modes and three drive
modes, represents Keeleys multi-function
design ambitions.
Efficient Layout
The box doesnt exactly scream economy
or simplicity at first. Its about the size
of three MXR pedals put together, and
the switches and knobs are numerous.
But theyre tidily laid out and easy to
understand, which adds up to a shallowerthan-expected learning curve. Its actually
easy to find good settings quickly.
Keeley included drive and boost
sections. The drive is based on his
Oxblood OD and the boost can be
switched between his 1962 and Katana
circuits. The extra gain is a fix for
perceived volume drop, but it alters the
EQ characteristics of the modulated
tones. Each drive has a unique
personality. The Oxblood circuit is a
little scooped in the low mids and bass.
The 1962 boost/drive is fuller sounding
in the lower mids and bass frequencies.
Its important to keep the tone settings
up pretty high when using either drive
or youll risk losing a little air and
dynamics. The Katana boost is very clean
and even stacks nicely with the Oxblood.

184 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Waves Upon Waves


The Mod Workstations tremolo is
exceptionally warm. The volume swells
sound almost optically generatedas if
Teletronix (of LA-2A compressor fame)
had created a tube-based tremolo unit.
It doesnt have the upper-harmonic grit
associated with amp tremolos, but it
does have that soft and pillowy tubelike response and decay. The harmonic
tremolo sounds a bit like a cross between
a phaser and a vibrato. It also has a
resonance that can sometimes sound like
an auto-wah. Its somewhere between
gurgling and bubbly, with lots of low-mid
content to create depth.
The random automatic filter is my
favorite sound. It generates futuristic,
electronica-tinged guitar sounds and is
awesome for adding rhythmic texture.
The phaser is deep and tastefully
resonant. Like the harmonic tremolo, its
got a healthy low-mid heft that can make
both overdriven and clean tones swirl
without sounding overly bright or muddy.
ADT (automatic double tracker) mode
sounds awesome paired with the drive
tones. It occupies a space somewhere
between subtle chorusing and slapback
delay, and is great for adding ambience.
The shortest slapbacks on the ADT,
however, can sound a little metallic.
The only real letdowns are the
flanger and rotary simulation. The
flanger sounds a little harsh and digital.
The attack and response feel stiff, and
the sweeps feel narroweven at the
deepest, slowest settings. Similarly, the
rotary simulation feels artificially bright
and rigid, and the hollowed-out mids
remove some of the vital sense of motion.
(Keeley says detailed steps have been

taken to improve these functions on


newer versions of the pedal.)
Stereo outputs are a useful tool for
adding motion to modulation effects.
Unfortunately, the Mod Workstation doesnt
have them. Many of the lushest effects left
me longing to hear them in stereo. Given
how common this feature has become
especially on multifunction pedals of this
sizeits a notable design omission.
The Verdict
The Mod Workstation is a solid
modulation pedal if youre looking for
an all-in-one solution. That said, it often
feels like it would benefit from focusing
on a few of the strongest effects. The
drives, for instance, feel superfluous
where a nice clean boost would have
sufficed. Still, Keeley deserves praise for
making this very capable unit easy to use.

$299 street
robertkeeley.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Versatile. Lots of cool


modulation options with some truly
inventive sounds. Tons of tones
on tap with the boost and drive
functions. Very handily laid out,
with little to no learning curve.

CONS Lack of stereo outputs on a


modulation pedal of this scope is a
bummer. Superfluous drive effects.

premierguitar.com

- modulation -

WALRUS AUDIO
Julia
BY JOE GORE

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

eres a 6-string litmus test:


Do you like chorus?
For many players, chorus
is the cheesy, energy-sucking effect that
neutered countless otherwise effective
guitar tones. Meanwhile, young players
who look back fondly at 80s pop/rock
(and old players who never outgrew it)
welcome chorus softening/fattening
qualities in all their retro charm.
Amazingly, Walrus Audios Julia chorus
may seduce players of both persuasions. It
offers classic chorus sounds, new variations,
and, perhaps most important, the option
of subtle settings that dont scream I want
my MTV! (That, young readers, was the
stations slogan soon after debuting in 1981.)
Classic Chorus
Lets start with the nuts-and-bolts stuff.
Julia resides in a standard 125B-sized
enclosure. Its plastic jacks are affixed to
a circuit board populated with modern,
small-format components, save for the
new-production Coolaudio bucketbrigade and clocking chips, which are
through-hole. Julia runs on standard 9V
power and has no battery compartment.
There are the expected rate and depth
controls, and both have nice-feeling tapers
and useful tones throughout their ranges.
A lag control sets the center point of the
modulated delay time, producing tighter,
flange-like sounds at one extreme, and big,
wide wobbles at the other. You can also
toggle between the triangle-wave modulation
and smoother, subtler sine-wave modulation.
And then theres that fourth knob
Wet, Dry, and Damp?
You probably know this already, but
just in case you dont: The chorus effect

186 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

comes from pitch-modulating your signal


(that is, making notes wobble up and
down slightly), and then combining that
sound with your dry signal. The pitch
discrepancies between the detuned and
dry paths produce the harmonically rich
chorus effect.
That means you can mute the dry
signal, leaving only the wobbling sound.
Voilvibrato! Thats hardly a new idea.
The very earliest chorus pedalsthe
Shin-Ei Vibra Chorus and Uni-Vibe
from the 1960sfeatured chorus/vibrato
switches. But guitarists rarely embraced
Uni-Vibe vibrato, and many modern
spin-offs omit the feature. (And, to be
honest, Uni-Vibe vibrato isnt especially
attractive to most players, with its seasick
bends and clubfooted modulation.)
Here, though, the vibrato is invitingly
musical in both its sine- and trianglewave versions.
Meanwhile, the wet/dry mix is
continuously variable from 100 percent
dry to all wet. Its the mix control
(labeled d-c-v for dry-chorus-vibrato)
that makes Julia sing in so many varied
voices, including subtle ones.
Low mix settings provide understated
yet animating chorus colors. With the
knob in the middle third of its range,
you get classic chorus sounds. In the
upper part of its range, the knob favors
the vibrato signal. And man, there are
so many cool and useful tones in those
nooks and crannies that most chorus
pedals omit. I suspect that many players
who dont like conventional chorusing
just might dig Julias tasteful in-between
settings, like dry tones with just a hint
of chorusing, or some of the vibrato/
chorus hybrids.

The Verdict
I knew within seconds of plugging in that
Julia would become one of my favorite
chorus pedals. If you like the classic
analog effect, youll be happy here. If you
dont, Julias uncommonly subtle settings
might make you at least a partial convert.
The build is excellent and the price is fair.
Julia is one worthy wobble box!

$199 street
walrusaudio.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS True analog circuitry. Classic


chorus sounds. Cool and potentially
subtle variations. Nice build.

CONS Noneunless the very


notion of a chorus pedal makes you
gnash your teeth.

premierguitar.com

- modulation -

DWARFCRAFT DEVICES
Twin Stags
BY YOEL KREISLER

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

au Claires Drawfcraft specializes in funky, off-kilter, offbeat,


maniacal, and adventurous pedals. On that count, theyve struck gold yet
again with the Twin Stags dual tremolo.
But Twin Stags is also musical, functional, and even simple to use. And the two
onboard LFOs drive tremolo textures that
swirl and chop in rhythmically complex
patterns just as easily as they create powerful, straightforward tremolo tones.
Warm Waves of Sine
The first thing I noticed when plugging
in the Twin Stags was its incredible
warmth. Although its LFOs are both
triangle-wave oscillators, the shape
control lets you shift from sawtooth to
triangle, ramp, and all points in between.
But whichever you choose, the pedal
retains an analog glow that eliminates
harsh edges without blunting the impact
of the hardest pulses. This quality is most
apparent in square-ish waves, which
sound rounded-off enough at the corners
to not be square at all. Regardless of the
actual wave profile, its pronouncedly
staccato without the more jarring
qualities of a hard, square tremolo. That
makes it easier to incorporate the texture
in unlikely placessoft jazz settings, for
instancewhen you roll the depth back.
Two LFOs Are Better than One
If the Twin Stags was a single-LFO
version of itself, I would be quite happy
to take it on the road or into the studio.
But Dwarfcraft is known for pushing
the envelope, and the real strengths of
this pedal are revealed with both LFOs
running together. Setting LFO 1 to a fast
rate and a sawtooth waveform and LFO

188 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

2 to a slow rate and a sine waveform


delivers choppy-like movement thats
enhanced by an almost Doppler effect.
The result was not unlike bobbing your
head in and out of the ocean with a
helicopter swirling overhead. Picking
harder and turning the depth up on the
second, slower LFO, made this effect
even more dramatic.
Twin Stags goes beyond just adding
texture. Its also a very powerful tool
for adding dark percussive elements to
your tone. Dwarfcraft designed LFO 1
to be faster than LFO 2 for the purpose
of creating rhythmic subdivisions. But
you can use the switch labeled 2MOD1
to invert the relationship so the second
LFO modulates the first, which enables
softer variations of the same rhythmic
patterns. The rate of either LFO can also
be controlled by an expression pedal,
which makes dramatic rhythmic shifts
and tweaks possible.
Synthpunk Star
Twin Stags is compatible with Eurorack
modular synth systemswhich brings
us to the pedal's CV (control voltage)
capabilities. Twin Stags can receive CV
commands from a different source or
send its own LFO signal to communicate
with other Eurorack-compatible gear.
This is great for guitar players who
dabble in synthesis. From a purely guitarcentric perspective, the CV capability
is less advantageous. At higher rates,
the clock noise from the LFO is very
audible. This is a quirk of many modular
synth units, but you have to wonder if
Dwarfcraft didnt err on the side of trying
to satisfy too many players here. (A risk
that we wholly applaud, by the way.)

LFO 1 does self-oscillate, creating its own


wild tones at higher rates, which is great
fun. I also generated very cool ring mod
sounds, which sounded especially thick
and metallic with a Pro Co RAT in front
of the Dwarfcraft.
The Verdict
The Dwarfcraft Twin Stags is an easy
pedal to love. The tremolo sounds are
warm and rich. The LFO options give
the pedal the tone-shaping power of a
synth. And the rhythmic textures the
pedal can produce are inspiring and
musicalespecially when other pedals
are in the mix. If you need a tremolo that
goes beyond simple amp tremolo sounds,
Twin Stags is an excellent place to start.

$250 street
dwarfcraft.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Fully featured dual tremolo


chock-full of control options. Big
and warm basic tremolo sounds
with a ton of rhythmic and sonic
territory to explore.

