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…is sometimes far greater than tone itself. That’s one of the reasons that gear is so cool. You can look at my rig, see a Tyler strat, and assume I sound good. (And I don’t own a Tyler strat right now…just a dream i have. ;) hehe) Without ever actually hearing any art. Which isn’t necessarily bad…as long as the art, and in the highest form, art for the glory of the Creator, does follow at some point. Which is why after a very lengthy post on tone and a new pedalboard, without ever showing any sounds, it is most likely a good time to try to start grabbing emotions again. The emphasis, of course, as always, being on the ‘try.’ But we do want to make sure that we always maintain the focus that the gear, although wonderful (oh so wonderful), is a wonderful tool. Just a pallet and a paintbrush.

So, definitely waxing a little too poetic here, without the benefit of the ‘poetic’ part. But couple that with the many requests I received to hear the pedalboard actually being played (novel concept I’m sure…ya, apologies for not including that in the first pedalboard post, hehe), I give you the world premiere of the brand new song, ‘Awake…or Turning Random Knobs on a Pedalboard I Don’t Know What to do With’:

For those of you interested, that’s a Timeline doing the looping, another one doing the swells, and then a Memory Lane and an SAD-1 for warmth. Subdecay phase for, well…phase, and a Hartman Germanium Fuzz for the bowish swells, with a Mosferatu for the feedback holding-ish stuff. Oh ya, and the octavey shimmer was provided by an RV3 into a POG, mixed politely by the Dan Burgess parallel looper. George Dennis volume pedal, but who cares about the volume pedal right? It doesn’t delay anything! hehe ;)

So, I hope at least some type of emotion was conveyed by that. Come on, something to help me justify the board! haha But I am going to be trying to record different pieces like this quite often, and offering them for download here:

Soundclick Downloads

I do apologize, but since these are pieces, rather than backdrops for ministering through worship music, they’re not free. But the ambient pads in the 12 keys are and will always remain, free. But that should be all academic, as I doubt most of us who frequent this blog spend our money on anything that doesn’t have strings, a tube, or a true bypass switch. ;) Nevertheless, I’ve gotta pay for my gear habit one way or the other. Hey, at least I’m honest.

So that was a bit of the new pedalboard doing pedalboard stuff. And what do you know! No dotted 8th delay anywhere to be heard! I almost feel a little bit dirty.

Splendid.
Karl.

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Splendid.
Karl.

I am artsy now.

But the ambient pads indeed are fin! Finally. I finished the last two families of keys today…one of which is called ‘Hatred.’ Because it consists of Gb, Ab, and Db. The other family is just Bb and F, which is decent enough. But Gb, Ab, and Db…that’s 6 flats, 4 flats, and 5 flats respectively…these are the keys your keyboardist will shoot you for. I say keyboardists, and not guitarists, because we’re usually angry if it’s anything except for Em blues. I actually thought about not recording the last 3, so that perhaps worship leaders would look for the Ab pad, not find it, and go, ‘Ah well. We’ll just do it in G.’ Or A. Either one. Please. I was going to do my part to eradicate those three keys from the existence of life; but alas…my fear of the ‘just learn your scales!’ crowd got the better of me. Actually, it was the knowledge that U2 tunes their guitars a half step down for most of their songs live; which then bred the of course quite plausible hope that when Edge is surfing the internet looking for backup Vox’s, he’ll come across my Db pad, and it will become an integral part of ‘Streets’ live. And there will be much rejoicing.

Anyway, the ambient pad download link is right up at the top of the site. Or, here. Keep checking back, as now that the 12 keys of base pads are finished, I’m going to start working on some multiple track ones that can stand alone as actual pieces, as opposed to just background sound. I’m not exactly sure how that will be useful…just that it sounds fun to do. :)

And speaking of…nope. This has nothing to do with anything…that is, if you want to call extreme musical and poetic gorgeousness nothing. ;) This is one of those songs that sounds like it’s just always existed, and for some reason, she was the one who found it.

Splendid.
Karl.

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Splendid.
Karl.

 

You chose ‘(F) Chuckle Openly.’

(And if you have no idea what is going on, this is the second part of a series started here, where you get to choose your own ending. Basically, I’m asking everyone to risk some Michael Jackson (is it too soon?) and take some trips back to their childhood to remember those ‘Choose Your Own Ending’ books. You know, the ones that were really popular 20 years ago right alongside the ‘When you hear the chimes, turn the page’ ones. So for our purposes here, when you hear the anti-solo, turn the page.)

So, as the worship leader turns bright red and continues to fumble through his words trying to recover into the next song after his accidental blasphemy, you just stand in the background, chuckling openly, and throwing in a few delay-laden volume swells over the finger-picking the worship leader is doing as he continues to pray. The worship leader has many times asked you not to play during the prayers as he ad-libs some finger-picking, but you know it’s for the greater good. His finger-picking is just terrible. It really needs to be rescued by your definitely-not-yet-cliche volume swells…and of course every few notes by your volume swell/note bend ‘whale call.’

