Talking about gear (104)
Well, I had my first EVER refret last week. I’ve never really cared enough about a guitar to get it done… well, either that or I haven’t kept a guitar for long enough and played it hard enough to even think about it. Or maybe, in the case of my favourite PRS, the frets have never been so darn weak as these are… were.
When you hear PRS talk about his guitars, all he cares about is the tone they produce. Everything is picked according to their place in the tonal spectrum… I’m all for that as my guitar is the most lively I’ve ever heard (unplugged as well as plugged in), but it would appear that in part of this trade off, the fret wires they chose for the Brent Mason signature modal are about as strong as a soggy piece of paper.
It all started to go really wrong about 18 months ago when I noticed I was getting a ‘sitar’ effect from my open D string, then about 9 months later it also started to happen on the open A string. Not only were the frets weak (I was at this point worried about the wear on them), it would appear that the nut was as well. So, I made do like a proper Englishman and stuck a small piece of cardboard under the strings in the nut. This not only meant my tuning stability went out the window, but also, some of the attack and brightness I love about my guitar went as well. Once this had become completely out of control I thought “Sod it, I’m going to have to get this fixed.”
Cardboard under the strings to stop 'sitaring"
I contacted an excellent luthier who lives some distance from me, and discussed it with him, told him about the nut and showed him this photo of my current fret wear. We arranged for the long ol’ trip to his workshop, so I put my beloved guitar in the car (as I knew I had a week without gigs) and drove it up to him, which was about 150 miles away. As we discussed the work that needed doing, we came to the conclusion that I needed a shim under the nut (as it would appear the nut wasn’t cut correctly in the first place) and a total refret… I decided to go all in and get stainless steel. The PRS BM model ships with PRS’ version of 6100 jumbo frets, which have always been a little high for me, so I took the leap of faith and went down to the slightly lower 6150s.
6 years of fret wear
The only guitar I’d ever really spent any time on with SS frets was Tom Quayle’s signature Ibanez and I liked the attack of them, the slight zing they provide and maybe some brightness… maybe. So, I thought “why not”. At this point, I put the question out on our FB group “Stainless Steel frets, pros and cons” and quickly got a thread full of “My Suhr has them, they are amazing” and so on, so I was confident I had made the right choice!
When my guitar arrived back with me, I had 1 day to familiarise myself with it before I was due to play an all-day gig. But, as work is mental busy right now, I literally only had the time to make sure the neck was good, all the notes sung out and I could still do some of the ridiculous bends I like to show off with (I bend up to a 4th). Once I had this clear in my mind, my guitar went back in the case and the first time I properly played it was at the gig. I know, crazy, right?
The first thing you notice is that they are SO smooth it’s like there’s almost nothing there, it feels like there is hardly any resistance between your strings and the frets, so bending is MUCH easier. The first song in our set has no guitar solo in it, so I was feeling fine… when my first solo arrived in the second song, I totally over-bent the minor 3rd bend and it was hideous, but as I’ve been doing this for a ‘few’ years, I could quickly adapt and from there on in, my intonation was pretty much on point. I found that the bends were easier and took much less effort, but most surprisingly, vibrating the note at the top of the bend was considerably easier as well (my bent note vibrato isn’t great, so any help is appreciated).
Oh!!! Shiny new Stainless Steel frets for the win!
One of my biggest fears is that my string life is going to reduce somewhat, but it’s a minor worry as I am extremely picky about having new strings for each gig. I just can’t play live unless they are new and slinky to the feel and yes, that does mean I use Ernie Ball strings – after 30 odd years, they just feel right under my fingers. I’ve tried all the others, but always come back to EB regular slinky’s. As those strings are nickel wound, they aren’t the strongest strings on the planet, and going up against the SS frets I expect they won’t last as long… purely due to the fact that nickel frets against nickel strings means that the ‘damage’ caused by playing will be pretty well evenly split between the frets and strings. But, as these are now up against a much harder fret material, they will take the majority of wear and tear. However, every time I do break a string, it’s over the bridge or over the pickups (I tend to play hard when I’m really “in the zone” - lol at myself for saying that) and have never, according to my failing memory, broken a string over the fretboard, so time will tell if this will happen.
Tonally, SS frets appear to make everything a little zingier, maybe a little brighter. Although, to be honest, I don’t know if that’s my head playing tricks on me. As they are bright, shiny and new, does it mean my brain is telling the tone is? To test this I recorded my guitar direct through my sound card, the same line I had recorded a week before (this is how I test effect plug ins) and the difference was negligible, maybe slightly more attack. I’m almost certain to the point of arrogance that once it was going through my pedals and amp, the sound coming out the speakers was not that different. I’ve seen a lot of talk online about the frets being brighter, but I’m not sure I can hear it that much, maybe a little, but certain nothing major. It’s more of an attack thing, and that’s more of a response issue than tonal, I think.
The tech who did the job used the phrase “You’ll never regret it, or have to refret it” which is reassuring as I play really hard when I’m in country mode and that tends to be a lot of what I am doing these days. So I am hopeful that the massive expensive I have laid out will be an investment for life. After spending a lot of the day playing this guitar at an all-day gig on Saturday, I’ve come to the following conclusion about SS frets. If you have a guitar you love and you want a refret, just get them done with the SS frets… it’s almost like your finger strength has been increased!
PROS: considerably longer fret life, bends are much smoother, vibrato is much easier, more responsive to your attack, they never get dull.
CONS: string life (if you are using nickel strings) will be diminished, expensive.
Seems to be a no brainer really!
As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m what’s known as a ‘part time’ gigger, or a semi professional musician, or the type of person who sinks every spare penny into a hobby without any monies coming back in… pretty certain many of you can relate! I’ve been gigging now for about 30 years – including some time as a FOH sound engineer - within a variety of different styles of music. So, I thought I would take this moment to pass on some of the hard-earned knowledge I’ve picked up over the years and present it to you in a three-point checklist to make you sound better when you are playing live. I say hard-earned, because all of this was learned the hard way: by sounding pretty crappy before I sounded good (well, I hope I sound good, that’s what I tell myself anyway).
- Understand your EQ and how it changes with the room and the people in it
When we are sat at home, making our tones, or programming our tones, (or however we do it) we have to understand that the room we are in will sound and react differently to the one we end up playing in. It’s massively likely that this room is smaller, with a lower ceiling, with carpets and curtains, or softer chairs… basically, things that soak the sound up. When you go out into a gig situation, the room may well be different – in fact, I’d go out on a limb here and say that 99.9% of the time it will be the complete opposite. It’s likely to be MUCH bigger, with a higher ceiling and fairly sparse in terms of softer material to soak the sound up. You get what are known as ‘hard reflections’ coming back at you, from the hard floor, the back wall, windows, absolutely everywhere. Remember, sound waves are not transverse waves like the pictures we see of a nice sine pattern, but a longitudinal wave (think of a worm squeezing itself together and stretching out to move forward, rather than a sidewinder snake wiggling it’s way), so the pressure from the speakers is pushing the air in front of it in a certain direction. As the bass wave is longer, it will push further and as bass is omnidirectional, it will go everywhere.
