Gear Update: Pedalboard, Guitar

It seems I get into the habit of making posts… then life happens and I either 1) Get busy or 2) forget I have this blog!

The good news Is I have been practicing about an hour, 3-4 days a week, and can really tell the difference it is making. I’m not doing anything hardcore or anything, just reviewing scales, the shapes, up and down the neck and scales on individual strings (up and down the neck on one string). Basically stuff to break my monotony. I have 2 scale shapes I wear out, and I really would like to use more of the guitar’s neck!

So here is my current board setup. Continue reading

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The Amp Chronicles; the finale.

So…. I present, Dr Z:

I can't explain what this does.... it just does.

In the pic you see my 15w Fender Super Champ (which I’m keeping- still a surprisingly good amp for the money) next the Z. The Maz jr is an 18w, this model is without the reverb (the “NR” version) and one basic master-volume channel. Turn the volume up and master volume down and get a bassy/woody chugg-ing type overdrive or turn volume down with the master up and then tweak the “cut” knob to taste and get some pretty sparkly-crystal cleans. This guitar does a decent clean Voxy sound and a Marshally overdrive. But more than that, it really is its own amp. It contains EL84 tubes, a tube rectifier and 2 ECC83s in the preamp section(Mostly JJ tubes). It came with Dr Z’s “Brake Lite” attenuator pre-installed. Pretty nice. Ah, and an effects loop… which i can’t wait to play.

I first thought this amp wouldn’t be enough… after all I’ve been playing 15w out of the Fender and I wanted a slight volume increase. 18w should be close to what I use right? I’ll never use the attenuator!!
I was wrong. This amp is loud. To play my 1000 member church, I had to click on the attenuator (2 out of 8 ) to get the tone I wanted without the VOLUME associated. I may be using that thing more than I first thought!

Also, this amp is very touch-sensitive. I was getting a nice gritty grind (with very little overdrive) just by varying my dynamics from my ‘clean’ setting. I believe I’ll be knocking an overdrive off my board just in favor of boosting this amp a little. In fact, I played a full Easter Cantata with this amp and only turned on the Zendrive for 2 of the “harder” songs. This amp covered basic overdrive very well.

Anway– after all the worrying, selling gear etc…. here is the amp.

Why this amp over the Matchless?
#1: Price! This amp is about 1/2 the price of the Matchless! The main reason I had interest in this Matchless was that it was a floor model with a great price. Even then, it was a few bucks more than the Dr Z.

#2: Weight! The Matchless is about 20 lbs more than the Z. I wanted a combo amp I could carry in 1 hand if need be. The Z can be carried in 1 hand (not incredibly comfortable, mind you) and I can have my pedalboard in the other hand, with the backpack/gigbag for the guitar on my back. 1 trip in and out of a gig/church.

#3: Honestly- the Z fits me better. It has great cleans, good drive and takes pedals well. I love my pedals/overdrives so this fits perfectly. The Matchless has nicer, sparkly cleans, but not the kind of overdrive I would really like. It was also a bit more finicky about which overdrives it liked (trust me, I played everything I had through each amp). The Z is made for more versatility which tends to be what we look for when we play a wide range of popular worship songs: from Rock to blues, to Gospel Funk. Mmmmm.. I really like this amp!

P.S.> I now have another Fulltone OCD. And its perfect. And it likes this amp. More on that later.

The Amp Chronicles; pt 3- unofficial overdrive/distortion pedal shootout

Ah… so when it comes time for decisions, things can become tough to consider. Especially when decisions mean “Selling gear to pay for new gear.” Especially when you only have 1-2 pieces of gear you actually want to sell and the rest you really would like to keep. Then you realize that… a certain amp is very, very good.

Thus, I plugged everything up, played it all, and sold some gear. Here was my thought process as I did so. (And thus– the unofficial shootout). Continue reading

The Amp Chronicles; pt 2

In my previous post I discussed the two amps I’m deciding between: The Matchless Avalon, and the Dr Z Maz 18, NR.
Here is further fodder for thought, or reasons why I like each amp.

I’ll be making the decision soon… stay tuned!

The Amp Chronicles; pt 1

Greetings- faithful readers. Here is a post! I know its been awhile, but hopefully we can catch up soon!