Finally the worship leader finishes his prayer, and turns back to you, as you are supposed to start the next song. You sigh. How many times do you have to tell him that this song cannot be started with your Les Paul? The tonal nuances are such that it requires the Telecaster. This would be common knowledge to anyone who would actually listen to the original recording of the song, but hey…it’s the worship leader. He plays his Taylor on every single song, even though he has a perfectly good backup Martin sitting right there. Something about switching guitars during the set causing awkward silence? Come on. That’s just dramatic effect!

Nonetheless, he’s the worship leader, so you give him grace. You give the ‘I gotcha’ look as you take off your Les Paul and turn towards your Telecaster. Meanwhile, he’s giving you the death stare of ‘I thought this was why we decided beforehand for me to pray between these two songs, so that you could switch guitars.’ (I know prayer more than likely wasn’t originally intended to be a worship service transitional tool by which to switch guitars, capo’s, and sheet music undetected, but you know it’s true.) His stare however, is lost on you as you bend down to change the settings on your Lovepedal COT50 to be more Telecaster-friendly. You don’t use fuzz on this song, but just in case. Besides, you know that you couldn’t possibly have switched guitars during the prayer, because you were compelled by your own musical genius to play the afore-mentioned volume swells the worship leader asked you not to do. Quick as the buffered relay of a Line 6 amp modeler (which means not very fast……wow, I’m sorry, that was just mean-spirited), the worship leader turns around and tells the congregation to take a minute to just let the world fade away and quiet their hearts before their Creator (also a great tool for transitions), and you finish setting your pedals, grab your Telecaster, kick on your must-sound-like-Hillsong dual delays (a DD20 and an Analogman ARDX20…with tap tempo mod, of course) and oh-so-smoothly launch into the intro of the next song.

And you’re feeling it. The tone is oozing out of your Hayseed 30 with upgraded EF86 preamp option, and you watch as the sound waves just move the congregation into throngs of passionate worship. (You can’t actually see the throngs of passionate worship because the expressions on their faces haven’t changed, nor have they stood up, lifted their hands, started clapping, or shed tears. But you know they’re being driven to worship. I mean, how could they not with a Hayseed 30 with upgraded EF86 preamp option? It’s just that the sheep are too scared and lazy to fully give themselves over to worship. That’s the only explanation.

The first passage is done…played flawlessly by your time-tested hands. (You don’t believe that tone is in the hands, but still…it’s nice to admit that it might be, after completing a passage as well as you just completed that one.) The drums start to tap in on the ride cymbal as you launch into the next passage. The bass subtly enters with a low, sustaining tone of harmonically anchoring loveliness. The keyboard fades in with a sweetly ringing, background synth pad…oh wait, he’s been playing that the whole time…hold on! There’s a keyboardist on stage? Who is that guy? (Sorry keyboardists…it’s the most unfortunate thing in the world, but sadly true.) Your concentration is just momentarily lifted as you marvel at the distant and wondrous sound coming from the stranger you’ve never noticed playing that odd-looking instrument with what seems to be something like ‘Korg’ or ‘Korj’ scrawled across it. But you don’t falter. No. Your Barber Liverpool hitting the front end of your amp sounds much to good for you to even dream about faltering. The music picks up (worship build time), the bass plays his second of the three notes he’s been given, and you start to take off into the introductory anti-solo……

And then it happens. You’ve hit a D. Now the congregation looks up. And with pained looks on their faces. Let it be known that D is a wonderful note. But the song is in the key of Ab. And it’s not Tommy Walker or Norma Jean. Your confidence begins to fade. What’s the next note? How am I going to recover from this? Why won’t that blasted D note stop ringing out? Curse my perfectly compressed sustain! You see the congregation starting to shake their heads. The sheep are restless. What can be done. Quickly you decide that worship needs a hero. And that hero is you. Only a guitarist as talented and toneful as you can save the church from the unholy dissonance that you unleashed on them! With the effortless tone, grace, and class of a 1960’s 12-string Rickenbacker, you…

A) Make a weird face and go over and check the tubes on your amp. (One of them has obviously gone harmonic.)

B) Continue playing the D…along with a bunch of other random notes, throw one hand up in the air, and pretend the sour notes are just the Spirit-filled result of being completely overcome by worship.

C) Take your unused capo out and chuck it at the worship leader to remind him never to play in capo 1 again.

D) Allow the D note to bring you to an E note, and then into the key of A, and keep playing as if it was a modulation the rest of the band missed.