CONS Clock noise is audible at


higher LFO speeds.

premierguitar.com

Joaquin Lares Photography

HOWIE SIMON

PHOTO NATALIA BRITT

NELSON, ALCATRAZZ

www.mezzabarba.com
US DISTRIBUTOR: WWW.OVERDRIVEDISTRIBUTION.COM
premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 189

- modulation -

J. ROCKETT
Tranquilizer
BY YOEL KREISLER

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

ost of the classic first-generation phaserslike the MXR


Phase 90, Electro-Harmonix
Small Stone, and Mu-Tron Phasorwere
less than subtle. But relative subtlety was
precisely what made the Phase 90s less
celebrated cousin, the two-stage Phase 45,
appealing when it was released in the mid
70s. Its also what makes J. Rocketts very
Phase 45-like Tranquilizer one of the nicest phasers Ive played in quite some time.
Modulation Metamorphosis
As its four knobs suggest, the Tranquilizer
is much more than a clone of the
super-simple, one-knob Phase 45. In
fact, categorizing the Tranquilizer as
simply a phaser undersells its versatility.
Its more akin to a Uni-Vibe in many
waysprimarily because of the addition

most pronounced effects are within a


pretty narrow range between noon and
3 oclock. Still, its easy to hear how this
control would be handy when using the
Tranquilizer with fuzz and other gain
effects. The fat control, meanwhile,
enables you to fine-tune the low-end
response. Its helpful when working
the Tranquilizer into a band mix or
arrangement, or when youre building a
tone recipe with multiple effects.
When working with clean tones, the
Tranquilizer delivers everything I lie
awake at night wishing for in a phaser. Its
not too resonant or whistle-y, and its got
a gorgeous, throbbing, undulating quality
that doesnt overwhelm the fundamental
tone of your guitar and pickups. Dirty
tones are also a beautiful match. Running
before a vintage Real Tube Overdrive, it

a pedal that adapts readily to shifting


musical settings and changes on your
pedalboard. And the ability to pan
between phase and vibrato enables you to
shape unique and complex modulation
sounds to suit a song or drive a riff.
Above all, the Tranquilizer manages the
difficult trick of meshing with your guitar
tone instead of just sitting on top of it.
Taken together, these qualities make the
Tranquilizer a great modulation unit.

$199 street
rockettpedals.com
Tones

of vibrato and the ability to use each


effect independently or blend them.
Even if youre not a big vibrato fan, the
Tranquilizers vibrato is quite enjoyable
to use. And the way it blends seamlessly
with the phase effect creates textures that
are a joy to sprinkle on clean tones.
Another feature that sets this pedal
apart from other phasers is the focus
control, which is essentially an external
bias control. It enables you to fine-tune
the range of sweep in the phase or vibrato
sound. J. Rockett says its the key to
dialing in the best Leslie and Uni-Vibe
sounds. But it can be subtle, and the

190 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

delivers the kind of dark thick-molasses


throb that will make a Trower fans
hair stand on end. The phased signal
doesnt dance around the distortion.
Instead it seems to enter itenhancing
the overdrive tones without adding or
highlighting dissonances.
The Verdict
Working from a classic formula, J.
Rockett has created a kind of Uni-Vibe/
Phase 45 hybrid modulation machine of
exceptional versatility. The inclusion of
tone and bias (focus) controls, which are
sometimes subtle, make the Tranquilizer

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Incredibly deep phase sounds


that meld wonderfully with cleans
and dirt. Musical and expressive, with
a nice low-end whomp missing from
too many phasers.

CONS Focus control has a bit of


a learning curve and sometimes
seems like it would be better as an
internal trim potbut is this where
the magic happens.

premierguitar.com

PITTBULL ULTRA LEAD

on stage with Helmet


Steven Fryette pioneered the
high gain, high definition, channel
switching amp category with
the release of the Pittbull series
amplifiers 25 years ago.

PHOTO: JAMMIE YORK PHOTOGRAPHY

Used on countless tours


and studio recordings, the Pittbull
heads and FatBottom cabinets
provide the ultimate in expression,
flexibility and reliability.

160701_Pitbull_VintageGuitar_V11.indd 1

premierguitar.com

MASTER BUILT IN
NORTH HOLLYWOOD CALIFORNIA

www.fryette.com
7/11/16 4:15 PM

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 191

- Filter, wah & Beyond -

MOJO HAND FX
Wonder Filter
BY CHARLES SAUFLEY

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

uitarists most closely associate


envelope filters with funk
masters, Jerry Garcia and his
disciples, and, to some extent, more
modern players like John Frusciante. But
with funk and synth textures creeping
ever more prominently back into the pop
soundscape, a newer generation is adapting
the effect to its own rule-breaking ends.
An envelope filters appeal is far from
automatic. If youve never played one,
the bubbling percussive accents and autowah-like textures can seem limited. Even
experienced players are sometimes unable
to sort the off-kilter dynamics that make
the effect interesting. With its classic
Mu-Tron-rooted voice, Mojo Hands
Wonder Filter may not inspire legions of
converts, but its sensitive, rangy controls
and capacity for mellower, more shadowy
filter tones might tip the scale for skeptics.
Ride the Rainbow
Wonder Filters control array is smart and
logically laid out. Two toggle switches
populate the upper-right corner. The
high/low switch shifts frequency range
emphasis. The drive switch determines
whether the filter goes from open to
closed or vice versa.
The knobs are situated in groups of
three and two, along with a solo mode
control. The controls that shape the
Wonder Filters dynamics are grouped in
a blue-painted section that, like the twocolor rainbow arc logo, nods to the original
Mu-Tron IIIs colorful, elegant enclosure
graphics. The attack control determines
how fast the filter responds to picking. The
gain knob sets the input gain required to
activate the filter (determining the range
of touch sensitivity.) Boost controls the

192 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

overall output from the pedalimportant


when using the most radical sounds. The
peak knob determines the peak intensity of
the effect, which ranges to slap-in-the-face
extremes. You dont often see mix knobs on
Mu-Tron inspired filters. Thats most likely
because the original lacked one. But here
it makes the pedal much more adaptable
to different musical settings and enables
subtle filtering effects that work particularly
well with colors like delay and phase.
The 5-position mode switch also adds
functionality you dont always see on an
envelope filter. The first position, marked
O, removes the filter entirely but enables
you to use the boost and maintain a
consistent gain profile with or without
the filter. The middle three positions
select high-pass, band-pass, or low-pass
filters. The fifth, or N, position activates
a very subtle combined filter if you want
only the mildest filter coloration.
Easily Wowed by Vowels
The Wonder Filter can be as intense and
mothership-at-lightspeed funky as most
users will ever require. While it lacks
some of a Mu-Trons deep, harmonic
resonance, it delivers piercing high-energy
peaks, wide, vocal vowel sounds, and
darting, laser-beam-like reverse-filter
tones at high settings. And what it might
lack in complexity relative to an old
Mu-Tron is made up for by the forgiving
and easy-to-dial-in control set.
The controls are very fluidly
interactive. That means fewer cover-yourears spikes in filter intensity. It also makes
exploring settings a lot more fun. A huge
part of this fluid dynamic is down to the
mix knob. If youre at all accustomed to
working with analog delays, the way low

mix levels enable extreme delay time and


feedback settings is analogous to the way
they enable exploration of high peak and
gain levels on the Wonder Filtersettings
that would render some envelope filters
useless for all but the most bizarre tones.
The Verdict
The Wonder Filter takes one of the
coolest aspects of an envelope filters
architecturethe reactivity to picking
dynamicsand adds a mellowing
measure of control that almost
paradoxically enables you to explore
the most extreme effects and tuck them
into the slipstream of your dry signal.
It rewards tinkering and unorthodox
approaches to riff composition, unlocking
colors you might not have known your
guitar or bass could produce in the
process. At 229 bucks it still may be too
dear to beckon the casual explorer. But
for those willing to take the jump, the
Wonder Filter is about as willing and
welcoming as an envelope filter can get.

$229 street
mojohandfx.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Fat filter sounds and fluid


interactivity. Useful mix control.

CONS More intense sounds can


lack harmonic complexity.

premierguitar.com

Emily Robison
of Court Yard Hounds
and Collings Guitars

Emily Robison on stage with her Collings CJ SB


Serious Guitars | www.CollingsGuitars.com | (512) 288-7770

- Filter, wah & Beyond -

TC ELECTRONIC
Sub 'N' Up
BY CHARLES SAUFLEY

CLICK HERE
TO WATCH A
REVIEW DEMO
of this pedal.

ew effects can force a transformation in playing style quite like


octave pedals. They can make
single notes scream like birds of prey
or add a beefy sub-octave thump that
makes every string pluck sound like it
weighs 300 pounds. But no matter which
extreme you pursue, an octave pedal will
make playing a familiar passage feel very
differentand, on good days, prompt
musical invention.
Digital design has made octave
pedals more flexible and friendly to
experimental, inventive approaches in
recent years. And clever manufacturers
can now deliver some of the wider,
interactive functionality of treadle-based
designs like the DigiTech Whammy in
compact pedals. TC Electronics Sub N
Up, the latest addition to the companys
TonePrint series, is a cool study in how
much octave-tweaking fun you can stuff
into a little enclosure without a treadle.
One Monster, Many Growls
The surprisingly basic, relatively simple
layout of the Sub N Up includes
knobs for controlling dry/effected mix,
the amount of up or high octave, the
amount of first sub-octave, and the
intestine-rumbling frequencies of the
pedals second sub-octave engine. There is
also a three-way toggle switch that allows
selection between polyphonic settings, a
TonePrint selector (our demo unit came
loaded with a killer faux organ sound,
complete with its own modulation), and
traditional, non-polyphonic mode (labeled
classic). Its an intuitive pedal, even if
youre a neophyte octave pedal user.
The polyphonic sounds the Sub N
Up brings to the table are superb. An

194 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

oft-heard complaint from octave addicts


is that most octave pedals track poorly
glitching out when chords or odd interval
bends enter the picture. Even some of the
best octave pedals can still get confused
and glitch if too much complex harmonic
information is thrown their direction. So
its impressive that Sub N Up handles
these musical situations as well as it does.
In polyphonic modeeven with the
ominous low rumble of its second suboctave engagedchords ring and rumble
with surprising clarity and without
pronounced latency or glitchy artifacts.
But if glitchiness is what youre after, the
classic setting provides those raw, crooked
sounds with ease. The second sub-octave
is a huge part of the fun, especially when
utilized on bass guitar through a proper
bass amplifier. Truly filthy textures lurk in
the upper range of this control.
Beam Me Sub N Up
TCs very useful TonePrint technology
looks more impressive and practical with
every new release and TonePrint library
addition. Its a big part of what makes
Sub N Up so versatile, too. The organ
TonePrint the Sub N Up came with
generated warbling, lush polyphonic swirl
that evoked classic combo organs, stoked
rhythmic ideas, and lent economy to my
playing as I picked riffs to match the fat,
bubbling tones. Paired with a Stratocaster
loaded with Seymour Duncan APS-1
single-coil pickups through a Fender Pro
Junior, comped chords became a great
alternative rhythm guitar texture. With
a distorted 100-watt Marshall JCM800
head and 4x12, it sounded like Jon Lord
and Ritchie Blackmore melded into a
single musician! Diving even further

into the TonePrint editor enables you to


craft tones that range from more esoteric
keyboard sounds to very convincing
12-string guitar tones.
The Verdict
Between the killer polyphonic tracking
and the nearly limitless flexibility
afforded by its TonePrint technology, the
Sub N Up might be the only octave
effect you need. The lack of treadle
means some extremely radical octave-shift
maneuvers remain impossible. But the
available tones are fantastic, and surprises
aboundespecially when you consider
the small size. At just around $130, the
Sub N Up is another great value from
an increasingly impressive pedal line.