My search for an amp begins now:
I began my search at one of the greatest guitar shops I’ve had the pleasure of going into. Fat Sound Guitars in Cary, NC! (Their website is awesome as well!) Stu (the owner) had responded to my emails several times, so I made the hour trek up to the store and sat around for a few hours. I poked, I prodded, and plugged the ‘ol Les Paul into several amps. I also brought along my trusty Zendrive and the King Of Tone.
Now, the pleasure of talking to another guitarist is that they know what you mean when we say “i like this amp, but its missing this…..er….. y’know” and Stu says, “yea, try this one, it has that.”
Very cool.

My only thoughts while looking were- I want an amp that has a good clean sound, with some sparkle. I want it to be able to overdrive easy, but dynamically clean up. I would like more than my 15w Fender Champ, like 30 watts. But I don’t want an uncontrollably loud amp, so It should have a 1/2 switch if 30 watts.  I want 30 watts, even though I would probably only use it 2-3x a year. Amp should accept pedals fairly well.
After playing everything in the store I settled on two amps. In no particular order:

1) Dr Z Maz 18 Non Reverb

Pretty good, and sounds great too!

There it is– the “wow, does it really get that loud” 18 watt Dr Z Maz. This amp had a touch of sparkle, had incredible dynamics, and a great sustain that seemed to drip harmonics. Even the clean sound is sustained well. The dynamics were special; play lightly and it is clean, play hard or turn up some volume and it overdrives!
The KOT sounded great through this, very classic rock-like. The Zendrive colored the amp a bit, but sounded really good at lower gain setting than I normally play while it pushed the amp a bit. I was very impressed.
This Z also has an effects loop which might check out with some delay and my own crazy ambient-inspired reverbs.
This Z is a rocker!
Upside of things: per the Dr Z website: She will self-bias her tubes!! YES! That makes things tons easier!

The “cons” was I expected a bit more of an overdrive from the amp. It did overdrive, but not quite as heavy as I thought.
Then, Brad Paisley plays through Dr Z’s (and that gearmandude from thegearpage.net and youtube). I’m not a country player, by ANY stretch. But, this amp sounds GOOD.

2) Matchless Avalon

Also pretty....

Wow, this amp is loud. But not like the Z was- you expect this amp to be loud. What can I say about this amp: it had beautiful, beautiful cleans. Great sparkle that also had harmonics. Not much sustain. I guess that’s the trade-off, the Z has less harmonics but more sustain and this one has all the harmonics? I liked the idea of a defeat-able master volume, the swell looking plexi-glass plate on the front (see the tubes???) and the 15 to 30w switch in the back.
The overdrive was fantastic. Heavier and richer than the Z, but still clean and sparkly at the same time. True rock potential.

The Zen sounded pretty good through this amp, but the KOT really shined. I had some great ‘cleanish’ rock’in distortion after just a few minutes of plugging in. Oh, this amp has that vibe to it. Its cool to have a Matchless!

The only downsides to this amp are the weight of it (almost 70 lbs!) and its just a ‘tad’ bit more moolah than the Dr Z.

I probably went back and forth on these amps about 10 times. They are not even in the same leagues, sound different, but sound so good.

After looking at my face of glee while playing these amps, Stu asks “So which do you think you want?”

BOTH!
to be continued…..

My Self Challenge

Saturday night I was placing my pedalboard in an order and got a wild idea: here are a few pedals I love, but have never played out! I have experimented in house with them, but never performed live. I decided to slap them on my board and make the most out of what I have to work with. I tried to be completely aloof and completely go out on a limb with a different rig… but had to slap my old trusty Zendrive on there just as backup in case my experiment went wild. Continue reading

Pedalboard 101: a question….

So I’ve been writing this blog awhile… and am getting a ton of hits on pedal board setup and questions how to do so. This question I received last was this one. I really liked the way it was asked and thought I would post it and my response.

hey! Great post… very informative, even though sadly, lots of it is over my head. I’m a worship leader at my church and I’m just slightly transitioning to my electric guitar as we’re doing more of the upbeat Lincoln Brewster type songs, and I’m using a Korg multi-effects processor pedal thing… and I just don’t see many people doing that, and am guessing I can tweak the sounds to my liking a little better using a train of pedals? Honestly I’m just trying to find that ‘appropriate’ church distortion/groove sound that is still hard core and sounds good, but isn’t the metal blasting away everyone kind of sound. I guess I’m asking what you think a good set of pedals (from scratch, including tuners/volume, etc.) would be to get crackin’ at finding a good mix of acousticy/strum sounds, with some good distortions and choruses as well?