E) Shake your head in disgust and glare at the other guitarist. And if he’s still in the middle of switching to his Telecaster too, and it would be quite obvious even to the drummer that he couldn’t have played the wrong note, then glare at the bassist. You could glare at the keyboardist, but everybody knows the keyboards aren’t in the mains. (Again, my apologies keyboardists…you know I love you, and if you come over to my church, I’ll make sure you drown everybody else out! But at other churches…well…I’m sure you’ve been there…)

F) Play off the D like it’s a diminished 5th jazz scale. Won’t help the worship mood any, but you’ll definitely get props with the rest of the musicians.

G) Turn to the other guitarist and laugh out loud, pointing to your guitar and making train wreck sounds and motions with your mouth and hands. (I used to play worship with a guy who would do this every time he would make a mistake. I tried to explain to him that these actions caused everyone to notice his one mistake, but they would never notice my ten mistakes, simply because I didn’t point them out with mimic’d train wreck sounds. But he was much too carefree and humble to care. I actually learned a lot from this guy.)

H) Fiddle with your massive pedalboard. (Seriously, everyone always believes this one.)

I) Just own it and rely on your superior knowledge of music theory to be able to explain away any mistakes afterwards in the green room.

J) Frantically turn off your 5 delay pedals trying to get the blasted tritone to stop ringing out any longer! Ah! Stupid delay pedals with spillover capabilities!

K) Just make D a part of the scale now, and come back and hit it at least 9 more times during the course of the song, until you’ve successfully pounded it into people’s heads so many times that they can’t help but just recognize it as part of the song. (I’ve tried this one. It never seems to work like you think it will.)

L) Smile, shake your head, and thank God profusely that even though He chooses to use us, and even though we should probably do our best to stay away from playing a D while in the key of Ab, He’ll probably still find a way to get glory in spite of us. I know it’s hard to imagine…I mean, we’re the ‘worship leaders’…’the battle cryers of the church’ ( ;) )…pretty important people with amazing tone. (Okay, at least self-important people with expensive gear.) But I think just maybe He’s got it covered.

So, choose your own ending. And of course, you can’t choose ‘L’!

And I know it sounds trite, but we do realize that the God who could do a much better job bringing glory to Himself by Himself, chooses to use us by letting us jam out music to Him every week, right? I know, I know that completely sounds like the cheeseball church thing to quote out of the latest ‘Worship is a Verb’ book; but it’s true, and I for one, forget it all too often.

Sorry for the Disney ending. Delay, tubes, Dumble, germanium, Arcade Fire, Mullard, decayed note artifacts, tone. Is that better? hehe :)

Splendid.
Karl.

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Splendid.
Karl.

 

First off, thank you so much to everyone who has encouraged me with this giving away of the ambient pads endeavor. And those of you who have both encouraged and donated. It is appreciated more than you probably know. It’s really, really nice to know that these might be able to be used to aid in the worship of God through music at different churches around the country. Or venues. Or bars. Maybe even more true acting out of worship goes on when His teachings are lived out at bars rather than just churches. Just a thought. But to everyone reading, thank you! And pads in C and Eb are now up as well. Just six more keys, and then I’ll move into some layered and more melodically driven pads.

Now for the humility part. And I’m always positive that it is like, the 276th time I’ve talked about humility here. I love humility because I don’t have it. I always end up posting tons of stuff that I’ve done wrong and been an idiot about during worship (this last weekend I accidentally hit a patch on one of the Timelines called ‘Digital Storm’…which I created accidentally one day, and have absolutely no idea what to do with because it overtakes your entire rig…and it sounded…well, just like you’re thinking it sounded), in hopes that that brand of ‘easy humility’ (let’s face it, it’s a bunch of guitarists here and most of us can relate) will appease my responsibility for ‘true humility’, such as actually listening to what someone else is saying and seeing if I can help, rather than chomping at the bit to spit out my answer for them so that we can then move on to more important matters; i.e.what I want to talk about. I.e. Tubes and delay.

So here’s some humility. I’ve been getting asked a lot to show the chord voicings that I use for some of the ambient stuff, including the pads. Where’s the humility in that? Well…it sounds a lot harder than it is. When I show what my hands are doing to create those sounds, it’s like…’Oh. Good job playing that one chord you know.’ ;) I did think for a second about just playing a pad through my amp, and then turning the volume down on my guitar, and just doing crazy nonsense all over the fretboard so that it looked like it took much more Eddie Van Halen-ness than it does, but… So I turned my camera on while recording one of the pads that hasn’t been used yet, because it’s a little more melodically dense than the ones I’m posting just for background sounds. But you can see my hands, the voicings I use, the pedals I turn on, and the fact that for some reason I apparently bite my lower lip when playing ambient stuff. It’s awkward. My version of the John Mayer face I suppose. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Not having his face, but being him. Him as a guitarist. Not a person. And not that his face is bad, but he is a dude. And so am I. And he’s not Brad Pitt. Hmm. Getting in trouble again.