$129 street
tcelectronic.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Great tones. Tracks well in


extreme octave settings and with
complex chords. Flexible. Small
footprint.

CONS None.

premierguitar.com

BOUTIQUE GUITAR EFFECTS MADE IN THE USA SINCE 1993 WWW.BLACKCATPEDALS.COM 203.764.2644

FILL THE BAR/FILL THE JAR

TheBudAmp.com

When you sound better, you play better.


And when you play better, people notice.

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 195

- Filter, wah & Beyond -

ELECTRO-HARMONIX
Mel9

BY MATT HOLLIMAN

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

eveloped in 1963, the


Mellotron polyphonic keyboard used keyboard-activated
magnetic tapes to, in effect, sample
other instruments. This quirky, primitive hybrid of sampler and synthesizer
became a staple of 6768-era Beatles
tracks (most notably, Strawberry Fields)
and bands like the Moody Blues and
King Crimson. Electro-Harmonixs Mel9,
a multi-voiced effects box and part of
their keyboard family of stomps, is an
attempt to capture the sounds and feel of
the Mellotron in a guitar pedal.
Strings and Things
The Mel9 has nine voicings available
at the twist of a rotary knob: orchestra,
cello, strings, flute, clarinet, saxophone,
brass, low choir, and high choir. Rather
than use a single mix knob, Mel9 blends
dry and effected output via separate
effects and dry knobs. The attack
parameter alters how quickly the effect
responds to your picking/strumming
(you could also think of it as the rate of
swell). The sustain knob increases the
length of the effected note as you turn
it counterclockwise. There are also two
outputs for dry and effected signals. The
Mel9 draws 100 mA and ships with its
own 9V power supply, though you can
use most center-pin negative adaptors.
There is no battery option.

a looper. In the orchestral setting, big


chunky chords morph into a full-fledged
symphonyan especially nice sound with
a volume pedal and a little delay. Looping
a chord change in orchestral setting and
switching the Mel9 to, say, the flute voice
for a melody line, creates the audio picture
of a minor symphonic composition.
Changing between voicings requires some
practice and familiarization because attack
and sustain settings will vary from voice
to voice and is impacted by your style
and choice of guitar. For example, a little
extra sustain helps the single-coils of a
Stratocaster maintain a melody line sailing
over a looped bed from the orchestra
setting. Dial it in too low, though, and the
effect will fade out quickly.
Unlike some digital synthesizing
effects, the Mel9 tracks pitch bends
without sounding glitchy or collapsing
into a crumble of artifacts. In fact, after
spending considerable time jamming
and recording with the Mel9, my only
complaint is the lack of a tone knob. The
output is generally usable and pleasing to
the ear. But I stumbled on many potential
applications where I wanted to blend the
effect more subtlyand within a narrower
EQ rangein the mix. Turning down the
tone on your guitar helps somewhat, but a
little tone shaping power in the form of a
bass and treble cut and boost would make
the Mel9 nearly perfect.

Youre the Conductor


Bringing the Mel9 to a studio can
be a dangerous proposition if youre
crunched for time. Its addictive, invites
experimentation, and there are scads of
sonic possibilities to explore. I spent,
quite literally, hours with the Mel9 and

The Verdict
The Mel9 handles chords or single notes
without a hitch, and works well with
a keyboard or bass. Splitting the chain
between the dry and effected output
adds a cool layer of extra control and
enables fine tuning the tones of the Mel9

196 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

for balance and EQ at a mixing desk


or between two amplifiers. That said,
it would be great to have a little more
tone-sculpting power within the pedal
itself. Save for that omission, the Mel9
is an outstanding pedal that delivers
pretty convincing Mellotron soundsa
proposition that might have seemed like
a tall order without MIDI not so long
ago. The $220 price tag is a tad high, but
if you spend a lot of your playing time
seeking non-guitar textures to enhance
songs and expand your tone palette, it
may well be worth every penny.

$221 street
ehx.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Turns your guitar into a


vintage keyboard. Wet/dry output
opens up studio possibilities.

CONS No tone control. A little bit


pricey.

premierguitar.com

handmade quality,
laser precision

Pickups Handmade in Tacoma, WA. USA lollarguitars.com

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 197

- Filter, wah & Beyond -

FUZZROCIOUS
Feed Me
BY JOE GORE

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

snt it odd that more players dont


have an EQ pedal on their boards?
Placed near the front of your signal
chain, EQ can radically alter the response
of overdrives and fuzzes. Near the end of
chain, EQ can reconfigure tones or correct trouble spots. Maybe some players
scorn pedalboard equalization because
the graphic EQ stompboxes of the 70s
and 80s often sounded noisy and nasty.
But thats certainly not the case with Feed
Me, an innovative analog EQ pedal with
countless potential uses.
Resistance Is Utile!
Feed Me features four color-coded rotary
switches, each populated with 12 different
resistors or capacitors. (Remember, capacitor
value determines cut-off frequency, while
resistor value specifies the amount of cut.)
The left-hand switches determine the depth
and cut-off frequency of a high-pass (bass-

treble attenuationenough, in fact, to


slap an amp into overdrive. Meanwhile,
the tone knob fades between bass and
treble settings, its effect varying according
to the rotary switch settings. And while
there are no dedicated midrange controls,
the tone knob delivers many midrange
contours across its terrain.
Feed Me is subtle but effective on
clean-ish sounds. It can tame shrill singlecoils, clarify boomy humbuckers, make
a P-bass sound more like a J, or vice
versa. But Feed Me is especially gratifying
before or after drive and fuzz pedals.
Fuzz on Fire
I paired Feed Me with a Fuzz Face clone.
Fuzz Faces have gain and volume knobs,
but no tone controls. Did Feed Me
summon new sounds from this simple
fuzz circuit? Hell yeah! In front of the
fuzz, Feed Me shaped the pedals response.

Feed Me can mimic the tone stacks


of countless drive and fuzz circuits.
cut) filter, while the right-hand switches
control a low-pass (treble-cut) filter. These
are passive controls that ordinarily require
no power. But Feed Me also includes an
active boost stage and tone knob, so a 9V
power supply is required. (Feed Me has no
battery option.) Inside the pedals standard
BB-sized enclosure is a circuit board
featuring hand-soldered through-hole parts.
Its a nice build.
Theres more than enough gain
available via the boost stage (volume
control) to compensate for heavy bass or

198 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Trimming lows was especially useful,


yielding brighter, cleaner tones and lending
definition to a sometimes woolly-sounding
effect. Feed Me is even more dramatic
post-fuzz. There it can mimic the tone
stacks of countless drive and fuzz circuits,
from Muffs to Screamers and beyond.
(The pedals documentation includes many
such tone recipes.) The new shades you
can conjure from old-favorite overdrives
may surprise and inspire you. Feed Me also
works great at the tail end of your effect
chain, applied like mixing board EQ.

If youre thinking sounds like a great


pedal for rocket surgeons, reconsider.
Its perfectly possible to wrangle Feed
Me with minimal tech knowledge. My
favorite method is to grab the two lowcut knobs and spin them till things sound
great, and then repeat the process with
the high-cut knobs.
The Verdict
Once you get the hang of it, Feed Me can
coax many new sounds from gear you
already own. Onstage, you could click
it on to create an alternate character for
your guitar, amp, or pedals. But Feed Me
shines brightest in the studio, where it can
help you concoct the perfect sound for a
production in progress. Feed Me is unique.
Its build is solid. The price is right. And
the potential applications are legion.

$155 street
fuzzrociouspedals.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Endlessly useful. Quality


build. Nice price.

CONS May bewilder EQ novices.

premierguitar.com

Michael Tobias Design


Celebrating over 20 years

Built for the working musician

Superior Quality
Incredible Tone
Katherine Held is playing a MTD Kingston Z4

USA Custom and Kingston Production Basses & Guitars


www.DanaBGoods.com for pictured instrument
premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 199

- Filter, wah & Beyond -

DUNLOP

John Petrucci JP95 Signature Cry Baby


BY PAUL KOBYLENSKY

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

he Dunlop John Petrucci JP95


Signature Cry Baby Wah pedal
looks flashy and generates tones
that effortlessly and authentically nail
Petruccis identifiable wah sweeps. But
theres much more to this wah than meets
the eye, if not the ear. Well-considered trim
pots and EQ-shaping tools mean it can be
tailored to any high-gain players rig.
Looks Mean, Sounds Meaner
The JP95s sleek, supercar-like aura is
arresting, to say the least. Its finished in
very sexy smoked chrome, which makes
the pedal a very inviting and easy-toidentify target on a dim stage. The only
drawback is that it shows fingerprints and
smudging from the realities of stage life
very easily. So you might want to keep a
polish cloth close by if youre a neat freak
or like to keep your pedal on display.
Two bright blue LED lights adorn
both sides to let you know when the
effect is engaged. (Why dont more wah
manufacturers do this?) Combined with
the chrome, they give the Petrucci a
futuristic and somewhat menacing liquidmetal-Terminator-style vibe. Very cool.
For all the futuristic exterior features,
the JP95 is still a bulletproof Cry Baby
at its core. The enclosure is reassuringly
weighty, the treadle sweeps smoothly from
toe to heel, the switch delivers a perceptible
click without being too difficult to engage,
and there is no noticeable pop when
toggling it on and off.
Devastating Dreams
The JP95s tone range is based on the
settings Petrucci has been using for years
on his Dunlop rack wah. And it easily
achieves the throaty, aggressive sound

200 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

that drives Dream Theater


songs like Home. With
my Ibanez RG tuned
down to B-standard and
running into a high-gain
Crate BV300HB head
and 4x12 cabinet loaded
with Vintage 30 speakers,
I realized two things very
quickly. First, this is the
most gargantuan-sounding
wah pedal Ive ever heard.
Second, I cant even begin to play like
John Petrucci. Shortcomings in my
Petrucci licks aside, the JP95 put many
Dream Theater tones within reach via a
wide sweep, rounded highs, sub-like lows,
and a substantial volume boost that adds
gain, sustain, and cutting presence to
your tone.
Basic tones arent the only ones
available, however. Remove the pedals
bottom plate and youll find an array of
trim pots that control the peak volume
and Q sweep, and a 6-band equalizer.
Though the pedal comes from the factory
set for Petruccis sound, this feature
enables you to tune the wah in very
precise, specific ways to suit your rig.
Small tweaks of the trim pots did
wonders as I optimized the pedal for
various amp and guitar combinations.
But no matter what I did with the
controls, the JP95 retained its basic
fat and throaty essence. That strong
personality means some guitar and amp
combinations are more ideal pairings
than others. A Warmoth T-style guitar
into a clean, class-A tube amp was not
a perfect match. A PRS CE 24 and
cranked plexi-style head, however, were
ideal partners.