This will result in three things happening. The low end of your tone will travel much further than the highs (this is why when you are outside somewhere with loud music, you hear the bass through the walls – those long waves are almost unstoppable) and the high end could sound very shrill, or sharp. This leaves you in a dichotomy, as it appears you won’t be able to win. You can win, definitely, but you have to play wisely.
A lot of players set their amp EQ to be a nice smiley face, because at home, that’s what sounds best when you are jamming along with a record (do we still say record? Maybe track?) and there will be nowhere else for your sound to go. As soon as you take that tone into a live situation, you will notice that without a suitable amount of mid-range, your tone will mush in with the bass guitar and the top end will pierce the ears of all those who stand before you. If that big ol’ room you are playing in isn’t full to the rafters straight off with people standing/dancing right in front of you, your tone will be lost.
When you do your soundcheck, or line check, or level check (which ever you do), try to remember the space you are occupying with your tone. The low end is not necessary, so you need to drop it somewhat from what you had at home. The mid-range needs to be there as that’s what people hear - the human ear is trained to hear the frequencies of the human voice, so balance it at the point where it sounds full, but not woolly. Be very careful with your high end, it needs to sit right there on the top of the mid-range, but not attack the people at the back of the room like a drunken ninja looking to test their new Katana blade. As the room fills up, you may well be able to add a little more top end to your tone, but it’s unlikely you will need to if you balance it properly in the first instance.
Note – in a larger room, turn your reverb and delay levels down, they will just swamp your tone.
- Watch your ‘gain’ levels – consider stacking rather than using a full-on dirt pedal
When playing at home, it’s kinda hard to get that high-volume response from a gain pedal, or even a gainy amp, at lower sound levels. I fully expect there to be a mathematical or physics-based reasoning for that, but quite frankly there’s no need to go into it (translation – I don’t know). In order to make your guitar respond at lower volumes, you need to increase the ‘gain’ to replicate the feel. As you get louder (if you have even a slightly responsive amp), you will find that you can literally put your gain knob at almost halfway back to where you have it at home to get the same response… the same level of ‘alive’ under your fingers.
If you like higher gain tones for your solos, it would definitely be worth considering two (or if you are silly like me, three – three is heavenly!) lower gain overdrives stacked up together to give you that tone, rather than a separate gain pedal for solos. This is a personal favourite of mine, the reasoning behind it is that your solo tones should ALWAYS be different from your rhythm tones (even the most foot stomping rock has surprisingly low gain in rhythm work) but at the same time, not too different unless the song calls for it, this is YOUR tone after all! The best way to achieve tonal stability in your sound is to take what you already have and add to it with an inherent EQ curve rather than a completely different tone. This is why TS pedals are so popular, as well as K style pedals. The midrange hump that they both provide don’t necessarily add a higher-level of gain to your signal, but boy does it feel like it. The power and response is increased beautifully… if you have a favourite pedal (for example, my current squeeze is the Plexi Drive Standard) and add a K style pedal with unity level, low gain and a higher level of treble/tone, your tone will fatten up and cut through. It’s like putting your amp on 6 instead of 4. If you put a TS with a similar setting between the two, your amp will sound and react like it is now on 8. Very little gain is being applied to the front end, but enough to make your end pedal, the one that creates your tone, ‘dirt up’ hugely… you’ll find that the harmonics and response within your playing will jump out at you as well.
- Play into the spaces, don’t fill every gap you can find
In other words, learn when to shut up! This is the one that comes naturally to me as the first band I was in had two lead/rhythm guitar players, so everything was split pretty well 50/50 and we quickly became aware it sounded boring if we played the same thing. So, we used basic chord inversions to fill out the sound rather than duplicating. We also learned pretty quickly that, in order for the band to sound bigger, one of us had to stop playing at certain times. Because when the one who stopped came back in, the sound became huge. These days, the band I am in only has me on electric guitar, we do have an acoustic strummer type, but also quite often a keys or steel player sits in - and they exist in the same sonic space I do.
When it’s just me, I often will play something to compliment the acoustic player as he just strums on regardless. So, I will use a different inversion of the chord, or an arpeggiated strum line thing at the start of the bar, or maybe a complimentary line with the bass player. When the song hits the chorus, I come in properly and the band sounds bigger. When playing alongside a keys or steel player, I tend to sit back even further, giving them the room to fill those spaces and they do the same so, when we are all in there, the sound (the ‘width’ of the band) increases dramatically.
That phrase is the key to this – “leave the spaces clear”. Consider your band sound to be like taking a road trip in a car. If you have four people in the car it’s comfy and you all have the room to do what you want to do, if you put a fifth person in the car with you, space is limited so you all adjust to the situation. It’s the same with the band, as soon as someone is in there and occupying the same space as you are, you HAVE to adjust what you are doing, or it will feel very crowded very quickly.
So, there are three small hints for you to take to your next gig, rehearsal, get together etc. Just remember, you don’t need all that gain, you probably don’t need all that low end and don’t be afraid to shut up now and then to increase the dynamics of the band you are in!!
Some sneaky geeky tips:
- When setting up your PA and the room is boxy, or you are on the stage, consider putting the PA speakers on the floor rather than the stage. Or if they are on the stage, try to get the top cabs slightly pointing downwards. If they are too far above the heads of the people who are in the audience, the sound will fly straight to the back wall and back towards you, and so your nightmare begins!
- Try to never put your PA speaker against a wall. If it is flush with a wall, the bass end from that speaker could be increased by up to 6db.
- If you put your amp on the floor and you not on a stage, your amp is playing to your legs and you’ll have to have it much louder for you to be heard. If the room is emptier than you’d prefer, by the time your sound hits the back of the room, you are likely to be considerably louder than the band.
- If you are using a 2x12” cab for your guitar, also consider bringing your cab up off the floor. The bass response from the floor makes a difference as per above, and if you have the cab up off the floor, you can lift your sound up away from people’s legs. Dependent on the room and whether or not I’m mic’d up, I sometimes have my 2x12” running horizontally as it fills my part of the stage up perfectly. If I am not mic’d up, I will run it vertically (with the best sounding speaker at the top) so the sound flies around the head height of people, as rumour has it that is the place where you hear stuff best!!
- Here’s something that may well blow your mind a little, where you place your P.A. bass bins and your top boxes could mean they are out of synch. If your top box is on a pole that sits in the bass bin, your sound will hit the audience at the same time. If your top box is on a tripod and the bass bin is sitting in front of it (so about a yard in front) your bass frequencies will hit your audience about 3ms before your top end. If your top box is on a tripod on the stage and the bass bins are on the floor in front of the stage (about 2 yards in front), the bass will hit the audience about 6ms before. It may not seem like much, but once you know this, you KNOW it!