John Mayer
(This is John Mayer biting his lower lip. I had no idea that I do the exact same thing. I would prefer this to mean that John and I share the same musical splendor. Unfortunately, I think the truth is much sadder, and might have something to do with me subconsciously pretending I am famous people. And if you’re giving me the benefit of the doubt right now and thinking I’m just being hard on myself, uh…wait until you see the video. Ya. It’s depressing. And I must admit, extremely amusing. hehe ;) )

So here’s the video of the voicings and pedals. As for voicings, it’s incredibly simple:

Stay with 1’s and 5’s.
3rd’s for color.
2nd’s and 7th’s use sparingly as passing notes.
6th’s can be passing notes too, but use even more sparingly.
4th’s are for tension and need to be used poignantly and must resolve.
Then mix those in a way that draws out the feelings and sounds in your head.
And for the effects used:
Phaser (slow setting)–>
Volume Pedal–>
Digital Delay (long time and repeats, high ‘warmth’ and decent modulation)–>
Analog Delay (high and slow modulation)–>
Digital Delay (multitap setting, low mix and very high repeats)–>
Analog Delay (short time and lots of repeats)

    Delay is good. And the video that shows me doing nothing:

    So I’ll try to post these reverse camera angles of what I’m actually playing (which is basically one chord, just re-voiced constantly, lol) during the videos and recordings from time to time, as so many have asked. And I’ll try to have the rest of the pads up as soon as I can. Unfortunately, I do have my actual job…so I can’t record all day. And I live in an apartment…which means the neighbors aren’t quite as giddy as I am when the bass response shakes the walls. (Mmmm…bass response.) So I have to record in stints. But I promise, once Coldplay calls and tells me I’ve got the tone they’ve been dreaming of, and that they’ll give me a full-time gig only if I promise not to upstage them each night (hehehe sarcasm, people), I’ll record free pads all day. :) But until that time, I really don’t have any money mainly because whenever I actually have it, someone invents a new delay pedal. And unfortunately, I tend to use delay pedals as if they were a savings account. However, I did get an email from Twitter the other day, offering me a job I could do at home in my spare time, consisting of just sending tweets. I’m not trying to brag or anything, but apparently they are offering me upwards of $3500 a day to do this. So, I got that going for me. ;)

    Anyway, thanks again to everyone reading, for the encouragement, and I really hope these posts, videos, and pads are of some use in just maybe creating a bit more of an atmosphere where people can let go and connect emotionally with the God who loves them…a lot. Oh ya. And if you messed up this weekend during the worship music, just think ‘digital storm’, and feel better.

    Splendid.
    Karl.

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    Splendid.
    Karl.
    

    We’ve come to the end. The tone series is over. There have been 2 effects articles, 6 amp articles, and 4 guitar articles. That’s 12 articles on tone. (Not sure why I had to add them up like that…maybe just in case the math was giving you trouble.) So if you can’t get good tone after all that, then the only thing left to do is to buy more gear. Better gear! Which, incidentally, happens to be very fun.

    But if you just can’t bring yourself to buy more gear…if you just know that there’s good tone hiding somewhere in your rig…and you know that not even the purchase of a 3 Monkeys amp with a BJFe Honey Bee hitting the front end is going to give you tone that you dig any better (and I was almost going to say a Digitech Bad Monkey hitting the front end of a 3 Monkeys amp, so that then I could make fun of a movie with a lot of monkeys, like Congo…but then I realized that I don’t really like the Digitech Bad Monkey…which made me sad, because Congo is a horrible movie, and just begging to be made fun of…hey, if they weren’t begging to be made fun of, they wouldn’t have put Tim Curry in it…but then I also realized, ‘Hey! It’s my blog! I can make fun of Congo even without mentioning the Digitech Bad Monkey……and I’m so gonna………and all that was just in case you were curious as to the origins of some of these interminably bad movie references in my posts…which I realize you weren’t…but I really, really want to make fun of Congo!), then…well, first off, if you don’t want to buy any more gear, you’re in the state of mind that we ‘true’ musicians like to call…uh…’wrong.’ Tone comes from ebay, not from practice. But if you’re one of those ‘wrong’ and weird musicians who think that you can have good tone for less than a $50,000 Dumble ( ;) ), that’s going to be where the following tips come in. These are the ones that didn’t really fit in any of the other 12 articles on rig tone. But they can really, really help you get some good tone without having to spend a ton more money.

    congo1
    (Yes, these are the special effects in Congo. And yes, that’s a guy in a suit. And no, it was actually made in 1995, not 1938. I know.)

    Rig Tone Secret #1: Get your amp off of the ground.