The Verdict
The Jim Dunlop John Petrucci JP95
Signature Cry Baby Wah is one of the
meanest sounding wah pedals in the
world. Its bold, bassy, vocal, and the
internal trim pots are powerful tools for
fine-tuning your sound. If youre into
heavier styles with liquid, overdriven lead
tones, the JP95 wah is definitely worth
an audition.

$199 street
jimdunlop.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Beautiful supercarinfluenced look. Massive, throaty


sound that nails Petruccis tones.
Customizable output, Q, and 6-band
EQ. Bright blue LED activation lights.

CONS Might sound like a one-trickpony to vintage wah stylists. One of


the more expensive Dunlop wahs.

premierguitar.com

(716) 630-7030

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 201

- Filter, wah & Beyond -

BOSS

VO-1 Vocoder
BY DAVID VON BADER

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

ocoders and talk boxes are


polarizing effects. And though
theyve spiced up more than a
few massive hits, a lot of guitarists greet
the very idea of a Vocoder with disdain
and thats before you deal with the arcane
and awkward technology that can come
with using one.
But what if someone made a compact,
musical, vocoder-style effect that
didnt require additional amplifiers for
microphones or weird tubing that looks
more at home in the emergency room? Enter
the new Boss VO-1 Vocoder: a powerful talk
box effect that covers traditional Vocoder
touchstones and a few additional sounds
all in a tough Boss enclosure.
Check, 1, 2
While Boss managed to squeeze a pretty
powerful synth engine into a small
space, you still need a decent vocal
microphonewhich you can plug in via
a side-mounted XLR inputto employ
most of the VO-1s functions. That step
aside, you set up and use it the same as
you would any guitar effect. Its stupidly
simple. Better still, you need not be a
skilled singer to make the VO-1 work
and sound cool. In fact, you can be
downright lousy. Pitch shifts come from
your guitar, not your voice. It takes some
rhythmic coordination and melodic
instinct to utilize the VO-1 in a musical
way. Primarily, though, you just need
to get a feel for the way that the pedal
interacts with your guitar and your voice.
The VO-1s layout is all business and
easy to understand. It includes concentric
volume and blend knobs to control the
effects output and the mix of effected and
dry signal. Theres also a tone knob to

202 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

adjust the effects brightness, and a color


knob that changes functions depending
on the mode. The VO-1 also provides an
effects loop and a switch on the back to
adjust the microphone sensitivity.
Little Loquacious Powerhouse
Creative and patient tinkerers will be able
to extract a lot of very interesting sounds
from the VO-1s four modes. Vintage
mode sounds are akin to those of classic
vocoders, and meld the vocal signal with
the signal from a guitar, bass, or keyboard
to cop the robotic noises mostly associated
with classic funk, rock, and modern
electro-funk records. The advanced mode
is the most modern sounding of all of
the VO-1s effects, and gives the vocal
signal much more clarity. For both the
vintage and advanced modes, the color
knob swings emphasis in the vocal from
masculine tones to more feminine ones.
Talk box mode is an homage to the
revered (and sometimes reviled) Heil Talk
Box. It nails some of the originals vibe,
but lacks some of the deeper, swirling,
and chewy sonic character. You can,
however, add distortion with the color
knob in this mode. To my mind, the
minor shortcomings in sound authenticity
seem like a small price to pay in exchange
for avoiding the extra amps and tubing of
the original. Choir is the one mode you
can explore without a microphone in the
mix. It adds an ambient chorus of synthy
tones that harmonize with your guitar
signal, and it sounds huge mated to a
delay or deep reverb.
The VO-1 is not particularly finicky
about guitars or amps. It worked well with
everything from humbucker-equipped Les
Pauls into Marshalls to smaller tube combos

mated with single-coil guitars. Players that


typically run very distorted sounds may
find the VO-1 difficult to use in the most
expressive talking functions. High-gain tones
predictably squash some more-rounded
vocal contours. That said, the advanced
setting and a high-gain amp yielded some
of my favorite, most unpredictable, and
downright scary vocal sounds.
The Verdict
Vocoderseven units as compact, selfcontained, and powerful as the VO-1
are nichey, specialized tools. But cavalier
experimentalists, players working in
electronic or contemporary pop idioms,
prog-rockersor really anyone with a taste
for the unusualwill find the VO-1 well
worth the price. Especially given the small
footprint, easy set-up, and durability.

$249 street
bossus.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Small package, powerful


processing.

CONS Traditional talk box sounds


not particularly faithful.

premierguitar.com

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THE CABLE OF THE PROS


PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 203

- bass -

EBS

Billy Sheehan Signature Drive Deluxe


BY DAVID ABDO

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

hen bassists hear the


words Billy Sheehan
collaboration, their ears
tend to perk up rather fast. The bass
virtuoso has stamped his name on a
number of products over the years,
highlighted by his popular drive pedal
crafted by EBS. This year, the Swedish
company has released an upgrade to
the original Billy Sheehan Signature
Drives design by adding significant
customization features.
Deluxe Guts
The original Signature Drive contains
the conventional quartet of controls
(drive, tone, level, and clean) as well as a
compression switch and the means to run
a clean and/or drive loop. The Deluxe
model, however, expands on the design
with the addition of a boost switch for
more gain on tap, and a phase inverter
for extra low-end and a tamer midrange.
(Both the boost switch and phase inverter
affect the drive part only.)
Where the Drive Deluxe gets seriously
cool lies within the copper box. The
circuit board contains trim pots for the
compressions ratio and threshold levels (also
found in the original), and, now, a trim pot
for the boost switch. The pice de rsistance
lies to the left of the boost trim: an IC
standard socket that holds the op-amp of the
effect. This feature allows players to easily
remove the op-amp and replace it with their
8-pin chip of choice. Bonus: No soldering.
Drive Alive
Employing a Nash P-style plugged into a
Bergantino B|Amp pushing a Bergantino
HD210 cabinet, I got to work tweaking
the Signature Drive Deluxes controls. It

204 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

took minimal time and adjustments to


recognize the characteristics of the pedal.
Sheehans signature sound was quite present
within the pronounced mids and aggressive,
clanging highs I was generating. By
cranking the tone dial clockwise, I created
different shades of this characterfrom
darker, doomier tones to airy, edgy effects.
The compression function and its
ability to push notes forward and tighten
up the tone was a handy companion.
Tone tweakers will dig the fine-tuning
capabilities that the easy-to-manipulate
trim pots provide. And because the
compression function can operate
without the drive, you have a clean,
on-the-fly compressor when you need it.
Using the same Nash and Bergantino
duo on a rock gig, Sheehans signature
pedal added fantastic aggression and
authority to my bass notes. I experimented
with the amount of drive and tone
throughout the show, and elicited pleasing
results with each distorted concoction.
One of my favorite settings was dialing the
drive to 1 oclock, the tone to 10 oclock,
and setting the comp at the mid position,
which gave a vintage vibe to the timbre
that was reminiscent of Jack Bruces tone
in Cream. The setting worked superbly
while jamming over Crossroads and
savvy listeners remarked about the tonal
similarities post-show. Because I was so
pleased with the tones and confident in the
way they sat in the mix with two guitars
and a heavy-handed drummer, the Drive
Deluxe ended up engaged all night long.
The Verdict
EBS and Sheehan have created a pedal
thats simple enough for novices, but
boasts features that will allow tinkerers

to immerse themselves in full-on


customization. The components provide
safe manipulation of circuitry and
distance from any potential soldering
accidents. Most important, the pedal
sounds freakin nastyfrom subtle snarls
to full-on roars. If youre on the hunt
for a monstrous drive pedal, the Billy
Sheehan Signature Drive Deluxe should
be near the top of your list of candidates.

$259 street
ebssweden.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Authoritative, Sheehanesque tone. Practical features and


convenient customization.

CONS Mid-heavy tone may not


please everyone. Price could scare
the budget-minded.

premierguitar.com

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premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 205

- bass -

BOSS
BC-1X

BY STEVE COOK

CLICK HERE
TO WATCH A
REVIEW DEMO
of this pedal.

o whats the big deal about bass


compression? It may not be the
most glamorous effect, but its
invaluable for evening out your signal
and can change your overall tone with the
right (or wrong) tweaks. Common complaints about compression are that it can
sound unnatural and/or too squeezedto
the point that bass doesnt sound like bass
anymoreand that compressors can be
noisy. On the flipside, the right compression can sweeten a tone and make life a
whole lot nicer in both live and studio
situations. We spent some time with the
new BC-1X Bass Comp from Boss. Its
their answer to the common complaints
about compression and a pedestal for the
positive attributes of the effect.
Squeezed, Not Stomped
The familiar aesthetic of Boss pedals
hasnt changed much in 30-plus years,
and the BC-1X preserves that vibe with a
simple layout: four side-by-side controls
positioned above a high-resolution gainreduction indicator. A solid-feeling pedal,
the green-metal-flake housing has the
aforementioned decades of field-testing
as verification of its ruggedness. Under
the hood is what Boss calls MDP (MultiDimensional Processing), the secret sauce
to their newer pedals. MDP technology
virtually separates a signal into different
parts and analyzes the parameters of
these partssuch as frequencies and
dynamicsbefore the effect is optimally
applied to each part independently. Its
all very 21st century, but none of that
matters unless it sounds good, right?
To test the pedals mettle, I used a
Yamaha BB1024X loaded with active
Aguilar pickups and an Aguilar OBP-3

206 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

preamp. The BC-1X is designed to run at


18V, so you can use it with active basses
with very hot output. (An internal boost
circuit helps that onboard 9V.) So I could
best hear the nuances of the BC-1X, I
plugged into a PreSonus FireStudio interface
and pulled out a set of headphones.
I set the pedals level control to match
the bass unfettered level, which for me
was about 11 oclock. The release was set
low at 8 oclock and I dialed the ratio and
threshold knobs to noon. The result was
a wonderful compression that allowed my
bass to sing and not feel too narrow or
underwhelming. At this level, the gainreduction indicator was barely hitting the
yellow (which is about 75 percent). No
stomping required with this settingI
could have kept it engaged all night.
Compressed for Success
I experimented with various
combinations of ratio/release/threshold
and found that the pedal could handle
everything I threw its way. With all the
dials set at straight-up12 oclock, you
get a littlemidrangebite without losing
the sonic qualities of the instrument.
Boosting the ratio to a more aggressive
setting (around3 oclock) will be friendly
for a more pop-and-slap approach. Its
really difficult to get any bad compression
from this pedal. The MDP circuitry
ensures that great tone shines through, so
you can set a comfortable compression
level for whatever style of music youre
playing and know that just the right
frequencies are being compressed.
The Verdict
Id wager that at least half the people
reading this have either played through or

owned a Boss pedal. Boss has been around


for a long time because they continue
to push the envelope, and the intuitive
BC-1X with its impressive circuitry and
features like the gain-reduction indicator is
no exception. The pedal provides natural
bass expression without compromise
while giving players some added tone
possibilities to explore. If youre in the
market for a compressor that will tighten
up your sound yet still let your tone shine
at the same time, you may want to give
the BC-1X a look and listen.