If you are anything like me, for the longest time you treated compression as a big ‘meh’ and didn’t understand why virtually all guitar players need it. Yes, I did say that, virtually all guitar players need it. I thought that compression was something country and funk players used, so I thought I didn’t need one when I was younger… this all changed when I got a BOSS BE-5 that had a compressor in it (a CS-2 I think) and I thought it’s only job was to fill some of the holes within my sloppy solo playing. I couldn’t be more wrong, I couldn’t have been using it more incorrectly if I tried. But, it lit a little fire in me to discover what compression was really for, in terms of guitar tone and how, when used with a degree of subtlety, it was the most important pedal to own.
Compression probably IS the most valuable item in your toolbox and one that should be used appropriately. By appropriately, I mean almost all of the time, but in the right way. However, the true key is working out what ‘appropriately’ is…. to truly understand what compression is, you first need to understand all the different elements of compression. More importantly, what they do and how they work together.
The initial logic of compression is to reduce the audible distance between the quieter parts of your playing and the louder. It will make all aspects of your playing heard, the softer will come up and the louder will be reduced. You could say it’s limiting the dynamics of your playing. A great example is when you are watching TV and the person whispering will be loudest thing you can hear… it’s been compressed so you can hear it. Transfer that to your playing - you still want your softer parts heard clearly, you don’t want them to disappear in behind everything else but also, you don’t want your loudest moments overtaking everything. Reducing the amount of space between the softest elements of your playing and the loudest will make your tone more user friendly to just about everyone.
Let’s look at some of the more common parts of a regular guitar-based compressor to understand what each control does.
This is the point at which the compressor activates. So, until you hit the desired level, the compressor will be dormant. The higher the threshold, the longer it takes to kick in. The lower the threshold, the quicker the compressor activates
This is the amount of time the pedal will take to fully compress the signal. The faster the attack, the quicker the compression. This often causes confusion as a lot of compressors attack faster when the knob is CCW and slower at CW. So, the more attack is when this control is turned down! The classic sound for this is country, that instantly recognisable vintage country squish comes from a fast attack, with the more modern style of country being much slower.
The opposite of attack. The longer it takes the note to be released back to its uncompressed state. So, if you are looking to sustain your notes, the release is what you need to tweak to bring the level of those notes up. Release usually happens anywhere from about 50ms up to several seconds, depending on the unit… this has to be treated with respect though, as this is the knob that will quickly send you into feedback – which at times can be great, but at others, can be horrible.
Quite often this is missing on a regular guitar compressor, it has been defined by the engineer at design stage at the optimum place for guitar. However, on more comprehensive pedals it will be there. The ratio is the mathematical aspect of the compression… 1:1 is no compression, 2:1 is when it goes over 2db over the threshold limit the compressor brings it back to one over the limit of 1db – for 10db it brings it back to 5db and so on. When considering the ratio the simple guide is that the higher the first number, the more compression will be added.
3:1 is light compression, 5:1 is medium, 10:1 is getting strong and 20:1 is getting severe. You can get ∞:1 (infinity) which would be ‘limiting’, the hardest compression you can get – a hard shelf of “none shall pass”.
The knee is the shape of the compression and it’s called the knee in order to give you a visual representation of what is happening. A hard knee will be like a leg that is fully bent, as the signal hits the compression level it cuts it off almost at a right angle, the attack is instant and you really hear and feel it. A soft knee will place a curve in there so, as it approaches the limit, it will start to attenuate and level out – looking more like a knee half bent. If the knee is soft enough, you will hardly feel or hear it, until it is turned off.
How to use a modern compressor pedal
A lot of people have tried compressors before and not liked them. Quite often it is because they tried one of the standard basic units that don’t have a lot of control to the finer aspects, or the all-important blend control. Something with a basic “attack” and “release/sustain” setting will often be frustrating and anything but musical. A lot of older compression units also coloured the tone as well (they had a tone of their own) which was delicious if you liked it, but horrendous if you didn’t. Let’s face it, when you are considering a compressor you probably have your tone pretty well thought out… from the strings and pickups on the guitar, the guitar itself, the pedals, the cables, the amp, the speakers, the speaker cab… you like it and more often than not, you don’t want to change it all by adding one pedal. This is where modern compressors come in as they are - and yes, here it comes - they are transparent. They don’t colour your signal, they don’t change your tone, they just compress. It’s my opinion, and we all know what they are worth, but a perfectly compressed guitar signal is one you don’t know is compressed until you turn the compressor off and everything just disappears.
One of the most important aspects of modern compression is something I mentioned above, the blend control. The blend is what is also known as parallel compression – a favourite of the studio engineer. If you have a blend control on your compressor, there will be two, obvious, sonic reference points. 100% compression path and 100% non-compressed path. Straight up the middle will give you 50% compressed and 50% dry. As most compression is heard at the point of attack, you bleed in the blend to reduce that, that feel of your note being compressed. Once that balance of blend is set, the initial squish of the compressed signal is not really heard. You can still feel it, but the rest of the note duration is compressed. You get more sustain, more control, more stability, but without that hard first hit… as the natural signal dies out, the compressed signal overtakes giving you a fatter, longer lasting and fuller tone.
Once you have balanced your compression, you then have the whole “where do I put it in the chain” dilemma. Most people put it up front, so by the time your signal hits your gain stages everything is on the level. This is usually the case when the player is leaning on the heavier side of compression. A lot of players like it after gain stages, this is very handy when using it as an effect rather than as a regulator. Kicking in a subtle amount of compression after your gain stages makes everything fatter and wider, it almost feels like you are going into a cooking tube amp when you are not… the down side of this, obviously, is that any floor noise from your dirt pedals will then hit the compressor and be brought up, this can make your rig much noisier and harder to control. Also, the higher amount of gain (clipping) in your path will add compression as well, so a compressor might not be so obvious a requirement for heavier players (although it’s great for making your chuggachugga sound more CHUGGACHUGGA).
And don’t get me started on multiband compression… you can choose which part of the frequency you want to compress… it could be the lows, the highs, the high mids… absolutely everywhere. This is the reason I want 5 compressors in my rig. But that’s just excessive. Or is it?
Being a confirmed gear head has its down sides, you often have to traverse through the nine levels of Hell to realize your perfect rig… or, as we know it, the nine levels of G.A.S.
- You are shopping online, your offer has been accepted, you transferred the money at least 2 minutes ago and you are sitting there, in a cold sweat, absolutely terrified, waiting for the shipping notification to arrive in your inbox.
You are in G.A.S. Limbo.
- So, you have a great new pedal… it’s everything you could ever want. Well, it is today anyway. You go to bed the happiest you have been since the last pedal. Tomorrow you wake up, and during your morning ablutions you open up your phone and someone will talk about something else and it all starts again, nothing else matters, you have to have it.
You are in a state of G.A.S. Lust.
- Already got 10 gain pedals, 6 delays, 4 reverbs, 3 chorus’, 9 amps, a partridge in a pear tree and 96 fuzzes? Someone drops a GE Fuzz with cool graphics and you have to have it, you don’t care that your friends are all saying “another one?” at you continually.
You are in a state of G.A.S. Gluttony.
- Your favourite store sends out a catalogue, you sit there like an overexcited child on the run up to Christmas working out their ideal present list. You want that. And that, and this and that and this and that and that and that and that.