    Here’s the thing. We guitarists always seem to eq our amps while standing right above them. I know, that’s the path of least resistance from our hands to the knobs. However, treble frequencies focus, and bass frequencies roll. So, standing directly above your amp, things are going to sound much more bassy, middy, and muddy. So we guitarists are famous for then cranking our treble to where it sounds balanced from our vantage point of being right above our rig. And then we walk to our pedalboard about 2 feet away, and play the whole set with our ears about 4 feet above, and 2 feet away from our rig, sending out what to our ears is tumbling waves of aural lusciousness. The problem is, of course, that one, our audience is much farther away from the amp than we are; and two, we’re not mic’ing the amp where our ear is when we eq it. We’re mic’ing it right on the speaker cone. Ya. Not so much lusciousness. This is probably the main reason why, when we hear a recording of our guitar live, it sounds so thin and weak. Or why the audience or congregation says the electric guitar hurts their ears. Because it does! We’re off in our rolled off treble bliss high above the amp, while the mic and the audience is getting the true harmonic spectrum from the speaker…which amounts usually to getting punched in the eye socket with treble.

    So one of the huge factors in getting a good live tone, is to actually bend over (I know…that means more work) and put your ear to the speaker as you’re eq’ing your amp. However, when you play, now in order for you tone to sound good to everyone else, it has to sound terrible and muddy to you, as you stand over it. There are two things you can do here. One, is to stand at least 8 feet from the amp. That’s the distance at which you start to get almost the full spectrum of the speaker’s harmonics. But sometimes on small stages that’s impossible. So you can also raise the amp us closer to your ears, or tilt it up towards your ears. Personally, I have a two foot high rack case that I bring with me everywhere I go to set my amp on top of. I cannot tell you how much of a difference this has made in my live sound.

    Honestly, this is huge. Next time you play, eq your amp while standing over it. Then bend down and put your ear to the amp. You’ll be amazed how different it sounds. Another fun experiment is to walk around while you’re playing. Totally different sounds depending on where you’re standing. So, it might sound kind of stupid, but stacking your amp on something, making sure you stand a few feet away from it, and making sure you stand close to the ‘beam’ of the speaker’s path, is crucial in eq’ing your sound for what the audience and mic will hear.

    congo2
    (Yep. More special effects. Yes, the good guys have lasers. No, this is not set in the future. Sadness. Obviously, they tried to fill a lack of plot with searing the flesh off of monkeys…with lasers. You’ll never guess what they came up with to fill the lack of special effects budget, though.)

    congo-795290
    (Yep. Heart. When the movie’s not grilling guys in monkey suits with lasers that have yet to be invented, it’s tugging on your heart strings with another guy in a monkey suit…who maybe…just maybe, is filling the hole in this guy’s broken life that his failing marriage can’t. This is the same movie as the other pictures. I’m not even kidding.)

    Rig Tone Secret #2: Power.

    As I mentioned in the last post, electric guitars tend to sound better with…ya, electricity. I know, I know. Don’t skip this one yet, there’s more. I’m not expecting anyone to go, ‘Oh! That’s why my tone’s been sucking. I gotta plug the amp in!’ But that’s the concept. These pieces of electronic equipment need electricity…and they need enough electricity. You ever have those times when it’s like, your rig sounded great yesterday, but not today? Of course that can be strings getting older, or ear fatigue, or what have you; but a good portion of the time, that can be from your rig not getting enough power. So you’ve set your whole rig to sound great in your house where it’s drawing a steady 120 volts. But then you go to a gig, ad the place is only supplying you with 105 volts. Now your sound is browner and saggier. So you re-eq everything. But then the club owner turns on the cappuccino machine. Now you’ve got 102 volts. All that to say that in order for your rig to sound consistent, you’ve got to supply it with consistent power. Getting a power conditioner in your rig is crucial. This was one of the biggest changes I heard in my day to day live sound. Plus, it also gives you cleaner power, for less noise.

    Also, make sure that your power supplies are rated properly. I used to constantly have this huge sag in my tone. No punch. So then to fix it, I’d buy another amp or a louder amp. But the problem was, I was running everything off of a 3 dollar 99 Cent Store power strip rated for like, 5.3 amps. So adding amps or getting higher powered stuff, was just causing everything to get even less power. So check your extension cords, power supplies, surge protectors, all that stuff. Read the amps they’re rated for, and add them up. A new Two Rock isn’t gonna do you much good if it wants 3 amps, and your power supply can only spare it 1.5.

    congocurry
    (This is Tim Curry’s plotting face.)

    Rig Tone Secret #3: Don’t freak out if there’s another guitarist.

    I definitely didn’t write that correctly. But here’s the thing. A ton of times I’ve freaked out because my tone sounds horrible. And I’ve gone through and changed everything. But if there’s another guitarist playing live with you, make sure you listen to your tone when he’s not playing, before you freak out and change everything. So many times it’s the mix of the two electrics that doesn’t sound the way you want it…not your tone. And 9 times out of 10, that is best fixed with figuring out what his base tone sounds like, whether or not you like it, and figuring out what tones, frequencies, and octaves compliment what he is playing. A Tele through an Orange and a 335 through a Marshall can sound great together. But not in the same register. Sweet mercy, please not in the same register.