$199 street
bossus.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS No bad tones. Gain-reduction


indicator is a welcome feature.

CONS Most bassists still dont


know they need compression.

premierguitar.com

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 207

- bass -

WREN AND CUFF


Elephant Skin
BY JORDAN WAGNER

CLICK HERE
TO WATCH A
REVIEW DEMO
of this pedal.

astodons Troy Sanders is


considered by many to be
one of the more consummate
modern-metal bassists. His lines run the
gamut from simple to spider-like, and
are often delivered in a rumbling, fuzzedout package courtesy of his well-loved
Wren and Cuff Tall Font Russian.A
collaboration between Sanders and the
SoCal pedal manufacturer made perfect
sense, and the result is the Elephant
Skin bass fuzz. The concept behind
its design was simple: Start withthe
companys Tall Font Russian, but offer
up more saturation and volume in a
footswitchable format.
Heart of Darkness
The beating heart of the Elephant Skin
is the same exact circuit as the Tall Font
Russianswhich is the companys take
on the boxier-sounding 90s Sovtek
Big Muff seriesand not modified in
any way. The pedal houses controls for
volume, tone, distortion, and the amount
of gain boost (labeled XT). The latter
only comes into play when a dedicated
footswitch is activated. The boost circuit
contains an extra gain stage thats placed
before the fuzz circuit and it can be used
by itself for clean boosting or for pushing
the gain over the edge when cascaded
into the fuzz circuit.
To get a feel for the Elephant Skin,
I used a Fender P and a trusty GallienKrueger 400RB paired with an Ampeg
8x10. I got started with the pedals volume
at 11 oclock, the tone at noon, and the
gain at 1 oclock. Like the stompboxes
that inspired it, the Elephant Skin adeptly
translated the instruments fierce low end
with a tight and enormously full delivery

208 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

that didnt muddy up with harder


fingerpicking.
Red Star Power
Also aiding the articulation was
the pedals finely tuned midrange
scoop. This subtle emphasis in the
midrange made it easy to detect the
growl of my bass within the context
of the full banda quality of the
original tall-font Sovtek Muffs
that made them so popular with bassists.
Likewise, the pedals treble frequencies
also delivered the unique edginess
exhibited by original tall-font pedals.
They grew slightly raspier as I bumped
the gain up to around 4 oclock, which
gave my tone a little more high-end cut
to help slice through.
Like its Sovtek ancestors, the Elephant
Skin doesnt have much saturation
compared to most Muffs and Muff-style
circuits, and that gives the tone more
room to breathe without becoming overly
compressed. Its volume output is also
lower (3 oclock was unity volume in my
case). But for sludgier tones, I had to
nearly max it out. This is where the boost
function really came in handy. I could dial
in the boost-bypassed tone to a low or
medium fuzz with a small amount of grit,
and then set the boost knob almost all
the way up to drive that tone into instant
overblown chaos whenever I stomped on
the boost switch. This may seem old hat if
youve been running a boost into a Muff
for years, but few pedals have integrated
the trick as cleanly as the Elephant Skin.
The Verdict
The simplicity, earth-moving tone, and
handy boost functionality of Wren and

Cuff s Elephant Skin make it worthy


of the attention of any bassist with
heavier proclivities. An absence of bells
and whistles make it a cinch to dial up
mammoth fuzz sounds in no time, but
dont be surprised if some of those tones
require you to dial the volume and gain
knobs full-tilt. Still, you shouldnt let that
deter you from checking the Elephant
Skin out. Its one of the more impressive
options for high-gain bass fuzz out there.

$249 street
wrenandcuff.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Excellent clarity with high


gain. Highly responsive to attack.
Easy to use. Boost function enables
quick changes between high- and
low-gain settings.

CONS Heavy saturation only


possible at higher ranges of the
gain knob. Pricey.

premierguitar.com

FELiXMAKESFRIENDS

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PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 209

- bass -

TWA

WR-3 Wah Rocker


BY JORDAN WAGNER

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

he Duck Box, a/k/a the


original Guyatone WR3 auto
wah, is universally regarded as
a hidden gem within the funky world
of envelope filtering. In response to the
pedals skyrocketing demand in the vintage market, the team at TWA (Totally
Wycked Audio) has developed a handbuilt re-creation of the sought-after funk
box. TWAs WR-3 Wah Rocker boasts the
same core circuitry as the original, but
includes improvements for more versatility and extended rangefor both bass
and guitar.
Duck n Cover
Compared to the original Guyatone
WR3, the road-worthiness of the
TWA WR-3 is on an entirely different
level. Its in a rugged die-cast enclosure
thats blanketed with a powder-coated
purple paint job, while the underside
is protected by a 4-screw die-cast plate
instead of the originals piece of pull
n peel rubber. The enclosure houses a
completely analog circuit with TWAs
relay-based, S3 true-bypass circuitry.
There are controls for threshold and
gain, along with a trio of mini pots for
setting the filters decay time, the frequency
range in which the filter is sweeping, and
the wet/dry blend. The blend function
is a notable upgrade over the original,
which was limited to 50/50 blending
only. Theres also a switch for flipping
between guitar and bass modes. The latter
introduces changes to the circuit tailored
after Guyatones Bottom Wah Rocker.
Wah-Mazing Bass
With the WR-3 in bass mode, I demoed
the pedal using a Lollar-equipped Fender

210 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

P through a Gallien-Krueger 400RB/


Ampeg 8x10 pairing. Starting out
with the threshold, range, and blend
at noon, and the gain and decay at
their minimums, the pedal unleashed
a thoroughly funky wah tone with
good depth and a quick sweep. Its
responsiveness to fingerstyle dynamics
was nothing short of fantastic. The
threshold control allowed me to fine-tune
the sensitivity to a point where I could
relax and instinctively trigger the effect
without having to think about it.
Finding the majority of the WR-3s
coolest soundsfast synth-like sweeps,
bowel-shaking low-end, or revolving
70s auto-wahdepends heavily on the
position of the pedals range control.
Turning it clockwise makes the effect
brighter and seemingly louder, but
without adding any harsh crispness. The
filter develops a darker tone when the
dial is moved counterclockwise, as the
range is gradually limited to the lower
frequenciesyielding a tone akin to a
fully cocked-back wah pedal.
I found myself tweaking the range
dial about 80 percent of the time, and
then using the other controls to finetune. I also avoided moving the range
knob below 9 oclock or above 3 oclock,
which typically muddied up the filter
with too much low end or made it sound
like a shrieking bird with too much
high-end emphasis.
So how did the TWA WR-3 fare
with a guitar? Pretty damned well.
The filtering in guitar mode sounded
clear and bold with a Fender Strat
and Vox AC30 combination, and the
pedals gain control was quite handy for
compensating for low-end loss when

using the Strats bridge pickup. The


blend controls extreme transparency
allowed me to dial in very warm autowah sounds that accentuated the Strats
crisp, dry tonefrom the 50/50 mix
offered by the original WR3 to plenty
more on either side.
The Verdict
For players lusting after an original WR3,
the TWA WR-3 might be, in many ways,
a better choice. Its enclosure is tougher,
it offers the same tones as the original
WR3, and it boasts new capabilities that
greatly expand upon the original pedals
tonal palette. For auto-wah enthusiasts
and fans of all things funkyguitar
or bassthe TWA WR-3 is kind of a
no-brainer.

$189 street
godlyke.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Solid build. Capable of


vintage WR3 tones and beyond.
Modes for bass and guitar.

CONS Mode switch requires a tool


to reach/switch. Extreme ends of
range control can sound harsh or
muffled.

premierguitar.com

delay

Effortlessly create your


own world of intricate and
synchronized echoes,
along with hypnotic and
atmospheric repeats that
blur the line between delay
and reverb.

DOPPELGNGER
DIG unearths the true soul
of digital delay and doubles
ittwo simultaneous,
integrated delays with the
captivating rack delay
voicings from the 1980s
and today, for incredible
expressive
potential.
exp

strymon.net/dig

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 211

- bass -

3LEAF AUDIO
Octabvre Mini
BY DAVID ABDO

CLICK HERE
TO HEAR
this pedal.

assist Tim Lefebvre knows effects.


So does Spencer Doren, the mad
scientist behind 3Leaf Audio.
These two talents came together to
produce the Octabvre, a pedal inspired
by the Boss OC-2 and Mu-Tron Octave
Divider tone circuits. Just recently, 3Leaf
released a more streamlined version of the
effect: the Octabvre Mini. Although it
doesnt offer the sub-soloing capabilities
of the original, it does provide the toneblending options of the first incarnation
for really fattening up your bass sound

Octavus Prime
Starting out with the Nash at a jazzfusion gig, I turned the pedals tone dial
all the way to the left and balanced the
signal with the volume and mix controls.
What I got was a thick, growling beast
of a vintage-inspired sound that perfectly
accentuated a jam of Billy Cobhams
Stratus. The effect and original signal
were almost synchronous, surprising my
ears with quick and accurate delivery as I
explored most of the fretboard. The pedal
even managed to capture notes in the

The pedal even managed to capture notes


in the lower regions of the 4th string
a rarity for many octave pedals.
Febvre-d Functionality
Three controls manipulate the wide
spectrum of sub-octave sounds. The
volume knob adjusts overall output while
the mix balances the ratio of effect to
original signal. The real magic lies within
the reworked tone control. Setting the
tone control completely counter-clockwise
offers up a sound similar to an OC-2, and
turning the dial to the right is intended to
yield a fuzzier, synth-like effect.
Since the pedals namesake often uses
a Precision-style bass, I put the Octabvre
Mini through its paces with a Nash P-style
strung with Thomastik flatwounds. For a
modern alternative, I also employed an F
Bass BN6 with nickel roundwounds. The
other side of the signal chain consisted
of a Bergantino B|Amp paired with two
Bergantino HD112 cabinets.