You have achieved the advanced state of G.A.S. Greed.
- You are flipping gear, you need to raise a certain amount to get the latest toy… you receive an offer… you open it and scream “You offered me HOW MUCH??” This level of G.A.S. is dedicated to the constant reverb low baller. The kind of person that makes you want to reach through the screen of your phone and stick their low ball offer right where the ball ends of their strings go.
Welcome to G.A.S. Anger.
- “Jimi didn’t need no true bypass”… or “If it’s good enuf for Keef”.
You are witness to G.A.S. Heresy.
- No matter what your best friend from school tells you when you’ve had a ‘couple of beers’ on a Friday evening, you cannot relic that Strat yourself to make it look like Stevie’s. He just wants to witness you trash your gear.
You are being being encouraged to perform G.A.S. Violence, by proxy.
- Ever looked at the price of original Klon’s for sale on Reverb? How about Dumble Amps? Have you ever opened up a listing for a ’59 les Paul, or a ’52 Telecaster or absolutely anything pertaining to be new music from Jimi Hendrix?
This is G.A.S. Fraud.
- You walk into a store… you see a guitar that you love… I mean, you really love it, it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen… you take a picture of it as you just can’t afford it right now as your car needs work and the kids might want some food this week. You make the mistake of posting it on social media, bemoaning your lost love and one of your friends buys it. They offer to let you play it. The may even offer to lend it to you.
Make no mistake, this is the worst of all the 9 levels of G.A.S. The very bottom of the sulphurous pit of tone chasing... You have been royally shafted by G.A.S. Treachery. They are no friend of yours and probably already want to sleep with your significant other and will without doubt never return anything you loan them. Cut this person out of your life as soon as possible.
Let’s face it, we’ve all used them before and I imagine that like me you’ve got them confused or not really understand what makes each different. As I started playing properly in the 80’s each of these pedals carry HUGE memories for me and I’ll always have a love/hate relationship with each.
Before we go any further, let’s put on the (my level of) nerd goggles and dig into what separates them. They all come into the family of “modulation”, because… well, they all modulate the signal! Yeah, that doesn’t help much does it… Usually, this means that the signal is in some way split, the something happens to one of the signals and then it is laid back on top of the original one. This creates movement, modulation, and if you go too far, chronic seasickness.
As your signal goes into the pedal, it is instantly split into two. One of those has its phase shifted and then they are laid on top of each other before exiting the pedal. Because you have two opposite phases of the same note sitting within each other, a notch is created where they cancel each other out and then these notches are swept along a range of the frequency band. This where you get that wonderful sweeping ripple.
Name: Phaser Splitter… “Phaser”
Here is my favourite example of a phaser (totally obvious!)
A Flanger is not too dissimilar to a Phaser, but can be much wetter sounding. A flanger happens when the signal is split into 2, one is delayed and then put back on top of the other. The most audibably pleasing Flangers are running at somewhere under 15ms delay, but the rate control changes that. The effect of the flanger going swoooosh is where the delayed signal then has the delay time varied in a constant cycle, up and down.
Name: Legend has it that a producer was running two identical copies of audio and pressed against the flange of the reel to slow one down slightly to make it run ever so slightly out of time… “Flanger”. This is hotly disputed though as George Martin has said that the phrase comes from Lennon during the recording of the Revolver album, Lennon was enquiring about “artificial double tracking” and Martin answered with a nonsense “Now listen, it's very simple. We take the original image and we split it through a double vibrocated sploshing flange with double negative feedback”. Lennon thought he was joking and Martin responded with “Well, let’s flange it again and see”… Lennon went on to call it “Ken’s Flanger” after Abbey Road engineer Ken Townsend performed the process of copying the vocal line and slightly delaying it. The concept was later expanded into stereo and was first credited to Eddie Kramer during the recording of Axis Bold As Love by Hendrix in 1967.
My favourite flanger example
The one that was TOTALLY overused in the 80’s, hence my love/hate relationship with it. Like the flanger, the signal is split, slightly detuned and then delayed, and put back on top The main difference is that the delay used to create the chorus is somewhat longer, usually between 20-50ms . Chorus was first given to us, the guitar community, in the mid 70’s within the legendary Roland JC120 amp. The Chorus element of this amp was then released as a stand alone unit as the BOSS CE-1. To this day, this is, to many people the ultimate chorus pedal. Personally, I love it, but the best one I’ve ever heard was in a Roland RE-501. Although, it does have to be said, I’ve not physically heard one for well over 20 years, I just remember it being the fattest and most lush chorus I’ve ever heard!
Name: Imagine two large vocal choirs singing as close they can get, you could call it a chorus of vocals… put them wide apart, stand in the middle and because it’s almost impossible to singer perfectly on key and at the same time, when they are separated it provides the chorus effect.
One of the best uses of chorus I hear is when the rate is set really low and it’s in stereo. You don’t get the movement but you get the width. Brian May live was the best I’d heard this used, it was so massive I can’t describe it.
Here is my favourite example of regular Chorus
A dimension chorus differs in that it creates two clones of the original signal, both are delayed and then one is flipped 180-degress and then laid back on top. This gives a much bigger effect.. the most interesting thing for me is that the Dimension C pedal gives you four options, which just changed the regular controls… was this the first boss with presets?
My favourite example of Dimension Chorus (once again, totally obvious!)
It’s well worth noting the difference between vibrato and tremolo. Because, well, I don’t know why, in the early days Fender appeared to get these two names the wrong way round, a lot of effect pedals are still incorrectly named. Vibrato changes the pitch of the signal, tremolo dips the volume up and down! One modulates the pitch, one modulates the volume… So, your trem bar, it’s actually a vibrato bar. Or to give it the correct name, the whammy bar!
Following on from Brian’s video about wattage/power/dB, I thought I’d share something that has happened to me recently that has confused me considerably, until I quizzed Brian about it in regard to the video (released 26th Feb 2019, you can see it below).
Like I’m guessing some of you, I’ve been blissfully ignorant of almost everything to do with the whole power thing until that video, it wasn’t a conscious ignorance, but one that I’d never really thought about before, and the question came extremely pertinent once I’d started messing around with digital control of effects.
For the band (we have no sound guy) I run a clean boost at the end of my chain so I can make sure my solos are lifted above the general mix of the band. When I was using a regular pedal booster, I found I had to find the sweet spot that boosted the solos manually, which meant I often had to change it according to my tone. What I found was that my clean solos weren’t as prominent as my dirty ones. I had no idea why, I just thought it was one of those things. It wasn’t much of a turn of the knob, but enough to warrant it…. Once I started using something that was digital I noticed that the actual increase was huge depending on what effects I was using.