    Rig Tone Secret #4: Tubes and delay. And that is all you ever need know.

    So that just about wraps up this 13 part series on rig tone. And in the spirit of consolidation (wow, that phrase just sounds boring!), here are the links to each part of this series:

    Electric Guitar Rig Tone (that’s the one you’re reading right now)
    Guitar Tone Part 1: The Importance of a Good InstrumentGuitar Tone Part 2: The Parts That Make Up Sweet, Sweet ToneGuitar Tone Part 3: The Secrets to Guitar ToneGuitar Tone Part 4: PickupsAmp Tone Part 1: tube versus solid stateAmp Tone Part 1.5: the Reason to Use a Tube Amp (And for the Love of Sweet Mercy Please do not Riff Every Chord Even if You Are Really Excited that the song is in a Minor Key so it’s Awesome Because It’s Really Hard to Hit a Wrong Note)Amp Tone Part 2: Styles of Power TubesAmp Tone Part 3: Change Your TubesAmp Tone Part 4: Getting Good Tone Out of Your AmpAmp Tone Part 5: Speakers and CabsEffects Chain Part 1: Tone SuckageEffects Chain Part 2: The Actual Effects Chain

      But this is not the end. The moment we stop experiencing life and learning new things about it (and remember, the most correct definition of life is ‘music’), is the moment that I’d probably care to stop living. So I’m hoping to learn more things about tone that’ll add on to this series. And more than likely, those ‘learnings’ will come from mistakes. And for some reason, in my case, they always seem to be huge mistakes. Like when I tried to run an amp as auxiliary power from the speaker jack of another amp. And now I know.

      Splendid.
      Karl.

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      This post and its comments have been moved to the way more awesome guitarforworship.com website. Click here to read this post.

      Splendid.
      Karl.

      Don’t worry. After you read the post, you’ll hear the sarcasm in the title. All in the span of one weekend, I managed to:

      Forget what an E chord was.
      Have one of my ultra-cool stellar-hip indie low rise boot cut pant cuffs (ya, they’re bell-bottoms) hit one of my midi switches as I turned an overdrive switch on, setting one of my Timelines from ‘Dotted Eighth Mix’ to ‘Medium Swell’. And then I wondered why the drummer couldn’t keep tempo. I realized my error. But not immediately. It took me an…uh…unfortunate amount of time to figure out.
      Pull lights up in the middle of a video. I have no idea why I did it. I just did it.
      Sing the wrong lyrics in the first verse of ‘Blessed Be Your Name.’ In two separate services. And in one of them, I literally just made random vowel sounds to the tune. It was awkward.
      Feel self-important.
      End the big solo on a G. The song was in E. Major.
      Try to convince myself that the G thing above didn’t actually happen. And it definitely actually did.
      Totally space while following the pastor on the camera (and if you haven’t noticed, I also run the media at my home church…which means that when I suck at staffing the positions, I have to fill in on them during the message, rather than surfing Gear Page in the tech booth) because I was wondering if someday someone might invent an amp with parallel power sections, one with EL84 tubes and one with KT88 tubes. And then you could choose via footswitch whether you wanted EL84 out of one speaker, and KT88 out of another, or a mix in one, and one in the other, or visa versa, or vice versa from that. Sounds like a biasing and impedance nightmare. But it also sounds like sweet, sweet, tone. I suppose you could just get two amps; but this is beside the point.
      Flex my musical knowledge by saying into the microphone to the sound tech during practice that the hum he was hearing was due to a reverb tube starting to go bad. Except that I said, ‘Starting to go microphonic.’ Which is wrong. I could have just turned my reverb knob down and said, ‘Sorry. I’ll go without reverb on the pad tonight, and have it fixed by next week.’ But I decided to sound smart. And sounded very dumb. The best part is that I even thought that anyone on the team would have actually been impressed by my knowledge of tubes.
      Feel self-important some more.
      Rail into the team for forgetting a break in a song during practice. We start the song over, get to the break, and…yep. I don’t even have to say it. The worst part is that the team probably thought I just wanted a complete solo of myself right there.
      And lastly, managed to turn my volume knob half way down while doing the ‘Don’t-you-wish-you-were-on-stage-like-me pickup switch’ into the big chorus, and then spent the last half of the song wondering what was wrong with my amp since the volume was half-way down, rather than thinking about worshiping God or the leading of worship.

      Ya. I’m definitely a rockstar. Especially on the times that I think I am. Yikes. To quote from a band who shall remain nameless so that I don’t feel stupid about quoting my man-crushes for the probably 879th time on this blog, when I already feel like I’ve probably reached a level of honesty bordering on stupidity in this post……’some days are better than others.’ Ever wonder why God chooses to use us? I’m not complaining; just recognizing that He could definitely do a better job on His own. Kind of humbling (in a really good way) to realize you’re not necessary.