212 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

lower regions of the 4th stringa rarity for


many octave pedals. Fans of the OC-2 will
be pleased to know that one can get superclose to replicating its familiar timbre, and
I would argue that the Octabvre Mini outtracks the old Boss box.
The Octabvre Mini transformed
the F Bass into a synth machine, ideal
for those Nate Watts/Stevie Wonder
moments. Diming the tone dial and
soloing the bridge pickup invited fuzzy
slides and glissandos that enhanced the
pulsating bass line to I Wish. Bridge
pickups dont always track the best, but
the Octabvre Mini did quite well in
delivering sub-octave companions to the
notes of the barking back pickup. At the
end of the night, it was band consensus
that the Octabvre Mini is no gimmicky
effect. Its a very practical tone machine

that added girth and authority to the


foundation of the ensemble.
The Verdict
3Leaf nailed it with the Octabvre Mini.
The tracking is accurate and quick with
tones that masterfully replicate classic
octave effects and synthy sounds. And
as someone familiar with the original
Octabvre pedal, I can say with confidence
that the miniature version is a noticeable
improvement in terms of both tone and
tracking. Some will get squeamish when
they see the price tag, but this pedals
value can be heard within seconds of use.
Even with the many great octave pedals
on the market, this Mini has already
planted its flag in the upper echelon of
sub-octave offerings.

$229 street
3leafaudio.com
Tones

Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Great sub-octave tones and


superior tracking in a user-friendly
package.

CONS No 9V battery option.

premierguitar.com

CHANGE
YOUR TUNE.
THE KYSER QUICK-CLIP

MAGNETIC

CHROMATIC TUNER
Fits on Kyser Quick-Change Capos
To view a demo scan here

www.kysermusical.com

KYSER MUSICAL PRODUCTS

SET and FORGET

Tools and parts


for working on
your guitar
Shipped fast
Rock-solid guarantee

henrettaengineering.com
premierguitar.com

Where the pros shop, since 1969

stewmac.com
PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 213

TOOLS FOR THE TASK


Look for this icon
to click and
purchase the gear.

Pedalboard Percussion

If youre a solo guitarist looking to add some rhythm to your set or phase out the drummers in your life, the 10
foot-governed percussion devices here can bring a fun, totally new component to your pedalboard dance.

SHADOW ELECTRONICS
SH StompinBass

This stomp unit with a removable footrest extension is


constructed from select rosewood and delivers deep and
full percussive bass drum to your sound through its active
Shadow NanoMAG pickup.
$89 street
shadow-electronics.com

ORTEGA
Horse Kick Pro
This digital stompbox features five different percussive
samples, solid sapele housing, a comfortable ergonomic
design for foot tapping, and a volume control.
$149 street
ortegaguitars.com

DIGITECH
TRIO+
This practice, writing, and performance tool with a builtin looper listens to your guitar and instantly churns out
drum (and bass) parts to accompany your playing.
$299 street
digitech.com

FINHOL
Cajokick
This sturdy aluminum box with adjustable sensitivity was
designed for foot or hand operation and offers a dozen
sounds that are easily accessed via the rotary dial.
$285 street
finhol.de

SIDEKICK DRUMS
Acoustic Foot Operated Drum Pack
Go all-out with this double-head kick/snare combo that
includes drums with Keller maple shells and Evans heads,
plus the snare-riser stand.
$699 street
sidekickdrums.com

214 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

premierguitar.com

PETERMAN
Stompy Stomp
Crafted from hardwood, this stompbox is sized right for
a pedalboard, pairs nicely with a looper pedal, and has a

convenient top-side volume dial.


$137 street
peterman.com.au

BEATBUDDY
BeatBuddy Mini
With over 200 songs in 24 genres available right out of
the box, players can create a convincing live-drummer
effectincluding fills, breaks, and transitionsthrough a
guitar-pedal format.

$99 street
mybeatbuddy.com

MEINL PERCUSSION
FX Pedal
This oak-and-steel box houses 10 different sound options
from kick drum to hand clap to cowbellall reachable
through a click of the footswitch.
$199 street
meinlpercussion.com

LOGJAM
Prolog

The high-output, piezo-loaded Prolog boasts solid


sapele construction, a very low-angled top for stomping
comfort, and a heel board that facilitates backbeats with
your heel.
$147 street
logjam.net

10

FARMER FOOT DRUMS


6 Pedal FootDrum
This setup brings the core basics of a drum kitkick,
snare, and hi-hatplus two auxiliary pedals for

10

added rhythmic possibilities or bringing in additional


percussion instruments.
$1,495 street
footdrums.com

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 215

REVIEWS

CHARVEL

Pro-Mod San Dimas


Style 1 HH FR
By Joe Charupakorn

or a lot of aspiring shredders, the image of Warren


DeMartinis Charvel San Dimas in Ratts Round and
Round videowith its blood and skull graphicwas
about as badass as you could get in 1984. That image helped
cement the San Dimas place as one of the must-have axes of the
shred era. But it was no flash in the pan. Three decades later,
the San Dimas remains in production. This newest permutation
is a Mexico-built Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HH FR.
Not Only Built for Speed
With its transparent, tobacco sunburst, quilted maple top on an
alder body, zebra humbuckers, and maple neck, the Pro-Mod
version looks sharp, and a lot like an 80s shred kid grown up
and keeping it classy in middle age. Rather more lurid solid

colors like slime green and neon pink are also available for
permanent adolescents.
Its apparent that a lot of careful thought went into the
guitars design and construction. The neck is reinforced with
dual graphite truss rods for extra stability and features a
convenient spoke wheel truss rod adjustment where the neck
meets the body. It makes adjustments exceptionally easy.
The test guitar arrived perfectly in tune, and the Floyd Rose
double-locking tremolo system helped keep it in tune in spite
of the fact that I subjected the instrument to fairly aggressive
whammy abuse right out of the case. The vibrato was set up
by the factory to go up a major 3rd on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th
strings. Its a very stable system, too, requiring only microscopic
adjustments of the fine tunersI never had to unlock the

Seymour Duncan JB

Alder body

Floyd Rose FRT-O1000


double-locking vibrato

Seymour Duncan 59

No-load tone control

Coil-tapping
volume control

216 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

premierguitar.com

locking tunersduring my test period. A


hardtail option is also available.
Rolled fretboard edges and a forearm
contour on the body add to the axes
already comfortable profile. And thanks
to the combination of low action, a great
factory setup, and 1216" compound
radius fretboard with 22 jumbo frets,
the San Dimas very plainly invites fleetfingered moves. But while many metal
guitars are best suited for playing a lot
of fast notes (and, indeed, lightning fast
hammer-ons and pull-offs are a piece of
cake on this bad boy), the San Dimas
seems equally at home for many other
styles. Even though the guitar arrived
strung with a .009 string set, it never felt
too plinky if I dug in for aggressive, bent
blues-rock licks.
Six-Pack Attack
For much of my time with the San
Dimas, I paired it with a Mesa/Boogie
Tremoverb combo (using clean and
dirty channels) as well as Pro Co RAT
and Paul Cochrane Timmy pedals for
different shades of dirt.
A pair of direct-mount Seymour
Duncan pickupsa time-honored combo
of a JB in the bridge and a 59 in the
neckoffer a boatload of tone options.
They are wired to a 3-way selector
switch, from which you can select the
bridge and neck pickups or the inner
coils of each running in parallel. Coil
splitting is performed via a push-pull
volume control, and gives you the outer
bridge coil, both pickups' outer coils
in parallel, or the outer coil of the neck
pickup, depending on switch position.

You can get great sounds from just


about every configuration. The neck
pickup is crisp with a lot of bite, and
free of tubbiness. The middle sounded a
little glassier than the neck position and
inspired whammy-infused, clean melodies
(Steve Vais Call it Sleep riff among
them). The bridge pickup is muscular,
open, and sounds reminiscent of some
of Guthrie Govans brash lead tones. For
rhythm playing, the tight low end makes
Eddie Van Halen-style metal-boogie riffs
and percussive djent-type rhythms sound
equally tough and clear.
Coil splitting offers another layer
of tone flavors. For clean settings, I
particularly enjoyed the split-coil middle
positionan out-of-phase sound that
was great for funking away on minor-6
chord voicings or country-style, openstring pull-offs. With a little dirt, the split
neck pickup offers cool Stratocaster-onsteroids tones that work for sounds from
stinging blues to Yngwie-like rapid-fire
precision licks. The split bridge pickup
also delivered powerful variations on
bluesy lead sounds. Its a treat being able
to coax so much tone variation just from
the guitar.
Tone Isnt Just in the Fingers
Several years ago, I pondered buying a
San Dimas, but held off because it didnt
have a tone knob. (Many rock guitarists
feel that a tone knob robs the tone.)
This edition of the San Dimas finally
features that missing knob. But in order
to please old-school San Dimas users,
the tone knob has a very effective and
useful no-load option, which removes

the capacitor from the circuit entirely


at maximum levels. Moving back just
a notch from max, you feel a detent
setting that lets you know the tone
knob is engaged. It takes a minute to
get used to the knobs slight resistance
when moving from maximum to lower
settings, but the payoff in tone-shaping
leeway is huge. While no-load controls
typically result in a brighter sound, the
San Dimas is never shrill. Instead you get
clarity that lends a measure of single-coil
cut to the humbuckers. In the opposite
directioneven with the tone knob at
a near minimumthe guitar still feels
very alive, opening up the possibility of
almost jazz-like tones with a crisp pick
responsiveness on top.
The Verdict
The cool thing about the San Dimas
is that, while its clearly targeted at the
shredder, it covers miles of musical
territory. And the street pricejust
under 870 bucksis very reasonable
considering the excellent build quality
and the sonic versatility within.

CLICK HERE TO HEAR this guitar.

Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas


Style 1 HH FR
$869 street
charvel.com

1216" compound
radius fretboard

Tones
Playability
Build/Design
Value

PROS Excellent playability and a wide


range of killer sounds. Great build quality.

CONS None.