Before I go into it properly, here is a run down of my tone and how it is made. I don’t run my rig bass heavy, and it’s not overtly bright, but it’s definitely not the same as when I play at home. This is obvious, because at home you are hearing everything in a sterile environment and you want to enjoy the full scope. When you are live, you need to leave room for the others in the band… so, I don’t encroach on the bass player and I also like to leave room for the acoustic guitar to shine through, so my place is pretty well in the middle and the amp is set as such. My clean tone is never totally clean, a Tumnus at 9 oclock gain and treble at 12 is the best way to describe it with unity level. My main OD is the Pantheon, set at a nice break up – 18v, lowest gain setting with the gain at around 2 oclock… bass and treble are both about 10 oclock, presence all the way off. When I want more grunt for it, the K style drives the Pantheon and it is quite gainy. This is also my main dirt solo tone… when we do the rocky stuff, the Pantheon/Tumnus is the rhythm tone and I bung a TS between them, set at higher output than gain, with a little tone control boost. My rhythm sounds are all pretty unity, none are ‘louder’ to the ears than the others.
Here is the issue, when I wanted to boost the solos for the dirtiest tones, I need just under 3dB to get to the level. About 5dB for when the TS isn’t on, and upto 10db when it’s clean. And yes, this confused the living daylights out of me!
Here is what is happening… and how it also ties in with bDub’s video about power/wattage/dB.
Everything is relative to the EQ of what you are hearing.
When I am boosting the clean tone, it’s about as full range as I can get. There is a slight 1k hump due to the K style pedal being bought in, but it’s not huge. So, when I am boosting that signal, my ears (that are tuned to hear human speech – between 1k and 5k) say I need a lot more power because it’s also boosting the lower frequencies a lot, as you know, bass takes a lot of power, so it’s needing a lot more literal volume to boost it to the level my ears are telling me is an acceptable volume. When the Pantheon and the K style are on, the mids are more focused due to both the circuits being on, so my ears are picking up on the frequencies more as the bass is kinda removed, so it needs less. When I have the TS on as well, that’s three circuits that are pushing the frequencies my ears already picks up on, so it needs even less.
All this for the same physical level of sound, according to my ears.
Once you put this in with the points bDub was making in the video, the physical level of sound cannot directly be related to either the wattage the amp is claimed to sit at (in my case either a Fender BDri or Quilter 101R (on the smaller gigs where I can’t get the amp to it’s sweetest spot), or the dB coming out, or change of dB within the chain. Because EQ and headroom change everything completely. Before you are even hitting the amp, the levels are all over the place so the output of the amp, in terms of actual volume, are going to be wildly different…. And I didn’t even mention that on the clean stuff the pickups on my Brent Mason PRS are tapped for single coil sound and the dirty stuff is often on HB… as the HB ones need about 1dB less of boost, despite to the ears there being NO level drop between the two (one of the main selling points of the PRS BM model).
When scrolling through social media - especially gear groups - you tend to see a lot of the same misnomers and inaccurately assigned labels put on things… One of the most common is the “transparent” overdrive. I mean, how many times have you seen a K style pedal called Transparent? Quite a few I expect. It’s right up there with people saying “I need a clean boost” and someone saying “tubescreamer”.
Firstly, what is a transparent overdrive? Well, it’s one that doesn’t fundamentally change the EQ of whatever is coming into it. So, all that happens is that the pedal/circuit clips the signal, sending it to overdrive and then comes out again. These kinds of pedals are actually EXTREMELY rare as all the fun is in the EQ stack and when you start putting multiple EQ stacks into circuits, that’s when the fun really starts! bDub made a video last week that was discussing this, so I thought I would expand on it further, concentrating on the most famous transparent OD of them all – Paul Cochrane’s “Timmy”.
The Tummy has very little in the way of EQ colouration so what you put it just comes out, but clipped (on certain settings)… but before I jump head first into that rabbit hole, here is some basic information about how EQ is handled and how it is performed on most dirt pedals. Like a LOT of pedals the Timmy tone controls is not active, but passive, so it doesn’t add anything it only takes it away – think of it this way – a basic treble control is a LPF (low pass filter) that is wired backwards. It restricts the amount of bass coming through - it does NOT add treble. So, when the knob is all the way round clockwise, the treble isn’t being added, bass is being taken out. The more you bring it counter clockwise, the more bass is taken out giving the impression that there is treble being added. This is obviously different from a lot of the tone stacks that bDub puts in his pedals (which are 100% active EQ’s) so in those when the control is theoretically at noon there is nothing changed, but take the relevant frequencies away when turned counter clockwise, and then added when turned the other way. Worth noting, the bass control on the Timmy is active, but only adds bass – this is integral to the circuit and the style of clipping, and is quite similarly handled in the Euphoria pedal.
One of the things I’ve ALWAYS loved about the Timmy is that the tone pot is actually wired the correct way, so everything appears to be backwards for people who are used to other pedals. When you have the treble control all the way “off” (counter clockwise), all the treble is still in the circuit, when it is “on” (clockwise), the treble is taken out - so it’s working in the correct way… if you look at it from a nerdy perspective. This means that if you have the gain on the Timmy ALL the way down and the tone and bass control all the way up, you are hearing what I think is the most transparent overdrive currently available. Of course, as it’s going through ‘stuff’ before it gets there, and inside it, and what comes after, it will never be truly transparent but I think it’s the closest you can get, and most people won’t be able to hear any EQ difference in it – the pedal in this state is basically acting as if it were a buffer within minimal difference to anything else. The active bass control is also round the other way as well, so when the pot is all the way counter clockwise, you are getting maximum bass, and none added when it is all the clockwise.
To show this literally, we’ve made a few graphs to demonstrate it visually. Please bear in mind that these graphs start at about 50hz and go all the way up to the 10kHz, most guitar rigs won’t go lower or higher than this, so we’ve removed what happens above and below.
Here is the Timmy at its flattest, so that’s gain off and bass and tone all the way round clockwise. As you can see, that is what we would call over here in England as ‘flat as a pancake’, with a slight roll off at the very top end.
From here, we’ll change the EQ and gain controls to show what is happening in terms of the cut…
Gain 50%, Bass 0%, Tone 0%.
Gain 50%, Bass 0%, Tone 50%
Gain 50%, Bass 50%, Tone 50%
Gain 50%, Bass 0%, Tone 100%
Gain 100%, Bass 0%, Tone 0%.
Gain 100%, Bass 50%, Tone 0%.
Gain 100%, Bass 100%, Tone 0%
Gain 100%, Bass 50%, Tone 100%
Gain 100%, Bass 100%, Tone 100%
To round this up, I want to quickly remind everyone why a lot of us industry types scoff so much when TS and K style circuits are called transparent… the whole point of them is that they add a mid boost, which is what makes them push tube amps so well… the TS has its main peak at around 723hz and the K at 1k. They are anything but transparent!
When I first started with Wampler, all those years ago, the conversion about Midi was often happening… if I am being completely honest, we didn’t have the need for it because our corner of the market wasn’t really there yet – but as we’ve got bigger and far more in depth with all the technical ‘stuff’, it’s got to the point now where we feel it’s madness not to go down that route. This makes me really happy as I’ve been using midi controllable rigs on and off since the 90’s so for us to be going down this path it’s one that excites me massively!
Over the years we’ve gently asked our customer base about incorporating midi into our products and the one thing that always comes up from many people is either “wut?” or “I don’t understand Midi”… so, with the Terraform about to be released, I thought I would give an introduction, written in a way I understand and use it, to help you if you are in anyway confused about what it can do for you.