Also, I know this sounds silly… but I don’t see how people transition so well between one song and the next, say you need to adjust your distortion… if you’re using say, the SD-1, then you’d have to bend down, turn the dial to crank down the distortion, and hope it’s right… that just doesn’t seem to be what people do, what is normal practice for getting different sounds throughout a set w/out literally tweaking the pedals between songs? Or do you just find a distortion that seems to fit them all?? Thanks in advance! —-

On the multiunits: yeah, I don’t like them. Did once, but they just don’t respond/breathe as well as actual analog effects do! The difference is astounding if you were to A/B them. That said, the newer “multi’s” that I would recommend is the Line 6 M13. This little guy can be tweaked quite well, and responds mostly the way an amp/analog effects do. I have been impressed with the tones I’ve heard from this thing. That said, my ear can tell some difference between a stomp box overdrive and the M13 overdrives, but the other effects (delay, modulations) are fantastic. Of course, as soon as I said I could tell the difference, a buddy of mine tweaked his to a point that sounded great and proved me wrong. So if you are on a budget, I would recommend the M13.

The best part of pedals is you have exactly what you want! You can add, remove etc…. and you get what you need! I’m assuming you are doing Lincoln-type music and maybe some Hillsong stuff. It helps to know your guitar, but we’ll just talk about the basics here and follow-up on the others. If I were leading worship with an electric guitar (as now I play lead and sing background) I would reduce my current board and probably use something like: compressor, 2 to 3 overdrives, tremolo, delay. Boom. That is all. Maybe a reverb. But thats pushing it– KISS method: Keep It Simple Sucka.

If I have to sing I don’t want to have to switch out so many effects, and I won’t be performing as much as I would be concentrating on Rhythm and staying on-key vocally! So for me, the actually pedals I would use would be: a smooth compressor (my fav: Barber Tone Press), high gain overdrive (my favs: Barber Small Fry, Fulltone OCD, Visual Sound Hyde, Hermida Audio Mosferatu) followed by 1 or 2 low gain drives (favs: Hermida Audio Zendrive, PaulC Tim, Barber LTD, Analogman Tubescreamer mod) then a tuner of your choice that mutes when you step on it, then a tremolo (preferably with tap-tempo) and a delay(with tap tempo, my favs: Line 6 Echo Park, and Boss DD20).

As for finding your “place” in the distortion/overdrive: Here is how I approach it. 1) I have 3 ODs on my board. Each is a different flavor. Each handles a different amount of gain. Boom, problem solved. I use this way sometimes. I also make sure the pedals (like the Zendrive) have a lot of headroom- where they aren’t too compressed and retain dynamics of playing. As in, hit a string soft, they are soft sounding, low gain. IF you hit the strings HARD, they ring back hard, medium gain. This also makes stacking drives (like my Small Fry INTO the Zen) sound incredibly good, smooth, and natural. 2) Lately I have been using the “classic method”. (which is what I would do if I were leading). The classic method comes from a time where no one used pedals, and only had amps for the drives. What they would do is set up their amp’s distortion with the volume on the guitar turned about halfway. Once they found that spot, their rhythm was set. Less volume would mean less drive, and a more clean sound. If they cranked the guitar’s volume, you had more gain/volume- thus a lead sound. I do this with the pedals with a lot of headroom (Zendrive, Analogman TS9 and SD1 among others…). Set to a nice rhythm with you guitar turned down. Nice light gain sounds. When I go into a heavy chorus/bridge, I only need to turn up to get harder/more gained sounds. If thats still not enough, I punch another “light” gain drive to boost it in volume and gain. Instant lead sound. I do the same thing with the high gain pedal: use it at 1/2 volume for the good crunchy stuff, more guitar volume for even heavier stuff or a lead sound, and if I need more, I boost with another low gain (this time the low gain is in the front, instead of pushing into the pedal).

But eventually you’ll find a pedal that fits almost everything. 80% of what I do (or have done) I used only an Analogman TS9 or the Zendrive (and now the Tim). The other 20% was clean (compressor usually) or heavy gained (which the TS9 and Zen couldn’t really do so well).

Good luck!

This has spurned some other thoughts from me… so look for them real soon!