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 217

218 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

premierguitar.com

REVIEWS

PANAMA
Fuego X
By Joe Charupakorn

hen I first encountered Panama amps, I was certain


the company was named for Van Halens hit song.
Its one of the defining songs of the hard rock genre,
after all, and Panama (the company) was getting a reputation for
good, affordable hard-rock amps.
The Van Halen link isnt real. But the reality might be more
interesting. Panama amps come from Panamathe country
and are built at the base of Volcn Bar, an active volcano and
the highest mountain in Panama. Its not unreasonable to think
that volcanic forces were an influence on the new Fuego X, a
15-watt EL84-driven amp aimed at the metal player.
Mini Might
Fuego X is Panamas higher-gain sequel to its well-regarded
Fuego 15. It is fired by two EL84 power tubes and three ECC83
preamp tubes. If youve used a modern, channel-switching
amp before, youll find the Fuego Xs control panel extremely
intuitive. The front panel features independent EQ and volume
controls for the clean and drive channels, and buttons for the

clean channels bright mode, clean/drive selection, and the drive


channels high and low gain modes. A mini-toggle switch lets
you select between a modern or vintage voicing. Red LEDs
indicate which channel is selected and which mode of the drive
channellow or high gainis active. The included footswitch
lets you change channels as well as gain modes. The rear panel
features jacks for effects send and return, preamp output and
power amp input, and connecting to a 4-, 8-, or 16-ohm
speaker cabinet.
Molten Lava
I tested the Fuego X with an Ernie Ball Music Man Axis Sport
through a Celestion-equipped Marshall 1x12 cabinet. Starting
off clean with the bright switch off, the amp sounded robust
with a slightly dark quality that gave full chords a nice, warm
glow. When I engaged the bright switch, I got a glassy top end
that lent blues licks sting and complex chords extra definition.
This is a metal and hard-rock-oriented amp, so the Fuego Xs
clean channel isnt as pristine as, say, a JC-120, but if you keep

Clean drive
switch

Hi-lo gain switch


for dirty channel

Bright
switch

Clean channel

premierguitar.com

Dirty channel

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 219

3 ECC83 preamp tubes

2 EL84 power section

the channels gain set below 9 oclock,


youll be decidedly on the clean side
of the dirt spectrumespecially if you
lighten up on your pick attack. Move
past 9 on the gain knob and you start to
hear a slight edge that adds thickness and
dimensionality. With the clean channels
gain maxed, you get an almost Tweed-like
breakup that is fantastic for rhythm parts.
Switching over to the drive channel,
with the gain set around 10 oclock, all
EQ knobs around noon, and the vintage
voicing engaged, the Fuego X raged. Even
at this relatively conservative setting, the
little bruiser generates heavy JCM800type crunch and hefttaking on an
in-your-face persona that proved perfect
for metal mayhem. Alternate-picked
shred licks popped with impeccable
note clarity, 16th-note low-E-string riffs
were articulate and felt immediate and
responsive, and power chord rhythm
guitar figures felt sharp enough to slice
your head off. Theres a lot of treble
content if you want it, and I found that
if I moved the treble past 3 oclock,
things could start to get a little too bright
for my taste. But if you keep the treble
in check, the brightness becomes an
advantagegiving the Fuego X a lively
and vivacious quality. Flipping the minitoggle switch to the modern voicing
changes the tone stacks slope resistor,
which also tames the brightness a little.
This mode sounded slightly warmer and
has a very 5150-like flavor.
In low gain mode things are already
pretty aggressive, but switching to high

220 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

gain kicks the heat up even further,


adding a palpable boost in volume and
gain. Held notes seemed to sustain forever
and Zakk Wylde-style pinch harmonics
explode with ease. Even when I detuned
to dropped-C and maxed the gain, note
separation remained excellent and the
amp stayed surprisingly noise-free.
Heavenly Howler
Heavy players who believe 100 watts is
the only road to metal heaven may be
deterred by the Fuego Xs 15. The fact is,
you can generate delicious, meaty, even
aggressive sounds without destroying ears
and leveling blocks. I actually had an
easier time getting massive sounding tones
with the Fuego X than Ive had with
some really big amps.
Given how huge this 15 watts sounds,
though, its hard not to wish the amp had
a power scaling feature that could bring
it down even further, say, to 1 watt or so.
The reality for recording guitarists living
in close quarters to neighbors is that a
15-watt amp cranked could still render a
visit from the noise police.
The Verdict
The tone variety from the Fuego X is
impressive. And while Panama markets the
Fuego X as a metal amp, I found it to be
equally cool for less aggressive rock styles,
classic rock, blues, and pop riffs. At a street
price of only $599, Fuego X is among the
more affordable amps in its phylum and
is built with features like independent EQ
controls for its two channels that many

competitors dont offer. This tiny beast


can hold its own against other amps both
in its price range and at many times the
cost. That affordability often comes at
the expense of reliability, but in the case
of the Fuego X, there arent really any
compromises or quality issues. Whether
you are looking for a stellar live amp that
you can crank to the heavens or want a
killer recording amp, the Fuego X is worth
a look and listen.

CLICK HERE TO HEAR this amp.

Panama Fuego X
$599 street
panamaguitars.com
Tones
Ease of Use
Build/Design
Value

PROS Excellent value. Independent EQ


controls. Big tones in a little package.

CONS A power-scaling feature would


be nice.

premierguitar.com

REVIEWS

ORANGE
O Bass
By Steve Cook

ook behind some of the biggest-name bassists on the


planet, and youll see a fair share of Orange amps. Geddy
Lee, Tom Petersson, and John McVie employ their
distinctively rich, gritty tones, among others. But were here to
talk about something from Orange thats not from their fine
selection of amps and cabinets. Enter the O Bass. This retrokissed 4-string is the brainchild of Orange lead-designer Adrian
Emsley, an incurable vintage junkie with a long history of tinkering with gear. In designing the O, Emsley wanted to give the
instrument a deep vibe, a huge vintage tone, and a familiar feel.
This bass has been a bit of an enigma for a couple years now,
appearing only briefly behind curtains at trade shows before
eventually hitting the prototype phase. The good news is that
the O Bass is now in production and that we recently spent
some quality time with one.

The Big O
The 34"-scale O Bass body is constructed from Okoum, a
lightweight wood native to Africa, and topped with a basswood
veneer. Our test model came finished in teardrop sunburst, but
black and, yes, orange finishes are also available. The O Bass
has ABS binding on the burst and black versions that makes for
a great retro touch. And the wonderfully bold headstock atop
the maple neck is finished in white, which helps highlight the
Orange logo and oversized open-gear tuners.
For all the things the bass features, the one thing it doesnt
have is extremely appealing: weight. The O Bass tips the scales
at just a hair over 8 pounds and shares the same dimensions
as a Hofner or Kay, which makes for a very pleasant three-set
night. But the O is slightly neck-heavy because of it. Playing
seated without a strap was a little bit more of a fight than

Custom-wound
split-coil humbucker

Top-loading
nickel bridge

Okoum body with


basswood veneer

222 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

premierguitar.com

The harder I played, the harder the O


growled at me, almost begging me to
dig in anywhere on the neck.
standing, but at the end of the day,
neither ended up being too much of
a burden.
O My
Unplugged, the O Bass sounded big
with lots of sustaina great indicator
of things to come before I ran the bass
through a small arsenal of different rigs.
Because of variations in amps, settings,
air movement, etc., I like hearing a bass
in as many scenarios as possible, and for
this review, I was lucky enough to have a
unique final test.
I first plugged into a FireStudio
interface from PreSonus and monitored
with a set of Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
headphones, a studio quality pair of cans
that dont lie. With the bass running
direct, my ears were hit with thick lows,
pointed highs, and a tone reminding me
of a P bass with a little mid-growl to it.
The harder I played, the harder the O
growled at me, almost begging me to

dig in anywhere on the neck. The upper


registers sang with a hybrid P/Hofner
tone and had the same snarl when more
pressure was applied. I could hear this
bass being right at home with rock purists
and blues cats.
The next rig was an Aguilar Tone
Hammer 500 and matching SL
112 cabineta powerful and clear
combination. The O Bass was again in
beast mode, with robust-yet-slightlybarking tones. This bass likes moving
some air, and I got a really nice oldschool thump out of it by palm muting.
When rolling off the tone, however, the
O Bass got choked and a bit of a wetblanket feeling came over the tone. I
found that this bass wants to be played
wide-open, very much like its Orange
amp cousins.
Speaking of wide open, I also played
the bass on a ballad and an up-tempo
song at a festival show with 18,000 ears
listening. My onstage rig was an Eden

WTP900 with matching 4x10 and 2x12


cabinets, and the O Bass did its job well.
My tone was tight and responsive to a
lighter touch, and I got a nice, slightly
growled sound on upper-register runs.
When I hit a big, low F in the ballad,
the note was felt in my chest and heart,
which made them both happy. The
aforementioned neck dive wasnt really a
burden, so all I could think was, This is
a $400 bass? It would make an excellent
backup, and I only say backup because
I havent had a chance to test its road
reliability over time.
The Verdict
In a world of P and J copies and the
seemingly endless supply of reissues,
Orange stepped beyond ordinary
rehashing and did a tremendous job in
bringing the essence and vibe of their
amps to a bass guitar, which is no small
feat. The O Bass has everything that
designer Emsley wanted and then some.
The vintage feel is there, the growl is
there, and the affordability is there, too.
The O Bass wont appeal to everyone,
but then again, Orange amps arent for
everyone either, and thats part of their
appeal. Be it for a backup, primary, or
solid addition to your studio arsenal, its
hard to beat the O at this price.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH A
REVIEW DEMO of this bass.

Maple neck with


rosewood fretboard

Orange O Bass
$449 street
orangeamps.com
Tones
Playability
Build/Design
Value

PROS Growly bass goodness with a


big tone.

CONS Might be a shade too midrange-y


for some.

premierguitar.com

PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016 223

STAFF PICKS

Question & Obsession

Its hard to imagine a world without pedals. We asked young gun Marcus King to join us in naming the stomps that
changed the guitar world forever.

What pedal in guitar


history has been the biggest
game changer?
Marcus King

Devyn Weir

Guest Picker

Reader of the Month

A: The wah pedal, in my


opinion, revolutionized
the way we thought about
hearing guitar. Wed already
gotten the fuzz tone with
Clapton, but once he added
wah into the equation we
received White Room. Frank
Zappa is another example of
taking the pedal and using
it as another instrument. I
like to use the wah pedal
almost as someone would use
a percussive instrument
different rhythms coinciding
with your note choices.

A: The amp modeler gave


guitarists the option to forgo
a heavy amp for a small
pedal that could go direct to
the front of house, making
smaller gigs with little setup
time much easier. In the past
10 years, amp modelers
changed how touring players
build their rigs. Perhaps not
as drastically as the drive
pedal did in a much shorter
time, but Id consider it more
of a slow burn to the sudden
bang of the drive.

Current obsession:
I get ideas about music from
so many artists that I barely
know where to begin ... and
certainly wouldnt know where
to end. Hiatus Kaiyote is really
doing it for me right now. Their
blend of jazz, neo soul, and
hip-hop is taking me places!
A few artists Im digging are
MonoNeon, Emily King, J Dilla,
Little Dragon, and always
the Bill Evans Trio and Billie
Holiday. Im always looking for
something new to vibe on.

224 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Current obsession:
Finding ways to make my
tone not sound like a guitar!
Ive delved into some of the
synths on my POD HD, but
Im super excited to get the
new TC Electronic Sub n Up.
You can add EQ, modulation,
and gain to the octave
signals, independent of
each other, and your
dry signal on the
TonePrint editor.
How cool is that?

premierguitar.com

John Bohlinger

Ted Drozdowski

Jason Shadrick

Nashville Correspondent

Senior Editor

Associate Editor

A: Shortly after guitars


became electrified in the
1930s, volume pedals
were invented. By 1938,
DeArmond, Gibson,
Epiphone, National, Dobro,
Vega, and Regal all had a
line. The elements of music
include melody, meter, and
dynamics. Much of modern
music ignores dynamics, but
a volume pedal can be the
ultimate expression tool.
Dunlop Volume X gives
me nuance I cant get with
my hands.