Midi is an acronym for “musical instrument digital interface”. What it does, fundamentally, (we won’t even go near Midi v2 that has recently been announced), is send control information digitally between various pieces of equipment. The best way to explain this is in terms of a keyboard. If you separate a regular keyboard into it's most basic elements will have two parts. The keyboard (user interface) and the sound module (the thing that produces the sound). The keyboard receives a command from you – usually “this key has been pressed and it’s been pressed this hard” and it fires off that information to the sound module via a midi signal. The module receives that information and then activates “that note, this hard” and you hear it from the speakers.
Midi is basically run on a numbers system from 0-127 and those numbers are what is transmitted. So, if key 40 is pressed at a velocity of 127 on a full size midi keyboard, you are going to get a middle C blast out at the highest velocity you can get. What gets really interesting is when the nerds start to sample instruments at 128 differing levels of being struck, which is where touch sensitivity comes into it. If it has 128 different samples of the instrument being struck at 128 ever increasing velocities… no touch sensitivity (heeelllloooo 1982) would be present and the note is either “on” or “off”. Touch sensitive transmits the velocity as well as the location… Hopefully, you are still with me!
What does this mean for guitar players? Well… firstly, I’m not going to go down the route of midi guitars here (although I truly feel that within a few years they will be FAR more common because technology is finally catching up to the concept from where it started in the 80’s, and it’s still my ultimate goal to have a completely midi guitar rig one day that acts and feels like my favourite guitar, but sounds like anything I can think of from a Strat, Les Paul, Telecaster, Nylon Strung etc etc), but more about how it can control multiple pieces of equipment simultaneously with patch changes, making your life a LOT easier.
We can start off by looking at my old rig (as I love any opportunity to talk about my gear, past and present). If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll be aware of it I expect, but in case you haven’t, here it is in a nutshell (effects section)… Signal chain:
One Control OC10 Looper, containing:
- Strymon Mobius, pre gain;
- Wampler Mini Ego;
- Wampler Tumnus;
- Wampler PaisleyDog – c2;
- Wampler PaisleyDog – c1;
- TC Electronics Quintessence;
- Strymon Mobius, post gain;
- Strymon TimeLine
- TC Mini HOF; and
- Wampler dB+.
Obviously, I had the pedals set and used the looper to bring in each when I wanted them (usually multiple pedals being brought in and out with the touch of one stomp). It was a massively versatile rig with those three gain stages and I could literally pull out any sound at any time and it would always sound amazing (humblebrag). When you add in the additional control I had via midi using the two Strymons, it very quickly got to the point where I was using upwards of 60 or so patches across 8 banks on a two hour gig. Obviously, you don’t need to do that, you can just use however many you like, but when the options of differing modulations and delays instantly available you can get waaaay deep, really easily. And I can tell you now, it’s a LOT of fun.
What has midi got to do with this? Well, the OC-10 is a midi controller looper and both the Strymon's receive midi commands. Here is how it was used. Before we go any further, I need to point out a little annoyance I have with some of the more complex pedals, and how they are not midi mappable…. Alright, OK, I’ve gone there, so here is what midi mappable is all about and what is unfavourable with some systems who don’t have it.
When you get into loopers, you create banks of sounds according to the band you are playing in and the songs you play. For example, my board was set up with Bank 1 (8 presets in a bank) for “general” which had a mixture of clean, dirt and dirty solo sounds in it, as that is what I used most of the night. Bank 2 was my “clean” bank, so that was clean stuff, slap back delays, vibes etc… Bank 3 was where I started to get into specific songs that needed specific sounds, so it was a real hotchpotch of tones including various sounds that had flangers, chorus’. Vibes etc etc. I know… get to the point, Jason… but this is exactly where I am going. When I was creating these tones, and because the units I was using were not midi mappable, here is how the pedals saved the patch information coming to them… My first modulation sound on my board was bank 2, patch 3 (clean vibe sound). My second was bank 3, patch 4 (dirty vibe sound). Then was Bank 4, patch 1 (clean big chorus), Bank 4, patch 8 (dirty solo sound with the same big chorus across it) – it was like this all the way up to bank 8. As the units were not mappable, that means that my first Mobius preset was saved on patch 23 (bank 2, patch 3 on the OC-10), my second was patch 34 (bank 3, patch 4 on the OC-10), the next one was patch 41 (Bank 4, patch 1 on the OC-10) and so on. So, if I was playing around with the Mobius away from my rig I would get 22 blank user patches, then one of mine, then nothing to patch 34 and so on… It becomes really bloody annoying when you are messing around with the unit on its own.
When this became even more annoying was when you get into the delays… I like to use a LOT of delay, and I don’t mean have it overbearingly loud, but it is on everything. A small amount of delay just gives me a lovely element of width. As most of the tones within my board were splittable into two sections “basic rhythm” or “ basic lead” (obviously, there were ones outside this), I would say I had about 30 individual patches set up that were EXACTLY the same within the TimeLine. That being a basic rhythm delay setting. On top of that about I had almost the same amount of the same patch duplicated over for solos… All because the units were not mappable and they created a new patch location every time I used a new preset on the looper.
Here is the point (…to loud cheers from the readers…) If they were mappable ALL of my rhythm patches for rhythm would have pointed to ONE patch only on the TimeLine instead of creating 30 or so duplicates. So, across the first bank of my controller that had 5 rhythm patches (clean, clean loud, dirty, dirtier and filthy) all using the same delay, 5 different patches were saved on the TimeLine. If they were mappable, all 5 patches on the looper could have pointed to the ONE patch on the pedal. As you can imagine, when you want to tweak ALL of your rhythm delay lines a fraction for any reason, having to change 30 patches is a pain in the arse. It’s much better if you only have to change one…
This is why you are seeing a LOT of new midi controllable pedals come out that appear to have a lot fewer preset locations on them, because – quite frankly, the VAST majority of people just don’t need 128 or 256 locations as most of them will be duplicates (note that numbers, 128 and 256... because midi sends numbers between 0-127). Once you get into providing 128 patch locations you start to get into the realms of needing display screens on the pedal, you start to get into banks and banks of duplicate patches, which can be solved with basic midi mapping.
Obviously, as the Terraform has 8 saveable preset locations, we have jumped straight in with midi mapping. The terraform will recognise 128 different commands coming into it (presets commands from your looper), and then allocate the desired patch from the 8 saved to that command. So, Bank 1, preset 5 (on the lopper), Bank 1, preset 6 (on the looper) and Bank 3, preset 2 (on the looper) etc etc will all be able to point to a single patch within the Terraform. We have worked extremely hard to make how this is handled on the Terraform as easy as possible – so much so that when I explained how we are doing it to a good friend of mine who is of the attitude “I don’t get midi, it’s so confusing” he understood it instantly and said “Yeah, I get that, it’s easy”. So, all those who are considering going down the midi controllable looper route, we’ve made this extremely easy for you.