      Splendid.
      Karl.

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      Splendid.
      Karl.
      

      It’s all downhill from here. I adored my RSA23. It was better than almost any other living thing. But with all things you adore, the true test of whether you really adore it or not, is by how many duplicates you buy of it. So I decided, this is the best thing I’ve ever heard (er, well, that came out of my hands…I’ve heard plenty of way better things come out of other people’s hands); Fred (the guy who makes the D13’s…first lesson in being cool is to refer to those in more prominent positions than yourself by their first name……like Sam………and that’s Samuel L. Jackson for those of you not as cool as I) obviously makes a killer KT88-tubed amp; hmm……I wonder what his EL84-based amp sounds like. The RSA31. And then it came in the mail. I don’t know how it happened. But there it was. It’s so weird…not sure if you guys knew this, but if you enter in your credit card number on the internet, you can actually choose things to be sent in the mail to your house! It’s a pretty sweet system.

      But then…someone offered me a Matchless Spitfire in a trade. And I really needed the money rather than a trade…but I’ve never owned a Matchless, and incidentally Matchless was one of the main factors in the Tonal Epiphany of ’03, that transformed me from a ‘music is about skill, speed, and technicality and if you sound good you’re a sellout and unoriginal’ metalhead into a ‘skill in music should evidence itself in how the finished product sounds and usually that means calm down, son’ minimalist. I had just been introduced to U2 (well, their music…not like, ‘Here, meet Adam Clayton’, unfortunately), and I was having trouble reconciling how their music ‘sucked’ (i.e. no solos, most of it in simple 4/4 time), but how it moved me so much more than the Tourniquet I was listening to. And how my amazingly technical phrygian mode riffs through my Boss GT6 on the Metallica patch never quite seemed to sound as good as the other guitarist’s one tasteful note through a Fender Bandmaster. And couple that with the fact that the other guitarist (who eventually became a tone mentor of sorts to me) had told me that Matchless was the best amp you could buy. And right around that time period, Phil Wickham and his band came and guested at a church I was attending, and I was blown away by the sheer ‘sound’ that was coming from their guitar player (I think it was Steve Marcia at the time), and how that sound was just hitting me right in the heart. And I spoke with him afterwards, and lo and behold he was playing a Matchless. Vintage sea green tolex…I still remember it’s beauty sheening tone towards mine eyes and forever embedding itself within my heart and bosom. (Bosom just means stomach, right? I thought so, but for some reason it sounds slightly inappropriate. Oh well.) I think he then asked me what amp I played, and I think I got really embarrassed and stuttered something about playing a Matchless also, because I had just programmed a patch into my GT6 using the base model of ‘Fat Match.’ hehe

      So, long story short (ya…right), I now have a Matchless; after years of longing. And that is just the latest chapter in the long, downward, smiling with unabashed joy all the way, spiral of a gear junkie. And then the gear room (I mean, ‘office’…sorry, Sweetheart) that was so recently cleaned out and catalogued in this post, has now once again become this:

      Amp Shootout '09
      (And yes, the Matchless is taken apart in this picture. You don’t truly know your gear until you take it apart. And touch where the sweet tone comes from.)

      Gear Closet '09
      (And ya…the closet. It’s so hard to find shipping boxes big enough and strong enough to ship amps…so I have to keep them until I decide which amps I’m shipping off. It looks cleaner in person. Nope. Nope it doesn’t.)

      And for some strange reason, those photos just warm my heart. It really is a sickness. I often tell my wife that it’s a good thing we don’t have money, or I’d totally be one of those old guys with hundreds of thousands of dollars in gear just piled throughout the apartment, but with inexplicably not enough money to eat anything more costly than secondhand catfood. (If you can name that movie, I’ll seriously give you a pedal or something!)

      Luckily, I don’t have money, so only one of these amps can stay. And before I did these videos, I had no idea which one I would keep. So I figured I’d film a couple, and then edit the same parts played on different amps together, so I could hear the sounds back to back. And then, as long as I have serious gear junkie/drug of choice issues, may as well make them useful to others so we can all slide down the wondrous spiral together. Splendid. On to the shootout.

      The Players

      –Divided by 13 RSA23 with post phase-inverter master volume mod by Jerry Blaha. KT88 tube-based. 23 watts. First channel.

      –Matchless Spitfire. 2006, Phil Jamison era. EL84 tube-based. 15 watts.

      –Divided by 13 RSA31. EL84-based. 31 watts. First channel. First video is on half power mode; last two videos are on full power mode.