A: The Gibson Maestro


Fuzz-Tone came out in 62
and changed the sonic
universeespecially after
Keith Richards laid into it on
Satisfaction in 65. I picked
up an abused one years ago
for nickels and its killer. Two
9V batteries required. Its like
stepping on a dragons tail.
I never know exactly what
will happen, but I know it will
involve fire.

A: It would be hard to
underestimate the impact of
modern-day reverb. What was
only available in the most
upscale studios in the 1950s
can be achieved rather easily
via any number of digital
pedals or multi-effects units.
Lush walls of sound and the
comforting thwap of a jostled
collection of springs are now
just a toe-tap away.

Photo by Heather Porcaro

Current obsession:
I shot a Rig Rundown with
Steve Lukather recently
and caught the Toto show
that evening. He is a mindblowingly great musician,
wildly funny, and surprisingly
humble (even selfdeprecating). Hearing Luke
with Leland Sklar is as
tight as it gets.

Current obsession:
The Zuzu guitar Ive named
the Green Monster. It feels
great, leaps between the
classic sounds of Fender
and Gibson, and has its own
unique honk. And its got a
found-in-the-barn look thats
perfect for my music.

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ESOTERICA ELECTRICA

Lost in Translation
BY JOL DANTZIG
Can an
instrument be
built by the
numbers, or
does it take
a musicians
touch?

hen people meet for the very


first time, the conversation
often turns to work. I
always enjoy hearing about what people
do, and its usually eye-opening to step
into another world for a little while.
When someone learns that my job is
designing and building guitars, I get a
lot of questionsespecially from nonmusicians. They want to know if I work
alone or in a factory, and for how long.
Most folks ask if I have built guitars for
famous people and they love to hear
the names they recognize and admire.
(Many are surprised that making musical
instruments as a job is even a thing.)
Still, Do you play guitar yourself? is
the query I get the most, by far. And that
question always gets me thinking about
whether being a musician is an advantage
or liability for a builder.

musicians was paramount to the task


of selling wares, Fender always solicited
input from guitarists. Thats not to say he
implemented everything suggested, but he
certainly weighed each request and comment
against what he was already doing.
Theodore McCarty came to Gibson at
a time when the industry was changing
along with new musical trends. His
tenure there began just as the electrified
guitar was beginning to become more
widely accepted by musicians. Although
Gibsons early electrics were merely
their tried and true acoustic jazz guitars
fitted with magnetic pickups, McCarty
recognized that more and more guitarists
were flocking to the newer solidbody
designs coming from Fender and others.
To get into the game, McCarty and
his designers drew up a solid electric
to compete, and got a guy named Les

I used to think that being a young guitarist was


advantageous, and many of the first so-called
boutique builders did tout slogans such as
made by musicians, for musicians.
At the big companies, the person at
the top is usually an administratornot
a musician or luthier. Even when small
companies expand, they hire a president
or CEO to steer the ship. Eventually,
the top slot is often occupied by an
accountant, in which case everyone
onboard makes a mental note of where
the life preservers are. The most famous
examples of musically challenged heads
of guitar brands were, of course, Leo
Fender and Gibsons Ted McCarty. These
icons of our industry came from alternate
realities compared to the working
musician, but both were quick learners
who relied upon close advisors who were
musicians to translate the lingo for them.
Mr. Fender was a seat-of-the-pants
engineer with an electronics and
manufacturing background. Because
he realized that solving the problems of

240 PREMIERGUITAR OCTOBER 2016

Paul to endorse it in 1952. That design,


which still endures today, was basically
a scaled-down version of Gibsons classic
shape. They didnt need an Ouija board
to come up with that. Still, barely five
years later, McCarty and the crew up
in Kalamazoo felt the pressure from
musicians to step up and offer something
as flashy as the colorful and sexy shapes
available from Fender. Im not sure if the
draftsmen at Gibson consulted closely
with their core, jazzer clients to come
up with the responding volley, but the
Gibson NAMM booth in 1958 included
some rakishly angular alternatives to
their traditional old-school stuff, with
the Explorer and the Flying V. (It would
be interesting to know whose suggestion
created those two.) After about 100
examples of each were built, Gibson cut
their losses because nobody wanted them.

Interestingly, after going home and


licking his wounds, McCarty hired an
automotive designer to style up a new
batch of guitars, including the Firebird and
the SG. Although today we think of these
guitars as part of the classic-guitar pantheon,
they didnt sell so well at first either.
Whether the traditional designs that
continue to dominate the market were
products of collaboration with players
or not, they certainly are the template
for the cottage industry of small guitarmaking shops. I used to think that being
a young guitarist was advantageous,
and many of the first so-called boutique
builders did tout slogans such as made by
musicians, for musicians. Today, that sort
of posturing borders on the ridiculous.
Guitarists continue to ogle instruments
that are primarily clones of the 60-yearold designs penned by non-musicians.
So how can the ability to play guitar
create a better product? Certainly,
anyone with a pulse can distinguish that
a Telecaster in butterscotch or a curly
maple-topped PRS Les Paul copy with
a striking sunburst is likely to sell. You
dont need to know chord theory to
emulate a successful offset-body design
and stock it with flavor-of-the-month
pickups and hardware. At this point,
its more valuable to me to have a lot of
experience building for musicians than
actually being one. The main advantage is
that I dont need a translator.
JOL DANTZIG is a noted

designer, builder, and player who


co-founded Hamer Guitars, one of
the first boutique guitar brands,
in 1973. Today, as the director
of Dantzig Guitar Design, he
continues to help define the art of
custom guitar. To learn more, visit
guitardesigner.com.

premierguitar.com

LAST CALL

The Ballad of Mandolin Mike


BY JOHN BOHLINGER

f you move to Nashville in hopes of


becoming a professional musician,
youll probably do some time on
the honky-ist of honky-tonk strips: the
400 block of Lower Broadway, 37203.
Ive logged countless hours playing songs
I dont really know with people I often
dont know for a drunken crowd that
doesnt know the difference. Ive had
some of the best and worstmostly
worstmusical experiences of my life
within that crowded, dirty, soul-crushing
city block.
To this day, when Im not touring
and get a call to play, I drive downtown,
spend too much on inconvenient
parking, and schlep my gear three-tofive-blocks to slog through cover songs
for a four-hour, break-free set. Then,
at the end of the gig, the band huddles
around like pirates and splits the tips and
subtracts the bar tabs. By then its 2:45
a.m. and Im exhausted as I lug my gear
back to my car through a maze of drunks.
Ive usually earned somewhere between
$4 to $25 per hour in sweaty bills. Why
would anybody play these shit gigs, you
ask? Because, as 1977 Fleetwood Mac
said, players only love you when theyre
playing. Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim,
players gotta play. Playing music is an
addiction. Theres no 12-step program.
We chase the dragon.
Up until recently, every time I loaded
into Tootsies, Laylas, or Roberts, Id
see Mandolin Mike Slusser, bathed
in flashing neon light, playing his old
battered F-style mandolin and singing
with thick veins bulging out of his red
neck. It might be 105 degrees in July
and Mike would be there in full cowboy
regalia: 10-gallon Stetson, old-timey vest,
pressed button-down shirt, boots, jeans,
big belt bucklerendering everything
from bluegrass to metal for passersby.
It might be 10 degrees and snowing
and hed be out there beating that mando
like it owed him money, fingers burning
red on his sledgehammer right hand. He
told me once he was playing outside in

freezing weather and nobody would stop


and listen. He just kept getting more and
more pissed off as people raced by him
with their collars turned up, ignoring
him as they ran to their destinations.
This anger fueled the fire to keep playing
longer and harder until it was just him
and the snow flurries. When he finally
tapped out, his hands swelled in knots.
When I played solo gigs at Henrys
Coffeehouse, Mike would walk in and
drop a dollar in my tip jar. On my way
out Id drop it back in his mando case.
We passed the same crumpled bill back
and forth for years, like a sacred good
luck offering.
Mike arrived in town two or three years
after I did. He told me that since then
hed logged roughly 26,000 hours playing
on that block but his F-5 mandolin does
not look a day over 23,000. Ive never met
a more dedicated musician.
At one point, Mando Mike and I lived
parallel lives. We had roughly an equal
amount of talent, which drove us to area
code 615 around the same time. Once
arriving, we spent some desperate times
living in our cars, playing in terrible/good
bands in crap bars, eventually booking
some sessions, TV, etc. But for the most
part, just playing every chance we got. The
last time I saw Mike, we stood on the street
and talked about our crazy career odyssey.
Mike summed it up: Man, we moved
here to become Nashville Cats, and now
we are. It may not be like we imagined it,
but nobodys going to argue the point.
In May of last year, Mike split. Im
told he moved back to Pennsylvania to
look after his ailing parents. The news
left me grateful/sad, weeping/giggling/
wanting-to-get-drunk-or-stoned. For
roughly 18 years, that guy took no
sick days, never missed an opportunity
to perform, and remained absolutely
devoted to his music. When he wasnt
performing, he was learning songs in
preparation for his marathon show. Its
off-putting to see Sisyphus walk away
from his boulder.

Im not more talented and definitely


not as dedicated as Mike, but to the
outside observer, it would appear that
Ive had more success than him. That
probably comes down to that fact that
Mike flew solo while I had a wife and
kid, which made money waaaaaay more
important to me. Though Mike and I
both struggled financially (my apologies
to Former Wife #1), I had to look for
opportunities that would lead to a regular
paycheck, whereas Mike just stuck to
what he knew: playing and singing on the
street or in a club. Mike was pretty Zen
about life, whereas I was terrified of not
being able to provide for dependents.
Mike pursued his art and enjoyed a
freedom that few experience. His career
makes you reassess. What is success?
Doing what you love sounds about as
successful as it gets.
Wherever you are Mike, I know youre
playing music for people. (If you read
this, let me know where you are. I would
love to hang!) Im not worried about you,
but I dont think that mandolin is going
to make it. Its, like, one song away from
becoming a pile of toothpicks. Play on.
JOHN BOHLINGER is a Nashville-

based multi-instrumentalist best


known for leading the band on
NBCs Nashville Star and serving
as music director for the CMT
Awards and specials on PBS
and GAC. When not filming Rig
Rundowns and gear reviews for PG,
John plays pedal steel for Lee Brice.

Premier Guitar ISSN 1945-077x (print) and ISSN 1945-0788 (online) is published monthly by Gearhead Communications, LLC. Principal office: 3 Research Center, Marion, IA 52302. Periodicals postage
paid at Marion, IA 52302 and at Additional Mailing Offices. 2016 Gearhead Communications, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited.
Premier Guitar are registered trademarks of Gearhead Communications, LLC. Subscribers: If the Postal Service alerts us that your magazine is undeliverable, we have no further obligation unless we
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Marion, IA 52302. Customer Service and subscriptions please call 877-704-4327 or email lois@premierguitar.com. Printed in USA. Volume 21 Issue 10 October 2016

Photo by John Bohlinger

All-weather
mandolinist Mike
Slusser on the
gigthe sidewalk
of Nashvilles
lower Broadway.