The midi in and out/thru (thru is essential as you can run multiple units in a chain that all receive the same command from the controller, making it so you can change multiple units from the press of one button) are right there on the back and are in the format of a TRS mini jacks (WHAT???!!!??, I thought they were 5 pin plugs??)… it has ALWAYS baffled me why most units have a 5 pin midi plug on them, as the cable itself only uses two of the pins – 2 and 4 with 1, 3 and 5 not connected at all (there is probably a historic reason for this, but I am unaware of it). So, as the industry moves forward with the mini TRS cable, so have we… those 5 pin ones are huge and effectively a complete waste of space and as one of the major concepts of design with the Terraform was pedalboard real estate, we are not wasting a single millimetre on oversized, unnecessary plugs.
There you have it, a VERY basic guide to midi for guitar pedals, midi mapping, and players like me. If you have any questions about this, feel free to hit me up on social media, I’m pretty easy to find, especially in our Tone Group on Facebook!
This has been one of the most exciting NAMM’s I can remember - purely because we revealed the Terraform and it’s the kind of pedal we’ve been fantasising for literally years about making. Once we worked out we could do it, we approached it the only way we know how, and that’s with a ‘gloves off’ mentality. After looooong discussions about functionality, we came to the conclusion that we wanted controls to be right there up the front with no endless sub-menus or scrolling through tiny screens. This, obviously, means that the feature set won’t be as comprehensive as some of the other pedals that occupy this corner of the market, but you know, in my experience (as an owner of two of the biggest sellers out there), the best sounds I ever got from those was by not doing all the tweaking - we needed to make sure it is easy to use with best sounds, right there.
11 custom designed effects which are: Slow Gear style, U-Vibe, Phaser, Through Zero Flanger, Subtractive Flanger, Additive Flanger, Chorus, 3 Voice Chorus, Dimension Style Chorus, Tremolo and Harmonic Tremolo. We are constantly tweaking (we get sent them as plug ins to tweak in Logic) these as we want to make sure they are perfect, so right now - at the time of writing - this is how it is looking - we are currently working on a few things that may replace one or two of the effects, only time will tell. We wanted to make sure that the effects are ‘just there’ and sounding great from the outset and so far, all that I have heard are bang on.
Up front you have 5 basic controls: Rate, Depth, Blend, Volume and Wave-Shape. 4 of those will be easy to comprehend but all the magic is going to happen in the wave-shape. This is where the interesting and fun stuff will be held, and you guessed it, I’m not about to go into it all here, let’s just say because of this one control this pedal goes deeper than you would first think.
We definitely wanted there to be presets, as we can’t see how you can have a pedal like this without them. It had to be stereo… we also decided pretty early on that certain effects will want to be pre or post gain, whether that be dirt pedals or the effects loop of the amp. A 4 cable method (4CM) was of utmost importance, this means that when using 4CM the effects will be of course, mono. We had to think of a way to program which effect went pre and post – as the pedal comes out the box the obvious ones will be set accordingly when used in 4CM. You can change these yourself, quickly and easily by putting the pedal into ‘routing program mode’. Plus, it looks really cool when you do it as well!
Here’s some examples of how we see it being wired up.
Set the Terraform to Stereo, run it in a big ol’ line:
Pre/Post, straight in the front.
Set the Terraform to Pre/Post, place the dirt between the two 'sides' of the Terraform:
Pre/Post, FX loop method
Set the Terraform to Pre/Post, put one half of the Terraform in front, put the other half in the loop:
Set the Terraform to Pre/Post, put Pre in a loop before your dirt, put Post after!
We have included 8 presets that stores everything and you can recall the presets either from the switch on the front or from your midi controllable looper. We wanted to put an expression pedal control in there as well, and give you the ability to control any one of the 5 dials up front, with the additional control of being able to set the high and low point of the pedal sweep – so, it’s not just a 0-100% and try to find it on the fly, you can set the exp to start at your preferred toe down and heel down position. So, instead of that exp being 0-100%, it might be heel down at 45% and toe down at 80% - you can set it exactly as you like.
Of course, we wanted it to be built the same way we always do and the way our customers expect, like a tank and in the USA. One of the most important things we could think of, make it as small as possible. So, although this is not in our regular double sized box (think Dual Fusion, Paisley Drive Deluxe, Fuzztration) but custom boxes designed specifically for this pedal that are almost an identical size. As you can imagine, this makes it considerably smaller than the others out there as we know that you are as concerned with pedal board real estate as we are! While I’m here, I just saw that Brian published the expected price on Facebook, how does $299.97 sound? I know, bargain! Right?
What we want to do with this is ensure we have the right effects in there. The ones shown at NAMM are all cool, but we know that there are things you think will make it better, so – Wampler hive mind. Based on what you’ve seen and what you now know, this is your chance to get in at the first floor – tell us what you think we should have in there! Now, I’m not making any promises, but we want to make sure it’s perfect for as many people as possible when considering their next mod pedal!
You can listen to the Terraform here...
Terrarform features in Andy's video from 3:59!
Back on October 12th I made a blog post about getting a Line6 HXFX, I gave the first impression of it and am now ready to follow up on that as I’ve finally got it out to gig over the weekend!
First of all, in regard to the purpose of the original post (I needed to downsize my rig due to an existing spinal issue), it’s job done. My 50lb pedal board is now less than a quarter of the size and weighs about a third. It’s SO good to walk into the venue with my board in one hand, my guitar on my back and my Mandolin in the other. My back and my surgeon will be forever grateful for this development!
So, what’s it all about, what’s the purpose, and why did I choose it. Regardless of all the stuff about my back, the main issue was downsizing. I play in a pub band and there isn’t room for a board that big, it just gets in the bloody way. Also, and most importantly, I love the scribble scripts. Because of that, the Helix family was the basic and most obvious choice. Couple that with the fact it’s renowned for being the easiest to use, I was a fan before I even started. However, I really must remember that what is easy for most generally means “bloody nightmare” for me as I detest reading any manual that’s over 2 pages long. I looked up the “how to use” videos and they made it so simple I thought – this is gonna be easy.
I was wrong.
First World Problems, a two-part tale of western privilege.
Firstly, there is pretty well no point in using this thing without using the HX editor from your computer. Based on space limitations, the HXFX is remarkably easy to use, but you know, it’s fiddly and annoying and you can’t use its full potential without it. This is the first major failing of it to be honest. Considering the technology out there today how on earth this was released with only a computer editor and not some kind of app, preferably with Bluetooth, is really amazing. About a year ago my big brother bought a Line6 Firehawk FX and I had a lovely time editing the sounds on it via an app on his phone as he was playing it. I’m pretty amazed that this technology hasn’t gone forward onto the HXFX. As you can imagine, editing something easily when you are on your computer at home does not translate to when you realise that one of your solo sounds isn’t quite loud enough and you need to fix it on the fly during the break… Plus, it’s 2018. I want to do it on my phone dammit.
Secondly, considering that Line6 are one of, if not THE market leader (when you take into consideration their market share) producers of high quality and small wireless systems, why wasn’t a receiver built in? I feel a trantrum coming on I WANT AN APP!!!! I WANT A RECEIVER!!!