      The Base Tone

      -Prairiewood Les Paul with Wolfetone Dr. Vintage pickups–>

      –Loop-Master bypass box (on master bypass)–>

      –Loop-Master bypass box (on master bypass except when obvious delay is engaged)–>
      (–>Damage Control Timeline (the obviously engaged delay at certain times)–>

      –Divided by 13 RSA23, Matchless Spitfire, or Divided by 13 RSA31–>

      –65 Amps birch cab with Celestion Blue and Celestion G12H-30

      Possible Unfair Advantages

      –The D13 RSA23 has been re-tubed recently, whereas the Matchless and RSA31 have some JJ preamp tubes that I found around my apartment. (Yep, I just find tubes everywhere in the apartment. Scary.)

      –The D13 RSA31 does not have a master volume, and so it may be too loud for me to give it an accurate chance.

      –The Matchless has a smaller preamp section with fewer tubes, and may not be able to get as saturated as the other two, whereas a matchless DC30 might be more saturated.

      Possible Personal Biases

      –I’ve had the D13 RSA23 the longest, so I know that amp and its feel out of the 3.

      –However, I’ve played EL84 amps almost 90% of the time in the last few years, so perhaps the D13 RSA31 and the Matchless Spitfire will feel better to me, and my ears might be more used to that sound.

      –As stated above, I have a long, unfulfilled love affair with Matchless.

      –But it’s also really unhip to like a Matchless amp that’s not ‘Sampson era-built’ (’89-’98, I believe)

      –If I like the Matchless, I’ll probably need 30 watts, so that’d be more amp buying. Not sure if that’s a bias against it or for it.

      –The Matchless is gorgeous. And it lights up!

      –The Divided by 13’s have more ’boutique mojo’ going for them.

      And the Videos

      Video 1. In the gear room/office. Before the Matchless came in. Just messing around, trying to get a feel for how both amps handle certain things.

      Video 2. At my church, on an empty Saturday morning. Except where there is obvious delay on, there are no effects. That’s just the natural reverb of an empty church with terrible acoustics.

      Video 3. Apologies on this one. There is some camera distortion, but besides that, this is where I put on a shameless amount of delay and just ‘space-out play.’ The delay allows me to play less and not really think about what I’m doing and just listen to the tonal differences in the amps.

      Results

      Alright, at one point or another in the past week, I have been absolutely decided on each one of these amps…about 7 times each. I just know that this is the one that’s better than the other two. And then it changes. Downward spiral. That I love so much. It’s really quite sad.

      –Divided by 13 RSA23

      The most colorful cleans of the 3. The bigger KT88 tubes give a real glassy sound, much like a 6L6 amp would; but a little less American blues sounding, and a little more British. Very pristine, with lots of clarity all over the fretboard. Its natural overdrive is one of the best-sounding Marshall/Hiwatt drives I’ve heard. Very aggressive, yet with the clean glassiness always there a bit. Extremely responsive, and very beautiful. And big sounding, without being overpowering. Also the loudest of the group. The ppimv master volume mod is essential for me on this amp.

      –Matchless Spitfire

      A more saturated sound than the RSA23, definitely an EL84 thing. Less big and glassy, and more warm and full. The main thing that impressed me about the Matchless was its focused tone. It was able to get big, full, and warm, but still retain its focus in both the upper and lower mids. Master volume is fantastic. Its drive was just gorgeous; warm, focused, and staunch. Almost steely at times, which was killer for some of the modern EL84-type tones. Wonderfully warm, saturated cleans. EL84 goodness.

      –Divided by 13 RSA31

      The weird one of the group for me. I have been absolutely sure I was going to sell it, and then absolutely sure that it blew the other two away. I think this one is bordering right between genius, and going overboard. It sounds absolutely huge! But bordering on being unfocused and washy. Its cleans could be the most beautifully warm tone I have ever heard. But they might be just a touch too warm. Its drive might be the first amp to keep the mids warm perfectly in the high registers. But it might be bordering on being too uncontrolled in the bass at times. It has the incredible Divided by 13 color, and it times I think the sound in this amp is what I’ve been looking for for so long. And then at times I worry it’s straying a little too much into the ‘too much’ category. However, overall, an incredible sounding amp…and the warmest EL84 amp I’ve played…except maybe the Matchless……ahhhh!!!

      Conclusions

      As you probably gathered by the ‘ahhhh’ at the end of the last sentence, I have no idea. There’s something about the cleans of the RSA23. But there’s something about the drive of the Spitfire and the RSA31. But the Spitfire has more focus than the RSA31. But the RSA31 is warmer than the Spitfire…I think. But yet the drive of the RSA23 does retain so much color…but it’s just not as saturated as the EL84 drive of the other two.

      And as I write this, I have absolutely no idea which one I’m keeping. Maybe I’ll just sell all my guitars. I won’t be able to play any music, but that’s a small price to pay for tone. Wait…

      Splendid.
      Karl.

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