As with anything like this, it’s all about the mindset in how easy it is to use. I’m guessing that a lot of people will use it in stomp mode, but I’m willing to wager that there are a lot of people like me who have come from a full looper situation and are looking to condense. So, for this piece I’m going to be talking about it from that angle only. From what I can see, the vast majority of YT demos are geared towards using it in stompbox mode, so I was struggling to find the way around using it my way. Also, worth noting I’ve not properly dived into the expression pedal element of it yet.
Once I had worked out what the hell was going on, I was able to navigate the thing much easier. The first issue I had with it was the difference between patches and snapshots. They should have been called “boards” and “patches”. You see, that’s what a patch is. You set up a ‘pedal board’ within the patch and then use the snapshots to change the what is on and what isn’t. Now, this caused me no end of problems initially, but when I got my head round it, it was easy. I just then had to work out from each virtual board which patches I can use as you only get four snapshots per ‘board’ (patch). Why is this an issue you ask? Well, when you load a new ‘board’ up, the audio drops out for a split second. When you change between Snapshots, this does not happen.
The quality of the effects are generally really quite good, although with everything else that belongs in the modelling world, the whole thing is a retrospective view of the world of guitar effects. It’s crammed full of the classics, and being a tone snob within the industry who has played everything that Brian Wampler has made since 2010 and most of our competitors pedals, at times it was really disappointing. Compromises HAVE to be made when you go from a full board to one of these. This is NOT a unit for the cork sniffers who are well versed in the current trends in boutique level pedals. The compression is great if you want a vintage Ross style, or a SP Compressor, but if you are used to the Ego, or a Keeley, or an Origin Cali76, your bottom lip is going to drop when you play them. Same with the Klon model, it’s really accurate to the original, but if you’ve played any that have come after it – including the KTR – you’re going to be a fraction disappointed. The delays are great, even the tape emulator (but it ain’t no FTEv2), as are the reverbs – but at times it feels like they have made them to appeal to the guy in the store who is going to be demonstrating it so everything is kinda over the top, there is a distinct lack of subtlety within them. Unsurprisingly, the things I’ve not found a use for are the overdrives. I’m sorry Line6, but once you find the boutique level OD pedal for you, an accurate model of some of the older stuff just ain’t gonna cut it. I am an overdrive snob, which is probably why I have worked for Wampler for so long, so it was never going to work out well! Once you really get into OD’s properly, it’s not just the tone, you can actually feel the difference between all the boutique guys, Keeley’s feel different, JHS feel different… so, a digital recreation of a Boss SD-1 just isn’t going to hit the mark. Fortunately, Line6 have allowed you to have two external FX loops within so my beloved Paisley Drive Deluxe is still my main overdrive. For this run of gigs I’ve been using the Klon model in the HX, and using both side of the Paisley… however, as I only use the blue channel of the PaisleyDog as a solo boost, I am pretty certain that from here on in the Tumnus will be back on the board in the second loop and I’ll use the internal TS for boosting. Once you get used to that Tumnus feel and sound, a regular Klon model just isn’t going to cut it. I’m sorry to all you Klon purists out there, but I think it’s just better. I just wish there was a third loop so I could use the Mini Ego, but of all the compromises that I will have to make, the Tumnus and the PaisleyDog are above it on the list.
The one thing I am pretty well staggered was not included was a side chained noise gate. The effects are noisy, especially when you stack them up (in fact, the ‘same’ effects on this board has considerably more floor noise than my old board,) I’m pretty certain those big ol’ brains at Line6 could find a way of putting a noise gate in that reads when there is a signal coming from your guitar and then place the gate in a location you want (ideally, after the gain stages). All that floor noise will be gone in an instant even with the sensitivity set real low.
So, what’s the verdict then? When we look into the specifics of what I wanted, it’s doing a grand job. I wanted to replace a lot of my board and my TB looper, and it’s done this. Is it an ‘all in one’ solution for everything? Not quite – but right now, it’s probably the closest I can get to it. The key thing to remember is that almost everything you want out of a massive board is going to be compromised when you scale down.
My old, big board (mostly for sale - under the Strymons are Tumnus, MiniHOF, Wireless receiver, dB+ and under the board is a Carl Martin ProPower 2. Since this was taken, the Mobius was replaced with the BOSS MD-500 and the TimeLine with a Source Audio Nemesis)...
My new board, streamlined board of compromise...
And, for a more direct comparison, here is the case for my new board sitting atop of my old one (now for sale, please contact author lololz)! The actual case for my old board weighs 2lb less than my entire new board inc case!
Pros of using something like the HXFX...
- SCRIBBLE SCRIPTS. The single most important thing on this. I can now troll myself every gig with ‘comedy’ names for my patches and snapshots. I particularly enjoy the fact I can insult our lights guy with a specific patch for his favourite part of his favourite song…. He always watches my feet as I kick that in, so the look on his face when there is an insult to him on that bit is priceless.
- The vast majority of the effects are more than good enough, in fact some of them are outstanding (“muff”, intelligent harmonizer, TS, plate reverb, Script 90 phaser and Vibe in particular)
- Ease of use. Despite what I say above, it’s easy to use, I’m just a luddite who wants everything to be so easy I don’t have to think about it.
- It is without doubt outstanding value.
and the cons...
- It draws 3A. That’s a huge power draw, hardly any supplies give that out and the wallwart is bloody huge. This will annoy me for ever!
- No app? Come on Line6, you did it with the Firehawk. Do it on the HX as well.
- On the flip side to one of the cons, some of the effects are disappointing. Most of the overdrives are dated, the gate needs updating, it needs a polyphonic pitch shifter (like the Digitech Drop), the chorus is good, but not as good as the BOSS MD-500 (better than the Mobius though)… some of them need to be calmed down (’63 Spring’ in particular).
- A built-in wireless receiver would have been perfect.
- It’s noisy. Really bloody noisy. Get a decent side chained gate in there! And get it in there now!
At home, I think it will stay in the case. I have the Full Helix for recording and quiet play, and also ‘quite’ the collection of pedals and there is nothing like grabbing a pedal off the shelf and just loving what it does. But, for live, I’m the kind of person that wants it all set up, not change and be the same gig after gig after gig. In that case, it’s perfect. If you are a ‘set and leave it’ kind of player (whether that be at home or live) then this is for you. If you are a tweaker, it just won’t work quite so well.
All in all, this has been an interesting experiment. Due to the physical limitations I have I will stick with it and enjoy every moment when I use it, because it's good, most of my old board is now up for sale. Is it ideal? Is it perfect? Nope, gear choices rarely are – it’s all about compromises and unless you want to take a board the size of a small village out with you, it will always be this way. But… it’s good enough for a pub band and good enough for my almost exacting ears. Without the option to put my favourite OD in there it would be a massive fail, as NOTHING works for me like the PaisleyDog does, but the rest of it is close enough. I just wish I could find a way of getting my Tumnus and Mini Ego in there as well… But, I may have a plan for that. I’m getting a slightly bigger board for Christmas… so, here I go again!